A Masterclass with Kerri Sackville…It’s Write On Wednesday

Today’s exercise (thanks to WoW regular, Jodi!) is from writer, Kerri Sackville, Kerri is the author behind When My Husband Does The Dishes and she is also a regular contributor at Mamamia. Kerri has kindly agreed to provide us with an exercise in Life Writing. I hope you all enjoy it.

The Write On Wednesday Rules: Get creative with the writing exercises – there isn’t a right or wrong. Please do try to visit the other members of Write On Wednesdays and leave a comment. You can grab the button for Write On Wednesdays from my sidebar.

Write On Wednesdays Exercise 12 – The Fight. Kerri says:  I am a writer of non-fiction (for now, anyway). In my book ‘When My Husband Does The Dishes…’, I wrote a memoir of marriage and motherhood in as honest way as I knew how. In interviews, I was constantly asked how I felt about revealing so much about myself, and how I knew where to draw the line. I always answered the same way. Every single thing I wrote in that book was 100% true, because without my truth, I had nothing to offer. However, the book didn’t represent 100% of the truth, just as my blog doesn’t represent 100% of the truth. There are personal details of my life, my husbands life and my kids’ lives that I will never reveal, because we all need to to keep something for ourselves. And that’s the key to writing good non-fiction – or one of the keys. You have to be honest, because without honesty, your work won’t speak to people. You have to be fearless, because restraint in writing can be perceived. But that doesn’t mean that you have to bare your entire soul. Choose what you want to share, choose what is relevant to your story. But make sure that what you choose to share is real, and true. 

The exercise today is to write a story from your life. And remember: it has to be 100% true, but it doesn’t have to be 100% of the truth. There’s a difference. The keywords are: The Fight

There you have it! Let’s keep to last week’s brief and take our time with the exercise. Happy Writing!
I have never attempted Life Writing or Memoir before, so that was a challenge in itself. I also decided to go with the first thought I had from the prompt – The Fight. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, so to speak, as this is from a time in my life – 16yrs ago, that I rarely speak about and have certainly never written about.

Please leave a comment – especially if it doesn’t work for you. It’s good to get constructive criticism (not an outpouring of a negativity, I do have feelings!). And of course the strokes of praise are always welcome too.

She’d been upfront from our first meeting. I’d sat in her chambers, book-lined, a panelled glass window opening onto the late-Autumn grey of a London square. This could be my future. An old world, claustrophobic, overcast, cold, closing in on me and my two daughters. I longed for a new world of broad skies, warmth and love.

‘Do you know what you’ll do if you lose? My barrister had asked, her finger stroking the inside of a wrist, hidden by the impeccably severe black suit she was wearing.

I would go on, I’d thought. There is no other choice. But the nausea rushed up from my stomach, filling my throat. A sob lurched out as the tears, usually kept so tightly restrained, coursed down my cheeks.

She pushed the box of tissues towards me and discreetly made unnecessary notes.

The Courts of Justice in London are marbled halls echoing with a swaggering trepidation. Stone steps are smoothed and curved from the countless numbers who’d made their way to plead their case, to have their future revealed in a swish of silk. But here was a certainty and  preciseness not offered by  a pack of tarot cards.

The courtroom was intimidating. Even in the Family Court I would give my evidence from the dark wood of the witness box, be cross-examined by my ex-husband’s barrister. But first I took my place on the hard, high-backed bench that offered no comfort. A pew for a congregation of sinners. The Judge presided from on high, his half-moon glasses perilously perched on the end of his nose.

It was more like a hanging, drawing and quartering than a hearing. I’d spent the winter being slowly strangled by the waiting, the not knowing, the lack of control. And now I’d been released from that torture only to have the entrails of my marriage held up for me and the jeering onlookers to wonder at.

It was the worst of betrayals. My ex-husband took his turn in the witness box and described our marriage as never being happy. Implying I had somehow tricked him into being with me, having two children, making a home together. I was irrational, irresponsible, delusional, unable to care for my children. I was heartless for wanting to remove my daughters from their father and return to my home and family in Australia. His mother had sat at her Georgian table in her Gentleman’s residence and penned a letter of elegant venom. If I was unsupported, she claimed, I only had myself to blame.

A failed wife. As dreadful a mother as you could find. But no, my ex-husband didn’t want custody of our children, he didn’t want that responsibility. Ten years in England was not long enough. He wanted me to serve life.

The square beyond the panelled glass window was greening as the early spring bulbs speared through the earth. The white blossoms drifted on the breeze like a late flurry of snow. It was lunchtime. My daughters would be playing by the willow tree in the school playground. Laughing, running, free.

My barrister sat forward, her hands together on the desk, a steady gaze held mine, ‘I have to tell you, I don’t think we will win. Your ex-husband has put up a very strong case.’

It was like being told of my own death.

A hand on a navy blue bible, I promised to tell the truth, but there is very little I remember saying. All I could think was, I can’t go home. I’m trapped. My barrister had a strategy. Unlike my ex-husband, we didn’t indulge in a personal attack, her approach was for me to explain what my life in Australia had been, how it would be for my daughters. The more I talked of Sydney, my family, home, the more I cried. Without them I had no anchor, no safe harbour to protect me from life’s buffeting.

Finally, the Judge gently asked me if I would return to Australia without my children?


My ex-husband’s lawyer summed up his case, backed up with numerous precedents of other Australian women who had not been ‘Given Leave to remove their children from the Jurisdiction’. I was just another case. One more to notch up for the English ex-husbands’ lawyers.

