By Sarah Barter
First Published: 2005
This Edition: 2006
Key Themes: psychosis, psychiatry, activism, advice, recovery
Change your life the easy way. Let this book do it for you. This is a rollercoaster of a book, and should be sipped slowly, like a glass of fine wine. Penny is a University English graduate. As the intrepid protagonist, working for 'The Museum of Beautiful Things', and as an undercover journalist, she goes right to the heart of her soul, (not to mention the nation's tax bill), to find the core of herself and her beliefs. Her journey takes her to Darfur, Baghdad, Hollywood, into reality TV and to a firm called 'Concepts of Time'. She also falls in love, three times! With Andrew, the Director of The Museum of Beautiful Things, Ernie, a radio wavelength engineer and Eyes, a private detective she hires to spy on Ernie. It is a passionate book, passionate in the causes it champions and a passionate love story. A story about polymorphic psychosis, love, psychology and mental illness. A work of fiction or is it?
About the Author
Sarah was born in a small town in Staffordshire to Ben and Antoinette and grew up in an idyllic location in a cottage in the woods, with horses, donkeys, goats, chickens and ducks, dogs and cats.
She was educated in Staffordshire too, but by her Secondary school her parents had found work commitments too difficult to keep the cottage and they moved into Stafford itself, where she lived near the railway line. Her grandmother lived with the family, and was a great influence on Sarah, and one of the characters in her novel, ‘The Conspiracy Theorist’s Alphabet’ is based on her.
Sarah was encouraged by her A’ Level teacher to become a writer, and was fond of writing short stories. These became a collection of short stories called ‘Five Reasons To Be A Star’.
Sarah is now seeking publication for a further novel, which is called ‘Concepts of Time’, and will shortly begin work on another one.
On the ward, it is hot, and dusty. Penny has decided to quit her high profile job, and get in touch with her inner person. She works in the Loch Ness hospital full time now and it is a home for mentally confused patients, but she also has patients who are elderly.
She sits down at a table in the rest room, and writes with the TV talking softly while the contestants battle it out to win prizes on the quiz show. She leans forward with her head on her arms and then after a big breath, she starts writing. She never thought she would be a writer and it does not come naturally.
She blows on her fist and shakes the pen, as if this will wake it up. Then she gets started. She has really got started this time. She pushes her hair out of her eyes and leans on her elbows in the hot, airless room. At about the same time, Andrew is in on a new deal which entails a decision, the outcome of which ends in him calling Penny to 'The Museum of Beautiful Things' to work as a medical assistant and a freelance researcher.
As has already been mentioned, he is far too busy and important a man to do work on data himself, although he is not averse to getting the hoover out and giving the smooth cream carpets in the corridor a quick vac if they need it. Numbers have gone up by the zillions since he had a museum piece about popular music. There are some very much more lucrative fish to fry out there, and it will be criminal if he is not to buy our culture a share of the real action, he thinks. It will be a mutually advantageous agreement. You see, Andrew has been approached by a group of 'Big Thinkers'.
He is really too young for this but responsibility seems to fall on young shoulders. He is very handsome, and as the M.D. of the 'Museum of Beautiful Things' he is quite an important man in the city. They, (the group of 'Big Thinkers'), want to make the Health Services, and the issues surrounding it, the centre of an exhibition of conceptual art with relation to mental health in particular. I know, you thought 'The Museum of Beautiful Things' had closed down on Penny, due to her lack of powers of information retrieval. Well, it has. In the city. But it has reopened in the rural area where Dandelions on the roundabouts are yellow and clocks all at the same time. 'The Museum of Beautiful Things' is combining forces with the Big Thinkers, as private investors, with the idea of making the N.H.S. successful in this area. For this reason, to help people to hold onto their money, and to make sure he has someone who has experience herself, Andrew decides he needs Penny's mature and experienced thinking and he asks for her ideas. And things are not going too well with Corrina.
Penny rings on the gold doorbell and Andrew answers it personally this evening, leading her through the current exhibition. Just being close to him is making her heart beat quickly. The tallness of the exhibits dwarfs them, with not only their tallness but also their thin, stark shapes. They look ominous against the bars of grey cloud at the window. Penny has been busy snapping the heads off Daffodils during the day and her skin is cold and smooth. The museum walls howl with the noise of a storm, though the golden evening sun is slanting through and across the carpeted floor. Andrew shuts the door to his office, where everything they say is recorded and transformed. It is converted by a special black box with graph-like sensitivity on to a nanometre measuring their every verbal nuance in tiny spiky waves which are enlarged and thrown onto the wall behind them on a whiteboard screen. He switches it off but not before he has made sure Penny knows that it is there. This is one step ahead of the bugs which are used for domestic spying.
This is institutional, and the idea is unusual only in that, in this situation the listeners can make their presence felt, and the names of companies who are buying into the time are made visible by their identification on a digital screen which run all round the walls of the office, names like 'Total Effects Media', 'Worldcom' and 'Listener X'. Andrew explains to Penny that it is part of an experiment which he is running partly to gauge the effects on people in institutions like the BBC, hospitals and schools, of knowing who is listening to them. It is planned that this will allocate blame and profit and establish just whose time is whose money. And create peace. Andrew looks at Penny.
She will not make a move. Actually, at this time, Penny is pretty harmless and cannot make a move. For some time, her leg has been getting worse and worse. Soon she will describe herself as having one leg. Let me tell you about the last year for Penny. After straining her back at the Loch Ness hospital, most of last year, she stayed in her room and rested. The trips are over. In the room, which was a pale blue colour, there is a picture of a sunny red mountain spot in paradise going down to the sea, where there were little dirt tracks and wide open oceans and she would think about being there.
There was a pressure in her head which travelled all down her body and sent conflicting messages to her brain. 'Get up, lie still, get up, lie still.' She felt as fuzzy as the Fuzzy Felt Farm picture, as if some careless child had swung the combine harvester and hit her in the head. Her job did not really earn her enough to be independent and her mother has gone missing indefinitely with Dr Certain. Today, the day of our story, Penny gets up and goes into the kitchen. The kitchen floor is made of smooth linoleum, black and white. On the windowsill above the old pine table is a white rose in a small glass vase.
She lies down by the fridge and everything is neat but nothing is safe. Above her on the table were bills which she knows she will never pay. Then the phone rings and Andrew offers her job at 'The Museum of Beautiful Things'. Her breath is short and hot and cold at once. The wind which was coming in through the window comes in red and purple lines to lie on the floor like a visiting carnivore. She looks up out of the window and at the picture on the wall and at the low coffee table and at the TV. She says 'yes'. She doesn't have a choice.
'Five Reasons To Be A Star' by Sarah Barter
This product was added to our catalog on Friday 03 November, 2006.