“From a certain point on, there is no more turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” Franz Kafka, the Zurau Aphorisms, n. 5.
When Kafka Meets the UK’s Family Court
Fiona Padfield’s New Fiction Rings True to Survivors
By Helena Cavendish de Moura
The evidence was clear, fastidiously documented. The medical expert’s testimony suggested abuse. All leads pointed towards a logical outcome. But in Fiona Padfield’s new novel, Allegation 17, we enter the UK’s Family court system where logic is closer to Kafka’s Trial than of modern-day jurisprudence. The author has taken some risks in writing this novel, based on a true story.
“This book was written out of a searing sense of injustice and despair and desperation that a mother was prevented from protecting her child,” said Padfield, an established writer who was discouraged to publish this controversial novel.
“It shows how the effect plays out on an individual psyche. How it ricochets across the extended family and beyond.”
Set in an idyllic Welsh village, Allegation 17 tells the story of a single mother and her legal struggle to protect her child from unsupervised visits with an unstable father whose history of domestic abuse and questionable sexual behavior is not enough to convince the court.
It is an all-too-familiar scenario with devastating endings for women in the UK where the secrecy of the courts, designed to protect victims, can have the opposite effect. It is, to some, a disguised gag-order designed to intimidate. It is an indictment of a system survivors claim punishes the innocent.
“Freedom speech is alien to British justice,” said Padfield. “In a criminal trial, Journalists are admitted. Justice is open. But in Family Court, only selected journalists are allowed, the material is restricted. They can’t just report on what goes on,” said Padfield.
“I think the book is important because currently, the only information coming out Family Courts is through legal representatives or vetted journalists which means it is still tightly controlled,” she said.
It puts on trial the very institutions that are here to protect – Family Services, the judiciary, the police – wracked by prejudice and presumption. But the book does more than advocate for women. It is a deeper study into our psychological makeup, how humans can survive trauma from feeling marginalized by justice.
“ Although this particular story is about a woman, I would like to point out that it is not just mothers who are badly burned by the Family Courts. Fathers also get damaged in its wake.”
The story is told by the inner voice of a woman facing insurmountable obstacles as she struggles from one hearing to another. Padfield’s rich narrative and vivid imagery helps us understand the emotional journey of a victim of sexism, her despair and solitude, the theatrics of a legal system apparently blind to suffering.
She is exhausted by the bullying and betrayal of individuals and institutions whose role should be to support and protect.
“When I say the story plays out on the an individual psyche, this includes all the added pressures such as home visits by social workers, psychiatric services check- ups,” said Padfield.
“Going to court is one of the most traumatic experiences. Everything about one’s psyche is questioned. The things one would say to a psychiatrist could suddenly up for grabs,” she said.
Her narrative shifts from bitter experiences to the healing of the present. Her vulnerability and emotional breakdown as she seeks to protect her young children eventually make her whole – strong enough to make her voice finally heard.
“At core, it’s about survival. Surviving despair. Surely, it shouldn’t be the role of the Family Court to push parents towards suicide,” Padfield said.
Through this woman’s inner voice, Padfield maps a woman’s fragmented thought process. Like many This form of Post Traumatic Disorder is all-too-familiar and it comes back to haunt them in the court.
Rachel, the protagonist, is sent to a Court Psychiatrist to be evaluated. Her ex-husband isn’t.
“The husband’s medical notes don’t undergo the same tooth-comb scrutiny as Rachel’s,” she said.
Allegation 17 is also timely: a petition to reform the UK Family court is gaining traction and survivors’ groups are raising their voices at last.
According to a 2016 study by the Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London, court harassment of women prevailed in Family Court and that children’s lives were at risk because victims were not being given safe or fair hearings.
The report, What about my right not to be abused?” Domestic abuse, human rights and the family courts, is critical of the UK courts’s policy of allowing an abusive ex-partner to cross-examine a survivor, breaching “…the survivor’s human right to be free from degrading treatment.”
The studies showed that unsupervised contact with an abusive parent was most likely to be awarded in the cases outlined in the report as a result of a “systematic gender discrimination and a culture in the family courts” that silences women and fails to protect the human rights of survivors, adding that women were often blamed for suffering abuse.
