The Truth About Prison, the world’s most successful agent and a reformed murderer …

Sticky

 

I didn’t want to publish The Truth About Prison myself, I may as well admit that straight away. I thought it was a book agents and publishers would snap up. It’s topical, it’s revealing, it’s shocking and humorous at times, it’s important and, though I say it myself, it’s bloody fascinating.

 

If you’re interested in prisons and what happens inside them, then this is the book for you. It brings stories from inside young offenders institutes, local prisons and high security prisons, from male and female prisons, from the views of prisoners and prison officers, as well as others. If you want to know what education is offered inside prisons, hear stories from inside classrooms, and find out why prisoners are paid more for sweeping floors than achieving qualifications, then this is the book for you. If you want to know how effective the Psychology Departments and their offending related courses are, and understand how much power Psychology holds over prisoners, their categorization and release dates, then this is the book for you. If you’re interested in knowing the effect of privatisation on prisons and the Probation Service, then yes, you’ve guessed it; this is still the book for you.

And there’s plenty more too: drugs, violence and gangs; prisoners taking control of whole wings; terrorists converting others to their cause; sex between inmates and with officers; leaving prison after five, ten, fifteen years inside and having to get on with your life under the supervision of Probation and inside their hostels; looking back now and wondering whether prison changed you for the better; and the heart-breaking stories of family members left outside when their loved ones are locked up, and their experiences of how they managed to cope or not, and visiting inside.

I traveled around England and Wales for a year and a half, recording stories of all those involved. I did this quietly because I’d signed the Official Secrets Act whilst working in a high security prison and I was worried I’d be in massive trouble for revealing the truth. That’s what high security prisons do to you; they make you paranoid and feel like you’re under investigation yourself, even if you’ve done no wrong. The professionals are anonymous, because they need to be. If you tell the truth about prison, and certain things that happen inside them, then you face being disciplined or sacked. Most prisoners didn’t care about anonymity, except for the man sentenced to fourteen years for child sex offences – he understandably did – but they accepted the anonymous names given to them.

And so I approached agents. Here it is I told them; the most complete book on prison ever written. Within a few hours, one of them got back to me. ‘This looks interesting,’ wrote Andrew Lownie. ‘Who else in publishing have you approached and what was the response?’ He suggested I write a more detailed proposal. Amongst other things he wanted to know:

The five most recent competing and comparable books, giving author, title, publisher and date of publication, together with a note on how the books relate to the author’s own book but also how mine is unique.

One page on specialist marketing outlets

½ page synopsis per section/chapter – about ten pages

He wanted the final wordcount no more than eighty thousand words, and more importantly, he suggested the book be completely restructured, so that, instead of monologues one after the other, the book addressed topics in chapter format. I was unsure about this last bit of advice and engaged in e-mail conversations about it, but then I googled Andrew Lownie again, and found he was the top selling agent in the world for each of the last four years. And so I did what he wanted, and realised he was correct. I took a week off work, immersed myself in the whole manuscript and cut the text down from eighty to sixty thousand, so I could build it back up again with incoming interviewees. I cut apart monologues on the computer, printed them out and then cut them out on paper, before laying them out all over the living room floor to arrange the order.

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And every so often, I failed to contain a little tremble inside – the world’s best agent! This could be the book that finally broke me upwards into the next level, where writers can concentrate on writing instead of working part time/full time to pay the bills and put food on the table; the fabled promised land, that only the very few reach. Kicked Out was written whilst I worked full time in an emergency access homeless hostel, fitting into a shift rota, doing sleep-ins and twenty-four hour shifts, and often dealing with crisis. Andalucía and St Cuthbert’s Final Journey were written on the dining room table, whilst I worked as a teacher in prisons. A loft conversion helped with the yet to be released novel Black Streams. But then I sent the new manuscript to Andrew, and he pontificated for a while, before replying, “many thanks for this. I found it very interesting but I fear it’s not going to be sufficiently commercial for my list. Sorry but good luck with your approaches elsewhere.” I was gutted. Almost there, and then back to the bottom of the slush pile again. I sent to a few other publishers and agents and received responses such as “incredibly interesting but due to our existing commitments, this is not a project we would be able to handle at the moment.”

