PhD Block?

Doing a PhD is very much a self-directed, self-disciplined experience. I write words on a page hoping they will fuse and one day create a novel about a care leaver managing her life from sixteen to eighteen in the late 1970s. I read about writing, about narrative, and about care leavers. I collect books just like I used to collect stories whenever I visited my elusive family.

I’m becoming an expert in my field and with it, I learn more about the representation of society’s orphan class. I have always had an antennae for care leavers. But now it’s even more finely tuned to the news, social media, or books. I hunt through indexes and websites. I order books from the university library. Recently one came from Australia and I marvelled at my own importance and luck. And thanked the stars for the opportunity to study in a university, to use their resources and the resources of many more academic libraries that are for now, still open.

I keep journals, I fill out endless spreadsheets, I make notes and I compile lists under headings, to remind myself of the direction I think I ought to be heading.

But the truth is I’m not sure.

I’m not sure about anything anymore. I think I have PhD block.

Each time I start writing, I have to take myself through a process so that I can open the door to emotional memory, like a spacecraft docking and berthing. It’s a temporary joining that takes as long as the time I have in which to write. A snatched hour here, fifteen minutes there and endless seconds of ideas.

No, I’m not writing autobiography. But I’m writing the autobiographical and emotional truth. I hope to capture and pen down the generic care leaver experience not the statistical one. And at the end of each session, I have to find a way to be okay again.

Having read Lemn Sissay’s blog, We Are Many, about successful care leavers, where he says ‘their success…is in spite of what happened to them and not because of it.’ What happened to them, stays with me.

Later the same day, I have a conversation on Facebook about trauma. I then read a Guardian article about Erin Vincent who found writing about her parents being killed when she was 14, has forced her to relive the trauma for over six years.

I think back to the beginning of this journey or at least near the start, when I mentioned to my supervisor that I was thinking about getting myself an emotional supervisor, possibly an art therapist, so that I could explore the way I feel after writing but without it becoming a big deal. And I realise I’m tired. I have a recurring infection that just won’t go, and reading about Erin Vincent, things start to make sense.

I will find a way to write the words, the emotional truth, the journey of an ordinary care leaver. And I realise that I want to mention the care leaver writers, my muses, that I have got to know over the years. I also want to mention all the wonderful people who having experienced care, have made a success of their amazingly ordinary lives.

Care Leaver Writers 


Posted in Blog, Care Leavers, Orphan Lit, PhD | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The English Daughter by Maggie Wadey

As an established screenwriter, Maggie Wadey is known for bringing stories to life on screen – her credits include Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Stig of the Dump. But it was only later in life that she discovered an equally compelling story closer to home – that of her own mother.

In The English Daughter: An Irish Story, Maggie Wadey tells the enthralling story of her search to find the truth.


As a child, Maggie was aware that her mother, Agnes, was different from her father and his family, who were very English. But she knew little of her mother’s Irish background, her family’s experience of famine and civil war – nor the secrets her mother never told her.

From the beginning, my beginning that is, I had a strong sense of my mother as different. My English family were small, compact and ginger-haired; my mother was dark, taller than average, long limbed and heavy-boned.

Maggie knew Agnes was from Ireland, but beyond that, information was sketchy: ‘I know my mother had come from Ireland, alone, on a ferry boat with only a hat-box, having left home in a hurry after poisoning her mother’s geese.’

My mother travelled with only a hatbox (though it contained no hats), having left home in a hurry after poisoning her mother’s geese. I felt I’d been born imprinted with this mental image: my mother standing in a twilit field – a very green field, for I knew Ireland was called the Emerald Isle, as green as the stone in my mother’s engagement ring – surrounded by a litter of geese as dead as pillows and scalded with my mother’s tears.  

Then, before she died, her mother finally started talking about her past, and Maggie began to piece together details of her early life in Ireland. The first part of the book is based on these memories, of family gatherings, the family home and flower garden, and of growing up and playing in the fields.

This remembering is juxtaposed with the present and Maggie’s own childhood that began at the top of a tower, Collyer’s Boys’ Grammar School in Horsham, Sussex.

I was born into a world of women. My infancy was spent in the company of my mother, my paternal grandmother and my aunt, my English aunt…My grandmother was plump and petite. With her white hair and powdered face, she was sweet and light as a meringue dipped in icing sugar.

Her father is absent. There is photograph on the sideboard. Maggie is told that he is away fighting in the war. Meanwhile, her mother strides through the streets in her trench coat, firewatching.

But I pictured her swallowing the fire. I saw her throw back her head and open her mouth wide to swallow the flames – which was why fire sometimes came back out of her mouth, fire and spittle, and angry words.

When her father returns from war, Maggie is three-and-a-half-years-old and her bed is removed from her mother’s bedroom.

Maggie reminisces and explores her parents very different natures remembering how just after he returned from the war, she consciously chooses to be like her father.

By the time of my fourth birthday I was already devoted to my father…I trotted at his heels asking questions I had quickly realised only he could answer: What makes snow? Where does the sound on the radio come from?

Her mother is spontaneous. Her father fixed. And they consistently fall out over things like when one should arrive as a guest. Her father punctual if not early, believing that if you were invited at seven o’clock, then that was when you should arrive, whereas her mother believed you shouldn’t arrive at seven, insisting they shouldn’t arrive earlier than quarter past!

As to her temper and her irrationality, they of course were put down to her being Irish as much as to her being a woman. I don’t mean that either of these points were ever made explicitly; they didn’t need to be.

After her mother’s death, with whom she had a close but sometimes difficult relationship, Maggie travels backwards and forwards between Ireland and England both physically and emotionally. What emerges is a seven-year detective story of an ordinary family living through famine, emigration, war, and poverty. Maggie gradually begins to uncover much more about the truth behind the stories her mother did share, and discovers an explosive secret known only to the women of the family.


