Wales Arts Review’s Artist in Residence for May is our Associate Editor, Durre Shahwar:
Durre is a Cardiff-based writer. She has a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing & MA in Creative Writing, both from Cardiff Metropolitan University. She is a Word Factory Apprentice 2017, mentored by Alexei Sayle. In 2015, she was commended for the Robin Reeves Prize for Young Writers.
Durre’s writing explores the themes of race, identity, religion, intersectional feminism, mental health. Hoping for catharsis through fictionalisation, Durre draws a lot of material from the self in an attempt to universalise the individual experience. Preferring ‘voice’ over plot, she writes short stories, creative non-fiction and sometimes poetry. Her work has been featured in various publications and anthologies, including Sister-hood Magazine, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and is due to be published in the upcoming issue #7 of The Lonely Crowd, Cheval 10 (Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award 2017) and Know Your Place (Dead Ink Books).
“Be so good that they can’t ignore you” (it has flaws, but it has truth in it, too).
For my residency, I will be exploring the topic of mental health to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week. I will be approaching this year’s theme of ‘Surviving or Thriving?’ through the lens of creativity, in conjunction with the idea behind Time to Talk; how creativity, writing through adversity and forms of bibliotherapy can alleviate mental health problems along with other forms of therapy. I’ll be sharing my own writing, as well others’ in order to raise awareness and provide a platform for various voices and issues of mental health and the way it is experienced by people from different walks of life. This project has already evolved since the original pitch, and so I hope that it will continue to do so throughout the course of this month, resulting in a learning experience for both myself and the readers.
An extract, originally published in Metropolitan Volume 1.
“I made a mistake.”
“What mistake did you make?” Emily asks me. She must be around 40, though she doesn’t look it. I don’t ask because she is the one who does the asking. It is the unwritten rule of these sessions.
“I used to steal money when I was younger. Really young, like 15. But I was thinking of it today.”
“Why did you steal it?”
“I just needed it. Well, I didn’t NEED it, but… I thought I did back then. And I always wondered if they noticed.”
“They, your parents.”
“Yeah.” We are both silent. She is waiting for me to continue with something I wish I hadn’t started as my cheeks warm up and my chest tightens. I take a deep breath.
“I mean, I’ve probably paid it back since then, in the form of bills and whatnot.”
She gives me an amused smile and nods.
“But I wonder if it’s enough. If it’s made up for it, because like, the bills are for the now, so they don’t make up for the past and there’s no way of telling which goes for what.”
“Do you think you put them in difficulty by taking the money back then?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I didn’t feel it. There were a lot of bills back then. Lawyer bills.”
Emily nods the nod that means she has registered this as something to ask later if it comes up again but not now. It is an unsurprised nod as she makes a slow, deliberate note of it in her book. Only the mundane things surprise Emily. I give her an awkward smile, hoping it is now her turn to talk. I did not always like Emily. She is completely unlike a CBT therapist you would imagine. She has too much energy. Her room isn’t antique and subdued, and neither is she. But when I talk to her it feels natural.
“I guess it was just a shitty thing to do… even as a teenager,” I say with a little shrug of my left shoulder. She nods again. This time, the nod means she understands and agrees. My eyes search around her office to avoid her gaze. The bookshelf has as many Stephen King novels on it as psychoanalysis ones and Tracey Emin posters line the wall next to it. There is a plant pot, a filing cabinet. The window of the office frames half a tree and the annex stretches out behind it beneath a cloudy Welsh sky.
“Let’s talk about this week,” she waits for me to look at her again. “How has this week been, since I last saw you?”
“I got annoyed at something and I can’t remember what… no I really can’t remember… it was probably something small. But I remember screaming and then sitting down on the floor behind my door. There’s a little corner where you can tuck yourself in.”
“Did you write it down like we talked about?”
“No… Just sometimes I can’t move from that position. Like I’m a bit frozen. I sit there for ages, and I can’t move to pick up the pen and notebook.”
Emily reminds me to write about it. That way I will remember more and we can track triggers and responses. But sometimes, I don’t want to remember.
Photo credit: WEN Wales / Fizzi Events