A rapper has rapped about my book. How many authors can say that?

A rather incredible thing just happened.

Kloud 9 Reacher, UK rapper and performing artist, just performed a freestyle rap in tribute to my latest novel, Feral Youth, on Spit It Out TV:

Production: OfTheRedProductions

This is incredible for two reasons: (1) because I am really, really not ‘street’ enough to be having rap songs written in my honour and (2) because it is a truly excellent song, worthy of Plan B or better. Kloud 9 Reacher has read the book, taken the themes, used one of the characters (a rapper called Ash) and given him a voice – a voice exactly as I imagined when I wrote the book.

This comes in a week when I’ve had confirmation that the Feral Youth audiobook will be out any minute, there’s interest in ‘Feral Youth the movie‘ and the Feral Youth app is in development, bringing the book to life with interactive audio and visuals.

It feels as though Feral Youth is growing into something much more than a book. I am very, very excited…

How you can help a girl like Alesha this Christmas (without leaving your desk)‏

Merry nearly-Christmas! I hope everyone is enjoying the silly season.

I’ve decided to donate all my December Feral Youth paperback royalties to BelEve UK, a south London charity of which I’m a patron, which does amazing work helping teenage girls from all backgrounds to achieve their potential.

So… if you happen to be stuck for a Christmas present, then choosing Feral Youth could help to provide support for some real-life “Alesha”s out there. (Oh and the ebook is a bargainous 99p until Sunday, if you’re a Kindle type.)

FERAL YOUTH on Amazon

I’m also working on the film adaptation of Feral Youth… nope, I’ve never written a script before, but how hard can it be? (I mean, I’ve produced a whole 90-second trailer, right?)

Have a very happy Christmas and a merry new year.

BelEveUK team in action with girls in Lewisham

BelEveUK team in action with girls in Lewisham

Feral Youth goes multimedia (Warning: May contain scenes of an offensive nature, i.e. me trying to act)

A year ago, when I was planning the launch do for Feral Youth, I thought I was publishing a book – you know, one of those cardboard things with pages stuffed in the middle? There was an ebook too, but that was the extent of my multimedia foray.

It turns out, that cardboard thing with the pages inside spawned a whole load of other things in other formats, like… online stuff. Video. Music. Spoken word. Cool stuff like that.

The book trailer was the start. It was just a promo idea, really, based on my hunch that the ‘youngsters’ who might like to read Feral Youth weren’t browsing the book review section of the Guardian; they were hanging out on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter.

Then, having discovered my ‘Alesha’ on stage at the Lyric Theatre, in the form of the brilliant actor and poet, Deanna Rodger, it seemed like a waste not to put her talents to more use. So I put her in a tiny, overheated studio for a week and made her read the whole book out loud into the mic. The resulting audiobook is truly phenomenal. Go and buy it now. That girl can act.

A month later, out of the blue, I was excitedly informed that a rapper known as K9Reacher had got so ‘into’ one of the characters in the book (Ashley, who is a rapper), that he’d written and recorded a tribute rap based on Ashley’s situation, collaborating with an awesome young production company, Of The Red Productions.

This very same Of The Red Productions kindly offered to have me read a passage from my book on their channel, #SpitItOut TV, which, believe it or not, they aired. To the public. I know. As I said, they are awesome – and brave.

OK, stop laughing at my south London accent.

I said, stop it.

Thank you.

So… In the new year, the very same actor who had played multiple parts in the book trailer for Feral Youth called me to announce that he wanted to dramatise some ‘unseen scenes’ from the book with a bunch of other actors, releasing them to a whole new audience online. Yes, that actually happened.

And now… taking it down a few pegs in terms of acting panache… [drumroll please] … but fortunately compensated for by the incredible production company Of The Red Productions*… the awesome and brave production company who saw potential where my drama teacher did not… Please check out the wonders they have worked with my second on-screen performance, a taster of the book dramatised in a rather special way. (And please stop looking at my forehead. It’s rude to stare.)

More to come, I very much hope. And for all those who thought a book was a cardboard thing with pages inside… well, turns out there are multiple ways you can #GetIntoABook. I’ll keep you posted!

* Of The Red Productions is offering deals for new authors seeking new and brilliant ways to bring their books to life. Check ’em out here!

Why Ched Evans’ victim deserves an apology too

This article first appeared on Huffington Post. To view the original article, click here.

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This week, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, compared the ‘plight’ of convicted rapist Ched Evans with that of the families of Hillsborough victims. “He wouldn’t be the first person or persons to be found guilty and maintain their innocence and then been proven right,” he told the BBC.

Naturally, his crass choice of words provoked fury across the Twittersphere and calls for Taylor to quit, or at least to apologise to Hillsborough victim families – which he did.