An Irish history that finally reveals the story her mother could never tell, about Agnes’s sister Nancy, and her illegitimate child, whom she rescued from a brutal Protestant home for ‘fallen women’, delivering her into the perhaps equally doubtful care of the Catholic church, through whom the child was then adopted.

The English Daughter is a powerful family story told in an original way, through layers of discovery which invite discussion around the power of memory and the nature of truth. I thought of my own mother whilst reading it and my own place outside of her Irish family, I too was the English daughter. Lost worlds, events, and people come to life through the extraordinary vividness of the writing, ultimately bringing a sense of closure that helps the author come to terms with her mother’s death – and with a troubling incident in her own youth.

Thanks to Sandstone for the review copy.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Two grand old houses, inhabited by the Nivens and the Sheringhams, who between them lost four sons in the great war.


It was March 30th 1924. It was Mothering Sunday. Milly had her mother to go to. But the Nivens’ maid had her simple liberty, and half a crown to go with it. Then the telephone had rung, rapidly altering her previous plan. No, she wouldn’t be having a picnic.

Jane Fairchild is 22, and works as a maid for the Niven family at their home, Beechwood, in Berkshire. 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?

It is a day she 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.

Orphan, Jane Fairfax, in Jane Austen’s Emma, is entirely dependent on the kindness of others. She survives as the live-in companion to a close and affluent friend, but when that friend marries she must look for another way of sustaining herself.

Orphan, Jane Eyre, is treated cruelly by the household of her Aunt at Gateshead and subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school. Her only chance of survival is to become a governess, and thus dependent on, the already married Mr. Rochester, who she falls in love with. Although Jane flees ultimately she returns and chooses love and the traditional marriage route.

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

The Bronte sisters, Trollope, George Eliot, Thackeray and Gaskell all positioned orphans as leading characters in their novels.

Orphans give the writer a freedom that characters with parents do not have and Swift is only too well aware of this, giving his Jane these words:

‘I was an orphan,’ she would divulge for the umpteenth time. ‘I never knew my father or mother. Or even my real name. If I ever had one. This has always seemed to me the perfect basis for becoming a writer – particularly a writer of fiction. To have no credentials at all. TO be given a clean sheet, or rather, to be a clean sheet yourself. A nobody. How can you be a somebody without first being a nobody?’

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. Mothering Sunday 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.

He must have noticed the trickle. But it was part of his fine disdain not to notice it. It was like the clothes he might leave pooled on the floor, to find their way back to him, laundered and pressed, hanging in the dressing room. These were things to be cleared up discreetly by people who cleared up such things. And she, normally, was such a one. She was part of the magic army that permitted such disregard.

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 up: 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.

And what he’d just bestowed on her: his whole house. He was leaving it to her. It was hers, for her amusement. She might ransack it if she wished. All hers. And what was a maid to do with her time, released for the day on Mothering Sunday, when she had no home to got to?

Walk naked in the library, is what Jane does. After Paul leaves, she explores the entire house, catching sight of herself in the mirror.

Can you look into a mirror and see someone else? Can you step through a mirror and be someone else?

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.


Edouard John Mentha – Maid reading in a Library

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…


Posted in Blog, Orphan Lit, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Top Twelve Reads 2016

My plan at the beginning of 2016 was to read Orphan Lit and review it. Here are some of my favourite reads, in no particular order, some reviewed and some not, from last year and nearly all of them feature orphans!

Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days – Jeanette Winterson


I recently won a ticket to the Guardian Christmas event with Jeanette Winterson and Nigella Lawson where they spoke about traditions, recipes and memories and Jeanette red from her Christmas book. For the twelve days of Christmas, a time of celebration, sharing, and giving, she offers these twelve plus one—a personal story of her own Christmas memories. These tales give the reader a portal into the spirit of the season, where time slows down and magic starts to happen. From jovial spirits to a donkey with a golden nose, a haunted house to a SnowMama, Winterson’s innovative stories encompass the childlike and spooky wonder of Christmas. Perfect for reading by the fire with loved ones, or while traveling home for the holidays. The orphan narrative resurfaces in these Christmas tales featuring abandoned young children locked in or out of doors, trapped inside chests or treated cruelly as in Mrs Reckitt’s Academy for Orphans, Foundlings and Minors in Need of Temporary Office. Jeanette Winterson is a heroine of mine and this Christmas collection will become one of my treasured books. The perfect Christmas gift that I gave myself.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs


This is a strange book filled with old black and white photographs of peculiar children, an abandoned orphanage and a mysterious island. As the story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I felt the second half of this book works more for a YA audience. The film of the book was released in September 2016, and I look forward to watching that soon.

My Name is Leon – Kit De Waal


This book made me cry and I don’t think I’ll ever quite forget it. It is very well written and truly captures the voice of a traumatised child in care. Leon experiences what it is like to be nine years old and taken away from a mother and brother whom you love and adore. To be left alone in a strange world where all your belongings have disappeared and living with a stranger whose house rules you have to get used to.

Song of the Sea Maid – Rebecca Mascull

Written from protagonist, Dawnay’s viewpoint, the book opens onto eighteenth century life in London. We witness the terrible poverty and the way orphans, and women were treated. Ultimately though, this is a feel-good novel that re-writes the often terrible history of the neglected, nameless, and homeless orphan. This is ‘the age of sail, orphanages, the flora and fauna of islands, and even the origins of all humankind’. Impeccably researched, at times I had to wear a peg on my nose as the scenes of filthy London were so rancidly lifelike. In many ways this novel is the true definition of the ‘What if’ scenario. What if a poor female orphan was given an opportunity to become educated. What would she become? If you like stories about independent women, think Forever Amber, historical novels with a touch of romance, then this is the book for you.

