I was very fortunate in 2011 – 2012 being awarded a sabbatical of one semester i.e. five months to research for and start writing The House on Schellberg Street. This is the story of a Holocaust survivor and the world she left behind. I am a senior lecturer at the University of Salford and like all academics struggle to find time for research, though we aim to base our teaching on it.
My access to a primary resource, letters from school girls who carried on writing to each other until they were young women, stood in my favour. As I’m a creative practitioner also, the actually writing of a piece of fiction is sanctioned as part of the sabbatical. I did get a first draft completed in that time.
My first task was to transcribe the letters. I simply typed them out in German and then translated them. Fortunately I speak German fluently. The handwriting was often difficult to read though the clearest was that of the class teacher, Hanna Braun. This was a really useful exercise as it really got me into their heads and helped me understand what it was like being an eighteen-year-old German girl then. I began to understand the personality of each girl. Some of these texts were quite boring though there were some interesting snippets. Two themes emerged: camaraderie and duty. I can understand how these would appeal to young women.
I did completely fictionalize the women for both ethical and artistic reasons. However, there is the essence of the truth in the story.
It was most certainly a worthwhile sabbatical. Four further stories have presented themselves:
· Clara’s biography (partly true) – completed
· The story of a couple of girls (completely fictional – apart from some mention of the school on Schellberg Street) –completed
· The women who almost shot Hitler (I’m about to start this and I’m anticipating some disbelief – but it really happened)
· The Round Robin – more stories about the young German women.
In addition, I’ve carried out several school visits and also looked with the eyes of an academic at the balance between fact and fiction involved in historical fiction and the writers’ process involved.
So, on the whole, a worthwhile sabbatical. The output continues.