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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.