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A Postcard from the Past

by Anne Goodwin

I want to welcome this month’s author of Story Chat, Anne Goodwin. This month’s Story Chat challenges the main character beyond her wildest expectations. It may challenge your thinking as well.

Face to face with a blast from the past Ms Thompson questions her decisions in her controversial case of long ago. Did she do the right thing? Did she help the young teen? Did she even want to find out?

Ms Thompson – Ruth to her lover, colleagues and friends – has set aside the afternoon to sort through old documents. Her retirement is some months away, but decommissioning thirty-five years’ professional paperwork requires a string of afternoons. A secretary could dispatch it in an hour, consigning it sheet by sheet to the shredder, but Ms Thompson feels obliged to examine every scrap. She’s determined to disengage from social work as conscientiously as she began her career.

At the back of her filing cabinet, she discovers a buff-coloured file from the seventies. On removing the folder, a piece of glossed card slips out. The classic shot of five bridges across the Tyne reminds her of the case that shook her to the core. 

The city was shabby when Diana, her client, enrolled at the university. But the nineties brought a concert hall and gallery to the quayside, spanned by a stylish sixth bridge. Françoise once suggested going there for a mini-break, but Ms Thompson – Ruth – demurred. Twenty years after closing the case, she’d have felt awkward bumping into the girl.

Ms Thompson flips the postcard over. The message is bland, despite the spiky italics and green ink. Settled in nicely. Enjoying my course. Making friends. Best wishes, Diana. She’d scrawled the date above, perhaps to fill out the space: 15th October 1977. Ms Thompson isn’t superstitious – although she sometimes checks her horoscope over lunch – but it makes her pause. The girl wrote the card twenty-seven years ago to the day.

She was surprised Diana chose to read psychology. Ms Thompson thought she’d go for something impersonal, like librarianship or maths. But the social work role was redundant by that stage. Her task complete when the girl left boarding school at eighteen. Yet Diana had sent the postcard. Ms Thompson had hung onto the file.

Now, scanning her notes from their first meeting three years before that, Ms Thompson feels a swell of sympathy for them both. Diana looking shell-shocked in her ill-fitting uniform, refusing to admit she was struggling. Ms Thompson, with her newly-minted social work diploma, refusing to admit she hadn’t the skill or knowledge to put things right.

The headmaster hadn’t either. That’s why he’d called her in. But he had to balance Diana’s needs against those of the school community. He’d restore order, and avoid a scandal, more easily with Diana out of the way.

The parents seemed oblivious: the mother perplexed that the Social should interfere in her family’s affairs. The father distracted, gazing out the window when he wasn’t ogling Ruth’s breasts. The teenager was cagey, protective of her parents. Ms Thompson fumbled to find a resolution while, back at base, the upper echelons debated budgets and whether to involve the police. 

A new school seemed the only option. A girls’ boarding school where Diana could sever her ties to the past. Where bullies and gossip couldn’t follow her. Where no-one would know who she’d been before. 

Ms Thompson had hoped to do more for her; hoped, over three years of boarding-school visits, Diana would confide her concerns. But the girl was unforthcoming. How did she cope with such a radical change alone?

Nowadays, there’d be compulsory counselling. Nowadays, her peers would approve. A girl in Diana’s position would have team support from the beginning. A contemporary head teacher might make her head girl.

Ms Thompson stows the postcard in her handbag. A memento to take to the Dordogne. If she hadn’t met Diana, would she be retiring to France?

She couldn’t say if she’d helped the girl, but Diana had, unwittingly, helped her. Within the girl’s silence about her transformation, Ms Thompson had nursed hers. If a teenager could risk ridicule to embrace her true identity, an adult had no excuse to deny hers. Especially when the obstacles were relatively minor. 

By the time Diana started her degree course, Ms Thompson had cropped her hair, got divorced, met Françoise. She can only hope her former client is as happy with her choices as Ms Thompson is with hers.

