Monday, 31 December 2012

Best Presents

My favourite present of Christmas 2012 was this Diary of a Wimpy Kid do-it-yourself book, completed by Alice, wrapped using about half a roll of sticky tape and signed: 'To Carys, follow your dream, from Alice, A.E Bray.'

Best. Present. Ever.


Best grown up present was this handbag from Neil. 

The children think it's hideous.


The best presents I gave this year were the books of tokens I made for the children. I was thoroughly fed up with the commercial side of Christmas and decided to try to do something a little bit different.

There are tokens for ice creams, new books, staying up late, choosing dinner, foot massages, sports events, baking etc. The children seem to like them, although it's hard to tell when I'm being humoured nowadays because they've all got so good at it.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

Several writing friends tagged me in The Next Big Thing during the month of November and I declined on each occasion because I was busy marking essays. Today, my friend Jenn Ashworth tagged me (correction - she linked to me because she thought I'd already done it) so I decided it was about time I got on with it. All I had to do was answer the questions below:

What is the working title of your next book?

It doesn’t have a working title. I’m not being coy, it really doesn’t have a working title. I am sort of worried about it, but it’s pretty far down my list to things to worry about – somewhere beneath climate change and the fact that I haven’t finished buying the children’s Christmas presents.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I think the idea came from the resurrection stories I heard as I was growing up, like the one below, written by a Mormon called Matthew Cowley.

I was called to a home in a little village in New Zealand one day. There the Relief Society sisters were preparing the body of one of our Saints. They had placed his body in front of the Big House as they call it, the house where the people came to wail and weep and mourn over the dead, when in rushed the dead man's brother. 

He said, "Administer to him." 

And the young natives said, "Why, you shouldn't do that; he's dead." 

"You do it!" 

This same old man that I had with me when his niece was so ill was there. The younger native got down on his knees, and he anointed the dead man. Then this great old sage got down and blessed him and commanded him to rise. You should have seen the Relief Society sisters scatter. And he sat up, and he said, "Send for the elders; I don't feel very well." Now, of course, all of that was just psychological effect on that dead man. Wonderful, isn't it--this psychological effect business? Well, we told him he had just been administered to, and he said: "Oh, that was it." He said, "I was dead. I could feel life coming back into me just like a blanket unrolling." Now, he outlived the brother that came in and told us to administer to him.

What genre does your book fall under?

I think it would probably be described as literary fiction. A chapter of the book was published as a stand-alone story in my collection Sweet Home – read it and find out!

What actors would you choose to play the parts of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh gosh, I have no idea... maybe Jude Law with slicked down hair and glasses for the dad and a bare-faced Kristin Scott Thomas for the mum – I don’t really see the character’s faces as I write, but I have an idea about the shapes of their bodies and the way they move. Hmm, that’s quite strange actually...

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Nooooo! This is the question people always ask when they find out I’m writing a novel and I squirm and prevaricate and avoid it at all costs. Erm, it's a story about family and about miracles that don't and do happen following the sudden death of a four year old girl.

That's terrible, but I've just got back from a midnight Christmas shopping trip so it will have to do.

Will your book be self published or represented by an agency?

I don’t plan to self publish, so I’m hoping someone else will want to publish it – fingers crossed.

How long did it take you to write a first draft of the manuscript?

I’m just finishing it at the moment and I’m sorry to say that it has taken me more than eighteen months which is pretty slow

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I really don’t know. I hope someone will read it one day and make a comparison.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I don’t know – gosh, these are hard questions. Maybe it’s a grand farewell to my belief in the miraculous and a concession to it at the same time

What else about your book might pique your reader’s interest?

The book is about family and grief. It's horribly funny in parts (I hope) and horribly sad in others (that's definitely true - I can do horribly sad). Oh, and there's a handcart, some spoon-playing, a massive wad of cash and a secret box of dead insects.

I'm supposed to tag other people now but I'm not going to because it's nearly Christmas and I think almost everyone I know has already done this. What I'll do instead is link to all the writers who asked if I would join in (hope I remember everyone).

