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  • Level 1: Introductory

Writing what you know

Updated Thursday 12th February 2009

Barry Dackombe says that even the everyday can provide inspiration for drama - if you know how to handle it.

Hazel’s diary, which she started writing at the age of 14, serves as a reminder of past events that occurred. But, for her as a writer, it also provides the inspiration for dramatic prose.

Audio

Copyright BBC

Text

JOE
You still keeping up your diary?

HAZEL
I only jot down a few notes.

JOE
D’you know, I used to want to write, but I never had opportunity.

HAZEL
Oh, a diary’s not real writing. Anyway, there’s not a lot to write about in Huddersfield, is there?

JOE
I don’t know. Every little life has its moments. Even here.

HAZEL
Night, Dad.

JOE
Night love. Sleep tight.

Life writing sometimes calls for the combination of disparate diary entries or consciously rearranging events. Compare the diary entry for Friday 15th February, 1952 with the dramatised version.

Audio

Copyright BBC

Text

HAZEL [In her diary]
Friday, 15th February 1952. Work. Mr. Dyson had brought a portable wireless and allowed us to listen for five or ten minutes to the King’s funeral ceremonies. Heard people singing “God Save the Queen” for the first time tonight on the wireless. Evening, free-lance writing class at the Tech. Granville waited for me as usual at the bottom of the steps.

An extract from Harriet Wheeler's diary Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Harriet Wheeler

Here, the writer who has adapted the book has directly linked the funeral of King George VI with Hazel hearing people singing “God Save the Queen”. This makes for a stronger narrative without substantially altering the original meaning of the diary entry.

It is perhaps an old adage to write about what you know. You do not need to have lived an unusual or exotic life but you do need to be fully aware of the world you live in.

To recognize the value of the contents of a diary it is necessary to both know the circumstances and the context it was written in, as well as the historical background to the period in question.

Sometimes, a briefly mentioned item can open up a whole new avenue of understanding.

The articles that proved most successful for Hazel in the 1950s were based on her own experiences, such as the one about working in the General Post office (GPO) as a Christmas casual and the one based on the love letters between her and her future husband, Granville Wheeler.

Audio

Copyright BBC

Text

GRANVILLE
Letter came for you today.

[SHE OPENS IT]

HAZEL
From the News Chronicle. {PAUSE] It’s the article I sent three months back. They’ve bought it!

GRANVILLE
There’s no stopping you now, is there?

HAZEL
Don’t worry. It’ll be my last for a very long time.

GRANVILLE
What was it about?

HAZEL
Love letters.

GRANVILLE
What love letters?

HAZEL
Ours. The ones we sent to each other when you were doing army training. Remember?

GRANVILLE [SLIGHTLY SHOCKED]
By heck, Haze - is nothing sacred?

HAZEL
Seeing as you’d used the back of them for writing down football scores, no. But they were lovely, Gran. We should share them with people. Don’t you think? They’ve sent me a cheque for a guinea.

The thrill of being invited to read her article on the Woman’s Hour programme can be seen in the dramatised account from Writing the Century - itself, a Woman's Hour drama:

Audio

Copyright BBC

Text

HAZEL [Reading a letter]
The British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting House, Piccadilly, Manchester. August 4, 1953.

Dear Mrs. Wheeler

Thank you so much for sending us your script, “I was a Christmas Casual,” describing your experiences as a Post office worker at the Huddersfield Post Office last Christmas. I now write to say that we would very much like to include it in a future Woman’s Hour programme from the North of England. The date of the broadcast would be December 14, and we hope that you would be prepared to read. We would require you in our Leeds Studios from 10 a.m. that day for rehearsals.

 

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