Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chapter 1 of a book i'm writing - opinions welcome!

Wow, Christmas Day 2013. I have a flight booked to return to UK on Sunday after almost 8 years in Australia. I start a new job on Jan 6 and moving the family over. Furthermore, this post will be the first where I share a segment of my book. A book that I've been writing on and off for almost 18 months. I'd love you to take a look at the first chapter of the book below and let me know your thoughts on the writing.

It's a book observing and exploring social behaviour in a fictional context. The premise is as follows: The UK is engulfed in anti-social behaviour. The public are afraid to visit their town or city centres in the evenings, making them almost trapped in their own homes and something has to be done. A new Government sweeps into power off the back of a promise to reclaim the streets from the thuggery that has plagued them. They research policy after policy and finally turn to science for an answer. They realise they can't change people's behaviour but they can measure when someone is doing or thinking of doing good or bad. To counter bad behaviour, they make people pay.

Soon, the public realise that whenever they do or think about doing anything bad they end up paying for it financially. Not in terms of a fine but more having to pay £4.50 for a beer instead of £3.50 or paying £900 for a fridge instead of £750. As you can imagine, people start to try and take advantage of this and chaos ensues.

There are numerous twists and turns, plots and sub-plots throughout but the above should give you a flavour... and the below... well that's just the start. Enjoy reading and let me know what you think:

Chapter 1:
Early July, Addlestone, Surrey.
The evening sun was still providing enough warmth to call the temperature balmy. The old woman left the grocery store clutching her bag full of essentials; milk and bread for breakfast tomorrow along with a treat for this evening, her one real vice, a Toffee Crisp.

She passed the pub on the corner where the Sunday locals were still trying to cram as much ‘weekend’ into their weekend. The working week was around the corner but they were doing their best to make that particular bend a long one.

The chatter was incessant and created a tapestry of words that morphed into a kind of song broken only by the occasional blasts of hearty laughter.

At this time of year, even though it was only just over half through, the old woman’s mind always transported her forward a few months to Christmas. She was excited about this year, her kids were coming home to make it a good old fashioned family occasion. Her son had already arranged his tickets from Canada and her daughter was coming down from Leeds.

This year was a special one because it would be the first time she would be able to see her grandson. The thought made her smile and before she knew it she was halfway home. There was still the park to go through and that always worried her.

It’s not that the park was particularly scary it’s just that the kids that were hanging around by the children’s playground these days always seemed very rowdy and, more often than not, had been drinking.

She’d been reading in the paper about all the trouble on Britain’s streets and how the youth of the country were, what fancy word did they use… that’s it ‘disenfranchised’. She remembered looking in her dictionary to find out what it meant. Disenfranchised, to be deprived of power, to be marginalised.

She always had her dictionary handy for when she struggled with the crossword. She was ok with the celebrity names and also the cooking terms but wasn’t so assured with clues about history or politics.

Her attention had been drawn more frequently to articles about anti-social behaviour but she’d been around too long to know when the media reports were for their own convenience. She’d always tried to see the good in people and this mentality led her to believe that the press were blowing all the problems out of proportion and scaring the public to try to sell more papers.

As she turned the corner to walk through the gates of the park she could already hear the angry voice of youth.

“Oi, fuck off Nick, you know she’s a slapper anyway.”

“Whatever…. If she’s that easy how come you ain’t had her?”

The banter was between the two bigger boys out of the group of six standing by the swings. They looked up briefly to see the old woman walking past and then got back to their disagreement.

“All I’m saying is you ain’t the first and you won’t be the last. Anyway, that Amy bird’s been giving me the right come on.”

The old woman could feel her face contort with disgust at the vulgarity of the language. She had lived in this borough practically all her life and felt a sense of ownership, along with a sense of shame as each decade that went by brought with it a filthier undertone. She was too old and too familiar with the place now to harbour any thought of leaving.

She knew, however, it was best to hide her disapproval to avoid inviting any problems. The park was relatively small and she was about 400 feet from the exit. The sun was still beating down and she thought about what was on TV tonight.

Suddenly, she heard footsteps behind her. She didn’t remember seeing anyone else in the park apart from the boys and that made her feel uneasy. Her brain was telling her to look behind but her heart lacked the courage to do so.

The footsteps were heavy and were traveling at a pace far superior to hers. They pounded the pavement with a real purpose and she felt her body stiffen with fear.

Closer now, her assailant sounded just a few feet behind her. Should she run? She looked ahead and was about 100 feet from the street. The footsteps were upon her in an instant. Through a sharp intake of breath she turned around, eyes wide and startled…..

“Sorry luv, didn’t mean to scare you,” said the man carrying his 2 year old. “You can’t be too safe with idiots like that around can you?” he said gesturing to the gang by the swings with a nod of his head.

“Oh… errr… yes….you’re right. I err… I wasn’t sure who it was.. Who you were… behind me,” she said.
“Look, I’m heading right at the end there if you’d like me to walk you home?”

“No, you’re ok and thanks very much for the offer. I’m in the other direction. I don’t want to put you out.”
“Well, if you’re sure?” He said. “I really don’t mind. These evening walks help to get little Thomas here ready for nap time.”

“A beautiful boy,” she said. “He looks like he’s ready about now for a sleep so I won’t hold you up. I’m just a few minutes down the road. Thanks again and have a lovely evening.”

“You too. Take care now,” and with that, the man went off in the other direction.

