English and Drama blog

24 posts categorized "Writing"

23 September 2022

East and West with D. M. Thomas

by Dominic Newman, Manuscripts Cataloguer. 

Donald Michael Thomas (b. 1935) made his name as a writer when, in the early 1980s, his novel ‘The White Hotel’ scored a sudden success in the United States. With its psychedelic expedition into the subconscious, Freud and the Holocaust, and the vertiginous buckling and melting away of trust in its fickle narrator, the sensation it caused then spread back across the Atlantic to Britain.

Yet Thomas had been writing steadily and copiously for many years beforehand, as his archive, now fully catalogued and available in the Reading Rooms, records.  In his early career he considered himself mainly a poet: between the 1960s and the 1980s he filled thirty-five notebooks (preserved in photocopied form) with sketches and drafts of verse.  A home-made chart (Add MS 89363/9/6) chronicles appearances of his early poems in magazines and journals.

Image is of a chart showing publications of Thomas’s early poems in red and black ink, from around 1960
A chart showing publications of Thomas’s early poems, c. 1960 (Add MS 89363/9/6).  ‘Weirdly child-like!’ is his subsequent annotation.

It was only at the end of the 1970s that Thomas turned to writing novels.  His first, ‘Birthstone’, set in his native Cornwall and already exploring his interest in the ideas of Sigmund Freud, is preserved in a first-edition copy (Add MS 89363/1/4) with annotations and amendments by the author.  Draft material and annotated typescripts and proofs record work on the other titles that then followed in quick succession, including ‘Russian Nights’, a sequence of novels which, though originally planned as a trilogy, expanded first into a quartet, then a quintet.

Image is an extract from 'Lying Together' and is typed on white paper
In ‘Lying Together’ (1990), Thomas appears as one of his own characters, helping three other writers to improvise a novel-within-a-novel (Add MS 89363/1/23)

Russia is a recurring theme in Thomas’s work.  He has translated the poetry of Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova, and made radio adaptations of Russian literature.  In the late 1990s he embarked on a substantial biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘A Century in his Life’, which won the Orwell Book Prize in 1999.  The archive contains a great deal of draft and research material for this book, as well as photographs and interview transcripts.

A more unusual series of papers (Add MS 89363/8) records one of the great frustrations of Thomas’s career: the seeming impossibility of making a film adaptation of ‘The White Hotel’, in spite of at least three separate attempts by different producers over the years.  The idea of a film first surfaced almost immediately after the novel’s overnight success, and at various junctures it seemed almost certain to be made.  But each time the project ran into difficulties, including of the legal variety (Thomas even found himself being dragged unwittingly into an American court case).  He relates the whole saga in his memoir ‘Bleak Hotel’ (2008), a typescript of which is also present in the archive (Add MS 89363/3/4-5).

Image shows a typed commentary by D M Thomas on Dennis Potter's screenplay for the film adaption of 'The White Hotel'
Thomas’s commentary on Dennis Potter’s screenplay for a proposed film adaptation of ‘The White Hotel’ (Add MS 89363/8/19)

Thomas has retained much of his correspondence with publishers and well-known writers (Charles Causley, Stevie Smith, Peter Redgrove, and others), along with hundreds of messages from his sister Lois (Add MS 89363/9/18-24).  There are also dozens of family photographs (Add MS 89363/9/8-11), starting at the time of his parents’ courtship in Cornwall in the 1920s and continuing through his childhood and adult life.  Lively scenes at home in Truro, where he returned to live in the late 1980s, are preserved for posterity. Most of the snaps are captioned by Thomas himself: ‘Rugby with Dad’ – ‘I was always distant at visits to beach / sea’ – ‘Singing my face off’. Family and friends too are fondly epitheted. There is even a calendar entitled ‘Singing Thomas’s’, each month with a different picture of the family singing, drinking and generally making merry.  Thomas has still found time to write, however: the latest drafts and sketches in the archive (Add MS 89363/2/9-23) date from as recently as 2017.

Image is a black and white photograph of D M Thomas playing rugby with his dad in an open field with hills behind. Thomas is holding the ball and is a young child.
‘Rugby with Dad’ in the field behind Thomas’s childhood home at Carnkie, near Redruth in Cornwall (Add Ms 89363/9/8)

The D. M. Thomas archive is available under shelf-mark Add MS 89363.

08 July 2022

Marking the bicentenary of the death of Percy Shelley

By Alexander Lock, Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. 

Today, 8 July 2022, marks the bicentenary of the death of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). One of the most politically radical of the Romantic poets, Shelley’s best known works include ‘Ozymandias’ (1818), ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ (1819), and ‘To the Skylark’ (1820). 

Shelley died at sea, aged just 29, on 8 July 1822. Earlier that month Shelley had sailed in his boat, the Don Juan, from his home in San Terenzo to Livorno. On that voyage he was accompanied by a young boat hand, Charles Vivian, and two close friends Edward Williams and naval officer Daniel Roberts. Shelley sailed to Livorno to meet Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron in order to develop their plans for the publication of a new anti-establishment journal The Liberal. Having accompanied Hunt to his accommodation in Pisa, on 8 July Shelley, Williams and Vivian set sail for home. Within a few hours the Don Juan was caught in a severe storm and all three men were lost at sea.

