Yesterday Avril and I made our way to a studio at the Forum, Darlington to record for Rachel Cohcrane, driving force behind Listen Up North Rachel Cochrane’s audio website, and eclectic mix of spoken word entertainment. At Listen Up North she says the present @ audiodrama, poetry, short stories and extracts from novels and interviews drawn from that truly inspirational place that is the North East of England (although sometimes the boundaries have been somewhat extended!)’ You can listen to their content online or by downloading our audio files so you can listen at your convenience.
Avril and I were there to read for Listen Up northfrom our current ebooks her When You Hear The Birds Sing and my Paulie’s Web. I admire Rachel for her support for all kinds of writers – radio playwrights, short story writers, poets and novelists. As you will see from her website she has a very open policy and all serous writers can apply for inclusion.
When you write a novel and live with it for more than a year the characters you create live with you alongside you. You end up hearing their voices. So yesterday. reading from Paulie’s Web for Rachel I heard the voices again of Paulie and her friends.
This novel emerged from my experience between 1991 and 2002 as writer in residence in a woman’s prison. It took me ten years to digest the extremities of my experience in prison and write my novel as true fiction in a way that pays tribute to the many women I met while working there. If, by the by, it goes some way to cracking the absurd stereotypes of women in prison it will be an extra delight. While there are dark passages here I make no apologies for the ultimately optimistic tone of this story which is a true reflection of the humour, stoicism and kindness that I was witness to in my prison experience.
The story goes like this: Paulie Smith, rebel, ex-teacher and emerging writer comes out of prison after six years, her conviction overturned. As she moves around in the next few days, struggling to readjust to the scary realities of life ‘on the out’, she reflects on her life in prison. She focuses particularly on her first few weeks inside, alongside the four very different women whom she first met in the white van on their way to their first remand prison.
Paulie’s thoughts move from Queenie, the old bag- lady who sees giants and angels, to Maritza who has disguised her pain with an ultra-conventional life, to Lilah, the spoiled apple of her mother’s eye, to the tragedy of Christine - the one with the real scars.
And then there is Paulie herself, who ended up in prison through no fault of her own. Their unique stories, past and present, mingle as Paulie, free now, goes looking for these unique women who have now been ‘on the out’ for some years and are, Paulie hopes, remaking their lives.
It was a pleasure to be reminded of all this and to read from this novel for Rachel and I really look forward to hearing it on the Listen Up North website. wx