Monday, May 28, 2018

Infinite Sky mock murder trial at UWE review...

Last week, the characters from Infinite Sky were brought to life to be judged in a mock murder trial based on events from the novel. The aim was to teach advocacy to students training for the Bar at UWE, and if they got a third of the education that I did from the process, then it would have been an extremely worthwhile exercise.

Preparations for UWE mock murder trial.
The courtroom was silent as the primary jury was sworn in (there were four juries, so that more students could be involved). Each member of the jury was introduced, and swore on a bible as the defendant, standing, was given the chance to say if he knew any of them. The judge, HHJ Johnson, of Isleworth Crown, was warm and resolute as he reminded jurors they were under oath, that they mustn't talk about the case at home, nor on social media, that there could be serious consequences if they did, that they might be discharged, and a retrial required. I tweeted guiltily, as the prosecution and defence teams sat silent, save for occasional shuffles of papers, and tension grew.

The prosecution team.

The first prosecuting barrister stood to tell the story of what happened on the night in question, of the tension between the Dancys and the Delanys, and how it mounted over a number of weeks, culminating with one teenage boy lying, mortally wounded, on Memorial Road, another, injured and on the run. How traumatic it would be for the mothers of both boys, I thought as I imagined them watching from the public galleries, and for the young witnesses, who must now speak of what happened, and have their testimony scrutinised in this cold and intimidating environment.

The murder weapon! 

Thomas Dancy, played by Paul Dodgson, was called as the first witness, and I was stunned when he entered the room; with grey curly hair falling over his forehead and piercing blue eyes, it seemed that a person I'd invented had become real. He wore a not-entirely-formal jacket over a soft-collared shirt, and his hands gripped the stand as he spoke, rocking back and forth occasionally, wholly uncomfortable. His head tilted and he covered his mouth as he recounted what happened, the incidents leading to the death. "They're very intimidating people," he said, of the Irish Travellers that had moved, overnight, into his paddock at Silverweed Farm.

Thomas Dancy takes the stand.
The actor portrayed Thomas in a way that felt uncanny: gruff, and simmering with a barely contained rage at the legal system which he felt had long ago failed him, an anger that failed to entirely cover a sensitive disposition. He talked about wanting to protect his children, and hoping that his wife would return to him, as tersely as he could, and my heart crumbled to dust. Tears prickled my eyes, and I felt the sadness of this story, forgot I'd made it up.

Punky swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Next, played brilliantly by Noah Marullo, was Punky, who Iris saw as an instigator of violence, but who saw himself as a heroic and committed defender of the underdog. He explained how he had taken Sam under his wing after his mum, Anna Dancy, left, and how he related to Sam, because of losing his own mother when he was a little boy.

The next witness, Dean, played by Nathan Scott, seemed unhinged in precisely the way I'd imagined him in the book, drawing, as I was, from my teen experience of troubled young men without father figures, already in thrall to their addictions. Dean backed up Punky's version of events and shuffled uncomfortably at the stand. The defence was delighted to see he was much taller than the accused and made his assertion, that the defendant had headbutted him, seem absurd as a result. Halfway through proceedings, things were looking hopeful for the defendant.

Leanne Sharpe.

Leanne, played by Sashni Chelvam, was another revelation, seeming to have matured in the years since the incident. The defence managed to get her to agree that her behaviour had been hateful, and I began to understand the way that advocacy works, grew captivated by the process with which the prosecution and defence battle to take control of the story.

The defendant. 
Finally, it was time for the accused, who had anxiously watched the prosecution's case, to give his side of the story. Played by Fraser Meakin, the defendant looked humble and earnest, and spoke quietly and matter of factly. Occasionally, he laughed out of frustration during his cross-examination, and I felt nervous about how the jury might perceive him, how the prosecution might use the outburst against him, hyper-aware, by now, of the way the story could be reshaped by the barrister's clever direction.

