Category Archives: twinning – novel in progress 2012

section 5


I knew enough somehow to keep HER presence a secret, even at 4 or 5 or 6, deep down I knew that this was more than an invisible friend, a talking animal, a teddy bear brought to life at midnight.

I look at photos from that time, a solemn child, dark bobbed hair, sensible Marks & Spencer’s clothes, nothing extra-ordinary, nothing of note, a 60s suburban child, no fuel for the later press vultures, no Myra Hyndley, no Mary Bell, nothing in my face suggested the future horror. There were no images of desperation, of poverty. Here I am, in brownie uniform, ballet tutu, tidy school pinafore, never quite looking at the camera; my eyes are always to the right, searching for someone else.

My mother almost never appears in photos, sometimes I catch a glimpse of her, find a tiny part of her that has crept into a shot, a blurred hand, an angle of her face, and a sense of her movement behind the image.

My father is the photographer, he is the one who sets up these pictures, always formal, always to document and record an event.

My first day at school, Brownie church parade, a school prize giving, the opening of Christmas gifts. There are no candid shots, no casual records of a sunny afternoon, no sense of a family life and therefore these are a true record, for there is no family life – just 3 people orbiting around the central absence – the elephant in the room of my childhood.

When I write or think about my childhood, I can almost forget to include my father, he, baffled by and excluded from my mothers’ all encompassing grief, removed himself from us emotionally long before he actually distanced himself by geography.

Whenever we met, he often seemed surprised by me, by my very presence in the house. He would pat my head, ask awkwardly about school and make his escape as soon as he could.

Our only connection was the  black and white westerns which  filled that tea time telly slot every Saturday. My father loved John Wayne and I learnt to sit quietly next to him while he peered [ too vain to even consider glasses] at the screen where his heroes saved the day and filled the landscape they belonged to.

 


section 4


CLAIRE

The first time I saw my new born daughter – I expected this explosion of love – I expected to marvel at her – to feel some deep welling of maternal something or another – to be somehow changed into a mother – I looked down at this scrap of humanity – scrawny, jaundiced & felt only mild surprise.

“Was this it?”

For a terrible moment I was transported back to my first amateurish teenage sexual fumbling & the exact same feeling

“was this it?”

All around people cooed, her father – my husband, the nurses, who surely had seen enough babies to recognise that this was no beauty queen contender, even my own mother- all seemed to see something I couldn’t – it was as if we were all reading a book, but somehow they were all on a different page.

So, I did the obvious thing, I faked it – 10 yrs in teaching had given me excellent fakery skills.

I held her close, told everyone how beautiful she was, remembered   to coo & pet her – it was an excellent performance – I almost began to fool myself – began to convince myself that everything would be alright – that I would be a  good mother, that we would be a happy family, that everything would work out just fine.

And I managed to ignore the tiny twitch, the pulse in my right eye, like that early warning of a migraine attack,  a tiny voice

“still here – do you really think you can shut me up so easily?”

 

CLAIRE

As a child I supposed for years that everyone had another voice in their head, it never crossed my mind that there might be anything unusual about that constant little sound, softly murmuring throughout my day, guiding & cajoling me, translating the everyday encounters, helping me make sense of the world, my tiny internal compass when I generally felt so lost in a sea of adult madness.

It’s difficult to explain our relationship – me & HER – you might as well try & explain the bond between you & your heart or your lungs – you don’t have a relationship with your internal organs, you don’t question their right to be there or wonder if life would be different with another pair of kidneys, a different pancreas. So, that was my relationship with HER, unquestioning, I just accepted her – after all she has always been here – my first real memories are of lying in bed late at night whilst her voice soothed & comforted me – explained the many mysteries of my life, smoothed my ruffled feathers and most of all told me how loved I was, how I fitted with her, how together we made a whole.

SHE always seemed so wise, so able to make sense of the day, sometimes we whispered together – a compact continuous sleepover, sometimes she told me stories, of the days before the separation, when everything was as it should be, when the circle was complete – stories that lulled me to sleep – a smile of satisfaction on my face, Other times she was more strident – issuing instructions, commands to make me somehow more than I was – on those days I struggled to make myself heard, to keep my head above the stream of angry


novel in progress – section 3


Gemma

Everyone’s got  secrets, specially in a place like this – secrets & lies – secrets about lies, lies about secrets – prisons are all about secrets, even when really everyone knows everything about everybody, we all keep our little secrets close to us.

