J.D. Salinger: On ageing, friendship, and keeping a vegetable garden

An Unboxed blog from, Rowen Bryer, third-year English Literature undergraduate at the University of East Anglia.

“These letters challenge received ideas of Salinger – his apparently misanthropic public exterior and his rebellious teenage protagonist – and instead provide an invaluable insight into the man behind the desk, a man who deals with the hardships, pitfalls, and inevitabilities of life with a chirpy attitude.”

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J.D. Salinger (r) visiting Donald Hartog in England, 1989. © Frances Hartog.

J.D. Salinger met Donald Hartog in Vienna in 1937. Both were eighteen and had been sent by their fathers to learn German. The two young men sparked an immediate friendship. Following Salinger’s return to America in 1938, it became a written correspondence that continued for some years. Sadly, letters written prior to 1950 have been lost.

In 1986, however, Hartog wrote to Salinger and reignited their old correspondence. These letters were donated by Hartog’s family after his death in 2007 and are currently held in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at the University of East Anglia, UK. The collection consists of fifty letters written by Salinger to Hartog, four postcards, a photograph of the two men, and a handful of newspaper clippings—from dieting tips to an article on heavy rainfall in England—that makes us privy to the man behind the reclusive persona, a man who writes to a dear friend about his vegetable garden, old age, family health, and the weather.

Salinger was, and still is, frequently penned as ‘hermit-like’ by journalists. On 1 April 1988, writing to Hartog about his house situated in a rural part of New England, Salinger gleefully notes that the nearest house to his is a quarter of a mile away, and he can only be reached by a long winding path. Whilst this was in line with the public perception of Salinger— that he was reclusive, introverted, and unsociable— his innocent letters to Hartog present another dimension to this figure. Rather than the unreachable recluse that Salinger was thought to be, the cheery ‘Jerry’ who signs off each of these letters instead reveals the normalcy of the famous writer.

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JD Salinger letters at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, UEA Archives

For a writer so renowned for accurately depicting teenage angst through his protagonist Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, it is unsurprising that Salinger often writes to Hartog of age and youth.

Many of his letters to Hartog playfully pokes at their age and its rapid advance. In a letter dated December 8th, 1988, Salinger writes of the deceptive nature of time; he asks incredulously how it could be that two eighteen-year-olds like them were both approaching their seventies. Salinger remarks cheerfully that they had made it: they were officially elderly men.

Salinger never appears to dwell negatively on his advancing years, however, and instead writes jokingly that Hartog, aged eighteen, already acted as an old man when they met in Vienna. Salinger’s approach to aging is pleasantly light. These letters challenge received ideas of Salinger – his apparently misanthropic public exterior and his rebellious teenage protagonist – and instead provide an invaluable insight into the man behind the desk, a man who deals with the hardships, pitfalls, and inevitabilities of life with a chirpy attitude.

Despite their correspondence petering into apparent silence in 2002, Salinger and Hartog’s warm and kind friendship survives through these archived letters. They speak of two eighteen-year-old friends, now in their seventies, approaching old age, poking fun at it, living in it, and ultimately allowing themselves to revel in it.

Rowen Bryer is a third-year English Literature undergraduate at the University of East Anglia and a volunteer blogger for the British Archive of Contemporary Writing.

Rowen was reading the Salinger Hartog letters, held within the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA.

More about this collection: https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/bacw/salinger

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Archiving Final Draft: A potential digital gold mine of film and TV scripts – but can we access the creative process behind them?

Within the screenwriting industry, Final Draft is universally acknowledged as the industry standard scriptwriting software to use if you want to be taken seriously as a professional. The Final Draft website proudly boasts that companies from the BBC to Netflix to Walt Disney use the software for their productions, and includes quotes from users such as Guillermo Del Toro, JJ Abrams, and Sofia Coppola praising the ease of use and technical ability. Del Toro even humorously suggests that Final Draft has been such a ‘wise, patient and loyal writing partner’ that he would happily elope with the software.

GdT comment on Final Draft

The package – which currently costs around £200 – can write Film, TV, or theatre scripts, can be customised to suit any company scriptwriting format, allows for cross-computer collaboration, works on almost any device, and has regular updates introducing new interactive features like a beat board and alternative dialogue (which I’ll return to later). Overall, the Final Draft software is used in over 95% of film and television productions.

Due to the incredible permeation of the Final Draft software in film and television production, it was inevitable that archives would need to begin grappling with deposits of Final Draft files.

As part of the growing TV Comedy Writing collection within the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at the University of East Anglia, we have received numerous files from various television comedy writers. The volume of files will no doubt increase in the future, as our contributors are all practising writers. There is already a pressing issue with the older files; as Final Draft updates, older Final Draft files from the 1990s and early 2000s are incompatible with software upgrades and may eventually become unreadable. This creates the question: how do we preserve these files and allow them to be read by visiting researchers?