Taylor clarified his comments, swiftly stating: “The point I was making was not to embarrass or upset anybody at all among the Liverpool supporters. I’m very much an admirer of them and they know that.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, Gordon, but you have another apology to make: the one to the victim of the rape for which Ched Evans was found guilty by jury in 2012.

Mr Taylor, by making statements about Ched being ‘proven right’, makes clear his underlying assumption that Ched Evans is in fact free of any wrongdoing – the implication being that the UK justice system has let the footballer down and incarcerated an innocent man.

He wouldn’t be the only one doing this, either. In this week’s Spectator, Rod Liddle describes an “utterly ludicrous and petty campaign against Ched Evans”, implying that the petitions against Evans hold no weight and somewhat bizarrely claiming that Evans’ return to professional football will not put him in a position of ‘influence’ anyway. (Rod, I have two words for you: MIKE TYSON.)

I could list other (male) pundits and experts from the football community who have, deliberately or inadvertently, revealed their underlying beliefs that ‘poor’ Ched Evans has been run through the mill unnecessarily and that he is more the victim in a terrible witch hunt than a rapist.

Just to be clear, Ched Evans is not a victim. His rape victim is the victim. That is, the woman who was raped in a hotel room, then identified and abused by Twitter trolls, then had to change her name and move house five times in under three years and this year had to spend Christmas away from her family and friends as it was “too risky for her to visit”.

We put our faith in the UK justice system and that system found Ched Evans guilty of a crime. Repeatedly denying the charges does not make the perpetrator innocent, no matter how many high-profile footballing pundits imply that it does.

Gordon Taylor has apologised to Liverpool families who suffered a miscarriage of justice; I would like to see him apologise to the victim of a crime that he appears to have conveniently erased from his version of history: the rape of a woman by Ched Evans. She deserves an apology too.

 

Polly Courtney is a writer, commentator and amateur footballer. She is passionate about equality in all its forms.

Download your free copy of POLES APART!

To celebrate 10 years of Polish migration within the EU (and frankly, to stick two fingers up at Nigel Farage), Polly Courtney is giving away copies of her “revolutionary” page-turner, POLES APART. Grab your free ebook here! Spread the word!

PA + free ebook

“You’re lucky, being a girl. You can always get au pair work or a job in a Polish bakery. Apparently they’re springing up all over the country.”

Marta grits her teeth and nods. She is used to the assumption that she moved to England to change nappies and mop floors. It couldn’t be further from the truth. As a graduate of one of Poland’s top universities, Marta has ambitious plans for her new life.

But things don’t work out as the young migrant had planned. Her qualifications are unpronounceable, let alone recognisable, and her new friends seem more interested in spending their cash than helping Marta make hers.

As yet another door slams shut in her face, Marta finds herself alone in the English rain with a broken suitcase, no money and nowhere to go… and the phone number of a young woman she barely knows.

Based on a true story, Poles Apart is the moving and funny account of one young migrant’s search for recognition in a foreign land – a book that will appeal to fans of Rose Tremain, Marina Lewycka, Kathryn Stockett and Monica Ali.

“Courtney has an ability to breed empathy for an ethnic minority subjected to negative stereotypes.” — Metro

“This book is revolutionary for the British reader.” — Nowy Czas

“There is something very real and immediate about Marta’s new experience of London.” — Polski Express

Free download

Ghost Town: A brilliant and painful exploration of 1980s racial tension

“The trouble with self-publishing is: it’s too easy to do badly.”

This is a phrase I find myself saying far too often, on my travels as a self-publishing author. So, when I find an indie book that is well-written and well-edited, with a fantastic cover design and an author who has truly understood the value of building a platform for her books, I like to shout about it – and that is what I intend to do with the latest book I’ve read: GHOST TOWN by Catriona Troth.

GHOST TOWN is a unique and brilliant book. Set against a backdrop of the Coventry race riots in the 1980s – a period of British history I (shamefully) didn’t know much about – it was not just a compelling read for me, but also a learning experience.Ghost Town

Artfully alternating between the first person voice of Maia, a naïve and conflicted young white 20-something, and the third person viewpoint of Bahjan (Baz: ‘too paki to be white, too gora to be desi’), the story takes us straight to the heart of the racial tensions that erupted across Britain in the early 80s: not the much talked-about Brixton riots, but the persecution of Pakistani and other Asian communities in the midlands.

Then, as now, the mainstream media did little to cover the reality of events and it is clear that the author of GHOST TOWN did a lot of first-hand research to get to the bottom of what really happened. (There is a lot of this on her website.) Young people were killed on the streets in violent clashes. Letterbox fire bombs were commonplace. The police did little to protect Asian families from ugly violence that is seen at close range by Maia and Baz. I get the impression that the gradual ‘awakening’ we see in Maia – her views on race and what it means to belong – is an awakening that the author experienced during her time as a twenty-something in Coventry. The character is utterly believable, as is that of Baz, which must have taken a lot more research in terms of dialect, attitudes and background – again, very convincing.

