Lucky Bean by Lou Steggals
My lucky bean; a trinket from an invalided soldier grateful for “something bright to think about”. The encore of Mother Machree driving out the echoes of gunfire from his memories.
Creating the Centena
The inspiration to research into someone like Lena Ashwell came from being involved in a community production of Much Ado about Nothing, which was set at the end of the First World War with the character of Balthazar (a servant of Don Pedro and a musician) cast as a female vaudeville star who had entertained the troops during the First World War.
This led me to do some basic online research into entertainers during which I found a Telegraph Online article summarising a book by the former war correspondent, Kate Adie, Fighting on the Home Front, which included Lena’s story about how she persuaded the War Office to allow her to bring entertainers to the front line. It also gave insight into the calibre of performers she was working with (and I chose to reference Ivor Novello in the centena).
The basic facts from this article gave me two areas to research for background. I spent time at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, gaining context of the political period of the time, such as the suffragette movement, of which Lena was a part. I also visited the Imperial War Museum North (again in Manchester) where I could gain wider facts about what was happening in the war at the time Lena started visiting with other performers, and the locations of key activities.
It was here at the Imperial War Museum I found two sources of information that are referenced in the Centena. The first was a newspaper clipping, in which was referenced an incident at one of London’s theatres, where the air raid siren was sounded in the middle of a performance and the patrons having to evacuate.
The second was a note about how soldiers would carry lucky talismans to the front line; beans, marble stone carved into hearts and other similar trinkets. This gave me the thought of writing of a fictional encounter where Lena would be given a talisman by a fan.
The key source of information though, came from Lena herself, in her own memoir Modern Troubadours (1922) . This gave me Lena’s story in her own words, helping me to shape the centena into her voice. Whilst reading it, I found a real-life anecdote of a soldier giving her his talisman (a bean) so this cemented the event for my centena and rounding the piece out.
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.