RSS Feed

Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Silky briefs” (not to be read whilst drinking hot coffee)

Penelope Golightly drew out a cigarette from the silver case she kept at her bedside for these occasions and lit it. The young barrister that she had instructed was weary from his final submissions. He looked at her with his deep ice-blue eyes, flecked with hazel and flecked again with jade green and flecked still more with steely gray (there was perhaps altogether far too much going on with his eyes).

“May I…  hand in my FAS form?” he asked her in a throaty voice.

She examined it closely.  “I’m not entirely sure that your timings are accurate here. I can’t allow it. You greatly overstated the time estimate in the first place. “

“But,” protested young Tarquin Snaresbound, “I attended an hour before the appointment for…. discussions. As directed. “

“So be it,” she said and she began to melt the candle-wax into a small delicate porcelain bowl.

“However,” she added with a wry smile, “You have ticked the box here that said that two experts were involved. And by my reckoning, there was certainly only one present. I’m afraid that until you are as good off your feet as you are on them, there will be meagre pickings from this tribunal.”

His high cheekbones coloured with shame, “Have some charity,” he said, “This form is my very livelihood.”

Penelope dipped the seal into the hot wax and applied it to the paper “My dear Tarquin, if you wanted the maximum uplift on the Form, you needed to deliver the same.”

Noting that he was crestfallen, she added, “Perhaps next time you should bring along a McKenzie Friend?”

 

(Be grateful that I didn't go down the "I put it to you" route...)

(Be grateful that I didn’t go down the “I put it to you” route…)

 

[I am SO sorry.  I partially blame Garfield and Pauline for the suggestion that my next novel should be a legal bodice-ripper. As you can see here, I think not.   I also apologise for now having the idea that FAS in this context is a F_____ Assessment Survey and making the next time you have to hand a genuine FAS form up in Court a somewhat awkward experience. ]

Update about the book

So this is what is happening at the moment with the book.  I finished my own edit at the end of October, and I reached the point where I’m happy with the book. Or at least, the point where I don’t think I myself can see anything else that needs fixing. You can just be too close to it to be able to be as clinical as you need to be to push through and strive for improvement.

That edit went off to Unbound and they have the manuscript with an editor who is going to go through it in both a small scale (sentence by sentence, word by word) way and a big picture way (would it be better if this character did this, or that this incident that happens here was instead this different scene)

That’s quite a daunting prospect – because now I’m waiting for the annotated edited manuscript to come back, and it will be someone really getting under the bonnet of the book and really scrutinising it to see where it works, where it doesn’t work and how to make it better.

 

editing

The only thing I can really compare it to is that bit in Trinny and Susannah where they get some poor woman down to her undies and discuss her body and what are her best bits and how she should dress better (hopefully without the groping element that always seemed to happen).   It’s more than a little terrifying, but the idea is that someone from the outside without an emotional attachment to the book will be in the best place to make constructive suggestions to make it be the best it can be.

That process is going to take a couple of months, then it comes back to me and I go through the suggestions – some will be really easy, I think – the sentence level stuff, and some might be hard – this character isn’t believeable, or this bit of the plot doesn’t work at all might be very hard. I then work through the book again, deciding how to make those fixes and do the rewrites to get it to work better.  (I get final say, obviously, but I’m going to try very hard to be open-minded and not defensive about my little darlings)

When we have a finished version of the book it then goes off to a proof-reading editor, who will be fixing typos and grammatical issues, and I know in advance that they are going to be cursing me for sprinkling my prose with commas and taking loads of them out.

When that’s done, it is galley-proofs and choosing a cover and doing the blurb about the book – the really fun stuff.

All in all, that’s probably going to be about 3 months, though it is hard to call exactly how long it will take, because it depends how much of the next stage is about fixes that are like replacing a lightbulb and painting the radiator and how much is about installing a new kitchen or replacing the roof.

People can still pledge and get copies, so if you haven’t got round to it yet, get stuck in.

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

Thank you to everyone for their support, it means a huge amount to me and I honestly can’t express how much I appreciate it.