“There is a petition kicking off going to Theresa May about corruption in the Family Courts. This is timely for my book but complete coincidence. “
“I hope my book may bring comfort to mothers and fathers currently going through the system, knowing they are not alone in their despair.”
The firing squad is in place for the new government’s first execution. There’s a festive atmosphere in the crowd, and national media’s live-streaming of the event is also available to spectators at home. We haven’t watched a public execution in 142 years, since 1876, back when the slave Francisco was hanged in the town of Pilar in Alagoas state. Now, it’s a different method. Handsome imported rifles will put down this traitor to fatherland and family values, a short and frightened little fellow accused of writing criticisms of the government’s improprieties. The public supports it and that’s all that matters, the new President announced to a press corps readied for the spectacle. Corporate sponsors include a cosmetics company and a bank.
During the week, through consistent announcements, the media covered the upcoming execution with a certain sobriety. But gradually, as the audience grew larger than expected, livelier spots began to emerge, like ads for football and Formula 1. On TV news shows, reports profiled family and friends of the soon- to -be- deceased, and, despite their sadness, expressing optimism for the government’s innovative ways of directing people to respect authority and preserve traditional values. “It just couldn’t stay the way it was,” noted the defendant’s mother, an enthusiastic supporter of the new regime. In a show of patriotism, she didn’t shed a tear.
O pelotão de fuzilamento está a postos para a primeira execução do novo governo. Há um clima de festa na plateia e os telespectadores também poderão acompanhar o evento transmitido em cadeia nacional. Desde 1876, há 142 anos, não víamos uma morte pública, demandada pelo Estado, quando o negro Francisco foi enforcado no município de Pilar, em Alagoas. Agora, o método é outro. Belos fuzis importados abaterão o traidor da pátria e da família, um sujeito assustado e baixinho, acusado de escrever impropérios contra o governo. O povo apoia, é o que interessa, disse o novo presidente a uma imprensa já preparada para o espetáculo. Os patrocinadores são uma empresa de cosméticos e um banco.
Durante a semana, em chamadas regulares, a TV anunciou o fuzilamento com certa sobriedade. Mas aos poucos surgiram vinhetas mais animadas, como nos anúncios sobre futebol e Formula-1, pois a audiência tem sido acima do esperado. Nos telejornais, matérias com a família e amigos do futuro morto que, apesar de tristeza, viam na medida governamental uma forma inovadora de conduzir o país dentro de padrões de respeito à autoridade e preservação dos bons costumes. Não dava para ficar do jeito que estava, observou a mãe do réu, eleitora entusiasmada do regime recém-inaugurado. Numa demonstração de patriotismo, ela não chorou.
Fiona Padfield is a formidable woman.I am very fond of her writing style: bare, honest and introspective, her narrative gently breaks down the societal structures that imprison women: the UK’s sexist court system and the general public debate on women’s bodies and learned perceptions.
Her writing style allows emotional and moral forces to dwell effortlessly in her stories. Her fiction is dialectic and there is no surprise here: Fiona is an accomplished English playwright and actress who became a national sensation with her controversial play Strip, directed by Sir Peter James at the Lyric, Hammersmith, andSnapshots, which was produced at the Manchester Royal Exchange and directed by Braham Murray. She now lives and writes from a farmhouse in the Welsh countryside.
“Dialogue is boldly replaced by an almost novelistic narrative style…The play be giving voice to the views of a striper and a so-called sexual deviant – subjects that society generally keeps under wraps – rouses interest in the ﬁrst place. In this case, there is the additional intriguing fact that Padﬁeld herself spent six months as a stripper. At any moment, then, one feels that she may be speaking with autobiographical veracity through her ﬁctional character.Padfield gives a fierce, concentrated performance…“
She kindly sent Casa Forte Press this short piece which I very much love.
There was never a moment when we met or introduced ourselves; we just knew each other and treated each other with respect.I was, after all, his future wife; well, I presumed I was.He would interrupt our conversations each evening to discuss the type of door knobs and window frames he had ordered for our house – once we were married.I always agreed with his choice.He favoured round, brass door knobs and simple window frames.
