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Inside Cover

English PEN / READERS & WRITERS


Introduction by Mark Haddon

First published in Great Britain in 2013


by English PEN, Free Word,
60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Collection copyright English PEN, 2013
The moral right of the authors has been asserted.
The views expressed in this book are those of the individual authors,
and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the editors, publishers
or English PEN.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright
reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or
introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise),
without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the
publisher of the book.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978-0-9564806-8-2
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Aldgate Press,
Units 5&6, Gunthorpe Street Workshops,
3 Gunthorpe Street, London E1 7RQ
www.aldgatepress.co.uk
Designed by Brett Biedscheid,
www.statetostate.co.uk

Foreword
Writing For Real

Mark Haddon

4 The Gates of Ytan



Steven Freeman, HMP Bure
WINNER

26

28

The Girl With


The Dragon Tattoo

Anonymous, HMP Full Sutton


RUNNER UP

A Book That Changed


My Life

A Letter for Mr Greene

Black Swans

31 A Little Bit of Wisdom



Anonymous, HMP Full Sutton

RUNNER UP

Robert Lodge, HMP Holme House


RUNNER UP
John Kellow, HMP Usk
RUNNER UP

The Green Dragon

12



15

The Green Hornet

Greg Pierce, HMP Isle of Wight


RUNNER UP
Anonymous, HMP Frankland
RUNNER UP

A Letter To Myself

Anonymous, HMP Whitemoor


RUNNER UP

16 My Pet Rusty

Anonymous, HMP Low Newton
COMMENDED

16 Dear Witch

Jamie Ford, HMP Erlestoke

RUNNER UP
18 The Letter

Anonymous, HMP Parc

RUNNER UP
19 A Letter (To My Doctor)

Denzil Davies, HMP Ranby
COMMENDED
20 A Letter

Cherylin Norrell-Goldsmith,

HMP Downview

RUNNER UP
22

Awoken From
My Big Sleep


Nigel Cranswick,

HMP Lowdham Grange
WINNER
24

The Man Who Would


Be King
Denzil Davies, HMP Ranby
RUNNER UP

32

Mudadiwa Chinyoka, HMP Frankland


RUNNER UP

Justifying The End:


Thoughts on Fifty Shades
of Grey by E L James

Barbara Gayton, HMP Askham Grange


RUNNER UP

34 The Slap

Stephen Marsh, HMP Swaleside

RUNNER UP
36 Ireland By Night

Martin Campbell, HMP Buckley Hall
COMMENDED
37 One Boy and a Dog
extracts

Anonymous, HMP Frankland
COMMENDED
38 The Rescue

Stephen Jackley
COMMENDED

extracts

39 Being Green

Anonymous, HMP Frankland
COMMENDED
40 Memoir of a Letter

Anonymous, HMP Maidstone
COMMENDED

41 An African Dream

an extract

an extract

44

Les Misrables
by Victor Hugo - extracts


Anonymous, HMP Perth
COMMENDED

42 The Colour Green


Dean Bennelick, HMP Parc
COMMENDED


Robert Lodge, HMP Holme House
COMMENDED

Drawings by Brian and Anonymous, HMP Inverness.

The Gates of Ytan and other stories

Foreword Writing For Real


Mark Haddon

Most writers start writing because theres something they need to get out
of their heads and onto a piece of paper. They have a story they need to share.
They want to explain themselves. They want to celebrate something. They want
to confess something. They want to get precious memories down on paper
before they vanish forever. Its about self-expression. As every writer in prison
knows, its also a way of escape, into the future, into the past, beyond the walls,
into imaginary worlds.
But good writing really good writing is not something you do just for
yourself but something you do for other people. The real test is to imagine
yourself on stage reading out your work to a group of complete strangers.
Will they laugh? Will they feel sad? Will they be gripped? Will they be
entertained? Its a terrifying thought but thats what good writing is all about,
holding the attention of people you have never met before in your life.
It might seem ridiculous to judge a poem against a piece of memoir and to
judge a piece of memoir against a short story. In truth its the easiest thing in
the world. Does it make you laugh? Does it make you sad? Are you gripped?
Are you entertained? It doesnt happen often but when it does its unmistakable.
Thats what I felt when I read all the entries printed here, and especially when
I read the two winners.
Steven Freemans Story The Gates of Ytan is a strange and beautiful thing,
a not-quite-fable, not-quite-folk tale in a very distinctive style (fox he come in
sharp night, bobbing), a really hard trick to pull off but which he pulls off with
real skill.
Nigel Cranswicks essay, Awoken From My Big Sleep, about Raymond Chandlers
novel The Big Sleep, is proof that simple writing can be incredibly forceful.
Like Chandlers novel its stylish and lean and I was genuinely moved. It was also
one of the few entries which gave me a real sense of what the writers chosen
book was really like. A real lesson in how to write for the reader.
There were over 400 entries for the competition, coming from over 60 prisons,
a huge number. Id like first of all to thank all those writers for taking the risk and
joining in. Id like to thank prison librarians, not just for supporting the competition
but for championing reading and literacy all year round. Id like to thank the
Writers in Prison Network whose support has been invaluable (and whose Arts
Council funding has been taken away). And finally, Id like to thank Irene Garrow
and everyone else at PEN who helped organise the competition and did the initial
round of sorting before a very large box of scripts arrived at my front door.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Gates of Ytan


Steven Freeman
HMP Bure
WINNER
Fox he come in sharp night, bobbing of head, busy of ears, to place of two black
rivers where trees stand right away. High over trees so high over trees is far black
river and spots of fire but not yet big eye that steals away dark and hunting time.
Fox he has in middle such pain of not eating food and this give him courage and
danger to do things fox know he must not do.
Land it sings in smells to fox, fox and his so-clever nose, fox that taste with his
mouth and his tongue and his teeth things that were for eating but not here now,
not now, things that go away from fox and his empty middle. Always and always
about him things move, and their moving send secret scents to him. Clever things
they move and nothing catches in his ear, bad things they move and all forest hears.
No-one hears fox. Fox his feet are clever.
Fox makes his nose to run through trod grasses and spilled bowels and chewed
leaves and every true story of pungent day hidden about this place, sifting, sifting
to find warm fur new smell that cries to come to me O fox. His tongue it hangs
and yaps in air to bring carried scents, and fox makes quick circle of head for he
has found it true. Warm and uneaten it waits for his belly, smelling of soil and
burrows and hiding places and slept-in dung. Fox he whimpers little cry of triumph
to his ears and darts along hurried way his food has gone before. His nose will
fill his belly soon, and all will be well. And there will be high screamings and low
twitching limbs and hot hot blood.