Resident music (not a law post)

 

It is roughly a year since I stumbled into an independent record shop in Brighton. Something in the window caught my eye, and I’m thankful that it did. When I went in, as well as rows of records and the new releases, the shop had their ten albums of the year on display. And more than that, they had a write up about each of them, and an annual in which the people who staff the shop wrote with passion, style and charm about their favourite records that had been released that year.

That’s my sort of record shop. And I haven’t had that sort of relationship with a record shop in a long time, not since I left Lincoln and Radio City.  A shop where people don’t just sell music, they love it. And they want to help you find stuff you’re going to love too.

I bought the release that had caught my eye, and two other albums from the top ten. Artists I’d never heard of and they blew me away. Over the last six weeks of 2015 I bought everything from their top 20 choices in the annual, and didn’t regret any of them.

Every week Resident send me a newsletter by email about the new albums coming out on a Friday, and a little pen portrait of each.  I usually end up buying three or four a week, and put them on my ipod and listen to them on my way to work, on my way to Court, on my way to meetings, on my way home. It makes it a treat to be travelling, because I’m accompanied by music.

So since I found Resident Music in Brighton, I’ve bought about two hundred albums that they recommended – some very obviously right up my street and some that pushed me into new corners, different places. Of those two hundred, there have been two that I didn’t like  (and I didn’t HATE those, I just didn’t get that fast connection that I’ve had to anything else they recommended)

Resident are publishing their next annual tomorrow, and are having a little party to celebrate. If you like music, and feel like you’ve gotten a bit rusty, or a bit predictable in what you listen to, or you’ve lost touch with what’s going on out there, pick up the annual and read the little reviews, and take a chance on a couple that grab your attention.

If you don’t live in Brighton, you can still get in on the action by visiting their website http://www.resident-music.com  and you can order from them and sign up to the newsletter.

 

Here are a few of my favourite albums of this year. Whilst it has been an utterly terrible year for politics and losing talented humans (see below, which is NOT SAFE FOR WORK ) it has been a GREAT year for music

 

 

Not in any particular order, just albums that I really really liked.

 

Drive-by Truckers –  American Band

If what’s happening over in America at the moment is making you feel pretty down on the country, then this is a bit of an antidote – punchy, crunchy, full of hooks and ideas and damn political too.  It’s a great listen, and my best description is Springsteen and Michael Stipe getting drunk in a bar that is playing GOOD country music and decide to write songs about the state of the nation. It’s not bleak or worthy, it is medicine for the soul.

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=43498

 

The Avalanches – Wildflower

 

If you want an album to listen to whilst drinking beer or wine and lying in a field feeling like you’re in love and everything’s going to be fine with the world (or even just something that makes you FEEL that way, in the bleak midwinter) this is a fine choice. This is an album by a band who were throwing away more ideas than most ever come up with – don’t like this song? Don’t worry, the next one sounds nothing like it.

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=42647

 

Honeyblood – Babes Never Die

 

There are loads of ways to make a great album – one of them is to push the boundaries and stretch what the form is capable of. Another is to just write ten songs that are absolute bangers and put them in a good order.  You may already have heard “Ready for the Magic” as a car advert, particularly if you watch Sky, because that ad is on a LOT.  You know when you’re listening to an album and you say “Oh, turn it up, I love this one” ?   Well, that’s the whole album. You’re just going to want to keep turning it up. Resident’s description of a “Scottish take in Courtney Barnett” is a cracking one, and if Courtney Barnett doesn’t mean anything to you, then you’re in for another treat when you discover her.

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=43315

 

Car seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

As a big fan of Pavement and Flaming Lips but wanting a modern take on it, I was always going to like this – lo-fi pop about peculiar themes and people on the edges of society and the edges of their lives. Clever, full of ideas and funny as hell. Loads of tunes you’re going to really want to wig out to, and it is almost impossible to resist the “Friends are better with drugs are better with friends are better with drugs” hook that is the centrepiece. Love it love it love it

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=43315

 

Kate Tempest – Let them eat Chaos

I can’t think of anything I dislike much more than spoken word poetry, so when I read the description of this in the newsletter I had decided to give it a miss. Thankfully, when I went into the shop it was playing, and I stood rooted to the spot listening to it, heard three tracks, bought it, and it didn’t come off the playlist for a month.  And I listen to it at least once a week, in full.  It’s an album that made me feel okay about Southern Rail cancelling trains because I’d get to hear this again whilst I was waiting.