I’ve got a secret, nah we’re not talking Jeremy Kyle here, I’ve  got way too much pride for that sort of thing, sad slags with their looser boyfriends – I know who the fathers of my kids are – thank you very much.

Nah, my secret is running, I run, most every day & I’m good at it too

Like I said – I liked PE at school & this PE teacher – she was alright, bit bossy, but they always are – the other girls said she was a lezza but she was ok & if she’d tried any of that with me- anyway – she took me distance running & I was good & I still am.

6.35 min  miles – I can pump them out – mile after mile – I reckon to do 10 miles as a minimum………………….

& I spend money we haven’t got on really flash running shoes & good kit & I read this running magazine – look at all the pictures & read about marathons & all that stuff………………………………..

Course, I don’t take any of it home, just hide my kit at work & lie about when my shift ends…………………….

& I run, brain empty , just one foot in front of the other & it’s my bit of time & no-one can get to me, it’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at & it’s my secret & I keep it close to me & it makes me feel good.

And  that’s why I’m going to write my prisoner profile on Claire – she’s the other one – the other one who murdered her own kid & I should hate her cos she’s not like the rest, she’s got no excuses, there was nothing wrong with her life………………………………………………………..

One day I was escorting her over to the visit block to meet with her solicitor and it’s this fantastic winter day, really sunny & cold & I’m thinking about a run I want to do after work, it’s a real good un & I can almost see myself running it & its like I’ve said it out loud, cos from nowhere she suddenly pipes up that it’s a perfect day for a run & cos I’m already in my run place I just start talking to her – she’s a runner & she’s run marathons & I should really really hate her now – with her gym membership & her running club & I bet she didn’t  have to hide her new running shoes – but somehow all the thinking about running just comes spilling  out of me & before I can stop myself we’re having a real conversation. But then we get there & I hand her over to the visits officer & it’s like there’s a voice in my head saying – no, don’t let them in, cos once you’ve let them in then they come home with you.

So, the next time I’m near her, I push her –just a tiny bit, just to remind her how it works.

 

Gemma

When I had my big girl – it wasn’t like she was planned or anything – but its not like I was one of those girls at school – the ones you just know wont make it thru Yr 11 – the ones who turn up to their exams with their bellies poking out, who you see outside school waiting for their mates with a baby buggy and a fag on – I wasn’t like them – I even said I wanted to go to college – partly cos if you said that you could make the teachers so pleased – they’d sort of puff up with pride like it was something they’d achieved for  themselves, but this one teacher looked me in the eye, the way they do when they are really trying to get  to you & she said

“but what is it you want to study?

what do you want to know more about?”

And you know what – I realised then  that there was nothing & I mean nothing that I wanted to learn from books, so I didn’t go to college.

My mum works as a carer with old people, travelling around to their homes & doing stuff for them, so she had a word with her boss & I started working with her.

It was okay I suppose. Money was alright, some of the old people were okay. I didn’t mind it & me & my mum we get on, always have, so I stuck it for a while, just marking time really, waiting for something to happen.

Like I said – I didn’t plan my daughter – but I didn’t do anything not to plan her either.

Her dad, he isn’t around anymore, well he was never really around anyway – he was a boy from school , known him since I was 9 or 10, nothing special, just one of those things,

So, there I am, nearly 18, worked for a couple of years – it’s a good time to have a baby – so I do and for the first time ever I wish I’d paid more attention in school cos then I’d have loads more words, proper big words to explain how I feel, how my heart goes when I look at my baby, how good she smells and everything, but I didn’t go to English much cos it was really, really boring, but then I see this really nice tattoo that David Beckham got done after his baby was born, so I get that  & it looks great and really for me, it’s enough. It says it all.

Some people roll their eyes at that, when they see it. When they know I’m a working teen mum they look all surprised and happy as if I’m breaking the mold but then I reach to pass them something or sometimes, on purpose, I scratch my nose or I’ll fix my hair and they see it there, on my wrist, in my own careful, round handwriting, with the stars and her birthdate. And their face drops, like every story the Daily Mail tells them about girls like me has come true, like everything I’ve done up to now has stopped mattering because before I was a sensible girl making the best of it, but now I’m a daft kid with silly tattoos.