The Fish Ladder – Katharine Norbury


Katharine joined us at last year’s Finchley Literary Festival where she spoke about The Fish Ladder, a beautifully written travelogue, memoir, with exquisite nature writing, fragments of poetry and tales from Celtic mythology. It explores the void, the hole, the ‘missingness’ that can quite suddenly engulf a person who has experienced trauma as a baby or a young child.

Mothering Sunday – Graham Swift


I’m currently re-reading this book and enjoying it even more. The writing is exquisite. The emotions of Jane Fairfax, the orphan, captured perfectly. Abandoned outside an orphanage at birth in 1901, this is a fairy tale about the transformation of Jane from servant to world-renowned writer. At times the lyrical waves of prose remind me of a stanza in the way certain refrains are repeated throughout the book – it’s very cleverly done. Mothers Day 30th March 1924, Jane looks back at this one perfect day that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

The Good Guy – Susan Beale


The inspiration for this novel came from Susan Beale’s adoption files. The papers included interviews with her mother, grandmother and one with her birth father. This is an extremely evocate, powerful and well-written novel that has truly captured the essence of 1960s suburban, New England and the plight and stigma of the unmarried mother.

The Mountain in my Shoe – Louise Beech


This novel is about a missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. But more than that it is about a young boy who has been fostered. Louise uses a Lifebook throughout the narrative – this is a book put together throughout a child’s time in care – to fill in the gaps – in this instance Conor’s past. It is a clever device and not one I had seen before. Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we are willing to go for the people we love.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry


This Gothic novel was birthed to amazing reviews and it was one that had been on my TBR for some time. Along with many other people I also coveted the cover. From the first to the last page, I could not get enough of this book. Set in the early 1890s, and told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love and friendship, and the many different guises it can take.

The Mother – Yvvette Edwards


Another FLF guest, this novel is about a 16 year old boy who is stabbed and killed by another 16 year old boy. The book follows the trial of the boy accused of his murder and the narrator is the victim’s mum. A truly harrowing and emotional journey as the protagonist goes through a tidal wave of emotions dealing with that worst of all parent nightmares, losing a child. Extremely well-written, the narrative explores the harsh realities facing families who have lost children to knife crime.

Butterfly Fish – Irenosen Okoji


Irenosen also joined as at the Finchley Lit Fest where she spoke about Butterfly Fish, a powerfully told story of love and hope, of family secrets, power, political upheaval, loss and coming undone. Let go and fly with the flow of the narrative of this haunting and compelling magical realism novel. The Benin scenes are particularly breathtaking. It is a story of epic proportions, skillfully held together by Irenosen Okojie, an author to watch out for in the future.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – Vaseem Khan


Another Finchley Literary Festival guest, Vaseem kept us all entertained with his experiences in Mumbai that were the inspiration for the series. On arriving in Mumbai he was greeted with the unusual sight of seeing an elephant wandering down the centre of the road. This vision stayed with him and a passion for elephants developed – after cricket and literature of course! A well written book, easy to read and very entertaining with wonderful descriptions of the vibrant city of Mumbai. It is the first in the Baby Ganesh detective agency series, I have the second in the series on my TBR list.


All that is left for me to do now, is wish you a very healthy, creative, and booky New Year.

Posted in Blog, Care Leavers, Orphan Lit, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Notes from a PhD networking event

Only connect: NAWE PhD network for postgraduates in Creative Writing held a networking event at Birkbeck last Saturday, 3rd December.


The afternoon began with an introduction from Seraphima Kennedy, Programme Director for NAWE, who gave a brief overview of how Only Connect started last year. Seraphima also gave an outline of the afternoon events including thinking about what you want your future career post-PhD to look like.

Lily Dunn then spoke about juggling teaching, the creative and the critical, publishing your work and what is expected of us as an academic educating ourselves and getting the best out of ourselves with each other by networking.

We did a quick introduction to our neighbors, mine was Anne Caldwell, an experienced lecturer, poet and creative writing coach, who used to work for NAWE. We had to talk about a problem with our PhD’s, a success, and a question about our research. The time went so quickly I just about managed to mention one of my successes, a recent conference at Oxford University.

One of the problems that came up time and again throughout the afternoon was switching between a creative and critical head, and our relationship with supervisors especially those that seem to want a critical piece that is almost entirely separate from the creative.

There was also the family/friends/work difficulties, coping with those and especially if there was a crisis.

It was suggested researchers look at the NAWE PhD benchmark and to ask supervisors for a descriptor of the PhD – the course outline/requirements.

Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck, Julia Bell spoke about building a career with a PhD in Creative Writing and how to get the most out of it, say for example by publishing or taking every teaching opportunity available, as well as administration, research, funding, and one’s own writing practice. Don’t rely on the university for teaching, she said, there are other ways to get experience, for example community teaching, adult education in particular – beginners courses not covered by colleges anymore.

Julia also suggested that if all the aspects of doing a PhD were daunting, if you had difficulties fitting it all in, then go to a time management class. Be organised, she said, and it was crucial to protect your time, and to be able to say you were not available at least one day a week.

We were reminded we have free access to JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources. Julia also recommended we look up The Program Era by Mark McGurl, which looks at the effect creative writing had on the pedagogy of English.

Explore the corridors of your university, find other departments and talk to other academics about what you do. You may want to do this by attending a talk in town/university or simply just going to listen to authors talk about their books. Or networking with potential future colleagues.

Julia finished by saying: ‘Life of the mind is a luxury, pay attention and use it wisely’.

Southampton English department runs Writers in Conversation and you can see past videos here.

There was talk of the Shared Futures Conference that is taking place in Newcastle in 2017. This will be a huge gathering of 450 academics discussing the future of English studies. NAWE will be represented and taking part in that conversation. Coincidentally so will I. I will be taking part in a roundtable with Stephanie Butler, Prof. Helen Berry and Dr. Helen Limon, so I’ll be able to put into practice some of the very useful advice from Saturday’s event.

