In 2014, when I was thirty-nine, my own children were six and five. Growing up in the care system, I’d never been mothered, and I struggled with what motherhood meant. My need to explore my own childhood became significant. I was in care from the age of 16 months until I left a foster home to live independently aged 17. During that time, I lived in five different foster families, and was never adopted.
Cardiff social services posted me my old files. Looking through these impersonal, often ‘blacked out’, accounts was a distressing and isolating experience; I had no one to make sense of them with me. Alongside my files, I was given the email of a previous staff member who worked at the residential home. I’m sharing what she shared with me — because this is it – the only account of my childhood that I have.
This is what she remembered from over thirty years ago:
“I remember you a bright, articulate child very loud and interested in everything. ‘Very nosy’ always asking questions. I remember you always singing, and dancing. The rooms downstairs were large with plenty of space for you to jump around. You loved going to school at Severn Road. Do you remember walking with Collette same age as you, but she was much quieter. You worked hard at school and always completed your work. You enjoyed playing in the large garden at the front and side of the big house. We played lots of games, and you were always involved and very competitive.
“We also used the fire hose during the warm summer days that all the children enjoyed. We had several summer holidays to West Wales spending time in different caravan parks. You did have a fearsome temper and could scream so loud it would shake the windows and sometimes you could make yourself sick. Caring for your long hair was another difficulty. You hated having it brushed until we discovered using a spray bottle with a little conditioner in it was a brilliant idea and improved the start of your day.
“Do you remember visiting the Gospel Hall across the road from Suffolk House? On a Sunday afternoon you enjoyed the stories and singing. We had lots of play parks near and would often go off on long walks with a picnic to Thompson Park, Victoria Park or Llandaff Fields we sometimes went on the bus to St Fagan’s. You enjoyed swimming and didn’t mind the long walk to the Empire Pool in the City Centre.
“I took you on the train to meet long term carers who lived in Woodbridge, we travelled to London on the train then on the tube across London to Liverpool Street station then onto Ipswich where we were collected by the foster carer who took us to the family home. I remember the weather was very cold and snow on the ground do you remember any of that time? I travelled back the following day and you stayed with the family for a short time. Just a brief summary that I recall some of the history of your time at Suffolk House.”
A snapshot of my childhood
My own memories, of which I have only fragments, are mostly distressing, or sad. I once had my mouth washed out with soap. My nose banged against the sink, and I had a nosebleed; I’ll never forget the taste of soapy foam as blood rushed around the white porcelain.
I always kept a plastic bag of my most precious things under the bed, in case it was time to ‘move again’. I remember hours spent waiting for visitors who never arrived. I remember being rejected from a family once for being ‘too brown’. I remember having to hand back Christmas gifts so they could be passed on to the next child. I remember friendships with others, aswell as ‘new siblings’, but often you or they were quickly moved on and there was never an opportunity to say goodbye.
I was very young when I discovered books and quickly became a voracious reader. Love soon turned to need when I realised that the words would never leave me. And once I understood that the stories and characters would always stay with me — a writer was born.
Sometimes I wonder which memories are real. After all, I have no parents or relatives to ask, ‘What was I like?’. This is the legacy that being Care Experienced can sometimes leave behind. A wavering and insecure sense of identity. An isolation and loneliness that is difficult to articulate and ever-present. But my past has made me who I am: self-reliant, resilient with a deep empathy – and still, ‘very nosy and always asking questions’.
Now, I’m a writer for children – so my curiosity comes in handy! The book I have out in June with Bloomsbury is called Fablehouse. It’s a magical adventure steeped in Arthurian myth, and although it’s set in an orphanage in 1954, I’ve included a lot of my own childhood experiences, fears and feelings into my story.
Fablehouse by E.L. Norry publishes on 8 June 2023 with Bloomsbury Publishing Plc and will be available in all good book stores. You can pre-order now: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fablehouse-Emma-Norry/dp/1526649535/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3MLJKNP7V4GY7&keywords=fablehouse&qid=1682420111&sprefix=fablehouse%2Caps%2C73&sr=8-1