The files could be saved as a PDF/A and a typical and secure ‘read-only’ archival presentation could be provided within the Archive Reading Room. In addition, although sligtly retro – these PDFs could even be printed out for use in the archive. However, converting Final Draft files to a PDF loses valuable information relating to the creative process. Final Draft allows writers to create beat boards, link characters and scenes, write ScriptNotes and alternative dialogue (especially important in comedy, where the writer may try multiple punchlines), and use of the navigator to move freely around the document. Converting the file to a PDF only preserves the ‘final draft’ of the script and loses all of the invaluable information that can inform on a writers’ creative decisions and processes, which could be key to a researcher’s project.

To present a secure copy of the file in its native environment of Final Draft presents other immediate problems: there isn’t a read only mode. Final Draft is incredibly easy to edit. The software allows users to write in extra letters, words, or lines to the script, and whether this is done intentionally or unintentionally, editing could seriously affect the document and the researcher’s work.

There is one other alternative we have considered, which is using a special version of the Final Draft Software called Final Draft Reader. This software is intended for users who have not paid £200 for the software itself but want to read a script written on Final Draft. Reader does not allow users to create new scripts or edit them but does give access to information such as the ScriptNotes and navigator. Unfortunately, having access to ScriptNotes means the user can also accidentally create one, and the editing lock stops the user from writing or deleting it. This is also the case for features such as the alterative dialogue; a user can create the space, but not edit or delete it.

final draft screen shot

Also, the Reader allows a user to move tabs around, such as the links between characters and scenes and the story map. More importantly though, the Reader does not let you access the beat board, where writers may have stored important information about the creative process (structure, story beats etc.). Therefore, while Reader seems like the best option in terms of accessing information about editing and interactivity, there are still serious problems that affect the preservation of the document and the accessibility of research information.

At the moment, these Final Draft digital files in our archive are completely inaccessible to researchers, although we have begun to process using software such as DROID and Archivematica and so will pursue the PDF/A route as a first stage and potentially look at secure alternatives, such as emulation to see if we can salvage more. As the collection expands and more files are added, the need for a safe way to access the full richness of the file increases.

We would welcome any comments from other archives who are also facing this issue or have found a solution. In fact, through DPC, we have already been introduced to colleagues at the British Library and at Sussex, who are grappling with these issues and which we are keen to follow up. In addition, DPC are also reaching out to Final Draft Pro itself, to see if the company has any interest in helping writers and archives to salvage the creative process behind the final draft. We look forward to working with them, if there is a positive response.

Emily Walker is a CHASE-funded Doctoral Researcher at the University of East Anglia currently specialising in television comedy. Her thesis is investigating the representation of religion in four British religious sitcoms – All in Good Faith, The Vicar of Dibley, Father Ted, and Rev – to establish ‘religious sitcoms’ as a sitcom sub-genre. She is also undertaking a placement as Curatorial Assistant for the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s TV Comedy Collection (University of East Anglia).

https://www.finaldraft.com/

Exploring the Archives: a monthly update: February 2019

Productions and publications

The Archives is pleased to have been of assistance to Carol Talbot with her publication Working-Class Suffragette, the Life of Annie Kenney. Oldham Writers’ Café, Dec. 2018.

Displays

The loan of 14 items from our suffragette’s archive to Oldham Gallery has now been returned. They formed part of their exhibition: ‘Peace and Plenty? Oldham and the First World War’.

Now safely back at UEA these precious pieces are on display in a case within our Reading Room. Included are photographs, badges, passports dated 1915 and 1916, and an autograph album containing messages and signatures of prominent suffragettes from 1906-1913.

Our Suffragette Stories exhibition, curated by Broadland Academy students, continues in the Archive Foyer on Floor 02 of the Library.

Teaching

MA in Scriptwriting, 8 February

In this introduction to the Archives the group discovered how archives can inspire, inform and be invaluable source material for scriptwriting.

I found something really good and inspiring!

Fantastic and surprising resource for us.

I was just a bit overwhelmed but this is my first time in an archive.

A hugely inspiring session. I hadn’t ever thought about using the archive but found it to be a thrilling prospect, and an idea I want to develop.

12 attendees.

Writing the Wild, 12 February

IMG_0386LDC students followed the writing process of Mark Cocker and Roger Deakin, from field notebooks to fully fledged manuscripts. Documenting as they go, these writers’ journeys become a means to explore, observe, encounter and appreciate.

LDC UG Creative Writers, 14 & 15 February

These two sessions focussed on the texts of Sara Taylor (The Shore).
21 attendees.

Unboxed (blog writing)

IMG_0410Our blogging volunteers are dipping into the far reaches of our collections. They’ve each attended a blog training session in the Archives with LDC lecturer Claire Hynes and are now preparing their first draft for an editorial workshop. It’s great to see what’s inspiring them; each one producing a unique narrative based on something which sparks their interest and from which they can expand and explore.

