Saturday, 18 May 2013
Imagination – a tool that helps uncover truth
I’m finding out a lot about the lives of Clara and the people who surround her. Some of it comes from the facts I establish through the usual means – primary resources, documentary evidence from the time and archival records. Much too also comes from the testing with the imagination that all writers use. Thinking is not enough on its own. I guess as we write each answer poses new questions more rapidly than when we merely think. Here are three recent examples.
I decided I did need to include some scenes from World War I. I couldn’t really skip form 1913 to 1917 without some mention of it. Anyway something that happened then that made Leo, later called Ernst, turn from science to spirituality. Possibly the only way to find out what was to write about it.
Certainly, there are plenty of eye-witness accounts, several of which were made at the time so these are very authentic. Leo’s character has already been created in earlier chapters. We know also that he became an officer. What did this sensitive young man make of the mud, the cold and the constant fear? What did he do so well that they promoted him?
Still in the trenches, and to some extent joining in the “live and let live routine”, I have him questioning the morality of it all. He knows the Brits are just sixty metres away and that they are sons, brothers, husbands and fiancés just like his own men. I get him to write it all in a diary that Clara later reads.
Clara had some doubts at first about the Steiner belief system. She was born a Jewess, became a protestant and believed, along with her children and husband, more in the natural sciences than in a deity. We know that eventually she was reconciled with the Steiner beliefs – we know that she used these to encourage herself and others when she was exiled to Rexingen. Presumably they also propped her up when she later moved to Theriesenstadt and then Treblinka. So how exactly did she become convinced?
I’ve decided that Kurt, the young boy who actually was instrumental in persuading her to go and help at the Lauenstein was also an influence in this. I’ve made him obsessed with angels. He is a frequent companion of Clara’s and gets her thinking about angels, too. It is a way in.
It was also important to decide what Clara actually did at the Lauenstein. I imagine she was a manager rather than just a worker though she wouldn’t be afraid to get her hands dirty. I have just written a scene where she is sewing missing buttons on the boys’ shirts and darning the girl’s stockings on her afternoon off. She spends some time with Kurt talking about the angels. She generally gets on very well the children and the other staff despite her doubts. We know, from what is written of her future, that she was always a pleasant and sunny character.
We know that she was feisty.
· She was the first woman to gain her driving license in Munich.
· She astounded her husband by driving in the dark.
· She astounded Munich taxi drivers when she lifted the bonnet on the car and started fiddling with the “sparkling plugs” as she called them.
· She cursed herself for not shooting Hitler when she had the chance – she was shown into the same anteroom as him when she had a pistol in her bag and didn’t think to use it.
· She fled to England soon after her daughter had come here on the Kindertransport.
· She studied natural sciences at university – at a time when not many women went to university and even fewer to study science.
· She married her professor.
· She endured a Nazi-enforced divorce.
· She worked for a London-based advertising company until a few weeks before her death at the age of 83.
· She had the audacity to teach English to other non-native speakers yet she spoke with a strong Yiddish accent – that she learned off German Jews living in London, rather than it being natural to her.
Some of these incidents may appear in the story – if they are in the timeline – but I’m now beginning to think she deserves a book of her own. Does this mean I have another project sorted?
But what was she like as a person and how did she become so brave?
I’m making her slightly awkward. She is a middle child, and they often are uneasy with themselves. She is frustrated to some extent because her brothers seem to her to have it all easier. I’m assuming her courage comes partly from her highly-strung nature.
I’m currently in the middle of the scene where she arrives to tell her mother she is expecting a baby.
It almost becomes a type of improvisation. It’s a matter of getting into the heads of characters and seeing what they make of the situations we actually know about and deciding what else is likely to be happening.
The reader, of course, sees mainly Clara’s point of view but I’ve had to pop into the heads of the others too.
I’m certainly learning a lot!