Plays by Deborah Freeman

I have completed `Remedies,` a play about M E.  Background research...

Writing Groups

I am setting up a new writing group in East Finchley, to be held in the atmospheric location of an East Finchley...

Novels by Deborah Freeman

 A few years back. I answered an ad on the Radio 3 website, from the conceptual art company, Blast Theory...

Poems by Deborah Freeman

These appeared in the journal Jewish Renaissance, 2008.  `Fish.` `Fasting.` `Open a Gate for Us. ` `After the...

Under the Palm Tree Blog

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4 years 27 weeks ago

A small gathering in Manchester. We attended (Jeff came too,)  Death Cafe. Sue Barsky and Elizabeth Jackson ran it. I wanted to record something about the unusual experience. I know Sue, and have known people associated with Manchester`s Gestalt centre, not to mention that years ago in Ashkelon I met someone who had been in a Fritz Perls group. And yes - I do feel the need to explain. Set up in London, it is a `franchise` whereby people get together to talk about or reflect on death, while enjoying life-enhancing tea and cake.

My first thought, as we left, was to think how different such a group would be if it was held, say, in a sixteenth century room off a cobbled courtyard in Prague. Kafka-esque. Or in a 35 degree hot space in Syria - no air-conditioning for miles around. Thousands dying all round. Who in their right mind would?  

But fact is there are things people talk about and things people don`t. I tend to talk alot, and only shared one anecdote that I hadn`t mentioned before. Jeff shared things he had told me but not many other people. People in the group had recovered from life-threatening illnesses or had been bereaved. People listened. People talked with a sense of relief, I sensed - permission granted here.  

But above all - what struck me as new and therefore valuable about the experience was this. A space trying to free itself of pre-conceived ideas, (this was not a therapy group,) allowed a natural flow of thoughtful and varied conversation, on a thing every single member of the human race shares - we will all die.  For me it wasn`t `the sound of the blackbird` - it was, and is `just after.` (Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Different Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.)

For today - what an interesting weekend - meeting with the group of Jewish and Muslim women who will be contributing to Sherry Ashworth and Anjum Malik`s anthology.

4 years 28 weeks ago

A weekend in lovely Bristol, the gulls sounding just as they did in my childhood - though as I recall they were loudest when storms were about to roll in from the west.  A Redland High School Reunion lunch. Memory proved once again to be partial, inaccurate, and utterly unreliable. Or perhaps it was because in my teenage years, fourteen to eighteen, I was so confused and unfocused I simply failed to notice much of what went on around me. I was curious and deeply relieved to find warmth - of the reunion kind - in abundance, and fascinated at the snippets of recall from several people. Like `I remember you coming to my parties!`  Lots of addresses to add to Address Book. Hopefully more communication in future. Though recalling Jeff`s ecstatic Leeds Medical School reunion 15 years ago - the whole-of-body hugs, the clappings on backs, the joyful whoops of recognition...but has Jeff been in touch with any of them since?

In the evening we went to Bristol Old Vic to see the end of year OV and OV Theatre School production of a `play` by the Austrian writer Karl Kraus. This presented me with the same sort of challenge - this time  Co-Directors and Co-Adaptors Toby Hulse and John Retallack had plumbed the depths of an 800 page ouevre by Kraus in which he desperately attempted to record the `truth` about the years 1913-1917 seen through his journalistic, greedy, perceptive eyes.  What we saw was an adaptation derived from three other adaptations, taken from different translations.  Indescribably energetic and colourful, the performance kept us awake and full of hope. Not for mankind - that was not the message - but at least for the future careers of the talented participants in the show!  The whole project was interesting enough to make me google Karl Kraus. When I did, I realised what I had suspected - he was Jewish. Or at least Jewish until he was baptised in 1911. This fact, and the fact that he apparently expressed anti-semitic opinions perhaps explained why some of the greatest Viennese minds of the time, (Freud for one,) who engaged in lively discussion and argument with him in print and in conversation -weren`t mentioned in the script.


4 years 30 weeks ago

The novel now has 25,000 words. The last couple of weeks it slowed down slightly, but is now picking up.  Jeff is becoming a good listener. At his request I`ve typed out a crib-sheet with the two relevant family trees and other characters, as he doesn`t always remember names. My protagonist`s husband has changed careers, by the way.

The Scapegoat has been very slightly neglected as I have been waiting for one or two people to read it, and respond (yes, good responses,) both in Manchester and London, and contemplating the task of moving towards a production.