The Gates of Ytan and other stories

But what is not right. Fox comes to other, low black river where foul things swim
in their noise and their stink. Food it waits for fox, waits for him on other shore of
terrible black river and fox he is in agony of knowing he must go and knowing he
must not go. Back and fro, back and fro, fox stalks on shore of silent river but there
is no mistake. Smell of living food it whispers to him across bad place, and he even
hears tiny not-far-away rustlings from its feet and its snout and its tail. Come to me
O fox, it laughs at him. Across black river, where fox must never go.
Owl he has catch tonight. Some small food it is making a death song for owl and
owl dances it to high tree places fox never sees. Fox hate owl and makes biting
face, as if to be eating owl and his dinner both, but owl he knows fox does not fly.
Hunger speaks to fox, and he knows indeed what he must do. Forlorn, he glances
back into forest, ears flitching and barbing at every sound. From black river, with
its steady small fires unblinking, comes only a strangeness of silence and new hard
stenches of unknown things long carried away. Upriver, downriver, carried away
in their hateful stink that makes fox his tail droop sadly. A sharp night wind sorts
through moss and bracken and slugs and rottingness and speeds across river to fox,
saying come now, come quick, or food find other stomachs. Fox place forefoot so
unhappily onto hard black river, and starts across.
Midriver comes the sound, from over hill and making hard black river to shake
under fox. He stops, living and alive in every hair of his frame, to look as shape
comes over hill, blinding with its eyes, roaring. For the very briefest of instants,
fox tastes the bitter pang of regret.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

A Letter for Mr Greene


Robert Lodge
HMP Holme House
RUNNER UP
Mr Greene hated the outside world and refused to venture any further into it than
he had to. He had lived like this for years and had grown old and wizened and bitter.
Even the little white dog who had once been his constant companion had died a year
or so ago, plunging him deeper into sociopathic gloom.
The postman rarely approached his door these days so Mr Greene was surprised one
day to find a green, hand-addressed envelope lying on his doormat, demanding his
attention. He picked it up and gazed at the writing as if expecting the identity of the
sender to emerge, but the scruffy scrawl revealed nothing. The postmark was local
so he knew the letter had not travelled far.
He carried it into the lounge and settled into his khaki armchair. Gingerly, he tore
back the flap, which gave little resistance and opened without tearing. For some
reason Mr Greene felt his pulse quicken as he pulled out the single slip of paper
secreted within.
It was a cutting from an unknown newspaper with that days date on it, despite it
looking many years old. However, the most unusual thing about it was the photo.
It was grainy and indistinct but Mr Greene had looked in enough mirrors to know
it was of him.
What in the name of he started, but then looked at the accompanying headline
and was rendered speechless:
UNIDENTIFIED ELDERLY MAN
FOUND DEAD IN HOME
Unidentified? Mr Greene looked at the photo again and knew it must be him, it was
impossible not to recognise his own face. What was the meaning of this? He began
to read the article. It described the chance discovery of a man in his home with no
indication of who he was or whether he had friends and family. As he read the paper
it seemed to change, the photograph became more distinct and filled with colour,
the face growing more vibrant and alive as if in defiance of the headline. The words
swam before his eyes and he looked up to find the house now devoid of colour.
It had never been a particularly colourful place but what hues there were had been
transformed into various shades of grey. The previously black-and-white newspaper
in his hand was now the only exception.
A sudden din from outside sent Mr Greene rushing to his door and out in to the
greyscale world, where he was met with utter chaos. People were racing up and
down the street, brandishing guns and knives, many of whom appeared wounded;

The Gates of Ytan and other stories

cars seemed in an equal hurry, paying little attention to the safety of others.
There were children wandering amidst this maelstrom, lost and neglected.
It seemed to Greene like a gathering of all the worlds evil.
Out of this came a small white dog.
Dexter! Mr Greene cried, recognising the animal as his late pet. However, before the
two could be reunited, the whole scene froze, stopping Dexter mid-bound.
Philip Greene, a voice suddenly said as he stared dumbstruck at his beloved animal.
It was a while before he realised he was being addressed as it had been a long time
since he had been called by his first name. He began to look around for the source.
Philip, the voice repeated and he was shocked to realised it was coming from
the newspaper.
He looked at it and saw his photo was now so alive it was moving. His mouth opened
and closed in an effort to speech, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper.
Philip, the image in the paper said, I would tell you not to be alarmed but I see that
its too late.
Whats going on? Greene asked, hardly believing he was addressing a newspaper.
I am you, but an alternative you, transported here to deliver a warning. The world
you see here is what exists inside your mind, a dangerous place full of terror and
cruelty, as depicted in newspapers in black and white words of woe.
What are you talking about?
Dont speak, let me finish. The heading you saw shows the fate you are currently
heading towards. An inability to see past this vision will leave you to die alone.
Dexter was the last truly colourful aspect of you existence and it died with him.
Now I wonder if you remember what it means to be happy.
What do you want me to do?
Me? Its not up to me. This illusion will soon fade and you will be left once more
with your thoughts. It is then a choice of whether to act on this warning or live
without colour until your demise.
Slowly it did fade. The road cleared and green, blue and red seeped gradually back.
The newspaper blurred and became illegible, all colour gone save for a slight green
tinge. Philip wondered whether it had been a vivid dream but remained convinced it
wasnt. He folded the paper and put it in his pocket. Then, without a second thought
black, white, green or otherwise he walked down his garden path and into his
colourful neighbourhood.
He did so with a huge smile on his face.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

Black Swans
John Kellow
HMP Usk
RUNNER UP
The chapel has burnt down.
No more garlands of flowers
or footsteps in the dew.
Grass grows
over ancestral walls.
Black swans
like clouds of rain
through the water
meadows.
Into a land
that has not begun.
The valley where
just tangled poppies
grow on a blackened
road.

The Gates of Ytan and other stories

The Green Dragon


Greg Pierce
HMP Isle of Wight
RUNNER UP
When I think of my eighth birthday, I think of the Green Dragon. Diamond in
shape, green fabric layered over plastic tubing, sleek and fast to the mind.
Piercing red eyes and flowing tail completed the look; I visualised it flying high
and breathing fire: something out of Arthurian legend.
Not everyone was a fan though, my nan insisted it wasnt as good as kites made
in her day. My father was convinced it would never fly: something about lift and
aerodynamics. After a number of aborted attempts, it seemed the doubters were
right. Defeated and dejected, I stuffed the Green Dragon into a box under my bed.
There it stayed, forgotten, until one fateful autumn morning.
The whole of Britain was in chaos. I could remember the winds howling as I went
to bed, but had slept soundly throughout the duration of the storm. Everyone was
blaming Michael Fish: saying hed forecast the wrong weather. I didnt think it
was his fault though; how could it be after Id named the biggest fish in the pond
Michael in his honour?
On leaving the house I skulked around impatiently whilst my mother chatted to
a neighbour. She was saying how lucky we were and was denouncing the BBC
who were normally so reliable. The Green Dragon was tucked under my left arm
and Tessa strained against the lead of my right. A tan-coloured Labrador, Tessa
was ever energetic, and a little overweight: someone kept feeding her treats from
the table. It was a toss up between Tess and me, and who was the most eager
to leave; eventually mother finished chatting and we were off. Tessa took point,
pulling me after her, mother ambled along behind.
Carnage and devastation was everywhere. Tiles, blown from a neighbours roof,
lay shattered on the ground; a car window was smashed. A boundary tree at the
end of the cul-de-sac had been blown over; I marvelled at the violent split that
tore through its trunk. Tessa dragged me excitedly from one piece of wreckage to
the next; I pointed them all out to mother, but she seemed distracted. Maybe it
was something the neighbour said?
Turning left down the alley at the end of the road was like entering a minefield.
Broken branches barred our path, interspersed with fence panels, toppled under
the might of the wind. The alley led to a small farm track; damage was less severe
here, but the hedgerows showed signs of a battering. By now I barely noticed
though: at the end of the track was a style. And this led to the fields where the
Green Dragon would take flight.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