So, there I was, wrapped up in this big blanket of love with my daughter – & I’m doing a couple of shifts a week and the weeks and the months pass & it’s all ok.

Actually, it’s all much better than ok – but that’s my big secret – I am in love with my daughter – I cannot get enough of her – the smell of her skin, her tiny fingernails , and when she starts to smile – I am completely knocked out – nobody told me it would be like this.

And you know what, something changes in me. I want to be better, to be a better person, to do stuff to make her proud, to be someone she can boast about in the playground – I want to hear her say – my mum’s better than yours.

Cos, I look at my mum & I love her and all and really I know that she does her best, it’s just that her best isn’t really very good at all – crappy little job – like all the crappy jobs she’s had & never enough money – now don’t get me wrong – it’s not like we starve or anything, but every extra bill is a disaster – she’s always on some kind of knife edge – panicking about the boiler going wrong or the car failing its MOT – you know, all that kind of stuff.

So,  I look into my daughters face & its all scrunched up with happiness – cos that’s how good a mother I am & out loud I say “we, you & me, we are going to have a better life than this” & yeah, that feels a bit stupid, but I really really mean it – now all I’ve got to do is work out what next.

 


section 2 – novel in progress


Claire

Everyone says it’s impossible, but I swear that my first memory is of HER, of being with HER, our faces touching, breathing in complete harmony, in out, in out, in out – my perfect mirror image.

Throughout my childhood, I held this memory tight  to myself – hugging it close – in a desperate attempt to re-create that sense of closeness, that sense of the circle closed.

Once, when I was tiny & before I really understood my mothers’ rules, I told her about this memory – there was a moment of terrible silence, a pause so filled with something I did not understand but knew was very very very bad and then she hit my face – hard

Too shocked to cry. I stood gulping air, waiting for someone to make it all aright again.

I was 4 years old, and it was a lesson well learnt .

I kept my memories secret from then on in – I hugged them close to me in pale imitation of the initial hug. I slept with my own arms wrapped around myself. Rocking myself to sleep while in another room, my mother slept or didn’t sleep wrapped in her own misery memories.

 

Gemma

The thing, the thing about the women here, the thing that really gets me, that really makes me mad is that they bleat on and on about their bloody kids

“my Chantelle this” and” my Liam that” but they don’t know how easy they have it – see their kids once a fortnight, all dressed up in their dodgy knock off designer clothes but they, the women here, 3 meals a day cooked by somebody else, no decisions to make- they have nothing to do with really being a mum –

The clever ones, the ones who know how to work the system, they remember to ask after our kids, to show an interest, to ask our advice, but they don’t care & we don’t either.

And what really gets to me is the way they use their kids to justify their  stupid little crappie crime lives – “I did it to feed my kids”

“I stayed with him to give my kids a dad”

“ I wanted to give my kids a decent Christmas”

 

& I want to scream at them –  do you know what time I got up this morning – 3 bloody am so that I could iron their school uniforms and make packed lunches – cos if I leave it to him, he lets them have school dinners & we can’t afford that & then I drove my heap of shit car here in the dark all reasy fro another early , all the time praying for no more funny noises cos I may not be a mechanic but I know that funny noises cost  and when I leave here I need to do a big shop & I can’t trust him to do it properly and when I get home nobody will have done nothing & I’ll stomp around & feel so angry and wound up & if the kids so much as look at me funny – I just know how that will go.

And then it struck me – it’s easy to love your kids when you don’t see them very often. Maybe if I was here – or somewhere like here – maybe I’d be talking about my kids like that too.

 

Is that enough reflection for you teacher?

 

 

Claire

Bereaved twin – that’s the term for me or at least the label I prefer to give myself

I can remember  the first time that I ever heard of dead twin syndrome. Of course it was radio 4, burbling on quietly in the background.  Where else do women like me learn anything?

There were others like me, talking about loss, sadness, a sense of something missing, bereavement & grief. I was quite simply gob- smacked, so much so that I had to pull the car onto the hard shoulder and sit, with my hazard lights blinking, while complete & faceless strangers described exactly how I felt.

