‘My Jockey’ by Lucia Berlin

I moved to Donegal on the north-west coast of Ireland to write my first novel. I had been living in a London houseshare, juggling multiple jobs, so when my grandad died, leaving an empty cottage in Donegal, I decided to go there to find time and space to write. The house is in a remote fishing village and I cannot drive. I tutored a local student and cycled to the library every day. The experience was transformative; the landscape is wild and storm-wracked and I finally had a room of my own. I had very little money and no internet connection but I read and read, studying the shapes of novels and working out what kind of writer I might be.

My first novel, Saltwater, is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, told through the lens of a mother-daughter relationship. It is partly about northern, working-class identity, which I hadn’t often seen represented in literary novels. A Manual for Cleaning Women is a collection of short stories about women working all kinds of menial jobs, trying to find their way through the world. The title references the cleaning women that Berlin writes about, but it also centres working-class women as the readers of the anthology; these stories are about us and also for us, which felt radical to me as a working-class woman trying to write my own story, prompting me to consider whom we assume writing is for.

‘My Jockey’ is a short, piercing story which demonstrates Berlin’s power. It is told from the perspective of a woman working in the emergency department of a hospital, looking after a jockey who arrives with broken bones. The piece explores power, gender roles, loneliness, motherhood and the fragility of the human body in Berlin’s stark, direct prose.

First published in Home Sick: New and Selected Stories, Black Sparrow, 1991; also in A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, Picador, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s