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 3 weeks ago

My first outing to the theatre of new London life. A play set in Salford directed by Abbey Wright - who directed Song of Deborah at the lovely Lowry Studio - also in Salford. `Mrs Lowry and Son` is by Martyn Hesford, and managed to keep its audience moved while the actors, Michael Begley and June Watson had to keep remarkably still. Watson because she played L S Lowry`s mother, during the 7 bedridden years after her husband died. Begley because (I think,) photographs of Lowry seem to depict a still man, staring out at a busy world.

There is a lovely audiovisual film that they show at the Lowry Centre, accompanied by the magnificently melodious `Casta Diva,` from Bellini`s `Norma.` This has combined with the bright colours of the Lowry Centre, and the Pre-Raphaelite women whose faces, apparently decorated the walls of his bedroom, to make me associate L S Lowry with colour and life. Not to mention an experience I had on a train thirty years ago. I sat next to a dishevelled and shabby man. No-one spent train journeys on mobiles or laptops then! True to the `stranger on the train` paradigm, he told me his problems. His marriage, he said, had been ruined because his wife had had an affair with the artist L S Lowry. Had I heard of him? I hardly had, at that time. Since then I have read that Lowry had no affairs. But I remember the man and the conversation.

 After the show - a compliment to its depth of feeling - we got into immediate foyer conversation with photographer Ethel Davies who said she lives on a boat. 

The biggest laughs in the play came when Mrs Lowry exuded disgust at the working class grime of 1930`s Pendlebury, and nostalgia for the cleaner middle class neighbourhood of Manchester`s Victoria Park.  I reflected then on how keen Londoners - or all the ones I have met so far - are to get into the best areas they can, and avoid what they consider the worst. `Twas ever thus, I think. Not really that much to laugh about - unless we were all laughing at ourselves. 

4 years 4 weeks ago

So at least I`m reading again - after several weeks when my only contact with books seemed to be stacking them or lying them down in boxes, for our move. I went to Waterstones in Finchley yesterday - and got into conversation with someone else who`d only been here a fortnight. A young writer from Sheffield called Ian Farnell. We chatted, two northerners, thirty five years apart in age. Only when he said, encouragingly, `It`s good that you`re still doing it,` did I want to whip out my writing credentials and bang them on the counter. I bought two Alice Munro books, and am already gripped with a story. I`ve paused on  Peter Ackroyd`s biography of London, and will keep it for informative dipping over the winter. But Claire Tomalin`s biography of Samuel Pepys is as readable as easy fiction, page by flowing page. What fun.

Last night we went to a `conversation` between Adam Phillips and Giles Fraser at the Freud Museum on the topics of psychoanalysis and religion. Already friends, they seemed to be trying hard to represent (to the audience) what they stood for, as much as have a discussion with each other. I wanted to interrupt (the cheek of it; neither psychoanalyst nor much known writer, just arrived from the north!) and cite the maxim: show don`t tell. Still, the museum is impressive and one of countless places I want to have seen. A season named Mad, Bad, and Sad, about women and psychoanalysis, has some sessions I might go to. (Jeff might not.)

4 years 5 weeks ago

Here I am. Here we are. We had a great send off, and are receiving warm welcomes here. Although London, (we half knew and can now confirm) is not really one great city. Everyone we meet seems connected to their `village,` first,  and London second. Yesterday we met people from Highgate. Today we walked up North Hill to discover it for ourselves, though I already knew Lauderdale House - had a reading of The Song of Deborah there once. The people we met claimed that Highgate has a high proportion of `plaqued` houses. We walked past A E Housman`s house, where the phrase  `poet and scholar`on the plaque reminded us of the opening scene of the Tom Stoppard play ... The Invention of Love. One of the few scenes of that erudite play that I recall finding instantly accessible!

The venue Upstairs at the Gatehouse seems to have a programme of tried and tested material, but Pond Square looked literary enough. How does a mere provincial like me begin to judge? The cities I have lived in before are Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Ashkelon, and Manchester.

Because of the move, and preparing for it, the only writing I have completed in the last three months was the story The Angel in Karin Edgar`s Salon.  Now I am returning to my novel, Ambiguities, and looking forward to meeting directors and producers to take The Scapegoat forward into a full production.

With ideas necessarily having to be kept strictly under control as we prepared for the Big Move, I now find them bubbling up nicely. And for homework, I am reading London The Biography by Peter Ackroyd.

4 years 7 weeks ago

I dreamt that our move (set for Oct 10th) was delayed by 4-5 days, but by a stroke of luck we heard the occupants of our previous house in Didsbury had moved out suddenly, so we could go there for those few days.  In this oldnew temporary house I felt very relaxed, walking through its rooms, recognizing some of course (like - parts looked like my childhood home in Bristol..) and then I went out into the garden. The garden was as spacious and green as a Didsbury garden. It was autumn. Lovely berries. Grass a bit overgrown and covered with brown leaves, and purple clover flowers. In the middle of this I spied something wonderful. Some brilliant yellow daffodils growing on the autumnal grass. I woke up feeling sure that spring and autumn are somehow coming together - at least for me, this week. Does anyone understand that?  An hour after waking up I had a new idea for the return (once we settle a bit in N2) to writing plays. In the one-act piece, The Committee - the two men, different in countless ways - share a love of singing.

Oh, and I gave up on More Die of Heartbreak. In the great bookshop Black Gull, I shall start life in London by looking for feminist commentaries on the great Saul Bellow!

