Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

Day 26: Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland


Lost for Words (2017) features a care experienced character who is intelligent, articulate, a lover of words and books and of course feisty, vulnerable and not a stereotype.

Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never show you.

Into her refuge – the York book emporium where she works – come a poet, a lover, a friend, and three mysterious deliveries, each of which stirs unsettling memories.

Everything is about to change for Loveday. Someone knows about her past and she can’t hide any longer. She must decide who around her she can trust. Can she find the courage to right a heartbreaking wrong? And will she ever find the words to tell her own story?

It’s time to turn the pages of her past . . .


Lost for Words is published by Zaffre

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The Panoptican by Jenni Fagan

#AdventCalendar Day 25 #Orphans and #CareExperience in fiction: #ThePanoptican by Jenni Fagan

Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as shifty and suspicious of newcomers as its residents. But Anais can’t remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform…

Anais has lived in too many homes to remember and at fifteen has been criminalised by 147 offences to date. The panoptican, a former prison, metaphorically illustrates just how too many ‘care’ children end up behind bars. Most of Anais’ life has been incarceration of one sort or another. Nowhere has there been care or kindness, except from her former adoptive mother, who was a prostitute.

The inmates have no one, except each other. When Anais arrives, on edge – she’ll need to have all her wits about her to survive yet another placement – typically not knowing why she has been placed there. A bond with the other ‘inmates’ grows and which has no barriers or walls. A bond grown from shared, abusive, pasts that often need no words.

The Panoptican (2012) is still number one on my list of orphan literature, which is why I chose it for Christmas Day. Anais’ journey through care, a year off leaving the system, sees her strive for autonomy. What makes the most striking initial impression from this illuminated text is the hard-hitting voice of a young girl already too wise and old for her years. The language, tone and invented words all serve to create a unique story. There is still nothing quite like it on the literary shelves.


The Panoptican is published by Windmill Books



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Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Day 24  and in fiction: by Graham Swift.

How will Jane, orphan and housemaid, occupy her time when she has no mother to visit? How, shaped by the events of this never to be forgotten day, will her future unfold?

Mothering Sunday (2017) opens with the last sensual and intimate moments between Jane, maid from Beechwood, and only surviving son, Paul Sheringham, heir of nearby Upleigh. Their relationship is played out against a backdrop of change, both estates make do ‘with just a cook and a maid’. Jane and Paul have been lovers and friends for almost seven years.

Jane Fairchild discovers a freedom through sexual liberation, and with a Dutch cap ‘up her fanny’ rides her bike to an assignation with her lover.

Both estates have lost sons in the First World War, both families are still grieving but there is to be a wedding between Paul Sheringham and Emma Hobday, another estate, an ‘arranged’ marriage.

It is an unusually warm day in March. Time is captured in the opening scenes, time that is remembered a lifetime, time that is replayed. Images are conjured: nakedness, the sunlight, the lattice shadows on the skin.

When Paul Sheringham leaves Upleigh, Jane is told to leave everything. She is not to be his ‘bloody maid’. He leaves her naked, to do as she wishes.

Walk naked in the library, is what Jane does. After Paul leaves, she explores the entire house, catching sight of herself in the mirror. Like a re-birth, like an understanding of herself. Because Jane is an orphan who reads and because she is in a house of sons, it is the adventure books for boys that will become her favourites. ‘Who would want to read sloppy girls’ stuff?’ The narrative sees her collecting phrases, expressions, words for when she will find her true vocation, that of a writer.

This day, this Mothering Sunday is a day Jane will never speak or write about, it is her secret day, with her secret lover and friend.

This is an orphan story written by a writer of experience, a male author who knows what to do with words and how to make a story. He calls his character Jane Fairchild, presumably after those other great orphan female characters, Jane Eyre or Jane Fairfax.

Beginning with an intimate assignation and opening to embrace decades, Mothering Sunday has at its heart both the story of a life and the life that stories can magically contain. It is a beautifully written orphan narrative and one that I enjoyed reading and re-reading. At times like a poem, like a Pantoum, with its repeating phrases that slip and slide backwards and forwards, starting over and finishing up. Once upon a time there was an orphan who read books and told stories…


Mothering Sunday is published by Scribner UK

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Day 23  and in fiction: #TheGirlWithTheDragonTattoo by Stieg Larsson

As a child, Lisbeth Salander was declared ‘legally incompetent’ and was under the care of legal guardian Holgar Palmgren, one of the few people in the world she trusted. After being released from St. Stefan’s Psychiatric Clinic for Children in Uppsala, Salander was placed with a foster family. After running away from her first few families, Palmgren explained that she would be placed back in the psychiatric clinic which convinced Salander not to run away from the next family. But, Palmgren has a stroke, her a new guardian: Nils Bjurman, is a sadist who forces Salander to perform sexual acts in return for access to her allowance.

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed Lisbeth Salander to investigate. She possesses a photographic memory and legendary hacking skills. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was first published by Norstedts Förlag in 2005


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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

#AdventCalendar Day 22 #Orphans and #CareExperience in fiction: #HomeFire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire (2018)retells the Greek myth, Antigone (441BC), by Sophocles as the story of two British-Pakistani families. A tragedy about radicalisation in modern London. Orphans, Isma (Ismene), and Aneeka (Antigone) live in Wembley with the stigma their father’s jihadi past that culminates in their brother Parvaiz (Polyneices), joining Isis in Syria.

Isma accepts an invitation from a mentor in America after years of being both mum and sister to her sibling twins, which allows her to resume a PhD dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to – or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of power and love?

The novel asks provoking questions about British politics and today’s society and illustrates how love and loyalty can become mixed up and flawed. It also is a good example of how those with split and interrupted childhoods, whose need for acceptance and belonging – high on the list of dispossessed attributes – could choose a road less travelled.