It had never crossed my mind to see the death of my twin as really anything to do with me, the grief, the quiet sense of mourning continued for far too many years was all for my mother. After all what could I possibly be missing?

I miss the circle we make when we cocoon together, your eyes looking into mine, the few moments when your  warm breath was on my face, as we inhaled together, breathing in & out in complete harmony, I miss your hand in mine, our fingers curled together, hips brushing against each other, I miss the sense of never being alone…………….

For the first time in my life I had an identity, I was a bereaved twin, I too could hold onto my grief, could name it, I had a label to offer to other people, I could define myself not by was I was not, but what I had become.

 

I made the effort to meet other bereaved twins, hoping for companionship, hoping madly that like lost shoes, perhaps I could find another to make up my missing half. I hadn’t realised that there was a hierarchy of loss, those who had known their twin the longest, were seen as the most bereaved, we, [& I was not the only one] whose twins had died moments after birth  were seen as the least afflicted, after all the logic went, how could we miss what we had never had.

I spent a perfect 9 months with you, we were never out of each other’s sight or reach, our experiences were identical, as were our genes, it was the most intense [ & brutally, the longest] relationship of my life, how can anyone say that I am not allowed to play the loss card.

I moved away from the bereaved twins, not able to share or grade my misery, but grateful that it now had a name

 

Gemma

But I need to be writing this thing – we have to take it to the sessions & show it to the teacher – she said not to call her a teacher – but I reckon, it’s a classroom, she’s in the front & I’m writing down what she says – makes her a teacher in my world.

 

I used to work on main population just on a wing and I liked that – the others girls I worked with were a good laugh – we had some fun & even the women were ok – done crime, knew the score, not too many muppets or head cases – it was all pretty straightforward, but then they moved me here – said I needed to widen my experience – didn’t want to do it – but they said that I would go up a grade & you know the car keeps making that funny noise, so no choice really.

The vulnerable prisoner unit   – yeah well- they should have thought about that before they let some no hoper kiddy fiddling boyfriend downloads snaps of their kids for freaking pedos to perve over.

That’s what most of them are here for – that or some bad violence shit towards their own kids & like most of the time when I go in – I’m looking at them & inside I’m saying of go on just kick off a tiny bit cos you know what none of you are that safe with me either – what they done just turns my stomach – but they know that, so they never ever put a foot wrong, they know that we can end their life – just like that – admin mistake – send them over to main population – come & pick up the mess later.

But there’s 2 in here – child murderers – killed their own daughters & I suppose I ought to hate them the most, cos that’s the most unnatural thing innit for a woman- to kill her own flesh & blood, but one of them – she’s just a sad old poxy scag head – out of her face – couldn’t get her toddler to shut up so gave her a slug of methadone-  and when that worked she just kept upping the dose every day to give herself some peace & quiet –  stupid cow.

The other one though – now that’s different & that why she’s the one I’m gonna write up for the thing,

 


twinning – section 1


Twinning – novel synopsis

Twinning is the story of two women, Claire & Gemma.

Gemma loves her 4 small children, but sometimes after a long shift, when her life seems to have shrunken down to a list of domestic tasks & too much month & not enough money, she wonders what life would be like if she no longer had them.

Claire doesn’t need to worry about this; she is serving a life sentence for the murder of her 18month old daughter.

Their stories are told through two parallel diaries, Gemma is struggling to complete her NVQ training as a prison guard and has been instructed to complete a reflective log, a case study of one of the inmates on her wing – an unwilling writer, she chooses to study Claire, a woman she dislikes, her writing records her growing fascination with Claire’s bizarre rationale for her actions and her journey into a dark place where her reality is challenged for ever.

Claire, with hours, days, months to fill, writes in in tiny blue notebooks delivered by her lawyer in an attempt to inform an appeal, her writing seems to be an attempt to explain her actions or can be read as a manipulative attempt to win her appeal on the basis  of diminished responsibility.

Twins, dead & alive form the backbone of this novel, Claire is a surviving bereaved twin, haunted from childhood by the death at birth of her twin sister – her twin has always been a presence in her life, as a child she was her constant companion and into adulthood Claire’s’ sense of self, her very identity has been shaped by her dead twins’ presence.

Gemma struggles with her relationship with her identical twin daughters, excluded by their singular closeness & struggling to provide for her 4 children, she finds herself wondering if life would be easier if she had not given birth to twins.