Seeing The Birthday Party last night at The Royal Exchange was a colourful experience. A very lively production indeed. The old-fashioned feminist in me still resents the countless plays in which women make the food - men sit paralysed at tables while women run in and out serving them - or provide the sexual interest. Oh well. Pinter was very young when he wrote it, and on all other counts the play was utterly engaging. The young and dynamic director led a lively aftershow discussion.  

A comment stayed with me. One of the cast explained that Pinter, being playwright, actor and director too, gave exact directions at all times - `did the work for us.` It did occur to me that being so deeply immersed in all the crafts of theatre might lead a writer to give space for the creativity of actors and directors, and be less prescriptive.  Or maybe Pinter was like Bach. The tight structure and form allowing for more, not less, artistic freedom.

4 years 32 weeks ago

The novel is at 21,000 words. At 20,000 words I knew I had one quarter of it. Now I have more than that. A time for optimism. A time to review my two previous novels that evoked interest, and (in the case of Special Care way back) a suggestion from an agent. I may get back to Cornerstones to discuss Mrs Faust in the light of their very positive critique. (See quote under `Novels.`) These light mornings I wake early and find my head clear and the story unfolding satisfactorily. Perhaps I should say stories. But the theme that links them is crystal clear, and makes me laugh. Laughing while you write? Is that allowed?

Meanwhile a new Manchester project. Two Manchester writers Sherry Ashworth and Anjum Malik are editing a book of stories/poems by a collection of `Jewish and Muslim women.` I`ll be one of them. Who are we, I wonder? I know Susan Stern, old friend, but so far none of the others. We meet each other on July 7th and pay visits to Manchester Jewish Museum and a local Mosque. Not quite parallels, in my view - the Mosque is about how people live now, though it evokes centuries of history, and a museum is about the past - though it projects that into our present.  Photographs of my late grandfather and greatgrandfather are displayed in Manchester Jewish Museum. I`ll imagine them watching us as we watch them, asking: Who on earth is this greatgranddaughter, or granddaughter? Who is she with, what is she going to write, and why? Their journeys were from Lithuania, through Rabbinic posts in Manchester, to the spiritual and material goal of reaching Israel - then Palestine.  Rabbi Joseph Jaffe, and his son-in-law Rabbi Israel Jacob Yoffey. Early religious Zionists. I see a big creative challenge. The fiction to aim for is the one that allows truth to be explored.  But whose version?

4 years 34 weeks ago

I missed out on much of the nineteen sixties -like many people I know. I, and they did our best, and probably managed the odd genuine sixties moment.  But the kind of Bohemian life lived in London by writers like the late Robert Calvert, was beyond my reach. Still, looking back at that epoch now, I doubt people even know the difference. I met someone in the early nineties who was still living the sixties, and remember the person as vague, dull-eyed, floaty, never quite with it. I met that same person recently -and she was bright-eyed, clear-voiced, and astutely undrugged. So we reached the same place, she and I. And it was possible to have fun then without drugs. I know people who managed it!

I saw a play (STPLSD as above) at Pentameters Theatre Hampstead at the weekend which took me back to the sixties, with real immediacy.   Leonie Scott-Matthews produced, and young American Simone Sklan directed, the short play by the late Robert  Calvert. Time collapsed.  The young director, the young cast - Matthew Leonhart and Raphael Rocha Teixeira - took us back to the sixties with conviction. The play is on until June 2nd - if you are local, you should certainly go. If not, it`s perhaps a way to go for a 45 minute show. Jeff who came with me found an armchair in the front row and sat in it, but didn`t then fall asleep.

Simone Sklan is a young director who is sensible and forthright. I was talking a little about my plays, in particular The Song of Deborah. When I told her - as I have told dozens - I call it my marmite play; ie people love it or hate it, she replied (the first person to have said this!) that she neither loves nor hates marmite, but quite likes it sometimes. It was nice to be laughed at by someone so young. Made me feel young again!

Meanwhile the novel is going well. 18,000 words. My protagonist is about to catch a cold.


