Gardening in the Dark


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175 in stock


By Jennifer Syrkiewicz

ISBN: 978-1-84747-986-0
Published: 2009
Pages: 180
Key Themes: fiction, bipolar affective disorder, depression, love, empowerment



Albert Camus wrote that the only real question a human being has to ask of themselves is; should I live, or should I die? Before this question is answered, we are unable to progress with life, to seize the grass and the smiles and the sunlight, because we are still pondering.

‘Gardening in the Dark’ follows the path of Alex, as she stumbles towards making this decision. Interspersed with her story we meet Ally, a young girl whose childhood is entirely affected by the impact of her Mother’s Bipolar.

Through Alex and Ally’s stories, we come to realise that the cyclical nature of the condition affects not just a single person, but entire generations. Despite this, ‘Gardening in the Dark’ is ultimately a poignant and evocative novel about love, embracing life, and personal triumph over tragedy

About the Author

Jennifer Syrkiewicz has been writing all her life, drawing from a mixture of personal experience and imagination to inform her fiction.

Diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder, Jennifer wrote her first novel, ‘Gardening in the Dark’, to raise awareness of the condition and express how Bipolar affects the lives of both the person diagnosed, and those around them. Since writing the novel, Jennifer has set up a support group for the condition in her area.

Jennifer was born in 1976, in Yorkshire. Following a meandering trail across the UK to attend various universities, she is now happily settled in North Yorkshire with her husband Paul and two dogs. She runs a small Communications business and spends most of her time blogging, writing articles and producing fiction and poetry.

Book Extract

Chapter Two

The road less taken was arduous work when you were drunk. It involved concentrating very hard on putting one booted foot before the other, and attempting to follow a complicated line. Did the road have to be in a winding line, Alex mused as she focussed on taking the necessary steps? Could it not be straight but just unused? The pavement seemed fully used as Alex meandered along it. Chewing gum stuck like little dots all over it, gleaming softly in the streetlights’ glare. Traffic approached behind her, shining out and illuminating her slight figure, then plunging her into darkness as the cars passed, leaving only two red lights to look at which shattered into shards if Alex screwed up her eyes.

The pavement was too bloody long. Alex was overtaken by ambulances, blaring and blue, as they streamed past her, go-faster stripes of squat white which smeared against her vision. Perhaps she should just walk and walk until one day she walked herself right out of the sadness and came out the other side. Or running would be better, to run so fast that she left it behind. She continued to walk. She had decided not to cry any more, as the tears had been a waste of time anyway, time which she did not want, and they served no purpose. Walking was better, walking without crying. She felt a knot of nervousness in her stomach about what she was about to do. Nervousness felt good. Feeling, just as a thing, felt good. It seemed as if she hadn’t felt for a very long time, even though the sadness had only lunged at her from above about three weeks ago. Three weeks is a long time to feel sad, if you do nothing but sit inside the sadness and let it weigh you down, until you can’t move anymore.

So, on the plus side stood walking. Feeling nervous. On the negative side stood effort, the cold, the sadness. She felt as if she were walking with more weight than usual, as if she had to carry the misery along with her like a leaden cloud on her head, or a shroud about her shoulders. But, all that was immaterial as the decision had been made. She was not going to cry any more. A man in a too-large leather coat loomed up in front of her, and then was gone. Her body responded sluggishly, as Alex felt fear only after the man had returned into the darkness. It made her smile, if only in a detached kind of way. Funny that the body will respond predictably to life, even when the mind has decided to shun it. That Alex could feel fear was a plus. Fear was excitement, just with a different aim. It felt the same. She searched inside herself, trying to remember a time when she had been excited about something. The recollection evaded her. However, her nervousness was growing with each step she took, pushing the misery to one side in order to take over her body fully. She enjoyed it. It was an abstract, useless feeling, but at least it was there.

Eventually, her feet slowed, and she approached a building. It was squat, built with brown brick, and illuminated too much, so that when she stared at it in fear, the brightness made her eyes hurt. She walked up to the entrance, stepped back, then walked around the corner and sat down on her haunches against the wall.

“This wall is where I’m supposed to be just now.” Alex mumbled to herself. She reached into her pocket to pull out her cigarettes and lighter. She carefully smoked a cigarette down to the last section, hoping that she would not be seen. She needed to think, but when she tried to sort out the jumble of fears and thoughts in her mind, nothing seemed to make any sense. But she had come this far. She was ready. She stood up again, brushed herself down, and walked once more to the glass doors which separated her from the lights inside.
Inside was almost empty, with the exception of four people sitting in twos along the wall. Alex hesitated as she looked through the doors into the room. She hadn’t thought this far ahead and suddenly felt unsure. The other road, the travelled path, felt suddenly safer, sleepier, and more secure. She paused at the entrance, and the automatic doors opened for her like an invitation as she stepped forwards cautiously. It was terribly quiet inside. There was a walled reception desk, with an elderly woman in stern glasses peering at pieces of paper, then tapping into a computer screen. Alex approached the desk with an overwhelming sense of trepidation.
“Be brave.” she said to herself, and her body responded by pumping out all the blood from her arms and legs and making her heart hammer. “Bastard body,” she whispered, as she used her will instead to propel forward until she could place her two index fingers on the smooth white of the reception desk.