Shelley's body washed ashore near Viareggio on 18 July 1822 and William’s body was found on the same day three miles further along the shore. The remains of Vivian were discovered some weeks later. According to the friend who found them, Edward John Trelawny, Shelley was identified by the ‘volume of Sophocles’ he had ‘in one pocket, and Keats’s poems in the other’. Initially buried in quicklime, Shelley and Williams were exhumed and cremated on 16 August 1822 on the beach near Viareggio where they were found. It had been decided that Shelley’s remains should be interred near John Keats’ in the Protestant cemetery at Rome, whilst the remains of Williams were to be returned to England. In order to facilitate the movement of their bodies and overcome the Italian quarantine laws governing the burial of bodies washed from the sea, it was decided that the men be cremated.

Oil painting of Shelley's funeral showing mourners around the funeral pyre on a beach
An idealised representation of Shelley’s funeral in Louis Édouard Fournier, ‘The Funeral of Shelley’, 1889. Oil on canvas, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Public Domain

Following the funeral the ashes were collected for burial by Edward Trelawney who had also taken some of Shelley’s hair as a memento. He gave the hair and some of the ashes as a keepsake to Claire Clairmont – Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Lord Byron’s lover who was staying with the Shelleys in San Terenzo. These items would eventually pass to the British Library.

Fragment of Shelley's ashes in a framed golden mount
A lock of Shelley's hair and fragments of his ashes that once belonged to Claire Clairmont, stepsister of Shelley’s wife Mary Shelley
A lock of Shelley's hair in a framed golden mount
A lock of Shelley's hair and fragments of his ashes that once belonged to Claire Clairmont, stepsister of Shelley’s wife Mary Shelley

In the weeks leading up to his death, Shelley suffered from visions of drowning and death. In a letter written just after Shelley died – now in the British Library as Ashley MS 5022 – his wife Mary Shelley recounted how he dreamt that ‘the sea was rushing in’ and that he was strangling her whilst Edward Williams and his wife Jane looked on as corpses. After her husband's drowning, Mary began to consider how his visions might have foretold the future.

To mark the bicentenary of the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley, curators at the British Library worked with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah on a new Radio 4 programme ‘Percy Shelley, Reformer and Radical’. Presented by Zephaniah, the 2 part series brings a very personal take on Shelley’s work and how it influenced his own work and that of other poets. As part of this recording we showed Zephaniah the original draft of the ‘Mask of Anarchy’, Shelley’s annotated copy of ‘Queen Mab’, as well as the hair and ashes of the poet taken from his funeral pyre.

Curator Alexander Lock with Benjamin Zephaniah and the ashes of Percy Bysshe Shelley in front of them on a table
Curator Alexander Lock with Benjamin Zephaniah and the ashes of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Episode 1 was broadcast on Sunday 3 July and episode 2 will be aired on Sunday 10 July, at 4.30pm on BBC Radio 4. The episodes will be available online after broadcast. 

Advert for the Radio 4 programme Percy Shelley Reformer and Radical

 

 

21 June 2022

Coleridge and The Ancient Mariner

By Catherine Angerson, Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. A small display to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) can be seen in the Treasures Gallery until 25 September 2022.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner recounts the experiences of a mariner whose ship becomes trapped in ice during a long voyage. The mariner brings great misfortune on the ship and its crew by killing the albatross which helped to bring them to safety. Coleridge’s depression and own experiences of travel led to his increasing identification with the Mariner and he continued to revise the poem, first published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, at different episodes during his life.

A new temporary display in the Treasures Gallery brings together three of Coleridge’s manuscripts (a poem and two notebooks) and two 20th-century illustrated editions of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet.

The Coleridge display in the British Library Treasures Gallery
The Coleridge display in the British Library Treasures Gallery

The first item on display is a handwritten poem titled 'Dura Navis' which Coleridge said he composed at the age of 15 while he was a pupil at Christ’s Hospital in Sussex. The poem shows the poet’s early preoccupation with the isolation of the traveller and the dangers of travelling by sea. The manuscript is an autograph fair copy written down by Coleridge many years after he first composed the poem. A 51-year-old Coleridge added a comment at the bottom of the first page saying that the poem ‘does not contain a line that any clever school boy might not have written’ (Add MS 34225, f.1r).

Manuscript page of Coleridge's poem 'Dura Navis', handwritten ink on aged paper
S.T. Coleridge, ‘Dura Navis’, composed 1787; fair copy around 1823. Add MS 34225, f. 1r.

At the centre of the small display are two of the 55 of Coleridge’s notebooks purchased by the British Museum from the descendants of Coleridge’s brother James in 1951. Coleridge used pocket-sized notebooks to record thoughts, feelings, quotations, travel accounts, language learning (especially German), philosophical musings, poems and more. Notebook No. 9 (Add MS 47506) contains Coleridge’s impressions of a voyage to Malta in April 1804. In a brief moment of calm in the Bay of Biscay, the poet observes ‘the beautiful Surface of the Sea in this gentle Breeze’ (f. 33v). A reference to his friend William Wordsworth’s poem The Female Vagrant can be seen near the bottom of the page: ‘And on the gliding Vessel Heaven & Ocean smil’d!’ (f. 34r)

Coleridge's Malta notebook showing handwritten notes
‘And on the gliding Vessel Heaven & Ocean smil’d!’: a reference to Wordsworth in Coleridge’s Notebook No. 9, Add MS 47506, f. 34r.

