Ford afternoon

6 May 2012

This has become a habit, but not necessarily a bad one. Every few months the lovely Lucy who runs a creative writing class at Ford Open Prison asks me to come and speak to her charges.
It’s always an interesting afternoon. First the routine couple of questions at the gate: ‘Any phones or recording devices?’ Nope. ‘ID?’ Out comes the driving licence. Then inside. Ford’s an open prison, so while there are fences and gates, it’s still pretty relaxed – not that I have a lot to compare it with. The classroom is pretty bare, with a few books and a bank of computers, but not enough of them for everyone in the class.
Tea with Lucy while we wait for the class and then they start to file in, carrying notebooks and wearing prison issue green trousers and big grins. There are plenty of questions. Ford is normally a great audience and they don’t mess around with the kind of questions a library of reading group audience would ask. It’s all direct, straight to the point. It’s practical stuff they’re interested in.
In half a dozen visits to Ford there hasn’t been a bad or hostile group so far. They’re wonderfully diverse. Accents range from deepest Brixton to clipped public school tones and every shade in between.
First journalism, and then fiction. This group were more interested in the books side of it.
‘How do you get an agent?’
‘What’s a good advance?’
‘When do you write?’
‘Do you plot everything in advance?’
Serious questions from people who clearly take their writing seriously. Notes are taken and it feels odd to be taken so seriously. But then they’re off to wherever the prison regime demands that they be at five, after a fairly packed couple of hours.
This time I was interviewed by John and Kunle for the Fordster, Ford Prison’s magazine that the group produce. So looking forward to seeing some positive coverage and maybe even a favourable review of Cold Comfort or Frozen Out.
So, thanks John, Kunle, Tony, Gregg, Obi, Jermaine (aka Reg), Kit and Mark, for a thoroughly interesting afternoon, and thanks to Lucy for the invitation and for cracking the whip, as every group tells me she does unmercifully.

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