Thursday, 18 March 2010

Where's Your Tool?

I recently watched Scum, a film set in a borstal, the Young Offender Institutions of old. It’s one of those films that is going to stay with me a long, long time. I think this has to be one of the hardest hitting films I have ever seen, and I doubt much will come along and challenge this. There’s no special affects, no glitz, no cheap tricks. What carries it is the script, acting and story. Nothing else is required.

What I love mostly about the film is that there is no music at all (except background TV sounds). So when the end credits roll up in total silence I was swearing words all over the place, my stomach fallen outside of itself, blood drained of my face, hands shaking. That total silence held the tension and kept it there. Even a few hours after I’d watched it I was still feeling the affects.

A particular scene that packed a punch for me was after Davies’ ordeal in the greenhouse and he’s in the dining hall, hands clutched around a mug. His eyes track up to Carlin for a moment, like he’s about to tell him what’s happened. But Carlin gets up, walks away. Davies just sits there and stares. The camera stays with him for quite a time, and he sits and he stares. It packs a punch. There’s so much going on there, even though it’s just about half a minute of Davies staring at the table top.

The next scene is something else. It’s a total antithesis to the previous subtlety and for me it’s that stark difference that makes it work all the more.

Don’t watch this film if you are in any way squeamish, over-sensitive or a young offender on bail and about to be sentenced to a stretch in a YOI.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Interior & Beautiful Mud

The interior of Mr Kite's cabin, as it is currently (though we now have a new bell flower houseplant on the back bookshelf, which does not feature in these images).

Some beautiful mud.

I am reading Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. This stuff is pure gold.

More effort will be put into the next post, probably.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Research Questionnaire. Your assistance would be appreciated


This questionnaire applies to Secondary School experiences and was designed as part of my research into a fictional novel centred on a group of school students in year 11 (aged between 15-16ish).

All answers are confidential. You may remain anonymous, or reveal your name. It’s up to you.

In some cases I might find answers interesting or particularly relevant to the plot/ characters within my novel; in which case I might contact you to further discuss certain elements, if you are willing. Obviously I will be unable to do so for anonymous questionnaires.

Please feel free to share any school-based anecdotes. My novel is mostly already written; I am not specifically seeking ideas. The purpose of this questionnaire is merely to gauge how realistic certain pursuits of my characters are, and to ensure that I am representing a balanced and informed view of school life so that I can ensure my readers find the novel relevant and easy to relate to. HOWEVER; if I find an anecdote particularly interesting and feel elements of it could inform my story and fit into the existing storyline, it is possible that I might use some anecdotes as inspiration or whatever. For this reason please only share such anecdotes if you don’t mind the possibility of elements being assimilated into my novel.


or email me for my postal address if you'd rather use the real mail.

Name (optional):



Year of GCSEs:

1) How were you educated? State, private, home or other? (please explain if your answer is other.) This questionnaire is probably only relevant to state and private schooled children, but feel free to answer any questions you can, even if you were home educated, or other.

2) Were there boarding facilitates at your school, and were you a boarder? If you answer no please skip to Q4

3) Were you a weekly boarder, or a full time boarder? (or if your boarding arrangements were different, what were they?)

4a) Please circle or star the set-up of your school.

Year 7-11 (age 11-16)

Year 9-11 (age 13-16)

Year 7-13 (age 11-18)

Year 9-13 (age 13-18)

Year 0/1-11

Year 0/1-13

other (please describe)

4b) Please circle or star the relevant option about your school (this applies to the Senior section/ years 7-11 of your school for those who attended prep & Senior combined schools):

Mixed (boys and girls)

Girls only

Boys only

5) Did you enjoy school? What did you like and dislike about school? Please answer in brief.

6a) Did you fit into any particular social group? If your answer is yes, I include these examples. Please circle or star the group(s) you felt a part of/ associated with (you may circle or star more than one):

Boffins/ Keeners


Goths/ Emo

sporty/pretty/ ‘jocky’



Party People

Stoners/ weed smokers




Young Farmers



Other (please state):

6b) where there any certain groups like those I describe above in your school, or not at all?

7) Did you belong to any clubs or were you involved in any extra curricular activity? If so, what?

8a) Were you aware of any kind of drug culture in or around school? If you answered no please skip ahead to question 10

8b) In which school year/ age did you become aware of a drug culture?

8c) were you directly involved in such drug culture? Ie; did you take drugs whilst still a school student? If you answered no then please skip ahead to question 9h.

9a) what drugs did you take and at what age/ year group?

9b) Were you caught at this, and if so what were the consequences?

9c) Why did you take drugs? (If there was an element of peer pressure please state how pressured you felt)

9d) Did you ever take drugs on school property or/ and did you ever attend school when under the influence of drugs? Please specify what year group. If your answer is no please skip to question 9g.

9e) If you were a boarder please specify whether you took drugs after, or during the main school day.

9f) Did the drugs make the school day more interesting? If so, explain how.

9g) if you have an interesting story/ anecdote about your school-aged drugs experiences please detail this at the end of the questionnaire.

9h) were you aware of others taking drugs. What was the general attitude to their drug-based pursuits?

9g) It is commonly known that a fair few people smoked weed. But were you aware of any other drug use? Please give details if you can.

10) Did you ever consume alcohol when still a school student, under the age of 18? If you answered no please skip ahead to question 11

10a) At what age did you first consume alcohol socially/ not at home (unless it was at home during an unsupervised house party)

10b) Did you regularly drink alcohol whilst still a school student? If yes, what did you typically drink? If no, skip to Q11

10c) Did you ever drink alcohol whilst at school/ during the school day? If no skip to Q10f

10d) Were you caught at this, and if so what were the consequences?

10e) Why did you drink alcohol during the school day? Did it make the school day more interesting?