The plot cleverly weaves the bigger social themes into the main characters’ stories without being clunky or too overt. Much of the plot centres around ‘the Skipper’, a homeless shelter in the heart of Coventry where the two main characters volunteer, and the intriguing range of frost-bitten down-and-outs who use its services. This choice of setting, like the theme of the book and the choice of voice, is unusual and different to that of most books I’ve read. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

Triskele Books: an author collective

Triskele Books: an author collective

It’s hard to liken GHOST TOWN to anything else out there, but there were certainly echoes of Alex Wheatle’s EAST OF ACRE LANE. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to step out of their comfort zone and explore a little-talked-about pocket of British history.

GHOST TOWN is published by Triskele Books and available in all the usual places e.g. Amazon.

Does Iain Duncan Smith Do His Research by Watching TV?

Middle-class Britain has been shocked by the ‘hidden reality’ of welfare ghettos apparently revealed by TV programmes such as Benefits Street, Iain Duncan Smith explained as he spoke at the Centre for Social Justice today about how his welfare-to-work reforms are apparently beginning to work.

“Whilst the middle-class majority were aware of the problems in poor communities, they remained largely unaware of the true nature of life on some of our estates,” he stated, perhaps giving more indication of his own lack of awareness than that of others.

True nature? Is this actually how the work and pensions secretary does his research? Does he sit in his office, with his back to the £10,000 taxpayer-funded portrait of himself, feet up on the mahogany desk, watching Benefits Street and learning about how poor people live? Or perhaps he watches from home, in one of the wings of the 16th-century Tudor mansion that he inherited in 2001. (Culture of entitlement, anyone?)

This is exactly why programmes like Benefits Street are dangerous: they appear credible. As anyone who has worked in TV will tell you, documentaries never simply ‘reveal the truth’; they tell a story. That’s what makes them interesting. The story in this case is: Benefits culture is out of control and it has become a way of life for all claimants.

Only it isn’t, and it hasn’t.

The vast majority of people claiming unemployment benefits in the UK do so as a last resort. The people I spoke to in my research for Feral Youth considered signing on as a shameful option – something they would do anything to avoid. This is the reality. Benefit fraud only accounts for a small fraction of our expenditure (roughly £1.2bn compared to an estimated £65bn in profiteering by buy-to-let landlords, subsidies to banks, tax-dodging by the super-rich etc.)

The documentary is carefully crafted to show only the extreme components of life for the inhabitants of James Turner Street: the neglect, the abuse, the lack of pride and of course, the sense of entitlement. In fact, recent research on this exact same street by Vector Research, painted a somewhat different picture. “None of us would have suggested that it was a cosy neighbourhood we would seek to live in,” said Paul Baker, who led the research, “but it was far from the hell hole portrayed on Benefits Street.”

What Iain Duncan Smith is doing, quite unashamedly, is using propaganda to justify his hideous reforms that serve to push deprived communities further into poverty, rather than lift them out.

young people

The loudest message that came out of my research, which involved spending time with young people in charities, schools and on the streets in the wake of the London Riots, was this:

They talk about getting us off benefits and into jobs, but what jobs? I been trying for two years and I can’t get no work.

Job prospects, especially for young people with little social capital, are dire. Unlike Iain Duncan Smith, most people can’t get away with fake qualifications on their CV and the longer they remain out of work, the harder it becomes to continue the search.

In fairness, IDS did reference his ‘visit after visit’ to deprived areas, which gave him a sense of how urgently ‘life change’ was needed.

“In neighbourhoods blighted by worklessness… where gangs were prevalent, debt and drugs the norm… families broken down… those living there had one thing in common; they were for the most part dependent on the state for their daily needs.”

I can’t help wondering how deeply Mr Smith conversed with the people who made up these deprived communities, as he was toured through in his expensive suit with his entourage of staff. Did he hang out on street corners and ask how young people spent their time now the local youth centre had closed down? Did he ask the teenagers in the shadows of the tower block whether they were still thinking of going to university, now that tuition fees would leave them £36,000 in debt? Did he get invited into homes on the estate to talk to desperate mums about how they were coping with paying the spare room subsidy, given that there weren’t any smaller properties in the area?

During a school visit in south London, I asked a bunch of teenagers what they would say if they had the opportunity to speak to David Cameron. They replied:

Try living our lives for a day. Just try it.

And that, I believe, is what Iain Duncan Smith needs to do if he really wants to end the ‘twilight world where life is dependent on what is given to you, rather than what you are able to create.’

Or, I suppose, he could just stay in his inherited £2m mansion and watch it on TV.

 

Polly Courtney is author of Feral Youth – the story of the London Riots through the eyes of a disenfranchised teenage girl.