Tag Archives: depression

My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal – Book Review

‘…he misses the photograph of Jake and he has to close his eyes to remember it. He holds on to Big Red Bear and thinks about all the things he didn’t say to his mum. How long will it be for her to get better? When is she coming back for him? […] Will she come back? Where is she? Where is Jake?’ (My Name is Leon. p.78)

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Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, My Name is Leon (2016) by Kit De Waal is a heart tugging, sad yet hopeful book. Set in England the late 1970’s – early 1980’s, Leon and his baby brother Jake are living with single mother Carol.  Leon’s father is in prison and Jakes father is married and wants nothing to do with Carol or the child. Carol is terribly lonely and desperately unhappy. Struggling with deep depression, the mother’s fragile state leaves her  unable to care for her children :

Leon has begun to notice things what make his mum cry: when Jake makes a lot of noise; when she hasn’t got any money; when she comes back from the phone box; when Leon asks too many questions; and when she’s staring at Jake, (p.12).

After Carol takes to her bed, Leon, at just nine years old,  takes on the role of carer and parent. Through the eyes of this young boy, the reader watches his world fall apart, fragment by fragment.

Eventually the boys are taken into care and find solace in the home of Maureen, an experienced foster carer with a deep love for both cakes and children. Maureen is a lovable character who feels a deep affinity for Leon, even though Leon is highly suspicious of anyone in the care system, but when Jake is adopted, it is Maureen who picks up the pieces.  It is perhaps her honesty rather than her role as parent that soothes Leon in his most difficult times:

‘Now listen carefully because I want you to understand something and I don’t say this to all the children because it’s not always true but with you it’s true so you have to believe it. And when you believe it you will stop grinding your teeth […] You will be all right, Leon.’ (p.55-56).

But when Maureen is taken into hospital, Leon is left with Maureen’s sister Sylvia, a less motherly role model than Maureen but with a desire to please her sister none the less. Their relationship is strained and often uncomfortable, but soon enough Leon finds comfort in a new friend, Tufty. Tufty is a young man who looks after a plot in his father’s allotment. The man and the boy form a friendship that grows alongside the seeds that they plant in the garden, so when they both find themselves in the midst of the Birmingham riots, they naturally come together to save each other. 

This is a coming of age story unlike any other, it is not a happy ever after but hope for a child and his future. 

I love this novel, it is clearly written with believable characters and honest emotions. At the start of the novel I was concerned about the character’s point of view – a third person limited perspective from the child’s perspective – but it is cleverly done. While the reader gathers glimpses of emotions from inside Leon’s head, there is still enough distance to feel the tug of the story from the outside. It is as if the reader is holding the child’s hand and experiencing his life with him as it unfolds. Brilliantly done and brilliantly written. Go Leon. 

 

I Knew You Were Weary

I published ‘I Knew You Were Weary’ with Anti-Heroin Chic on 25th May 2017.

I wrote this poem in response to finding out an old friend and work colleague had died. While I never actually found out the cause of his death, I do know that in the months, maybe years leading up to his death, he was lonely. I spoke to him on social media on rare occasions but never allowed myself to get close enough to ask – are you okay, and do you need help. I guess over the years we had drifted apart as friends, and for that reason I felt that it wasn’t up to me to respond to his very obvious cries for help. Now I wish I could turn back time and not scroll by his social media posts. Now I wish I could talk to him and remind him that he is loved and that he has brought happiness to so many people in his life time. Perhaps those words might have saved him. Perhaps those words would have given him peace in his final moments.

R.I.P my friend. A fragment of your life is imprinted on mine.

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I Knew You Were Weary

I knew you were weary. I saw
Bold, Black words repeated. Graphited
On a hundred walls. I scrolled

Past your weeping lines, ignoring
The beats. Broken sighs, dripping

Dripping morbidly into saturated
Sentences. I knew you were trapped;
Bouncing madness inside your own
Head. Half alive, half way dead – Hanging

Tap, tap. I knew it, yet I paused
I paused. Liking your profile shot,
A ricocheting lie – a knot. My conscientious mind
Wrought, wrung, tangled in a world-wide web;

I searched and found a better you, impressed,
Pressed on the back of my eyelids.

I never heard you scream your final scream.

 

Window Pain

I published Window Pain with FTP Magazine on 7th April 2017 – click here to see the original. This is one of my favourite poems to date.

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Window Pain
Not a paper bag
Or a terracotta mask
Can erase this face,
Or misplace
The dug-out lines,
The outlines,
the valleys sketched
Like map markings, marking my skin.
Or the thin
Unconventional smile, forced from
A gully of pain
That rises to the tip
Of a pin like nerve

To my lip.
Does this body deserve
To mask these aging bones

With leather skin
Smoothed out,
Like putty on a window pane
With pain.

Or will night,
When dusk coughs
The light from the sky – celebrate,
and wait
until the moon is a silver eyelash
on a violet sheet
and the self –
erased.