In October 1806, Coleridge drafted a new version of a short section of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in his Notebook No. 11 (Add MS 47508). While the opening lines, ‘With never a whisper in the main / Off shot the spectre ship’, are close to lines 198199 of the poem published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, the following two lines do not appear in the first or the amended version published in 1817:

And stifled words & groans of pain
Mix’d on each trembling ^ murmering lip

Other images are altered but recognisable from part III of the poem published in Sibylline Leaves (1817). ‘The Sky was dull & dark the Night’ in the 1806 notebook becomes ‘The stars were dim, and thick the night’ in 1817.

Coleridge's notebook showing a handwritten draft and revision of the Ancient Mariner
S.T. Coleridge, manuscript revision of lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in Notebook No. 11, 1806, Add MS 47508, f. 5r

Many artists have been drawn to the creative force and supernatural imagery of The Ancient Mariner. The first illustrated edition on display was designed, decorated and illustrated by Hungarian artist Willy Pogány (born Vilmos András Pogány, 1882–1955) and published in 1910. The illustration of the ship struck by a ‘storm-blast’ is reproduced from Pogány’s watercolour and corresponds to Coleridge’s words on the opposite page. In the poem, the ship is driven by a storm, ‘tyrannous and strong’, towards the South Pole. Pogány’s storm has a suggestion of wings like the winged storm which chases the ship in the poem.

A printed version of the Ancient Mariner, by Willy Pogany, with the text on the left page and an image of the ship and the sea on the right page
S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: in seven parts; presented by Willy Pogány. London: G.G. Harrap & Co., 1910. K.T.C.40.b.13.

The display concludes with Mervyn Peake’s stark image of a suffering and repentant Mariner in an edition published by Chatto & Windus in 1943. In contrast to Pogány’s deluxe edition printed on vellum, this edition with seven black-and-white illustrations reproduced from Peake’s drawings was designed to be affordable. In Coleridge’s poem, the crew hangs the albatross around the Mariner’s neck to mark his guilt for killing the bird of good omen. Peake’s image hints at the possibility of redemption for the Mariner.

An illustration by Mervyn Peake showing the mariner with the albatross around his neck
Illustration by Mervyn Peake, in S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. London: Chatto & Windus, 1943. 11657.dd.18.

The Coleridge display at the British Library (until 25 September) overlaps by a few weeks with the loan of the manuscript of Coleridge’s other famous poem, Kubla Kahn, and a 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads to the Museum of Somerset for the exhibition In Xanadu: Coleridge and the West Country (until 25 June). The anniversary is also being marked at the British Library on 20 October with the Wordsworth Trust annual lecture by renowned Coleridge biographer Richard Holmes. Tickets will be available from mid-August.

Further reading

Kathleen Coburn, Merton Christensen and Anthony John Harding, eds, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 5 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957–2002)

Seamus Perry, ed., Coleridge's Notebooks: A Selection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

30 March 2022

P. G. Wodehouse Society launches international Essay Prize

Written by Helen Melody, Lead Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. 

The British Library has been home to the P.G. Wodehouse archive since September 2016. It is a large collection of 481 folders and volumes, which provides a real insight into the life and work of the writer, humourist and lyricist.  

The archive contains material relating to Wodehouse’s literary career, his theatrical and cinematic work, the Second World War period and his private life. Also included are papers relating to fans of Wodehouse, research and articles about his writing, events and commemorations organised after his death, and adaptations of his work.

Image is black and white and shows P G Wodehouse reading a book in front of shelves of other books

The archive is catalogued and more information can be found by searching the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue using keywords or the reference Loan MS 129. Anyone with a reader’s pass can consult the archive in the Manuscripts reading room on the second floor of the Library. Please see the Reader Registration pages of the Library’s website for more information about how to register for a pass if you do not already have one.

The Wodehouse archive is a resource for everyone but it could be particularly useful for anyone who is planning to submit an entry for the international Essay prize that has been launched by the P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK). The initiative was launched in late 2021 to mark the 140th anniversary of Wodehouse’s birth and coincide with the 25th anniversary of the creation of the society in 2022. Two prizes of £1000 and £250 will be awarded to the adult and junior winners respectively by a judging panel that includes Paula Byrne, Stephen Fry and Sophie Ratcliffe.

Image shows actor Stephen Fry holding a copy of  P G Wodehouse's novel Code of the Woosters

The prize is open to all. The judges ask that entries focus on Wodehouse’s novels, stories, plays and journalism with the hope that they will throw scholarly new light on aspects of his writing.

Entries, which must be original and previously unpublished, should be submitted to essayprize@pgwodehousesociety.org.uk  by 12 noon BST on Wednesday 1 September 2022. Full details and Terms & Conditions can be found on the Society’s website.  Good luck to anyone who decides to enter.

25 May 2020

Invoking the Dunkirk Spirit: Thames to Dunkirk 1940 to 2020

In this guest post, we are very pleased to welcome the artist Liz Mathews. The Library holds several of Liz Mathews' works in our artists books collection, including Thames to Dunkirk. During the past weeks, we have been working with Liz to create a new short film that shows this work and reflects on the events of the evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkirk in May and June 1940.   
 
