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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3 years 51 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 1 week 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 7 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 7 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 11 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 11 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 13 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 15 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 17 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 18 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.   


Copyright © 2010 Deborah Freeman
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