Emma Darwall Smith

Emma Darwall Smith

Emma Darwall Smith co-wrote and performed Forbidden Dance at the Man In The Moon Theatre in London. She has also written a short film, Recycle and a short story, Soul Witness. She originally trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and has acted in theatre, film, TV and radio in the UK and internationally. She’s currently working on her first book, Kaleidoscope.







Night One

Dear Mummy and Daddy,

I’m lying under my new balloon duvet cover. Tomorrow, I think you must be coming back. Am I allowed two boiled sweets, not just one? Everyone else gets two and I’m only allowed one. I had a lemon sherbet. I’m hugging lioney tight and he’s keeping me brave. There’s an echoing sound and it’s windy outside and the trees are making a pattern on the wall by my bed like a monster rising up big and then getting small again. When the girls turn over in their beds the wet sheets crackle.

Why am I only allowed one boiled sweet after super and one small packet of sweets at the weekend? Other children have two boiled sweets and they will get two packets at the weekend. Is it because I eat too much? I think that I would have to save up for twenty nights worth of sweets before I could have a midnight feast. I know I haven’t had many feasts so I’m not totally sure but I think twenty is about right. I hope that tomorrow you’ll be coming back.





Bow and Arrows

Daddy cut a branch from the ash tree with his bright red Stanley knife that we weren’t allowed to touch. I stood as tall as I could, as he measured the height with the top of my head and chopped off a bit from the top. He held the branch between two fingers and closed one eye shut, inspecting it like a specimen, then stuck it in the grass and bent down to look at it at eye-level.

‘Ash wood is supple and elastic,’ he said, bending it one way and then the other, ‘and you need that when you’re stretching the bow to shoot.’

He gouged a V-shape at each end, it looked like Chew Valley where we lived, and wound the hairy green string around it lots of times. He put the ash on his knee and started to bend it. An angry storm was rising in his cheeks and the branch wobbled as he pulled. I held my breath as it bent into a super curve like the road by our house.

‘Nope, I don’t need your help!’ and the air gushed through the funnel of his lips. He pulled the string tight to the other end and tied it.

‘There,’ he said pinging the string with a twanging sound. He closed one eye shut again and his face crinkled up like a cowboy’s.

‘Can I have a go?’ I said.

‘First we need some arrows.’ He cut another branch from the ash tree and snipped it in two. ‘Ash wood is light, you see,’ he passed the arrow to my sister, Boo, who had just arrived from the house and was in a mood. She huffed and played with the clasp on her dungarees.

‘They’ll fly like beauties,’ Daddy said. He shaped the wood into a point with the Stanley knife making it sharp but not too sharp to hurt, then stripped off the bark.

‘Can I hold it?’ I said. He handed it to me. I held it in both hands and it felt so light­. I did a flying circle round the fir tree lolling my hand back and forth like an Indian.

‘Concentrate,’ Daddy said, and I stood with my arms by my sides and my head in the air.

‘We need to cut a slit for the string,’ Daddy said. He sliced a groove in the end of the arrow. ‘Let’s see if it actually works, shall we?’ Mummy walked down the garden to watch. Boo shoved her hands into her pockets and scuffed the ground with her shoe. Daddy lifted the bow to shoulder height and slotted the groove of the arrow onto the string. He started to pull it back until the whole bow looked like it might snap. I peeked through my fingers and his cheeks had puffed out again.

‘Careful darling!’ Mummy said, and he fired it with one ginormous ping right over the end of our fence into the next-door garden.

‘Oh god, darling, now you’ve done it,’ Mummy said

‘Whooho! Did you see that beauty fly?’ he said.

‘You’ll have to go and get it.’

‘Of course I’ll get it.’

‘But you can’t say it was you that shot the arrow,’

‘Why not?’

‘You’ll have to say it was one of the children.’

‘Oh, for god’s sake.’

‘The whole village will know that you’ve been firing arrows into Heather’s garden.’



Daddy cleared his throat and knocked on Heather’s front door. When she opened it, she was wearing a patterned headscarf and an apron with a large pocket at the front. She was stony-faced.

‘I’m sorry to trouble you’ Daddy said, ‘but we were playing bow and arrows, and Emma has managed to shoot one right over our fence and into your garden.’ Heather stared at Daddy and then at me. ‘Not bad for a seven year old!’ She wiped her hands on her apron, and walked into the house without saying anything. Daddy followed, so I did too.

At the bottom of Heather’s garden was an orchard of fruit trees with crumbling bark and moss hanging off them. It was here that I’d seen them once, naked. I asked Mummy and Daddy about it and they said that it was because they liked doing the vegetables and feeling free.

