Real Life Orphans
Some of those who lost a parent or parents at a very young age…
Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Caligula, Hadrian, Haile Selassie, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Genghis Khan, Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Louis XIV of France, Olof Palme, Alfred the Great, Yuri Andropov, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Ernest Bevin, Elizabeth I, Henry VI, David Lloyd George, Mary Queen of Scots, Peter the Great, Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson Davis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, George Washington, J. R. R. Tolkien, Leo Tolstoy, Dante Alighieri, Hans Christian Anderson, Anthony Burgess, Joseph Conrad, Maxim Gorky, The Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm), John Keats, W. Somerset Maugham, Andy McNab, Sean O’Casey, Jean Racine, Bertrand Russell, George Sand (real name Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin), William Wordsworth, Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Albee, Herman Melville, James M. Michener, Sylvia Plath, Henry Morton Stanley, Gertrude Stein, Kiri Te Kanawa, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Lennon, George Frederic Handel, Henry Purcell, Antonio Salieri, Franz Schubert, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Hank Ballard, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Al Jolson, B. B. King, Eartha Kitt, Bessie Smith, Tina Turner, Muddy Waters, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett, Guy Pearce, Ingrid Bergman, Lord Byron, Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas, Marlene Dietrich, Barry Evans, Greta Garbo, Barbra Streisand, Paul Gauguin, Alfred Hitchcock, Deborah Kerr, Peter Lorre, Ian McKellen, Michelangelo, Moliere, Edvard Munch, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Roman Polanski, Alan Rickman, Margaret Rutherford, Marie Tussaud, Franco Zeffirelli, Naomi Watts, Veronica Lake, Marilyn Monroe, Julia Roberts, Lana Turner, Tallulah Bankhead, Buffalo Bill, Charles Bronson, Carol Burnett, William Castle, James Dean, Cecil B. DeMille, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Clark Gable, John Garfield, Judy Garland, Harry Worth, Pauli Murray, D. W. Griffith, Oliver Hardy, Ice-T, Gene Hackman, Veronica Lake, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Anne Brontë Danny Kaye, George Lopez, Myrna Loy, Lee Majors, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Eddie Murphy, Mary Pickford, Julia Roberts, Andy Warhol, Orson Wells, Garry Kasparov, Daley Thompson, Johan Cruyff, Robert Boyle, Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Eva Peron, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Ada Lovelace, Isaac Newton, Jean-Paul Sartre, Adam Smith, Arthur Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Thomas Cook, Mary Portas, Vidal Sassoon, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Samuel Goldwyn, Howard Hughes, Osama bin Laden, Grigori Rasputin, Annie Oakley, Robert Baden-Powell, William Bligh, Guy Burgess, Guy Fawkes, Mata Hari, John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Calamity Jane, Peggy Guggenheim, Robert E. Lee and Billy the Kid.
The author of SWIDGERS
“My mother came home from work one day and died. No warning. No sign of illness. She just lay on the couch and never woke up. I was nine years old. What I still remember from that night is the ‘death rattle’, as her lungs filled up with fluid, and that pale bloodless face, with white foam round the lips. I know it seems macabre to talk about it but those sorts of images and sounds never leave you. I remember too thinking as I tried to sleep that my life would never be the same again. I had a real strong sense of that. There was before and after – and what had been before had now gone forever. And what would come after didn’t bear thinking about.
“You see, my father was not a well man. He had a long history of mental illness. Schizophrenia was the word I kept hearing. Of course I was only a kid so I didn’t know what it meant, but I saw its effects and symptoms every day. Ranting. Raving. Paranoia. Hearing things that weren’t there. And seeing things that no one else saw. My father was occasionally ‘taken away’ but his condition wasn’t complete insanity and so after a few weeks in hospital the doctors always sent him home. Home… That’s an odd word to use for a place that was often bewildering and on occasion even dangerous. But we – my sister and I – somehow survived for another five years. Then, one evening a few days before Christmas in 1974 when my father was in one of his mad wild furies, my sister suddenly simply ran out of the house. And I ran after her. That became another before and after because neither of us ever went back. Ever. From that day on we stayed with our maternal grandparents and their grown-up daughter. Weller Road in Burmantofts in Leeds. A cold and damp two-up, two-down back-to-back house that was already scheduled for slum clearance. But at least we’d been set free from fear.
“I say that because I’ve always considered myself a ‘rescued child’. I was never unwanted or unloved or abandoned, as I know others were. No. I was lucky and found haven. Like the orphan in the storm washed ashore on the beach. Though in her seventies, my grandmother, Mary Oddy, a tough but loving northern matriarch, told my father in no uncertain terms that we were going to live with her from now on and that was the end of it. She was indomitable. A strong, no-nonsense woman who had been a chid herself during the First World War and brought up her own children alone when her husband was off fighting in the Second. Yes, she was stubborn and not one to argue with, but at the same time she always encouraged us to follow whatever path we wanted. “It’s your life, Stephen,” she would say to me, “you must do with it what you will.” And for that and everything else, I’ve forever been grateful.
“SWIDGERS is in truth that story – my story – albeit in a fantasy time adventure form. Of course, I didn’t realise that as I was writing it, but now I see how that tale of the ‘rescued child’ is played out in so many ways in SWIDGERS. And my grandmother of course, tough yet always loving, is there in the very the spirited and, it should also be said, the often hilarious ‘Granny’. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but in truth I love them both to bits.”