12 attendees: 3 from History; 8 from LDC and 1 from AMA.

Blog training, 21 February morning

Excellent writing exercises that challenged me and made me approach writing in new ways.

Blog training, 21 February afternoon

The workshop helped me to critique my own style of writing in a way that was really encouraging.

Events

Do Something Different Festival, 20 February

As part of UEA’s annual ‘Do Something Different Festival’ the Archives scheduled to re-screen the 2011 Literary Festival interview with Andrea Levy. Sadly Andrea passed away the very same week, making the re-screening all the more poignant and a bit special.

Enquiries & visits

Literary Archives

Students visiting from within UEA are coming to us for The Power (Naomi Alderman) and The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing). The papers of Malcolm Bradbury are also proving useful to one of our MA Modern and Contemporary Writing students.

UEA Collection

Three overseas enquiries have related to former UEA members of staff: the late W.G. Sebald, John Kimber and Werner Mosse.

Zuckerman Archive

  • A prospective PhD candidate at an English university has expressed an interest in accessing papers on Zuckerman’s time as Secretary of the Zoological Society of London.
  • An archaeological researcher has been examining the bombing survey reports detailing the damage caused in the bombing of Sicilian and mainland Italian ports during WWII.

Special Collections

There were 15 requests

Charlie Higson – author, scriptwriter, actor and musician – returns to UEA to share ideas on breaking into a creative career

A guest blog from Emily Walker, current UEA postgraduate researcher in comedy television, and Curatorial Assistant for the TV Comedy Writing Collection, within the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, as part of her CHASE-funded placement.

On October 17, the UEA’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW) hosted Charlie Higson: writer, actor, director, and Archive depositor, for interactive student sessions discussing scriptwriting, novel writing, television, and the creative industries.

Higson, whose prolific credits include the BAFTA winning classic TV sketch comedy The Fast Show, and the bestselling book series Young Bond and The Enemy, is a UEA undergraduate alumnus and received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in 2014.

Since his graduation in 1980, Higson has been a frequent visitor; during my six years at UEA he has appeared at three separate student-oriented events (all of which I have been lucky enough to attend) but his willingness to help students extends much further back. I recently found a letter from a UEA student dated 1997 thanking Higson for his visit and advice.

With a nearly 40-year history with the university, UEA is the natural home for the Charlie Higson archive, a huge collection of Higson’s writing drafts, notebooks, sketches, and the occasional drawing. The archive material is revealing of Higson’s creative methods and his career development and is already used in teaching. In discussion with the BACW Archivist, Dr Brett Mills, Curator of the Comedy Writing Collections at UEA, felt it was a natural progression for the Archive to host seminars and masterclasses with the writers themselves.

Based on my own experiences, I suggested students would benefit most from working with Charlie in smaller groups. Students from across Humanities were encouraged to apply for the opportunity – from foundation year to post graduate. Successful applicants were then offered the chance to meet the man himself and ask personal questions about his life and work.

Higson ran a Q&A session chaired by Brett Mills and a series of three small-group sessions tailored to the research interests of the applicants (scriptwriting, comedy, and fiction). The students were aspiring novelists, stand-up comedians, film-makers, and actors, and they were encouraged to ask specific questions about their career aims.

Over three hours, Higson provided so much insightful and practical advice that to list every piece would fill volumes. Instead, I have picked out five key points:

1. Do your research (but not too much). If you are looking to write a script, read them as well. Higson specifically recommended the Withnail and I script (written by Bruce Robinson) and the book How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flinn (currently £0.01 used on Amazon, so there’s no excuse). Still, be prepared for the research to end because otherwise the writing may never begin.

2. Find a writing partner. “I definitely think it is much easier to write comedy with someone else”, a statement that chimes with his many collaborations in television comedy, especially with long-time comedy partner Paul Whitehouse. Higson met many of his writing partners at UEA, and believes that complementary skills, such as organisation and ideas, can be very beneficial.

3. Create world, character, and story. Higson listed three elements to writing a novel or screenplay: start by creating a world (it can be a vague image, no need to be Tolkien-esque), then find the characters, and the story should grow out of this combination. It is also important to know the ending, because “you can take as many detours as you want along the way”, and “it is the everyday things” that can make a world seem real.

4. If you have writer’s block, work on a few projects. Instead of struggling with one story, why not try working on a few projects at once? James Cameron, when tasked with writing Rambo and Alien sequels at the same time, would work on one until he ran out of ideas, and then swap to the other and repeat the process. However, “if you’re really stuck,” Higson suggests, “something is fundamentally wrong”.