I scanned the ground in the orchard around the bee hive while Heather watched. The ground was covered with fallen branches so it was quite hard to find the arrow.

‘I’ve found it!’ I said.

‘Brilliant,’ said Daddy, and then he said, ‘I’m very sorry, Heather. We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ He squeezed my shoulder and we walked back up the garden.



When we were back in our kitchen, Daddy said, ‘It’s very much ‘The Good Life’ round there. At least they weren’t in their beekeeping helmets and nothing else; kind of defeats the object, might get stung anywhere,’ and he roared with laughter. ‘She was making jam when we arrived, God help us. Do you remember that tart party, where we ate nothing but tarts?!’ he said in a strong west country accent. ‘savory tarts, sweet tarts, they turned everything into a tart. Bloody naturists.’

‘What’s a naturist?’ I asked.

‘Never you mind.’





Night Two

Dear Mummy and Daddy,

The other girls are saying that we have to wait three whole weeks until we will see you again. And that we’re not allowed to speak to you, not even on the one phone for the whole school. The teacher said, that if we get upset we will make you more upset too.






Mummy took Boo and I to have our uniforms fitted at Horn’s in Bristol. We were going to different schools, so we needed different uniforms. Boo was going to Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset, and I was going to St Christopher’s School for Girls in Burnham-on-Sea.

Marsh’s was on Whiteladies Road where the steep hill led to my favourite art shop, Howard Hockey. I’d much rather have been at home, planning my mural for my bedroom wall. It was going to be a Beetle car, like the one in the Athena poster.

The shop was small with uniforms hanging on round rails. Mummy waited in the queue and I shuffled through the blazers. The assistant stood at the counter with a tape measure dangling from her neck and a spotlight pointing on to her crispy hair. There were trunks on display on a shelf, in blue, purple and green with gold studs that shone.

‘It’s really hot in this shop. I’m going up to Howard Hockey,’ I said to Boo, who was picking through the uniforms on the other side of the rail.

I raced out of the door and up the hill. It was on the steepest part of Blackboy Hill, which made my feet feel almost vertical. The bell rung when I opened the door and I had to edge around it because of a shelf of paint.

‘Can I help?’ the shop assistant said.

‘I’m just having a look, thanks.’

I picked up the oil sticks and smelt their sour grease, and ran my finger along a line of pencils making them swivel in their tin. There were tubes of oil paint dangling in a rack; vermillion yellow, burnt umber and racing green and bullets of watercolours slotted into trays, and wooden palettes with a hole for your thumb to poke through. I picked up a fat brush and flicked the soft hairs through my fingers, and a miniscule brush, which I touched on my top lip feeling its softness.

There was hand-made paper that felt powdery to touch, and thick pieces of card that were bobbly like the wall paper in our bathroom. There was a glass engraving set, like the one I have at home with different crystal heads that I used to engrave the kitchen glasses. And a Wax Seal Letter Kit with gold and red sticks of wax, and a silver stamp to make the seal.

Suddenly, Boo’s face appeared at the shop window:

‘GET OUT,’ she mouthed waving her hand. I put the Wax Seal Kit down and scooted through the shop. ‘Mummy’s going to kill you,’ she said as we ran down the hill.

‘Come on darling,’ Mummy said, ‘into the changing room.’ The assistant ripped the curtain across on its metal rail. I unclipped my dungarees and pulled off my polo neck. She tugged a pale green shirt over my head and pinched the sticking out bit as she did up the top button. She flipped the collars up and did a loop with the tie and threaded it through like Daddy does and pushed it up to my throat.

‘Arms up,’ she said and tugged a pinafore dress over my head. It itched through the shirt and flapped about. She ripped back the curtain.

‘We’ve two inches either side, so we could go smaller,’ she said, holding the material. ‘Stand to the side for me love,’ she shunted me around so Mummy could see from the other angle. ‘I think she’s going to need the extra.’ Boo looked at me and blew up her cheeks.

‘And what about the blazer?’ Mummy said.

‘Two sizes up,’ she said and shoved my arms into the sleeves which dangled below my hands.

‘We’d better try the tights,’ the assistant said. I sat on the stool and pushed my feet into the thick wool, ‘They’re digging into my tummy, and they’re itchy,’ I said to Mummy.

‘We can’t do anything about that darling, you’ll just have to get used to it.’

The assistant put the woollen cape on my shoulders and clipped it at my neck and pulled the elastic strap from the boater under my chin. Boo sniggered when I came out of the changing room,

‘What?’ I said.

‘You look like Little Bo Peep.’

‘Stop it you two,’ Mummy said.