It is so sharp, and vivid and occasionally vicious, but it is shot through with kindness and decency of spirit and hope. The best storytelling I’ve heard on an album in years – the characters in the songs have distinctive voices and Kate changes her style around throughout and makes all of them real – flawed and battered but real.  In a year of sensational music, this one is my absolute favourite. It makes me grin like a wolf, it brings tears to my eyes, it makes me punch the air, it makes me laugh out loud.  The closest I can get is that it makes me feel the way I felt when I was first listening to the Streets Original Pirate Material – that this was bringing the streets to life in a fresh, funny,  interesting and occasionally challenging way.  You can’t get a taste less you’re taking a bite.   And it is damn funky. The beats in it really work and her voice is a delight. It’s a truly outstanding record, and I am really looking forward to seeing her do a live set next Wednesday.

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&path=12966&product_id=43810

 

 

(I don’t work for Resident, nor do I have anything to gain by this piece – it is just that if we want people to carry on making great music then we need to put money in the pockets of the artists making it – the internet has made us all think that content should always be free, but if you hear music and love it and want more of it, then it is cool to give the people who make it and bring it to the attention of listeners some money to help them keep doing it. Sermon over)

 

 

99 problems but a book ain’t one

Aren't you sharp as a tack? you some kind of law or something?

Aren’t you sharp as a tack? you some kind of law or something?

 

Thank you all of you fabulous people. 3 weeks to go on the crowd-funding for the book, and we just hit 99%. It has been amazing how kind and generous people have been.

Where we are at now is that I just need £30 to get the book funded, and out there to all of the wonderful supporters. I’m pretty sure we can make that. And payday is here, or looming.

The next stage, after it is funded is for me to finish the hard rewrite  – that’s where you’ve left a book completely alone for 3 months so that you’re not so close to it and you can make the cuts. What Fitzgerald refers to as ‘killing your darlings’ – that sentence or image you’re so proud of but that in the cold light of day doesn’t move the scene forward or slows the pace, you’ve got to cut it.  If a whole scene doesn’t quite deliver, you might have to cut it out, or rewrite the whole thing.  The early chapters before your characters took on their own life where you were just dragging them round like wardrobes – you need to rewrite those bits now that she starts, she moves, she seems to feel the stir of life along her keel.

You can’t do that until you’ve got some professional distance from the book you’ve written, because whilst on rewrites adding new words and moments is really easy, cutting them is the hard bit. It really is killing your darlings.

I like rewrites generally, but cuts are hard.  That’s hopefully the bit that turns an okay book into a good one, and with an authors eye, boy can I spot when a published writer wasn’t able to do it. It is those bits in a book that make you wince with clunkiness and pull you straight out of the scene and ruin the whole willing suspension of disbelief that’s so vital.  (If you’re not sure what I mean, pick up a copy of the Da Vinci Code, turn to any page at random and read it. The first sentence that you read that makes you go “oh, that’s awful”  is the bit that should have been cut or rewritten.

I’m a naked and unashamed fan of Raymond Chandler, and one of the true joys of his work is that if you get a second copy and a red pen, you can pick any page at random and try to cut a passage or a line or a word to improve the work, and it is extraordinarily difficult or even impossible. Every word there is doing work, it carries its own weight, and it is necessary.

[Mark Twain]

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”

 

[Damn right. Similarly be brutal with all the  ‘she exclaimed’, ‘he retorted’ ‘she sneered’ ‘Michael roared’  – use only very sparingly, if at all]

After that, I get to work with the Unbound editor, and that’s when we really start the polishing process, and then when that’s done, all the sexy exciting stuff like working on a cover and getting the final version and the proofs and an Amazon listing gets going!

Thank you again so much, and if you haven’t funded yet but keep meaning to get round to it, this is a really good time.