5. “Have a life”. Imagination will play a big part in crafting stories, but having experiences will be vital in creating believable situations and dialogue. Since Higson started writing after UEA while working as a painter/decorator, he had a bank of experiences to draw on. Family can be a big help too: Higson says that reading his young adult horror fiction to his children helps to gauge whether the stories are scary enough.

The student response was overwhelmingly positive. On the anonymous feedback forms, attendees all classed the sessions as “Very good” or “Excellent” and considered the sessions creatively and professionally inspiring. Here are some of the comments:

“Charlie was friendly and easy to talk to while also providing wise and valuable advice. I loved the casual setup of the session.”
“Practical with humorous anecdotes: interesting insights on the creative process.”
“First-hand experience in hearing from an accomplished writer and former UEA student.”
“Just hearing how a career can develop fairly organically was incredibly reassuring.”
Many of the students said they had gained “confidence” in their abilities, felt more “energised” by the experience, and were encouraged to ”write more” and “collaborate” in the future.

One student even said Higson had inspired him to “enjoy life!” In fact, the only repeated recommendation was that they wanted more time, a factor we will be absolutely delighted to increase next time (Higson’s schedule permitting).

Dr Brett Mills (AMA), who chaired the event, in his role as curator of the comedy strand of the Archive, said:

“It’s fantastic to have Charlie on campus again, giving invaluable advice and support to our students who are keen to do all kinds of creative work. The student feedback shows how much such events are valued. I’m particularly glad that comedy – often an ignored genre – is given its prominence here, and Charlie was able to give encouragement to students keen to make others laugh.

The Archive’s comedy strand represents a significant intervention into the kinds of culture and creative activity that typically gets kept for posterity – and events such as this show how invaluable it is for teaching and research. I know I’m looking forward to Charlie’s next visit as much as our students are.”

For those who didn’t attend the seminar, there are still plenty of ways to find out more information. The Charlie Higson Archive in the BACW collection http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw  is full of fantastic material from his extensive career, which would be an excellent starting point for any budding writers. In addition, as part of my work placement with the archive, I conducted an interview with Higson which will eventually be available in the archive for researchers. And of course, since Higson is a frequent visitor, it would not be unreasonable to hope for another seminar very soon.

Emily Walker, current UEA postgraduate researcher in comedy television, and Curatorial Assistant for the TV Comedy Writing Collection, within the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, as part of her CHASE-funded placement.

Annie Kenney: War before Suffrage

An Unboxed blog from Laura Noon.

blog post image AK postcard votes for womenAnnie Kenney was the first suffragette to perform militant action for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) when she asked Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill during a Liberal rally at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester:

‘If you are elected, will you do your best to make Women’s Suffrage a government measure?’

Ignored several times, Annie, together with Christabel Pankhurst, who had accompanied her, began to shout the question. When asked to leave, they did not. She was offered a fine, which she refused to pay. Kenney subsequently faced three days imprisonment for this protest, the first of thirteen jail sentences.

Annie Kenney’s committed fight for women’s voting equality was courageous and her devotion to justice lasted a lifetime. This was evident in 1944, thirty years after woman’s suffrage, when she stood in opposition to a film production about the suffragette movement, believing that it would bring ‘neither a tear, laugh or sigh to the cinemagoer’.

Jill Craigie, a feminist documentary film maker, had set out to produce a dramatisationof the movement. She wrote to Christabel Pankhurst and Kenney, asking for their co-operation. As a keen admirer of the suffragette movement, Craigie promised to use their correspondence to depict, to the best of her ability, historical accuracy.

Kenney responded with trepidation, questioning the sensitivity of the timing. She contended that a film about the suffragette movement would insensitively depict the brutality of the First World War in conjunction with the suffragettes, in the midst of the “Slaughter of the Innocents” that was the Second World War.

In her reply to Craigie, she wrote: “Mothers’ sons are giving their fresh young lives and shedding their clean blood so that mankind can breathe and live as free men in a free world.”

Kenney, having aided Lloyd George in 1914 and served her country in War as loyally as she served the movement, understood the current hardship that faced the nation. She strongly believed that, if the film were to be made, she and Pankhurst should not be included in it.

Kenney wrote: “…Until happier and more peaceful days return, we must do the duty that lies nearest to our hand and put on one side all retrospection of the past, keeping our eyes fixed on the present, looking forward to a brighter future, for in this way we serve the highest and the best.”

Kenney’s perception of the “very small and insignificant” women’s struggle embodied her altruistic nature, as she considered the welfare of those fighting the bigger battle to be of more significance than her personal fight for women’s voting equality.

Craigie didn’t produce a script about the suffragettes until 1951. Entitled “The Women’s Rebellion”, it was broadcast on the BBC Home Service radio station on 13 March 1951.  Kenney and her family were upset with Craigie’s depiction of Annie, which they believed to be too focused on her attire and on her class than on her contribution to the fight for women’s suffrage. Jessie Kenney wrote to the BBC and a meeting was held to discuss the matter.