Cassandra Parkin
Rob Roensch
Alison Lock
Norman Hadley
Lane Ashfeldt
AJ Ashworth
FC Malby
Elizabeth Baines
David Hartley 

P.S. The picture at the top of this post is of Southport beach where some of the important scenes in the book take place.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

'An impressive first collection' and other lovely stuff

Today Sweet Home was reviewed at Bookmunch. I was a little bit nervous about this particular review because although I don't know the reviewer personally, I read her reviews and I respect her opinion. Fortunately, she liked Sweet Home.
'It’s an impressive first collection with enough range that, despite the recurrent themes, it doesn’t feel at all repetitive. A catalogue of parental horror and humour, it’s full of precise and startling imagery. An excellent stocking-filler this Christmas.'
Read the full review here.

Earlier in the week, science fiction writer Chris Beckett reviewed Sweet Home. I really like Chris's writing. Not only is he an accomplished short story writer (his new collection The Peacock Cloak is out next year) he is also a brilliant novelist, so I really enjoyed reading what he had to say about my stories.
'It’s a difficult thing too, I think, to write about family life, which unlike wars and love affairs and murders and all the other staples of fiction, does not tend to come with a beginning, a middle and an end, but follows a daily cycle, on and on for years.  But it’s a trick that Carys Bray pulls off in various ways.' 
Read the full review here

Also published this week is an interview I did with the online lifestyle magazine FemaleFirst. They asked me to write a synopsis for every story in Sweet Home which actually took quite a long time. They also asked me what I like about short stories and which short stories I like to read.

PhotoThe greatest accomplishment of the week so far was probably making a Christmas hat with Alice who needed one for her class party. I managed not to be too bah-humbug about the fact that she didn't tell me until bed time and even though there was glitter everywhere and I didn't get any writing done, we had fun.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Christmas Bargain

A reminder that Sweet Home 
(the ebook, not the cupcake) 
is currently available for 77p  
at Uk Amazon and for 99c at  
U.S Amazon. That's less than 
5 pence per story - bargain!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

I chat to the Open University

The Open UniversityI did my BA with the Open University and I loved it - it really was a life-changing experience. Last week I spoke to the Open University about writing and studying and today they've published the interview on their News and Features Platform.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Salt Publishing Christmas Offer

Salt Publishing have a special Christmas offer on 6 Scott Prize winning short story collections. Each collection is now available for just 77p. In the case of my collection that's less than 5 pence per story - an absolute bargain.

Product Details Product Details

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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Guest Editing Lancs Writing Hub

The Lancashire Writing HubDuring December I will be guest editing the Lancs Writing Hub.

We've got some good stuff happening in the lead up to Christmas. Award-winning blogger Ben Judge will write about why it’s not good to know too much about our literary heroes, Sarah Schofield will discuss how to go about fictionalising real places and I’ll be interviewing Rodge Glass about his latest novel, Bring Me The Head of Ryan Giggs.

The Lancs Writing Hub is an excellent resource, particularly for local (north-west) writers. I felt a bit like an evil genius as I fiddled about with the enormous Wordpress control panel/dashboard earlier today. I'm hoping to get my head around everything a.s.a.p and I will try very hard not to break anything during my stay.

Monday, 26 November 2012

A visit with Nik Perring

The Nik Perring ShowToday I'm over at short story writer Nik Perring's blog, talking about writing Sweet Home, staying up all night to meet MA story deadlines and cake!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Book Crossing

It's taking Amazon ages to reveal that yes, copies of my book are actually available to buy and yes, the books are with the distributor and available for dispatch and so on. In the meantime, books are available from Salt Publishing and Waterstones and I've been thinking about ways to send some copies out in the world. I've given several books away in recent weeks and I've been trying to think of something different. Last night I discovered the Book Crossing website and I've decided to send one copy of my book on a little journey.

The idea of Book Crossing is that you label a book and then give it away. You can pass it on to a friend or a stranger (or a strange friend or a friendly stranger). This is called a “controlled release", because you know the destination of your book’s next stop. Alternately, you can release a book into the wild - on a park bench, in a train station, on the table in your favorite coffee shop, anywhere it’s likely to be caught by another reader. When another reader finds the book, they can enter the BCID on and report that it’s been caught. Journal entries about the book should allow you to see where it is, who's reading it now, and follow where it goes next. There are currently over 850,000 active BookCrossers who have collectively registered almost seven million books which are traveling around 130 countries.

It sounds like a great idea. My book is all wrapped up for its journey to Brighton tomorrow. I wonder where it will go next?

Top image from the Book Crossing Website.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Review by Laura Wilkinson

Blogging about interviews and reviews came to an abrupt halt this week when my first and second year students submitted their Reading as a Writer essays.

