The victim: A sixteen-year-old girl with facial deformities who accuses four classmates of something unthinkable.
The defendants: Four handsome teenage boys from hard-working immigrant families, all with corroborating stories.
Whose side will you take?
Former barrister Zara Kaleel, one of London’s brightest young legal minds, takes up Jodie Wolfe’s case; she believes her, even if those close to Jodie do not. Together they enter the most explosive criminal trial of the year in which ugly divisions within British society are exposed. As everything around Zara begins to unravel, she grows even more determined to get justice for Jodie. But at what cost?
* * *
Even I default to white
Take It Back includes several characters from a South-Asian background, a fact made clear by their traditional names and the context of the novel.
About two thirds into the book, there is a scene on a football field which initially included ‘Stephen, a black boy who was light on his feet’. A draft or two later, I realised that I hadn’t described any of the Caucasion players as ‘white’ – so why single out Stephen?
This gave rise to a dilemma: do I comb through the novel and clumsily add ‘white’ to every Caucasion character, or do I take out the ‘black’ attached to Stephen? I opted for the latter – but does that now mean there are no black characters in my book, or just that they’re not described as such?
I’m a woman of colour from a working-class background so you would think I’d have this worked out by now, but even I default to white.
Experts are incredibly generous
I don’t have a legal background so I knew that writing a courtroom drama would involve some intense research. I started (rather misguidedly) on Reddit and posted a question on the ‘LegalAdviceUK’ subreddit asking if anyone knew a barrister who might consult on the novel.
I received a dozen snide comments (“you clearly have no idea how much barristers charge”) and I soon deleted the post. I approached some lawyers separately (via Googling) and was stunned by their generosity. One barrister invited me to chambers and a solicitor read the whole novel to root out faux pas. Between them, they answered a hundred of my questions. Five other lawyers gave me specialist advice, as well as two sexual assault counsellors and an ex-police officer. Experts can be incredibly generous if you ask nicely and respect their time.
Freedom.to is a lifesaver
Freedom is a productivity app that has been a complete lifesaver for me. In the age of social media, distractions are relentless; always at the fringe of the page, calling you away. I use Freedom to block out all social media while I write. I’ve created custom blocklists and can set the length of individual sessions.
The app isn’t free, but if you have trouble staying off Twitter, it’s completely worth the price tag. (They’re not paying me to say this!)
No one owes you anything
Here’s the thing: no one owes you anything. You are not owed an agent. You are not owed a book deal. You are not owed a big advance. And you are not owed your partner’s time.
Your book is your dream so don’t expect others to prioritise it.
My boyfriend and I have a deal whereby he does all the cooking and I do all the cleaning. In the darkest depths of deadline, I found myself feeling tetchy that he wasn’t offering to do the dishes after cooking a meal. But here’s the thing: writing a book is my dream, not his and after he’s spent the day working at our co-owned business, doing a grocery shop, getting our car fixed and cooking a meal, the least I can do is the damn dishes. Writing a book is my dream and I’m not owed anything.
I do crave validation
I recently listened to a podcast in which a popular influencer and artist spent a long time extolling the democratising powers of social media and the fact that we can all become publishers and bypass the gatekeepers.
Later in the podcast, he spoke about his desire to be taken seriously as an artist and explained that he had published a book with Penguin Random House. “The biggest publisher in the world!” he exclaimed – twice.
It was an interesting illustration of how artists crave external validation even when they say they don’t. I thought I’d be happy in doing good work, but if I’m to speak honestly, I crave validation too. Getting a book deal with HarperCollins and reading positive feedback feels good, and while it’s dangerous to peg your happiness to external forces, I’ve learned that I’m not immune.
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