As the Judge handed down his decision, a few phrases filtered through. ‘It will be easier for Ms Smart to re-partner.’ ‘The children will be part of a loving, caring, extended family’ The searing pain of loss slowly waned.

‘I knew we’d won when the Judge said he was struck by your vulnerability,’ my barrister said, smiling. ‘I’m sorry I scared you at lunch, but you’d been so composed all morning. We needed to see your distress, feel that vulnerability.’

The cat had toyed with her mouse. She smiled the victor’s smile, wished me well and left for her chambers, to meet with the next ex-wife.

I stood numb, dazed in the marble hall. My ex-husband was slouched on a bench, rolling a cigarette. All that should never have been said, had used all the words we had left for each other. I headed out onto the London street and let the high tide of peak hour pick me up in it’s quick flow and carry me towards my children.


20 thoughts on “A Masterclass with Kerri Sackville…It’s Write On Wednesday

  1. Oh Jennifier, this is such an incredible story. You tell it so beautifully, with such raw emotion. I’m so glad it had a happy ending for you. I could feel your pain all the way through, was in tears with you. Well Done.

  2. Gosh Jennifer! I feel like I’ve just gone 8 rounds with Mike Tyson but somehow came out winning but exhausted. What a terrible ordeal for you to have to go through. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I have to hand it to anyone who has gone through this. You’re a woman of steel to have done it and survived. My heart goes out to you! And, by the way, it was written perfectly. I felt your anguish, your pain, your fear, your anger, your sadness and your success. All of it.

    Anne xx

  3. Beautifully written Jenny! It brought it all back! I love that phrase ‘pew for a congregation of sinners’. Jane S. x

  4. This is a very solid piece of writing. I really enjoyed read it, and appreciate that this must have been very difficult to go back to that place, that time. There are so many good lines: love the MIL penning her letter in elegant venom.
    My only criticism is that I think it could be better. The story makes sense, the language is exquisite, but it’s not singing. You’ve taken on a huge story in such a short space: perhaps it would flow better if it focussed on the judge, you and your ex, and his mother? Create a feeling of 2 vs 1? Your barrister – while fierce and severe and artfully portrayed – complicates the story. Hard to tackle all of this in a short space.
    I don’t readily give criticism, but I really do think this is a very special story, and it deserves only the softest touch. Thank you for sharing Jennifer. Always love reading your pieces. x

    • I really appreciate your feedback. I was pleased to just get it out & down on paper. It’s great to get this kind of objective, thoughtful, critique because this is what will help me improve & create work that does sing. I was conscious of trying to keep it short for this post, so I may well go and do some work on it, build it into something longer.
      J xx

  5. I like how you have described the cruelness of the characters and the scenery.
    The cat toyed with her mouse. Seems a very apt description.
    Glad that it sounds like you have moved on.
    You are brave for sharing – thankyou

  6. This is an excellent piece of writing – wonderful. It is moving and honest without being self pitying or self indulgent. It is more than just a description of your experience – it is good writing, well constructed, descriptive and clever. I love the line, ‘A pew for a congregation of sinners.’ as well as many other gems. Great stuff!

  7. Jennifer, this is an excellent piece of writing. Your descriptions are magnificent, and they brought vivid pictures to my mind as I was reading. I could feel your emotions throughout, and I was pulling for your victory. I’m so glad in turned in your favor. Great job.

  8. This is a great story. I know this from first hand. Change it from an ex hubby to one of my family members and you have summed up me in this story without the happy ending.

  9. Okay, so now I want to cry. This worked very well! I was obviously very caught up in it because I felt a rush of relief at the end (hence wanting to cry…). Some of your descriptions were particularly beautiful; “marbled halls echoing with swaggering trepidation” and “I’d spent the winter being slowly strangled by the waiting”. just superb!

  10. Jennifer – I agree with all the comments above. You have woven so many briliant lines, phrases and imagery throughout this amazing piece. The swaggering trepidation, the feeling of being strangled, the elegant venom – I read in awe of your writing and in horror of your story. Like Sif, I felt a huge rush of emotion at the end and the urge to cry as you headed to your children. Karen has offered some quite brilliant advice (as she does so well) and I absolultely agree that (if you want to) you should extend on this personal story. Even when you had your doubts about writing it, you ended up with a powerful piece of writing that impacted all of the commenters before me. I love your posts each week but this was my favorite.

    I hope you felt the exercise was worthwhile for you.

    Gill x

  11. I know you were asking for constructive criticism but I can’t give that because even I needs it. All I know is you write so bravely and with so much heart that i can feel all the emotions flowing to mine. I hope you have survive this crisis already. Who run the world? JENIFFER!



  12. Thank-you all very much for your feedback. It was tough to write – not so much emotionally, but trying to do the story justice. so it is really gratifying to read that you were so moved.
    J xx

  13. Hello Jennifer, I read this story a few days ago and like other commentators was totally knocked over by it. How bloody awful!! And the relief that you were able to get back safe to Australia. Whew!

    Thoughts… ‘All that should never have been said, had used all the words we had left for each other.’ I really like this but had to read it a couple of times to get it right, maybe needs tweaked a wee bit.

    And ‘it’s quick flow’= ‘its quick flow’ and I am so very bad at spotting my own typos!!

    It was so brave to write this, well done you. I just loved the paragraph of looking out of the window, nature, what your daughters were doing… in the midst of all that dark stuff. Shivers.

    • Thanks so much Seana, I really appreciate you taking time to give such a thoughtful comment. I’m a bit dyslexic when it comes to ‘its/it’s’, even though I check it I’m always getting it wrong! I always write form for from too! And I agree that sentence needs a tweak, I knew I hadn’t quite got there.
      J x

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