Anne Goodwin is the author of two novels and short story collection. “A Postcard from the Past” is based on a scene from one of many drafts of her debut novel, Sugar and Snails. Sugar and Snails was published by Inspired Quill in 2015 and shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. You can read it for free during February 2021 by registering for her newsletter here

https://www.subscribepage.com/sugar-and-snails-free-e-book

Link tree: Annecdotist 

Website: Annethology

Blog: Annecdotal

Twitter: @Annecdotist

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

Welcome to Story Chat

Now it is your turn. Pour a cup of tea or coffee, glass of wine, and sit back with your friends and dive into the story. This is your chance to ask the author questions, interact with each other. It’s up to you. What makes this story tick? What would you have done in Ms Thompson’s place?

150 replies »

  1. Thanks for hosting, Marsha, and I’m looking forward to readers’s feedback.
    But hey, I’m especially chuffed you found an old British postcard to illustrate it with Diana’s words. Although the postmark isn’t from the city in the story, it is from a place I know well as my parents lived there for several years and it’s one of the settings for my other novel!
    But that’s a digression – let’s see what people make of Ms Thompson.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Anne, I enjoyed the dip back into Sugar and Snails and the profile of the social worker. She seems reluctant yet to meet up with Diana. Too bad because I see a sequel where we find out how it’s going with Diana and where these two meet again and finally talk and share the impact each had on the other.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This was a great opportunity to learn about Anne’s books.
    Anne, both of your books look compelling and I’m in agreement a sequel could be in order.
    Such a great story and amazing you found that post card Marsha with Diana’s words!
    What a labor of love. Nice Job both of you! ❤️👏👏👏

    Like

    • That’s a good question, Charli. I struggled with structure over several drafts and, as far as I can remember, this was from a point when I thought I could tell Diana’s story from multiple points of view. Then I started working with a mentor who, although she never completely got what I was trying to do, I think was right in persuading me to keep the very single voice. Although, who knows? Perhaps it could have worked. I’m thinking of Olive Kitteridge, which we’ve just been discussing on my blog.

      Another thing to say is that this piece is much edited from the fragment I found out that earlier draft – it’s tighter and more of a story. In fact, I had fun discovering another strand to the character.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love this scene, Anne, and am now intrigued about Ms T’s transformation and what she was/has become. I know Diana’s secret. Now I want to know Ms T’s too. Like Charli, I’d also like to know why the scene was cut from the book, but I have to admit that, at the moment, I don’t recall any conversations with Ms T in the novel. Perhaps I need a reminder. I can see that adding intrigue with another character may have distracted from Diana’s own story. Perhaps Ms T. needs her own story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It sounds like Mrs. T did not have a big impact on Diana’s life, but Diana had a big impact on her life. Reading between the lines, I think it is possible for a reader that did not read the story to guess the secrets of both characters. I thought I had read this book, but it did not sound familiar, so now I need to go back and read the book and refresh my memory.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Marsha, you did read the book but this story is a slightly different take on it.
        I’m glad you can guess Ms Thompson’s secret. (Actually, I don’t think it would be a secret.)
        In the novel, I think she did have a big impact on Diana’s life, as she told her to put the past behind her without providing any real help to do so. But she didn’t have any impact on her life-changing decision.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ah, as a young teacher, I did not have the skills I needed to meet all my student’s needs. One of them was bullied, and her mother and I had different ways of dealing with it. I tried to help the student who was being bullied, I didn’t have the skills to stop the bullying in those early years, though they never took place in class. Anecdotally, the girl became a social studies teacher and is still a friend on Facebook, so I believe she forgave me for the situation. The bully, I’ve never heard from again. She was the principal’s daughter. The purpose of that long story is that there comes a time in other’s lives when they realize or are confronted with their offender’s youth and/or lack of skills. we are not all born experts at our jobs.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I think an awful lot is asked of teachers, without giving them the skills and resources to deal with them. A lot of kids come to school with complex needs way beyond learning.