Photograph showing Thames to Dunkirk as it was displayed within the exhibition Writing at the British Library
 
Thames to Dunkirk in the British Library Writing Exhibition, 2019

The eightieth anniversary of Dunkirk falls in May 2020 while here in Britain we are still living through the coronavirus pandemic. My artist’s book Thames to Dunkirk is the largest book in the British Library’s Contemporary British collection, and curators at the British Library had been planning some events with me to mark the moment, but since it became clear that no public events would be possible, I’ve been working with Jeremy Jenkins, Curator of Contemporary British Publications, to make an artists’ film of my artists' book Thames to Dunkirk (below). Under lockdown conditions we have assembled the elements of the soundtrack - on which the soldier-poet Basil Bonallack is voiced by his grandson Christopher Peters, and Virginia Woolf’s questioning lines from The Waves by me Liz Mathews - over my own photography of the book, and the film was edited by Jeremy Jenkins. 

Photograph showing the front cover of Thames to Dunkirk

Front cover of Thames to Dunkirk

 

Thames to Dunkirk, an artists' book by Liz Mathews, on film. 

I made Thames to Dunkirk in 2009, and it’s been in the Library’s collection for a decade, a surreally large book to echo the extraordinary nature of an event shared by over 300,000 people, each with their own individual experience and their own story to tell. It’s made from twenty-four sheets of the largest handmade paper in the world, each 1 metre high and 1.4 metres wide - and it opens out to a free-standing paper sculpture 17 metres long and a metre high.

Photograph of Thames to Dunkirk in full-view

Photograph of Thames to Dunkirk in full-view

Looking at Thames to Dunkirk again now, as its maker I’m both reminded of my original aim, and struck by the many parallels with our current situation. Hearing Dunkirk 1940 invoked so often during the lockdown - exemplifying British ingenuity, courage and adaptability in a desperate crisis - has brought that long ago time vividly to mind. So what is it about Dunkirk that speaks so urgently to our times? Who could read the following accounts in these days without recognising the ‘absolute mayhem’, the fear and anxiety, the ‘public catastrophe’, the ‘terrible suspense’?

‘The Dunkirk crisis was unbelievable. A lot of people coming back had jettisoned their guns and vehicles, they just got there as fast as they could. There were lots of refugees coming in - it was absolute mayhem. Dunkirk had been bombed. We knew that a lot of troops were sheltering along the shore. We had no idea they were going to be rescued - it seemed the whole army was going to be captured. I was extremely upset, because it never occurred to me that we would survive. I though we were defeated, that we would surrender and sue for peace.’ (Corporal Elizabeth Quale, WAAF liaison officer, from Max Arthur’s Forgotten Voices of the Second World War, Ebury Press / IWM 2004)

Photograph of Thames to Dunkirk, p.21

Thames to Dunkirk, p.21.

On May 26th 1940 the rescue began, an event of such enormity that it has become one of our most potent national myths. The British army fighting in France and Belgium had been outflanked and surrounded by the invading army of Nazi Germany, and ‘there was nothing for it but to fall back, made almost impossible by the multitudes of refugees on the roads. Our men could only crawl back, while the enemy raced to cut them off from the sea.’ (John Masefield, The Nine Days Wonder Heinemann, 1940).

Photograph of soldiers being evacuated from beaches at Dunkirk

By 26th May a solid mass of men had already gathered on the beaches and in the dunes near the town, and thousands more were still struggling to get there. Churchill’s government had a plan for the Royal Navy to rescue them, with the help of a makeshift armada of ‘little ships’, privately owned boats, yachts, lifeboats and small ships from England’s south coast and the Thames, to ferry the men out from the beaches to the waiting Naval ships.

 

Photograph showing page 10 of Thames to Dunkirk

Thames to Dunkirk, p.10

But ‘when Operation Dynamo began it was thought that only a few thousand could be saved. The next day the situation was so much worse that we had to be prepared for a desperate scramble to pick up survivors from a great disaster.’ (JM, ibid)

Meanwhile at home, Leonard and Virginia Woolf were among the millions waiting for news: ‘In Rodmell Dunkirk was a harrowing business. There was not merely the public catastrophe, the terrible suspense with Britain on the razor’s edge of complete disaster; in the village we were domestically on the beaches. For Percy, and Jim and Dick and Chris, whom I had known as small boys in the village school and watched grow up onto farm workers and tractor drivers were now, one knew, retreating, driven back to the Dunkirk beaches. There they presumably were waiting, and we in Rodmell waited.’ (Leonard Woolf The Journey not the Arrival Matters The Hogarth Press, 1969)

And from Virginia Woolf’s diary: ‘Louie comes agog. [Her brother] Harry come back on Monday. It pours out - how he hadn’t boots off for 3 days; the beach at Dunkirk - the bombers as low as trees - the bullets like moth holes in his coat…  He looted a Belgian shop & stuffed his pockets with rings which fell out in the sea; but 2 watches pinned to his coat survived… He was talking to a chap, who showed him a silk handkerchief bought for his joy lady. That moment a bomb killed him. Harry took the handkerchief. He saw his cousin dead on the beach; & another man from the street. Harry swam off, a boat neared. Say chum can you row? Yes, he said, hauled in, rowed for 5 hours, saw England, landed - didn’t know if it were day or night or what town - didn’t ask - couldn’t write to his mother - was despatched to his regiment.’ (Virginia Woolf, Diary Volume Five, ed. Anne Olivier Bell The Hogarth Press, 1984) 

Photograph showing Thames to Dunkirk in full-view

Virginia Woolf’s story about Harry West set me on a path of discovering first-hand accounts of that time, and gave me the idea of making Thames to Dunkirk. Along both sides of the huge book’s length are juxtaposed four significant lines: first, soldier-poet BG Bonallack’s eye-witness account of Dunkirk 1940 from his poem The Retreat; second, Virginia Woolf’s introspective questioning lines from The Waves flowing beneath as an undercurrent; and then on one side a watercolour map of the Thames from source to sea, lettered with the names of most of the little ships that went to the rescue; and on the other a 17m long watercolour of the great stretch of Dunkirk beaches and dunes, with the names of many people who were there during those nine days in 1940.

