Prison and poetry don’t seem like two words that fit together. Prison and drugs would be more obvious. Or prison and violence. Or maybe prison and cockroaches. Badly run prisons with badly behaved prisoners, like Birmingham recently or Liverpool not so long ago or Exeter, give all prisoners a bad name. But there is another side to the story. This year I’ve edited a collection of poetry written by prisoners. It’s the seventh volume published by Inside Time the national newspaper for prisoners where all the poems have already appeared. This volume covers four years. With Victoria Grey, of the charity Give a Book, I’ve chosen the best. It also has the first Pinter prize in honour of playwright, Harold Pinter and given by his widow Antonia Fraser. It’s good to look behind the obvious, and these 200 pages show men and women who feel love, shame, joy, terrible sadness and hope for a better future. There is anger too, but often against themselves. How could they have got to where they are? These poems tell more about life behind bars than a hundred television reports or newspaper articles. A free copy of the book is in every prison library and it can also be ordered from Inside Time (£9.99).
- ‘Oh politics!’ exclaimed Dan as if that was the end of the matter. ‘But I was stopped in the street.... Read more
- The Wild Cherry Tree (Prunus avium)
- The Wild Cherry Tree is a hermaphrodite, both male and female, and more than a little poisonous. But this didn’t... Read more
- A Year in My Life
- For a Christmas 2008 feature The Times commissioned various writers to look back at a year which had changed their... Read more
- The Man who tried to Kill his Wife with a Goose
- This fictional story was first published in The Times. The butcher’s shop is based on the famous Lidgates of Holland... Read more
They Were Sisters
I’ve just finished a new novel called ‘They Were Sisters.’ When I was a schoolgirl of ten, my class was asked to write an essay called ‘My Family’. My childish heart leapt. I knew I was onto a winner. Even though I attended a Catholic convent, there was no-one else who was one of eight children. ‘I have four brothers and three sisters,’ I wrote proudly. ‘My eldest sister is twenty and wears merry widow corsets and my youngest brother is three and has long golden curls. Another brother makes me hold one end of the tape for hours while he measures our Wellingtonia Tree.’
Families, I knew even then, are the best possible subject for novelists. Indeed without this early realisation I might never have become a writer. I can’t pretend I was the first to notice the potential in people bonded in love or hatred by a high octane mixture of chance or choice. From Austen to Tolstoy (who both wrote their most famous opening lines on the subject) to Waugh and St Aubyn, all have noted the drama inherent in family life.
I’m happy to affirm that ‘They Were Sisters’ is not about my own three sisters nor about my own mother. Instead it delves into the dark wells of danger that await those whose relationship grows down instead of up.