4 years 35 weeks ago

As I explained in previous blog....while preparing to join two plays, Remedies and Mental Health Act, and musing over why I needed to do this, (after all, I have written many plays that have stood on their own, and never needed to be joined with other pieces,) I came up with the idea of taking the topics, themes, plot (2 plots really,) and starting a fourth novel. My last novel Mrs Faust came close to being picked up, and will soon be on its travels again. My first novel , Special Care was taken up by  an agent who only put it down when I failed to agree that it needed 100 more pages. My short story Seventh Floor will appear in this quarter`s `Stand Magazine.`  So I am relying on the above positive experiences, and that sense of `this is how it has to be,` which guides all writers, for better or for worse, and writing a fourth novel. It`s still going well. 18,000 words now. Ambiguities is only a working title, but will do for now.  I have put the opening page on this website, in the novels section. Anyone curious to see the next page - get in touch.  And actually, I`ll include it below as well. Here goes.

Chapter One: Seven Types of Ambiguity

I read Philosophy at university because I needed to unravel the question: `Why do I want an English degree?`
There was a book. Seven Types of Ambiguity by William Empson. It was on the shelves of all the people I knew doing English degrees, including the five who spent three years in black polo neck sweaters running Dram Soc. I neither bought nor borrowed it. I haven`t read it to this day.  But the anniversary of William Empson`s death falls a few weeks before my husband`s birthday. So - odd but true - I remember it once a year on May the seventeenth.
`I feel ambiguous about it,` my daughter Sam said to me, last time I visited her. We were sitting in what passes as her back garden. Three lemon trees and some scrub, a few cacti, and giant roses. We were talking about her dog, Lady.  Sam is six months pregnant, with whoever will be our third grandchild.  On this topic James and I are cheerfully unanimous. So cute, grandchildren. Sam and I discussed whether Lady, who could no longer walk, should be put painlessly to sleep as their Venezuelan vet recommended, or kept alive - which my son-on-law considered more ethical.
`You mean ambivalent.` 
`Ambivalent.` She humoured me, patting the panting animal, then pushed Lady`s water bowl closer.  Loud slurps made an orchestral accompaniment to the chirping of summer crickets.  
I was ambivalent about everything in my youth. Apart from the absolute basics. These were: I wanted to love, be loved, and have fantastic sex before a nuclear holocaust wiped us all out. In the event of not being wiped out, and looking ahead, I hoped to become a writer one day. (Whether I achieved that or not can like many things be argued both ways.)
Ambivalence. Uncertainty. My friend Alice (Watkorn the group analyst,) co-wrote a book called Uncertainties. This book was compiled by a physicist whose previous published work had been about the physics of scrambling eggs. Between them Alice and the physicist demonstrated that what goes on between people in groups is the same as what goes on between atoms. Or molecules. Or neutrons. Everything comes down to chance. (I now know that most of what I thought I was or would be at the age of twenty, I was not and did not become. I speak with decades of hindsight.)
I also know - which is why I am writing this - that I now have to make two decisions.  One three weeks on Wednesday. The other within a month or two.  Two decisions which will affect the lives (and deaths) of several people, and which I cannot avoid making. Where decisions are concerned, I realised years ago that not making one is the same as making one.   


4 years 37 weeks ago

Too much going on for blogging? Well, yes. Though if you walked past the house day to day you wouldn`t notice. The Scapegoat and The Song of Deborah out in one or two places; my desk cleared of plays for the moment. One month ago, I sat down to draft a programme for a forthcoming workshop I plan to run with director Ariella Eshed called `Two Into One.` This is an idea I had for a workshop to be done with actors - exploring ways of pulling two plays together that I felt needed each other.... But as I worked, two ideas really did become one. What were the two ideas? Write a new novel. The other was to tie the plays together. I discovered that the two pieces would blend with each other, and with the creative backcloth that has been in my mind for a long time - as a novel.  And it`s going well. 15,000 words already. When I get to 20,000 I`ll have one quarter of a novel. No going back, then. Meanwhile - best thing is that I am writing the synopsis as I go along - a few lines with each chapter. How come I  never thought of doing a thing like that before?

I left the all-women Sacred Sounds choir, and will now not be performing in the Bridgwater Hall on July 7th, and not singing two pieces composed `for us` by Sir John Taverner. I was sorry to leave the choir, sorrier that I didn`t stay to become one of its `bloggers,` and sorrier still that I haven`t fitted into current projects an attempt to describe my turbulent and complex feelings about it.  I wish them all luck luck luck and happy singing. The novel, trips to London, discussions on plays, and work with a talented young illustrator on my children`s book Hanna and Zara....not to mention that I`ve had to read about Galileo and his cloistered daughters in preparation for a first ever visit to Florence.