 

In the words of Jay-Z himself, “Thank you thank you thank you, you’re far too kind”

 

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

An offer for Sunday

 

The people publishing my book, Unbound, are doing an offer today for the Olympics.

If you go to the site and use the code Rio16  you will get a £10 pledge for free.   If  you wanted the book, but have no money, this would be your chance.  As the tenner doesn’t go to the fundraising total, what would be even better  is if you use the code to turn a £10 pledge into a £20 one.

But I know that some of my readers are on very tight budgets, so if you wanted the book but couldn’t afford it, this is your chance. Today only, though.

 

The fund-raising is going really well. I reached the half-way point of the campaign (45 days of 90) yesterday, and we are at 78%.  Every single Pledge now helps get us over the line, and makes the book happen.  Thank you so much for everyone who HAS pledged, it’s an incredibly kind and thoughtful thing to do and is massively appreciated. If you’ve been meaning to do it but haven’t got around to it yet , let this be a tender, loving, nudge in the ribs   (much like an old married couple where one of them is hoping for breakfast in bed)

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

Paperback writer, paperback writer

 

The pledging for the book is going really well, and as we start a second month it is looking very positive for getting my book published.

So two bits of news today.

The first is that I have found a way to get a limited number of paperbacks produced once the book is published – and everyone who pledged at Launch Party level or above will get a copy!  And the next twenty people to pledge at Super Patron or above will get one as well.  (If you don’t live near to me, I’ll get it posted to you and we’ll sort out the details nearer the time.  I will sort Norma out with a hard copy too, as I know she wanted one)

 

The second is that I’m putting up a bit more of a sample – so this contains the bit of the background of where the book is set (which was in the first sample section), and we get to meet some more of the characters – including some of the female characters.

 

So if you like it, and you want to read the whole thing – please visit and Pledge. Particularly if you want to hold a paperback copy and be able to write comments in the margins or (Heaven forbid) bend the pages backwards, fold over corners to mark your place and crack the spine.  Today is a great day to get it done! Next TWENTY Pledges get a paperback copy.

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

 

Saffron Park

 

In 2015, over two hundred children in England and Wales were placed in Secure Accommodation, meaning that they could be locked up for their own welfare without having been convicted of or charged with any criminal offence.  Basically, a prison for their own good. Many of the basic freedoms that most children take for granted – being able to go out with friends, to go outside when you choose to, being able to make calls on a mobile phone, being able to use the internet, the ability to sleep in a bedroom that doesn’t have a locked door, these are all things that have to be earned in a Secure Accommodation Centre.  These children are locked up because they usually have a history of running away from other sorts of care, from their parents, from foster homes or children’s homes, and when they run away they do things that put themselves, or other people at risk.

Ten such children at a time could be accommodated at Saffron Park, a state of the art Secure Accommodation Centre.  Saffron Park had walls that could not be scaled, gate system that could only be released by staff inside a sealed Gatehouse building, which cannot be accessed from outside.  Complete security. Complete peace of mind. Built in 2007, located in Dartmoor. Remote location, meaning that in the unlikely event of an escape, the young person will always be quickly recovered – no bus stops or train stations within nine miles. No neighbouring villages where refuge could be sought.

On site educational facilities, even the ability to conduct examinations. Recreational facilities including a gym. All meals provided and cooked on site. In house therapist to deliver bespoke packages of treatment for any form of difficulty. Five trained and qualified members of staff on hand at all times, even during the night. Staff rotated once per week, to maintain freshness and vigilance.

Expensive? Well yes, places like Saffron Park are always very expensive. Managing risks like these doesn’t come cheap, and for the sorts of problems they are dealing with, there’s very limited competition. Children don’t come to places like Saffron Park if there’s a cheaper solution, if their problems can be fixed or contained another way. Saffron Park is the place where they send children who can’t be managed in other Secure Units. The worst of the worst. Saffron Park is where they send you just before they give up on you completely.

It’s where they send the deeply troubled. The runners, the cutters.

