Over to Miriam Halahmy...
I was a teacher for many years and worked with young people who had special needs. Many of my pupils had severe emotional and behavioural problems and I have drawn upon these experiences to create my two main characters in my new novel, Illegal, the second book in my cycle of three novels set on Hayling Island.
Lindy and Karl are both troubled and neglected fifteen year olds. Lindy comes from a highly dysfunctional family, where the parents spend the benefits money on alcohol and betting and her two older brothers are in prison. Lindy has been trapped into the shadowy world of international drug dealing by her older cousin and terrified she will end up in prison like her brothers, she has begun to self-harm. She is very like some of the girls I taught who were depressed and scared because of difficulties in their home lives.
Some of the young people I taught became schizophrenic after using cannabis. This inspired me to research and write about the link between mental health problems and drug abuse. If Lindy’s story helps even one teenager think twice about taking drugs, then it’s been a story worth telling.
Karl’s Dad won three million on the Lottery. His parents have decided to travel the world, taking Karl out of school. He hates the travelling and after a particular trauma, ignored by his parents, he has become mute. Many of my pupils had communication problems and some of them were mute, like Karl. Children stop speaking for all sorts of reasons and once they stop it is very difficult to start again.
Young people with severe emotional problems can present very difficult and challenging behaviour; hard to manage in a busy mainstream school. They find it difficult to communicate why they are angry or violent and can become out of control. Special units with a smaller pupil teacher and specialist therapeutic are needed for some pupils. I have taught in one of these settings and you certainly had to learn how to dodge! One boy threw a portable TV at me one morning!
This extract from the middle of Chapter 12, Madness, is an example of communication difficulties between teachers and pupils.
The corridor was quiet and empty. Everyone had gone to lunch and Lindy could hear the faint clatter of plates from the dinner hall on the floor above. All she could think about was making Karl speak and answer some proper questions. She had a list of about a million.
“Come on then, tell me about all this money, if you’re rich you can speak, your parents would have taken you to the best doctors, wouldn’t they?”
Karl stood there staring at her, his eyebrows made a deep black v in the centre of his forehead. It was infuriating.
“Why are you in this dump if you’re so rich? You can’t like it in the special unit.” Her voice sounded shrill and harsh in the empty corridor as it bounced off the walls. “Or is it because you really are a retard?”
Karl flinched and his eyes dropped.
Top marks for meanness as usual, Lindy Bellows, you cow.
Everyone called Karl ‘the kid who doesn’t speak’. She was the only one who said ‘retard’.
This retard is the one who bought you those Heeleys. Liam never bought you stuff.
It looked like she would have to admit defeat. There was no way he was going to speak. She couldn’t make him even if she threatened him with her nail. She didn’t know what else to say.
Then a familiar voice called down the corridor. “Lindy Bellows!”
It was the English teacher, Mr Davies, and Miss Wold was with him, staring curiously at her and Karl.
“The headmaster wants you in his office,” said Mr Davies, exchanging a scornful look with Miss Wold.
Lindy hesitated, looking back at Karl.
“What are you doing here, Karl Reece?” asked Miss Wold and she threw a sneering nod in Lindy’s direction.
Karl’s chin remained dipped into his chest and Lindy felt a new flush of anger towards him. All he does is shrink-wrap himself when there’s trouble. Some friend.
But can you blame him? said a little voice inside her head.
Mr Davies looked at Lindy and barked out, “Well, off you go.”
“All right, keep your hair on,” and she flounced off down the corridor, her spearnail and middle finger raised in a rude gesture.
“Detention for that, I think Miss Wold?” called out Mr Davies.
Lindy ignored them. She could hear their animated voices disappearing behind her and she was sure she heard something about Terrence.
Why hadn’t she gone to school over on Hayling Island instead of following Terrence and Garth to Park Road High on the edge of town? All the teachers hated the Bellows family, didn’t they? At least on the Island, no-one would know her. She didn’t stand a chance here.