Close-up image of Thames to Dunkirk, page 18


Thames to Dunkirk, p.18.

There’s Alexander Graham King, ‘the mad hatter’ who played his accordion to entertain the queues of waiting soldiers for seven days, and Captain NC Strother-Smith, who could spare a thought for the refugees on the roads ‘machine-gunned and attacked by Bombers and fighters’ in this impossible situation. There’s Philip Newman, the army surgeon who treated wounded men by the thousands in ‘the Chateau’, remained behind with men too badly wounded to be moved, was captured and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp as a POW. And there’s Louie’s brother Harry - his name lettered in a queue out into the sea; I see him with the water up to his armpits, worrying about his looted watches getting wet.

Photograph showing the creation of Thames to Dunkirk, through the use of a wooden clothes-peg to apply paint.

Marking Thames to Dunkirk book with a wooden clothes peg

Each person whose story I found is there in the crowd on the book; the letters of their names stand as individuals in the mass, marked with a wooden clothes peg, an incongruous domestic tool to reference a background of home for each person. The little ships’ names, too, are set along the watercolour map of the Thames in paint mixed with Thames water, the words lettered with a Thames driftwood stick, to draw the material presence of the river into the book, to bring in the stories not only of the gallant boats but of all those across Britain doing what they could to help, volunteering, nursing the wounded, waiting for news.

Photograph of card showing details for the Dunkirk Project

Card for the Dunkirk Project

As for my aims: I wanted Thames to Dunkirk to represent all the voices of Dunkirk, not a simplified impersonal official version; to catch the event in all its diversity and complexity. Once it was made, it became the central thread of The Dunkirk Project, an online installation that collects and shared hidden or forgotten stories from Dunkirk. Presented in the form of daily news from 26th May to 4th June, this River of Stories made up of many voices, many different perspectives, shows how this multi-layered event defies simplistic reduction but still has important truths for today.

The voices of Thames to Dunkirk speak to our uncertain times at an apt moment. It’s more important than ever to acknowledge the European, multi-national nature of Britain’s wartime struggle against fascism, as exemplified at Dunkirk, and to recognise how we, the inheritors of the world that was made then, are still living with the consequences of our past. In June 1940 when the Dunkirk evacuation had brought most of the army home again, the threat of invasion was at its most acute - and Britain was still at war for a further four years. The parallels for our wounded world are all too clear: while we’ve been struggling with Brexit and the pandemic, the Climate Emergency has not gone away.

TtoD p20 copy TtoD p21 copy 2

Thames to Dunkirk, p.20-1

Now, coronavirus has forced us to re-examine our priorities. Another clear correspondence with Dunkirk 1940 is that amidst the devastation and the suffering there have been some positives: the many heroes we’ve met - Captain/Sir Tom Moore, every NHS doctor and nurse, three-quarters of a million volunteers, our bus drivers, our care workers and Andrea our local pharmacist, to name just a few - have outnumbered the villains, and we’ve found a renewed compassionate empathy and awareness of community.

Photograph showing post-mark of Captain Tom Moore

Captain Tom Moore post-mark

British engineers and fashion designers are falling over themselves to adapt factories to make essential personal protective equipment and ventilators; universities and research institutions are vying to produce tests, vaccine, antibodies; our theatres, online arts and the BBC are keeping us sane - in short, the real maverick Dunkirk spirit is alive and well in Britain today. Now is a good time to look again at this parallel crisis in our nation’s past, in order to understand the present better, and prepare for the future.

Ethel Maud

29 April 2020

Writing Tools for Interactive Fiction

by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications. 

Are you spending more time indoors and hoping to get your creativity flowing? Thinking about writing fiction? Interactive Fiction is a fast-growing collection area for the Library, and myriad tools for all levels can help you to bring your story to life.

Interactive fiction (IF), or interactive narrative/narration, is defined as “software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment.”

The British Library has been collecting examples of UK interactive fiction as part of the Emerging Formats Project, which is a collaborative effort from all six UK Legal Deposit Libraries to look at the collection management requirements of complex digital publications. Lynda Clark, the British Library Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction, built the Interactive Narratives collection on the UK Web Archive (UKWA) during her placement, as well as conducting analysis on genres, interaction patterns and tools used to build these narratives.

 

IF_tools

Source: Clark, L. (2019). Interactive Narrative Reports, Appendix A. Internal report (The British Library). Unpublished.

Many of these tools are free to use and don’t require any previous knowledge of programming languages. Because of Legal Deposit Regulations, most of the items in the Interactive Narratives collection can only be accessed on Library premises (you can read more on what UKWA content is available while the Library is closed here). Luckily, because this a contemporary collection, many of the original websites are still live and accessible.