4 years 42 weeks ago

Spring. Albeit freezing. I have so much going on, creatively, that it is hard to share much in a blog. As for commenting wisely on what goes on in the theatre, literary, whatever worlds - well, there are countless others who do that.  Most of these look to be more deeply embeddded in those worlds than I feel. Though I am aware others see me as `embedded` as a writer reasonably needs to be....

Ariella Eshed and I are moving forward with plans for The Scapegoat. Also, discussing other projects. The first is the workshop we are setting up at the Actors Centre, with the theme Two Into One. This was my suggestion, because I am currently working on putting two plays together. Remedies, and Mental Health Act.  To clarify things for myself (?) I am simultaneously starting a new novel. which is not new, but uses material from two previous novels, and new material. The first five pages have gone perfectly. Now for the next five. Five pages a week =  250 pages in a year - a novel.

(More interest in The Song of Deborah, too.)

Wednesday nights I am now committed to the Manchester International Festival Women`s Choir - Sacred Sounds. There is something very sweet about singing religious songs with lots of other women, when, if you listed all our the beliefs on a flipchart it would be immediately obvious that there are mutually contradictory, irreconcilable differences of dogma, between us. Like, for example, as I once pointed out in my play Candlesticks, Jesus Christ cannot both have been the son of God, and not have been it.  My cynicism about religion received a sad boost with the tragic news from Myanmar (Burma,) about Buddhists persecuting Muslims in the south. I have had Buddhist friends who have seemed persuaded that of all the world`s religions, Buddhism is the one least likely to lead people into violence. Whatever my general reservations, these get instantly drowned by our 60 odd voices. We do harmonies, too. Such fun.



4 years 43 weeks ago

I am in Jerusalem for a week.  There`s plenty going on here. But my life has been side-tracked by Life After Life - Kate Atkinson`s new book. This book took my concentration away from everything else - I felt more deeply involved in it than in any book I can think of. Perhaps not since I lost myself in books like Siddhartha, when I was in my twenties, or perhaps Pride and Prejudice, when I was fifteen. The astonishing detail she gives, as she sets up and develops her scenarios, is, I think, what draws me in so completely. Those brief word-etchings about parent-sibling relationionships - gems of writing. She never overstates. The conceptual framework did puzzle me from the beginning; actually, until (perhaps shouldn`t admit this?) the end. The blitz scenes, and bombing of Berlin scenes - horrifying. Every character - convincing.

Then I asked myself: did the finale, or finales, confuse me just a little too much for comfort? Was the novel as much about the nature of writing itself, as about the nature of Englishness, war, and identity?  Waiting for friends and relations to read the book now.  Look forward to discussing.


4 years 45 weeks ago

Life moves on. The Times Crossword seems hard today. I have joined a choir. Sacred Sounds Choir - it came to me in an email from somewhere. All women, we meet every week between now and a perfornance at Bridgwater Hall on July 7th, which will be part of Manchester International Festival. So far so very good. Last night was the first session. I loved it. But two problems loom. The first - how much to allow myself to discuss in a blog.  Clearly, I will not name or describe any of the 30+ other women who attend. Supposedly `of all faiths and none,` though there were not many Jewish or Muslim women, as far as I could tell. And quite a solid Bhuddist contingent. A charismatic and talented choir leader, and I suppose I can name her, as hers is a public role. Beth.  In no time at all we were dividing ourselves into sopranos altos and bases, and singing in harmony.

After the Scapegoat reading BBC Drama Producer Sharon Sephton asked to see a script - though explaining she has a full slate of other writers at present. Still, I was happy to send one.  As this is my current BBC contact, I sent off an excited email just before I left for the first rehearsal. Let me produce an autobiography in sounds, linked with a diary of my choir experiences. Very excited about the idea.

Something bothered me, though. We sang the beautiful round - By the Waters of Babylon.   Heard it late last night on utube sung by Don Mclean. Before we started, Beth asked gently and quite genuinely whether anyone would be offended by the use of the word `Zion.` I do not know Beth well yet, and so far am deeply impressed by her lively, musical warmth, clearly based on deep musical talent and knowledge; also by the sincerity of the Manchester Festival folk - names to follow - who welcomed us. The good intentions, multi-faith values, of all concerned, are absolutely beyond doubt. And yet I found myself a little surprised by this question.  "Would anyone be offended if we used the word: Zion." 

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