“Hello.” she said, and the woman looked up, bored and irritable, for after all it was past midnight and Alex certainly didn’t look like she was an emergency.
“Can I help you?” the woman asked, her voice reflecting the expression on her face. Alex paused. She didn’t know the answer, so was not sure how to respond.

“I’m going crazy.” she said, the words apologetic. “And I want someone to help me with that.” she concluded. The sentence was all wrong, but how was she supposed to articulate the truth? The woman, surprisingly, accepted it.
“What’s your name, your address?” she asked, as if people wandered in to the Accident and Emergency department every evening and announced themselves in a similar vein. Alex supplied the details, and the woman asked her to take a seat. Alex hesitated.

10 reviews for Gardening in the Dark

  1. Andrew Kendall (verified owner)

    An brillaintly written book. Its a bit of an insight into mania and depression which has both awkward, heavy themes and uplifting, hopeful promises. It shows a three-dimensional character reacting to a confusing world around her, told through sometimes enchaningly poetic words. The pages just kept turning…

  2. Christine Marshall (verified owner)

    Brilliant piece of writing. One of those books you just have to keep reading and hoping it will never end. I almost felt as though I was there with the character. Superb read.

  3. Jacob Armstrong (verified owner)

    This novel is a heartbreaking but ultimately positive depiction of Bipolar Affective Disorder and the associated highs and lows of the condition. It’s also a great read ‘in itself’. Told with sensitivity and humour, the book deals with some truly difficult and emotive subjects with a strength and realism that in turn shocked and delighted me. This unknown author has produced a book which is frank, honest and brave. I will be reccommending this book to members of my BP support group and others, as a great introduction to the disorder, and a very good read. Well done to Jennifer for tackling a difficult subject with maturity and inisght.

  4. Alice Gresham (verified owner)

    I chose this book because I am interested in Bipolar, as my broither has just been diagnosed. I thought it was really helpful, describing the condition really well. More than that though it is a very well written novel with a great plot, likeable and believable main character and really nice way of looking at the world. I think it’s positive without being unrealistic, and a great book overall. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to learn about Bipolar, but also looking for a good book that keeps the pages turning and makes you want to think about things for a long time afterwards. I hope the writer has more books in the pipeline.

  5. Mark Ellersley (verified owner)

    Gardening in the Dark tells the story of a woman called Alex, who is struggling with depression. In the novel we learn about how she came to be at that particular point in her life, weaving backwards and forwards through her childhood (which is at times tough reading, but told with humour) and to the present, where she deals with her situation. Alex falls in love with an equally dynamic character and we are pulled through to a happy ending, but at times the book is quite harrowing. That said, I think it was well-written and well thought out, with some lovely pieces of lyrical writing.

  6. Ellen Wilkinson (verified owner)

    This was a good book, and I think it’s worth reading for anyone wanting an upbeat, at times funny, and sensitive view of mental health issues and how real people cope with them in real life. Worth a read.

  7. Jeremy Youngman (verified owner)

    Gardening in the Dark is the astonishing tale of a young girl named Alex who manages to survive a turbulent time as a youngster only to suffer depression and turn towards suicide in her later life. The novel interweaves the story of Alex’s traumatic childhood, at the hands of an abusive father and drunken mother, with her self-admission into hospital some years later where she is diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and undergoes psychiatric counselling. Jennifer’s book takes the reader on a compelling and shocking journey as the younger Alex tries to manage the conflicting relationships within her family, and the older one is forced to question her relationship with alcohol, her bipolar lover and ultimately her own relationship with herself. Although periods of Alex’s life are strikingly bleak, the book is interspersed with uplifting moments (whence the title) in a way that reflects the underlying theme of the novel – the dramatic impact that manic depression can have on an individual and those around them. Jennifer Syrkiewicz has used her wonderful talent with words to paint a vivid, touching and powerful insight in to the troubling world of mental illness.

  8. Alan Marshall (verified owner)

    Like most of the population I knew little, or nothing, about Bipolar Affective Disorder until I read this book. Jen’s insightful baring of her inner core is funny and heart-wrenching by turns and is never less than readable, often showing signs of creative brilliance. For a first novel this is a major triumph and heralds a stellar career as a writer of first class literature.

  9. Emma Thompson (verified owner)

    For starters- Gardening in the dark is the perfect title for this book. The writer successfully jumps from old to new to old and back detailing the present time and providing a glimmer of the past in betweeen. Here’s to more books by this author.

  10. Jamie Baler (verified owner)

    I think that Bipolar disorder has become more well-known as a condition over the past few years, following celebrities such as Stephen Fry who have highlighted awareness of the disorder. Still, there are relatively few authors who tackle the subject and Jennifer has done this really well in this novel. I liked the characters and the way the story was narrated, and the humour in the book makes you laugh even when you’re crying. I think this would be a good introductory text for people wanting to learn more about Bipolar, and also who are looking for the positive and uplifting side to the disorder, when so many people focus on the negatives.

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