Planets, wind & fire of creationLight flew the right pathAs our Moon lit upWhich lights our way, not lost.Alight from the side by the sun,As a tumultuous ball of flamesFound us, just as we’re a ballFormed from fertile soilFrom other-worldly asteroids.Of God and his vital ingredientsFrom what is found around usWhat we thought we never had,We have more than that.Without our heat no substance,Without our breath no fire,Without our clay no earth.Thus amassed from our environment,From only a little bundle of love alive,Blown through with earth, wind and fire.
The Lost Years
I am sitting in a café, called The Elephant House, next to my beautiful husband. The waiter
has just cleared away our dishes, and Gavin, who is my age, 33, is now peering into his
laptop, as I am into mine. He is writing a children’s story about a cat and a dog’s adventures.
Gavin is essentially a creature-comfort loving hobbit with latent Viking tendencies towards
wanting to take over the world. These surface at random, and require taming, through
stroking. We are sharing a pot of tea, and looking forward to a slice of carrot cake, his
favourite, to reward ourselves when we finish. We are surrounded by elephant artefacts and
‘Isn’t that amazing?’ Gavin says and points.
I look to where he is pointing, an A1 sized close up photo of an elephant. Very striking. I
think to myself, that what I have in common with the elephants is that I also have a good
memory, as I remember the ten years, on and off, with false starts and course changes, that I
spent battling illness and studying for degree. I remember how life at the time was not so
idyllic. I couldn’t afford carrot cake; I didn’t have anyone to enjoy it with anyway. It was a
long and difficult journey at a time of much confusion, chaos and madness, which I am still
trying to make sense of.
A life reading in a library surrounded by books was a dream. Therefore I accepted an offer at
a major university to study English Literature when I was 18. However I got terribly lost
along the way, but at the same time got to read all the great classics, like Jane Eyre, Jane
Austen, The Canterbury Tales, Aphra Benn.
I arrived at university at 19, a year later than everyone else, due to mental illness, and didn’t
feel like I fitted in.Plus I couldn’t be open about my illness. My life was already following
the mapped out plan it was supposed to. I went to the pub with the girls from my floor in
halls during Fresher’s week but just sat lost in my own thoughts, worried about how I was
perceived, and having nothing to say. Maybe I was shy, maybe I was paranoid. I’d been to
pubs before of course, but I’d started after a while not feeling part of things. Perhaps that’s
when my illness got triggered, and had been brewing due to my family background.
I’d wanted to leave home for as long as I could remember. I thought of it just as a house, and
not a home, and when my plans got scuppered due to mental illness I felt even more useless
and worthless, as this is how my mother tried to make me feel through her constant criticism.
I spent that year doing nothing much, but seeing a lot of medical staff at my home, who my
mother ended up spending more time with than me. That kind of attention felt like a violation
of my private life.
So when I had to wait an extra year to get to university, due to illness, and then when I
decided to return home after the Christmas break, as I had spent it in hospital,which I didn’t
think I deserved. I felt I was going backwards. It was constant conflict with my mother about
the tidying-up probably, and going out. I was only there for a few days, until I decided to run
away to London, where I made friends to stay with. One of these decided I was ill, and he put
me in hospital. They returned me to Birmingham, and my frustrating mother. I was just going
round in circles.
After these few months in hospital where not totally wasted. I met Nadine, my best friend for
many years. I was finally making progress in my personal life. As well as Nadine, my father
allowed me to stay with him. Granted, my father only lived next door to my mother, and they
often saw each other. As well as this he had been strict and dominating when I was a child,
but now he had mellowed with age. He never asked what time I got in at night, for example.
Although my personal life improved, my professional life was at a standstill and I felt
frustrated, as the doctor was not allowing me to return to university just yet.
As I sit here, Gavin sees me staring into space, and says to me
‘Can we have that cake yet?’
‘Not yet darling, but I haven’t forgotten. There are a lot of things I’m in the middle of
remembering, and I’m realising how I’m lucky to be able to bring such a special person to a
special place. I was here before all the troubles of the lost years.’
‘Remind me Amy’.
‘Just like the elephants, I remember. I remember the first time I was here. The year before
my illness began; I was here from England with friends from school and my communist
group. We were at the festival, talking to people about politics, and stayed at Marcus’s flat.
He worked here, we’d come here for coffee and he’d bring home cakes that hadn’t sold that
‘Sounds like you had a really good time’.
‘That life seemed so far away and out of reach during the lost years, but it’s returned in a
different form, this setting is still here though. Because of all the stuff I’ve been through, It
enables me to value what I have more, especially you, the special person I can share it with’.
I did return to university eventually, a year later, and in better spirits. I think I was on my way
to becoming socialised by now, I had been a very shy as a child and I had to grow out of it.
This time the problem was with a boy. This infatuation was to direct my life for the next few
years. A group of us went for a drink on my 21st birthday. Ben also came.
Happy Birthday Amy, he said.
Thanks Ben. ‘Oh Hi Sarah,’ I said.
Hi everyone, Ben, Can we go and talk a minute, about my psychology project, she said straightaway.
She took him home at the end of the night, or attempted to. A couple of weeks later he rang me.
‘Sarah dumped me. Can we go for a drink?’
I don’t know about how he felt. We never discussed our feelings. I hid my feelings until they
began to confuse me, and then consume me, to the extent I found it hard to study and
concentrate. Therefore I decided to transfer universities.