            When I did a course on organisational consultancy we analysed the burden on a headteacher at a private school in an area of high levels of social deprivation. The consultancy – carried out by someone at the top of his field – led to the head taking sick leave, a better result than him dying of a heart attack! Overall extremely moving.

            Liked by 1 person

          • You are right. Teachers are on the front line. They see the cases before social workers and psychologists get called in, if they get called in. In US private schools, which are much different than private schools in the UK, they are much less likely to be called in. Often people send their children to private schools when they don’t like what has happened to them in public schools and even as young as first grade the students have extreme problems. The pay in some private schools is worse than poverty level and teachers have no support in either training or principal back-up. Parents pay the bills, so principals have to listen to them rather than the teacher or lose the students and lose the income to the school. Or at least that is how it was when I first taught a million years ago. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • That’s interesting / enlightening, Marsha. So some parents send their kids to private school to avoid scrutiny. I think that’s beginning to happen in the UK, particularly with some religious schools. They are subject to inspections but I don’t think in the same way as state schools. Parents don’t always know best what’s right for their children.

            Liked by 1 person

          • My brother had some issues, and experts advised my parents to put him in an institution at about age 5 when he started school. My dad thought that would be a pretty good idea. My mother balked and said no way. She won, and he went through special education getting a somewhat blotchy education depending on the teacher. She served as a permanent room mother, and he graduated from high school and has worked full time until this June when he retired. When you have a special needs child, especial at age 27, like my mother was, you don’t have the skills, but neither do the experts as is shown by Ms. T. Raising difficult children especially is a gut experience, I think. You follow the rule book until something breaks down. I’m sure Mom worked with the teachers and did everything to the best of her ability, but I think they all struggled sometimes. My hats are off to everyone who has a special child., whether as a parent, teacher, social worker, religious worker, or psychologist. It takes a village as they say.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Glad to hear your brother did well in the end. It’s hard to go against expert advice and I imagine your parents would have questioned themselves when things were difficult. But institutionalising children is tragic and a loving environment is more conducive to learning. (Another begun-but-unfinished novel of mine is about a young woman with a learning disability!)

            Liked by 1 person

          • I’m sure there is a lot to be said about the subject as there are all kinds of disabilities and all kinds of siblings. My sister-in-law who is mildly autistic sent me a funny cartoon a few days ago showing the difference between the way older brothers and sisters react to the new baby. The little girl held the baby lovingly. The brother pinched the baby’s nose. She had two older brothers, my husband the oldest. I laughed when I saw the picture and said, “Now you know what happened to you as a baby.” LOL

            Liked by 1 person

          • LOL!! That’s a great story. When Randy and I shared a room, I would tease him until he started screaming. My parents would rush in and he would get in big trouble! They didn’t find out till we moved and had separate bedrooms that I was the “real” bad guy. Once we moved, I got lonely and invited him to spend the night. By that time I wasn’t so mean.

            Liked by 1 person

    • As I said in response to Charli, this was from a point when I thought I could tell Diana’s story from multiple points of view. So regardless of whether this bit works as it stands, it didn’t fit the overall structure that I went for in the end.

      Regarding Ms Thompson’s transformation, I think she tells you at the end – divorce, cutting her hair, getting into a relationship with Françoise – but maybe you didn’t take it in because you were expecting something as dramatic as Diana’s?

      It’s interesting too that you don’t remember her in Sugar and Snails and I wonder if that’s because she doesn’t appear in the contemporary strand as she’s part of Diana’s past, but she’s named in the first chapter when Diana remembers her. I thought of it this way before, but maybe minor characters like her are meant to be almost invisible, because it isn’t really her story.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, I taught K-5, then went into consulting and worked for the county office. I worked for Migrant Education as a math consultant curriculum designer and then pre-school , curriculum designer. My last 10 years or so I spent as a history consultant and curriculum designer and worked in staff development in the areas of math, language arts and cognitive coaching.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Good point, D. But I can see that a psychologist of psychiatrist would have the same issues. I don’t think they are as likely to retire, though. My neighbor is still working and she’s in her 80s. A teacher, on the other hand does not keep files on their students – usually. The district would have those. Teachers are not private clinicians . Their files would consist of curriculum, books, journals, maybe, but mostly not. on the children, but on how the lessons went.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, I agree, mountains of paperwork in most professions, whether or not there are files on individual client/students / patients. I think psychologists and psychiatrists working in the public health system – which would be the norm in the UK – would retire around the same age as teachers do. Practitioners in private practice might choose to work longer, partly because they’d have more choice and flexibility around working hours and clientele. But, yes, in statutory services the files are not the property of the professional but belong to the institution. So Ms Thompson has been very naughty in hanging on to that file. This was actually explained in the original text I developed this story from, but I decided to cut it out. This was in the original:

            At the back of her desk drawer she came across a couple of old case files dating back to the Seventies. The cases had never been closed, although they’d long been inactive. They’d accompanied her through half a dozen office moves, which was somewhat irregular, she had to admit. Nowadays client files were housed in a secure storeroom but these few had somehow slipped through the system, languishing in an anonymous limbo for almost thirty years. Without a recent contact the clients couldn’t now be registered on the computer and without a computer code the files could not be securely stored.

            Liked by 1 person

          • OMG, that really makes the story interesting, but hard to develop in such a few words. What a naughty lady! And she really didn’t want anyone to discover what she had done, I think. I think she had an enormous amount of guilt about the entire affair.

            Liked by 1 person

        • I do have a story in my head that’s similar to this but with different characters, where a former student – now famous – comes back to visit the school. The teacher/safeguarding officer has let her down badly, partly due to her own issues. So looks like this is a theme for me!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Indirectly, a lot, but this didn’t come from there. My next novel is loosely based on my experiences of working in a longstay psychiatric hospital (before they closed them down).

          Like

      • I have one of those in my book that I never published, Anne. When you write about a character whose occupation you don’t know well, it is hard for me to come up with cases, and are cases important to the work? It seems to me that they become paramount in defining who the character is. Certainly in this instance, the case is very important.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I had another account, which I closed. I moved over all the files, but I haven’t gone over all of them to change all the links. Sorry about that. Right now the story languishes because my editor suggested that I might want to rewrite the entire first half, when I thought we were at the dot the I’s and cross the Ts. That was not the case, and I can understand her critique, but can’t bring myself to start over without knowing whether or not I was creating anything any better. LOL Thank you so much for the offer. I will take you up on it if I go through with my best seller romance. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh yes, would be fun to be part of advising on a bestseller!
            Rewrites are hard when you’re starting out. I had some extremely positive feedback on my first draft of S&S, but it went steeply downhill from there. It was tough. I think I went through 5 drafts before the one that was published.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Good to hear. Is that with an editor, or does that include your own edits? I had 2 editors and a number of Beta readers. It still ended up being rough, but it changed completely from the very beginning to the end of the writing process. Each Beta reader had a slice of the puzzle.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t this fun? It takes a bit to get it started, but once people jump in, it’s great fun. You learn a lot about each other, the characters and why a character might do what they do. Nobody yet has tackled Ms. Taylor’s fear of seeing Diana. We know she wasn’t pleased with how the case went and in her part in resolving it, but why didn’t she step up to the plate sooner and admit that she made a mistake., if she made one? I understand when she was young, but the post card showed that she hadn’t totally lost touch. She must not have written back, and she could have done that at least without admitting how badly she felt.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think Ms. Thompson felt guilty and embarrassed for how she handled (or didn’t handle) the case way back when. And maybe even chagrined in the face of Diana’s courage and resolve when she had lesser issues to confront within herself. Maybe. It doesn’t matter for this story, the questions are best left for readers to mull and not know. And, they will be answered in the sequel, “Ms. Thompson Steps Out”.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Ah, but did she have an address to write back to? I’m wondering now how she set about closing the case with Diana. There must have been some kind of goodbye. Before or after the postcard? I’d assumed before, but maybe not.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. As both a recovering social worker (and someone who has taken to mining my past occasionally in my writing), I’m always confronted with whether the way I am remembering things is actually what happened or a polished/re-shaped version of how I felt or acted at the time. I sense that Ms T (and Ms G) may be struggling with the same question. Your thoughts, Anne?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not Anne, but to hear my husband and his sister talk about their past experiences, it’s like they were on a different planet. We do tend to shape the past to fit our views of ourselves, I think. So what you are thinking is the Mrs. T may not have done such a bad job with Diana at all, but only remembers it badly?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Great to have your recovering social worker perspective on this, Doug. (And indeed on the novel it’s based on, if you had the time to read it. I wonder what you’d think of Ms T’s actions when you know what Diana is going through.)
      Yes, our memories are less accurate than we imagine (there’s research on how really vivid memories can be false), although that wasn’t at the forefront of my mind writing this (and I might come back to it when I’ve thought some more).