I leapt over the style while Tessa scrambled underneath it. Letting her off the
lead, I watched as she bounded over the grass and into the folds of the valley
beyond. It was a bright autumn morning, the wind coming in strong gusts: perfect
for kite flying. Halfway across the field I remembered mother. Looking back, I saw
she was sitting on the style, gazing across the valley at the woods beyond. Her
hand was in her coat pocket, absently fumbling around with something; I barely
gave it a second thought.
Placing the Green Dragon on the grass, I unfurled its tail and took a firm grip
on the handle. The red eyes leered up at me: issuing a challenge I had to take.
Heavy panting alerted me to Tessas presence; poised, waiting, she knew
something was about to happen. A gust of wind came and I ran as fast as I
could down the valley. My heart sank as the kite stubbornly refused to take
flight, bumping and scraping along behind me, barely an inch from the ground.
Everything was against me: the forceful wind, Tessa tangling in my feet, the
doubting voices in my mind. Breathing hard, my legs leaden, I almost gave up.
A tug on my arm alerted me to the take-off. Turning to look back I fell over Tessa;
the Green Dragon soared majestically over the tangled mess of boy and dog.
Scrambling to my feet, I pulled back hard on the handle, watching as the kite
danced upon the wind. Green cloth glinted in the sunshine, long tail flowed
behind; I could sense those red eyes watching me from above. Finally I could be
King Arthur, protecting Camelot as fire and brimstone rained down from above.
Then it was over. The wind dropped, the string went slack, and the Green Dragon
plummeted to the earth: doomed on its maiden flight. A pounding of paws
told me Tessa was on an intercept course; I gave chase, already knowing it was
too late. The kite smashed into the ground and was immediately set upon by a
barking mass of teeth, claws and saliva. By the time I reached the battle scene
there was little left: a few broken tubes, some shreds of green cloth, and Tessa
in the middle of the wreckage trying to look innocent. She earned the title of
Dragonslayer.
I ran back to mother with all the indignant rage an eight-year-old can muster.
On reaching the style I realised shed missed the whole incident: her attention
was fixed on something resting in her lap. I followed her gaze downward; it was
then that I noticed the letter in her hand.

10

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Green Hornet


Anonymous
HMP Frankland
RUNNER UP
It must have been early August. The sun shone down relentlessly with a heavy
heat that made everyone feel lazy, it was almost like a weight on your shoulders.
If you looked carefully a shimmering heat-wave could be seen hovering just
above the ground. Even the bees seemed to be having a lazy day. The heady
scent of various flowers drifted on the warm summers breeze. There were other
welcoming smells of summer as well. There was a lot of open space near our
house and the smell of long grass swaying in the light breeze was sweet and
heady in my nostrils.
The whole family had been in the garden most of the day doing various jobs or
just lazing in the glorious sunshine. My brother and I had already engaged each
other in several water fights. We would save our mums washing up liquid bottles,
and my brother had similar bottles that he got from the doctors for his acne.
These bottles all had nozzle tops and provide a good long squirt of water when
squeezed. They would be lined up next to buckets of water placed strategically
round the garden. The idea was that we could get a refill if we ran out of water at
any time. These bouts took place in the side garden as we had plenty of space to
attack and retreat. There was a pathway in the middle of two lawns and this acted
as our territory marker. My brother on one side and me on the other.
At some point during that week, a small green bike had turned up for me.
It just appeared as if by some kind of magic. I think it had been passed down
from a cousin who now had a new bike. This bike was metallic green and had
handlebars that curved round with a front break only and small hard rubber strips
on the wheels for tyres. It was a very old type of design. I did not care much
though. I was too young to be interested in fashion. This was the source of great
excitement as I was keen to learn how to ride a proper bike. Up until now I had
pootled about on an old three-wheeler. This was a bit old now and the chain kept
coming off. I loved my old three-wheeler but it was time to learn to ride a proper
bike. What a treat for me this was to be.
At the side of our house was a double lawn with a gravel pathway separating the
two parts of the lawn. It was a wide lawn and had a fence at the opposite side
from the house. There was a flowerbed at the front which was bordered by three
trees. My sister, brother and I all had a tree each. A big hedge at the back left a
good space in between. The grass was flat and fairly smooth. It was the most used
part of the garden as it was so flat. This made for a good run on grass to try and
get the bike going.

12

The Gates of Ytan and other stories

There were some doubts going round in my young head. Would I crash and
hurt myself? Or could this be the making of me? I had decided to have a go at
riding this bike. I had asked my brother to help me by holding the bike steady
whilst I tried to get it going. We had several attempts at this but I kept falling off
as I could not get my balance. I had begun to feel stupid as I could not do it.
There was talk of using stabilisers, which I would not hear of. After several failed
attempts, I was getting angrier by the minute. I decided to have a break and try
again later. We had some refreshment and I decided to have another shot at
riding this bike. It took me several attempts to get it but I got there eventually.
I had a feeling of pure joy, I was doing it all by myself. I crashed straight in to the
big hedge! I could hear laughter, but I did not care. I had done it! Now the world
was my oyster.
I never knew at the time; that learning to ride this bike was going to change my
life forever! I had started to ride my bike up and down our drive and around our
large garden. This was great fun but a little restricting. I wanted to travel further
afield. I had many types of journeys in to the streets around our home, but my
little bike was not up to the job. This bike was no good as it had the most awful
rubber tyres. So I had to stick to places close to our home. This frustrated me
especially after an accident when I had been thrown over the handle bars.
I was out with my brother and we were racing as I turned to see where he was
I crashed in to a wall and went head over heels. From that point I had lost my
love for this rickety old bike and stopped riding it.
One night my little green bike was stolen from our garden where I kept it.
I was beside myself with shock even though I did not ride it much anymore. It was
agreed by my parents that after the trauma I was to get a new bike from the local
bike shop, despite the fact that we had found my beloved stolen bike in the burn
near my house, missing most of its important parts! That sealed the deal for a new
bike and I went and chose one later that week with my mum and dad. This new bike
was to open up a whole new world of exploration for me. I was later to get a very
good racing bike in my teens which helped me to become a great cyclist.

13

The Gates of Ytan and other stories

A Letter To Myself
Anonymous
HMP Whitemoor
RUNNER UP
Dear me,

I know where you are, and I know you, as you are me, but a much younger
me. Youve run away from your father and your home. Im writing to tell you its
all right. Youll be running (or is it searching?) for a long time. Right up front I
want you to know no matter what I saw it wont make any difference to you.
I have my own reasons for writing.

I have children now. And every day I look at them, and feel sure that they
too will discover that their dad doesnt know everything; that hes fallible and
one day he will, just like your father now, disappoint them.

I know its impossible to comprehend right now, when your compass is
in an angry spin, and youre running from the heroic centre of your life the
commando trainer; the fighter, the teacher, the boxer, the dancer, the funny,
the leader of the pack the law. The one who, with endless ideas and
enthusiasm, could do and make everything happen.

You swallowed the humiliation because that was the price of a special
life, of following your own path, and in any case you were protected by and
protecting your island, you. Listen, me; that someone so great could change so
much for a thing as stupid as a wounded heart, and the need to be loved you
will not understand that until you are older. Everything changed, because you
changed. The rigid discipline and golden absolutes will be no more, and the
rock-solid realities will turn to dust.

I have absolute confidence, my funny, sad, joyful, bright-eyed,
enthusiastic, over-the-top, way-too-curly-haired (or new-wave curly-haired)
sixteen-year-old-misfit-of-a-self that this wont make one jot of difference to
your restless quest. As Orson Welles will intone on a vinyl record you will find
soon at a junk shop while at drama school I know what it is to be young, but
you dont know what it is to be old. I am telling you all this because now, at
forty-seven years old
I love you, me whatever. As I know youll be thinking to yourself: fortysevenhow boring. But you wont know how untrue that is until you
experience it for yourself and boy you do.