Craigie subsequently apologised to Annie for any distress caused and the play was never re-broadcast.

An Unboxed blog from Laura Noon, Graduate of the MA in Gender Studies, University of East Anglia

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Further Reading:

Correspondence between Craigie, Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst and other Kenney family members, relating to this episode, can be found within the Kenney Papers Archive at UEA. [Reference: AK/5/2 BBC Radio Play, ‘The Women’s Rebellion’, 1951]

Access a full listing of the Archive: https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/kenney

Suffragette Stories

During 2018-19, the University of East Anglia is digitising 100 items from the archive, to celebrate the centenary of some women achieving the vote as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project, in partnership with Norfolk County Council’s Library Service. The archive material is also being used in libraries and schools across Norfolk to prompt discussion about forgotten legacies and women’s equality. Find out more about the project here: https://suffragettestories.omeka.net/

Imprisoned Suffragettes and their Visual Tools of Power

WSPU Procession 18 June 1910

Copyright: Speed, R / Source: UEA Archives

WSPU ‘From Prison to Citizenship’ procession, 18 June 1910

Unboxed blogger and UEA graduate, Nicholl Hardwick, explores the importance of the broad arrow symbol in suffragette protests.

This photograph captures one of the earliest mass marches organised by the suffrage movement.

As you focus in on the picture, it becomes clear that many of the women are carrying unique staffs. Yet not many of us may know what these visual tools symbolise.

Almost 15,000 women walked together from the Embankment to the Albert Hall in London, in order to hear Christabel Pankhurst and other suffragette leaders speak. These particular staffs represented the “broad arrow” symbol which was a triple line stitched or painted on prisoners’ uniforms at the time. The women carrying these staffs had all been imprisoned for their suffragette activities, hence their use of the symbol.

The staffs make a striking image, especially when considering how many women were holding them. They honoured the actions of those women who saw the crucial need to not just leave their families, but also to risk their freedom and health in their pursuit of gender equality. These staffs represented strength, solidarity, focus and togetherness, and demonstrated that this was a powerful movement whose aims and demands needed to be taken seriously and with empathy.

The scene appears chaotic and stifling, yet it represents bravery, progress and power. The suffragette movement was not without its exclusions and indications of deep-rooted racial prejudice, but it also contained elements of revolution, effective change and radical direct action that have influenced the ways in which many women participate in politics and protest today.

Source: The photograph is held within the papers of Suffragette, Annie Kenney, as part of the Kenney Papers at the University of East Anglia. Kenney was a suffragette pioneer who contributed considerably to the movement and its inclusion of working class women. The march ended at the Royal Albert Hall, where Kenney gave a speech. To visit the archive, email archives@uea.ac.uk

View a short clip from the demonstration (BFI): https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-demonstration-of-suffragettes-1910-online

 

Ingmar Bergman, Doris Lessing & inconsistencies of the human psyche

by Johanne Elster Hanson (Unboxed)

After the success of films such as Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence and Persona in the 1960s, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman continued to explore the contradictive human psyche in his works. It was during this period that he first read Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Decent into Hell.

 

In 1974, Bergman wrote an admiring letter to Lessing in which he proposed a meeting between the two in order to discuss a potential film adaptation of one of her novels. The letter is dated September 1st 1974 and is held in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at University of East Anglia. In it the director expresses deep gratitude towards Lessing, and claims to have read almost all of the Swedish translations of her works. In Lessing’s 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, Bergman claimed to have found the material for more than ten different feature films.

Lessing’s reply on September 12th matches Bergman in admiration and enthusiasm: Pleased with his letter, she tells him how he is “the film-maker I most respect and admire.” She goes on to discuss her new book The Memoirs of a Survivor that is about to be published in the UK, and asks him to read it before their meeting. She also recounts how the writing of her last book The Summer Before The Dark was almost cinematic; “This is the only novel I have ever written when this happened to me – that as I was putting the word down, it was as if I were describing a film running before my eyes.” Lessing sent Bergman an English copy of Memoirs of a Survivor, and signed off by saying how she looked forward “very much” to hearing from him. However, the enthusiastic correspondence preserved in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing bore no fruits: Bergman never made a film based on Lessing’s book, although a film of Memoirs of a Survivor was later directed by David Gladwell and starred Julie Christie.

Michael Tapper, an affiliated researcher in film studies at Lund University in Sweden, writes in his 2017 book Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face that Bergman appreciated how Lessing gave “credibility to insanity and/or dream as a reflection of an absurd existence”. Lessing’s The Golden Notebook tells the story of writer Anna Wulf who attempts to tie together various aspects of her life through coloured notebooks. The book’s fragmented, post-modern narrative must have appealed to Bergman; his film Cries and Whispers, a psychological chamber piece about four women whose pasts are revealed through flashbacks, had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival the year before he wrote to Doris Lessing.

