Jill. By Philip Larkin. Jill was Philip Larkin’s first novel, written when he was 21 and just out of Oxford. John Kemp, a Northern Grammar boy arrives at Oxford for his first term. Socially awkward and inexperienced, he finds he is sharing rooms with the upper class Christopher Warner, whose brash loutish behaviour both intimidates and attracts him. Jill is a subtle and moving account of a young man facing the big issues of life – sex and class – and retreating into the world of the imagination. In effect, Jill is about Larkin finding himself as a writer – a book about the craft of writing and a young man’s journey from boyhood to maturity.
A Girl in Winter. By Philip Larkin. Philip Larkin’s second and final novel which he wrote in 1946, aged 24. In wintery wartime Britain, Katherine Lind, exiled and alone, endures her job as an assistant in an obscure provincial library with an unpleasant boss and unfriendly colleagues. Frozen in time and tragedy, her past is gone – and with it her family, her friends, her old life. She is living moment by moment. But on this cold, bleak Saturday, news from an English family she once knew forces her to relive the idyllic summer she spent with them six years before. Will Katherine’s icy heart finally start to melt? A Girl in Winter is a beautiful evocation of the icy claustrophobia that Philip Larkin himself endured, working in a provincial library in his early twenties, when his career as a poet was only just beginning.
Alone in Berlin. By Hans Fallada. Primo Levi’s declaration that Alone in Berlin is “the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis” is bold and unequivocal. English readers have had to wait 60 years to explore the 1947 novel in which Otto Quangel, a factory foreman and his wife Anna believe themselves morally obliged to take on the full might of the Nazis. When their son is killed “for Fuhrer and Fatherland”, the Quangels begin to write anonymous postcards, denouncing the war and the regime, and leave them on the stairwells of public buildings in Berlin. Over two years, the cards become their life. Trapped through a trivial mistake, by their nemesis, Inspector Escherich of the Gestapo they are put on trial for their lives, but find a strange freedom in a mocking defiance and then in a terrible silence. Alone in Berlin is a grim but heroic story told with laconic determination by a man who lived through the war in Berlin. It is about the quiet moral triumph of a seemingly inconsequential couple – it points to a courage which lay in the hearts of most true Germans, if only angst and overwhelming fear hadn’t been allowed to gain the upper hand.
Annals of the Parish. (R) John Galt’s masterpiece of small-town Scottish life, written in 1821. Reverend Micah Balwhidder settles in his study to pen an account of his fifty year ministry in the parish of Dalmailing. Balwhidder’s appointment in 1760 tears the community apart as the young minister is placed in his post by an absentee landowner – inciting the rage of the parishioners.
Bright Day. By JB Priestley. Disillusioned scriptwriter Gregory Dawson is staying at a hotel in Cornwall, finishing a script. A chance encounter in the bar sends him back to the lost world of his youth before the slaughter of the First World War when he was a 18-year old in Bruddersford, Yorkshire: Through rediscovering his past Dawson realises where his life took a wrong turn and where he must make amends if he is to start afresh. There is a glow of magic in poignant rediscovery.
Esther Waters. By George Moore. Set against a background of gambling and horseracing; Esther Waters is a stirring tale of how a servant girl makes her way in Victorian England.Forced to leave the home of her brutal stepfather, Esther takes a job as a maid at ‘Woodview’, a country estate owned by a nouveau riche racing family. Esther’s tale is a slice of Victorian life that is rarely shown; single parenting, wet nursing, divorce, gambling, and religious zealotry. Through her we discover exactly what it feels like to be poor and powerless. The book was banned until Gladstone revoked it, saying it was compassionate, moral and humane; and after that it became a best seller.
Fearless. By Mike Walker. On April 1st 2013, an aspiring young journalist went to live on the streets of Newcastle for one week. He never came home. His dead body was found, three days later, in a derelict, boarded-up hostel. As part of a job application for a TV investigative journalism post, 26 year old Lee Halpin decided to tell the story of the recent rise in homelessness by sleeping rough and relying on the services open to the homeless for his survival. The job advert asked applicants for an example of a ‘fearless approach to a story’. ‘Fearless’ is the story of a talented young man eager to escape the confines of Newcastle, impatient to discover what would define him, and egged on by the gauntlet of fearlessness. He set out on one of the coldest weeks of the year, informing only five people of his plans, forgoing a phone and other luxuries in his pursuit for authenticity. Through intimate interviews with the people who knew him best and those that were filming him over the three days, as well as dramatisations, ‘Fearless’ pieces together what happened to Lee and why it was so important to him to pursue the story at all costs.
Hair of the Dog. By Katie Hims. A witty and poignant ensemble drama following different characters in the pub on New Years Day. Hair of the Dog is recorded ‘as live’, in a single take, on location in a London pub. The resolutions aren’t going so well – but what does the year hold for the relationships and the dreams for the future? We move through the bar, between characters and stories, between an old way of life and a new one. This is truly a New Years Day, with all its humour and it’s sadness, its desire and its frustration – and the anticipation for a good year to come.
More Katie Hims in the Aurhors Pages.
He Died with His Eyes Open. By Derek Raymond. Burn Gorman plays a detective investigating a brutal murder in 1980s London. He has little to go on except for the cassette diaries left by the victim, played by Toby Jones. Fragments of his life, recorded at different times, punch through into the present, and supply the detective with elusive clues to the true nature of the man’s fate.