This is writing. This is life. You encounter hurdles, you navigate over them and keep on going. And so I decided to publish it myself, as I did with Andalucía and St Cuthbert’s Final Journey. The publishing world is a slow moving dinosaur. It can take months or years to get a publisher once you’ve secured an agent, if you’re lucky enough to get an agent in the first place. Statistics show that top agencies take on board one or two new writers a year and receive at least three hundred manuscripts every month, and most publishers only accept manuscripts from agents so you’re forced to go down that route. And then, if you sign a contact with a publisher, it often takes a year for your book to come out, because there’s plenty of others stacked up before yours. And so I published it myself, because I know what I’m doing, and I can get the book out quickly. Prisons are topical, we know that, there’s always something happening that makes the headlines. Get it finished and get it out there.

But I had to prove to myself that others would find this book as fascinating as I do. And so I sent a copy of the manuscript to Erwin James, probably the best person to make such an assessment. Erwin was convicted of murder in 1984, and it was in prison that he found he had a talent for writing. He won awards and started writing a weekly article for The Guardian. He was released in 2004 and still writes for The Guardian, and his books about prison are beautifully written and considered classics. He absolutely loved the book and wrote me the following quote:

“Different to any other book on prison. Compelling and quite breath-taking in its scope of insights, giving a voice to the only people that really know” – Erwin James

Prison Book Cover 16 Jun Final with quote3

And so here I am again; publishing myself, with a wonderful quote from a wonderful writer. And I say it again; if you want to know anything about prisons, whether they work and what really goes on inside them, then this is the book for you.

You can read the five-star reviews and buy the book on Amazon by clicking here …

Or you can visit the official website and read the first three chapters for free by clicking here …

 

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Kicked Out

Sticky

A novel to stand up alongside Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, offering a window into the youth of today. A fantastic book expressing the cynicism and dissatisfaction of those on the edge of society

Waterstone’s Recommended Read

The narrative is so strong, the characters and dialogue so real, the situation so heart-breaking. This is masterful and should win several literary prizes

Patricia J. Delois, award-winning author of Bufflehead Sisters

Hardwick’s writing has the power and humanity to make you wonder about the way you see the world, and to give voice to those whose stories usually remain untold

Laura Brewis, New Writing North

A truly compelling page-turner

Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners

Kicked Out pic (2)

Sixteen-year-old Danny is kicked out by his parents and has nowhere to go but a shelter for homeless teenagers. There he finds a friend in the more experienced Goochy, who helps him find his feet. But the other residents are every bit as troubled and complex as Danny, and with drugs, alcohol, crime, sex and violence always on the cards, the house is soon simmering like a pressure cooker about to blow. In this turbulent environment, between binges and wild escapades, Danny begins to reflect and grow. But a discovery about his family places him under a pressure he cannot contain…

Kicked Out draws on the author’s experiences of working with young homeless and young offenders and is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand today’s unwanted youth. Hard-hitting and unsentimental without being bleak, gripping, at times hilarious – you will never look at kids on the street in the same way again.

Copies now available for just £3.99 here at the Lapwing Books website. If you would like a personally signed and dedicated copy then please contact Richard at richard@lapwingbooks.com or leave a comment below

 

Andalucia

Sticky

Told with courage, humour and love, Andalucia weaves past and present with great skill so the pace of the narrative never falters. There is a zest for life on every page that I found both moving and inspiring

Pat Barker – winner of The Booker Prize

This absolutely captivated me. I couldn’t put it down. One of the best books I’ve read…breath-taking

Janette Jenkins  – author of Angel of Brooklyn, Little Bones and Firefly

Tender and potent: a beautifully crafted narrative, rich with love and free of sentimentality. A story for every family that has been menaced by cancer

Barry Stone, author of Barking at Winston

When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, every second you have left with them is precious.