 

All of that, of course, could be read on the Saffron Park website, on their glossy promotional brochure. The thing they didn’t boast about, because they had utterly no idea of it; was that they didn’t routinely have ten prisoners. They had eleven.  That eleventh having been in prison for decades longer than Saffron Park had even existed. A prisoner who was hungrier for freedom than any of the children who came and went, and more disturbed and damaged than any of them.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Three

 

Lauren

 

Monday 26th October 7.30pm

 

 

Lauren looked up to make sure that Mr King’s attention was elsewhere  – it was, of course. It being the meal-time, Mr King [12 stone 5 pounds, has gained 2 pounds in the last fortnight] had to keep a careful eye on Sharp to make sure that no knives surreptitiously left the serving table to come into his possession. He also had to watch Boo, to make sure that she didn’t do anything too unusual.  Lauren quickly and with practised ease scraped all of the mayonnaise [90 calories, 24 minutes walking] from her lettuce [15 calories, 6 minutes walking]  onto a knife, scraped it off the knife and onto her thumb and then smeared the mayo from her thumb onto the underside of the table where it would not be found.

She dragged her thumb along the wooden slats of the picnic style table, enjoying the roughness of the wood. The closest she got to nature these days was this picnic table, which had probably never seen a forest. That was pretty dispiriting, she thought. She would have given anything to walk in a wood, hear a wood pigeon, feel her foot snap on a twig, look at the oranges and reds of autumn leaves. Hell, she would even settle for a seagull. No nature in Saffron Park. Apart from some scrubby grass and the little herb garden outside. No proper garden. She could understand, to be fair, why a Secure Unit wouldn’t be too keen on giving children access to shovels. That didn’t stop her having pangs for not being able to see nature. Beyond the walls, sure, there was a national park, but what good was that? The walls were too high to see over.

Sheets of glass loomed above them. They’d built Saffron Park to be light and airy, to have this pointed glass roof, like a cross between a church and a greenhouse, so that they could see the sky and not feel squashed and imprisoned. Everything was supposed to make it feel as little like a prison as they could manage. Lots of light, lots of glass, no bars, little discreet pads near the door that the staff would open with a pressed fingerprint. When it was sunset and you could see shrimp streaks of clouds in the sky and the sun hung there like a swollen peach, it was quite a good view looking up, but not in the winter. There were the stars, of course, but she’d never really been good with stars.  They just made her feel inadequate. More so.

You could do all sorts with a building, but the fact remained that the only real way to make a building not feel like a prison was to have doors that everyone inside could open any time they liked.

Lauren ate the lettuce which was cold and crisp. She would have preferred celery, but it had been a struggle to even get them to let her have salad at all.  She pushed at her prawns [22 calories each, 9 minutes walking] with a fork, pulling a face.

Brick leaned over.  His skin was the colour of wine-bottle glass. He was the oldest of all of them, but even allowing that, he looked like an adult. He could grow a beard within a week, and the same day as a shave, he would have re-stubbled. He looked like an adult. Lauren thought sometimes like a younger Idris Elba.  Especially in his eyes. Such deep eyes. Went with his tuba of a deep voice, very London, very Street.

“You gonna eat that?”

“Help yourself,” she said, “Just don’t get caught.”

“Lauren, when was the last time I got caught doing anything?” he said, popping four prawns into his mouth with one bite.

Making the vodka in the toilet cistern, getting those mucky films smuggled in, becoming the fifth Daisy tattoo on Sharp’s right arm , cheeking Mr Veal and Miss Litton,  trying to germinate cannabis seeds in the airing cupboard, staying up way beyond lights out, dismantling the fan, doing leapfrogs over the sundial and misjudging the height, throwing the soft-ball bat on the roof, the home-made hair dye which accounted for both Brick and Boo currently sporting ink-blue crops and having to wait for it to grow out,  borrowing Al’s deodorant without asking, putting a saucepan lid in the microwave and hoping for lightning, she thought.  In fact, pretty much anything that Brick attempted to do without Robin being there to plan it tended to go wrong. He had a lot of qualities, Brick, but being discreet or subtle was not on the list.

He read her expression. “Okay, sometimes I get caught. But that’s probably because I’ve not been getting enough seafood to fuel my massive brain”

She laughed. “Massive biceps, I get. Massive brain is news to me.”

