Let me just preface this that aside from an A grade in English Language my O levels were grim. I left school without many formal qualifications. Those came later.
Something strange happened this evening. I was at a short story event in Bangor, listening to Thomas Morris speak about his experiences, education and process that led to the publication of his short story collection, and his subsequent prize of Welsh Book of the Year. Annwyl is the word that springs to mind for this young Welsh Writer. Compassionate, Funny and intelligent are the others. It’s fair to say I came home buzzing with ideas, first lines and a fair dose of envy and admiration.
He read a story, Clap Hands, about the life of a single mother, Amy. It follows a series of events and characters who are random, funny, and real. The story is closely observed, sympathetic and scarily close to home. Indeed it was as if he had observed my childrens’ antics when I became a single parent. Thankfully he hadn’t!
As usual there was a Q&A session and as usual, I was too shy to get to grips with my concerns. You see, this is a 20 something to 30 year old man, writing about a woman probably slightly if not a little older.
How did he he accomplish it?
Which ways would her narrative be similar or different had she told it herself? I find it problematic that we never hear her voice directly and I wonder if this is a rehash of the nineteen thirties when women were portrayed through the eyes of men, because they were too busy and confined in the domestic sphere or in Amy’s case, caring for a widowed mother, three children, and the endless drudgery of jugglng finances, hoping the ATM will spit out some cash, that thefood cupboard will last till payday and that her absent husband will finally send home maintenance for the kids. All this while hanging on the telephone for responses from the various agencies in her life!
It is an excellent story filled with the pervasive anxiety about the next thing to go wrong, and peopled with other characters I want to know more about. One character has been through the care system. Coincidentally, she was called Amy by her birth mother until being renamed. It got me thinking about Amy’s Diary, and mine and Anne Collis’s Amy who negotiates school and the care system. I still wonder what happened to her. Tonight I had an inkling. I suspect she left school with minimum GCSEs and had some difficult adventures. I think her story will be gritty, difficult and contain the odd profanity. Lets hope I can make it as compassionate as the one I heard tonight. But what I was unprepared for, was the fierce urge to protect her and her story. I have no idea where that came from!