True account of Luton mother’s descent into mental illness

Author Judy Darby whose book A Bundle of Sticks is about her childhood in Luton and her mother's descent into mental illness after being forced to give up her seventh child for adoption

Author Judy Darby whose book A Bundle of Sticks is about her childhood in Luton and her mother's descent into mental illness after being forced to give up her seventh child for adoption

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Life wasn’t easy for the Darby family growing up first in Dunstable, then Luton, at the end of World War Two.

Money was scarce and their mother Violet was a fragile, sometimes violent woman given to sudden mood swings. Her six children tried to keep out of the way or cowered under bedclothes at night when she argued with their father, who attempted to keep the peace but wasn’t always successful.

The situation spiralled out of control when a seventh baby had to be given up for adoption and Violet’s mental health, never stable, declined even further.

A Bundle of Sticks is the heartbreaking account of that descent, told through the eyes of sixth child Judy Darby, now 73, who originally penned it for her MA in non ficton.

The mother-of-four says: “I simply had to write it to clarify the appalling events of the past for myself and I think it was cathartic. My oldest brother Tony always encouraged me but sadly he didn’t live to see its completion.”

The prologue describes how six years after the adoption, Judy and her sister Jill won a poetry competition at Dunstable Music Festival. They stayed to watch the youngest entrants, one of whom was the child who was adopted, also poignantly called Judy.

Judy recalls: “My mother had never seen the baby, who was given away at birth, but some atavistic instinct kicked in.”
She often saw her adopted sister at Luton High School although it was many years before the two met officially.

Judy, who now lives in Feltham, says: “Luton will always be my home and I go back a great deal to meet her.”

> A Bundle of Sticks (New Generation Publishing) is available at W H Smith in The Mall.