Twine

Twine is an open-source tool to write text-based, non-linear narratives. Created by Chris Klimas in 2009, Twine is perfect to write Choose Your Own Adventure-like stories without knowing how to code. The output is an HTML file, which facilitates publishing and distribution, as it can be run on any computer with an Internet connection and a web browser. If you have any knowledge of CSS or Javascript it’s possible to add extra features and specific designs to your Twine story, but the standard Twine structure only requires you to type text and put brackets around the phrases that will become links in the story (linking to another passage or branching into different directions). There is an online version or a downloadable version that runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux. There is a Twine Cookbook (containing ‘recipes’, instructions and examples to do a variety of things) a wiki and a series of written and video tutorials.

Schermata 2020-04-19 alle 18.05.41

Some quality cat dreams. (from Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000)

Charlie Brooker used Twine to plot out Black Mirror’s interactive episode Bandersnatch. As the most used tool in the UKWA collection, there are many examples of Interactive Fifction written in Twine, from cat and teatime simulators (Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000 and Damon L. Wakes’ Lovely Pleasant Teatime Simulator), to stories that include a mix of video, images and audio (Chris Godber’s Glitch), and horror games made for Gothic Novel Jam using the British Library’s Flickr collection of images (Freya Campbell’s The Tower NB some content warnings apply). Lynda Clark also authored an original story as a conclusion to her placement: The Memory Archivist incorporates many of the themes emerged during her research and won The BL Labs Artistic Award 2019.

Inform 7

While Twine allows you to write hypertext narratives (where readers can progress through the story by clicking on a link), Inform 7 lets you write parser-based interactive fiction. Parser-based IF requires the reader to type commands (sometimes full sentences) in order to interact with the story.

Play-if-card-300dpiHow to Play Interactive Fiction (An entire strategy guide on a single postcard) Written by Andrew Plotkin -- design by Lea Albaugh. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

Inform 7 is a free-to-use, hopefully-soon-to-be-open-sourced tool to write interactive fiction. Originally created as Inform by Graham Nelson in 1993, the current Inform 7 was released in 2006 and uses natural language (based on the English language) to describe situations and interactions. The learning curve is a bit steeper than with Twine, but the natural language approach allows for users with no programming experience to write code in a simplified language that reads like English text. Inform 7 also has a Recipe Book and a series of well-documented tutorials. Inform also runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux and lets you output your game as HTML files.

While the current version of Inform is Inform 7, narratives using previous versions of the system are still available Emily Short’s Galatea is always a good place to start. You could also explore mysterious ruins with your romantic interest (C.E.J. Pacian’s Love, Hate and the Mysterious Ocean Tower), play a gentleman thief (J.J. Guest’s  Alias, the Magpie) or make more tea (Joey Jones’ Strained Tea).

Bitsy

Bitsy is a browser-based editor for mini games developed by Adam Le Doux in 2016. It operates within clear constraints (8x8 pixel tiles, a 3-colour palette, etc.), which is actually one of the reasons why it is so beloved. You can draw and animate your own characters within your pixel grid, write the dialogue and define how your avatar (your playable character) will interact with the surrounding scenery and with other non-playable characters. Again, no programming knowledge is necessary. Bitsy is especially good for short narratives and vignette games. After completing your game, you can download it as an html file and then share it however you prefer. There is a Bitsy wiki, as well as some comprehensive tutorials and even a one-page pamphlet covering the basics.

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A harsh but fair review.
(from Ben Bruce’s Five Great Places to Get a Nice Cup of Tea When You Are Asleep)

To play (and read) a Bitsy work you should use your keyboard to move the avatar around and interact with the ‘sprites’ (interactive items, characters and scenery usually recognisable as sporting a different colour from the non-interactive background). You can wander around a Zen garden reflecting on your impending wedding (Ben Bruce’s Zen Garden, Portland, The Day Before My Wedding), alight the village fires to welcome the midwinter spirits (Ash Green’s Midwinter Spirits), experience a love story through mixtapes (David Mowatt’s She Made Me A Mix Tape), or if you’re still craving a nice cuppa you can review some imaginary tea shops (Ben Bruce’s Five Great Places to Get a Nice Cup of Tea When You Are Asleep).

ink/inky & inklewriter

Cambridge-based videogame studio inkle is behind another IF tool or two. Ink is the scripting language used to author many of inkle’s videogames the idea behind it is to mark up “pure-text with flow in order to produce interactive scripts”. It doesn’t require any programming knowledge and the resulting scripts are relatively easy to read. Inky is the editor to write ink scripts in it’s free to download and lets you test your narrative as you write it. Once you’re happy with your story, you can export it for the web, as well as a JSON file. There’s a quick tutorial to walk you through the basics, as well as a full manual on how to write in ink. ink was also used to write 80 Days, another work collected by the British Library as part of the emerging formats project.

Inky-screenshot@2x A page from 80 Days, written using ink

inklewriter is an open-source, ready-to-use, browser-based IF “sketch-pad”. It is meant to be used to sketch out narratives more than to author fully-developed stories. There is no download required and the fact that is quite a simple and straightforward tool to experiment with IF makes it a good fit for educators. Tutorials are included within the platform itself so that you can learn while you write.

If you want some inspiration before starting to write your own story in ink, you can try selling real estates to supernatural creatures (Eleanor Hingley’s Unreal Estate) or understanding why there’s a ghost stalking your flat (Isak Grozny’s Dripping with the Waters of Sheol NB some content warnings apply). In inklewriter, you can start by trying to kill your first giant (Lee Williams’ Your First Giant) or survive an interrogation (Jon Ingold’s The Intercept).