Be safe and well

Me, myself and I
Love
You/Me

x

15

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

My Pet Rusty
Anonymous
HMP Low Newton
COMMENDED
Im Rusty sitting in the garden looking
at my owner thinking why wont you
make a fuss of me. By rubbing my
belly and making a fuss of me.
By rubbing my belly and stroking my fur.
Please will you feed me and take me for
A walk so that I can get some exercise
By running around the field.
Please will you give my fur a good
brush to make me feel better.

Dear Witch
Jamie Ford
HMP Erlestoke
RUNNER UP
Witch, do this for me;
Find me a moon,
Made of longing;
Then cut it sliver thin,
And having cut it,
Hang it high
Above my beloveds house,
So that she may look up
Tonight,
And see it,
And seeing it, sigh for me
As I sigh for her,
Moon or no moon.

16

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Letter
Anonymous
HMP Parc
RUNNER UP
The letter fell to the floor and landed face up. The worn metal shutter that seals
the letter box clanked shut and swung loosely before it came to a halt and
signalled the beginning of deathly silence.
The lounge door stood ajar, wedged open by a Ladys plaid woollen slipper.
An open packet of McVities digestive biscuits lay against the skirting board and
a scattering of loose crumbs led to several spilled biscuits, one of which lay broken
in pieces.
The Victorian clock sat in pride of place upon the mantle above the original cast
iron fireplace.
The stark contrast of its ornate gold finish on jet casing, flanked by silver candle
sticks, which stood with Grenadier-like pride, filled the senses with surety of the
meticulous uniformity of a bygone era.
Its ticks and tocks hadnt been interrupted since the previous delivery of letters
fell to the welcome mat.
Letters that remain unopened due to the addressees unavoidable absence,
birthday cards which should have been opened, enjoyed and displayed
three days hence.
A newsagents invoice, an easy-clean catalogue and an urgently awaited hospital
appointment for an angiogram lay scattered about the threshold.
The clock ticked and tocked and mocked with precision the tabby cat that paraded
impatiently up and down the windowsill on the other side of the grass.
The clock ticked and tocked and mocked for a further thirty six hours before the
slippers owner was discovered. The coroner recorded a verdict of death by natural
causes, a heart attack.
The ornate Victorian clock shows no movement and hides its mourning with
a tireless precision. It sits in pride of place on a mantle and it mocks a ginger
tom from behind another window now.

18

The Gates of Ytan and other stories

A Letter (To My Doctor)


Denzil Davies
HMP Ranby
COMMENDED
I get up,
I feel down.
So go out,
And run round.
Drive my car,
Dont stop me.
Go so far,
Feel so free.
Chasing women,
Buying, buying.
Like a child,
Feels like flying.
Spending money,
I aint got,
Dear me,
Im in a knot.
Itll end in tears,
Im in trouble,
Sum of fears,
Bursted bubble.
God, Im ill,
Wonder why?
Need some pill,
To stop me cry.
Feeling higher,
Feeling low.
Im bi-polar,
DONTCHA KNOW!

19

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

A Letter

Cherylin Norrell-Goldsmith
HMP Downview
RUNNER UP
A page torn out hurriedly
An excited letter written
Thank you Grandma for the birthday present
Its the best I was given!
Coloured paper selected carefully
Perfume sprayed delicately
Loving words written to her brave soldier overseas
Pen poised awkwardly, words written thoughtfully
For the girl he met whilst on holiday
Written with the flush of young romance
Hoping he still has a chance
Tied up with delicate pink ribbon
Its the first time Ive ever seen them
Love letters sent between Granny and Grandad
In the dark years of war
When written love was all most of them had
Another page taken
Folded and in a brown envelope given
Its a final demand for the rent
Two weeks else youll all be in a tent!
She opened the envelope gingerly
Its the letter shes been waiting for
Telling her he knows he was silly
Will she listen to his plea?
Written whilst hes spent time banged up behind his door
Please accept his love, its all hes living for
A letter desperately written
Full of feelings long forgotten
Saying hes so very sorry, he never wanted you to worry

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Will you please forgive him?


You were the best friend he ever had
Now youre identifying him laid out on a mortuary slab
A white envelope thrust through the door
Postmarked Scotland, its from the Highlands and Moors
Two pairs of excited hands nip it open
Its exactly what they were hoping
Theyre going up to see Aunty
A holiday on a croft near the sea
Another letter marked Return to Sender
Didnt want to upset her
But no-one of that name lives here anymore
They were last seen a year ago, walking out the door
The neighbour has the cat, so I suppose thats that!
A card for number two, congratulations are for you
For the little boy with hopes hell bring you endless joy!
Letters come in all sorts of guises
Bringing all many surprises
And the brave soldier overseas
He wrote back to his sweetheart, will you marry me?

21

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

Awoken From My Big Sleep


Nigel Cranswick
HMP Lowdham Grange
WINNER
A few years ago I received an electric shock. It was a literary electric shock and
it changed everything for me.
I had just finished reading The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. This book made
me want to become a writer.
Me? A writer? Nonsense. But lets go back.
School offered me the improving works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen
and Joyce. But it was like throwing pebbles on an icy lake nothing got through.
I concluded English Literature was not for me. I wanted realism, humour and
excitement. I wanted it written in a language I understood.
As a result I did not read a book for twenty years. I thought I suffered from
Fiction Blindness.
The Big Sleep cured my blindness: Tall, arent you? said Carmen, I didnt
mean to be, said Marlowe. With that line I fell in love with Philip Marlowe,
the Los Angeles private detective. Self-deprecating, scathingly funny and
unpredictable.
Raymond Chandlers crime creation told me: this is a different way of writing.
The plot of the book finds Marlowe helping the retired and wheelchair-bound
General Sternwood, who is being blackmailed. There are also numerous
sub-plots involving the Generals two wild daughters and plenty of sex, drugs
and violence thrown in for good measure.
But it is not about the plot. It is about the stylish atmosphere Chandler
creates: the General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an
out-of-work showgirl uses her last pair of stockings.
In one single sleazy analogy an image is conjured up of a City with bad habits.
It also suggests the harshness of the time, the novel being first published
in 1939.
Or how about: the veneer had flaked off him, leaving a well-dressed hard boy
with a luger, as hard as the manager of a loan office, he sounded like a man
who had slept well and didnt owe too much money, it seemed like a nice
neighbourhood to have bad habits in.

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You are left in no doubt that the LA in which Marlowe moves is a dangerous
urban jungle, full of mean characters with nasty attitudes. Marlowe is not
writing about polite society. He is writing about criminals. Marlowe has to be
tough to survive but he retains his sense of humour: Im unmarried because I
dont like policemens wives.
Chandler began writing after a drink problem cost him his job. He was 44
years old. He took a correspondence course in story writing and embarked on
a new career. Philip Marlowe is now the template for gritty crime fiction and
his wisecracking smartass attitude is also echoed through films and TV crime
dramas.
This book brought me out of my literary big sleep and although the crime
fiction genre is often seen as the poor relation to proper literature, it means
the world to me: it got me reading and writing again.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Man Who Would Be King