Reminders also included:

Look at NAWE essays
Celia Hunt – writing and personal development
Teacher training
Teacher practice
Find out what are the current trends in your writing
Investigate Medical Humanities re funding e.g. CW and recovery groups
To be successful in CW – pay attention and make connections
Create opportunities outside academia.

Like Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert who spoke about how the London Lit Lab was set up.

They had been offering classes for free but decided it was time to earn at least a small amount. They spoke of how they saved costs by designing their own website, a friend offered them space in a café, and how they advertised themselves. Offering non-celebratory courses at a price beginners and writers with experience could afford. They also spoke of how teaching together meant they could support each other. They describe themselves as London’s friendliest creative writing courses.

We then heard about creating opportunities from Frances Gilbert, who teaches at Goldsmiths on the newly named MA in Creative Writing and Education, which also happens to be the subject of his PhD. He simply said, ‘Do something else’. Departments, are usually quite separate, though there is a move towards interdisciplinary study, ‘reaching out’ is a good option. He also suggested a way of getting funding for research could be to look at widening participation and finding the right partners. He uses mindfulness with children in schools and has had some fantastic results, not only creating peace in the classroom but also initiating change in children’s lives. We’re living in a ‘technocratic’ time, where creativity needs to be explored.

The big idea of the afternoon was collaboration. Jocelyn Page who has a PhD in poetry said this includes something as simple as looking at past PhD’s in other universities. And what journals we could be publishing in. There is a grading for journals, that though, is something that is still not clear to me.

Jocelyn gave us some tips for the VIVA such as having a crib sheet in case the mind goes blank. And she spoke of another hot topic of the day, ‘academic language’ and finding your own voice in academia. One way of doing this was to find a book that is written in the tone that you can achieve. Finding the right language to express what you are doing in a conversational/natural way.

Keith Jarrett echoed the sentiment by saying that trying to explain what you are doing as a Creative Writer is often difficult. His PhD looks at how religious cultures are changing over time, an interdisciplinary subject with feet in Religion at SOAS and CW at Birkbeck. He said that for him it was all about maximising both sites.

The final activity of the afternoon meant looking at the content of the PhD, the research, and how this fitted in with our own interests. I discussed my ideas with Anne Caldwell and from this she asked me a very interesting question: Am I interested in the care leaver writer or the representation of the care leaver?

Both! But the question made me think about what I’ve done so far and how I just know the research is still too broad and how I will have to eventually narrow down my interests.

The final tips for the day included knowing ones priorities and being aware, for example of the exploding PhD. I feel I may be about to light the taper on this one. Apparently we’re not to panic, it’s normal, and we must just smooth it back into shape and don’t be scared – just “keep writing”.

Posted in Blog, PhD | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gulwali Passarlay

20161129_130228Yesterday I attended the NNECL National Network for the Education of Care Leavers conference at the University of the West of England (UWE). NNECL was established in June 2013 by higher education institutions and national organisations committed to the progression and support of Care Leavers in higher education.

I knew that Care Leaver author, Gulwali Passarlay who wrote The Lightless Sky, was attending the event as we had already made contact via Twitter. As soon as I saw he had arrived, I went over to introduce myself.

Gulwali shook my hand and said how pleased he was to meet me, because I am a writer. I felt very moved and said, no no, you are the writer! He is a fireball of enthusiasm and passion and when I suggested we do an impromptu interview, he agreed. I’m very pleased to welcome him to the blog today.


Gulwali Passarlay’s memoir is about how he was sent away from Afghanistan at the age of twelve, after his father was killed in a gun battle with the US Army. Smuggled into Iran, Gulwali began a twelve month odyssey across Europe, spending time in prisons, suffering hunger, making a terrifying journey across the Mediterranean in a tiny boat, and enduring a desolate month in the camp at Calais. Somehow he survived, and made it to Britain, no longer an innocent child but still a young boy alone. In Britain he was fostered, sent to a good school, won a place at a top university, and was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in 2012.

The Lightless Sky is a heart-rending read that illuminates the plight of unaccompanied minors forced to leave their homes and loved ones. [Passarlay’s] fierce intelligence is apparent throughout… His powerful account is a testament to the courage of all those fleeing conflict in search of safety.” – The Independent on Sunday

Gulwali wants to tell his story – to bring to life the plight of the thousands of men, women and children who are making this perilous journey every day. One boy’s experience is the central story of our times. This memoir celebrates the triumph of courage and determination over adversity.

Tell us about the journey of his book:

I never imagined going to university or writing a book. It’s now been published in seven countries and six languages. I had just left foster care and was living on my own. I was in my final year at college studying A levels and was very stressed as I was a refugee and didn’t know if I’d be able to stay in the country.

I had applied to go to Manchester University and also for funding via Article 26, which works with universities to promote access to higher education for people claiming asylum. Three days before my interview I was suddenly granted refugee status which meant I could attend university as an ‘ordinary’ student with ‘home’ fees!

I went to university to thank the Article 26 people plus it was my interview day. However, on the way I met Julian, the Director of Widening Participation, then later on he got me in touch with communication people who wrote an article about my journey on the university news where I was described as “the most remarkable student”. This led to a TEDx talk and eventually an agent in the states who put me in touch with Nadine Ghouri who co-wrote the book. If I hadn’t gone into uni to thank and meet Rebecca Murray* from article 26, than I wouldn’t have seen Julian the Director, therefore no press release, no article or TEDx talk and finally I wouldn’t have been seen by the agent in the states who thought it was worth writing a book about my journey.

The moral of the story is little actions with good intentions and for the right reasons makes a difference and will have a positive outcome. I want to do what is right in life not what is easy. Sometimes we have to take a chance, and not expect anything in return. Do it because it’s a nice thing to do.

We can help and support refugees and those in desperate need. It’s our moral duty.

I am the human face to the statistics and numbers. I am a voice for the voiceless. I feel like they do have a voice but they’ve been silenced. I’ve become an unofficial spokesperson for refugees and I take that very seriously even though it’s not my job. If I don’t do it who else will?

How did you come to write the book?

I was very busy with my studies and I had been having a lot of conversations with Nadine Ghouri, co author, by telephone and via Skype. It was difficult. We decided to go to Gladstone’s Library and stay there for three weeks to finish the book. They treated us really well and their hospitality was wonderful. I still go back to visit.

The three weeks were very emotionally challenging, as it was hard opening up about my past and trusting someone. At times I wanted to stop, because of reliving the journey but there was a pressure from the publishers to submit 80,000 words. We ended up writing much more and the book has over 110,000 words.

I had to re-visit the trauma, I didn’t want to talk, I wanted to move on and forget it. It was much more emotional than I thought it would be. Remembering, the hellish – hardship – cruelty – being shot at – it was not something I thought I would talk about again.

Twice I tried to commit suicide while being detained in the UK. The immigration officials would not believe my age and wanted to send me back. They had no sense of compassion. I was seen as a liar, de-huminised, told to stop acting and eventually I thought what was the point of life.

Everything changed for me when somebody believed in me and that person was Katy Kellet, the Head Teacher at Starting Point who said: ‘I believe you’.

Anyway, back to Gladstones, Nadine and I were working hard on the book. I wished I didn’t have to write it, I wished I didn’t have to re-live the experiences. But now it is over I am pleased to be able to inspire people especially refugees and care leavers. Research has shown that care leavers who succeed often have a significant person who believes in them.

Nadine needed a lot of patience. At one point Afghanistan were playing cricket in Scotland, I was supposed to attend. I try to watch them wherever they are playing. Anyway I kept looking at Twitter until eventually she asked me to put my phone away!

I was very sad to leave Gladstone’s Library. Even though we still had the proof-reading to do, I couldn’t believe we had written a book. I couldn’t believe I was an author. It’s a big thing to write a memoir. I had a sense of pride, of achievement but mentally I was drained. At times I thought, oh no, everything is in the book! Have I done the right thing? The process was so hard.

Nadine worked so hard, she too is passionate about helping refugees. She had spent time in Afghanistan and believed in me. She had so much passion, enthusiasm and engagement, reading the text word by word.

What message do you have for Care Leavers?

When I was at Manchester University out of 50,000 students there were only twenty-one care leavers and it is not enough. The care system seems to be a societal problem. There is a system in place but it is broken. The cycle it seems will not be broken. Sometimes care leavers have children that then end up in care themselves. But by not moving them around to so many foster carers, this would give them the stability that they need. We need an outstanding care system to look after them and make them aspirational. I remember when I was in college and saw the careers advisor who, when I said, I wanted to go to university told me: ‘You should have a plan B’.

It is of course not all down to the system, care leavers too need to be inspired and empowered, to believe they can be anything they want to be.

I was very lucky that I had good foster parents who supported me. And look at me now!

Thank you Rosie for having me on the blog today.

The Lightless Sky is published by Atlantic Books

You can follow Gulwari on Twitter: @GulwaliP


*Rebecca Murray founded Article 26 in partnership with Nicholas Sagovsky and is the project’s Director. It is named after the article of the Human Rights Act which says everyone has an equal right to access higher education based on merit and not on class or ethnicity.


Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

The Mountain in My Shoe

louiseJust in time for National Care Leavers Week #NCLW16, I’m very pleased to welcome Louise Beech to the blog today.

As a writer, Louise is inspired by life, history, survival and love, and always has a story in her head. I’ve been really looking forward to her second novel The Mountain in My Shoe, published at the end of September, and have been bugging her for some time to make sure Orenda Books sent me a copy.

So why #NCLW16 and The Mountain? The novel is about a missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself.

But more than that it is about a young boy who has been fostered. Louise uses a Lifebook throughout the narrative – this is a book put together throughout a child’s time in care – to fill in the gaps – in this instance about protagonist, Conor’s past. It was a clever device and not one I had seen before.


On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.

Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.

Here Louise shares some of the reasons behind writing The Mountain and why it is significant for #NCLW16

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

Long. Long is the word, definitely. But so worthwhile. I knew absolutely to never give up. Even with rejection after rejection. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen, so I knew it was kind of my destiny to do it if I’m honest. But it took eight years, four novels, about fifty short stories, three plays and a million rejections to get my book deal with Karen at Orenda Books. And she was worth the wait.

What made you choose to write about a foster child?

I was inspired by both a real-life child in the care system (who I did voluntary work with) and by my own experiences as a child who was briefly in care. I find that most of my novels, so far anyway, feature a child who is going through some sort of trauma and needs to be brave. I knew I wanted to paint an honest portrayal of child going through the system. One that was not schmaltzy with false happy endings, but then one who was not entirely miserable either. I wanted to give voice to the kind of child that doesn’t often have one, which is why I chose to write ten-year-old Conor in a first person point of view.


Louise as a child

Care experienced people often feel they are stereotyped by their past. How aware of this were you whilst writing The Mountain in My Shoe.

I was very aware of it. Though we do not see much of my young boy as an adult, I hope I gave a sense of the kind of person he’ll become. Which is one who is flawed, self-aware, strong, independent and gifted. It can be difficult to escape such a past. To not feel angry or sad or bitter about it. But people do, every day. They can use all that they’ve learned and experienced to become strong and sensitive adults, with much to give others.

One of the recurring themes of this year’s #NCLW has been the loneliness of leaving care. What advice would you give care experienced people on ways to cope with this?

Wow, this is a tough one, because it can indeed be harsh. Many kids in care have already lost touch with birth parents, and then also lose touch with foster carers as they leave those homes and set out into the world. Doing voluntary work that maybe links them with other young adults can be good, and is also therapeutic. They can use the immense experiences they’ve had in counselling voluntary roles, as no one better than they has a sensitivity and understands about the harsh side of life.