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s interesting that Ms T doesn’t know if she helped Diana. But if Diana sent a postcard after their professional relationship had ended, she must have found something in their relationship that she wanted to acknowledge. When someone is accustomed to bullying and gossip and has never before known a supportive, non-judgemental presence, that alone will make a difference. Especially to someone inclined (or forced) to keep things to themselves.

    We aren’t told what the crisis was that Ms T was brought in to deal with and, to some extent, this mystery keep us reading until it becomes irrelevant. Diana wanted to protect her parents so, other than being inadequate in terms of support, they don’t seem to be part of the immediate problem that brough in Ms T.

    ‘Twenty years after closing the case, she’d have felt awkward bumping into the girl.’ Doesn’t speak to me of a fear of meeting her, only embarrassment. If Ms T has undergone a noticeable transformation she might perhaps feel embarrassed because earlier honesty on her part could have helped Diana to be more forthcoming with her problems. I am sure we’ve all known situations where we wished we could have done more to help, but hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing – as is experience. This makes the character believable, and the story one we can relate to.
    The only suggestion I might put forward is that if Ms T had actually made a mistake or omitted something radical – other than having done, in her own opinion, little to help – might it have further engaged the reader in wondering whether they supported or condemned Ms T?

    (I have yet to read the book, so I will be interested to see if I recognise Diana in it.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cathy, what a beautiful comment! Diana is the main character of the book, so I know you will recognize her. This chapter didn’t fit in the book comfortably, but it fits here beautifully. Thanks so much for checking in and leaving such a detailed comment. You are a gem. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reflections.
      I wonder if Diana felt she got anything from Ms Thompson (which is explored more in the novel) and was simply being a good girl in sending the postcard. But it does imply a willingness to connect.
      Yeah, I thought Ms Thompson was more embarrassed than afraid but you make a really good point about the magnitude of her guilt. It would definitely be a stronger story if she has actually been negligent, rather than well-intentioned but inadequate. That actually connects to an idea I have for a very different story and will spur me on to write when the right time arises.
      You’ve also made me realise that although I’ve tried to write this as Ms Thompson’s story, because I’ve spent so much time with Diana, I still see Diana as the main character (as she is in the novel, but shouldn’t be in this story).

      Liked by 2 people

      • An interesting observation, Anne. No matter what, it takes a while to develop a minor character into a major one. Did Ms. Thompson touch anyone else in Diana’s story? If so, I wonder if two minor characters could meet? Or possibly develop Francoise more leaving Diana’s story in the back where it belongs, maybe even as an unnamed patient, and focus more on her overwhelming guilt. Which files did she save? The ones she messed up on only, since you mentioned that she shouldn’t have had them at all. Maybe having some conversation between Ms. T and Francoise about how grumpy she’d been and try to delve into why. Or worse, a call from someone else – the supervisor possibly who also felt guilty and was dying and wanted to get it off his chest before he passed. Gosh this is fun to what if a story. Such great conversations here. Thanks again Anne.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I like the storychat format here Marsh. It’s always fun getting to know the backstory of a book’s character. I have Anne’s book and looking forward to digging it out in my Kindle. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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