Iris Dancy.
Finally, Iris, played by Elena Spaven, took the stand. Entering the court she looked nervous, graceful and sweet. She had grown into a young woman in the years since the incident, and though when I wrote her she wanted only to tell the truth, watching as the prosecution took her through the events of that fateful night, I found myself doubting her testimony. The highly skilled young barrister-in-training showed the holes in her statement, "You were able to look in front of you, and behind you, at the same time?" and made it seem likely that, not only had Iris colluded with the defendant, but that she had given his version of events.

Iris Dancy is cross-examined.
In the last moments of the murder trial, the witness most likely to save the defendant, seemed to have made his case weaker, and it looked unpromising for the accused, who sat in the dock with his head in his hands. The trial had become a living thing, orchestrated and shaped by the different souls taking part in it, and it was compelling to watch. Most fascinating, was the way each actor believed themselves innocent, to be acting in a justified manner, given the circumstances, and I often found myself questioning whether the defendant was truly acting in self-defence, in spite of the fact that, at the time of creation, I strongly believed he was.

HHJ Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Law at UWE, James Lloyd, Defence and Prosecution teams and ginger me.

After all the witnesses had been cross-examined and re-examined, the closing speeches were made, and the juries went out to deliberate. Returning after an hour or so, they found the defendant not guilty of murder, and he was released. Finally, the students broke roles, and there was much laughter as the actors and students mingled. Promotional photos were taken, and the defendant admitted he was relieved to be able to smile, if only for a moment.

Me and Fraser (the happily acquitted defendant).

It was an incredibly moving and inspiring day, and I am eternally grateful to Liz Cunningham, James Lloyd, all the UWE students involved, as well as the actors, and Glenn Duckworth, who filmed proceedings, as well as real-life judge, Robin, for giving their time and energy to make this fantastic event happen. For me, it was a dream made real, to see my characters come to life - and I shan't forget it. The experience so affected and intrigued me that I've begun working on a novel, inspired by the experience.

For those of you who have read the book, are you surprised at the verdict? And do the characters look the way you imagined them in your heads?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Infinite Sky court case at University of West England this week!

Was it self-defence or murder?


Those of you who have read Infinite Sky will know that the book starts and ends with the death of a teenage boy close to Iris Dancy. The big question, as the story unfolds, is which of Iris's beloved boys dies: Trick, the Irish Traveller whose family have set up camp in the Dancy's paddock, and with whom she recently shared her first kiss, or Sam, her adored but troubled older brother, who hasn't been the same since their mum, Anna, left to go travelling in Tunisia.

This week, at the University of the West of England (UWE) the story of Infinite Sky will be brought to life, as Law students and tutors, professional actors and a judge, create a mock murder trial, for educational purposes, built around this scenario at the climax of Infinite Sky.

In the story, set one hot summer in the Midlands, Iris Dancy was witness to a fight that caused the death of one of the two boys that she loves most in the world. (I'm trying hard not to give spoilers here for those who haven't yet read the novel.) This week, at UWE, the surviving boy will be tried for the murder of the deceased, giving students a chance to cut their teeth in Criminal Law.

UWE students preparing the defendant's case.
Poor Iris! She will be called to give evidence, as will her father, Thomas, though they don't see events in the same light. Dean, Punky and Leanne, who all witnessed the fight, will be called to give evidence too. I wonder if they'll tell the truth?

If the accused is found guilty of murder, then he will face a life sentence in prison. If he is found to have been acting in self-defence, then he could be acquitted. So it's pretty high stakes in the courtroom.

The trial takes place this Thursday and Friday at UWE, presided over by a professional judge, and the students have been preparing for weeks, under the excellent tutelage of my dear friend James Lloyd, and Liz Cunningham, both ex-criminal law Barristers, now Senior Lecturers in Law at UWE.

The jury will come back with their verdict on Friday, and I can't wait. Between you and me, I hope the accused walks.

I will be in the public gallery channelling Anna - Iris's and Sam's Mum - and furiously making notes for a new story. More on that later...

I will also be tweeting about it (though my inner author insists on maintaining high spoiler alert, which might make those tweets a little mysterious) and for those who have already read the novel, and are interested to follow the trial, you can also follow @liz_cunningham3, @DelythAJames and @WhiteZoey on Twitter.