His hair was shaggy and grey and curly like a Dulux Paint dog on top, falling into heavy dreadlocks at the back.His skin was covered in grime and his finger nails black, so I didn’t like to get too close, but he didn’t smell.He wore a deep blue velvet jacket, sometimes a shirt beneath it, and jeans.He had large, doll-like eyes with long lashes.With his eyes and his lithe movements, he reminded me of a gazelle. I don’t think I ever knew his name, nor he mine.
He started leaving an apple or a crunchy bar on the bonnet of my car; he never admitted to it, but I caught him at it once or twice and like an animal about to be trapped, he disappeared.Sometimes, if he’d left his offerings without being seen, he’d feel safe enough to pop out from behind a wall or parked van and watch me find my gifts.
He invited me to lots of parties.The first was at midnight on the corner of New Bond Street.I arrived on time.He was delving into a cardboard box he’d placed on the window sill of a shop.‘Welcome to the feast!’ he said as he saw me and started to take crunchy bars and tins of ‘coke’ out of the box and line them along the pavement for me.Eventually I tried to avoid his parties because they took a little too long and I was often late for my next performance.But he didn’t stop giving me presents.
He started to leave odd pieces of material across the car – beautiful Indian cloth with golden thread woven into it, and lengths of rich black velvet, then clothes – new clothes, designer clothes complete with labels and price tags, and later, Victorian costumes.Some were unfinished.I’d turn a corner and catch his large eyes peering at me, then he’d vanish. I wondered whether he’d raided a theatrical warehouse.One night the pavement was lined with red velvet and my whole car, bonnet, windscreen and roof was draped in finery.I removed it as quickly as I could, trying not to look conspicuous, and stowed it away in the boot.When I tried the clothes on at home they didn’t fit; they were much too large.I wanted to find out where he came from, but if I broached the topic we’d be off touring through the passages of our future house.He was eloquent and, I suspect, highly educated.
I noticed another couple of strippers becoming friendly with him, and felt a little jealous, but I knew I was his chosen one – he didn’t bombard them with presents.
I never said goodbye to him.He just disappeared from my life as he had entered it.I couldn’t trap him or catch him or help him or know him.I could only, I suppose, love him a little.He made me feel safe.I had my own private bodyguard who followed me around the streets of Soho till three in the morning, and I was grateful.
Only a writer with such a diverse set of skills, life experiences, and writing instinct could produce the original and radical prose which I am thrilled to represent here. Long-time exhibition fabrication specialist for several New York art institutions, including the Guggenheim and MoMA, Georgia native JD Hollingsworth writes from his Brooklyn home where he’s produced his first two books, soon to be published by Casa Forte Press. These novellas – which the author also illustrates – are set in a mythical town in South Central Georgia. A somewhat reclusive artist, it is an honor to me that Hollingsworth has entrusted Casa Forte Press with his work.
Equipped with a rich arsenal of words, from the vernacular to the Latin nomenclature of biological taxonomy, popular history and culture, Hollingsworth gives us gripping, enthralling, and deeply moving stories set in a universe filled with mythicism. It’s as if Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo was set off I-85 South and immortalized in the Southern Gothic.
“Hollingsworth has written a masterpiece… and it is stunning. … His ear for language, his eye for telling details, his sense of humanity caught in the forces of good and evil, with the cosmic shooting right into the everyday… (his) words spin their magic over us so that (these characters) rise into the realm of great literature, because this becomes not just a story, but life itself.
This book is layered, and it goes deep.”
“With irony, subtle poignancy and humor, JD Hollingsworth explores alienation in late 20th Century America through inventively evoked sociocultural contexts.His characters—cynical loners, self-deluded dreamers or simply survivors—teeter on the edge between misfit and Everyman.In a world where meaningful bonding has failed, “the lonely, the horny, the angry and thirsty” seek human connection in whatever tawdry or grotesque watering place they can find. Although Hollingsworth sets his stories in both the rural South and the urban North, his depiction of the denizens of an imaginary town in rural South Georgia is particularly brilliant for its portrayal of a layered multitude of social identities that historical forces have created. In Hollingsworth’s writing, material culture becomes a language in and of itself, and oral speech patterns, demeanor, and wardrobe and various other accouterments form part of the peculiar and fascinating social discourse. A fascinating read!”