Her heart was still beating fast recovering from the fright and she cursed her mind for playing tricks on her. She cursed the newspapers too for making her feel exactly how she believed they wanted her to feel.

She allowed a smile to return to her face as her faith in humanity was restored by the nice young man with his little toddler. If only there were more good people around like that. She crossed the main road at the end and turned left into her quiet street comforted by being close to home.

She reached for the keys, and they snuggly found their way into the lock. As the door opened she felt herself suddenly knocked off her feet by a brute force she’d never felt before. Three youths forced their way into her home and proceeded to rain down kicks and punches on the poor, defenceless old woman who was now cowering on the ground.

By the time her eyes closed and she visited unconsciousness she’d experience just enough brutality to scar her for life and paint bitter dark memories in her mind that would never leave her.

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As the old woman opened her eyes she could hear a beep like something you’d hear in a hospital. It was similar to when she used to watch Casualty on a weekend. She remembered it well but why was she hearing it now and why did her face hurt so much?

“You ok luv? You’ve been through a terrible ordeal,” came the voice of what sounded like a kind young lady.

The woman tried to focus and turn her head but it felt compelled to stay where it was. Upon seeing this, the kind lady spoke again: “No, don’t try and move now, we’ve put your neck in a brace for protection.”

“I’m afraid you were quite a mess when you came in here. God knows what happened but you’ve got a few broken bones and lacerations around your upper chest, neck and head area. Do you remember anything at all?”

“No, I…. I …. Wait, there was the park and ….. yes….. I remember that nice young man, so gentle….. but….. I was err… I was home when…. they…. they hit me…..,” tears rolled down her face as she started to vaguely recall her experience.

“Ok, ok, let’s maybe wait before you try to remember any more. I’ll get you some water and something to eat. Would you like a sandwich?”

“Yes, thank you.. for.. for everything.”

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Samir had just switched the kettle on when a familiar beep sounded on his laptop. An incoming message greeted him with a subject line inviting further exploration:
‘…and the old lady went down like a sack of shit, she only lasted a few minutes before she was unconscious…’

He opened the message and read on….

‘...her Toffee Crisp was tasty and the old bitch had been all nice and bought us some milk for a cup of tea. Shame she couldn’t join us. Have a watch and take a look at the mess we made of her. Remember this, we own these fuckin’ streets!’

Uncertain if he wanted to delve any further, curiosity won the battle of wills and Samir found himself clicking the mpeg4 attachment.

A video popped up, jumpy at first but then he could make out three or maybe four hooded youths punching and kicking something on the floor. The video came in and out of focus and then he could see, it was a woman, an old woman.

The beating continued for a couple of minutes and like a car crash, Samir wanted to look away but couldn’t. Eventually the violence subsided and the video went closer to the motionless woman.

“Ain’t she pretty” came the voice as an image of a bloodied old woman came sharply into focus. The red fluid was streaming down her face and her left eye jutted out like an orange was stuck to the side of her head. Her eyes were closed and she looked lifeless. He honestly thought he was watching someone being murdered.

Samir found himself starting to gag and switched off with ten seconds of the video to go. Shaken and saddened, he made his way to the kitchen, turned on the tap, filled a glass and emptied it with three long loud gulps.

He stayed there propped against the sink for a few more seconds trying to gather himself.

Why did they send it to me? He thought. What did they want me to do with it? He already knew the answer to those questions but it didn’t stop his mind enquiring.

He went back to his laptop and clicked open his blog. ‘The Day Today’ had been Samir’s life for around three years. It was named after a show on TV from the mid-1990s, a parody of a current affairs program.

He thought it would be ironic as the blog he started was all about current affairs and primarily the circus of Parliament but also issues affecting the streets of the UK.

He was a cynic with a thirst for knowledge. He hated being told what to do so was insubordinate to anyone managing him. This secured the quick fate of numerous journalism and temporary roles but bills needed to be paid and he had no silver spoon.

He mused over what to do until the blog kind of just happened. Since then, it had become one of the most read blogs in Britain and was gaining traction overseas because of his often opinionated rants but also inherently factual reportage.

He left few stones unturned and saw a story through to the end where most modern news sources moved on to other news after a matter of seconds. Never wrapping up a story or situation to quench the public’s thirst. Samir was different. He told the story all the way through.

If a scandal rocked a minister, he followed the story up to trial, judgement and then weeks later to check in on how the victims were doing, whether justice had been served for them.

He clicked back to the message and read on. The words were followed by a name, address, time and date which he assumed were the victim’s details. There was also a phone number. He called and found himself talking to a receptionist. It was a hospital….

A couple of minutes into the awkward conversation gave him the information he was praying for. She was still alive. He wasn’t family and couldn’t get any further details about the old woman but at least he could confirm she was still alive.

He started typing. Words filled the page and a story began unravelling. ‘Defenceless Old Lady Latest Victim of Thug Attacks’ with the addendum ‘watch the horrific video’.

When he finished his piece and attached the video, his finger hovered over the ‘publish’ button for longer than the usual second. He felt downward pressure and his story was unleashed on the world.

People needed to know, he thought to himself trying to justify sharing the story. They need to see what is happening on our streets, in our homes. It’s the only way to get the bloody politicians to take action.


He then clicked send on an email to the local constabulary as well as the office of the Home Secretary, attachment and all….


I'll share more in the next few weeks but I'd love to hear any thoughts or feedback on this chapter.

Thanks all.