I've crawled out from under a pile of papers to read novelist and short story writer Laura Wilkinson's review of Sweet Home. She writes:
I haven’t admired a single author collection as much since Claire Keegan’s Walk the Blue Fields. Sweet Home is a stunning piece of work. Vividly written with a keen eye for the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that might be, and laced with humour, Bray cuts to the heart of the human condition in both prosaic and fantastical situations.
The whole review is available to read here.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Giveaway Winner

I did the Sweet Home draw this evening with some help from son number 1.

We found a Christmas hat (argh, can't believe it's almost Christmas) and put all of the names into it.

Then son number 1 did the draw...

And the winner is Diana G.

If you'd still like to be in with a chance of winning a free copy of the book, there's one more Sweet Home giveaway on the go. It's happening over at the Strictly Writing Blog. Good luck!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Strictly Writing Visit

Strictly WritingToday I'm over at the Strictly Writing Blog talking about Sweet Home, the Strictly Writing Award and where I find story ideas.

The Strictly Writing people are giving away a copy of Sweet Home. They're asking for responses in the comments section to the following question: Which traditional fairy story would you like to give a modern twist and why?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

My Life in Short Fiction with Dan Powell

Today I was over at Dan Powell's blog, fielding questions about my life in short fiction. Dan's questions were pretty hard to answer. He asked about the first short story I remember enjoying, the short story that turned me on to writing short fiction, an author who has influenced me, the story from Sweet Home that most reveals something about me and my all time favourite story.

Click on the link above to see my answers.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Review and Interview with Sarah Jasmon

aka sarahontheboatToday I visit the blog of novelist and short story writer, Sarah Jasmon.

I answer questions about writing, submitting work and who I'd like to spend an afternoon with in Southport.

Sarah also reviews Sweet Home.

Here is an excerpt from her review:
Each of the seventeen stories conjures up a complete world. The characters may teeter on the edge of insanity or stay resolutely in the matter of fact, but all are rooted in the minutiae of real life. The old woman who builds a gingerbread house shops for bargain marzipan in the January sales; a sleepy baby arches and stretches so that we can feel her soft weight; an old lady chases the darkness, ‘switching on lights in its wake, until the whole house is shining like a warning flare.’ There is a deep understanding of the world of the family, with its pitfalls, daily dramas and hidden places. Nothing jars. You can reach out and touch it.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Interview with Jen Campbell

Today I am over at Jen Campbell's blog talking about Sweet Home and my novel in progress.

Jen is also giving away a copy of Sweet Home, you just have to comment on her blog to be in with a chance of winning the book.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Win a signed copy of Sweet Home

To celebrate the publication of Sweet Home I'm giving away a signed copy of the book.

To win the book, just comment at the bottom of this post. I will put the names in a hat on Sunday 18th November and draw a winner. I'll send the collection anywhere in the world.

I'll throw in one of the cake boxes I bought for the Sweet Home cupcakes and something sweet (although it probably won't be a cupcake - that could get pretty messy in the mail).

If you're not sure whether the book is for you, here are a couple of excerpts from reviews:
This is a wonderful short story collection. It won Salt Publishing's Scott Prize, and it really doesn't disappoint. The stories will haunt you, and trouble you; they'll also tug on your heart strings and make you tear up. One of the stories (The Rescue) made me cry. The theme of family runs through all of the tales; Carys writes about the things people don't talk about, the hidden emotions of family life, the things that go on behind closed doors and inside the minds of children and parents(Jen Campbell)
The stories in Sweet Home work like beads on a thread, each reflecting on those around it, but each with its own distinct texture and lustre. Nothing is sugar coated. It is honest and unguarded – so far from what mummycentric websites and smug washing powder adverts would have you believe, I feel safe and reassured by all that stark reality. Sweet Home is alive, beautiful and painfully true. (Sarah Schofield)
Good luck!

Recent Guest Blog Posts

In the lead up to publication I wrote a piece on the process of writing a short story collection at novelist Laura Wilkinson's blog and a post about why I love short stories at poet and short story writer Alison Lock's blog. Click on the links to have a read.

Saturday, 10 November 2012


The book launch was last night. It went really well. The bookshop only had four books left and they asked me to sign them all before I went home. We had cakes and drinks and there was plenty of time to chat to people. I came home with chocolates, a Lush bath bomb, a bottle of wine and two bunches of flowers. It felt like it was my birthday.