Denzil Davies
HMP Ranby
RUNNER UP
The book that had the most influence and impact on me was The Man Who Would
Be King by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling himself was a Freemason, had been brought
up in India, and was an Empire man, British through and through, pro-army, but
tragically lost his own son in the Great War, 1914-18.
The book describes an encounter on a train in India in around the middle of
the 19th century. Peachy, an opportunist, along with his friend Danny, steals
a mans watch on a train, subsequently finds its Masonic square compasses on
the watch and being a brother Mason, returns the watch to the man, who is
Rudyard Kipling.
After being drummed out of the British Army for blackmail, the two sergeants align
themselves with fellow Mason Kipling and pledge over brandy and cigars to seek
their fortune in a hostile neighbouring country ruled by ignorant natives.
Their recognition of each other, in a far off land, as brother Masons, willing
to go out of the way to help each other, fascinated me. I became obsessed by
Freemasonry. The story takes them deep in to the interior of India where the
natives mistake Dannys Masonic pendant for the emblem of their God, Secunder
(Alexander the Great). He becomes son of Secunder and in turn gets treated as
King. They are found out soon as mere mortals and Danny is killed. Peachy returns
to civilisation to recount the tale to Kipling, who of course is a story teller.
As an adult I joined a Masonic Lodge, the 4055 North Glamorgan, and progressed
through Tyler, Inner Guard and became a Deacon spending many happy boozy
evenings in a lodge with my brothers. All inspired by Kiplings book.
Unfortunately like Danny I was unlucky, my wife threw me out I became a drunk,
assaulted her and ended up in prison. I resigned from the Masons not to bring
shame on the gaff. At my initiation when presented with my lambskin apron I had
been told how important it was and Be sure never to disgrace it, as it will never
disgrace you. I had to leave, you see.
The hidden passwords, handshakes and signs in the book, really are part of
Freemasonrys mystery. Like Peachy, being a stranger from the East going to the
West, seeking that which was lost, I was a mason. Perhaps one day, maybe in Africa
working for a charity, III meet a brother working for a charity and find fortune,
maybe on the train to Mahwah Junction, or somewhere similar. So mote it be.
On the level and on the square.

24

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


Anonymous
HMP Full Sutton
RUNNER UP
Do you like unusual plots, strong characters and unpredictable endings?
If so, then former Swedish journalist Stieg Larssons book, The Girl With The
Dragon Tattoo, has them all. The first of a trilogy, Larsson uses his knowledge
of extreme right-wing organisations to vent ire at individuals and institutions
who abuse their power. But the book isnt a rant; its a commentary on life.
It takes a fascinating journey through the loves, hatreds and intrigues of the
once rich and powerful Vanger family. But theres a problem. As head of the
dynasty, Henrik Vanger still continues to be tormented by a particular
question that decades later, still remains unanswered: who killed his young
protge, Harriet Vanger? Suspecting that the murderer was a member of
his large and dysfunctional family, he calls in disgraced journalist,
Mikael Blomkvist to find out.
Arriving in Hedestad where the Vanger family are based, Blomkvist initially
feels reluctant to get involved. However, with libel damages to pay after
defaming the powerful financier, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, Blomkvist falls
under the spell of old Henrik Vanger and takes the job. What happens then,
Blomkvist was totally unprepared for.
With the skill of a true craftsman, Larsson plunges Blomkvist into a
simmering underground maelstrom of Venger family enmities, its flirtation
with Nazi politics and, more chillingly, a predilection on the part of some of
its members for incest and general sexual abuse. Starting slowly, perhaps too
slowly for some, Larsson asks the reader for patience as one fascinating subplot unfolds after another. All comes, however, to those who wait.
Suddenly, the pace quickens. The parts of the Vanger jigsaw and what
ultimately happened to Harriet, starts to fit together. But to unravel the
mystery, Blomkvist needed help. It came to him in the unlikely package
of young, delinquent computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander.
In her early twenties, anorexic, taciturn and emotionally disturbed,
Salander wasnt even particularly pretty. Who, but Stieg Larsson, could
possibly have cast such a moody, aggressive and thoroughly obnoxious
character in such a starring role and actually get away with it? Well, he did,
and thats the point. In large measure, Larssons characters are contradictions.
We are introduced, for example, to Harriets mother, the poisonous Isabella
Vanger, and to Harriets rapacious brother Martin. We are introduced to
Birger Vanger and his sister Cecilia. All would have been socially perceived

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as coming from good stock yet as Larsson so skilfully shows, appearances


can be massively deceptive. On the other hand, sporting a dragon tattoo on
her left shoulder whilst leaving enough room to accommodate her personal
chip, Salander, despite her many faults clearly possess a nobility of spirit that
makes you warm to her. Moreover, what she did to business magnate Hans-Erik
Wennerstom, Blomkvists nemesis, towards the end of the book, was not only
massively clever but enough to make the hardest of us smile.
What a book!

27

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

A Book That Changed My Life


Mudadiwa Chinyoka
HMP Frankland
RUNNER UP
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of the few books I have read which have
had a profound effect on me both as a human being and as an incarcerated
prisoner. In many ways, the tale running through its very touching narrative
about human redemption against unbelievable odds loudly resonates and
echoes many prisoners lives including my own. Malcolm Xs life is testament to
the universality of our shared humanity regardless of the diverse backgrounds
we come from. The story of Malcolms triumphant victory over his own
prejudices and ignorance-induced criminality, through his sheer determination
to learn and acquire knowledge whilst in prison, is nothing short of truly
inspirational. His life story is indeed an awesome example of how the power of
the search for truth and wisdom is all redeeming, and can allow us all to raise
ourselves up and out of the suffering that often stems from our own ignorance
and prejudices. Malcolms heavily constrained journey through life began in the
1920s in a severely impoverished environment in a racially segregated Lansing,
Michigan. His place of birth had nothing to offer Malcolm X, and everyone from
a non - white background accepted the lowest position in American societys
hierarchy. Aged 7, Malcolm lost his father Earl Little, a rights preacher who died
under very suspicious and violent circumstances for openly propagating his
equality views. This sad turn of events in Malcolms early childhood was further
exacerbated by his mother suffering a mental breakdown a short time later
which resulted in him and his six siblings being put into different foster homes
by the Social Services. The mental demise of his mother because she could not
cope with raising a large family on her own and placement into a segregated
care system ensured that Malcolm would suffer from both material and spiritual
deprivation during his developmental years and youth.
Malcolm consequently grew into a very angry and troubled individual.
His future as a young man was to become a destructive and confused endeavour
to survive. In an attempt to escape the desperately sad reality of poverty he
faced in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm moved to Roxbury, a poor area in Detroit,
to live with his sister Ella. In this black ghetto environment, he inevitably began
hanging around with bad company mostly made up of street hustlers in pool
halls, and to Ellas dismay he was soon well-acquainted with street life.
A fast learner, Malcolm by the age of twenty had decided to move to Harlem,
New York, in a bid to improve his prospects. At this juncture in life, Malcolm
readily graduated into the ranks of Harlems criminal underworld and adopted
the criminal persona Detroit Red. He dabbled in peddling drugs, pimping and
even ran numbers in an illegal underground lottery for a while. It was however

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The Gates of Ytan and other stories

after a spate of burglaries with his gang that the law finally caught up with him.
Malcolm was duly sentenced to several years in prison. Alone in a prison cell
and at the lowest point in his life, the young Malcolm had the common sense
and intelligence to realise the error of his ways and at last he saw the light.
He possessed the courage to question objectively his poor lifestyle and the bad
choices he had made thus far. Malcolm realised that life is fundamentally about
the struggle of self. In that struggle, he reasoned, everyone has to figure out
what they want out of life and what their lifes work should entail. Malcolms
answer being a product of racially-defined times during Americas civil rights
era, was to fight with all resolve all forms of prejudice and ignorance, especially
his own. This was in order that no one else would have to bear the burden of
hate and the prejudice that afflicted him all his life, and the injustice as well as
suffering it brought about to many others.
In the end, Malcolm was completely transformed from a very angry,
misguided and worldly person into a selfless, positively-driven and spiritual
man in a righteous struggle for the universal dignity and rights of all humanity
to be recognised in the United States of America. A recognition that all people,
regardless of their diverse backgrounds, are essentially equal and should be
treated equally. Malcolm Xs story therefore never fails to have a positive
impact on all who dare read it. In my case, his autobiography has enabled me
to be critical of my life and failings as a person. Most profoundly, it has made
me also objectively ask what I want out of life as Malcolm did when he was in
prison. Above all, I have come to realise that I need to change my basic mindset
like Malcolm had to. I have to combat my own ignorance and prejudices if I
am to ever successfully steer through the journey that is life. Only then will I
possess the right frame of mind and tools to learn where, when, why and how
I went wrong as a human being, and accordingly understand how to redeem
as well as reclaim my lost humanity. This is more or less what is conveyed in
The Autobiography of Malcolm X and it certainly is a true universal narrative
about the human condition at its worst and its best. It is a story about life and
the vast possibilities it entails when we make the right choices. Malcolms life
is an example of our shared propensity to endure the most severe hardship
and challenges we encounter in life. His biography reflects, as our lives do,
our capacity to transform our own ignorance into enlightened wisdom and
so undergo self-improving change. Ultimately, it showcases our possession
of courage in the face of the greatest of all trials our own failure and our
capacity for redemption thereafter against even the greatest of odds.

