As part of the PhD, I intend to analyse a number of fiction and non-fiction books in English for children and adults, in order to understand how care-characters* are portrayed.
Texts serve as a way to identify with characters – think of texts as mirrors and windows – we look in a mirror to see our reflection. Through the closed window we see only images. When we are exposed to people through literature, they are no longer as other – the window has been opened.
I want to understand whether and, if so, in what ways, we see care-characters reflected in literature.
I’ve just opened a new window after reading But We All Shine On, The Remarkable Orphans of Burbank Children’s Home by Paolo Hewitt.
Almost immediately, Paolo, tells us that his ‘children’s home was tinged with blackness but it also had light, colour and adventure’. What that tells the reader is that this story will be an unbiased account – he will share the good times and the not so good. Phillipe le Journe,On Autobiography, tells us that the author of autobiography/memoir, the narrator and the protagonist, are one and the same and that he/she enters into a ‘pact’ like a promise to narrate his or her life truthfully.
Paolo’s truth takes us backwards and forwards in time as he searches for some of the children he grew up with. He explains that there is a strong bond between children in care, they form their own family amongst themselves trying to compensate for that which has been taken away. It is a transitory family, no one quite knowing how long they will be together and often never seeing each other ever again. Ties are strong and ties are broken but the children in care will never forget.
Paolo writes of how care children live in the present, they don’t talk about their pasts. He is an ‘author in search of character[s]’ and they come from their future to talk about their pasts with an openess and honesty that at times is overwhelming. There is sadness, great love and happiness, there is anger, violence, terror, misunderstandings and neglect. There is abusive behaviour by staff and families. There is also care and support for each other where the young people learn about life and how to protect themselves. There are echoes from the seventies and early eighties, there are the clothes, the love of music and the girls.
Paolo represents his care leavers as unique people, as successes, as people with such depth and humanity that the words slice into their broken childhoods and create alchemical healing and wholeness. His characters share their stories, each one a hero; finding love, finding peace, finding themselves. And in amongst the chaos, is that diamond, Paolo himself, sharing his memories about his brothers, sharing his sadness and humour, sharing his insights into his own life and his own difficulties – made just a little easier by his relationship with God. He is a seasoned writer, having written over twenty books, spanning music, fashion, sport and memoir. All his loves are interwoven into the musical score of this hard rock homelife, that flutuates with melodic yearnings and a creates an unforgettable refrain.
Keep singing those songs Paolo. The window is open, the birds are singing, the air is fresh and free.