Helping the Homeless with Words

SASH – Working together to make a difference. Our approach to preventing youth homelessness is thanks entirely to our volunteer ‘hosts’.

Very pleased to hear that I was shortlisted in the 2014 short story competition run by SASH – Safe and Sound Homes, the charity ‘preventing youth homelessness’. My entry will be published in their winners’ anthology in the New Year. The judge was author Ross Raisin, whose latest novel Waterline tackles the issue of homelessness.

My story No Big Deal, draws upon my experiences when I was a magistrate and memories of dealing with a number of homeless people who were NFAs – of no fixed abode/address. I remember a few men, ex-military personnel, who had fallen on hard times and had been roaming the Wiltshire countryside looking for a safe place to sleep. Although my story is about one such man, it is not based on any particular person. As they say, write about what you know. It helped having some insider knowledge to be able to draw on for the character and to be able to set the court scenes accurately.

Shrewton Blind House
Shrewton Blind House c1700. Prisoners were kept here overnight on their way to Fisherton Gaol, Salisbury. This used to stand in Maddington Street but was hit by a tank in the Second World War. It was moved brick by brick in the 1980s to stand further back on the main road.

One Saturday, we had an open day at the Magistrates Court and I decided that it was time to go behind the scenes and see what it was like to be a prisoner – or should I say defendant, and go through the whole process. There were prisoner transport vehicles in the yard at the rear so I had a look inside one prison van and the police officer showed me round. She also offered to handcuff me to make the experience more authentic. You see plenty of arrests in TV dramas and I always wondered if it is as bad as it’s portrayed – yes it is. Advice, don’t struggle. Then I was locked in the cubicle and the door was shut. Horrid  squeezing into such a tiny space and sitting on a hard plastic bench with no room for your knees if you have long legs like me. There were no windows  so you had no sense of place or time. I couldn’t wait to be released. I also went down to the holding cells below the court but decided not to repeat the locking in bit. Grim. Sterile. Frightening. You lose all sense of yourself as a person. The protagonist in my story luckily does not get banged up – a happy ending of sorts.