A year later we were back in touch, through the internet. It was the summer holidays but I
had no money and started feeling isolated, a bad sign for me. I wasn’t one to discuss my
feelings, but let them overwhelm and confuse me. Lack of money’s a typical student
problem, but it meant I could hardly afford food. I borrowed from Stewart, my friend down
south, and took out a small credit card loan.
I’d been looking forward to time abroad since the beginning of my university career and now
was the time, between my second and third year. I returned the form and waited for my exam
grades at the end of January. I had had a tough time emotionally, this guy I was writing to
had stopped writing just before Christmas and exams. My student loan had ngot delayed
for that term and I’d had to borrow again. I got miserable and confused. I had therefore failed
one of my exams, and the professor refused to sign the consent form for Vienna. I went
Vienna accepted me as an informal student but I didn’t enjoy it. I did a lot of
travelling, as well as attending lectures, but on a shoestring. The police were constantly
asking for my passport everywhere I went. On the train to Prague, at the Czech border, the
police asked me:
‘Can vee see your passeport?’
‘I’m not a terrorist’.
Do you have visa?
‘I don’t need a visa’
‘Do you have visa card?
I showed them my bank card.
‘Vee vill check your passeport, you vait’.
Half an hour later they asked me to leave the train.
Back at Vienna station as I was attempting to get a refund on the ticket, when a young black
man came up to me, and said the same thing had happened to him several times, but he’d kept
trying and finally succeeded in getting to Prague.
One day I had my bag stolen with my passport, and then the police did on of their spot checks
on me, as was often the case while I was travelling in Europe. They took me to prison for not
having my passport. They refused me a lawyer or a call to the embassy. I’d already informed
the embassy about my stolen passport. After four days, a nice lady from a human rights
organisation came to see me.
She looked at me lying on the floor covered in a sheet in the dark cell, and said:
‘I’m from the Vienna Human Rights organisation, I can help you. ‘She was a mother
figure come to fetch me from the orphanage.
I told her the situation with my passport and the next day someone came from the embassy
and took me back to their offices for a temporary passport. He asked if I wanted to stay or
leave, I had enough and decided to leave, so between him and the nice lady they sorted out a
coach trip for me. On this trip I did not get any hassle by the border police so it was quite
After I returned I had to stay with my parents.For financial reasons to fund the trip to
Vienna, I’d given up my rented flat at university. Initially my mother said I had to stay with
her, but after a couple of weeks my mother began to suffocate and frustrate me so I just
moved with my father.
‘Oh God’, she would rant, I’m dying, please give strength, I must go to doctor, oh my leg.
There was nothing the matter with her as far as I could see.
‘Why you no get job? ‘
She’d never worked in her entire life, I’d had part time jobs, and I knew how hard it is to get
‘You must pray to our lord god almighty,’ she would preach, again and again.
After I moved in with my father, I stopped speaking to my mother, especially as
she was always coming round and shouting at my father about nothing in particular and it
was upsetting me. She put me in hospital again. My father would have agreed with her.
In hospital, I rang up my father:
‘Can I stay with you when I get out?’
‘Of course’ he said.
My mother said to the doctor at a meeting, ‘She can stay at my home.’ She was a weed that
kept growing back, bigger, despite the harsh chemicals.
I didn’t think so. She wasn’t getting the message. I had been refusing to see her for a couple
of months. She kept coming, every day. I would see my sister however. She was 20.
‘Can’t you come on your own?’ I’d say to her.
I hadn’t wanted her at the meeting, but the doctor forced me to, saying I wouldn’t be
I returned to university a term later, where I failed another exam. I was still ill I think. I was
pestering Ben, via email. I was feeling very confused and couldn’t concentrate my mind on
anything. None of my old friends were around, having graduated. I was feeling isolated
again. I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped in my exams either. perhaps my mind had gone due
to my illness, I thought.
I’d been one of the top students at my school at GCSE. So I decided to leave and try my
chances as a journalist in London.
I was working freelance; it was more like a bit of training with a newspaper when I fell
out with a flatmate. I couldn’t stay there and as wasn’t earning any money yet, and didn’t
know when and if my adventure would bear fruit. I knew I needed proper professional
training and qualifications. By this time my dad had been ill and moved abroad to be with
family, and I decided to stay at his house. I gave up smoking due to lack of money and wrote
poetry and read books, such as Homer’s Iliad. My sister living next door would cook dinner
every night. My mother was abroad to be with my father as he neared the end of his life. It
was winter that spring I learned the newspaper I had written for children had gone on sale. I
got no credit. I later talked to a lawyer, who wanted to see proof. However I had lost the
disk and my laptop got thrown out because it was broken.
After being at home for nine months, I went to visit this young man at his work. I had been
emailing him a lot and he wasn’t happy. I ended up in hospital again, where I met my future
husband. He was wearing a massive pair of jeans, and holding them up, as he wasn’t allowed
a belt on the ward. He also had a Mohican, and ended up telling me the story about how he
had run away for two weeks, and got into a scrape against a gang of young men. This was
five years ago. Gavin supported me in completing the final module of my degree, 10 years
after I first began it, just by being there, and being my best friend. We got married a couple
of years later.