Is there a book that helped you when you were growing up?

I absolutely loved Heidi by Joanna Spyri. It’s about an orphaned girl who goes to live with her grumpy grandfather in the Swiss Alps, and how they both learn from one another and build a wonderful relationship. I was living away from home too when I read it, and it gave me great strength.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m fine-tuning my third novel, Maria in the Moon, which will hopefully be released in 2017. Set during the Hull floods of 2007, it will hopefully coincide with the anniversary of this time. Again, it features a character dealing with an ordeal, one from her childhood that she can’t recall. Only when she volunteers at a Flood Crisis Centre does it begin to emerge. I’m also writing book four, The Lion Tamer Who Lost, which is a love story, though of course not all flowers and happy endings as you may expect from me!

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Katy from the What Katy Did series. I loved her bravery while she recovered from a serious accident. I even named my own daughter after her.

The Mountain in My Shoe is published by Orenda Books

You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseWriter

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

The Girl With All the Gifts by Mike Carey

Every morning, ten year old, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

When Melanie is all strapped into the chair, and she can’t move her hands or her feet or her head, they wheel her into the classroom and put her at her desk…The best day of the week is whichever day, and some weeks she doesn’t come at all, but whenever Melanie is wheeled into the classroom and sees Miss Justineau there, she feels a surge of pure happiness, like her heart flying up out of her into the sky.

Melanie, along with twenty or so other children are being kept on an army base in a post apocalyptic Britain. Miss Justineau is one of the teachers and Melanie’s favourite. Bright and intelligent, she is obsessed with the tales her Miss Justineau has told her, tales about heroes fighting monsters, about overthrowing the titans who formerly ruled the world, and about Pandora, the girl who unleashed so much misery upon mankind. She wonders about her parents.


Whose children are we, Miss Justineau?” In most stories [Melanie] knows, children have a mother and a father, like Iphigenia had Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, and Helen had Leda and Zeus…We’re in an orphanage,” Anne guesses. (The class heard the story of Oliver Twist once, on another Miss Justineau day.)

…The ghost of her parents’ absence hovers around her, makes her uneasy.

Melanie thinks of an exception to the mother and father rule, Pandora, who was made out of ‘gloopy clay’. She thinks this is better than having parents who you never get to meet.

Although Melanie is content enough with the world that she knows, she is concerned when children from her class suddenly disappear; taken by the aggressive Sergeant Parks to Dr Caroline Caldwell’s lab, never to return.

You should ask yourself … why you’re so keen on thinking of me as the enemy. If I make a vaccine, it might cure people like Melanie, who already have a partial immunity to Ophiocordyceps. It would certainly prevent thousands upon thousands of other children from ending up the way she has. Which weighs the most, Helen? Which will do the most good in the end? Your compassion, or my commitment to my work?

This argument of course refers to more than just this narrative and alludes to the wider arguments of research ethics. Is Caldwell’s drive to save humanity, motivated by a desire for power or possible lunacy? Ophiocordyceps is the name of the disease that the children have, though it’s more than a disease. Caldwell uses the children in her experiments without compassion.

You want this one?” Sergeant asks…”Our little genius?” Dr Caldwell says. “Wash your mouth out, Sergeant. I’m not going to waste number one on a simple stratum comp. When I come for Melanie,  they’ll be angels and trumpets.”

The structure of the narrative divides the story between five characters, telling their story from their own point of view and providing the text with its own natural breaks. As well as Melanie and Miss Justineau, there’s Private Kieran Gallagher who has a lesser part, Sergeant Parks, the man in charge of the base, and Caroline Caldwell, the scientist who wants to experiment on Melanie to find out why she’s so intelligent.

But, before she can do this, there is an invasion and in the confusion that follows, Melanie escapes along with the four main characters who form an unlikely band of (nearly all) heroes. When outside of the army base, she sees a burnt out house with heat shadows of an adult and a child. Melanie measures herself against the smaller shape.

What she thinks is: this could have been me. Why not? A real girl, in a real house, with a mother and a father and a brother and a sister and an aunt and an uncle and a nephew and a niece and a cousin and all those other words for the map of people who love each other and stay together. The map called family.

The novel’s title is a reference to Melanie’s favorite myth, that of Pandora, whose name means “all gifts.” Melanie is a mystery to herself and, as she begins to open the box of who she is, she finds both the capacity for terrifying evil, but also for strength, love and resilience.

And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both. But you have to open it to find that out.

The children in this story are orphans, deprived of parents or even an adult who cares for them except for Miss Justineau. The story though, has much more than orphanhood in it, things that I can’t mention by name otherwise I will be eaten alive. You will have to read it yourself and find out. At its heart in its simplest but most powerful form, is learning how to trust one another, and how once you have learnt to trust, love will follow.


M.R. Carey reading from The Girl at Finchley Literary Festival 2015

I loved this book. From page one I found myself rooting for Melanie, whatever was going on I wanted her to to survive. The story gripped me and wouldn’t let go. If you’d like to try a different genre and are not sure what to read, give this a go, I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

The world premiere film The Girl With All the Gifts, directed by Colm McCarthy, starring Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and newcomer Sennia Nanua, opened at the 69th Locarno Film Festival this week and is due in cinemas mid September.

Follow Mike Carey on Twitter: @michaelcarey191

Posted in Blog, Orphan Lit, Reviews | Leave a comment

Orphans in Fiction with Antonia Honeywell

My favourite part of organising the Finchley Literary Festival is getting to meet the authors. Often we get to know them via Twitter or when we invite them to take part in A Conversation with Greenacre Writers. Our only other requirement is that authors are relatively local to Finchley or have a Finchley connection. Though this is not always the case.

28871560When a book is hugely popular on Twitter, you can be pretty sure that it is well-written and has made an impression on its readers. Such was the case last year when we kept seeing references to The Ship written by Antonia Honeywell and whom we subsequently invited to last year’s festival. The one thing that is immediately apparent on meeting Antonia, is her passion for books and writing.

