I’m writing about a county lines drug dealer. My agent has not been sure. ‘Why are you writing about county lines? Why aren’t you writing something closer to your own concerns and experience?’
Good point, I thought. I’m not writing from the point of view of the young drug mule, but it still seems kind of a stretch for me, a middle-aged university lecturer in a small market town, to be writing something with these issues.
But I couldn’t stop writing it. I really like it – love my Cathedral Chorister narrator/heroine and her musical family. I love her new friend Mike and her old friends Hannah and Angie. I also love the young drug dealer who Harriet tries to help.
So, I’ve been secretly typing away.
Then I watched the Peter Jackson Beatles documentary, ‘Get Back,’ and the songs reminded me of something I’d nearly forgotten.
When Abbey Road came out in 1971, I was eleven years old. It was right in the middle of my father’s two year stint as Head of Juvenile Narcotics in the Kansas City, Kansas police department. Back then, just like now in the UK, young people were used to move drugs around. They’d have money and drugs in their pockets and the actual dealers would stay clean and just collect from them… these kids had been young roadmen.
My father’s idea for how to help the local roadmen was to bring them home. Our house became their refuge. We had five or six regular roadmen visitors. Mom would feed them and do their laundry. I’d do my homework and help them with theirs, if they’d managed to go to school that week. They played with the dog. They watched our television with us. They took showers. They were just… there.
When I got my period, age 12, I had to tell one of them at the same time I told my mom, because the two of them had been in the same room, listening to records together, and my mother hadn’t want to stop.
One of these kids bought me the Abbey Road album when it came out, and my favourite song became Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. Hearing this song coming together in the Get Back documentary brought that time completely back to me.
My subconscious, creative mind had never forgotten. Mike, Denny and the other boys were all still there somewhere in my head, as present as they’d been when I made them stove-top popcorn or baked them cookies. I’d used my knowledge of them and their concerns to make my young county lines victim, Courtney… had drawn him as a composite of the boys I’d known when I was twelve years old myself.
I now have to write my agent and say, ‘Well, actually, I figured out why I wanted to write this so badly.’
It’s strange isn’t it, what fiction does for writers. I’ve had a disjointed life, where things often ended abruptly and people and places got left totally behind. I think when I write stories, I stitch the world back together again – for me, and for my young readers.
Even though I couldn’t actually articulate it – it was my story, after all.