The writing of 'When Sorrows Come' was a very challenging experience; it tackles some seriously big issues head on, many of which I have personal experience of.
When I was thirteen-years-old, my father developed very serious mental health issues and I, like many teens, was thrust into a role I didn't ask for, that of being a Young Carer. My teenage years was littered with 999 calls and visits to the psychiatric unit at our very backward thinking rural hospital. It meant my childhood ended abruptly and without mercy.
However, it was a fire that forged a passionate, determined spirit - one that wouldn't let the often harrowing experiences of her teenage years define her future. That's not always been easy, and of course, like all human beings it's been a recovery period, with some serious emotion tentacles that have been harder to cast off than others.
'When Sorrows Come' was part of this slaying. I had wanted to write a book about the impact of parental mental health issues in a YA book for a long time, but it was both a personal and social challenge - like any highly emotive subject.
When I read Hamlet as a teenager, it fast became one of the most influential books I ever read; there was so much within the pages that resonated even if the parallels were not obvious. Sitting down to write through my experiences as a teenager, Hamlet felt the perfect companion - a way for me to work through the complex emotions of first love, awakening desire, parental disappointment, being an outsider, secret burdens - and that all consuming quiet rage that gets tangled in a hard and deep first love affair.
'When Sorrows Come' was difficult to share, and I sat on it for three years before finally plucking up the courage to put it out there - when I did, it received a reception that I could only have hope for. Readers messaged me on Facebook, email and via reviews to tell me how deeply they had been affected by the book - how it had made them cry, and how the book had haunted them for weeks after reading.
It is sad, it is beautiful, it is dark, it is full of passion - but most importantly, it is full of hope.
It was nominated this year for a UTOPiA award for Contemporary Fiction and I really could have cried myself, I was so moved that fellow authors who I have fan-girled and admired for years put it forward for an award.
Malachi tips the glass of bourbon to unsettle the caramel-glass surface. He sees his father’s face reflected back at him. Younger of course - but they are unmistakably his father’s eyes. They are the colour of dark chocolate. Malachi’s younger sister, Maud, has the same colour eyes as their mother; ice-blue. Their father had been a great man, not just in the eyes of his son, but in the eyes of the world. As one of the leading scholars of Shakespeare, he had attained the status of an international geek superstar. It is a hard legacy for his seventeen-year-old son to carry. Malachi downs the rest of the liquor, stands and straightens his black mourning tie and smooths his hands over his dark grey suit.
Today is the day of his mother’s wedding. It is also the seven month anniversary of his father’s death. Malachi’s jaw is clenched so hard his teeth hurt. The pain feels reassuring.
“Malachi!” his mother calls up the stairs to him. “The cars are waiting.”
He looks at the bottle of bourbon on the desk. His father had opened it the night before he died. There are just a couple of shots left. Malachi has eked it out. Ridiculous as it sounds, it has made him feel less of a loss, as if each glass has been shared together. When it is gone, those moments will also be gone.
“Malachi!” His mother’s voice is urgent. She is keen to be a bride. The thought of it makes him feel sick. He picks up the bottle, uncorks the stopper with his teeth and pours the rest of the burning spirit down his throat; an action he knows he will regret in the coming quiet hours of grief. The intensity of it all brings tears to his eyes. He fights them back. He knows it will not be the only time today he will have to fight this battle.
He is hiding out in his father’s study. Graham, his father’s brother, soon to be husband to his brother’s wife, (yes, incest is complicated) has promised Malachi that the office will remain his. His father’s things will not be moved. Malachi is not holding this promise dear. After all, what worth is the word of a man who jumps into bed with the widow of his brother even before his brother has rotted in the ground? Not for the first time, the image of his father’s corpse comes back to haunt him.
The bourbon makes Malachi cough. He has not heard Maud enter the study and he startles when he feels her hand on his shoulder.
“Kai,” she speaks with the voice of a lullaby, “everybody is waiting for you.”
“Let them wait!”
“Ssh!” she soothes and strokes the dark ringlets of his hair. “Don’t do this today, Kai. Mama knows how you feel; the whole family know how you feel, and you’re not alone.”
Malachi balls his fist. The urge to destroy something is almost overwhelming.
Maud holds out a pale blue silk tie and implores him with her eyes to change. Malachi bats her hand away. It should be enough that he is going to the blasted wedding. He runs his hand along the waist line of his trousers, tucking his shirt tightly in before doing up his jacket button.