4 years 8 weeks ago

My regular readers will have noticed that I haven`t had too much to share in recent weeks. Events have taken over somehow.  Yesterday we `exchanged,` or rather our solicitors did.  We were transformed by their exchange into Londoners...October 10th is the day a lorry will trundle down the M6 conveying our wordly goods to the great capital.

I only have a quasi literary event to report on. It took place in rural Shropshire. Old friend Stephen Meyer celebrated the arrival of two sculptures in his scenic back garden. A Somerset sculptor by the name of Chris Webb had carved two ancient Anglo Saxon figures. One side of the garden, the great nobleman Byrhtnoth,on his knees and about to be killed in battle, gazed at the sheep in the valley beneath him. The other side of the beefull woodchipped terrace Princess Aethelflaed - daughter of King Alfred the Great -  looked proudly in the other direction. A mixed group of incomers to rural Shropshire, from the southwest, the northwest (us,) and Yorkshire, enjoyed a picnic in the autumn sun and I felt distinctly ill-informed (as you do,) about medieval literature. I was on safer ground - helped by a glass of honey mead sprinkled with fresh lemon juice - when we heard that the scuptor had had to hire a lorry and a crane to bring and place the works of art from Taunton to _________.  Lorries. Motorways. Yes I know about those.

Because of packing I have not allowed myself to search out new books, but have been perusing our shelves, wondering how each book got there. For light reading I picked out `More Die of Heartbreak,` and started with the introduction - as you do - written by Martin Amis. Actually delivered by him at a Saul Bellow conference in Haifa in 1987.

"It is a love story, but a modern one. `Modern`: what has Bellow done (done in italics) to that word? In Bellow, modern (in italics) now comes with its own special static, its own humiliating helplessness. Its own unbearable agitation.`

Actually, the conference was organized, I read, by the Israeli writer Aleph Bet Yehoshua. This reminded me that a few years later we attended a book launch of one of Yehoshua`s books, in Jerusalem. Jeff and I were pleased to find we could keep up with the Hebrew - though it`s forty years since we lived in Ashkelon. But we were handicapped by the fact that neither of us had read the book...To celebrate the event I bought the book in Hebrew and English translation. Both will come with us to London.

I suppose in their more frenetic moments, waiting for a house to sell, and then finally moving, come with their special static, their own helplessness, their own unbearable agitation. This means I have selected (thinking it was random!) the right book. Now all I have to do is read it.



4 years 10 weeks ago

It`s been a long time since writing has had to take such a back seat in my life. Early in August my dear mother died, in Jerusalem, and I spent most of the month in Israel. Since returning I have been busy packing boxes - we either are or are not definitely moving on October 10th. I would say watch this space except the best thing about blogs and websites is that you don`t need to be located anywhere in particular in order to read and write them. We`re all everywhere, these days.

The story  I had started before my summer filled up is called The Angel in Karin Edgar`s Salon. I had a clear idea of who the characters were, and knew what was going to happen to them, but as I seemed to be paying them insufficient attention they kind of melted into the background and got on with what they wanted to be doing. Today, between cooking for Yom Kippur, packing, and more, I finally went back to the story, and was pleased to see where they`d got to. It felt like - you met some people recently at a party. This morning I met them again and realised I hadn`t quite seen what they were really like. 


4 years 15 weeks ago

Strange dream last night. I set up a theatre company, called Living Room Theatre Co. Must check if such a thing already exists. If not, then perhaps that`s a good name to consider. I always enjoy receiving comments, so do keep sending them. 

Meanwhile, while packing boxes for eventual move to London, I came across any number of complimentary letters. And of course the more routine ones. For the sake of space, I discarded many of the routine ones, all the stupid ones, and kept the lovely ones.



4 years 16 weeks ago

My article, title as above, is out in the current issue of the Pre-Raphaelite Society Review. Ed Dr Serena Trowbridge, Birmingham. In it I tried to explain how I came to write The Scapegoat, which was designed around the life, and some of the ideas and experiences of William Holman Hunt. The title came from a book by Simon Schama, Power of Art.  I found this in the lovely Black Gull bookshop in East Finchley. (A reason on its own for moving to London!)

A person standing in an art gallery looking at a painting - in my case one of a goat posing by the Dead Sea in 1854 - is allowed, surely, to think whatever she/he wants on the subject.  Even to the extent of deciding for herself what the subject is.  

I chose the unlikely topic of Hunt`s Christian Zionism as a main theme in The Scapegoat.  I say unlikely because time and again when I`ve told people about the play, they raise an eyebrow, blush, or even yawn, when I reveal the backcloth. Fortunately, the play is well researched, and in the two public readings it had in December and February, at Tate Britain and London Jewish Museum respectively, there was an air of interest from two very different kinds of audience.

As always, when I`m working on something, my reading seems to take off in a direction of its own. Many years ago I fell in love with a book by Olaf Stapledon called Sirius. Anyone read it? A strange kind of science fiction. Recently I came across a collection of the letters exchanged between Stapledon and his fiancee Agnes Miller, in the years leading up to their marriage in 1919. I`m not sure whether they typed their long epistles to each other or wrote them by hand. They are long, and fluent, gentle, of a different time. They seem to carry me back into other lives, other times, and I love it.

I am currently busy with what should be my main contribution to the forthcoming anthology When Saira Met Sarah, poetry and prose by Muslim and Jewish women. I have the first draft of a story, and a great title. Every word may yet be rewritten, but the title will stick. The Angel in Karin Edgar`s Salon. And I think I shouldn`t share any more of this.


4 years 19 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 20 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.


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