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Laura Wilkinson

Laura Wilkinson

After a degree in Literature at Manchester, a career as a freelance journalist and copywriter, Laura moved to Brighton, via London.

Laura has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies, and two novels. Her most recent novel is Public Battles, Private Wars, (Accent Press, March 2014). It’s the story of a young miner’s wife in 1984; of complex friendships, love and betrayal, and finding the best of yourself in terrible conditions. It was the National Museum of Wales book of the month in June 2014.

As well as writing, she works as an editor for literary consultancies, Cornerstones and The Writing Coach, and runs workshops on self-editing and the art of fiction. She’s spoken at festivals and events nationwide, including London Metropolitan University, GladLit, University of Kingston, The Feminist Library and the Museum in Docklands.

For more information, visit:

Twitter @ScorpioScribble

Facebook: Laura Wilkinson Author




After my father’s last disappearing act my paternal grandmother, Betty, refused to see my mother, my sister and me. A shadowy spectre in my early years, my father had disappeared before, but this was how we knew, this time, it was different: the barred door of the lone dwelling in a street made of rubble; the house testament to Betty’s refusal to kow-tow to the council’s slum clearance scheme.


          For my mother, sick with grief, trapped in a place where memories of my father’s presence lurked round every street corner, Betty’s refusal to acknowledge our existence was perhaps a blessing. There was nothing tying us to the city. And just as he had done, so it was that we left everything we knew behind.  


           Late one winter’s evening, bundled into the back of a car, wrapped in an orange blanket edged with white stitching, with no idea we were leaving for good, my sister and I were whisked through the tunnel and across the Wirral to the land where my other grandma lived. A market town in the foothills of the Clwyd valley, this was a place where children did not jump on the roofs of parked cars, where school toilets were indoors and not on the playground, where children of five and six knew how to read and even write a little, where adults lowered their voices when my sister and I entered the room and my father’s name was never spoken.


           With nowhere else to go we lived with my maternal grandparents, in the rooms above the fish and chip shop and café they ran, The Supreme. The shop stood at the top of the high street, nestled in front of the parish church. A brown-stoned faux-Norman edifice guarded by ancient yews and cherry blossom it was where my mother and father, young, handsome and hopeful, had said they would love each other till death do them part. The churchyard that bordered the scrappy back garden of the chip shop became my playground, the tombstones my friends, the daisies my playthings.


           Settling in period over, I was dragged, kicking, though not screaming – my protest was a silent one – by my grandfather Joe, to a school down the hill from the shop. I sat on a rocking horse sprung in a metal frame at the back of the class where I bounced up and down, up and down, all day long, sullen and uncooperative, until desperate teachers called my unfortunate grandfather requesting that he remove me: I was upsetting the other children.


           The only other English-speaking school was at the far end of the town, so each morning Joe and I made the slow trudge down the high street through the half-empty car park at the back of the only supermarket and across a neglected orchard to the school on the red hill. The building of Bryn Coch Primary was a no-nonsense, red-bricked affair lying half way up the rise, its sweeping playing field laid out like a carpet, the trees at its base weeping branches onto the wire mesh fence.  


          During one such walk to school Joe saw and subsequently purchased a cottage on the street that ran along the foot of the hill, built upon the source of a lively little river: Brook Street. The house was an investment for my grandparents; in the long term, a low maintenance home for their retirement; in the short term, a place their eldest daughter and grandchildren could call home. It was wintertime when we moved into Glan Aber; an un-modernised farmer’s cottage built in 1875 it reminded me of Betty’s house, without the insidious, malignant atmosphere of thwarted dreams. Cramped and dark, it oozed gothic romanticism, with its Play School arched windows, open fireplace and Victorian garden, complete with terracotta stone borders weaving maze-like through the snow. I loved it, and wearing a bobble hat to bed to protect against the chill only added to the magic.


           It was once we were here, ensconced between the damp stones of Glan Aber and the warmer bricks of Bryn Coch that playground questions about the whereabouts of my father began. My sister, Helen, who had started school in the autumn, was holding court to a small, rapt crowd on the concrete yard; the field out of bounds thanks to snow that was turning to slush. As I approached the small huddle a boy with thick carroty hair spun on his Start-rites, his knees dappled purple above his thick grey socks in the harsh morning air, hands on his hips. He was trouble; I could smell it.


           ‘Where is your father?’ Steam poured from his mouth, freckles livid in his cold-bitten cheeks. Helen stood by, belligerent.


           ‘Elsewhere,’ I said, hopeful this was sufficiently vague to confirm whatever particular line my sister was spouting.


           ‘So? Big deal,’ the boy harrumphed, simultaneously dismissive and victorious; there was nothing interesting about the girls with the strange accents. The crowd shuffled, preparing to disperse.


