On being a writer...

A celebration of the writing process, of being a writer, of all the weird things that pass through a writing brain...

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Anne Frank

To Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam.  I remember consuming her diaries when I was a teenager, and being utterly haunted.  I have the Pan edition before me now, with a totally unrealistic painting of Anne on the cover and a few black and white photographs.  So now I have at last stepped behind the bookcase and climbed the wooden stairs.

So many things strike me now that never struck me then.  First, that the families lived in near darkness during the day, like moles.  They blacked the windows out.  Then, the proximity in which they all lived and slept.  The most beautiful thing that still survives today is the loo, decorated in blue and white porcelain.  And then the information that the Dutch government in exile issued a request in 1944 that the Dutch people preserve any diaries or memoires of the war for publication afterwards. So Anne, hearing the request, began to rewrite and rework her diaries.

She was a consummate writer in embryo.  So self-conscious, so alive to the nuances of those around her.  She was thin-skinned, passionate and above all poetic, insatiable, unstoppable in her urge to write.  Her diary speaks on so many levels to a young girl - the irritation with her parents, first love, ambition.

And then the visitor to the museum files past the diary itself, in her developing handwriting, and pictures of other schoolchildren who never grew up, and first-hand accounts of those who knew her.  And out into the sunshine and the quiet canals, and the bustle of Amsterdam.  I had the same feeling I remember after visiting Keats's room on the Spanish steps in Rome, where, when he was dying, he could hear all that racket going on.

But the main message of the museum today is:  This is what happens when intolerance gets a grip.  Never forget.

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