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A Little Bit of Wisdom


Anonymous
HMP Full Sutton
RUNNER UP
I remember borrowing a book from my local library entitled My Turn by Sir Norman
Wisdom. I have been a fan of my comedy idol Sir Norman Wisdom for many years.
Norman Wisdoms book told a story of a life that resembled the hardships of Oliver
Twist and Charles Dickens put together. In many ways I could see the events of
Normans life were similar to my own. He told of a father who had treated him
harshly, which my own father had done. He told of his comedy routine on stage at
various theatres, how in one comedy routine he had a machine with a long metal
arm and a boxing glove on the end of it. The machine was called Biffer and Bonker.
There was an interesting feature in the book, where Norman tells of how he was
presented with Aladdins Lamp, but more interesting was the fact the lamp was
actually an old door knob and an ashtray welded together. There was a passage in
the book of how Normans father had told him he could not stay with him and told
him to go. How Norman found himself homeless, sleeping rough, which I could
relate to, as I too had found myself homeless for a while.
Norman told of how he had shed many a tear on lifes highway, and how he needed
no salt in his food as there was plenty of his tears. I had the good fortune to meet
Sir Norman Wisdom and my love of my comedy hero turned more to friendship
over many years of being invited to his home. I soon learned that it would not
matter if a person were a king or a tramp, Norman always treated everyone the
same, in a respectful way. No matter how tired Norman may have been he always
made time for people, and did this almost always in a non-grumbling manner.
I was raising funds on the Isle for Man for a local charity and this is where I met
Norman at his Ballalaugh home at Kirk Andreas. I was once given a personal
performance by Sir Norman, and he had sang my favourite song, Dont Laugh At
Me. I remember this song from my favourite film, Oh Mr Grimsdale. I dont know
how many people had asked him to say this but he did this without any objection.
There were many passages in the book that mentioned his home, which actually
resembled a Spanish villa. I recall my first time of walking up Normans short drive
to his home, and so many beautiful flowers and a little wishing well. All I can say
is Norman certainly got all of his wishes to come true, and as he used to say (in his
own words) he had been a lucky little Devil. III never forget Norman Wisdom,
God bless you Norman always.

31

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

Justifying The End: Thoughts on Fifty


Shades of Grey by E L James
Barbara Gayton
HMP Askham Grange
RUNNER UP
So? Have you read it yet? No need to ask what: its the book that everybody has
been talking about. People who dont usually read are hooked, unable to put
it down. Reading it allows entry to an exclusive club: those who have read the
book, not just those who have read about it.
Read by teens and twenties, by middle-aged ladies and by grannies. And its not
just women. Men too want to see what all the fuss is about. Set the timer at the
Book Club and see how long it takes before somebody mentions it: it wont take
long. Seldom does a book gain such a hold on the public imagination.
And to the dismay of literary types, to the disgust of wordsmiths, the book is
acknowledged to be badly written. So why should it have sold so many copies?
If everybody knows that the Emperors new clothes are only an illusion, then
why should they choose to pay for them? What is the attraction? What makes
this book like catnip, so that once youre snared, youre powerless to resist its
allure? What is it that makes people want to read this book?
No doubt it is curiosity at the beginning. But at some point the characters which
start off as two dimensional begin to gain depth until the reader starts to care
about them. And that surely is the key to any good book, whether it be a Man
Booker prize winner or the latest populist novel. The hype can lure us in but it is
our connection to the characters, the fact that we care about them and need to
know what happens next, that keeps us reading until the end.
For me, the fascination with Fifty Shades is not just how many copies it has
sold, or even how clever has been the marketing. It is the fact that within the
prison population there are many women who have declared themselves to be
non-readers and yet have devoured the pages of this novel. And then returned
to the library asking for more books, for recommendations. Even asking to
borrow Tess of the DUrbevilles (which is mentioned in Fifty Shades)
which they had been forced to read at school but now choose to re-read.

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And when the last page of a novel is turned we should feel bereft. In many ways
like spending an intense weekend with a lover: you feel better for having spent
the time together, youre sorry to see them go, and yet so very relieved to have
your life back again.
Then take a deep breath, visit your local library or bookshop, and start
scanning the shelves, like a desperate speed dater, to choose your book-date
for the next weekend of literary hedonism. Never underestimate the power of
the written word.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Slap
Stephen Marsh
HMP Swaleside
RUNNER UP
A book that almost legitimises hitting a three-year-old child doesnt sound a
great read but The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is exactly that.
When Harry slaps a child called Hugo at a friends barbeque, surrounded by
dozens of witnesses, who are friends of both parties involved, then divisions of
loyalty rise to the surface.
It almost comes down to two points of view, either you should never hit a child or
the annoying brat deserved it.
This book goes further than that. It takes the point of view from eight separate
people, some of whom are related to Hugo or Harry and some who just happened
to be at the party as guests.
Where the author has been intelligent is that he doesnt use those eight people
purely as witnesses to the assault. He takes us on a journey of their lives,
problems and secrets outside of the incident, and then lets us see how seeing a
child being slapped by an adult affects their decision-making on, sometimes,
life-changing moments.
There are practical moments in the book such as legal proceedings, but that
almost becomes a by-product as the tales of the people involved take over.
This is also the most multi-cultural book Ive ever read. It is set in Australia but
the entire world seems to have taken refuge in this corner of Melbourne.
There are mixed-race marriages, same-sex relationships and people from every
area of the globe and sometimes I felt the author was trying too hard to appeal
to everyone.
Connie is a teenage girl that steals the book for me, and my feelings for her
changed throughout the book from being supportive to actively being against
her, and also confusion. She is a very strong-willed young lady combined with
all the self-doubt a teenager possesses and who impacts on many lives by her
actions and non-actions.
All the characters offer such a lot in their own right and sometimes it is difficult
to know if they are a villain or hero.

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It is a book that makes you think about your life decisions and experiences and
how your life could have been different if different paths had been followed.
It also makes you realise that what you thought was a minor decision could have
turned out to be just the opposite.
It will divide opinions on many subjects including abuse, infidelity, alcoholism,
mixed marriages, homosexuality, parenting and friendships and that is not an
exhaustive list.
This is a book that will provoke discussion through the years as all the classics
eventually do.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

Ireland By Night
Martin Campbell
HMP Buckley Hall
COMMENDED
Were going up the road
with a full car load and
the boys are singing in the back,
fish and chips and skinny dips,
Guinness by the old turf fire,
kissing girls and holding hands,
tomorrow a day trip to Bloody Foreland.
Old men smoking pipes
talking in Irish with great delight
I was young just like you
back in 1942,
I sailed the seas by night and day
and now Im ready for the clay.
So say your prayers at night my son
And dont come home
till a hard days work is done.
The cock crows and I awake,
stuck behind a prison gate,
fourteen more hours to go,
then I can dream about Mary from Dunloe.
I will fill my day as best I can,
then as I lay my head,
I will dream of my green homeland.