“You ain’t seen me code,” said Brick, “If they would let me loose with a computer in here. I’d make the screen dance for you. Blow your mind, what I can make happen.”

She shrugged. Computers didn’t do much for her. Settling down somewhere to be quiet and still to watch birds would be more her thing. Blurring herself into the background, pressing into a hedge, lifting up strings of barbed wire and squeezing through the gap.  God, she even missed getting dog muck on her shoe and having to scrape it off with leaves or sticks. How pathetic was that, to be missing dog muck? She scuffed the heel of her shoe along the vinyl tile on the floor to enjoy the sound it made, imagined that she was cleaning the soles. She was day-dreaming about having dog muck on her shoes. Pathetic.

“I’m guessing you’re not going to eat that chocolate pudding,” he said to her.

157 calories, she said in her head. What she said out loud was, “I’d really owe you one. I’ve been feeling sick thinking about it.”

“Load it onto a spoon, and give me a second,” Brick said, “Watch for Jen to make her move.”

Brick gave Jen the signal that a distraction was needed. Jen was too pretty, made-up older than her years but unlike Brick her eyes said that she was young even under the weight of the Maybelline. It was hard for Lauren to look at her without thinking of a six year old tottering around in mum’s high-heeled shoes. Jen yelled out, “Mr King! Boo’s stolen my lipstick!

Mr King came over to her, looking concerned. “Are you sure? When did you see it last?”

“I had it right here,” Jen whined, “It’s a cerise pink. It’s very expensive. My boyfriend bought it for me, it was a special present. It’s not right that she should steal it.”

“Elizabeth,” said Mr King, looking at Boo, “Is this true? Have you taken Jen’s lipstick?”

Boo looked sulky, under her ink-blue fringe, “I wouldn’t touch it. I certainly wouldn’t use it. If it’s been all over her lips, god knows what else has touched those.”

“Oy!” yelled Jen, “You cheeky cow!”

“Could you stand up please Elizabeth?”

Boo  stood up and Mr King got her to turn out her pockets to check whether there was any trace of the lipstick. Boo was wearing a cowboy hat complete with sheriff’s badge, a Scooby Doo T-shirt and black and white chequered chef’s trousers. They had given up trying to make sense of Boo’s outfits. At the same time as Mr King was frisking Boo for the non-existent lipstick, Brick finished off the chocolate pudding, and Lauren dipped a finger into it and smeared a tiny amount [5 calories, tops] onto her teeth. Don’t taste it, don’t swallow it.  Just enough so that if King checks your mouth, he’ll see that you’ve been eating the chocolate.

“Hey,” said Brick, “You know there are two beds free.”

“Well duh,” said Lauren, “Maths is not a problem for me. Do you know how much maths I have to do in my head every day? How many calories in this, how many carbs in that? How much have I burned by doing 30 crunches? How many chin-ups can I do at night in the time between Litton passing by my door to when she’ll swing back on the next patrol? So yeah, I know that we’re two beds free. They’ll fill them soon enough. Two more boys. Joy.  Brilliant. Well, I suppose girls are even worse. At least you boys don’t talk all the time. I’d gladly take two more Caseys. That would be perfect.”

“I rang Robin today,” said Brick, with a big dumb grin on his face, “He’s coming home.”

Banged up

I thought I’d write a little about the setting for In Secure, my book that you can pledge for here

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

(Hope you enjoy – if you do, please visit and support, and share this with others. We are nearly half-way to the Pledge target – and this is week 3 of 13, so huge thanks to all of those who have helped)

 

My book is set in a Secure Accommodation Centre, called Saffron Park, which is located on Dartmoor. Secure Centres are a special sort of children’s home where children can be locked up – they aren’t the same as a juvenile prison or Borstal, in that a lot of the children there won’t have committed any crime – they are there because they run away from home generally. Sometimes their own home, sometimes foster homes or other children’s homes. And because when they run away they put themselves in danger, they hurt themselves or other people hurt them, or sometimes they hurt other people.

These places really exist, and there are children much like the ten children that I write about in them.

