Free Your Mind


For two years, all that connected Anne to the outside world was a single door that was hidden by a bookcase.

A few years ago, I went with my pal Katy on a city break to Amsterdam. At the top of our ‘must see’ list (along with every other tourist there!) was a visit to Anne Frank’s house. The lengthy queue was worth the wait as the experience was very moving. Katy and I had also been to Auschwitz on another trip so we left Amsterdam with an even greater understanding of the horrors of being victimised and hunted down by the Nazis.

This period of history has always interested me and so when I recently went on a tour of Stirling University’s art collection I came across their latest exhibition, ‘Anne Frank: A History for Today‘. As part of the programme, the university were offering a free creative writing workshop, ‘Living in Hiding’ so of course I signed up.


download (1)The aim of the workshop was to “examine Anne Frank’s desire to become a journalist and novelist and how these aspirations would have been tempered by the daily fear of discovery.” 

Whilst discussing Anne’s diary with the group, it made me think of the theme of feeling trapped and how your home can also be your prison.

download (2)

Burying victims of Leningrad’s siege in 1942.

I’ve made a tentative start on my next novel which refers to the Seige of Leningrad. Thankfully there’s lots of historical information available as authentic and poignant as Anne’s diary. These documents will help me imagine the reality of not being able to leave your city and suffering starvation, stress and exposure resulting in civilian losses at around 1.1 to 1.3 million.


download (3)Being denied freedom is a common theme in books and one that was executed brilliantly by Emma Donoghue in Room.  The bestselling book tells of Ma, who has been kidnapped and locked in a room for seven years by “Old Nick”.  Ma and Old Nick have a son, Jack who also lives in the room without being able to leave. Ma tells Jack,“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”

I may reread Room and Anne Frank’s diary as a reminder of how the smallest of worlds can represent the biggest issues.

Have you used source material such as diaries and first-hand accounts to inspire your writing?






4 thoughts on “Free Your Mind

  1. Another thought provoking post, Helen. My own visits to Israel informed the story of my second novel, along with the first hand accounts of people brought to the UK in the 1930s Kinder Transport.

    • I’m not surprised that a visit to somewhere like Israel stimulated your creativity. I don’t know the story of the Kindertransport so thanks for the prompt – it’s something I’d definitely like to learn more about.

  2. I have used old family letters (from Victorian era) as the basis for a short story. Pretty soon I’ll be going to see the Anne Frank house again. I’ve lived here since 86 but only been once! There’s also a Dutch language play about Anne’s life which I plan to go and see too. It was controversial because people considered it exploitative. But where does one draw the line?

    • What a great source of inspiration your family letters must be – I’m jealous! I’ve just commented on a travel blog on a place that’s fairly local to me but I’ve never been inside. Isn’t it funny how we can forget to act like tourists in our own area? It is hard to get the balance right between information and entertainment on something as sensitive as Anne Frank’s experiene. I hope you enjoy visiting Anne’s house again and the play.

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