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The Gates of Ytan and other stories

One Boy and a Dog extracts


Anonymous
HMP Frankland
COMMENDED
When I was a child, summer holidays were a bit of a burden for my parents so I was
shipped off to different places. This gave them a break and I loved going on these
adventures. I behaved much better during these summer visits than when at home.
Therefore, over a period of some years, I ventured across the country to stay with
relatives and friends. My favourite visit was to my aunt and uncles home in Northern
Scotland. During my stay I became best friends with their beautiful Golden Labrador.
*
Some of our adventures would last the whole day. Sometimes we would explore the
area and its surroundings. The town was built at the end of a sea loch with a harbour
that could, at times, be bustling with boats and fishermen. I preferred it when it was
quiet. Just along from the harbour was a small spit of beach. One day while walking
past the beach I noticed a large object lying on the sand near the waters edge. I went
to investigate. There I stood looking down at a huge jellyfish which had been washed
up by the tide. I had never seen anything like it or have since.
*
My aunt and uncles house was an adventure in itself. It was positioned at the bottom
of a steep hill right down at the loch side. The garden rose up towards the house
with a small patio sunk into it about halfway up. The house was a grand two storey
building with steps at the middle and all painted in brilliant white. There were walls
on either side of the steps which gave an even more grand impression to the visitor.
On both sides of these steps were immaculate flower beds bursting with summer
colours. Above them were beautiful bay windows offering the most stunning views
of the loch and the hills beyond.
*
Most of my family were good cooks. My aunt was exceptional. Every time we went
to stay we put on a few pounds. This was another reason I liked going to see them.
There was always lots of exciting food and goodies for me to eat. There was a
different aunt who I visited and we had an ice-cream sauce that froze on contact
with the ice-cream. At hers, we also had Hellmans Mayonnaise. I was addicted to
bread and mayonnaise. I would make sandwiches and secretly share them with
the dog. I even tried one of the dogs biscuits. It was not that nice, but if I had been
starving I would have eaten them. The dog was always fed in the back room which
was like another kitchen. Some people now refer to this as a utility room.
*
At bedtimes I was allowed to have the dog in my room until I went to sleep and
then my aunt would call the dog downstairs and put her to bed. When I got up in
the mornings, I would go straight to the kitchen and greet the dog. Sometimes it
was difficult to tell who was more excited, me or the dog.

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An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Rescue extracts


Stephen Jackley
COMMENDED
Meal times are the kindest clocks. They divide the day into sections, help keep us
focused. We are fed three times a day and each one of us cant wait to get our plate,
even though the taste of the food leaves much to be desired. How I long for a thick
juicy steak!
*
When I dream I am always running from what, I can never remember. There are
trees and fields, mountains and rivers. I can taste the air, so fresh and cool, carrying
with it the many scents of life. They say we are descended from a simpler race no,
a stronger and more noble tribe. Some of the ones here bear their features: a proud
brow, piercing brown eyes, strong legs, chest and shoulders. They walk more slowly,
pacing their rooms night and day, perhaps dreaming the same dreams. Running
*
Exercise time is over. Back to my cage.
I sit, watch, yawn, sleep
Again the snowy fields stretch away to a setting sun. Running. I feel the others beside
me, breathing hard, hearts pumping in synchrony, legs kicking white.
We can sing to the moon, if only to catch the echoes of tomorrow. Something lies
ahead; nothing lies behind. There is
More noise. Its particularly vigorous this time, which can only mean one thing
a visitor has arrived.
I can see her now cant refrain from joining the cacophony. Shes got long
auburn hair, a kind face. I cant believe shes looking at me, can barely contain my
excitement.
That ones got a history, the stupid guard beside her says, been here too long.
She smiles at me Oh please let it be so
III take him, she says, if only to make him happy.
Yes, yes, yes!
Are you sure? Theres a better looking younger Retriever over here
No. Im certain.

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Being Green
Anonymous
HMP Frankland
COMMENDED
Black cormorants flying in a V formation in the azure sky on the first frosty
morning of the year. Magpies play on the freshly cut green grass, others dance
in the air, one seemingly clinging halfway up a razor-wired fence staring up, and
another one on top of a security camera attached to a forty-foot pole. In the
distance, a wake of a fighter jet with the sun glinting on its silver tail and here in
this prison with Lifers who are never getting out. The sense of the clash of the seen
freedom and the cooped-up-ness in here. It makes one wonder and stifling a silent
scream becomes easy because prison is a total distraction.
My distraction was a gull gliding through the sky. It was unlock about half an hour
ago. On the landing prisoners are talking about the Everton football match yet to
be played. One prisoner is standing at his cell door wearing a baseball cap, one is
doing the cleaning, others are wandering around aimlessly and Im thinking about
two horses running in Ayr later on which I got from Radio 4 at 7.20am. And some
prison officers are talking about the Lake District whilst drinking coffee at their
table. The known self-harmers exit from their cell looking cool and live in hope for
another day without bad thoughts. Newspapers arrive and are promptly delivered.
Prisoners begin to discuss the days television viewing, but no-one mentions her on
the page with her breasts out. Those thoughts are held down. Its a taboo subject,
a private issue for another day at night-time when alone.
We get locked up so the officers can go for something to eat and the wing
becomes quiet. A cell becomes like a moored ship in the harbour and the
occupant has to create some noise to stimulate the senses. Prison is definitely no
Friends Meeting House.
We get opened up again and the afternoon passes by with cheers because a
football team has scored. Prisoners meander around the wing in deep thought.
Staff are vigil; theres no sound of laughter except, on this occasion, from a female
officer. Many female officers work in male jails nowadays. I enjoy the racing at
Ayr on telly.
Its tea-time and we are all locked up again till tomorrow. After that the wing turns
silent. And the only noises are the quiet whispers because another aspect of prison
life has awoke.
The monotony of prison life is like a merry-go-round that never stops. Some
prisoners even sleep with their television or radio on all night. I think of the sky.

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An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

Memoir of a Letter
Anonymous
HMP Maidstone
COMMENDED
When I was a child I cannot remember receiving letters through our letterbox
at home addressed to me. The thought of receiving a letter never even entered
my head as a child. There was no text messaging, emails or internet during my
childhood and mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction so to keep in touch
with someone you had three choices visit them in person, telephone them on a
landline or telephone box, or if it was not urgent you could write a letter and post it
in a post box.
As a child, who could I write to? I did once write to Father Christmas asking for a
bike and I put the letter in a cardboard post box that was in my school classroom.
I didnt get a bike for Christmas so my faith in writing letters was low. Christmas
and birthday cards tended to be hand-delivered so I missed out on these delights
coming through my letterbox. Even now, many years later, I can remember receiving
the first ever official letter addressed to me. My name and address were typed not
hand-written. Being typed made it extra special as I knew it was not from family or
friends as they would not type. I felt really grown up as it was addressed to Master.
My Dad said it was like putting Mister in front of an adults name and Master was
the junior version. It was my first junk mail. I was thrilled.
When I left school I suddenly felt like an adult, especially when I received a letter
with my National Insurance number in it. I opened a bank account for the first time
and the bank sent me a letter containing a cheque book and cash machine card.
These letters announced my arrival into the adult world but they also brought with
them responsibilities which, as a child, I didnt have to worry about.
As I grew older, I received letters which charted my life driving licence, college,
university, passport, employment, bank, credit cards, loans, mortgage, gas,
electricity, council tax etc. More and more of the letters I received were about
financial matters and about money I owed. I never seemed to get letters saying
someone owed me money.
Letters became something to dread as they never seemed to contain good news.
The internet arrived along with mobile phones, text messaging and emails. I was
being bombarded by junk mail trying to sell everything from Timeshare holiday
homes to pills that enhance my love life. I had emails from helpful Nigerians telling
me their government could give me money for a small upfront fee. I received less
and less paper letters in the post as they were now going the technological route.
I used to dread letters dropping through my letterbox. That became dreading
letters dropping in my email inbox. Technology made me contactable 24 hours a
day. Things were getting bad when I started dreaming about missing emails while I