The next bit is going to sound horribly like an acceptance speech, but I'm going to do it anyway - It's my blog and I'll say thank you if I want to...

Thanks to my lovely writing friends who came - Alisa Cox, Elizabeth Baines, Carol Fenlon, Claire Massey, Zoe Lambert, Ben Judge, Sarah Schofield, Sarah Jasmon, Elaine Wilson, Joe Welsh, Jay Dougherty, Amanda Richardson, Emma Johnson (if I've forgotten anyone I'm very sorry!). Thanks to my friends Nik, Janet and Mandy, to Stuart, Karen and Aaron and to my sister Lizzy who drove all the way from Exeter. Thanks to Tim Power for taking photographs, to Broadhursts for having me and to the Sefton Celebrates Writing team for arranging things. And a huge thank you to my children for pouring drinks and handing out cakes and behaving beautifully for a whole hour and a half.

When I got home from the launch I discovered my first goodreads review, written by author (Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops) and poet (The Hungry Ghost Festival), Jen Campbell. It was a lovely end to a fantastic day.

Short story writer and novelist Elizabeth Baines writes about the launch here.

Photograph from OTS News.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Local Bookshop Window

I popped into town this morning and decided to walk past Broadhursts. They told me they would do a little display in the window during the week of my launch, so I walked past, thinking that if I looked carefully, I might see one of my books.

Aren't local bookshops brilliant?

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Real Books

My books arrived this week. It was a very exciting and strange moment.

The French flaps are beautiful and cover is soft and smooth.

The children all want their own copy, although Alice is the only one who has shown any interest in reading the stories. I watched as she opened her copy and I saw her face light up as she read the dedication page.

'Oh thank you!' she said. 'I have always wanted to be mentioned in the dedication of a book.'

Phew, good job I decided to write one then.

It's really, really strange and lovely to look at the words on the pages and know that I ordered and arranged them all.

The book is now available to buy from Salt Publishing and should also be available on Amazon soon.

People (including the man who delivered the books) have been asking me what Sweet Home is about. It's a really hard question, and in some ways it's not a question I can answer as it's up to the reader to decide. Below is a short trailer which shows some of the things I think Sweet Home is about.

Monday, 29 October 2012

First Review

The first review of Sweet Home was published online this morning at the Lancs Writing Hub. It's a really thoughtful and generous review.

Product DetailsThis afternoon I really enjoyed Adam Marek's lovely piece in the Guardian. Having read several of the stories in The Stone Thrower this weekend, it was interesting to read Adam's thoughts about the collection. He reveals that the stories in The Stone Thrower are 'full of absurd, surreal and futuristic scenarios: contagion-carrying virtual pets, genetically enhanced schoolchildren in military uniforms, a superhero dictator – but at the heart of them all is a vulnerable child. My vulnerable child.'

It's a moving account and definitely worth a read.

Reviews of The Stone Thrower can be found at Bookmunch, The Guardian and Litro.

I remain fascinated by the way real life preoccupations bleed into fiction. I mention some of the real-life things that may have influenced my fiction here, here and here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Launch stuff

I was in my local library this week with the children when one of the librarians said they have ordered my book. It was very exciting to think that I might pop to the library one day and actually see it sitting there on a shelf.

While I was there I noticed a pile of brochures for the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival. The festival begins on Bonfire Night and lasts for a week. My book launch is one of the free events on the programme.

There will be drinks and cake at the launch and I'm going to read a story from Sweet Home (which actually exists now - I've seen a photograph of it on a shelf next to The Lighthouse!).

I'm hoping it will be a cold, wintry night and the staff at Broadhursts will need to light the open fire.

Here are some of the other events that will be on during the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival week:

There is a Sweet Home Facebook page here.

I think the first review will be out next week *bites nails*. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Booker announcement tomorrow

The winner of the Booker Prize will be announced tomorrow. My publisher, Salt is in the running with Alison Moore's haunting and disquieting debut, The Lighthouse. I would love to see Alison win, although I must confess that I haven't read the other books yet (that's what the Christmas holiday is for). 

It's an exciting time for independent publishers. In this New Statesman article, Six of the Best: Independent Publishers Outside London, there's some well-deserved praise for Salt Publishing and 'the prestigious' Scott Prize gets a mention, too.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival

My book is being launched during the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival.