Martha LaFollette MillerProfessor Emerita, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Translated by Andrew Brown and Helena Cavendish de Moura
Carmen disappeared. For some years, I’ve been chasing clues in every possible way, here, there, and there’s no sign of Carmen.
I return to the condominium complex and ask the older neighbors whether they have any recollection ofCarmen. No one remembers.
Nothing in relation to her, even after thirty years. No one has heard, not even from afar and it seems as if this was not the place to look because Carmen’s name simply vanished from the collective memory, just like that, as in a spell, and it is haunting that someone so striking can be forgotten this way.
Carmen exists or existed. Some friends recall her but haven’t seen her since those days. She is in a photo. A face simultaneously tranquil and agitated, because only Carmen could elicit such feelings of ambiguity. You can tell the initial gesture she makes in order to escape the framing, hurried, moving out of focus; she wasn’t showy and didn’t like to pose—she thought it was phony.
She wore glasses and liked her few friends.
In any case, I took it upon myself to find her, I knew it would probably lead to disappointment, and my investigation would explain why no one noticed her existence.
In any case, I move forward, with only information from memory.
From other people’s memory, I need the exact point at which Carmen fell into forgetfulness and why. There is one problem: I don’t know Carmen’s last name.
She was so critical. She looked like these people today, kind of hopeless, but finding herself interesting for thinking that way.
One day, at the beach, by the end of the afternoon, as in those days, Carmen was the first to notice the stereotypical scene; she hated Luaus and other such festivities.
While others gorged on it as if it were the fountain of youth, she’d weave a story about a lost generation and great battles ahead. But she conveyed these things in a tender way, without detracting from anyone ’s enjoyment at being stoned, gazing at the sky, or blowing kisses.
I imagine that today Carmen would say that looking for missing persons is a stale recourse—reminiscent of Bolano’s Savage Detective–but in relation to Carmen perhaps it was different: she would also find a way to say go ahead, it just might work.
Perhaps she suggests that I search for her some other way, without trying to find her, as could now be the case. She once said that only process exists; the rest, including power and glory, pure illusion.
Finally, I record her forceful irritation.She quibbled too much with warnings and popular sayings and phrases in general and corrected the condominium association’s newsletter with a pen.
“Why does God give us the cold that suits the cover? Why not give the cover that suits the cold?”. We were glued together at a time when it would seem strange for a guy to go out every day with the same girl and nothing happened between them.
There were other distractions, the universe, and its stories, maladjusted theories about everything along with Carmen’s incessant badgering of a world in which she disagreed with just about everything.
Despite this, when she was certain, a benevolent charm.She never said I told you so. ” She sided with the underdog,helping him find an honorable escape. And was too pretty to be forgotten so suddenly. Never using beauty for personal advantage, instead, she awakened other beauties and even a certain dose of authority.
We were her friends and followers. A rare crowd with a woman in command.
What was impressed upon me was the honesty she conveyed as she spoke on any subject. She may not have exactly understood what it was (about), but little by with what she had available, she would, in the end, up at an idiosyncratic point of view.
Sometimes an idea. She was the first person to tell me about gravitational waves and other phenomena which at the time were mere speculation.
Carmem grasped physics, read Rosa Luxemburg and followed football.
Fiona Padfield is an accomplished English novelist and playwright who became a national sensation with her controversial plays Strip, directed by Peter James at the Lyric, Hammersmith and Snapshots, which was produced at the Manchester Royal Exchange and directed by Braham Murray. She now lives and writes from a farmhouse in the Welsh countryside.
Her life story has certainly provided enough material for great fiction. Raised in public schools, she has worked as a stripper, actress, teacher, writer, farmer and very importantly, the formidable mother of two very talented children.
The daughter of one of the UK’s most prominent historians, Padfield has braved cultural and psychological no-go zones in the UK with some brutal honesty and original prose, unleashing controversy, nudging what often appears to be some unshakeable societal pillars in the UK with her novels and plays.
Her latest novel, Allegation 17, is, to say the least, very topical and controversial. It is a shocking but empowering read given our news environment and the social, gender ebullition we are undergoing. Her narrative style is dialectical, a multi-layered dialogue between the inner and outer world of a depressed woman who has to face the UK’s notorious family court. It s based on a true story.
Here is more about Allegation 17, which you can find on Amazon.com