Earlier this year, I had the honour of reading one of Antonia’s WiP, The Dolls Hospital. This is because the narrative includes a care leaver and she wanted my opinion. There is also an older woman in the novel who gave up her baby for adoption.

Some years ago I was involved with an organisation that was trying to get an apology from the UK government for the way single women who became pregnant in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, were treated . An apology was eventually given in Australia but not here in the UK.

Sadly, many of the mothers were left with mental health problems due to the trauma of having to give up their sons and daughters. Many were unable to live a normal life ever again. Not only has Antonia captured the plight of a young care leaver who has been left to struggle, she has also encapsulated what it must have been like to give birth to a child and the horror of having to give him or her away. Antonia’s book is as powerful as Philomena, if not more so.

Meanwhile, there was talk that I would present my PhD research, the representation of orphans and care leavers in literature, at the festival. Having read The Dolls House, I thought Antonia would be a brilliant addition, and so began a conversation which came to fruition as part of the Literary Delights.

We wanted to make the event as dramatic as possible so we included readings of well-known orphan stories by myself, Antonia, Mr Greenacres and Lindsay. We began with Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, one of the most famous orphan narratives ever written.

Fostered, adopted and parentless children are written into the body of our literary culture. Orphan heroes and heroines are familiar characters in children’s literature. Wrenched from their parents at birth or abandoned, they first have to endure a struggle, though later will be destined for extraordinary heroism and glory. Jane in Jane Eyre, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, there are quite literarily hundreds of orphans in fiction.  And where would we be without our orphans?

If you couldn’t be loved, the next best thing was to be left alone – L.M Montgomery

antoniaAntonia spoke about getting rid of the parents: ‘Getting rid of your parents is a childhood fantasy, and it’s no accident that the adventures of the children in novels by Enid Blyton, or E. Nesbit, take place in the absence of parents – a kind of temporary orphanhood, that bestows unlimited freedom.’

She also spoke about Wolves of Willoughby Chase, one of her favourite books:

Sylvia was an orphan, both her parents having been carried off by a fever when she was only an infant. She lived with her Aunt Jane, who was now becoming very aged and frail and had written to Sir Willoughby to suggest that he took on the care of the little girl. He had agreed at once to this proposal, for Sylvia, he knew, was delicate, and the country air would do her good. Besides, he welcomed the idea of her gentle companionship for his rather harum-scarum Bonnie. 

Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken 1962

I went on to discuss the orphan outside of the family unit. People are drawn to these characters because they appear to exist outside the camouflage of conformity. Such as the orphans that threatened domestic bliss. They were dangerous, seeking to fracture that institution – the family, for example the ‘villain’ Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights.

Antonia brought up how some orphans in literature find a substitute family and with that they sometimes find unconditional love. As well as love, the state of being an orphan can be liberating: ‘Where the orphan finds a substitute family, they thrive – for example Harry Potter, with Hogwarts as his home, saves the universe. The loss of his parents is an essential part of his ability to do so.’

In Ballet Shoes, Dr Jakes, sees orphans, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil’s, position as enviable:

I do envy you. I should think it an adventure to have a name like that, and sisters by accident. The three of you might make the name of Fossil really important, really worth while, and if you do, it’s all your own. Now, if I make Jakes really worth while, people will say I take after my grandfather or something.              

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild 1936

For Jane in Jane Eyre, she is an orphan constrained by her status, that of being reliant on relations for somewhere to live. However, she rejects the family:

I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty…

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 1847

This brave act gives Jane, the freedom to leave and so find adventure and love.

The recently published Mothering Sunday, sees another Jane, Jane Fairfax:

I was an orphan,’ she would divulge for the umpteenth time. ‘I never knew my father or mother. Or even my real name. If I ever had one. This has always seemed to me the perfect basis for becoming a writer – particularly a writer of fiction. To have no credentials at all. TO be given a clean sheet, or rather, to be a clean sheet yourself. A nobody. How can you be a somebody without first being a nobody?

The orphan narrative is often about a nobody. Orphans, foundlings, those that are adopted, are dropped into the narrative after the story of their lives has already started, like starting the book at chapter two instead of at the beginning.

As a child, I was particularly drawn to stories of children without parents, whether this was something temporary, as in many of Enid Blyton’s tales, or the abundance of stories about orphans, such as the contrary Mary in The Secret Garden (1911). This was partly why I undertook Doctoral research. Orphans, care leavers, the healing power of reading; it was a coming together of all that was important to me.

In 2012, I attended Lemn Sissay’s ‘From Pip to Potter, Celebrating the Place of Children in Care in Literature’ at Southbank.

The event highlighted the stark differences in the way literature presents cared-for children and orphans, compared to the experiences of children in those circumstances in the real world.

I also met Josie Pearse, at that event. Josie was finishing her Creative Writing PhD at Cardiff and was investigating orphans and adoption in literature.

I’d been wanting to do a PhD in Creative Writing for some time and was inspired by Lemn and Josie that day to begin to explore the possibility and that it would be something to do with orphans and care leavers in fiction. There are other reasons I wanted to do a PhD and you can read more about that here.

Antonia ended our session by speaking about The Dolls’ Hospital and how she found the orphan in fiction an inspiration. Lalla, the character in The Ship, is the opposite of an orphan to begin with. ‘She has a cosseted life. But then her mother dies and her father abandons her, and it is only by throwing off the constraints of the world they bequeathed to her that she can begin to truly live. The orphan is a state of inspiration – a gift to a writer, and it is important to recognise the state as a gift which within literature, opens doors.’

Antonia finished our talk by making a distinction between ‘orphanhood in real life, which is a state to be feared, and in literature, in which it’s often an inspired state that makes all things possible.’