Richard W Hardwick wrote about his partner’s breast cancer to help him cope, and then he wrote about their past because he was scared she might not be there to help him remember it for the children. Andalucía tells the story of a young couple falling in love in the Golan Heights and Israel, living in the cheapest hostel in Amsterdam’s red-light district and becoming homeless in Greece. Past and present is skilfully woven together to form a unique and beautiful portrait of a family facing the ultimate fear.

Gripping, heart-breaking, raw and inspiring, Andalucía is an unforgettable journey, both geographically and of the soul. It is also a life-affirming celebration of the strength of human spirit, the healing power of nature, and the endurance, and importance, of community.

Andalucia front cover

Absolutely beautiful, heart-breaking story, written with the deepest passion. I was bawling within the first couple of paragraphs

–Genevieve Graham

A beautiful piece of work, deeply moving. Your writing flows effortlessly and you are a wonderful storyteller
– Mala Iyer

Every reader will empathize with the words and wish they could express their emotion so well. So well they draw tears from strangers
– Francene Stanley

Andalucia can be bought at Lapwing Books website for £5.99. If you want a personally signed and dedicated copy then please contact richard@lapwingbooks.com or leave a comment below when ordering

Borderline Books

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Teenagers these days, obsessed with smart-phones, computers and televisions. It’s not like the good old days, when they’d get stuck into a good old book for hours on end. Books are old fashioned, they take up too much space and gather dust, they’re boring.

How come then, when you take a sixteen year old girl to Borderline Books, and tell her she can choose free books, for herself and others, she can hardly believe her luck? She’s on her phone, asking others about their favourite authors, their favourite genres, so she can get books for them too. And then, the next time I travel to Borderline Books, there’s four teenagers crammed into my car. And when we arrive, they’re almost overwhelmed at the sight of all those books, and a lady called Amina telling them they can choose whatever they want, for free.

borderline-books-pic

Perhaps these teenagers aren’t used to such kindness; they’ve certainly had less of it than many of us, living as they do at Depaul House, supported accommodation for young homeless people. But some of them do have computers and smartphones, and there’s a project laptop and games machine they can use, and yet they’re still stunned and excited at the thought of free books. I guess random acts of kindness don’t fall upon some people that much, and it’s not often they’re offered things for free, no strings attached. And books still have meaning, for all ages. They hold knowledge. They take us somewhere else, into worlds of imagination and escape, back in time and forwards into the future. Books remind us of when we were younger, if we were lucky enough to have parents who read them out to us, before life became complicated and pressurised.  We turn pages and make sense of our own lives through the stories of others.

The teenagers I took to Borderline Books couldn’t have been happier, with the books on offer and with Amina’s gentle warmth. They collected books for college, books for pleasure and books to furnish future homes. And they didn’t just think of themselves either, because kindness spreads outwards in ripples. They collected books for a pregnant resident, books on childcare and stories to read to her baby. They collected books to give family members for Christmas, books on spirituality and self-help for fellow residents trying to come to terms with the hands life has dealt them. They chose carefully and indiscriminately, and were encouraged in both methods. We said our thanks and piled boxes of books into the boot of my car. And it made a difference, I know it did. In years to come, they’ll open a book and smile when they remember where it came from, they’ll tell others, and I hope they’ll be inspired to give to others as well, for the simple pleasure of it, as well as the virtue.

amina

Borderline Books collect books that are no longer needed by publishers, shops, libraries and individuals and redistribute them free of charge to organisations working with survivors of domestic abuse, homeless people, ex-service men and women, former prisoners, young offenders, children’s homes, hostels for young people, refugees and those applying for asylum and vulnerable adults and children. Based in Team Valley, Gateshead,  Amina can be contacted on 07808 704307 or books@borderlinebooks.org

Alternatively, find out more at  Borderline Books Blog or Borderline Books website

Happy Birthday! Time to Change!

