Monday, 22 October 2012

Reading at the 20x12 Portsmouth BookFest

I was 'lucky' enough to be the first author in the 20x12 group to perform in Southsea Library on Saturday 20th October.  I thought you might like to have a look at some of the pictures taken on the day:

Using the Audience - thanks Matt!

My pink web blended well with the Halloween decorations.

Selling copies of Caught in the Web

Below is a copy of my script for the day.....

Karen - 1973

Imagine a world with no Care in the Community - a world where despite Womens Lib, Men ruled the home -  it was the norm to smoke and nurses were nearly always female.  Imagine being 23 in a mental hospital where women had been locked away for most of their adult lives.....

Karen, struggling in her relationship, throws herself into her work and becomes obsessed with the life of Evelyn, locked away in 1950 after giving birth to an illegitimate child.  Then Karen becomes pregnant herself and she finds herself in more danger than she could ever have imagined....

Monday morning, nine a.m.

Karen trembled as she passed under the shadow of the clock tower at the main gates of Highclere Mental Hospital.

Walking through the long cold corridors, a pungent smell clung to the inside of her nostrils - tangible - almost solid.  She felt it embedding itself into her being where it would linger for the rest of her life.

At the end of the corridor she reached a dark stair-well.  Gripping the metal rail as she climbed, the walls began to close in on her.  Her footsteps tapped out a rhythm on the concrete stairs until she reached a windowless landing.  One naked bulb struggled to cast a sickly halo on the far off ceiling and barely illuminate the sign on the door which announced her arrival at Camberley Ward.
She hesitated as she placed her finger on the bell then closed her eyes and pushed.  She froze to the coconut matting outside the door and resisted the urge to flee.

The door opened.  A blast of warm air and noise gushed towards her, caught her up and sucked her in.  A large woman who had been stuffed untidily into a brown checked uniform dress was glaring at her.

‘It’s my first day.’

‘Well, you’d better come in then,’ the woman looked down her nose at Karen’s open face.  ‘You should be in uniform.’

‘I’m sorry.  I wasn’t told.  I haven’t got one yet.  Sorry.’

Keys jangling, the woman slammed the door behind them with a flourish and marched off down a long wide corridor.  Hesitating for just the moment that it took to realise that she really didn’t want to be left alone, Karen scurried after the nurse.

Wild looking women were pacing the floor between tables still laden with the remnants of breakfast - metal teapots and marmalade-smeared Pyrex crockery.

A face loomed into Karen’s.

‘Give us a fag my lover.’  The woman’s toothless smile beamed inches before Karen’s eyes.  Her breath reeked of second-hand cigarette smoke and kippers.

Karen smiled back uncertainly.  ‘Sorry.’ 
‘Well F. off then!’  The woman spat back at her and pushed her away, storming off once more.

The nurse spun round.  ‘Effie!  Behave, or you’ll feel the back of my hand.’  She glared at Karen.  ‘Don’t give them an inch.’

Karen hurried after her rapidly retreating bulk, darting out of the paths of more women in faded cotton dresses and old ladies slippers, each one wrapped in her own private insanity.

Evelyn - 1950

Imagine a world of swings and roundabouts - post-war rationing and lodgers - shopping in the High Street, chenille tablecloths and toilets down the bottom of the garden.

Imagine finding yourself pregnant with no one in your life that you can tell who the father was.

Imagine the pain of having your child torn from your arms, being forced away from your family with no way to return....
Evelyn couldn’t tell you how many years she’d been lying in this bed with the changing seasons showing through the same old window frame.  The ache somewhere in her chest was still there although the memories of where and when were muddled in her mind.  Evelyn didn’t talk much any more.  Dumfounded, they’d called her at first, then Idiot - but none of them knew her really.

Her mother had visited her in the early days.  Awkward Sunday afternoons filled with pain whilst her mother had prattled on about the neighbours or the weather.  Then gradually the periods between each visit grew longer until they’d either stopped or Evelyn could no longer remember.

They’d tried to get her moving out of the ward once.
‘You need to be rehabilitated.  You’ve been here too long.  You’re institutionalised.’
Evelyn wondered what that meant.

In the small room at the top of a flight of stairs women from the ward were sitting around a table knitting brightly coloured wools into ill-shaped squares.  She’d sat watching them whilst the nurse cast on the stitches and then handed the knitting to her.

‘There you are, Evelyn.  Nice pink wool.  You can knit can’t you?’

Evelyn said nothing.

‘It’s just squares.  Garter stitch.  You know - just plain knitting.’

Perhaps it was the colour of the wool, or maybe the sound of the clicking of the needles as the other women worked.  Evelyn couldn’t really remember what happened.  She only felt a raging anger erupting from somewhere deep inside her head which clashed with the pain in her chest, before she heard a loud screaming and felt herself being forced down into a black pit by the three nurses who had jumped on her.

They didn’t take her back to Occupation Therapy the next day.

She stayed on her bed chasing the memories out of her dreams, staring at the clouds, wondering where they were going and trying not to think.  When she closed her eyes she could see the pink wool winding round her body like a giant spider’s web, encasing her in a trap she could never escape from.  So she kept her eyes open, staring at the sky and hoping that it would all go away again.

Evelyn was silent after that - the only thing in her head - pink wool and babies booties.

Then Evelyn met Karen and their lives began to change.

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