Ilfracombe author Susan Hutchins

OPINION: Meet Ilfracombe author Susan Hutchins - Dave Griffin

Dave Griffin

Few women, and it mostly is women, who have lived in the shadow of an unstable alcoholic, feel either willing or able to discuss their disturbing experiences.

They become accustomed to the antics of men who to friends and colleagues are popular and charming street angels, and yet indoors become home devils. Some guys who nobody would expect to lash out at their wives do just that.

Partners of such individuals endure lives in which an ever-present threat of spontaneous intemperance is moments away.

Violence may erupt without warning at the most inopportune time and generally for a trivial reason, totally ruining birthday parties and Christmas celebrations.

Ilfracombe author Susan Hutchins has tackled head on the taboo subjects of domestic abuse in her short stories and novels, the latest of these being The Singing Hitchhiker, launched at Ilfracombe Library last month.

What powerful unvarnished descriptions they are of marriages to men whose lives are dependent on alcohol.

London-born mother-of-two Susan has herself been a victim of booze-fuelled aggression whilst living with an alcoholic husband in Bristol and Ireland. It’s not just men.

Listeners to Radio 4’s rural soap, The Archers, are following the progress of one of its characters, Alice, an alcoholic who fears her child may be taken into care.

When interviewing Susan at her delightful home, I was impressed by her determination at having overcome her now historic setbacks. There is little sign of victimhood or trauma lingering from a troubled past.

She holds no rancour towards her former spouse, now deceased, whom she believes was himself a reluctant victim of addiction.

Now happily single, ‘nearer eighty than seventy’, and articulate and relaxed, there is no evidence of the stammer that once rendered her virtually incommunicative.

During her itinerant working life as a window-dresser, gardener, and within the NHS, Susan made a point of observing those around her.

At a Bristol Hospital, her boss encouraged her to develop her artistic flair, finding her a place at the city’s Art College.

Her paintings and sculptures have been displayed at Ilfracombe’s annual Art Trail, which, after moving from Bristol, Susan founded alongside local artist Jo Beech.

Susan understands and empathises the terrifying existence that thousands of women cope with daily, typically without support and often without money or the means to escape.

She has shared the complex and unpredictable lives of the protagonists in her books, the first of which was Playinground, set in the heatwave of 1976.

Her subjects are caught up in the sexual revolution of that year. One finds the means to flee from a controlling and violent home life.

Susan’s second novel, Skylark, is an insight to what it is like to live within a controlled marriage. In preparation is Roses Round The Door, true stories told from the perspective of someone who has witnessed the seamier side of alcoholism.

Although Susan’s books deal with difficult relationships, they are eminently readable. Why not pop into Ilfracombe Bookshop and discover a world alien to many of us?

Gloriously Potty Bird Man Is Back This Saturday

Ilfracombe’s gloriously eccentric Bird Man contest returns this week. Last year’s event was muted thanks to the wretched Covid, but its revival this Saturday promises to be a jolly occasion for all, with families and locals eager to watch self-propelled aviators launching themselves from the pier in their hopeless bids to fly.

There will be music and stalls, and just for the day, why not ignore NHS dietary advice by devouring a quarter-pound burger and a huge ice cream with flake.

The big problem is parking and once again Ilfracombe faces the nightmare of cars circling the town for non-existent spaces.

The clear answer is a Park and Shuttle at Mullacott Cross. Here’s the chance for a landowner and a bus operator to make some cash and ease congestion when our streets are full of parades and marches.

Come on, someone at Mullacott. There’s a super business opportunity here!