            Wounded by the insult and faltering attention, Helen scowled. I pulled out our trump card. ‘He’s dead,’ I said, certain there had been a death, despite the absence of a funeral – at least one that I had attended or been aware of.


            ‘See,’ Helen said, triumphant.


            ‘What from?’ a girl, arms folded across her chest, asked. She clutched an open packet of crisps, my favourites, the one with the blue bag of salt inside; it rustled as she waited, impatient.


             I had no answer to this, for I hadn’t the faintest idea how or why he’d died. After I’d caught my mother lying on the day bed on Christmas morning last, silent tears escaping from her eyes, I had been told that he had died. This was all the information offered and I was either too dumb, or too numb with shock and sorrow, to investigate further.


             ‘He must have died of something. What?’ Crisp girl’s voice echoed around the playground. The crowd grew, children drawn by the promise of gore, the mystery of death itself.


             ‘He was in hospital,’ I floundered. I knew this to be true: he went into hospital weeks before he disappeared; he’d stayed in hospital before, though at six I could hardly have understood what kind of hospital it was, even if I’d been told. Little wonder my mother chose not to explain.


            ‘He was eating a pie,’ Helen announced.

            The crowd turned to her, craving detail she did not possess.

            Folding her arms high on her chest, mimicking crisp girl, defiant, she said: ‘A pie that I bought for him. We bought for him.’ Sisterly solidarity.  A murmur rippled through the throng. ‘And he fell into the pie, and died.’


           Children gasped.


           ‘Was it meat?’ the boy said, chin forward, hands still gripping his hips.


            I nodded, solemn. ‘Steak and kidney.’


           A collective uuurgghh rose from the crowd.


           ‘Face first,’ Helen added, relishing the now captive audience’s attention.


            Desperate to ensure my sister and I were not to be seen as complicit in any perceived crime, I added quickly: ‘But it wasn’t the pie that killed him.’


            ‘How do you know?’ a girl hissed.


            ‘Just do,’ I said, with a finality I hoped would close the conversation.


            But the ginger boy was a terrier; he wouldn’t let go. ‘How do you know?’ he spat.


            Helen came to my rescue. ‘The doctor said so.’ She looked so sure, so certain, standing there in my cast off padded anorak, blonde hair frizzy with static from the man-made fibres of the coat, that I believed her too. Seconds later, the bell rang out announcing the end of morning break.


            To my knowledge there were no other children in this small community who had lost a parent, and commonplace divorce was a thing of the future. Our fatherless state marked us out as different, if not to other children, to ourselves; and even after my mother remarried. Our stepfather’s insistence on being addressed by his Christian name was a constant reminder.


            The story of the pie and my father’s tragic demise followed me throughout my primary school years. It was repeated so often amongst peers that I came to believe it to be true. Whether or not it was ever spoken of when adults were present is unclear to me, even now, though any mention of my father around my grandparents and mother was so rare that I imagine not. As the years passed and adolescence beckoned, the story troubled me in a nebulous, inexplicable way. He couldn’t have died eating the pie, surely? I couldn’t believe that he fell into its soft, gravy interior; the image was far too undignified for the coltish, good-looking man I’d seen in the photographs gathered in the old leather satchel stored at the back of my mother’s wardrobe. But I never doubted that there had been a pie, or that he had died in hospital, on Christmas Day. None of which was true. But the story became so firmly rooted in my own and my sister’s personal mythologies that to challenge its veracity would have been tantamount to challenging the very existence of the man.


              I was almost fifteen, Helen almost thirteen, when I discovered the truth, though discovered gives entirely the wrong impression; I was told; by my stepfather, Mike. He was surprised we didn’t already know.


              A chemist at the steelworks, Mike worked shifts and was often around more than my mother when we returned from school and during holidays. This particular day she was still at work.


              Sunlight poured through the enormous windows at the back of the modern house we now lived in. Helen and I were sitting at the round table, on curved plastic seats that were cool on the backs of legs even in high summer. School books lay open before us, homework abandoned. Always the more challenging, more confrontational, it was Helen who’d asked. She’d probed before and, like the adults, complicit in a complex need to keep the past buried, I’d hushed her up, fearing the glazed look of hurt and pain that washed over my mother’s and my grandparents’ faces at the mention of his name: Brian.


              My father didn’t die in hospital on Christmas Day, let alone eating a pie, though he was supposed to be in hospital that bleak December; at Rain Hill, an institute for the mentally ill on the outskirts of Liverpool, where treatment came in the form of voltage and depression was little understood. He should have been on suicide watch – he’d tried to take his own life before – my mother had insisted he was serious this time.


             But Brian Wilkinson, thirty-one years old, and desperate, walked off the ward and into the city. My mother believes he called at our house, and finding us out, flew from the top of the Mount Pleasant multi-storey car park into a place I had once described as ‘elsewhere’. It seems to me now to be the perfect description, and I hope that he smiled every time Helen and I told the story of the pie. 

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