2018 marks the centenary of the Swedish filmmaker’s birth. The British Film Institute is celebrating the filmmaker, who died in 2007, with its very own Bergman-festival. Stretching across three months from January through March, the festival involves screenings of classics such as The Seventh Seal, Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny & Alexander, as well as some if his lesser-known films. Given Bergman and Lessing’s overlapping interest in the inconsistencies of the human psyche, any collaboration between them would no doubt have been one of the headlines at the British Film Institute’s Bergman-festival.

 Johanne Elster Hanson is a second year undergraduate at the University of East Anglia, currently studying English Literature with Creative Writing and working as a volunteer blogger for the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s Unboxed programme. A native Norwegian, she is particularly interested in translation and cases where Scandinavian and British culture overlaps.

Doris Lessing’s archive of correspondence is held at the University of East Anglia’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing. To visit the archive please email: archives@uea.ac.uk

 

 

What’s the key to a brilliant piece of writing? Revisions – lots of them

Yin Lim uncovers the editing process behind the short fiction of award winning UEA MA graduate, Tash Aw, and his reluctance to alter the ending of his debut novel.

Authors will tell you that good writing is the product of countless edits and rewrites as they polish the work until they deem it ready for public consumption. For instance, Neil Gaiman recommends putting away a completed manuscript until the author can read it with ‘new eyes’ to be able to fix it, while Kazuo Ishiguro spends an average of six hours a day on his later drafts and revisions – twice the time he takes to work on his first drafts. Recent Booker prize winner George Saunders says that the artist ‘tweaks’ what is already there.

For award-winning author and UEA alumnus Tash Aw, it would take many revisions before he was happy for his short story Sail to be published in A Public Space, an award-winning literary and arts magazine. Annotated drafts that form part of archival material loaned by Aw to the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW) at the University of East Anglia provide a fascinating insight into the all-important practice of revision. Through these documents we can see Aw’s process of writing the piece which tells the story of Yanzu, a Chinese businessman who despite his financial successes, still struggles with a sense of insecurity and failure following the end of a love affair. It’s a rare opportunity to peer into the author’s mind as we read his handwritten notes about the different ideas he had for the piece as it developed; for example, whether a specific section would eventually become the main set piece of the short story.

Going through these drafts, it’s not hard to be curious about the thought processes that prompted Aw to make his revisions; why he replaced certain words and sentences, moved around sections or omitted them altogether, deleted secondary characters and developed a new ending. Some of these revisions would have been responses to comments made by fellow author Yiyun Li, who is also a contributing editor with A Public Space. In a 2011 e-mail exchange with Aw, Li noted how one of the characters felt flat, and suggested that some cuts and revisions could help heighten conflict in the story. The final draft of Sail reveals that Aw also took into consideration Li’s feedback about shortening or changing a book club scene in the story, with the end result being a tighter and subtler version of the earlier drafts.

Not all editors’ feedback are necessarily as well-received however. Aw believed that revisions suggested by editor Cindy Spiegel of Riverhead Books, the US publisher of his debut novel The Harmony Silk Factory, could potentially alter the very essence of the book. A letter exchange between Aw and Spiegel reveals how Aw spent a month working on Spiegel’s edit notes and ‘agonising’ over them before finally making the decision to stand by his original ending instead of modifying it as Spiegel recommended.   As important as the process of editing and revising is to improving a manuscript, equally crucial is the author’s conviction of what works and what doesn’t.

This correspondence can be found in Aw’s archive within the BACW, which also includes typescripts, editorial comments and correspondence with agents and publishers for the critically-acclaimed The Harmony Silk Factory, whose draft manuscript was completed while Aw was on UEA’s MA Creative Writing (Prose Fiction) in 2003.

Yin F Lim is an MA student in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction at the UEA. A former journalist and editor, she is writing about her grandparents’ migration from China to colonial Malaya from her perspective as a recent immigrant to the UK. 

Tash Aw (1971-) a prize winning author and graduate of the MA in Creative Writing (Prose). Aw has produced three novels, all to critical acclaim: The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), Map of the Invisible World (2009) and Five Star Billionaire (2013). He is winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and has twice been longlisted for the MAN Booker prize. His short fiction has won an O. Henry Prize and been published in A Public Space, the landmark Granta 100, and elsewhere.  His non-fiction book, The Face: Strangers on a Pier, was a finalist for the LA Times Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose. 

More on the The Tash Aw Archive at BACW (UEA)

To visit the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, email archives@uea.ac.uk

www.uea.ac.uk/bacw 

Jessie Kenney and the Battalion of Death

Adam Baker, third-year History undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia delves into the 1917 Russian diary of suffragette, Jessie Kenney, and an account of a  military procession on the 13th of July when Kenney and Emmeline Pankhurst met the ‘First Women’s Battalion of Death’, a newly formed group, led by the non-commissioned officer Maria Bochkarëva.

During Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1917 Russian expedition, Jessie Kenney met with the First Women’s Battalion of Death. The newly formed group, led by the non-commissioned officer Maria Bochkarëva, participated in a procession on the 13th of July. But why did a country in the grips of a bitter conflict decide to host such an elaborate event, and how did a women’s battalion come to exist in a country where many of its soldiers weren’t even full citizens?

Though Bochkarëva may have formed the first women’s battalion, this was certainly not the first time women had fought for Russia during the First World War. Russian women dug trenches, served as nurses and mechanics, and drove military vehicles. A few became pilots. Not all were satisfied with these roles, however. Some women secretly joined the front lines by enlisting as men. A select few (such as Bochkarëva) became officers, but those who promoted them were usually aware that they were women. Female combatants often outshone their male counterparts. Female soldiers were by definition enthusiastic volunteers, as only men were conscripted. Furthermore, women who had joined disguised as men had to display better discipline in order to avoid discovery. Bochkarëva carried this strictness over to her regiment, leading to 1700 of her original 2000 volunteers quitting. Her battalion was forbidden from showing ‘feminine’ qualities, such as having long hair or giggling.

The patriotism of the Russian women was admired by Kenney. In her unpublished memoir, she went as far as to call it “one of the greatest patriotic demonstrations being held during the revolution”1 – and Kenney had seen plenty of them during her tour. Kenney also noted the presence of a wounded soldier’s battalion, showing that the women were not the only patriots itching to get back to the war. The presence of the wounded battalion shows that the Russian spirit was uplifted by the Women’s Battalion, something that Alexander Kerensky had hoped for when they formed in March 1917. The Provisional Government decided that volunteer groups would reinvigorate front line troops who were becoming tired of the defensive war they were waging. Their patriotism would not have been lost on Emmeline Pankhurst, either. Her mission to Russia was also a patriotic one, encouraging the Russian people not to accept German treaties and to continue to fight alongside Britain. By 20 July 1917, just 7 days after this procession, all Russian women had gained the right to vote.

In October 1917, the Women’s Battalion was called to defend the Winter Palace. The 1000-strong battalion was unable to overcome the 40,000 Bolshevik soldiers, and they surrendered.

Further Reading:

  • Jessie Kenney Archive, Kenney Papers, University of East Anglia: KP/JK/4/1 Russian Diary available at the UEA Archives KP/JK/4/1 [Specific sub-files: KP/JK/4/1/1 Desk diary, 1917; KP/JK/4/1/6 The Price of Liberty, c. 1966 (unpublished memoir)]
  • ‘They fought for Russia: Female Soldiers of the First World War’ by Laurie Stoff. (From: A Soldier and a Woman. Edited by Gerard J. DeGroot and Corinna Peniston-Bird)

This blog is submitted as part of UEA’s Unboxed programme.

Battling for recognition: the suffragettes’ struggle with revolutionary Russia

Helen Williams is a first year undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia, currently studying History and working as a volunteer blogger on the University’s archives.

The events of 1917 forced a total revision of Russian society and governance, including to no small degree the status of women. From the beginning, female initiative had helped drive the revolution, the catalyst for which had been International Women’s Day; amid already heated discontent in Petrograd, women helped streamline protest by organising groups and compelled workers in Putilov to strike. By the next day, it had spread throughout the city. Its female residents continued to play a decisive role – such as swaying the Cossacks to join their forces against the czar[1] – and under the Russian Provisional Government, supported in part by women from both political and military angles, the trend promised to continue.

This was not lost on Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement in Britain. In June 1917, she and fellow suffragette Jessie Kenney travelled to Petrograd with two objectives: to appeal for Russia’s continuation of the war in the name of the Allied cause and, potentially, further her feminist agenda across Europe. The first was a daunting task. War had brought Russia to the brink of destruction, and advocation of peace at any price was by no means the preserve of her inhabitants. Pacifist Britons such as Labour Party member Ramsay McDonald supported the idea despite the ramifications it would have for the Allies. Pankhurst’s own daughter Sylvia was amongst those campaigning for British and Russian withdrawal.[2] Within Russia itself, the polemic ran deeper still.