The full festival programme can be found here.

Details of my launch can be found here.

Friday, 12 October 2012

International Day of the Girl

Yesterday was International Day of the Girl.

This New York Times piece by Nicholas D. Kristof reminds readers that, 'the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century, equivalent to the campaigns against slavery in the 19th century and against totalitarianism in the 20th century.'

There are heart-breaking photographs of child brides at tooyoungtowed and horrifying statistics at halfthesky. I'm reading Half the Sky at the moment in an effort to turn my worry into something constructive.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


I signed off on the proofs of my book today. It was really nerve-wracking to let the stories go and concede that there won't (and can't) be any more edits or alterations. The stories are finished. Gulp. 

I also saw an image of the finished cover for the first time today. It's going to be beautiful, with French flaps. I can't wait to see it.

Some brilliant and very generous writers have made some lovely comments about Sweet Home

'Suburbia in all its tarnished glory - Carys Bray teases at the cracks, and pulls at all the loose threads dangling, in short stories that are funny and sad and achingly true.' 
Robert Shearman 

'Carys Bray lays to rest the myth that fiction which examines the domestic sphere is familiar and unchallenging once and for all. Her stories are never afraid to expose the darkness that exists behind suburban front doors, but at their heart are brave, moving evocations of what it means to be at home with those you love.'

Jenn Ashworth

'Finely tunedwitty
 and poignant, these wonderful stories are written with a startling emotional clarity. The  tragic and the absurd are absolutely inextricable. Carys Bray has an especially acute ear for children's voices, and for the dissenting murmurs that are usually kept behind the closed doors of the unconscious. This is the debut of a major talent.'
Ailsa Cox

'The match of technical accomplishment and psychological insight makes these stories not just excellent but significant.' 
Robert Sheppard

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review of 'Under Covers'

Here's a very generous review of my story 'Under Covers' from Mel Ulm at the review blog, The Reading Life.

You can read 'Under Covers' at FemaleFirst.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

A little bit of Autobiography ~ Motherhood

I think my recent autobiographical musings (here and here) have been laying the foundations for this post. To recap, in a recent interview Zoe Lambert said:
Of course, the relation of the self to writing is more complex than the insertion of autobiographical experiences or facts or the creation of characters of the same age and gender as the author.
I've been thinking about Zoe's comment, particularly with reference to the forthcoming publication of my first short story collection. It's not really up to me to say what my book is 'about' - I won't ever be able to view it as a reader - but as I reflect on the stories, I notice frequent instances of parental ambivalence and perhaps, on an autobiographical level at least, some of that ambivalence can be contextualized by an understanding of a woman's place in the Mormon community.

I grew up feeling that my life was building towards the ultimate fulfillment of motherhood. I always pictured myself with a big family. Maybe statements like the one below played a part in my imaginings:

Woman and the Priesthood, Rodney Turner, p.222. 

My own family life probably played a part, too. I'm one of five children. Some people hate growing up in a big family, but I loved it. I loved my siblings, we had tremendous fun - when we were small we were like the five musketeers: one for all and all for one.

Mormon girls are taught that bearing children is their primary purpose in life. A 2010 statement reads: 'Teach your daughters to find joy in nurturing children. This is where their love and talents can have the greatest eternal significance' (see full text here).

The song below, 'I Want to be a Mother', is featured on a CD for Mormon children that is still on sale (it contrasts beautifully with the get-up-and-go, disco-influenced 'My Big Brother's Going on a Mission').

What if a woman doesn't want to be a mother? It seems that she is intrinsically bad: 'Faithful daughters of God desire children' (see full text here).

What if a woman wants to be a mother AND something else? Tough luck: 'It was never intended by the Lord that married women should compete with men in employment. They have a far greater and more important service to render... Wives, come home from the typewriter, the laundry, the nursing, come home from the factory, the cafe. No career approaches in importance that of wife, homemaker, mother - cooking meals, washing dishes, making beds for one’s precious husband and children' (see full text here).