Home Fire is published by Bloomsbury

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018

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Shadow Baby by Margaret Forster

Day 21  and in fiction: #ShadowBaby by Margaret Forster

Shadow Baby (1996) by Margaret Forster, explores the social changes of babies born out of wedlock at the end of the 19th Century and in the 1950s.

Born in Carlisle in 1887, brought up in a children’s home and by reluctant relatives, Evie, with her wild hair and unassuming ways, seems a quiet, undemanding child.

Shona, born almost seventy years later, is headstrong and striking. She grows up in comfort and security in Scotland, the only child of doting parents. But there are, as she discovers, unanswered questions about her past.

The two girls have only one thing in common: both were abandoned as babies by their mothers. Different times, different circumstances, but these two girls grow up sharing the same obsession. Each sets out to stalk and then haunt her natural mother. Both mothers dread disclosure; both daughters seek emotional compensation and, ultimately, revenge.

On my shelf of favourites, Forster explores the contrasting times, both in attitudes to women and the options on offer for girls who find themselves pregnant and unmarried.


Shadow Baby was first published by Chatto and Windus and is now published by Vintage

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Family Likeness by Caitlin Davies

Day 20  and in fiction: #FamilyLikeness by Caitlin Davies

In a small Kent town in the 1950s, a bewildered little girl is growing up. Ostracised because of her colour, she tries her best to fit in, but nobody wants anything to do with her.

A nanny climbs the steps of a smart London address. She’s convinced that her connection to the family behind the door is more than professional.

And on the walls of an English stately home, amongst the family portraits, hangs an eighteenth-century oil painting of a mysterious black woman in a silk gown.

In ways both poignant and unexpected, the three lives are intertwined in a heartbreaking story of prejudice and motherless children, of chances missed, of war time secrets and the search for belonging…

In an interview with author, Wendy Wallace, Caitlin was asked how painful it was to write about racism in the 1950s:

It wasn’t so much painful to write but it was harrowing researching Muriel’s story, reading recollections from people who grew up in children’s homes and talking to those who had backgrounds similar to hers. One woman told me that as a child she often wished she were dead; I never forgot that.

I really enjoyed reading this novel because it featured an older care experienced person not the sort of character you see very often in literature. People who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s often couldn’t wait to leave the institutional system behind them and some never told anyone about their care experiences, including family members if they went on to get married and have children. Family Likeness captures the trauma of the past and secrecy of the present as well as the stigma attached to both unmarried mothers and the racism of the era.


Family Likeness was published by Windmill Books.



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The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

#AdventCalendar Day 19 #Orphans and #CareExperience in fiction: #The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Moll begins life as an orphan, and her life will in fact be defined, from start to finish, as one of profound isolation. Moll’s early abandonment is but the first in a long line of such desertions, and the novel will continue divesting Moll of all her friends and relations at a rapid rate. The basic aloneness of human beings was a favorite theme for Defoe. Although Moll exists in the midst of a bustling and crowded urban world (rather than being stranded on an island like Robinson Crusoe), she forges almost no enduring loyalties or friendships. On the rare occasions when she does find fellowship, Defoe does not allow Moll’s interpersonal relations to become the focus of the novel.

Moll’s solitary and unpropitious start in life also initiates her remarkable self-sufficiency. That she divides herself from the band of gypsies at the age of three is an index of the power this heroine will have to steer and direct her own life. While Moll is often at the mercy of circumstances, her lack of affiliation also gives her a kind of freedom, and it forces her to rely on her own judgment and cunning to make her way in the world. Her story will be a quest for survival.

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Stories for Homes ed., Debi Alper & Sally Swingewood

#AdventCalendar Day 18 #Orphans and #CareExperience in fiction: #StoriesForHomes, edited by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood.

A slight detour today, though there is a link to Orphans and Care Experience in Fiction.

Stories for Homes (2017), is a collection of witty, poignant, funny and heartbreaking short stories by fifty five authors, both established and emerging, reflecting the connection between the immediacy of the housing crisis and the stories people tell about their lives around and within it.

A home is something most of us have the luxury of taking for granted but for many it is a grim struggle to obtain what should be a basic necessity. Volume Two of the anthology includes stories, poems and flash fiction and again all proceeds will be donated to Shelter, the charity for housing and homelessness.

Within this collection of short stories are characters who are orphans, those who have been fostered, are or have been in residential care and adopted. A plethora of care experienced characters because unfortunately the stats that link care leavers with homelessness are far too high.

Every two minutes someone in the UK faces losing their home. From Ayers Rock to Babylon to somewhere out of this world via the edges of our own, the stories in this collection examine the concept of home from every angle. Created by a new community of people brought together to create a world class collection of short fiction in all genres, all profits from sales of this book go to the homeless and housing charity, Shelter.

If you want a seasonal present for yourself, or a friend or family member, that goes on to do good in this fractured world, you can purchase Stories For Homes.

“Stories give our imaginations a home. It’s good to see them helping to give people shelter in the real world, too…” Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat


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The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling. By Henry Fielding

#AdventCalendar Day 17 #Orphans and #CareExperience in fiction: The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding

A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neighbouring squire – though he sometimes succumbs to the charms of the local girls. But when his amorous escapades earn the disapproval of his benefactor, Tom is banished to make his own fortune. Sophia, meanwhile, is determined to avoid an arranged marriage to Allworthy’s scheming nephew and escapes from her rambunctious father to follow Tom to London. A vivid Hogarthian panorama of eighteenth century life, spiced with danger and intrigue, bawdy exuberance and good-natured authorial interjections, Tom Jones is one of the greatest and most ambitious comic novels in English literature.

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