“Let’s go.” He walks out, leaving Maud’s hand still suspended in the air. She is also unhappy about her mother’s hasty marriage to her Uncle Graham. He is a strange man - she has never liked him. Fourteen-year-old Maud is a born again Christian. She has the youthful sureness of right and wrong; the pastor has told her that her mother’s marriage to her late husband’s brother is a cardinal sin - they are both condemned to Hell. Malachi hopes the pastor is right, and they get there sooner rather than later.
Their mother is waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs. She is dressed up like a pea-hen, all white satin and a festoon of feathers. Her cheeks are over-rouged. She has lipstick on her teeth. Malachi doesn’t tell her - he takes a quiet satisfaction in her social faux-pas (as if the wedding wasn’t bad taste enough). She looks at him hard, notes his black tie and goes to say something before thinking better of it. She knows he is an unexploded bomb. The boy needs to stop being so gloomy. Death is just a part of life. Life is short. “Out, out brief candle, life is nothing but a walking shadow that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” She smiles sadly at herself. She can quote Shakespeare as easily as the names of her own children, but it means very little to her. In all the years she was married to the esteemed Professor Stone, she had never read or watched one of Shakespeare’s plays in its entirety. Her knowledge of the bard was as fragmented as the knowledge she really had of her husband.
His brother Graham had always loved her. He had told her this on the day she wed his brother. He had tried to kiss her before she left for the church and she had slapped him. Not because of his uninvited attempt, but because he had left it too late. The ‘professor brother’ had already staked an eternal claim - she was pregnant with Malachi. For eighteen years Graham had stood in the shadows watching on as his golden-haloed brother lived the perfect life - except it wasn’t. The silent, heavy moment between Malachi and his mother passes. She wishes he could read her mind and know just how much she loves him, even if she doesn’t particularly like him at present. She is blocking the stairway and Malachi catches her shoulder roughly as he passes by. It is a cold moment but she lets it pass and smiles weakly at her daughter, looking for sympathy. Maud replies with a steely glare and a shrug of the shoulders.
Malachi arrives at the Registry Office earlier than the wedding party and takes a seat on the back row. The guests have not noticed him arrive and he can hear their whispers. They are there because in their small community, his family count as aristocracy - no matter what, the aristos stick together - and also because they like nothing more than to be a front row spectator at a road-crash. His mother had asked if he would give her away but he had refused. There had been a terrible row. Horrible, irrecoverable things had been said. Malachi had stayed out all night. When Maud had asked him where he had been, he had refused to tell her, but she knew … he had been with Ophelia.
Soon after he arrives, Lucy, Malachi’s girlfriend arrives and takes a seat next to him. She reaches out and takes his hand in hers. It is limp and uncommitted. She is wearing a pink silk dress suit and matching hat and shoes. Malachi glances at her and thinks she looks like a younger version of his mother. He returns her smile out of habit. He stays with Lucy as a form of self-discipline (possibly self-punishment). Staying with her is an exercise in self-control, proving he can conquer the weakness that is human emotion; that he is not a slave to love. He is a free man. An evolved man. A superior being beyond the baseness of human frailty. She leans in and whispers to him, “Are you okay?”
It is a stupid question and one that Ophelia would never ask - but Lucy, well she’s a different type of girl entirely. Malachi nods. His jaw is still tightly clenched.
“Your sister gave me this.” Lucy hands out the wretched, blue-silk tie and smiles her sweetest smile as if she understands but maybe knows better than him.
“That was nice of Maud but I’m really not sure it goes with your lovely outfit, sweetheart,” he replies.
She laughs. (God how that laugh annoys him.) He counts to three with deep breaths in between.
“It would be a nice gesture to wear it …” she makes a small drama of scanning the room and then leans in conspiratorially “… and maybe it will stop some of the whispering.”
Malachi stares straight ahead and twists the top of his black tie. “Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a fuck what other people are saying!”
The word “fuck” has been said loud enough to cause a small ripple of surprise from some of the elderly ladies in the row in front, and Lucy is doing her best to smile and be charming - apologising on his behalf for his outrageous behaviour. Malachi does not feel sorry. Lucy is squirming in her seat. Malachi allows himself a wry smile - she will accommodate his every instruction later in order to appease her angry god. He knows his cruelty does not make him good. The music strikes up and his mother walks down the aisle. She looks slightly flustered and he is happy that maybe he has cast a cloud over her day. The legal process is thankfully swift. (Even she is not audacious enough to pretend God or any other ‘spirit’ would approve of a sentimental exchange between them.) Before he knows it, the wedding party are standing on the steps of the Town Hall, confetti raining down around them and the photographer barking orders for them to smile. When the photos are returned Malachi has refused.
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