British Law Undermines Parental Authority: Novel Shows How

Posted at 20:27pm on 10th November 2009


I wrote, last week, about the sad story of Kate Walsh who, at the tender age of sixteen, became a heroin addict and died, alone in a dirty squat. Her parents had asked, repeatedly, for help from various authorities and received none. They had, as the Coroner described it at Kate’s Inquest, fallen into a ‘grey area’.

Since it highlights that grey area, I thought it might be helpful, this week, to reproduce part of the interview at the end of my book, A Painful Post Mortem.

PARENTAL BEREAVEMENT

Q Most of the non-fiction books you’ve written – under various pen-names – have been on quite harrowing subjects such as drugs, divorce and debt. A PAINFUL POST MORTEM (pb Cumcaritas Books) follows that trend. What makes you think that anyone will want to read a novel about parental bereavement – particularly when it involves drug abuse?

A Sadly, it’s a contemporary issue. You’ve only to pick up a newspaper or switch on the TV to realise how many parents, these days, have to face the death of an offspring in shocking or violent circumstances. Sometimes they’re aware of the way in which their child’s life has been spiralling out of control. But sometimes, they haven’t a clue. A Post Mortem and Inquest can often reveal painful, shameful circumstances which, in their way, can be as shocking as the death itself. Circumstances like drug addiction and prostitution. In that case, you may feel doubly betrayed: angry with the way your child has deceived you; devastated because her death means you can do nothing to influence or change those circumstances; guilt-ridden because, inevitably, you wonder where you went wrong.

I’ve told the story through the eyes of Katya’s parents, Mark and Claire, and her sister, Rosie, so that the reader can identify with the internal struggle that each of them goes through to come to terms with what’s happened. The grief and loss are tragic — but they’re not the sum of the book.

ENDURING LOVE IS EMPOWERING

At its heart, it’s a love story. It’s about the enduring love of a parent for a child: a love that wants the best for that child, no matter how rebellious or self-destructive the child may be; a love that continues beyond the grave; but also a love that recognises its own shortcomings. And the sub-text is about creating a healthy self-love: empowering yourself and your child to have a sense of self-worth. Plus it portrays the love that can exist between a man and woman, which, despite betrayal, divorce and distrust, allows for forgiveness and peace of mind.

Q Throughout the book, the anger and guilt of bereavement comes across very movingly. It sounds as if you have inside knowledge of the experience?

A I lost a daughter in similar circumstances, so I can identify with many of the stories I read in newspapers and see on TV. And I have friends who’ve lost adult offspring in violent and shocking circumstances. In the book, Mark and Claire’s anger is directed at the unknown entity who has declared, on the Pathology Report, that Katya was ‘a known drug addict’. The whole book is about their quest to prove the error of that statement and have it removed from the Death Certificate.

HOW STORY TITLE AND PLOT RELATE

Q How, as a writer, do you approach a story like this?

A Titles are very important to me. I see a title as being like a tailor’s dummy, and the plot as the garment I’m constructing. The whole story hangs from the structure of the title, which, in turn, gives the narrative its shape.

A Post Mortem is actually a pathological examination of a body to determine the cause of death. Obviously, it can’t inflict pain on the deceased, so A PAINFUL POST MORTEM is an oxymoron! But the title and content of my book isn’t simply to do with a physical assessment of what led to Katya’s demise. Its prime concern is with the psychological and emotional scrutiny of past events and attitudes in an attempt to establish a cause of death. In other words, the guilt and blame game played out by Claire, Mark and Rosie. In my understanding, the bereaved need to find just as many answers in this realm as they do with the pathological, practical, or even criminal aftermath of a sudden death.

PLANNING A FUNERAL & OTHER PRACTICAL ISSUES

Q But there are practical issues to be resolved, as well, aren’t there? Can you tell us the sort of thing that arises, and how your characters cope?

A Planning a funeral and clearing a house of the deceased’s possessions can, actually, be quite therapeutic, as Claire finds. Having to make decisions on whether to go for burial or cremation, church service or secular, deciding who gets what, closing bank accounts, settling debts and so on, becomes the focal point of your mind and gets you through the initial trauma. In some situations, there may be no other practical matters to cope with. But in the book there’s the custody of Katya’s child to consider, too. And because drugs are concerned, Mark and Claire have the added worry that Social Services might become involved in an adverse way.

BRITISH LAW UNDERMINES PARENTAL AUTHORITY

Q You’ve written quite scathingly about ‘the establishment’ in respect of drug addiction. Do you think more should be done in terms of policy, policing, imprisonment?

A I’m sure there are many caring, individual, professionals. My gripe is with the system. I think we’ve lost our way in [Britain]. There’s so much antipathy to our Christian roots that we forget that much of our British law was based on Christian ethic. In recent years, we’ve had governments who thought they could improve upon existing law by becoming increasingly liberal. But what they’ve done is throw the baby out with the bathwater. Consequently, they’re bending over backwards to be more humane, more honourable, more compassionate, more understanding. But as the vast majority of people are aware, the fact is that one person’s ‘rights’ inevitably impinge upon another’s. You simply can’t legislate for every facet of every situation.

For example, in the book, Claire tries to find help when Katya runs away. She’s told that the law says that she is responsible for her sixteen-year old daughter who, because she has no income, can’t support herself. Then she’s told that – hey! – Katya can apply for benefits, in which case, she can legally leave home, even though she’s planning to live with a boy who’s alleged to have taken part in the gang–rape of a girl. All Claire wants to do is to protect her child. But the law pulls the rug from under her.

If you have an experience where you’ve felt let down by the law in respect of your child’s safety, do share it by leaving a comment. Your details will never be passed on to a thirty party, or abused in any way.

NEXT TIME I’m going to take a look at what I believe goes someway towards answering the problem.

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