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It’s my daughter’s birthday today. She came in our bed at half six this morning, cuddled in; had to wait for her older brother to wake up before she could open her presents. Fragments of that day nine years ago float back … the telephone call at work; the drive home and to hospital; Anna standing with her palms flat on the car roof, waiting for another contraction to pass, before risking the slow walk to the maternity unit; clenching teeth; beads of sweat on her brow; tears streaming down my own face when it was over, and we discovered we’d been blessed with a baby girl to go alongside our boy.

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It’s an important day – one of the most important in our family. That’s why, when I was asked to consider a date in March for writing something about mental health, I chose today. When I was younger I considered myself pretty indestructible. Looking back now, I could have died on a number of occasions; mainly through excessive drug and alcohol use, but also by putting myself into dangerous environments. I could quite easily have become more damaged, physically and mentally. These days, I realise life is much more delicately balanced than I would ever have dared imagine.

My daughter is a perfectionist. If something’s not right, she’ll rip it up and start again, or rip it up and storm upstairs, slamming the bedroom door after her. So far, she’s always been popular and a high-achiever; being very successful in all her school subjects, in her swimming lessons and her various dancing classes. She yearns to please teachers. She needs them to like her and praise her. Next year, she moves up to Middle School and things change. There’s less creativity. There’s less warmth. There’s not the same connection between teachers and children. The kids are older and there will be more bullying; more violence; more pressure to look a certain way; act a certain way. There will be plenty of kids she has never met before and she’ll want to fit in. We will cross our fingers and hope she talks to us if anything happens. We do the same with her brother but he rarely tells us anything about his school experience.

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Time to Change is an organisation whose mission is to inspire people to work together to end discrimination surrounding mental health. “Time to Talk!” they announce, because they understand that communication is the life-force that streams through everything; the stories we listen to about others; the stories we tell about others; the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. I have friends who have mental health issues. I know people who judge them. I don’t think it’s my place to point out someone else’s mental health issue though – is it? It’s a tricky one. So I offer this advice – an anonymous quote:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

Life is full of tipping points. All it takes sometimes is a nudge; a wrong turn; an ill-thought or malicious comment. A once seemingly perfect life can split apart due to unforeseen and unalterable circumstances. The news is full of heart-breaking stories. I wonder what would have happened to my children if their Mammy’s cancer had destroyed faster. I still wonder what will happen to them if it comes back. I know it will be my job to cushion the fall as best I can, but I worry if I will be up to the job. I coped last time by getting on with things and by writing it down. They coped because their Mammy explained everything to them. She talked about it and made it all seem quite normal. Interesting then, that in both instances, communication was vital.

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Now there’s a quiet and peaceful house, I will continue on my next book, provisionally titled ‘Swallows and Black Streams.’ It’s a book for all those people who feel suffocated by bureaucracy, smothered in paperwork and instead dream about living a simpler life. For the past few years, it’s been fused to the dream that exists within me; that of making my name as a writer. I sometimes wonder what will happen if I don’t “make it”, after so many years of emotional and physical effort and time. But I put that thought out of my head, because I’m lucky, I can; and it’s not a good thought. But yeah, I know the stats. And yeah, there’s history of mental health issues in my family. But isn’t there with all of us, if we’re honest?

I will also exercise because I know what will happen if I don’t. I’ve been there before. If I don’t exercise I start to get depressed and lethargic. I will drink more alcohol and likely turn back to cigarettes. When I do exercise, I feel mentally more positive. Body and mind.

And then our daughter will come home for her birthday tea and it will be lovely – I hope. She’s growing up, just like her brother. Time goes so fast sometimes. The months just slip on by into years. There will be good times. And there will be hard times. I don’t ask much of them. Be kind to others. Don’t judge them too harshly for you never know what is really happening inside someone else’s head. And it may be ‘time to talk’ but actually, one of the most respectful things you can do for anybody is to listen to them; really listen to them, without jumping in and making comment. If we’re going to help people with their mental health, if we’re going to help our own mental health, then we need to foster an environment where everyone can feel safe to talk about things that can too easily be pushed under the surface.