 

 

 

 

CLAIRE

Chapter 1 – plenary

In the dim and distant past, when my life has shape & form, when Sundays meant long lie-ins, Saturdays a leisurely exploration of the new city I lived in and week days saw me leave the house laden with books – I was a teacher.

We were trained to deliver the perfect lesson – always in 3 parts – starter, core & plenary. The plenary, so we were told, was the key to learning, the time in which the children reflected on their actions and what they had learnt.

So, I suppose that this is my plenary, the place in which I reflect on my actions & what I have learnt from them & god knows I have much time for reflection – in fact much of my day passes in reflection, like some modern day anchorite, I am still and quiet, my life is an internal one, focussed in past actions, past experiences. After all I have no future.

& yes – I do understand the complete inappropriateness of using such a word as anchorite to describe myself – there have been many other words used to describe me in the last few years, but this is my writing, so if I choose to describe myself in quasi – religious terms, than so be it.

I am already to use my mothers’ term – beyond the pale, there is nothing I can add that will make me more monstrous, so anchorite it will be.

So, my daughter is dead, no, scratch that, cop out, try again, my daughter was murdered, no, not good enough, I hold the pen tightly, so tight that the cheap soft paper in my little blue notebook threatens to tear – I murdered my daughter, my beautiful plump rosebud of a daughter. I murdered my daughter to silence HER, to give myself peace, to stop the monstrous dialogue in my head. I offered up my tiny child on the alter of HER madness.

There, I have written it down.

I murdered my daughter on February 14th – valentine’s day- a day for lovers and who cannot say that my act was not one of love, was not a gift of affection & kindness, was not informed by a desire to please, to make everything all right.

So, this was my action and what have I learnt from it?

GEMMA

No-one ever told me there would be writing, I hate writing, I hated writing at school and nothing has changed. Actually, I hated everything about school, couldn’t see the point of it, just so much blah, blah blah, stupid middle class twats who tried to tell us that Shakespeare was useful – they used to saw that “it had relevance to our lives” – twats

Now, I liked PE – I liked being strong & fit & using my size  to do well, the PE teachers were almost alright, you could tell that they didn’t think Shakespeare was relevant either – but the rest of school – total waste of time.#

So, when they made me go on this course, no-one mentioned writing, I thought it would be practical, search techniques, restraint, that sort of thing, I even thought it might be a bit of as laugh, get out of work early, bit of banter with the lads, sneak a fag or two, nick a few posh biscuits for the kids packed lunches.

But no, its all about empathy, understanding, reflection – they made us write these words down & gave us some twatty handout – dunno where mine is – probably buried underneath crisps packest & fag boxes in the back of the car.

We have to sit in a circle & are encouraged to be open & honest [ two more words from the bolloxy handouts] – it reminds me of those sessions they run for the women – its ok for them, they’ve got FA else to do – I could have done a quick run to Aldi while all this was going on.

But, the worst, the worst thing about this entire stupid course is this totally stupid, stupid reflective log, I’m supposed to write a reflective log – whatever that means – I don’t want to reflect on anything – the way to get through this job is not reflection, you reflect on it, it gets in your head & then next thing its in you & its in your home & your life & we all know where that ends.

Claire

Before, my life before the event that now defines me, before that, my life was could be described as a text book middle class, aspirational, even do-gooding liberal existence

I even belonged, god help me, to a book group, where we drank medium dry, medium priced white wine in of course middle class medium quantities. We read safe almost challenging writing while nibbling on  posh crisps & humus. We were always careful to avoid anything too difficult, anything that might encourage disclosure, breast beating, a hint that the façade might have a chink of two. So, no domestic violence, no substance mis-use, not even a low level eating disorder – we always carefully ignored Sophie’s’ extended loo breaks after her fourth cookie, her second bowl of crisps – in our reading.

Someone told me that I am a chapter in a book on women who kill their children, I wonder if that’s on my groups’ autumn reading list?

So, there was book group, thrice weekly visits to the gym, marching to protest against public sector cuts, intentions to visit must see exhibitions which somehow never seemed to actually happen.

