Today I’m happy to have Miriam Halahmy on the blog. You will remember my review of Illegal the other day? Here Miriam tells us about some of the things that inspired her, and she certainly has a lot of experience of teenagers like Lindy and Karl. Not everyone has had television sets thrown at them.
‘Illegal is the second novel in my cycle of three novels set on Hayling Island opposite the Isle of Wight. Each novel is stand-alone but a minor character in the previous novel becomes the major character in the next. Illegal is Lindy’s story; the story of a teenage girl driven to take desperate measures when all other choices are taken away from her. It is a novel about growing up and gaining independence against the odds.
In this book I have focused on the needs of vulnerable young people in our society who do not come from supported backgrounds. I was a Special Needs teacher in London schools for 25 years and worked with many pupils like Lindy and Karl.
Lindy is based on an amalgam of pupils I knew with emotional and behavioural problems. Many of these pupils cannot cope in mainstream classes and attend special units with a very high pupil teacher ration. Even then they present very challenging behaviour fuelled by a whole range of factors such as difficult home backgrounds, drug taking, peer group influence and sensory and emotional problems.
One girl I worked with had grown a fingernail and then sharpened it to a fierce point. She threatened everyone around her but inside she was a very frightened person as a result of abuse she had suffered. Another boy was going deaf and refused hearing aids. He simply couldn’t control his anger and broke windows, furniture and doors. Another lad threw a portable television at me one morning. You learn how to duck in this field of work!!
Inside all of these damaged, angry and very frightened young people were decent human beings trying to emerge. Some of the pupils I have worked with were mute, like Karl. This is a terrible affliction and reduces the sufferer to a shadow. They cannot make friends, their education suffers and they need very specific therapy. A paediatrician confirmed to me that the shock Karl experiences in Illegal could trigger speech again. But it’s not the ideal cure!
I believe that with the right support every young person has a future. It concerns me that in these days of austerity the support needed by young people on the very fringes of our education system may be cut and opportunities reduced. I am certainly convinced that last August we would have had much less trouble on our city streets if there were youth clubs and youth leaders engaging with young people on the margins of our societies.
At the heart of many of these troubles is the massive drugs industry. This is why I chose to place this issue in Lindy’s story. I have worked with many young people who have had serious mental health problems from using cannabis and other drugs. If Lindy’s story helps even one teenager think twice about taking drugs, then it’s been a story worth telling.’
Let’s hope it does. I have great faith in the power of books, and if I were a doctor I’d prescribe them. And if I was the government I’d start spending our money rather differently. The trouble with them, though, is they’ll never be as wise or sensible as I am.