Estates of Mind by Karla Neblett

It’s a manor house. Half of which is rented by a university to teach postgraduate students. Rectangular lawns lead up to it. They’re trimmed short, with perfect straight edges, and a path runs through the middle that tolerates the only sound, your scuffing Timberland boots. There are peacocks, of course, wearing single blue feathers as crowns and they stare at you, wondering.

Where are you from?

A council estate in Somerset, but dad’s is a nice one because the houses are brown brick, not painted in that giveaway social-housing-terracotta and even though the half of the road who have bought their homes don’t speak to each other, they drive nice cars, plant freesias and mow the grass. Mum’s estate isn’t pretty. Walls are grey, wire fences are fallen, bushes overgrow and number eleven still hasn’t moved that mattress from the driveway. People don’t talk there either, but they know how to argue about the bins and parkingspace.

Deep breath in when your tummy turns as you near the country manor which is ten windows wide, four in length and has frowning gargoyles which stick their tongues out at you. The type of estate that has history, where the family knows its family tree and the rooms are filled with books, exotic ornaments and singing instruments.

You can guess what’s inside because your mum’s cleaned posh houses and you helped her out a couple of times, understanding why she developed tennis elbow.

Not a life you wanted.

You wanted more.

Teachers drummed that in at school. Thirteen years ago you took your first loan and studied for an undergraduate degree. You were afraid to speak because of your accent and wondered how you could have anything intelligent to say to the learned classes? These were students who debated economics and politics at home, but you’d left your family shouting about X Factor results. Others on the course asked you what your parents did for work and you answered, ‘Mum’s a cleaner and dad’s on disability.’

The father of one of your course mates owned one of the most popular brands of crisps in the country, and for the past ten years you’ve remembered her chiselled chin each time you opened a packet of lightly salted and crunched, happy that on Facebook, she’d become a therapist.

You hadn’t. Back then loans didn’t exist for postgraduate study so psychology was out the window, not that you particularly enjoyed it. You’d just been told that it would be easy to create a career with. Undirected, you hopped from job to job, miserable. Watched your three younger brothers work in trades and earn more than you. Celebrated university friends’ promotions to thirty grand a year and seen their parents help them secure mortgages.

Your nan’s always had a spare bedroom, there’s no room at mum’s, so that’s where you live at thirty-two.

Nan has a porch full of tiny china cottages and a front door that squeaks in the winter when you have to yank it open because the wood swells.

The huge black door at the manor house is closed. A sign directs around the side of the building. You pass a tree whose leaves drape to the floor, not a willow, something else, and there’s space beyond the leaves to hide, but you can’t. Today’s the day for a writing workshop.

At thirty-one you’d had a smidgen of a breakdown, asked your old uni friends for advice, and left a support worker job to work in HR so you could ‘move up the ladder’.

Three months later you walked out, but not before winning a short story competition at the company, which made you remember the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up.

A writer.

You? A writer? Seriously? People like you weren’t novelists. But you’d always written bits; diaries, poetry and recently, short stories. Wasn’t it a secret fantasy to be a novelist like J K Rowling? Not that you write make-believe.

You write about working-class things, real life. People call it ‘gritty’.

Finally, you were only left with your dream to chase, and last year you were accepted onto a creative writing master’s degree. You’ve been studying for six months. In the politics module there was a discussion about appropriation.

The teacher himself assumed, ‘We’re all white, middle-class.’

You retorted that you were working-class and in fact, mixed race. He snorted. And you burned red, heart pounding, as another student jumped in, in your defence because you don’t articulate in debates.

You’re used to keeping your uncouth working-class mouth shut around the middle-classes for fear of proving their preconceptions about your uncontrolled self-expression.

At the side of the manor house there’s a large square button with a wheelchair on it. Press. The heavy door whirrs open. You’ve been attending writing events to learn about the industry, where people snigger when you say your manuscript tackles drug themes, and sometimes it makes you think that you don’t want to be a writer. There’s too much snobbery. But then you decided to be your own kind of writer, writing stories that anyone can read without any fancy words and just hope the industry will be interested. Because you need to make money for yourself, and for mum. And you have a voice fighting to be heard.

You step onto the worn stone, wondering how many others have walked through these doors hoping the same, and if in a year’s time you’ll be able to submit to agents. Surely this degree has to be more successful than the last? It’s practising what you love. Crafting a skill that will enable you to communicate in a powerful way.

This is it. And you know as sure as blood runs through your veins that writing is what you’re meant to do because of your background.

So a month ago you started a story about something familiar, forcing readers to look at lives like the ones you know.

ABOUT ME:

Karla, from Somerset, decided to write seriously in January 2016. Along with a bachelor’s degree in psychology she has worked in various environments supporting teens and is interested in the motivations of people and barriers they face. She decided to write about topics she knew and issues experienced in her social demographic because she felt there was a gap in current literature. Her first novel draws attention to the reality some young people face who are, unfairly, labelled. Of her first draft, completed on the Bath Spa MA, Lucy English described it a ‘dark piece of social realism.’ Karla graduated in 2017 and is currently working on the second draft. Until her website is finished and published, Karla can be contacted by email: karlaneblett@gmail.com or on Twitter @KarlaNeblett

Author: Carmen Marcus

As the daughter of a Yorkshire Fisherman and Irish Mother, my writing brings together the visceral and the magical. My debut novel #How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. It won New Writing North's Northern Promise Award as a work in progress and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2018. My poetry has been commissioned by BBC Radio, The Royal Festival Hall and Durham Book Festival. As a child of an 80s council estate I am an advocate for working class writers and stories. I’m currently working on my first poetry collection The Book of Godless Verse and my next novel. I try to live up to the words of my first critic and primary school teacher ‘weird minus one house point.’

2 thoughts on “Estates of Mind by Karla Neblett”

  1. Hello Karla.
    I did the same MA at BSU in 2003/4. Before becoming ill, I’d been a carpenter working on building sites. Before that I dug holes in the road with my Dad. I have council house blood in my veins and I always will. I write about the working class and my working class life. I had a similar experience to you when I got to BSU in that I felt very intimidated and completely out of my depth. But when that happens I get cocky – that’s my strategy for coping with pressure. I loved your article – wonderful writing. Good luck with it all and please give my hellos to Lucy.
    To be cheeky, you might like this five minute video I made recently. It’s about working class love. https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=p59BtQDKmYs#

    Like

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