ChoiceScript

ChoiceScript is a javascript-based scripting language developed by Adam Strong-Morse and Dan Fabulich of Choice of Games. It can be used to write choice-based interactive narratives, in which the reader has to select among multiple choices to determine how the story will unfold. The simplicity of the language makes it possible to create Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style stories without any prior coding knowledge. The ChoiceScript SDK (Software Development Kit) is available to download for free on the Choice of Games website. Once your story is complete, you can publish it for free online. Otherwise, Choice of Games offer the possibility of publishing your work with them (they publish to various platforms, including iOS, Android, Kindle and Steam) and earn royalties from it There is a tutorial that covers the basics, including a Glossary of ChoiceScript terms. The Choice of Game blog also includes some articles with tips on how to design and write interactive stories, especially long ones.

Genres of works built using ChoiceScript are again quite varied from sci-fi stories exploring the relationships between writers and readers (Lynda Clark’s Writers Are Not Strangers), to crime/romantic dramas (Toni Owen-Blue’s Double/Cross) and fantasy adventures (Thom Baylay’s Evertree Inn).

 

BONUS LEVEL: sok-stories

Sok-stories is not a tool to write IF, but it offers a simple and straightforward perspective on game dynamics and the results of interactions. It was developed by Sokpop Collective on commission by Now Play This 2019. There is no expectation of programming knowledge and the output games are very lo-fi you draw everything (characters, items, scenery) and set your own rules to create super-short games. There is no dialogue (unless you want to draw that as well): the main focus is the relationship between the player’s choices and the effects they cause in the game. You interact with the game by dragging and dropping characters on items, items on items, characters on characters, etc. The limited set of commands and the ease with which you can set up the tool and start drawing, make it a really good introduction for younger audiences to the cause-effect rules of games and potentially an educational and entertaining way to spend some lockdown time. Sok-stories requires a fee to download ($3 at the moment of writing), but you can browse a library of already published games for free: you can dig dinosaurs at an archaeological site, play super-abridged versions of old videogames or maybe… make more tea? Anyone?

FiN+Jh

Setting rules in sok-stories

This is in no way a comprehensive list there are a lot of other tools and platforms to write IF, both mainstream as well as slightly more obscure ones (Ren’Py, Quest, StoryNexus, Raconteur, Genarrator, just to mention a few). Try different tools, find the one that works best for you or use a mix of them if you prefer! Experiment as much as you like. To conclude, I’ll leave you with a quote by Anna Anthropy from her book Rise of the Videogame Zinester:

“Every game that you and I make right now [...] makes the boundaries of our art form (and it is ours) larger. Every new game is a voice in the darkness. And new voices are important in an art form that has been dominated for so long by a single perspective. [...]

There’s nothing to stop us from making our voices heard now. And there will be plenty of voices. Among those voices, there will be plenty of mediocrity, and plenty of games that have no meaning to anyone outside the author and maybe her friends. But [...] imagine what we’ll gain: real diversity, a plethora of voices and experiences, and a new avenue for human beings to tell their stories and connect with other human beings.”

 

24 April 2020

Domesticity after the Housekeepers

By Jessica Gregory, Curatorial Support Officer of Modern Manuscripts. The Grace Higgens Papers are found at Add MS 83198 – Add MS 83258. For more information on her life see The Charlton Trust.  A biography of Higgens, The Angel of Charleston: Grace Higgens, Housekeeper to the Bloomsbury Group was published by British Library Press in 2013.

As the reality of working from home begins to set in — and a new, intensely domestic form of life begins to take shape — I’ve been thinking about how the Library’s literary collections can sometimes gloss over the day-to-day realities of life in favour more abstract or aesthetic concerns. In thinking through this, I was drawn again to Grace Higgens (1903-1983). Higgens spent most of her working life in the household of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (of Bloomsbury Group fame), where she was employed as a domestic servant from the age of seventeen until her retirement at age seventy. In 2007 the British Library acquired Higgens’ archive, consisting of her diaries, letters and photographs. Her papers shed light on a life dedicated to professional housekeeping in a time when the management of the domestic sphere was changing rapidly and remind us — especially now, if we needed to be reminded — that the cultural life of a society has always depended upon the (often unsung) labour of certain key-workers.

Pic 1

Grace HiggensDiary 1924, Add MS 83204 © Estate of Grace Higgens

 

Pic 2

Grace Higgens describes witnessing the Woolfs on their bicycles looking absolute freaks. © Estate of Grace Higgens

 

As well as providing a a humourous insight into Higgens’ daily life and her opinions of the bohemian crowd that gathered around the house — including descriptions of Virginia and Leonard Woolf — her archives also show us what life dominated by domestic work looked like in the first half of the twentieth-century. When Higgens first entered employment, domestic service was one of the few careers open to her; and the knowledge that her life would be somewhat delimited by the house and garden came as no surprise to her. That so many of us are now struggling with the tighter borders around our own lives in part illustrates the profound changes that have taken place over the twentieth century, which have given many of us the privilege to choose how much we stay at home.

Pic 3 - Copy

UK Government Stay at Home Advert, 2020 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The problem of keeping on top of the housework is only novel to those lucky enough to have not dealt with its pressures previously. The double burden of bread-winning and doing the housework has always been a reality to many working-class women. But for those who could afford to outsource  housework, this was one way in which they could assume more control over their lives; to build the foundations for walls which could support the erection of a ‘room of one’s own’.