Now, sitting in the Elephant House, Gavin is wearing a black shirt with tiny red flowers, and
dark jeans which fit. The flowers which have grown upon him attracted to his warmth. His
blond hair is shoulder-length and he is wearing a smile. He has made the lost years mean
something. He has supported me through the journalism postgraduate which I am
successfully halfway through. It is a pleasure to support him through his ups and downs and
his various ventures, such as his furniture studies which had to be put on hold due to illness.
Now he is a practising cabinet-maker. I can now feel a sense of belonging and security. I can
feel part of society and the self-respect and be able to contribute to it. Of course there are still
problems, but they are manageable. The fact that there is now love in my life has enabled me
to live it, and enjoy it, and I hope it keeps the illness away for good.
‘Now, time for that cake, Gav.I remembered,’ I say.
‘Finally Amy. Garcon!’
The most difficult part of this short story was the timing. I did not want to use a linear
narrative but try something that would better catch the reader’s attention and as Greenwell in
Time and Timing (2009) says, it was not easy: ‘The business of the progression of time
seems to me one of the most difficult problems a novelist has to cope with.’ (P.257) I
decided in the end to write a parallel structure, with the present and past alternating, and a
vaguely linear structure of the past story starting from the beginning to the present. This was
also difficult because I wanted to write about a period of ten years of my life, as a piece of
life writing. I wanted to plan it as a theme of universal interest, although it did help me make
sense of a confusing time of my life. I wanted to show an audience how hurdles could be
Due to its time span, I decided to pick certain important episodes, and treat them with
differing lengths to show their relevance. I wanted to link the episodes with the thread of
mental illness, but there are other themes as well, such as family problems and money.
Initially I wanted to have a separate section for each subject, and link it with indispersed
sections focusing on one theme. However the sections became more blurred as the subjects
were all entertwined. So I made sure I related each section to mental illness, the overall
theme. The danger was too much material and I really had to narrow it down.
I started the story in the present, to show where I am, then to show the struggle of how I got
there, through flashbacks. I am reminiscing, so in a way I haven’t actually gone anywhere,
but ended up where I supposed to be anyway, but in a roundabout unusual way. This is
highlighted by the episode in the middle of the story, of me being having a flashback to that
exact same place at the beginning, before all the problems began. The setting of the Elephant
House links the story, and is a constant and a parallel to the unfolding story of the past.
I didn’t alter the characters much, except to highlight certain traits to differentiate them. I
used analogy to illustrate this, which is more a poetic technique, for example describing my
mother as a weed. I also made the dialogue relevant. For example making the Czechs have
European accents, and my mother‘s syntax sound foreign.
I wrote in the present tense, which goes into the past tense, tells the story from the beginning,
with the present setting in the centre of the story. The end is back in the present, 5 years after
the lost period. I wanted to include more variety in how I structured this, and I think I needed
to do more planning. Greenwell (p.257) says his progression of time problem ‘stumped me
for a whole year’, and I would also have liked to add density by playing with structure more.
I wrote in the first person in order to create a feeling of intimacy and bring the audience
closer to the writer. The audience also engages in the universal themes of madness, suffering,
financial problems and racism, for example, but can feel the security of the writer reminiscing
and that distance helps them see it from a more objective perspective and therefore makes it
easier to understand and relate to. I wanted to write it this way to show the happy ending, and
the feeling of hope, as Liz Jansen says on CD3, (1998). ‘otherwise you have depressed the
reader’. She wants the reader to be left with a good feeling after reading a story. I gave the
impression that the illness can recur, but everthything is currently positive,’
Greenwell, B (2009) in Time and Timing, in Neale, D (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook. London: A and C Black
CD 3-Research, Structure and Style. (2008) The Open University.
Asylum in an Asylum?
He’d ignored her phone calls and letters, Moira wouldn’t leave the house or talk to anyone.
‘Why don’t you get out more?’ Her mother had asked.
‘Leave me alone’, she’d shouted to her mother that once
Her parents called a psychiatrist who came in gleaming racing green Daimler, and wearing a white
coat, but she refused to talk to him,he took that as a bad sign and therefore referred Moira to a
psychiatric institution for ‘observation’.
It was dark and gloomy with long dark corridors which took you nowhere. The windows had iron
bars on them and there where no pictures. Nobody looked up as she entered the dayroom with a
nurse, feeling like a bright red flower about to be cut and added to the vase to be left to wither and
die with the rest.The barred metal door clanged behind her.
The nurses in white knee length pinafore dresses and white nurses caps where watching the
patients, one of them was drooling.All of them looked old, until you looked very closely. They were sitting facing the grey walls, muttering to themselves.
Occasionally a laugh would be heard, but would sink back into the general greyness from
where it came. The smell was odd, like medicine mixed in with boiled cabbage. The room was clean,
except for a large skylight, the sun it let in just sank into the grey, and despite it the room felt
gloomy. There was nothing to look at, no plants, nothing growing.
They put her on Milleril, which is what they put everyone else on. It was actually supposed
to treat schizophrenia, but it made them calm and docile, a pleasing effect the staff, the thought, for
a nice, ordered, harmonious atmosphere.
The medication made her feel lethargic, the world turned into a grey fog cloud, then
they showed her to her cubicle, a small space with an iron bed. They had put her trunk at the
bottom of it. She put her white beret and white cotton gloves on top and lay down on the rough
grey blanket and closed her eyes. There was a tug on her arm:’You can’t sleep now, you must sit in
the day room so we can watch you’.