I decided to ask Daddy if I’d have to wear the uniform all the time.





Night three

Dear Mummy and Daddy,

Lucy wets her bed every night. She has to change the sheets in the morning but the smell is still there. Nobody speaks to her much.

The house mistress rings the bell at 6.50 am. I put on my gym pants over my normal pants and the tights and green shirt and the pinafore dress that’s itchy. But, I don’t have to wear the cape and boater all the time, Daddy.

We have to stand next to our beds for ‘Room Check.’ The house mistress checks that the counterpain thing is pulled tight and that the bin is under the bed and that all our clothes have been put away. ‘Spotless.’ I like my balloon duvet cover, thank you, and my blue corduroy dress from Clothkits, which I will wear for chapel on Sunday but I would much rather be at home with you.





Start-rite Shoe Shop

‘Can I measure your feet?’ I asked Boo.

‘My feet?’

‘I’ve made a machine like the Start-rite Shoe Shop in Bristol using my cupboard door.’

‘Do you have to,’ Boo said.

‘I’ve made a sign and everything.’ She lolloped off the bed and followed me, ‘you wait outside and I’ll get it ready,’ I said.

‘Hurry up,’ she said. I stuck the sign on my wall, ‘START-RITE SHOE SHOP,’ and I put on my dressing gown to get the shop assistant look. ‘I’m sorry to keep you waiting, madam, have you travelled far?’

‘I came along the landing,’ Boo said.

‘Can I take your coat?’

‘I’m not wearing a coat.’

‘A very fine one too, madam. Please take off your shoes and we’ll begin the measuring.’ Boo kicked off her shoes.

‘If you’d like to place your foot in here please, madam.’

‘In the cupboard?’

‘It’s not a cupboard, madam.’ I tightened the cords on my dressing gown, ‘It’s one of the finest foot measuring machines in the country. You might feel a tickle on the side of your foot, but it’s actually quite nice.’ I used the remote control from the television downstairs, ‘Are you ready, madam?’ She put her foot inside and I slid the cupboard door across.

‘VvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvV. The machine is measuring the width of your foot now madam.’ I had two pieces of card from Daddy’s dry-cleaned shirts to measure the length,

‘VVvvVVvvvvvvvvvH. And now the other foot? Thank you.

That’s a Sandra size 2 C please, Donald, for left and 2 D for right. It’s quite normal to have one foot larger than the other, madam, it’s nothing to worry about a lot of children have the same problem. Next please.’



Sandra was the name of my new school shoes. They were purply-brown with a frill detail that stuck up like a moustache.





Night Four

Dear Mummy and Daddy,

I was punished for talking after lights out, tonight. I had to stand in the corridor with my face pressed to the wall and the carpet scuffing my feet. I know when Matron is coming because of the creak of the floorboards and the jangle of her keys. I stood bolt upright like a soldier and I imagined I was being measured for bows and arrows, Daddy.






I was standing in line for breakfast waiting to get to the metal troughs. There were rashers of bacon with rind like a racetrack, the rest was pale pink with white blobs of pus and a knuckle of bone. And there was scrambled egg that looked like cottage cheese with dishwater swilling around it.

‘Errr– You, socks up!’ Shouted, Miss Barton. I was balancing my tray with the egg in one hand and trying to pull up my socks with the other.

‘They won’t go any higher,’ I said.

‘Won’t go any higher? Your legs aren’t that fat!’ The egg juice was running around the plate and leaking out onto the tray. I tried to stretch the elastic down.

‘My name tapes are sewn across the top,’ I said.

‘Didn’t your mother think you needed the elastic?’ she said.

‘I sewed them on.’ Miss Barton’s face stretched as she laughed,

‘You’d better eat up; you’re going to need all the brain cells you can get.’ As I walked past she pinched me on my side.

‘And you’d better unpick all those name tapes and sew them on P/R/O/P/E/R/L/Y.’





Night Five

Dear Mummy and Daddy,

I haven’t been allowed to send you these letters, so they are only in my head. And even though they’re only in my head I’ve written them in my best hand writing with my multi-coloured letter set that you gave me. The yellow is my favourite colour because the black ink makes a lovely contrast when you write. I haven’t worked out a way to send you my real letters yet, so I will send you a pretend one in the meantime.


Dear Mummy and Daddy,

How are you? I’m OK. I’m having a luvley time. I like my balloon duvet cover. Tomorrow, we might be alowd swiming in the outdoor pool but it seems quite cold. There is a nice girl called Isobel who sleeps in the bed next to me. We have chapl on sunday, and a roast and I will be alowd one small packet of sweets, probaly Chewits. Lots of love xxxxxxOO