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Doing the Can Can

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Aluminium is the most common metallic element on earth, making up about 8% of the earth’s crust. Only oxygen and silicon are more abundant.

Heineken

Heineken

It occurs in various chemical forms in rocks and soils, in vegetation, in water and in the air, but it doesn’t occur anywhere in its pure form. It has to be extracted from its ore, a clay-like substance, which is mined and then ‘smelted’ in a very energy-intensive process.

Lilt

Lilt

Sprite

Sprite

Being so difficult to isolate, aluminium wasn’t discovered until 1807 by Sir Humphry Davy. Then it wasn’t until 1886 that an economically viable process was developed to extract aluminium.

Rockstar Energy

Rockstar Energy

Tennents

Tennents

86 per cent of drink cans sold in the UK are made from aluminium — that’s nearly 8 billion cans every year!

Fosters

Fosters

Guinness

Guinness

It takes aluminium about 400 years to break down naturally.

Coca Cola

Coca Cola

Carlsberg Export

Carlsberg Export

Why take photos of aluminium cans using my phone? A good question. Most of you probably think I’m barking mad but never mind. I took this following picture first, simply because I saw the can washed up on the beach and thought it looked like a good photo opportunity.

Carlsberg

Carlsberg

Normally, I’m the type of person who picks rubbish up and puts it in the nearest bin I pass. Too many people complain about things but do nothing about whatever it is they’re ranting about. But I liked the way sunlight reflected from the aluminium surface, or I liked the ridiculousness of a discarded can being inside a picture of a great view.

Coors

Coors

Strongbow

Strongbow

Once I’d started I found it difficult to stop. Suddenly I was seeing aluminium cans everywhere. There were photo opportunities on every dog walk, every shopping trip. I’d stop the car whilst driving over the dales or the Northern Pennines as soon as I spotted a can by the roadside.

Kronenbourg

Kronenbourg

Dry Blackthorn

Dry Blackthorn

Holidays with the family and a weekend away with the wife, free from children, provided no respite.

Carlsberg

Carlsberg

Budweiser

Budweiser

Sometimes, I went searching for aluminium cans, on occasions finding particularly beautiful spots and finding myself disappointed that nobody before me had the disgraceful nerve to drop a can into such natural surroundings.

Fosters

Fosters

My children started taking the micky out of me. Occasionally, they’d run up in front of others and say “Dad, Dad…I’ve found a can for you to take a picture of.” My wife raised her eyebrows. I got down on one knee and tried to see things from a can’s point of view.

Irn Bru

Irn Bru

McEwans

McEwans

Coca Cola were by far the most popular of discarded cans. After that was Fosters. Carling were pretty popular too. I wondered if that was because these drinks were drunk the most, or if there was something about the people who drank them that meant they were more likely to simply chuck the can rather than keep it on them and put it in the bin.

Coca Cola

Coca Cola

Coca Cola

Coca Cola

Carling

Carling

Eventually though, I simply tired of taking pictures of aluminium cans. The photographs you find in this blog are simply a small percentage of the overall number, believe me. I started dreaming of having an exhibition of discarded cans, smirked at the irony of it all. I imagined being in the newspaper, famous for pictures of cans taken on a phone rather than for the hours and hours, months and months and years and years I’ve put into writing books. But nobody would be so daft to do that would they? And the pictures are probably not good enough anyway.

Carlsberg Special Brew

Carlsberg Special Brew

Barr Cherryade

Barr Cherryade

Aluminium can be recycled again, and again, and again. As one of the few “infinitely recyclable” materials in the world, it can be recycled with no loss of quality whatsoever. In fact, over three quarters of the aluminium ever produced is still in use today.