She felt an impulse to resist, but it got lost in the fog and she followed the white blob.
‘You may call me Nurse Ratchet, I will take you all into dinner at six, visiting hours are 7 till 8, your parents are coming. Then you can get ready for bed, and you must say your prayers, but not before medication time.’
Moira didn’t say much to her parents that evening.
‘You’re not making an effort, after the long journey we made’ her mother said.
‘I don’t like it here’
‘Still thinking about that boy I suppose, don’t worry they will make you forget, then you can go back to teacher training college, once you start trying.’
She smiled at the prospect of getting out, so it was possible.
There was a long silence.
They left early, they had said their piece. Moira didn’t even bother trying to make them understand.
That night loud snoring prevented her from sleeping, that and the itchy blanket and the hard bed, but when she finally dozed off she was woken by a loud commotion. A man was shouting ‘I’ll run away’.She didn’t recognise the voice.
That sounded like a good idea she thought, could she do it? Where would she go? She would ask this new man in the morning.
She got woken in the morning at 6.30 by a nurse pulling her arm.
Then they where all herded to breakfast in a line, everyone cowed and shuffling.Moira
tried out the shuffle, to blend in, while looking out for a strange man, who’s voice she’d heard.There
was no-one new. It must have been a dream she decided.
She smoothed her allowance of margarine on the two slices of bread, and the attendant poured her
tea, she nearly spilled it when she heard that voice again:
‘I want three slices of bread’.
He was on the other side of the large dining room, with two attendants holding his
arms. He noticed her looking, everybody else carried on eating. She quickly looked down at her
plate, hoping the staff hadn’t seen her.He was tall with long blond hair and a moustache, about her
age, which was 22.
After breakfast the psychiatrist came to see her. Moira didn’t have much to say.
‘You’re parents say you have become withdrawn, but sometimes argumentative.’
‘My parents were born in Victorian times.’
‘I think we have to keep you here for the time being. The medication should work.’
She couldn’t argue with him, he would never understand.
The Day room seemed a bit brighter today, more colourful. She heard singing before she
went in. The new man was here.
‘Nice to meet you miss’.
Call me Moira.
‘Hello, I’m Jack’ , and he shook hands.
‘Do sit down’, he said pointing to a chair next to his.
‘Is it alright?’
‘Why wouldn’t it be?’ He seemed to not have noticed the atmosphere or the beady eyes of the staff.
She sat down.
‘I heard you last night, they could do anything to you.’
‘I’ll be gone, I’ll be safer out there’, he said in a quiet voice.
‘This place is like a jungle, you’d never find your way out.’
‘They built it that way.’
‘I wouldn’t know where to go’
‘I’d go to a hotel and use a pseudonym, We could go to the dances, jive, skiffle, rock and roll,even go abroad’.
She nodded, her eyes shining.
‘ I bet you’ve never been on a plane before. We’ll go on the Statocruiser.’
She didn’t know anyone who’d been on a plane.
They talked about their lives, she said she was hoping to meet someone who would understand her,
she told him how she couldn’t live at home anymore, it was stifling
‘I admire your independent spirit he said, most girls wait until they are married’.
‘Isn’t there anything to do here?’ She asked.
‘Some of the inmates have jobs running the place,’ I think you have to be long term.We could take up smoking.’
This was something new she thought, as she took a cigarette, he lit it for her, she inhaled and tried to stifle a cough. They sat side by side, sometimes chatting, sometimes contemplating in companiable silence.
Her parents came to visit again, they where obviously making a habit of it.Moira told them she had made a friend, and volunteered a smile.
‘I’m pleased you’re making an effort,’ her mother said. Her father nodded and puffed on his pipe.
She asked for a shilling for Church on Sunday. They gave her half a crown.
At dinner everyone sat where they where they were told, him on the other side of the room
from her. She had to keep thoughts of the gristly boiled mutton with watery gravy and overcooked cabbage to herself.
That night she dreamt about running away with Jack, they were on a train. She wondered why he
was here, he didn’t seem ill. Perhaps he was a kleptomaniac who’s parents arranged to keep him out
of prison. She had heard about that happening before. Anyway it didn’t matter, she realised she had
forgotten about him who had jilted her. She didn’t feel so heavy, so black, and slept easily.
The next morning was a Sunday, therefore they had eggs for breakfast, and Jack got an extra slice of bread. Then they got dressed in their Sunday best and where taken out in a crocodile. She wormed her way next to Jack so they could be paired.
They spoke in code while their foggy breath lingered in the cold morning air, anyone listening would assume it was mad gibberish.
‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’
They looked surreptitiously at the attendants, 5 of them for 30 people, They were at either ends of the line, but they might walk down it any second.
Jack looked at her: ‘Now!’.
He took her hand and they ran.
Inspiration came from experience of a mental hospital .The piece is set in the 1950s and I used
period detail such as the jiving and the Stratocruiser plane from internet research. I talked to
someone who had visited his grandfather in a hospital in the 50s .Kevin Turnguist, Yahoo answers
(2011) who told me about the iron hospital beds , the Milleril, the smell.
The genre is a mixture of fiction and historical romance .From the beginning the reader expects
romance,, from the portrayal of the main character. By including certain elements that suggests a
genre the writer is making a promise to his reader says Derek Neale in A Creative Writing
Handbook(1990) and I wanted to fulfil those expectations.
The readers maintain interest as they watch the relationship develop and through the hints of the
conflict and tension with the dark side of treatment and the rules of the hospital, and Moira’s
parents. I like the use of conflict and contrast as it holds the reader’s attention as Bill Greenwell
states in A Creative Writing Handbook (1990)
They both have reasons for running away, and the audience supports them,This causes tension and
suspense,The audience get involved on an emotional level through feeling sympathy for the
characters. I wanted to use ‘things that’ in Dorothy Sheridan’s words (CD3 ) ‘could make the reader
have a personal response’ and that for me was what hospitals where like and was what I used from
During editing I added more dialogue, and more period detail for authenticity. To make the dialogue
sound authentic, and thought about using 50s slang, but I didn’t want to overdo it.
The point of view is the third person.I think first person would have made the story too close to the
narrator and made it seem false.Also, this way the reader can get a better,more objective
perspective of events.However thes subjective and limited narrative mode brings the reader close to the character.
I should have added more conflict,to add dramatic tension, to make it more realistic, perhaps Moira
resisting the idea of running away at first, or the staff trying to keep them apart, however they have
a common cause which easily brings them together.
Turnguist, K (29 October 2011) Yahoo Answers. Talks about the condions in a 1950s asylum. [Private email to S K Mcintyre].
CD 3-Research, Structure and Style.(2008) The Open University
Neale, D (2009) ‘ Ways of Writing’ in D.Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook:Developing dramatic technique, individual style and voice. London, Milton Keynes: A.C. Black /Open University
Greenwell. B (2009) ‘Conflict and Contrast’ in D.Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook:Developing dramatic technique, individual style and voice. London, Milton Keynes:A.C Black/Open University.
I had been stuck in a locked ward for months, trying to get better, over the stress of life and was so bored. I spent the time writing and doing art at the group. One morning as I was on my way to art therapy when I met this lovely looking boy in the corridor, who was also on his way there. We smiled shyly at each other and said hello. I had a crazy thought in my head that he was my soulmate. He was tall, blond and handsome, with a Mohican and huge trousers which he held up at the waist. He had a sweet face and a nice smile. We introduced ourselves in the group, it was just us with the tutor, and he drew a naughty picture to impress me. He said later he loved the Native American mask I was making and had thought I was cute.
After that we spent all our spare time together. We were both happy to have a friend on the same wavelength and were relaxed in each other’s company. We passed the time by learning French, doing exercises, playing chess, doing meditation and chatting till bedtime, 11pm. We slowly fell in love as our friendship grew and we got close. He says I was funny and a character as I thought I was an alien and wanted to be a boy. He just wanted to run away, again. That was why he was in a locked ward, he was Houdini. He had had quite an adventure, having been in several hospitals all over the country after he had run away. He had escaped from two locked wards and ended up on the roof of a third. He had just spent a week in London on the run. When he got low and wanted to escape again I knew I had to help. I had to be understanding and help him get back in the community and I knew I could do it. I knew his self confidence was low, so to stop him feeling down and wanting to run away I made A4 posters of the good qualities I saw in him, like funny, generous and motivated. I stuck them all over his wall so he could look at them when feeling low to stop him from running away. Plus I knew having a friend in there would help him.
It worked; he stayed on the ward and was soon getting time out on the grounds and to the cafe. Plus his family were there for him. We often discussed how much fun we would have outside and that helped because it gave us something to look forward to. His mental health, which I didn’t think was very bad, improved and he soon got out, before me in fact, to an open ward. We kept in touch though. We helped each other get back to reality and get well. I had to organise going back to university in Aberdeen to finish my degree. We spent time together when I got onto an open ward and I visited the castle he grew up in which was a fantastically different world.
He came to visit me when I was in Aberdeen and this is where we got together. I think he kept me well and as I was content I could finally concentrate on studying and got my degree. I couldn’t have done it without his support. I visited him too and we sometimes went on small trips, to Skye and to Arran. He took me out for my birthday and bought me champagne. That winter we went skiing in Canada, this was a new experience for me. We also got married out there.
However no relationship is without its trials and tribulations and while in Canada Gavin got very ill. I tried my best to care for him and help him out of his nightmare; we ended up staying there for six months due to this. However his medication also helps him a lot and the fact that he had stopped taking it had made him ill. When we returned the hospital in Scotland his family and the staff blamed me for his illness, although I had tried to put him on medication and care for him. We ended up getting divorced. I also got ill due to the stress. After a few months of being apart we were able to talk and work out what went wrong and knew we still loved each other.
We got back together and finally got acceptance from the hospital and Gavin’s family. Gavin has had a couple of minor episodes but been so well in the last six months that he has got his driving licence back, which was a dream, and is going back to college to finish his course in furniture. I attribute my well-being to Gavin and I know I have helped him by offering love and support and making him feel safe and cared for. We got married again this summer and this time we had the support and well wishes of the hospital and Gavin’s family. We have become strong enough to last the whole way.
The smells of home make me feel comfortable and relaxed, knowing that I am safe between my four walls.
The sharp smell of frying onions is particularly special, taking me back to my childhood and my mother frying them for a chicken curry base. I would often beg to eat them just as they were, wrapped in a slice of white bread.
Every time I pass a burger bar, the smell always evokes memories of my childhood, and now in our house when we are making spaghetti sauce or some such. The smell always gives me a fuzzy feeling.
Onions are like life, layer upon layer of memories to get to the heart, which is the best bit, sweet.
That onion is deceiving though, for when you are peeling back the layers, or cutting through them it makes your eyes sting and the tears run, which however makes my husband and I laugh to see each other this way. It has so many properties. I try to avoid this bit, getting Gavin to do it, while I go with the stronger flavoured yet less troublesome garlic.
Once it is cut I put it in a frying pan with some oil and it begins to sizzle and sing, changing its form and colour, becoming translucent, and tasting sweeter. This is when the kitchen and even the whole house begins to reek with the warming smell of this demanding vegetable. I like it brown, almost burnt, when it looks nothing like its original shape and the sweet and sour and salty taste goes straight through your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. And the warmth goes through my body. All that work is worth it for this moment.
The Rally Driver
Act 1, Scene 1
Setting, A cocktail bar in central London. Ben and Alana are wearing smart clothes as they have just fininshed work. Soft Jazz music playing.
Ben: ‘Fancy bumping into you here, I met you at Harrys’ engagement party.You’re Alana’
Alana: ‘Yes, I remember, you’re a professional racing driver, Ben, Harry’s friend from Slough Grammar.’
Ben: That’s me. Are you on your own? Can I buy you a drink?
Alana: Of course, but just one, A glass of white wine please. I’m meeting a friend friend later.’
Ben motions to the barman.
Ben:’ Two glasses of white wine please?’
Barman: coming straight up’.
Ben’ what do you do Alana?’
Alana: ‘I’m a stockbroker in the city, I just finished work.’
Ben ‘Stressful job, but good pay. I’m doing the rally cup championship. I’m preparing for the Acropolis Rally in ‘Greece, I won it last year. So far this year I’v e done the San Remo in Spain, The Safari Rally in Africa, the Monte Carlo Rally, and The RAC Rally of Great Britain.. I’ve won three of them.
Alana :‘Impressive, what are you doing later? I’d like to introduce you to my friend.’
Ben:‘Sounds fine to me, I love the he company of a beautiful woman. Would you like to go for a spin in my Mercedes AMG?’
Alana: ‘I’d love to.’
Ben: ‘When are you free?’
Alana, ‘What about now? ‘Ive got some time’
Barman :’That’s five pounds please, ‘
Ben ‘:Here you are, keep the change’
They put on their coats.
Ben’ Harry’s got a great woman’
Alana: What do you mean?’
Ben, ‘Only that I know her too well, but Harry’s forgiven me, we go back a long way.’
Alana:’ jolly good of him’.
Forgiveness and Sin
I was looking forward to settling in front of a film for the evening, a soppy love story as usual, trying to decide between Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary when I heard the doorbell. I dried my hands and went to the door, but I couldn’t see who it was in the dark.
I opened the door on the chain to find what resembled my daughter.
She mumbled something I couldn’t catch.
‘Are those bruises on your face and why is mascara running down your cheek?’
‘Nothing mum, I just fell down the stairs.’
‘Don’t know, he’s disappeared.’
I finally realised I hadn’t asked her to come in.
I sat her down on the sofa in front of the roaring fire, which was on every evening in the cold months. I put my arms around her. Chloe sank down into the sofa and closed her eyes.
‘Why isn’t Justin looking after you? You should be out with him on a Friday night, enjoying yourself in Soho as usual.’
I had my suspicions about what had happened but dare not ask until I was certain. I did not want her to think I was coming between them and alienate her. Perhaps I subconsciously did not want to know the worst, not wanting to see her hurt.
‘Stay here for as long as you like, perhaps you should see a doctor’
I don’t want to see a doctor, you’re mothering me, anyway, where’s dad?’
‘He’s on a business trip to Aberdeen, selling shares to new clients.’
‘Poor you, you don’t even need the money,’ and she opened her eyes for a second and looked at me.
‘I’ll keep you company.’
She began staring at a framed picture on the table beside her of her and Justin taken that summer at the beach, holding each other and smiling into the camera. I instinctively turned it face down. She closed her eyes again.
Sam Khan-Mcintyre B4842235
We were talking in metalanguage, and she was trying to change the conversation. She knew that I knew and I could see the fear in her shaking hands. She didn’t deserve this, she was 26,beautiful, with long blond hair, high cheekbones and cornflower blue eyes. In contrast Jonathan was short and stout, with a shaved head, tattoos on his arms, and older, at 45. He was a successful business man in the city and could support her financially, but otherwise I didn’t know what she saw in him. He didn’t even have a sense of humour.
I wanted to call the police but had no evidence. There is no excuse for domestic violence but what could I do until she admitted it. Love is a strong bond, I felt frustrated.
I went upstairs, got cotton wool and tcp out of the bathroom cupboard and cleaned up the cuts and dried blood. I made Chloe a hot chocolate just the way she liked it, with lots of milk and sugar and sent her up to the spare room to rest.
After she went to bed I called Jonathan, my husband, on his mobile, He was often away and I always wished I could see more of him, we discussed the situation.
‘Emma,’ he said. ‘We don’t want to alienate our daughter by taking matters in our own hands.
‘Keep her there as long as possible, and through nurturing and improved self-confidence she might admit the truth.’ He said. ‘You should drop hints about the perils of domestic violence and that it is not the victim’s fault. You need to gain her trust, I’ll stay in Aberdeen’.
After the conversation I had a brainwave; to hire a private detective to stalk Justin. Perhaps he could come up with some dirt on him, enough evidence to get him out of my daughter’s life. I thought if he was violent there were other illegal things he would be doing. At least I hoped so. I mean, where was he now? At least I could find out if he was cheating on her.
I wanted to protect her from what I had witnessed my mother suffering when I was a child. My father had abused alcohol and they had violent fights with my mother coming out worst, one time she had even been unconscious. I never understood why she stayed with him, I suppose she didn’t have the self-confidence to leave, perhaps it was her genes, picking this sort of man.
I slowly trudged up to bed and could hardly find the energy to get ready as usual. The next morning, as Chloe liked to sleep late, I would go on the internet.
Waking at eight the next morning as always with a groan as the previous night’s events came back to me, I hurried into my clothes as the first thing to do was find a private detective. Forgetting about breakfast, I Googled private detective + West London. I wrote down ten numbers, and then had breakfast, having to wait for office hours.
The first detective I called didn’t seem interested; he said he only did corporate work and that this was a matter for the police. The second one was a company and the secretary seemed very helpful once I explained the situation. She said I could meet Mr Marlowe that afternoon in a cafe called Beanscene on the Oxford Road. She asked me to bring pictures of everyone, Justin, Chloe and my husband. ‘
Sam Khan-Mcintyre B4842235
‘Why my husband?’ I said.
‘Mr Marlow likes to cover all possibilities. You would also discuss the fee.’
I woke Chloe before lunch and said she’d had a nightmare about someone stealing her clothes from her and running away. I reassured her that this wouldn’t happen and that nobody would steal her privacy. She followed me slowly downstairs, in my faded pyjamas, complaining her head hurt. Over lunch I tried again.
‘You know your grandma got physically abused by grandpa, he was an alcoholic. I never felt it was grandma’s fault.’
‘You think Justin hurt me, why would he if he loves me?’I don’t want to talk about it anymore.’
‘I’m sure he loves you, I’m going shopping now for groceries and I’ll get you some pyjamas. You stay here as long as you like.’
‘Thanks mum’ and she gave me a hug, I was surprised because she wasn’t usually so affectionate.
Arriving at the cafe, which was noisy with people, I recognised the detective from the secretary’s description, tall, slim, not yet middle aged, with blue eyes and dark hair, a full head. Like the stereotype detective, he was wearing a pale brown trench coat and trilby. He greeted me with a handshake then ordered two coffees. Once he had taken off his coat I couldn’t stop staring at his chest under his shirt; he had been working out.
I told him the story and he uploaded the photographs onto his laptop, along with names and addresses and details such as hobbies, so he could go to particular places such as the golf course. The fee would depend on how long it took but was 35 pounds an hour, which I thought was reasonable.
‘I will call you in a week to give you an update, he said. Often people find out things that upset them, which they would rather not have known and so be prepared for this.’
‘I am ready, I don’t mind what you find on Justin, and I want to protect my daughter. My husband’s away working. He’s staying away so I can use it as an excuse to keep my daughter with me.’
‘Don’t you get lonely? ‘
‘Incredibly, my daughter is the only person that understands that, I mean we have enough money saved up for our retirement, I want to enjoy life more.’
‘It must be hell.’
Afterwards he shook my hand as he got up to go and I fancied his hand lingered on for just a second too long.
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I went home humming along to Beethoven in the car while my fingers tapped out the beat on the steering wheel. Despite the problems I had met someone I could dream about, there was no harm in that was there? Also my daughter was waiting for me and I looked forward to taking care of her once again, I did some shopping, as an alibi.
‘Mum. Justin’s phone’s switched off. ’Chloe said as I walked in.
‘It’s probably a bad signal, have you tried the flat?’
‘No answer, he’s vanished’.
‘Good, he won’t bother you anymore.’
‘I love him. Mum, what if he’s cheating on me?’
‘Don’t be silly’. I thought he was too ugly but I said, ‘He probably feels guilty for hurting you.’
‘How many times?’
And with that she ran off and I heard the bedroom door slamming.
To win her back I prepared her favourite meal, Spanish omelette with chips and a green salad with apple crumble to follow.
The smells compelled her to investigate.
‘Thanks mum, and after I was so beastly to you’, she said and she brushed my cheek with her mouth.
‘When’s dad coming back?’ she asked later.
Awkward question I thought, ‘He’ll be back in a week, it’s just me and you.’
‘I’ll stay until then, now you won’t be lonely’ and she snuggled up next to me on the sofa as we watched an old episode of Friends.
Derek Marlow called two days later; ‘I have some news but there is a lot of stuff going on that I haven’t unearthed yet.’
‘Tell me what you have found out.’
I checked all the hospitals and prisons, and I learned the Justin is in rehab at the Priory, it sounds like he’s doing the right thing because he must have been ashamed of himself.’
‘Sounds like my only daughter’s partner is an alcoholic, which makes him dangerous. Anything else?’
‘Not yet, what are you planning to do?’
Once I have proof I will protect her by keeping them apart, perhaps through a restraining order.’