I wanted to do motherhood the 'right' way, the way I'd been taught: milk and cookies and yellow balloons, the whole joyous, fulfilling experience. I spent several years in a slightly bewildered and occasionally desperate fug, wondering what I on earth I was doing wrong. Things were difficult financially because we had followed the advice of numerous Mormon prophets: 'Do not curtail the number of children for personal or selfish reasons. Material possessions, social convenience, and so-called professional advantages are nothing compared to a righteous posterity' (see full text here). Consequently, I needed to get a job. I decided to work nights so I wouldn't be away from my children during the day. I felt guilty about working and I was so exhausted that I was frequently physically sick. My doctor gave me some medication to counter the sickness. I didn't tell him that on the nights when I wasn't working, I often lay awake, struggling to breathe past my bounding heart as I worried about things like eternal polygamy and how to quell the desire to snatch back some of my life from sticky, grasping fingers.

There were times when I attempted to give voice to my feelings, but other mothers were incredibly skilled at squelching ambivalence. I couldn't find anyone who was prepared to concede that parenthood was bloody awful at times, so I began to assume that there must be something fundamentally wrong with me. A thick, cotton-wool silence surrounded topics like postnatal depression and sleep deprivation. When I got a prescription for anti-depressants, I didn't tell my husband - I couldn't find the words, they weren't in the script of joyous, eternal motherhood.

Things got better. When I finally started writing again (I stopped when I was 19, after I got engaged) I wrote about all the things I couldn't discuss. (I talk about this in a Thresholds article on short story writer Helen Simpson, here). I wrote about harried, sleep-deprived parents; about shattered expectations and beastly children; about absent miracles and anxiety. After so many years of trying to carve myself into a complaint, and obedient woman, writing about the dark side of family life was a transgressive and extremely enjoyable enterprise.

My collection isn't autobiographical; I'm not divorced, I didn't buy my children at the supermarket and I don't live in a gingerbread house. But, as Zoe says, the relationship of the self to writing is complex and I wonder whether, among the drowning dolls and twilight supermarkets, the fictional parenting books and decapitated snowmen, there are tiny refractions of past anxieties: the place of women, polygamy, motherhood - I expect they're there, somewhere.

Friday, 28 September 2012

A little bit of autobiography ~ Polygamy

photoI didn't find out about polygamy until I was about thirteen, and then it was inadvertently, during a lesson at church. People may find it hard to believe that a Mormon girl could be unaware of polygamy, but this was back in the days before the internet. I didn't have a Utah pioneer heritage replete with dozens of polygamous ancestors, and although I had heard people mention polygamy, it had always been to insist, 'No, of course we aren't polygamists!'

There must have been about ten of us in the room. We were attending the church's program for girls aged 12 to 18 (called Young Women's). We were taught weekly lessons on a variety of topics including Preparing for Marriage, Dating Decisions, Creating a Spiritual Environment in the Home, Homemaking, Attitudes about Divine Roles and so on. I assume the lesson that particular week had something to do with marriage - many of the lessons did. I don't know how the topic of polygamy came up, but our Young Women's leader was entirely unprepared for the questions that followed and she went to look for help. It just so happened that a woman we all liked, a mother of several grown-up children, was lurking in the corridor outside our classroom. Our Young Women's leader called, 'Sister Doe (that wasn't her name). Can you come and help us, please?'

Poor Sister Doe. Whenever I picture her, I see her standing at the front of that classroom, trying to justify eternal polygamy to a group of very upset girls. I hardly recall a thing she said, but I do remember watching her laugh nervously as she wrung her hands and played with her wedding ring, and I remember one of the girls asked a question: 'Does it work both ways? Can women have more than one husband in heaven?' Sister Doe shook her head. 'No. It only works one way,' she said.

I had a lot of questions about polygamy after that, but no-one wanted to answer them. I asked whether I would be forced be a polygamist in heaven and I was told I had better worry about getting to heaven first. When I pushed further, I was told polygamy had been instituted to take care of widows (not true - between 1850 and 1950 there were more men than women in Utah). I was told  polygamy was numerically necessary to raise a righteous generation (not true - polygamous women have less children per capita than their monogamous counterparts). Finally, I was told polygamy was God's will and, as a female, (see previous post) I was in no position to argue.