Kenney’s diary papers, however, reveal an optimism on the part of both women that they could have an impact. Hindsight might tempt us to imagine this was misplaced; the Provisional Government would prove unable to sustain itself, much less Russia’s already unlikely position in the war. British Ambassador to Russia George Buchanan – with whom Pankhurst dined on the 27th – had earlier that morning voiced fears that this would happen to Prince Georgy Lvov[3], the new government’s Prime Minister. Yet nor was the suffragettes’ hope entirely unfounded, either. The Provisional Government was beginning to cultivate a securer position abroad – the USA had become the first foreign power to officially recognise it on 9th May[4] – and at home, through the person of the still-popular Minister of War, Alexander Kerensky. Indeed, public approval for him was reaching its zenith at this time,[5] fuelled by the initial success of a renewed offensive, just as Kenney was making her entries back in Petrograd. She and Pankhurst thus had little reason to doubt Mr Henderson when he reassured them that the Provisional Government ‘had got a much stronger hand’.

Perhaps the two suffragettes were more successful in their second objective. Kenney’s writing, furthermore, bespeaks a warmth with which those in the government were prepared to welcome them. Lvov himself displays a deep interest in Pankhurst’s work, shared by Minister of Posts and Telegrams Iraki Tsereteli, who Kenney tells us invites her opinions on Russia’s political future. That future saw women’s suffrage achieved less than a month later in July – almost a year before any woman could boast the same in Britain. Pankhurst and Kenney found in the Provisional Government friendly and perhaps genuine support for their cause, if not the guarantee of support for the Allies they had hoped for.

They would have been helped by their movement’s reputation, which preceded their arrival in Russia. While this, too, provoked polarisation, Kenney’s entries focus on the positive, extolling a mutual enthusiasm for female empowerment. She gives particular attention to the workers, and small wonder – June 1917 saw several strikes in Petrograd, initiated by women who were ‘extremely low-paid… principally laundrywomen, catering workers and women dye-workers’.[6] The two suffragettes would have seen all this; that Kenney underscores the issue of wage inequality so – directly repeating what Russian women had to say about it at their factory meeting – demonstrates how deeply it affected her.

Pankhurst herself had been just as – if not more – impressed by another group of women, namely Petrograd’s Women’s Battalion of Death. If Buchanan had disclosed to her his reservations about the Russian war effort during their luncheon on the 27th, they did not deter her from directly reaching out to the unit that same night, speaking at a concert to raise funds for them. The visit to their barracks two days earlier recorded by Kenney must have excited Pankhurst. She saw her own determination for both success in the war and female empowerment replicated in the battalion, for like the suffragettes themselves in Britain, there were women in Russia using voluntary participation in the war effort to work towards female suffrage.[7] Kenney mentions Maria Bochkareva, the battalion’s leader and creator. Of both her and her work, Pankhurst would write ‘glowing reports’[8], and photographs of the pair linked arm-in-arm survive, bespeaking a genuine affinity between them. Bochkareva, for her part, would remember Pankhurst fondly in her autobiography.[9]

Kenney and Pankhurst’s visit to Russia – and all that the former wrote of it – show many parallels between the changing status of women there and in Britain as a result of the First World War. In other ways, they contradicted each other, especially after the two countries’ military interests were no longer aligned. Yet that the two suffragettes could have come away from Russia with some positive memories such as these shows that in another fight, one in which women across nations were uniting, a degree of success had been justly felt.

This blog is part of the Unboxed programme.

Primary source: The Kenney Papers, University of East Anglia, KP/JK/4/1 Russian Diary

[1] Martin Sixsmith, Russia (London: BBC Books, 2012), p.185.

[2] June Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography (Psychology Press, 2002), p.292.

[3] George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, Vol. II (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd, 1923), p.147.

[4] Roy Bainton, 1917: Russia’s Year of Revolution (London: Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2005), p.91.

[5] Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (USA: Penguin Books), p.410.

[6] S. A. Smith, Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917–1918. (Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.118.

[7] Linda Harriet Edmondson. Feminism in Russia 1900-1917. (Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1984), p.167.

[8] Rex A. Wade, Revolutionary Russia: New Approaches to the Russian Revolution of 1917. (New York: Routledge, 2004), p.122.

[9] Maria Bochkareva, Yashka: My Life as Peasant, Officer and Exile, (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1919), p.168.

Bibliography

Bainton, Roy. 1917: Russia’s Year of Revolution. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2005.

Bochkareva, Maria. Yashka: My Life as Peasant, Officer and Exile. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1919.

Buchanan, George. My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, Vol. II London: Cassell & Co. Ltd, 1923.

Edmondson, Linda Harriet. Feminism in Russia 1900-1917. Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1984.

Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. Rpt. Pimlico, London, 1997.

Purvis, June. Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography. Psychology Press, 2002.

Sixsmith, Martin. Russia. London: BBC Books, 2012.

Smith, S. A. Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917–1918. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Stockdale, Melissa K. ‘”My Death for the Motherland Is Happiness”: Women, Patriotism, and Soldiering in Russia’s Great War, 1914-1917’, in The American Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 1, February 2004.

Wade, Rex A. Revolutionary Russia: New Approaches to the Russian Revolution of 1917. New York: Routledge, 2004.