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 1 week ago

Finished story - Angels in Karin Edgar`s Salon, and poem - A Fact, for the anthology `When Saira met Sarah`, now being put together in Manchester by Sherry Ashworth and Anjum Malik. Reviewing and commenting on my mother`s memoirs is proving a real challenge. This process - remembering somebody I can`t begin to forget feels meaningful.  I have no idea how to do it. I`m just doing it.

I`ve seen two very different plays which I realise have something in common. Drawing the Line by Howard Brenton at Hampstead Theatre, which is in Swiss Cottage, and the Tree by Bernardo Stella, at Pentameters Theatre, in Hampstead. Both dramatised tales of real events. Howard Brenton`s play is about the drawing of the line that created the divison between India and Pakistan. Bernardo Stella`s is based on a true story of a doomed young couple in wartorn Sarajevo. Both periods of immense political and cultural violence, splendour, change, human significance.

And did I mention war, in which hundreds of thousands of people suffered and died.  

There were love affairs in both, and I like plays that contain these. In The Tree, the doomed love of a young Serbian boy and a Muslim girl. In Drawing the Line,  the love affair was between Lady Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru. This really happened - I read in the programme and in reviews.  With the depth of content of both plays, the passion that should have overflowed from stage to audience should have been overwhelming, yet in both I failed to shed a tear, or even feel deeply moved. I do understand that there was profoundly moving material in both pieces, and once we`ve moved and settled, reading about Sarajevo in the nineteen nineties and the divison of India will be on my agenda. There is a clip on utube - a conversation between Martin Bell and Bernardo Stella, which I found impressive. 

4 years 4 weeks ago


Lots to see and do in London, even when my days are divided between estate agents` offices... Last night we attended the annual Christmas do of the Directors` Guild of Great Britain - which I joined as `playwright with an interest in directing.` It was almost too noisy to bear, but lip-reading and smiling meant communication could and did happen with a handful of interestingly mixed people. An actress, a writer/director, two documentary film directors, and finally, as we left, a theatre director.

I went to meet an old friend at the V&A yesterday, and missed him, but spent an hour circling the ground floors of the museum observing the grand pillars, and the people, which was enough for my eyes. Walking down to the cafe, where I missed the friend again twice, (I discovered when we spoke this morning,) I viewed the scupltures of Christ, Mary, various versions of sculpted Christianity, which made me think of William Holman Hunt in his Victorian London setting, and how established Anglicanism was even more prominent in cultured Britain at the time, at which he painted The Scapegoat. (Yes, that was the play I mentioned to a couple of directors.)

Today, though engulfed in a tidal wave of computer-panic - helpful Michael computer man here for hours - I prepared the final versions of my story and poem for the `When Saira met Sarah` anthology.

I have been pre-occupied, of course, with memories of my mother, and still have the urge to pick up the phone. Part of me still sees no reason why I shouldn`t do this. I have been reading her memoirs, and writing notes and `daughter-memoirs` between some of her chapters or paragraphs. I can`t decide whether an expanded, commented on memoir will be a loving if truthful way of validating `Betty Yoffey`s words and life` - or an act of  deep disloyalty, if only because even if I put little or nothing negative in what I write, I will be imposing new angles and my mother has lost not only her life, but the right of reply forever.

4 years 11 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 12 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 13 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 15 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 16 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 18 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 23 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 24 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.


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