10f) If you were a boarder please specify whether you drank after the school day had ended, and whether you did so on school property or not.

10g) if you have an interesting story/ anecdote about your school-aged alcohol experiences please detail this at the end of the questionnaire.

11) At what age were you first aware of friends/ class peers engaging in sexual activity?

12) Did you have a girlfriend or boyfriend whilst at school? If so what age were you. If you had a number of boyfriends or girlfriends please state how many and at what ages you had a boy/girlfriend.

13a) Was your sexual orientation clear to you from early on?

13b) were you fairly confident and happy in your sexual orientation? If yes skip ahead to Q14

13c) Did you experience any difficulties with your sexual orientation and if so it would useful if you could discuss the nature of the difficulties. If you are not comfortable to do so, then just answer YES.

13d) Did you ever pretend to have a different sexual orientation? By this I mean did you pretend to be straight if you were gay or bi, or vice versa, or whatever. If so, why?

14a) Did you ever lie and say you had lost your virginity before the age of 16, despite this being false?

14b) Or did you suspect this of someone else?

14c) did you lose your virginity before you were 16? If so, how old were you?

15a) How important were relationships/ sex to you between the ages of 13-18 and how did your attitudes to such matters change as you progressed through school?

15b) how important do you think relationships were to other people? Was it a clear interest among students in general? And from what age?

16a) Did you ever go to clubs/ parties/ gatherings where you or others your age consumed alcohol and/ or drugs? (under the age of 18) If no skip to Q17

16b) How old were you when you first attended such gatherings? And did you do this more than once?

16c) did you frequently go to parties/ clubs etc?

16d) Please feel free to describe any notable occasion within a club, party, gathering, specifically involving drugs, sex or alcohol. Please state what year or age you were.

17) Please circle or star the relevant option below. If none of these options apply to you then please skip to Q18.

Were you a:


Weekly boarder

Semi-border (ie, didn’t sleep at school but partook in general boarder activities)

close friend to a boarder

Regularly involved with boarding activities

(If you were not a boarder, but circled one of the last 2 options then please try to answer Q17a-l based on what you observed boarding life to be like.)

17a) How did you pass the time? I did not board, but I did go to a boarding school. I only vaguely remember what sort of after-school routines and lives the boarders lived. I would be extremely grateful if you could describe a typical day and then a typical weekend for a boarder, in as much detail as possible. If you run out of room please go to the end of the questionnaire and continue

17b) Did you have your own room, or did you share in a dorm? How did this change as you got older? For example, in year 7-9 did you share and then for year 10 & 11 did you get your own room? Please give details as to your room allocations.

17c) If you boarded at a Mixed school, were the girls and boys separated in the dorms? (I went to an all girls school so I don’t know at all) Please describe the extent of any segregation between girls and boys and whether segregation changed as you progressed up the school. I am mostly interested in the state of things for Year 10 and 11 students.

17d) Please describe weekend activities and whether there were any compulsory activities (such as church?). How much freedom did you have during the weekends?

17e) In year 11 what was the lights out time? Was a register taken to make sure everyone was in bed and accounted for?

17f) Did anyone ever sneak out of their rooms and into other people’s rooms after lights out?

17g) In year 11 what was the state of affairs between girls and boys in the dorms? Were there any rumours of sexual relations happening?

17h) Did you have a set time to do your homework/ prep?

17i) when a boarder misbehaved, what was the code of conduct? Students who misbehave during school hours get detention. What punishment do boarders get?

17J) could boarders stay for holidays if they were without family or for whatever reason? Please explain if boarders could stay for certain holidays (such as half term) but not others etc.

17K) were there any stupid rules in place for boarders (such as no kissing, not being allowed to watch certain tv etc) Mention anything particularly irritating or restricting.

17l) Did you enjoy your boarding experience? Please detail any anecdotes related to your boarding experience. Continue at the end of the questionnaire if you run out of room.

18) Did anyone play any practical pranks at school? Please go into as much detail as possible about good ones. Basically list other not so good ones

19a) Did you experience death of a loved one whilst still at school? If so, how did this affect your school life? Write in as much detail as you want, and continue at the end of the questionnaire if you run out of room.

(this question relates to an orphaned character who’s plot line and backstory is fairly fixed. I am not looking for ideas, I will not be using whatever you write to inspire my novel, I only want to ensure I am representing such a character in an accurate way that won’t piss off those people who have lived through such experiences.)

19b) Were you aware of any other student who experienced the death of a loved one whilst at school? If so, did you observe an affect on their school life?

20) Was there anyone at your school who was particularly solitary/ without friends? If so, why do you think they were friendless/ solitary?

21) Please describe the worst trouble you got into at school, and the consequences.

22) Please describe the worst thing you and/ or someone you knew of did at school that was not punished/ discovered by an adult.

23) What sort of novels did you read between the age of 15 and 20?

24) Did you feel under-represented in terms of literature during this age? By this I mean, were the books that were available to read and that were marketed towards the 15-20 age group actually relevant to your experiences?

25) What would your ideal school-based novel involve? (eg; pranks, pictures, relationships, sex, parties, school routine, mystery, simple language, detailed description, etc)

26) Would you ever read a school-based novel? If not, why not?

27) Can you think of any good/ notable school-based novels, tv programs, films, etc (eg, Skins, The In-Betweeners, Malory Towers/ Enid Blyton books, Harry Potter, Grange Hill, Waterloo Road, St Trinians, Hellphone,)

28) What would your ideal novel involve? (eg; pictures, action, relationships, simple language, detailed description, etc)

30a) Do you enjoy reading? If so, what genres/ books do you tend to read?

30b) If not, at what age did you come to dislike reading? Why do you think you stopped finding reading enjoyable and what might spark off a renewed interest in reading?


Stories/ Anecdotes: