I’ve won the Impress Prize for New Writers 2019!
The prize relates to a book that I’ve been writing about a man who lived with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and later autism. I knew him for 18 years and decided to write about his life in 2012. I call it biography and it is but it’s also a conversation between his life and mine. I’ve mentioned him in blogs, last January and September. Below is an extract from the first chapter which formed part of my submission for the Impress Prize.
Please note that after I wrote a chapter, I’d read it back to him and sometimes incorporate his comments which are in italics. His name in the book is Stephen, because he wanted to remain anonymous and he like the name Stephen 😊
EXTRACT FROM CHAPTER 1 – 2014
Recently Stephen watched the film ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ again on TV. He tells me: ‘It was good but it disturbed me. Much worse things happened to me, Susie, much worse.’
I’m interested. I’m perched on a wooden chair facing Stephen folded into his ancient armchair, in an equally ancient jumper, his cigarette alight, ash about to fall, taking notes while a February sky squints at me through the smoke-stained bay window of his front room. I remember ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ set in Oregon Mental Hospital. It won 5 Oscars. Jack Nicholson with his arched eyebrows, wicked smile and black, wild hair played the charismatic rogue attempting to avoid prison by posing as a mental patient.
I look at Stephen with his black, untidy hair, serious eyebrows and intense dark eyes and an image rises in my mind of Jack Nicholson’s face contorted in pain as he’s given an electric shock. It had never occurred to me before that this might have been visited on Stephen. I’m curious: ‘Did you ever have that electro whatsit?’
Stephen drops his voice: ‘I did.’
‘What’s it called?’ I don’t catch what he says. ‘Sorry?’ Still no good. ‘What?’
‘ECT – Electro Convulsive therapy – it doesn’t’ matter. You’re obviously hard of hearing.’
I am not hard of hearing. He hasn’t got his teeth in. I grind mine: ‘No, I’m listening’.
‘You are hard of hearing, Susie, you are hard of hearing.’
‘Ok I’m hard of hearing but if you could speak up that would help me. Did it help you, the ECT?’
‘Most people are hard of hearing.’
His disappointment with the human race and my irony hang in the smoky air between us.
[When I read this part back to him, he still agreed emphatically that I’m very hard of hearing].
I get back on subject: ‘Was it helpful, the ECT?’
‘It didn’t help me.’
‘Was it painful?’
‘I’m sorry. And did you agree to it or was it forced on you?’
‘Forced on me.’
‘Could you give me some dates when you had it?’
’76. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.’
It’s only later I notice that ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest came out in 1975, the year before Stephen had ECT.
And later still that I notice painfully, my curiosity trumping compassion.
That was the extract from the book and part of my prize winning entry. Stephen died in August 2018 and never got to share this good moment. I miss him. May he rest in peace.