Tizer

Tizer

unknown

unknown

So do me a favour will you? Do us all a favour please. Next time you finish slugging your fizzy pop or lager, pop the can in the bin will you? Preferably a recycling one if you can find one. I’ve had enough of photographing aluminium cans on my phone. I’ve moved onto public toilets this time. But before you call the police on me, I promise you I only ever take a picture when there’s nobody around. Perhaps, on second thoughts, I should stick to writing books.

Irn Bru

Irn Bru

Coca Cola

Coca Cola

Walking with Sheree…

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Some people deserve more time than the odd ‘hello, how are you doing?’ whenever you happen to see them, usually every few months or so, or even worse. One such person is the beautiful poet Sheree Mack. And so I asked her to come walking with me. Being out in the hills and dales of ancient Northumbria (northern England and southern Scotland)during my St Cuthbert’s Final Journey project has created a constant pull within me, a pull that tightens and will continue to tighten unless it is respected and realised. Life is so busy that we think we don’t have the time to waste walking in the countryside. Well not anymore. Sheree and I have agreed to do four walks each year; winter, spring, summer and autumn – just us and nobody else.

Today was our winter walk. Up to Rothbury in Northumberland we drove, a cliched sleepy village famous these days for being the place Raoul Moat escaped to before being hunted down and shot by the police (can I say that?). A few hundred years ago of course, Northumberland was quite possibly the most dangerous part of Britain, being the border county that separated warring England and Scotland, and then, after centuries of war savaged it so much, becoming the wild and lawless lands of the Border Reivers. How times have changed hey?

Off we went, past Sharpe’s Folly, built in the 1700’s for an Archdeacon who was interested in astrology, over fields and upwards through dead bracken and marshy grass, disturbing clucking grouse that took off and speared noisily away.

sharpe's folly

sheree smiling

We joked about it being Friday 13th and how we might not make it back down into society again and we chewed the fat about writing and writing projects, about family and what Christmas presents we’d bought for them. But our writing notebooks stayed firmly in our rucksacks. I thought I would write on this walk. I thought I might question Sheree about her writing process, about the inspiration behind her brilliant poetry books ‘Family Album’ and ‘The Properties of Silk’, the latter released just a few days ago as a chapbook for her residency at the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle, later to be made into a full collection. But honestly, I felt no desire to write at all; I just wanted to appreciate Sheree’s company and where we were.

sheree climbing

RWH windy pic

Soon we were up high and though it was warm for December the wind made its presence felt. We wondered about walking in the footsteps of shepherds, of Border Reivers and invading Angles and Vikings. The kingdom of Northumbria was once the largest and most powerful in all England, stretching from Edinburgh down to the Humber River, from the East coast all the way west to the Isle of Man. Up here was its heartland, a day’s ride from its northern capital of Bamburgh.

Up to Dove Crag we went, with its prehistoric burial cairn and rocky crag, and a sight of the sea if the coast was clear, which it wasn’t.

RWH and walking stick

christmas tree

Instead we found a christmas tree, decorated as well, two hours walking high above Rothbury, surreal in swirling cloud. Neolithic stone axes have been found up here, presumably cracked out of the beautiful rocks that stood majestically and reached up to the heavens, that would have provided great hiding places for wild animals, for robbers and raiders, saints and pilgrims, soldiers and shepherds.

rock god

rock and water

rocks on top

And then it was down again, through the forest, with the wind that rushed through the treetops with the sound of the waves, with its soft path of pine needles and numerous trees that had crashed to the ground in the gale-force winds of a few weeks ago.

Forest pic

fallen trees

And then we were on the flat again, and picking up the pace somewhat, looking up at a sky that hadn’t unleashed heavy rain on us as promised, and wondering how the five hours had gone so fast.

tree  top and clouds

two trees pic

Our next walk is springtime and it can’t come fast enough for me. No more making excuses about not having enough time. Sheree and I both know what it is to be busy, believe me. We rarely stop. But the writing and working can wait on occasion; there’s walking to be done…