Through the ages, the upper-classes have employed servants to cook, clean, garden and child-rear, but it was with the new money of the Victorian middle-classes that many families could also employ domestic servants. The pre-modern kitchens of this era meant that supplying heat, food and clean clothes to a family was a full-time job for at least one, if not more, servants. The Victorian era emphasised house-proudnessas an aspiration for women and publications directed at women from the time explained ways to achieve this. Most famously Mrs Beetons Book of Household Management, aimed to inform young wives of all the essentials needed to keep a husband happy and ensure that he would not stray. However, even Mrs. Beeton did not expect a wife to do all the work in the house, even going so far as to give advice on how much to pay domestic servants.

Pic 4

The title page of Mrs Beetons, Book of Household Management, 1861 

By 1901, in the new Edwardian era there were upwards of 1.5 million domestic servants employed in households in Britain. This was the largest employment sector for women in Britain. Domestic service would dominate employment opportunities for women until the First World War. With work needed to be done on the home front, and more opportunities in the growing retail and clerical economy, more women left domestic service. This exodus was exacerbated through the Second World War as employment opportunities proliferated and the modernisation of the household kitchen meant much more labour-saving opportunities. Increasingly, the domestic servant was replaced with the housewife. By 1950, a third of women were in paid employment, but despite the advances of the era – the new NHS, smaller family sizes and an increased availability of part-time work - most womens daily lives were still centred on the domestic sphere.

By the time Grace Higgens bought her own home and retired in 1970, the role of the housekeeper as she knew it had changed beyond recognition. Grace Higgens daily life had been dominated by household chores, but so too were the lives of many married women at the time; only they were not paid. This would become a major concern for the Womens Liberation Movement which emerged in the nineteen seventies. As more women swapped the home for work, the domestic landscape changed once again. In households where both adults worked, domestic work came second to paid work and women increasingly contested assumption that the extrawork in the house automatically fell to them. With the eighties boom more families decided to outsource this work, much like their Victorian predecessors had. The domestic worker returned in a different guise, in that of the casual-contract cleaner, the au pair, nanny, cook, gardener and even the dog-walker.

Now, as we close our front door and return to the domestic sphere once again, many people are figuring out their relative positions for a life lived entirely in the home — if only for a short while. The full-time housekeeper like Grace Higgens may be — for the most part, at least — a relic of the past, but domestic work persists, and its division remains as always unequally distributed along lines of gender and class. Dynamics shift and change as we all adapt to the lock-down landscape. Preconceived roles of men and women in the home may be looser today than in Higgens’ day, but there is only one way to prove the hypothesis that nowadays we divide domestic work more fairly: roll up your sleeves, muck in and spread the load.

17 April 2020

To Sir With Love, a new appreciation for an old favourite

by Helen Melody, Lead Curator, Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. Read more about E.R Braithwaite, and To Sir With Love on the Library's Discovering Literature pages, here.

How are you spending the lockdown? Being at home could mean a chance to read all those books that you have never quite got around to. Or then again it could be an opportunity to re-visit some old favourites which in my case includes E.R. Braithwaite’s To Sir With Love. Published in 1959 this semi-autobiographical book tells the story of Rick Braithwaite who finds work teaching in a tough East End school in the early 1950s. It is an exploration of prejudice, teenage rebellion and triumph over adversity which sees the teacher come face to face with racism and kindness in post-war London. This is a great book to read at any time, but the difficulties that Rick faces in trying to interest his teenage class in their education will probably ring especially true for anyone faced with home schooling their children at the moment. 

I feel very lucky that the Library has an annotated typescript of To Sir with Love in its collections, which forms part of the archive of the publisher Max Reinhardt, who managed The Bodley Head Press. Selected pages from the typescript have been digitised for Discovering Literature which means that you can enjoy reading an excerpt from the book, complete with E.R. Braithwaite’s handwritten annotations, even when the Library is closed.

 

Photograph of typescript draft of To Sir With Love by E.R. Braithwaite

Typewritten draft, with copious manuscript amendments, of Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love, published by The Bodley Head, 1959. Add MS 88987/2/10

In this insert from Chapter IV, Rick goes to an interview for a job as a Communications Engineer only to be rejected because the interview panel feel that their white workforce would not wish to be managed by a black man. The incident highlights the racism that was present in Britain at the time but which Rick had not experienced whilst serving as an RAF serviceman during the war. His disillusionment is complete when he telephones the other companies to which he had applied for work to inform them that he is black, only to be told that the jobs (for which he had been offered interviews) have been filled. Rick reflects on his upbringing and the Britishness which he felt growing up but which he realises does not mean that he is British in the eyes of British people. His pain is palpable and upsetting, yet for the purposes of the story his decision to turn his back on his pre-war profession leads him to teaching, which forms the basis of the book.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to anyone, along with its sequel, Paid Servant (1962), which Braithwaite wrote about his subsequent time as a social worker. Please do take a look at the Discovering Literature webpages and those relating to Beryl Gilroy, the pioneering teacher and writer. Gilroy’s autobiography, Black Teacher, was published in 1976 whilst her novel, In Praise of Love and Children written in 1959 and only published in 1996 was featured in the Library’s Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition in 2018. Hopefully it will provide inspiration for all those parent-teachers out there.

 

 

 

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