Sunday 12 April 2009


The social crimes of family dysfunction, petty long term cruelty, and occasional suicidal or psychopathic outbursts have frequently been part of my long fiction. However two long terms as writer-in-residence in a women’s prison have shown me that the sharper focus of the short story might perhaps be very well suited to explore the darker themes inevitable in such a setting.

In prison I worked with individuals who had walked the razor edge of survival all their lives, whose given role as victim had been transformed by circumstance to that of perpetrator. At first, these perceptions crept into my long fiction, from Long Journey Home - about women in a Japanese internment camp - to my most recent novel The Woman Who Drew Buildings (out in September) where one of the two main characters is just out of prison.

However, more and more those sharp insights into individuals on the edge began to crystallise into elements of a short story. This distilled form reflects the epiphanic glimpses and the flashes of insight I experienced many year in recent years through this inspiring contact with the people as I encouraged them to write and to read to make more sense of their world.

The outcome of all this is KNIVES, a series of short stories - ranging from the inspired ravings of an old woman, once respectable and now on the streets, to a young man who goes to view a house and has a near miss with a psychopathic killer, to a young woman - more sinned against than sinning - hell bent on self destruction. There are other, less pathological stories in the collection - of a woman breaking free from a long and confining marriage, of a boy learning his craft deep in the bowels of the earth.
But I think that - more than violence, more than darkness, all these stories reflect the knowingness and the sense of irony - even comedy - that is the human saving grace of people under stress and in either physical or psychological confinement.

Knives (Iron Press) is launched this month (April 2009).
Happy reading, happy writing



  1. That is a fascinating topic you are exploring, I like the idea that reading and writing helps us know ourselves and the world in which we live better. Thanks for dropping by my blog and the kind comment. I know what you mean about how important libraries are for kids and somedays, when I think I might have a difference for one of the kids I think I would do the job just for that, who needs money when you see the excitement the right book, at the right time can give to someone.
    Good luck with the new book, it certainly sounds fascinating.

  2. There are so many stories in prison,so many women with their own unique story, that I think a collection such as this is the perfect way to reflect this inspiring diversity. Just as the women have inspired you Wendy so your work with the women at HMP Low Newton has been recognised by many as making an outstanding contribution to the women's lives. You have inspired them through the positive force of your belief in them both as people and as writers. In prison it can be easy to retreat into the dark places of self doubt and loathing - how much better then to enjoy a new found creativity and self belief. The new hope that always came through the gate with you.

    A x (former Head of Learning and Skills HMP Low Newton)

  3. Dear A.

    I am so touched by this comment. It was a privilege to work there and be supported by people like you whose idealistic vision supported all the work I tried to do. I look forward to your sharing some of your unique insights in that extraordinary world - on your lovely creative blog - (Don't yet know how to make the link properly, being somewhat new to all this.)
    I know that you are enjoying your post-prison freedom but that experience inside has somehow made a proper framework for your own surging creativity - with your books, your poems, your blog and those great photos on your blog showing such an inspirational light on your writing life.
    Right on! as we used to say. Angus says 'sweet!' - apparently that's the new word for 'right on'...

  4. Dear Book Pusher
    So good to see you here!
    You may be interested that in prison I worked in a place called The Learning Shop which was the library but also an informal space to work one to one or with a small group of people. The librarian there, Charlie, followed just your principle of finding the right book for the right person - again, a life changer.
    I'm hoping the KNIVES will have a 'launch inside' there in the autumn. The women have already read some of the stories and given their approval. They can be very straight critics!
    See you again.

  5. I am so looking forward to reading Knives, and agree entirely that an outlet, be it writing, reading, or in my case painting allows you to discover and understand yourself. Not just a life changer, it can be a life saver.

  6. Thank you for your comment Fiona. I think you and I both feel the bebefit of being able to say what we feel, whether our tool is the paintbrush or the inkpen. A special thnak you for letting use your art on my site.
    Happy painting. Did you say you were painting the sea at present? I look forward to seeing some of your artwork on the sea...



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...