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was asleep. I may have become a bit obsessive about constantly checking to see if I
have any new emails or texts.
In a funny way it was a relief when I came to prison. I no longer had the worry of
having to check my emails or texts. I didnt have the anxiety of making sure my
mobile phone was charged up and had credits. It was back to basics of pen, paper
and landline prison phone. The stress of being contactable at any time vanished.
I didnt have to convince a window telesales person that I was happy with my
existing windows. I wasnt woken up at 3am by my mobile phone beeping that a
text arrived saying I can have 10% off cat food.
I still dread getting letters, especially from probation, but at least no one is
demanding money.
I actually smiled when I got my first piece of junk mail while in prison.
Some things never change.

An African Dream an extract


Anonymous
HMP Perth

COMMENDED
As we sit in the warm, musical darkness with only the shadows flickering from the
comforting fire we talk of things long past and the things that are yet to come.
In this distant wild land we find a place of peace where there are no prying eyes,
no wagging tongues, no disappointment of that which has been lost. There is
only the silence and the smell of Africa which conjures up ideas of excitement, of
opportunity of something different and more worthwhile.
The fireflies are busy swooping and flickering around the pools of light as we drink
our final nightcap, a fine old brandy which leaves a wonderful aftertaste of oak and
spice. Slowly we walk towards the snowy white canvas of our sleeping tent happy
in the knowledge that tomorrow is another day, and it will be another day in Africa.
The morning comes with a burst of golden light which gives everything an
unearthly glow. Slowly the shadows fade and again the vast green plains of Africa
stretch before us. Today is another day of travel through this ever-changing and
vital landscape, and by the evening we hope to have reached the foothills of the
distant mountains. There at long last we shall begin our search for the elusive and
most prized of all Africas multitude of bounty, her sparkling green diamonds.

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An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

The Colour Green an extract


Dean Bennelick
HMP Parc
COMMENDED
I was in too much of a hurry to answer the scruffy elderly man who grabbed my
sleeve and asked,
Any spare change? Help save a life?
I had no time to stop if I was going to make my train.
What! You didnt hear me? he shouted indignantly as he let go of my sleeve,
Just walk by now.
At first his tone seemed aggressive, but I was struck by a hint of refinement which
made me question my dismissive reaction. I paused and took the few coins I had
from my pocket.
Sorry, I am in a hurry, but here.
As I handed him the coins he caught my hand and, with a critical tug, compelled
me to turn around to face him. His eyes were oddly bright green and his stare was
penetrating as he took the coins. I would not normally notice a strangers eyes, but
there was something strangely piercing in the way he stared, and the vivid green
colour of his eyes. As he seized my hand he shook it, smiled, winked inexplicably
and said:
You could miss that train now.
Below ground I joined the queue for the ticket machine, I needed 4.10 in coins to
buy my ticket and I had just given the vagrant all my loose change.
I got to Paddington just in time to see our train pulling out. It would be an hour and
a half before the next train and I headed for the bar.
The news unfolded on the large-screen TV in the bar. Twenty three people killed,
dozens injured and the death toll rising. The train I should have been on with you
had crashed. I kept thinking, I should have caught that train.
The next day I was numb as I wandered over the moor.
The top of the slope was high above sea level and the air was cold and thin so the
ancient woods were haunted by stunted trees that grew gnarled and lopsided;
leaning in concert in the direction spitefully chosen by the harsh, cold winds which

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The Gates of Ytan and other stories

gusted all year. The atmosphere was cooling now, but throughout the day the
summer sun had urged its heat deep into the earth, now still warm underfoot.
The air in the wood was calm, too sleepy to move the leaves that elegantly draped
the branches. The potent scent of grass and moss-covered bark defied gravity to
hang in the air.
The sun was low above the horizon as I rambled to the top of the hill where the
dazzling light of the early evening sun skated low across the terrain, casting long
crooked shadows. For a moment my heart stopped as, through the still air, intense
rays of light skimmed along the ground from where penetrating shards of green
light reflected off the grass and flashed through the lush foliage. I was struck by
an explosion of light which ambushed my senses and, through squinted eyes, the
wood looked like it was decorated with diaphanously-thin translucent shapes
wrought from the colour green, enigmatically familiar.
The rush of senses was almost audible, as if the whole realm resounded in
chromatic thunder. The green of the tableau reminded me of the green eyes of the
vagrant that yesterday had said, Help save a life, and left me alive without you.

An English PEN Book / READERS & WRITERS

Les Misrables by Victor Hugo - extracts


Robert Lodge
HMP Holme House
COMMENDED
This is an epic story of the transformation of an ex-convict called Jean Valjean into
a philanthropic, selfless French gentleman during a period of turmoil and change
for his nation. Throughout his journey he takes on many different identities in an
attempt to establish a new life for himself and his new protg Cosette. However
he can never escape the real person underneath.
I could not help but identify with Valjeans quest to escape his past as I have
frequently wished I could become somebody else and have gone through phases of
disliking the person I see in the mirror. This book helped me realise that a change
of name does not magically create a new person. Actions rather than identities
determine who an individual becomes.
As the title suggests, much of Les Misrables is bleak and downcast but towards
the end we are reminded that hardship, loneliness and penury are battlefields that
have their own heroes.
It is a historical novel that contains detailed descriptions of the French Revolution
and the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. The reader is given an insight into the
emotions on both sides of the battles. Les Misrables contains upwards of 1200
pages and as such requires a large investment of time to complete, especially
given the density of the prose. The reward is a fantastic story about a man released
from prison as he struggles to reinvent himself with help and inspiration from
others as a respectable and generous member of the community.

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From Readers & Writers
the literature education programme of English PEN
Edited by Irene Garrow and Philip Cowell
English PEN is one of the UKs leading literature and free speech charities, based at
the innovative Free Word centre in Farringdon, London.
We promote the freedom to write and the freedom to read. The founding centre of
a worldwide writers association, established in 1921, we are supported by our active
membership of leading writers and literary professionals with an elected Board led by
the distinguished author Gillian Slovo. Our education programme develops the writing
of prisoners, detainees, refugees, asylum-seekers and other socially-excluded groups.
We also run a full programme of public events, and award prizes to outstanding British
and international writers.
Special thanks to Mark Haddon, Prison Reading Group, National Prison Radio,
Writers in Prison Foundation and Inside Time, and to our funders The Monument Trust,
AB Charitable Trust, Arts Council England,
The Limbourne Trust.
Support the work of English PEN
find out more at www.englishpen.org.

English PEN is a company limited by guarantee, number 5747142,


and a registered charity, number 1125610.

Good writing really good writing


is not something you do just for
yourself but something you do
for other people.
Mark Haddon