The mock trial is open for all to attend. Venue: 2X112, Bristol Business School, Frenchay Campus, UWE Bristol. 24 May 10am - 5pm and 25 May 9:30am - 2:30pm

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Patron of Reading at St Bede's Catholic College

My third visit to St Bede's as Patron of Reading was a very fruitful visit, with lots of excellent group poems created by Year Nine students.


Using themselves as a resource, they spent time remembering, and built poems about violence and love and family together.



I also met the whole of the new Year Sevens, and had a lovely time talking to them about my reading challenge, and the books that they love. It's always such a pleasure to meet enthusiastic readers, and these were some of the sweetest.


My next visit will be in March 2017 for World Book Day, when we will be celebrating everyone who achieved one of my reading targets, and giving out prizes. I can't wait!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Interview with Sara Barnard about Beautiful Broken Things

Beautiful Broken Things is a sad, funny and real story about friendship, overcoming trauma and the damage it can do to self esteem. I read it as fast as I could get away with, since I was visiting family at the time, and I fell in love with Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne, and was intrigued by their often problematic dynamic of three.

I finished BBT the week before Nightwanderers came out, and was really eager to talk to Sara about the process of writing the book, and the decisions she made along the way, and also about her young friendships, as she seemed to be interested in some of the same themes as me: the intensity and magnificence of female friendships, and friendship as a sort of romance, as well as notions of self-esteem and the good/bad influence we can be on each other. 



The book has recently been selected as one of Zoella's Book Club reads, as well as receiving many other plaudits, and so if you haven't picked it up already, then make sure you do. Visit Sara's website for more news about her work or talk to her on Twitter (she has a new book coming out too). Seeing as Sara lives a little far away, in Brighton, we couldn't meet for coffee, so I was very happy when she agreed to this interview. : )




Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne are really well drawn characters, and I recognised them from my teen years. The dynamic between the three of them was so interesting, and their varying levels of self-esteem seemed to be a key factor in the ways that they interacted. Was this something you set out wanting to write about? How people can fit together in terms of need? 

I don’t think anyone gets through their teen years unscathed; we all have our low moments, especially when it comes to self-esteem. But often this isn’t something you realise until you’re an adult – you think it’s just you! So though I didn’t set out to write directly about that, it seeped in as quite a natural part of writing teenage girls. I think the friendships we have at that time have a huge effect – they either lift you or sink you, and sometimes it’s both. In this case, I was interested in the friends that lift you. : )

This is a subtle and complex element of relationships, and something I can now see played a large part in my friendships as an adolescent. Could you tell me a bit about your early friendships in this respect? Who do you most relate to out of the three girls? 

I went to a girls’ school, and I was part of a group of friends. We were awful to each other for years – there were so many shifting allegiances and loyalties that seemed so important at the time. My best friend, who sort of flitted in and out of the group and had other friends, was the exception – we never fought (still have never fought, 17 years on!) and our friendship was very different. And of course, hers is the friendship that has really lasted. She likes to say now that she’s a mix of Rosie and Suzanne, which is probably true! Caddy is a lot like how I was when I was a teenager; shy, quiet and self-conscious, always worrying I wasn’t interesting or cool enough for my friends. 

Suzanne is a fascinating character, beautiful and broken, like the ornaments her stepfather broke (and then glued back together – this detail made me cry), did you have to do a lot of research to get her behaviour right? 

Suzanne has been hanging around in my head for a number of years now (as a fellow author, I’m sure you understand this and won’t think I’m a bit mad?!) and her character grew very organically for me. Though I did do research, it wasn’t to find out how she’d behave – it was more to understand her behaviour, if that makes sense. I would think, how would a person in these specific circumstances react to this specific incident? And that’s how I approach all of my characters and research, really. So with Suzanne, it was how would a girl who’d been internalising abuse for years react when she’s taken away from her family and expected to make a fresh start in a new city? 

