A story of ordinary women in extraordinary times
- Credit: Archant
Award-winning playwright Jackie Carreira talks about her first novel, Sleeping Through War: a rewind to the tumultuous year of 1968
Suffolk author and playwright Jackie Carreira’s thought-provoking novel Sleeping Through War takes us back to 1968, a year of political turmoil, riots on the streets and governments flexing their muscles. Unseen in those turbulent times were the three women at the heart of this book and women like them.
Jackie says: “1968 was a momentous year. As well as the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the world witnessed unprecedented student protests, general strikes, the height of the Vietnam war, the Prague Spring, civil rights protests, nuclear testing, civil war and revolutions around the world…everything was changing. It was also the first time that humans had seen our planet entirely from space with the famous ‘Earth Rise’ photograph captured. Despite these huge struggles for change, the bills still have to be paid and children have to be fed. When I was a teenager I remember asking an older person: ‘What was it like during the ‘hippy’ days of peace and love?’ They said: ‘I have no idea. I was too busy working to pay the rent. It was only the privileged that could afford to drop out!’
“Not much has changed. The Stock Market can fluctuate as much as it likes, but the vast majority of people barely notice. This has always interested me. The big news tends to be about the event rather than the individuals... but the ‘little’ people’s stories are our own. We can’t often find them in the history books, so I wanted to write them and remember them. The book is fiction, but most of us will recognise the characters from our own lives.”
Rose is a West Indian nurse living in West London; in Lisbon, Amalia has been forced by poverty into a seedy life and Mrs Johnson in Washington DC writes letters to her GI son, who is in Vietnam. Interspersed with the episodic stories of these “invisible” women are vignettes of events around the world.
“Being a woman myself, I can obviously relate to female characters more easily,” says Jackie. “And now, having reached a ‘certain age’, my own invisibility is increasing! Despite all the calls for change in the arts, female protagonists are still under-represented in novels, films and plays. How many ‘literary heroines’ can most people name? There are even fewer in the theatre. It’s ironic because, in most surveys, women read more books and see more plays than men do, yet they are far more used to hearing stories from the male point of view. I would love to see a time when we all hear both sides of the story. Sleeping Through War is a small attempt to redress the balance. It’s not written for women, it’s about women - there’s a big difference – and as many men as women are reading my book, which is really encouraging.”
Jackie knows the places she writes of. “I grew up in Hackney, East London, and spent several years of my childhood in Lisbon with my grandparents. Hackney then was a fiercely working-class part of London and not the cool, artsy place it is today. As a little girl, I met lots of women like Amalia and Rose, and I was always impressed with their dignity in the face of poverty or prejudice. I also witnessed just how hard they had to work.” Jackie has spent time in America but East Anglia, with its many military bases, was the inspiration for Mrs Johnson. “I’m a pacifist by nature, but it’s not difficult to empathise with the women (and men) who are left behind.”
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Fifty years on from 1968, are things better for women like Rose, Amalia and Mrs Johnson?
“I thought about this once I’d finished writing the book. Yes, there have been many positive changes for women throughout the world, but still too few and still too slow.”
Jackie moved to Suffolk in 2006. “East Anglia is famous for the Norfolk Broads, St Edmund, Greene King, sugar beet... but I had no idea it was so full of creative talent.
“The first people I met here were artists, writers, photographers, artisans and actors of all ages, so I felt right at home from the start. I don’t think people from the region realise just how much East Anglia punches above its weight in terms of the arts. It’s not just John Constable, it’s something rather hidden that I feel should be celebrated more in East Anglia.”
Jackie Carreira will be at a book-signing at Waterstones, in Colchester, on Saturday, May 12, 11am-3pm. “People are welcome to come and say ‘hello,’ share their stories of 1968 with me, and maybe buy a copy of the book!”
Jackie Carreira biography:
Jackie is a writer, designer and musician. After leaving school at 16, she worked for four years in local newspapers before ‘accidentally’ becoming a musician. She travelled the world with various rock and indie bands, and later as a session musician with the likes of Take That. After 12 years on the road, she hung up her bass guitar, picked up a pen and has been writing ever since. She went to university in her late 30s, and earned a first-class degree in creative writing in London before moving to Suffolk. She was a member of the Theatre Royal Writers in Bury St Edmunds for several years before co-founding local company QuirkHouse Theatre, with her actor husband, Andrew James Deane. They focus on championing new writing from East Anglia, including Jackie’s own plays. She’s twice been a winner of the Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama, and her debut play, Talking In The Library, was voted runner-up in the Audience Choice Award at the Brighton Fringe Festival.
Sleeping Through War was published by Matador in February 2018. This is her first novel.