Sam Khan-Mcintyre B4842235
‘Surely that’s up to her, plus he is trying to reform. Your daughter will love him for it.’
‘That’s why we need to find out about any misdemeanours, you need to check company records, criminal records, if he has any children. Anything that might put her off.’
‘I’ll try, I like your attitude girl’. He laughed and put the phone down.
Derek called again the next day;
‘Can I meet you? I have some bad news’.
‘I’d love to see you, but can’t you tell me over the phone? My husband’s coming home in two days and I want to be alone with my daughter.’
‘You can bring her along, she needs to know.’
I wanted to see Derek, I had been dreaming about him, things like him rescuing me from fires and finding water for us in the desert. Also, Chloe needed to know Justin was a dangerous alcoholic, there must be some dirt on him, and so I said yes.
Derek hadn’t finished yet;
‘We must meet at the Priory, ward 4, 6pm, when visiting starts.’
‘Do you want Justin to find out we have been spying on him? and Chloe will be pleased about the rehab, that’s not what I want.’
‘There is a lot I have to tell you and Chloe and it has to be there.’
‘You know best, see you there’. I said.
The next day when we arrived, Derek was waiting at reception and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. ‘You look nice’ he said. ‘
‘Thanks, so do you, shall we go in?’
‘I think it’s time’, and we opened the door to the ward and headed for room 6. Even before Derek opened the door I thought I saw my husband through the glass sitting beside the bed with Derek in it.
The room was basic, with a small TV, a bed and a chest of drawers.
‘Is that Jonathan? I said. Isn’t he supposed to be in Aberdeen?’
‘That’s what I want to talk to you about, let’s go in.’
Sam Khan-Mcintyre B4842235
‘Jonathan turned red as soon as he saw me, as Chloe let out a screech and got enveloped by Justin’s arms.
There was a pause as I looked at Jonathan who wouldn’t meet my eye.
‘I’m just visiting’, he said.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?
‘I know you don’t like him.’
‘That’s not the reason is it? Said Derek, you have been pestering this man for weeks to go out with you. Just because you saw him in a gay club, you think he will like you. You have been infatuated.
‘What makes you say that?’
‘I have been talking to the staff. There are no secrets here, it’s been frightening and upsetting for Justin, he may have to put a restraining order on you.’
How could you? I said, after all these years’.
‘Emma’, Derek said to me, Justin has been dealing with his problems in the right way, and you can see how much Chloe loves him, I looked at them deep in conversation. You must give him a chance.’
‘You’ve got through to me, I understand.’
‘However Jonathan has betrayed you.’
‘I thought I knew him’.
‘I love you, said Jonathan.’
‘You love Justin, I said, you have been lying to me for weeks, and other times that I don’t know of, I don’t think I can trust you. Plus you are never there’.
‘I’ll make it up to you.’
‘I’ll listen, I won’t be away so much’.
However it was too late as Derek jumped in:
‘I love you’, he said.
‘I love you too Derek’, I said, he took my face in his hands, and I felt his hot lips against mine.
Sam Khan-Mcintyre B4842235
The themes of my story are moral issues of abuse, alcoholism, adultery and same sex relationships. The programme Hollyoaks inspired me, also the novels of Joel Lane: which tackles such contemporary issues . I think it’s enlightening to bring these things to the wider public sphere and put them up for discussion. I also got inspired from life eg watching how my friend treats her daughter. I also used my imagination. The story belongs to the genres of romance and detective non-fiction.
I decided to write in the first person because it makes the reader feel closer to the narrator and shows the intimacy of the relationship between mother and daughter. The viewpoint creates intrigue ,as we have a limited point of view and can’t read anyone else’s mind. It also helps the story develop gradually. I wanted to try it as previously I had only written in third person omniscient. Intrigue was important as a course email said it can be a major component of a short story.
Foreshadowing was used to give clues about the ending, which is a twist. The dramatic present is at the beginning where the mother opens the door and then we go forward, it also backwards trying to discover the immediate hidden past. The detective is the tool and establishes ‘depth structure’.
I wrote it before Christmas, in two spurts, leaving a cooling off period of a week, before editing it. This helped me see the story afresh and more objectively. I wrote down any changes to make straightaway; using the tools we learnt, thus drafting.
The beginning was in narrative and using lots of short sentences. However I wanted more show and tell, especially as this was a major scene, requiring more impact. Therefore I added dialogue. This also helped develop the characters. I did a lot of deleting, adding and rewriting here.
I added to the setting, this and adding dialogue and character action eg the narrator turning the picture over, enabled me to move away from a plot based story to one more character driven to make it more convincing. I also added some sensory perceptions and habitual time actions.
I cut words which did not contribute, eg, I had used ward 4, for rehab, room 6, at 5 but this did not read well so I shortened it. I knew from a friend that dinner would be at 5. This was research, as was utilising the internet to find out how much a private detective cost.
I gave the narrator a character arc; change and gain insight: she finally accepts her daughter’s relationship. After reading the assessment booklet I decided to make this clearer, by making her say she understood. This also gives her a certain complexity, especially as she loves Derek and therefore listens to him.
Putting drafts on the OU forum, I received feedback which I incorporated; someone pointed out that the relationship between the narrator and Derek developed too quickly, in my first draft I’d implied that they were getting together forever, I changed it to just them having a kiss and left the rest to the reader’s imagination.