I was interested in writing a book where, well, if you imagine the Harry Potter series but now imagine that Draco Malfoy would be considered the goody-two-shoes of the book. A lot of fiction for young people, the characters are heroic – sometimes with flaws, but nonetheless straight heroes. You know Katniss is going to stand up for the weak, you know Harry is going to fight evil, you know Cyril and Robert and Anthea are going to try to pay for the ginger beer they drank when they were stuck in the Church after their wings wore off.

I thought it would be more interesting to read about characters where you weren’t sure, perhaps could never be sure which way they might react in a given circumstance – because their circumstances mean that they aren’t heroic or noble. They might be capable of those things, but they each might be capable of out-Voldermorting Voldemort, if the opportunity arose.  Especially if wicked author that I am, I put tools and power and temptation in front of them.   (There were quite a few times when writing it that I wasn’t sure what particular characters might do, and when they did it, they’d faked me out too)

So, a set of children all with problems and worries and flaws and secrets – big secrets, all locked up together seemed like a good starting point.

And then I was thinking about two memories I had.

The first was being seven years old. My bathroom had a lock on it. A chubby silver lozenge of a lock that you would turn to the right and it would lock the door. Turn it back to the left, and it would unlock. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

I was always told not to lock the door – the lock was for grown-ups and I wasn’t to use it. I don’t really remember what was in my mind when I did lock it. I remember how scared I was when I tried to unlock it and the lozenge was too stiff and heavy to move back. I remember panic that went up through my feet, made my chest pound like something inside was knocking to get out and gave me the taste in my mouth I’d only ever got from accidentally eating a bit of Kit-Kat that had a shard of tinfoil still stuck to it.  (Michael Stipe was right – aluminium really does taste like fear).

I waited and waited. I tried the lock again. And again. I wrapped a towel round my hands, hoping that I’d get more leverage and the dampness of my hands would be counteracted. It didn’t work. I took off my shoes – trainers that were yellow and black and had pictures of jungle cats around the outside just above the sole (cheetah, lynx, puma, leopard), and hit the lock with those. What I didn’t do was shout for help, or bang on the door.

Because as scared as I was of being locked in that room, of never getting out, of being in there, I was just as scared as having to tell my parents that I’d turned the lock. Broken the rule, and not only that, been too weak to get away with it.

Eventually, it emerged that I was trapped in there. I think someone came to try to use the bathroom, found it locked and asked a series of questions that didn’t take away that tinfoil taste on my tongue one bit. None of the suggestions for how to get out worked.

And then my dad got his window-cleaning ladders and climbed up to the bathroom window, which I had to open. I was too scared to climb down the ladder so he had to climb in and open the lock.

I left that house 12 years later, and I still never wanted to look directly at the lock the whole time.

THEN the second memory. I was about 26, and starting out as a care lawyer. One of the things I had to do from time to time was advise on Secures – should such and such a child be locked up for their own good, were the tests met, was it the right thing to do. And my boss decided it would be a good thing for us all to visit a Secure home, to see what it was like. I really didn’t want to go. I knew I wouldn’t like it. Like I know without having to do it that I wouldn’t enjoy sword-swallowing.

I had to go. We got there, and a member of staff took us to the first door. She opened it up with two keys, and we went into a little vestibule. Ten of us in there, a rectangular room with that door at one end, and another door at the other. Nothing else there.  The member of staff locked the first door with those two keys and moved past us to the other door.

And I thought, “I can’t get out of here. I can only get out if that person wants me to get out.”

Obviously I crushed that down with “She’s going to open the door now, you’re not really locked in, she’s opening it right now with two different keys”

But really I was just that seven year old stuck in the bathroom again.

There are all sorts of fears to write about or think about – you can scare people with snakes, or falling, or men with hooks for hands hiding in the back seat of your car – my friend Matt is so afraid of sharks he can’t take a shower without putting the plug in (yes, because sharks can obviously come up through the plug hole, that’s exactly how sharks work). But I knew that I understood the fear of being locked in, and I think most other people can react to it too.

So, that’s why the book is set in something like a prison.

 

 

lock