There was the Boden catalogue, the Joules catalogue, a john Lewis store card, first name term visits to little independent clothes shops, a local deli where I bought over-priced artisan bread and organic goats cheese, the occasional visits to farmers markets where I was careful to buy only locally sourced products and the regular soul destroying gallop around the nearest super super market to buy the food we actually ate.

If it sounds like a cliché, well that’s because clichés contain truth and if my life was a cliché, I was happy to live it.

But, before, before all that even, there was another life, the life that led me here

This life

As a child, I truly believed that the cemetery was the destination of choice for all special birthday girls, our muted celebration always included such a pilgrimage.  I walked, often in snow & slush – didn’t it always snow in January then, my unsuitable shoes letting in the cold & ice, several paces behind my parents, clutching this years’ choice of soft toy. My mother in front, stiff, unbending, carrying a bunch of hot house forced flowers – a tiny part of me resentful that these gifts, so different from my solidly middle class presents, an improving book, a new winter coat, shiny new felt tips, would be left to age, sag & die in the cold open air.

I can remember the moment, the actual date, when I discovered that not all birthdays began with such a pilgrimage. April 19th – the 7th birthday of a classmate – my special status ensured that there were only classmates, never friends. She, Joanna Carter, she of the shiny hair & most magically to me, her very own pony, had a mother affluent enough to hold a party in a church hall, but with sufficient social conscience to insist that all her daughters’ classmates were invited. We, the marginally invited were too solidly middle class to hold the true stigmata of dispossession, none of us wore other peoples’ clothes, our hair was clean [ if perhaps the wrong colour], we spoke with pleasant accents, none of us smelt of wee, but even at 7 we understood our tenuous attachment to the social whirl.

We stood, nervous, straight backed, clutching our birthday offerings, unsure of what move to make & hoping desperately for an adult figure to take over & teacher like impose some form of social democracy.

My mother had no expectations for me, she understood only too well that social success was not the goal for me, but all around me, those parents of the lower castes, the untouchables,   positively twitched with social desire, today would be the day that their child would shine, would move from their default setting  of surly loner to take their proper place within the sunshine circle of small girl popularity.

The party quite simply confused me, used as I was to birthdays inhabited with a general air of melancholy.

All around me, small girls and more perplexingly, large adults, moved in a frenzy of happiness, all seemed equally charmed by balloons, games of pass the parcel and badly wrapped gifts of scented rubbers.

Well brought up, I smiled in all the right places, remembered my manners & took part in all the activities on offer, whilst inside the very wrongness of the event sat lump like in my throat, my facial expression mistaken for over indulgence in Battenberg cake.

Collected exactly 10 minutes too early & escaping in a flurry of best coats & party bags, I walked home slowly, trying to assimilate this new shape of partyness,  to make it fit with my understanding of what a birthday should be.  Looking to my mother, walking her customary 5 yards in front of me, I already knew to say nothing.

Gemma

See, I never choose this, I never woke up one morning & said “ I know what I want to be”, I never had direction and goals, I had bills and more bill and more bills.

I needed to earn some decent money, I wanted my kids to have nice things, I wanted to be like that bloke in that stupid advert, you know the one, the man from Del Monte – he says yes – not the mum from Melton – she says no, not today, maybe tomorrow.

Of course, what I really wanted was not to be married to the worlds’ biggest waste of space – he says he’s’ got post traumatic thingy thingy thingy, I reckon he’s just a twat who can’t keep his mouth shut – every new job, it’s the same story, first couple of weeks it’s all sunshine & light, then someone annoys him, then they’re all twats & then he tells the gaffer a few home truths and then it’s another stupid poxy job he can’t hold down.

Give him his dues, he’s good at finding new jobs, but I’m starting to get it – I’m good at shutting up & sucking up & doing all the stupid pointless shit you need to do  to keep a job & pay the rent & keep everything going.

So, that why I’m here, with a shiny new folder & an old Winnie the pooh pencil case I nicked from  my big un, cos she said in yr 6 nobody has Winnie the pooh anymore & I’m used to using things that no-body else wants.

That’s why I’m here- writing page 1 of my reflective log, writing about my relationship with one of the women, yeah right

& then I remember, I’m the one who can do this, I’m the one who can hold down a job & keep everyone safe & shut up & suck it up.

So, I write the date & then, I underline it very neatly with a Disney Princess  pink gel pen.