Good behaviour

16 April 2011

This was the third or fourth time I’ve been there to speak to Lucy’s class at Ford Prison. They must like me, as Lucy keeps asking me to go back. It’s an open prison and those who reside there at Her Majesty’s pleasure at what was once an airfield are either at the end of a stretch and close to release, or else there for something non-violent. Fraud and scams spring to mind and there are some fascinating glimpses of fantastic ideas that went badly wrong or bad luck that took people to desperate measures. Fact is stranger than fiction and on a previous visit one of the class said with a wicked smile; ‘whatever you try and think up, one of us in here has tried it.’
Journalism first, the intricacies of pitching a story to a specialised trade magazine, just like Winch Monthly, what to do, what not to do, basic groundrules like being on time for a meeting; not busting the wordcount; do your homework first; don’t do the fancy stuff until you’ve done the obvious stuff first; if you’re going to upset someone, do it at the end of an interview and not at the beginning. Not to mention the first rule of journalism; Keep All The Receipts.
Then it’s tea break and the class go outside for a cough and a draw to return relaxed and refreshed ten minutes later. Then fiction, and a host of questions that you wouldn’t get from an other audience. These guys ask exactly what they want to know and they ask straight out. How big was your advance...? Why did you write it? What’s your inspiration? Where do you work? Computer or longhand? They’re a tough but fascinating group, and they see right through any bullshit.
Lucy’s classes are quite a remarkable bunch and her writing courses are popular and appear to be working. Several of her former students have taken away with them a real spark of something and two have books of their own close to publication – no mean feat these days.
So, Gareth, Sebastian, Marshall, John, Lee, Daniel, Christian and John, hopefully you’ll all be on the outside by the time I visit Ford next, but thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting afternoon.

nb. If there are any other writers reading this who might be prepared to spend a few hours being grilled by Lucy’s class, please drop me a line. It’s a very worthwhile experience.

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