Head Hunters. By Michael Eaton. In the early years of the twentieth century, the man generally credited with being the founding father of the new science of anthropology was James George Frazer, author of ‘The Golden Bough’. Whereas Frazer rarely left his Cambridge study, it was Alfred Cort Haddon who led the first anthropological field-work expeditions, and in 1898 Haddon became the first anthropologist to film a re-enactment of an initiation rite on Mer, an island in the Torres Strait. Nearly twenty years later he signed up to work as a YMCA volunteer just a few miles from the trenches on the Western Front, and it was there that he re-met one of the members of his Mer team, now working on a study of the psychological impact of modern warfare on soldiers – ‘shell shock’.
How to Be an Internee With No Previous Experience. Drama by Colin Shindler based on the 1944 interviews between PG Wodehouse and a young Malcolm Muggeridge, working as a wartime interrogator for MI5, following Wodehouse’s radio broadcasts to the United States from a Nazi internment camp.
Is Your Love Better Than Life. By Frances Byrnes. Could an Archbishop become an enemy of the state? Inspired partially by Eliot’s classic verse drama Murder in the Cathedral, Is Your Love Better than Life explores a futuristic scenario in which senior figures in the Church and Government discover they have irreconcilable differences, so that it becomes for them a matter of life and death. What beliefs will we die for? Or kill for? It’s about telling the truth.
Lost in Mexico. By Ingeborg Topsøe. British backpackers, Rachel and Sally falsely claim they have been robbed in order to get a pay-out from their travel insurance when they get home. Unfortunately, they get caught out when the Mexican police decide to go back to their hotel and search their room. Charged and arrested for insurance fraud, unable to speak Spanish, the girls are sucked into the vortex of the Mexican penal system. It’s a life-changing experience that tests their friendship to the limit, in this two-part coming-of-age drama by Ingeborg Topsøe, recorded in Mexico.
Love, War and Trains. By Ian McMillan. John is a sailor in the Royal Navy and Olive is in the WAAFs based in Wigan. He’s Scots, she’s a Yorkshire lass and they’re in love. John has a 48 hour pass to get married in Scotland – but he’s travelling from Plymouth and she can’t get leave. So she goes AWOL. This is the heart warming story of how poet Ian McMillan’s parents’ got married during World War 2. A poignant and funny verse drama.
Ian McMillan: “This is the story of my mum and dad’s wedding in October 1943 in Peebles in the Scottish Borders. They wrote to each other for a few years, met a couple of times and then got married on a forty-eight hour pass. My dad’s ship docked at Plymouth and he got the train to Peebles; my mother had applied for leave but they wouldn’t give her any so she went AWOL, over the fence and away to the nearest station. They arrived in Peebles, got married, had one night together in the Tontine Hotel and then my dad went back to his ship and my mother went back to base and got arrested and spent two weeks in the glasshouse. Arrested for love! Fantastic!”.
The Broken Word. By Adam Foulds. Adam Foulds adapts his own poem about a white family caught up in the Mau Mau time in 1950s Kenya. Tom comes home for his last holiday before university and is recruited by the English colonial vigilantes and finds himself acquiring an unexpected taste for blood.
The Heroic Pursuits of Darleen Fyles. By Esther Wilson. Inspired by a true story. Darleen is a young woman with learning difficulties who has become obsessed with the emergency services and who occasionally sets fire to things. Helen is a volunteer helper trying to help Darleen to rebuild her life, but she too has her own secret reasons for volunteering.
More Darleen Fyles on Drama Page 77.
Man in a Wheelbarrow. By Sebastian Baczkiewicz. Trudy’s arrival in Kington has caused quite a stir. The young American, with her dyed neon hair, looks more like a visiting rock star than an inhabitant of the Herefordshire market town. Trudy claims that she’s researching local history, but her story doesn’t add up. When she starts surreptitiously following the town’s street cleaner, questions are asked about the real reason for her visit. Man in a Wheelbarrow is the first of two plays that form the community project The Marches.
Fearless Librarian Saves the Day. By Sebastian Baczkiewicz. This is the story of no ordinary librarian. Sitting behind the wheel of a clapped-out mobile library, Harry Hayman is the easy rider of Herefordshire’s remote country lanes. Whether it’s as a knight in shining armour, a getaway driver or an unlikely Casanova – Harry repeatedly finds himself having to save the day. But when his cherished job is jeopardised, can he pull out all the stops? A road trip that weaves together stories inspired by life in the Herefordshire countryside.
Buddenbrooks. By Thomas Mann. A 19th-century German merchant family fight to keep their supremacy in the changing world of 1840s Europe. Four generations of Buddenbrooks try to sustain their inheritance – a once highly successful trading company in the port of Lubeck on the Baltic Sea – in a world where the old ways no longer work.
Beware Of Pity. By Stefan Zweig. Stefan Zweig is a remarkable writer who had a remarkable life, but is not nearly as well known as he deserves to be, as Simon Gray discovered when he was attracted by the cover of his only novel, Beware of Pity. Simon Gray took the book on holiday with him and used it as an escape from worrying about his cancer and the likely prognosis, “it being too good to read except with the closest attention” and he became immersed in the story of “a young man betrayed by his own unwonted impulses, his own nature – it’s the way that the novel single-mindedly, almost obsessively, illustrates and analyses the destructive power of a single emotion -if that’s what pity is – that makes it unique, at least in my experience.”
Simon Gray embarked on a dramatisation of the book for Radio 4, but it was unfinished at his death in 2008. Another writer, Clare McIntyre, was also attracted by the story and wrote a stage version, but she too died before it was completed. Stephen Wyatt has taken on the task of writing a two part radio version based on Clare McIntyre’s material.
The Midwich Cuckoos. By John Wyndham. A dynamic modern dramatisation of John Wyndham’s gripping sci-fi classic, about alien impregnation overturning the prim and proper world of a sleepy English village.