In the acknowledgements to BBT you thank Tom for saving Suzanne when you had almost given up. Could you let us know a bit more about this? Did you write an alternate version (I won’t publish this if it contains spoilers/will edit accordingly.) 

I did… anyone who’s read BBT through to the end can probably guess what this alternative is. Trying to get the ending right took a lot of time and a lot of drafts. My boyfriend, Tom, gets the credit for finding the solution. It was right at the eleventh hour, but we got there in the end! I’m very happy BBT has the ending that it has; it’s definitely the right ending for the girls and the book. 

You create tension within the dynamic of three girls very believably, and I thought the power play between Suzanne and Rosie was especially well done. There is an understanding that flows between them that Caddy is outside of, which seems to be because of their recognition of the part she plays to both of them. Did you find yourself in this sort of dynamic as a teenager? What would your advice to Caddy be about Suzanne, if you were her older sister? 

I was never in a trio like the girls, so I’ve never had to deal with quite that kind of dynamic, thankfully! There was a lot of power-play between my friends when I was at secondary school, but it was more superficial. I would give basically the same advice to Caddy as Tarin does, which is the whole idea of how important it is to sometimes say no as much as it is to say yes, that enabling someone’s behaviour isn’t helping them. I’d tell her to take care of her, because Caddy never really quite understands how much pain Suzanne is in, or just how vulnerable she is.    

Low self-esteem is a real obstacle, particularly for females, and even more so for young females, what are your ideas about why this is? And how do you think we can teach/show the younger generation to have stronger/better self-esteem? 

I think we live in a society that doesn’t properly value women or girls, so it’s inevitable they grow up internalising that message. We tell them that things they love are petty and frivolous (boybands, YouTubers, for example), we tell them they need to be pretty then chastise them for being obsessed with make-up. I think it’s not enough to tell them once they’re teenagers that they should value themselves and have higher self-esteem because it’s too late, we should be working to change the patterns of society and the stereotypes that young girls are faced with every day. And the answer to that, I firmly believe, is feminism!


What do you think? Is the answer feminism or something else? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Upcoming Nightwanderers events...

Only two days until Nightwanderers is officially out in the world! To celebrate its release I'm embarking on a blog tour. The first stop was an interview yesterday at Fiction Fascination and today I reveal seven secrets about me and the book at Serendipity Reviews. See the rest of the dates on the itinerary here...


This weekend Nightwanderers was in the Guardian! It called the book "emotionally powerful" in a round up of YA and children's books coming out this month.



Friday 3rd June at 2:15 I'm talking to Andy Potter at BBC Radio Derby, and on Saturday 4th June I'm signing books in Derby Waterstones as part of the Derby Book Festival. Please come and see me if you can!


On Wednesday 8th June, next week, I'm talking to Claire Cavanagh at BBC Radio Bristol at 2:15, and later having a book launch at Stanfords Book Shop in Bristol too, so do listen/come along if you're in this neck of the woods.



RSVP in the comments : )




Monday, May 2, 2016

Upcoming Nightwanderers events and prize draw winner...

So the winner of my signed advanced copy of Nightwanderers is...



Arjun Randhawa! I will send the book a.s.a.p. and I really hope that you enjoy it. Please reply in the comments so we can arrange for me to post this.




In other news, there are a few book events coming up. The first is a book signing at Derby Waterstones on 4th June, between 11am and 1pm. This is part of the Derby Book festival, which has an amazing line up this year, including Matt Haig and Carol Ann Duffy. Check it out.

I will also be talking to Andy Potter on Radio Derby on Friday 3rd June from 2pm, so tune in if you want to hear me doing my plummiest accent or strongest Derby accent (I'm never sure which will come out.)

Let me know if you can make it in the comments!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Nightwanderers cover

Maximum Pop officially revealed it this morning, so here it is on my blog! The cover for Nightwanderers. What do you think?



To celebrate, I'm giving away one signed advance copy. Follow me on Twitter, retweet the giveaway or leave a comment here, and next week I'll choose a winner. (One entry for follow, retweet and comment, i.e. three entries possible per person.)

Hurray!