Birthplace of Joseph Smith - relief carving by origamidonIt was several years before I heard Joseph Smith's claim that an angel with a drawn sword had appeared to him and commanded him to take more wives or be utterly destroyed. Smith married at least thirty-three women, including several teenagers and at least eleven women who were already married. I wasn't surprised to learn that many women didn't want to be polygamous wives. Joseph Smith's fourteen year old wife, Helen Mar Kimball wrote, 'I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than a ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of your whole family depended on it' (Mormon Polygamy: A History p.50). The next Mormon prophet, Brigham Young, had to give a sermon telling women to stop complaining about polygamy:
... 'it is frequently happening that women say they are unhappy. Men will say, 'My wife, though a most excellent woman, has not seen a happy day since I took my second wife.' 'No, not a happy day for a year,' says one; and another has not seen a happy day for five years. It is said that women are tied down and abused; that they are misused and have not the liberty they ought to have; that many of them are wading through a perfect flood of tears... 
But the first wife will say, 'It is hard, for I have lived with my husband twenty years, or thirty, and have raised a family of children, and it is a great trial to me for him to have more women; then I say it is time that you gave him up to other women who will bear children.' (Journal of Discourses)

There were even hymns admonishing women to help their husbands acquire extra wives. Here is an example from an edition of Songs of Zion:

Now sisters, list to what I say:
With Trials this world is rife,
You can't expect to miss them all,
Help husband get a wife!

Now, this advice I freely give,
If exalted you would be,
Remember that your husband must
Be blessed with more than thee.

Then, O, let us say,
God bless the wife that strives
And aids her husband all she can
T' obtain a dozen wives.

Although Joseph Smith and other Mormon prophets were polygamists, mainstream Mormons haven't practiced polygamy since the early 1900s. When Mormons say, 'No, of course we aren't polygamists!' they are technically right. However, eternal polygamy in the afterlife is enshrined in Mormon scripture (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 132) and it's something that causes devout Mormon women a lot of pain (see here and here). In fact, the church continues to perform polygamous eternal marriages by allowing men who have been widowed or civilly divorced (without a religious divorce) to be married for eternity to more than one wife. But a woman who has been widowed or civilly divorced (without a religious divorce) may not be married for eternity to more than one husband.

Polygamy hurt Mormon women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and it still hurts them today. I remember comforting a friend whose first husband had been unfaithful. She was crying because she was terrified about dying and being forced to share her second, much-loved and faithful husband, with other women. I didn't believe in polygamy by then, in fact I was agnostic about the existence of God, but sharing my unbelief wouldn't have comforted my friend. She believed in Mormonism and consequently had to find some way to rationalize and accept the doctrine of eternal polygamy.

Mormon missionaries don't routinely mention polygamy when they canvas for converts - sometimes women join the Mormon church without knowing anything about it. I know a woman who attended church meetings for several months. She was even baptised. Then she read about polygamy on the internet and she never attended church again. I was asked to go and visit her to explain why polygamy is okay. The man who asked me said it would, 'sound better coming from a woman.' I refused to do it.

After I got married I tried not to think about polygamy at all. Whenever I thought about it, I felt sick to my stomach. Then I had my daughter. And I knew that one day, someone would tell her about her eternal destiny as a polygamous wife; that her idea of heaven would be tainted by a sexist doctrine which rendered her feelings and desires irrelevant. In retrospect, that was the beginning of the end for me. I loved my Mormon community and our funny, Utah-centric culture; I knew even if I managed to tear myself away from the church, a big part of me would always be Mormon - and I was right, if you could turn me upside-down to see my label, you would read, "Made in Mormonism" - but I wanted different, better things for my daughter.

By some strange and circular coincidence, years after I watched Sister Doe attempt to explain polygamy, I was wandering the corridors of my local Mormon church. I didn't want to be there. I couldn't bear to sit through the lessons anymore, but I was reluctant to put my husband through the shame of belonging to a part-member family, (a family where one spouse is not Mormon) so I continued to attend church with him and our children. I felt bruised and lonely as I traipsed up and down the corridors. I was increasingly alienated from the people I loved by doctrines I could no longer embrace. I didn't even look up when one of the Young Women's leaders hurried out of a classroom. 'Carys,' she called. 'Help! It's all kicking off in there. They're talking about polygamy. Some of them didn't know. They're crying. I don't know what to say. Can you come in and talk to them?'

I had a sudden flashback to the day I heard a grown woman stammer through a half-baked justification of eternal polygamy. I looked at the flustered Young Women's leader. 'No,' I said. 'I'm sorry, but I can't.'

To be continued.

Polygamy Porter image from Flickr, by Celebdu
Joseph Smith image from Flickr, by origamidon