‘Dangerous Asylums: Rob Mimpriss showcases fiction inspired by a hundred years of records at Denbigh Mental Hospital.’ By Glenda Beagan, Carys Bray, Rob Mimpriss, A.L. Reynolds, Simon Thirsk and Gee Williams. Edited with an introduction by Rob Mimpriss. In New Welsh Review 104 (Summer 2014), 46-55.
From the Introduction:
It is a blustery day in spring, and I am going to the mental-health unit of Bangor Hospital to meet a professor. The trigger for this meeting is a call for writers willing to work with patients’ records from a hundred years ago or more. The outcome is, first, that I agree to write about mental illness provoked by the Religious Revival of 1904, and second, that I invite other writers to use patients’ records of interest to them. I leave with a hundred pages of closely-typed notes in my bag, and this is only the first of a series of meetings, not all of them always easy. It has been hard at times for writers trained in the arts, and experts in the history of mental-health treatment, to communicate. You will agree, I think, that it was worthwhile.
From ‘Believer, 1905’:
I managed to get him relaxed, and using the sponge, and then he looked up at me, meek as a girl. ‘Mr Edwards,ʼ he said, ‘what are they going to do with me?’
‘Do with you?’ I said. ‘Young fellow, they’re going to make you well.’
‘I’m not sick.’ In that moment he didn’t seem it, and I could imagine myself telling Dr Herbert he was ready to go home. He stared at his legs stretched ahead of him in the water. ‘I’m a terrible sinner, though.’
‘Hamilton Park.’ In New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing 11:3 (April 2014) and in Prayer at the End: Twenty-Three Stories (Bangor: Cockatrice, 2015).
For twenty years the shop on Hamilton Park had been run by a Turkish Cypriot and his wife. Ahmet Gül sold papers and lottery tickets during the morning and evening rush hours, tobacco and alcohol into the night. When he went to the wholesaler’s to re-stock or the bank to deposit their takings Emine would come down from the flat upstairs to sell bread and apples and Swiss rolls to the mothers with small children. So like the woman and man in a Bavarian weather clock, Emine was seen in fair conditions, Ahmet in foul.
They had a grown-up son, but Fazil had no time for his parents. Ahmet’s interests outside the shop included the lottery ticket he bought surreptitiously every week and the occasional glass of wine he drank with a friend from the Turkish restaurant; Emine’s included prayers and lessons at the mosque and matinées at the cinema, where she watched the films of the Hollywood Golden Age, the films she loved, time and again. On sunny Friday afternoons they would pull down the shutters and stroll down to the Mermaid Quay, sedately pacing the waterfront and flattering themselves that they were old. Soon she would begin to tut-tut at the godless atmosphere of the place (the drinking they saw in the restaurants, the immodesty of the women’s clothes) and he would know it was time they went home. Emine would take a nap before prayers and Ahmet would settle down in the shop to read the Olay Gazette or the Western Mail, or to stand at the window fingering his prayer beads and watching the goings-on in Hamilton Park.
‘Phoebe’s Party.’ In Blue Tattoo: A Short Story Magazine 9 (January 2012), 42-49 and in Prayer at the End: Twenty-Three Stories (Bangor: Cockatrice, 2015).
When she was eleven years old, and challenged by a friend in school to a dare, Phoebe Morris had approached a group of older girls and slapped one hard in the face. They were celebrities of the bullying world, popularly hated, and she had given them no choice but to act in defence of their reputation. Afraid to approach, but too fascinated to leave her, Ieuan had watched her endure restraint, indignities, punches, kicks, with an indifference that astonished him. She had been off-hand about it afterwards, had let him off his side of the dare as though its outcome were certain already, and Ieuan had finally dismissed her behaviour as something to be expected of Phoebe. In play she was bold, in naughtiness reckless, and he was too studious and too young to consider what reasons she might have for wilfully seeking out pain.
After she married Phil and started to cut herself off from her friends, Ieuan understood what was happening. Aged fourteen, and returning after an absence at school, she had mentioned to Ieuan that she had spent the week sitting with her mother in a home-made fallout shelter, while her father, it seemed, had looked after the house and brought them their meals. Her tone had implied that Ieuan would be incurious, that of course all mothers were Christadelphians who lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust. Two years later, entertaining Ieuan in her parents’ kitchen, she had remarked that her mother had gone into the bathroom to clean it, and ignoring Ieuan, her father had started beating his head against the wall. Phil had finally taught her fear, and in response she had learnt guile, provoking him when he was weakest so that the outburst would be more manageable, the quiet before the next one longer.
‘Mars, Bonfire, Mountain Ash.’ In New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing 2:6 (July 2009) 117-122, and in For His Warriors: Thirty Stories (Caernarfon: Bwthyn, 2010).
Walking their hosts’ dogs through woods near Criafolen, Meirion said to Rhonwen, ‘I love you.’
She had the tail end of bronchitis, so they were moving slowly. The two collies had raced back past them up the hill, and Meirion had dropped behind to give them room. As she plodded ahead of him down the track, stepping over tree roots and banks of rotting leaves, he saw how lightly the strands of black hair rested on the crimson wool of her scarf, and something inside him moved him to put his hands on her arms and speak.
Rhonwen heard his confession calmly, neither speaking nor pulling away. He remembered a year before, the first time he took her walking after a service at the church that she attended. When she mentioned past hurts and asked for his patience, her look and posture at that moment had been the same as at this: standing with her face upturned as if to be kissed, her hands hanging unused at her sides. He saw how her breath came in short, deep gasps, and how the retreating blood had left a plastic, unhealthy look to her cheeks. He kissed her forehead lightly and said, ‘Let’s get you home to the fire. The dogs have been walked long enough, I think.’
I am the author of three short story collections.
For His Warriors,
originally published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon, with Welsh Books Council support, now join
Prayer at the End
in revised editions at Cockatrice Books.
My anthology of fiction, Dangerous Asylums: Stories from Denbigh Mental Hospital Told by Leading Welsh Writers, including work by Gee and David Williams, Glenda Beagan, Carys Bray, Simon Thirsk and others, was published by the North Wales Mental Health Research Project, October 2016. I am a member by election of the Welsh Academy.
I am the translator of Going South: The Stories of Richard Hughes Williams (Cockatrice, 2015),
Hallowe’en in the Cwm: The Stories of Glasynys (Cockatrice, 2017), and
A Book of Three Birds, the seventeenth-century classic by Morgan Llwyd (Cockatrice, 2017). In addition, I have translated fiction by D. Gwenallt Jones, Angharad Tomos, and Manon Steffan Ros.