We could have spoken about Orphans in Fiction, for hours, it’s a truly fascinating subject. My thanks and gratitude to Antonia Honeywell for giving her time and support to the Finchley Literary Festival.

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment

The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury

Following the miscarriage of a much-longed-for child, Katharine Norbury sets out – sometimes accompanied by her *nine-year-old daughter, Evie – with the idea of following a river from the sea to its source. The luminously observed landscape provides both a constant and a context to their expeditions. But what begins as a diversion from grief soon evolves into a journey to the source of life itself, when a chance circumstance forces Norbury to the door of the woman who gave her up all those years ago.


When summer came, and brought with it the realisation that our baby should have been with us, have been in my arms, warm and cuddly and smelling of sunshine, I found that I was struggling. It wasn’t the first time that, grieving, I had found things hard; not the first time that the world had closed around me in a tight, hard sphere…I had to be strong for Evie, I searched for something that would keep the air breathable, the sound of the wind audible, the smell of a bonfire or the smart tang of sea salt sharp on my lips and tongue. That might shut out the possibility of – depression is such a vague word – stasis. That would shut out the possibility of everything standing still, as it had stood still once before, when I was sad, and I never wanted to go back there, ever again.  So I came up with the idea of following a river from the sea to its source…

The idea of following a river from the sea to its source had its origin in a novel by the Scottish Writer, Neil M Gunn, The Well at the World’s End. It tells the story of a protagonist on a journey who goes alone into the wild place of Scotland, telling anyone he meets that he is searching for the well at the world’s end. His only child has been stillborn.

It told of a well ‘whose water is so clear that it is invisible: when two lovers first find it, they think it is empty…’

Unfortunately Norbury gave Gunn’s book away but she became determined to undertake the character’s journey.

I became determined to undertake Peter Munroe’s journey, although I couldn’t have explained why. I, too had reached the end of my youth. I, too, had lost an unborn child. These were, possibly, the only points of connection between me and the fictional hero; but maybe that was enough. I certainly shared a sense that there was something beyond my grasp, something out of reach, and perhaps the idea of a secret well was a good a way of expressing it as any.

Having journeyed to the family cottage, somewhere on Garn Fadryn’s flank, Evie and Norbury discuss their project, the plan to find the well at the world’s end by following watercourses from the sea to their sources.

‘Can we count the Mersey?’ Asked Evie.

‘I think so,’ I said. ‘ I don’t think it has to be the same river that we follow, as long as we eventually get to an end.’ Evie thought about this, then nodded her agreement. We could count the trip to the Mersy estuary as an exploration of ‘sea’. Evie wrote an account of the picnic in her journal. She drew a picture of the beach with the Antonys.


Each chapter of this landscape memoir is named after a meaningful place, often a body of water. The narrative landscape is filled with beautiful observations of nature and an inner emotional life often described using myths and metaphor to explore the meaning of belonging. They decide to follow the river that comes out at Cable Bay. 

My task this summer. The task I had set myself, was to look back. To turn my back on the sea, on what It might mean, and walk back on myself.

Norbury is doing more than walking back on herself, she is following the central metaphor of the memoir, The Fish Ladder, following the journey of the salmon that once swam in the Mersey to their breeding ground upstream in a river somewhere. Following the mysterious innate instinct that is still one of the unknown mysteries of our world.

But I found, as the summer progressed, that I had accidentally embarked on a journey to the source of life itself…I had been adopted as a baby…for some reason, perhaps connected with, or triggered by, this new lost baby, I started to dwell upon this mystery. Of who I was, and where I’d actually come from. Of whom we speak when we talk about our family.

The author tells us it is the story of an accidental journey “to the source of this, particular, life”. There are many coincidences along the way. It is documented that coincidence and synchronicity+ are prevalent in adoption searches. Strange coincidences that cannot be explained. Similarly the author finds herself visiting a hotel, that used to be a convent. And it is here that she discovers she was born and named after one of the nuns.

I had found a missing piece in the broken vase of my history, accounting for the lost months of my babyhood. I had been born in this place and now by chance, I had returned. It was as though I had been given a coat that turned out to be a perfect fit without ever having realised that I was cold. I found it hard to remember that the gift was new, and that yesterday, or even an hour ago, I didn’t have it.

Attempting to follow various rivers from the sea to their source, Norbury’s journeys take her to Spurn Point in east Yorkshire, to St Mary’s Well on the Llyn Peninsula, and to the River Severn. But they take her much further than mere landscape, Norbury’s search for her hidden history, her foundling past, isn’t just a whimsical journey, it is much more important than that. She is on a life-saving quest, for both her emotional self and her daughter’s future. And it is not just a miscarriage that Norbury is recovering from, for shortly after that happened, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Here then was an urgent need to discover not only her family history but her genetic history too.

The Fish Ladder is a beautifully written travelogue, memoir, exquisite nature writing, fragments of poetry and tales from Celtic mythology. It explores the void, the hole, the ‘missingness’ that can quite suddenly engulf a person who has experienced trauma as a baby or a young child. In Norbury’s case, triggered by the loss of a baby, which quite possibly boomeranged to the original emotional loss or separation from not only a mother who abandoned her, but a foster nun who mothered her.

At times it read like a mystery which only added to its synthesis of writing styles and made me turn the pages even faster. The descriptions of nature are exquisitely written and it is more than worthy of its Telegraph Best Book of the Year 2015, and various long listings. Quite simply it is both ordinary and extraordinary, and this is its appeal. A powerfully written memoir that is also a love story. Love for nature, for parents, for child, and for husband. This is a narrator in love with with life.


Follow Katharine Norbury on Twitter: @kjnorbury

Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy.

Katharine is appearing at the Finchley Literary Festival, see more here.


*Evie is now 16 and did the illustrations for the book

+Synchronicity and Reunion (1992), by L.H. Stiffer who explores this phenomenon further.

Posted in Blog, Care Leavers, Orphan Lit, Reviews | Leave a comment