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Anne Charnock: Five Things I Learned While Writing Bridge 108

Late in the twenty-first century, drought and wildfires prompt an exodus from southern Europe. When twelve-year-old Caleb is separated from his mother during their trek north, he soon falls prey to traffickers. Enslaved in an enclave outside Manchester, the resourceful and determined Caleb never loses hope of bettering himself.

After Caleb is befriended by a fellow victim of trafficking, another road opens. Hiding in the woodlands by day, guided by the stars at night, he begins a new journey—to escape to a better life, to meet someone he can trust, and to find his family. For Caleb, only one thing is certain: making his way in the world will be far more difficult than his mother imagined.

Told through multiple voices and set against the backdrop of a haunting and frighteningly believable future, Bridge 108 charts the passage of a young boy into adulthood amid oppressive circumstances that are increasingly relevant to our present day.

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Bridge 108 has six viewpoint characters, and the central story is about a young climate migrant who is trafficked into slavery in a post-Brexit England. As I tapped away at this novel, I wondered if the reader would confuse the different voices. I honestly didn’t think so—the characters themselves are distinct. However, when I’d finished the first full draft (I edit as I go along, so my first full draft is almost the done deal), I suspected I could do more to fine tune the six voices. Sure, at the end of the first draft they each had their own distinct vocabulary to match their background and personality, their own favoured profanities! But I felt I could do more.

In particular, I decided to further separate the voices of a twenty-something female trafficker, Skylark, from a thirty-something female illegal business operator, Ma Lexie. They had similar tough backgrounds though Ma Lexie had hoped to stay in education longer. My solution: when re-drafting Skylark’s chapter I adopted a prose style of long, meandering sentences to suggest her life of ‘ducking and weaving’ and her slightly more youthful, flitting mindset. Ma Lexie had experienced more hard knocks, and I shifted her voice to be a tad more clinical, to reflect her more strategic, more hard-headed approach to life.


Bridge 108 is my fourth novel, and I now have more writing support than I had ten years ago. I knew no other fiction writers when I started writing my first novel, A Calculated Life. But I did have fantastic support close at hand. I relied heavily on my immediate family as first-readers. My husband is an ex-journalist, so he has a good eye. And our two sons gave me fantastic tips and advice based on their knowledge of the tech world, economics, maths and so on. With Bridge 108, once again they have all helped enormously. In addition, I could turn to my new writer friends to ask for help. It’s so important to have a writing family!

My advice to anyone asking for help from family, friends, writing colleagues, is to keep them posted on when your manuscript is likely to be ready for reading. Keep them updated if the schedule changes. Be flexible! If one of your readers has a time slot when they’ll be able to look over the manuscript, send them whatever you have, explaining it still needs some work/proofing etc. I wrote Bridge 108 to a tight deadline, and I am so incredibly grateful that my family and two close writer friends were prepared to read the completed manuscript as soon as it landed in their inboxes. Of course, I am ready to reciprocate! That’s how it works.


I admit I had mixed feelings about writing the character of Jaspar, the head of an enclave recycling clan. He enslaves migrants in his waste collection operation and at his recycling warehouse. See, I did not know if I could write a truly bad guy. Some of the characters in my earlier novels have appalling character traits, but none reach Jaspar’s levels of violent disregard for other people. Well, I needn’t have worried. I loved writing Jaspar’s viewpoint chapter and if anything it unnerved me how energised I felt in creating this despicable person. I shocked myself, and I feel his chapter is one of the strongest in Bridge 108. Having said that, there were aspects to Jaspar’s personality that struck me as endearing, even commendable. I feel that nuance is so important in creating believable characters.


In the midst of drafting any novel, I can hear the critical voices of future readers, but I have learned to ignore them, especially so while writing Bridge 108. From the outset, I saw Bridge 108 as being more than ‘Caleb’s story’. I knew I’d become bored writing from his point of view for the entire novel – that’s just me, other writers might love to do exactly that. With the multiple voices, I could reveal more about how the enclaves operate, how the recycling clans operate in a shadow economy, how the state institutions exploit the climate migrants for economic gain, how each of my characters is both perpetrator and victim.

But throughout the many months of drafting and editing I could hear a future reader saying, “The story jumps around too much” or “I only want to know Caleb’s story”.

The fact is this: I can’t always give readers what they want! I have to trust my own writing instinct, stick to my own vision, and hope my novel that will be judged on its own terms.


There’s a time for creativity—all that staring into thin air, imagining the next great twist in the plot, going with the writing flow etc—but there’s also a time for writing a journal, filling in spreadsheets and making checklists too. I love the beginning of a writing project when I buy an A4 hardback ­notebook (spending time choosing the colour!), which I use for sketching out ideas, working out timelines, outlining characters, etc. At the outset, I also set up two spreadsheets. In one spreadsheet I log my daily writing activity, specifying whether I’m outlining, drafting, editing, proofing, and adding my word count. I don’t stress about my word count (maybe a little), but I love to look back on a project to assess it in terms of cold metrics! Weird, I know. I also start a spreadsheet for the novel’s chapter-by-chapter story, with columns for chapter setting, chapter characters, story development, key events in the plot, additional notes, reminders for later edits. All gloriously colour coded. If I’m too tired to draft the next section of the novel, I joyously fill in my spreadsheets. Yes, definitely weird!

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Following her education at the University of East Anglia, where she studied environmental sciences, Anne Charnock’s writing career began in journalism and her reports appeared in New Scientist, The Guardian, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune and Geographical, among others. As a foreign correspondent, she traveled widely in the Middle East, Africa and India, and spent a year overlanding through Egypt, Sudan and Kenya with her journalist husband, Garry.

She went on to attend The Manchester School of Art, where she gained a Masters in Fine Art. Between art projects and exhibitions, she began writing her first novel, A Calculated Life, which she self-published. She signed a publishing deal with  
47North for a new edition and, four months later, A Calculated Life was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award 2013 and for The 2013 Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award (Debut Novel).

Her second novel, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind (47North), is set in the past, present and future. The research for this novel took her to Shanghai and Suzhou in China, and to Florence and Bologna in Italy. The Guardian included this novel in “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2015.” Her third novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time (47North), won the 2018 Arthur C. Clarke Award and was shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Association 2017 Award for Best Novel.

She returned to the world of A Calculated Life in writing the novella The Enclave (NewCon Press). This won the British Science Fiction Association 2017 Award for Best Short Fiction. 
In 2017, she was delighted to become “interviewer in residence” for the Arthur C. Clarke Award as part of the award’s collaboration with the Ada Lovelace Day.

Anne Charnock: Website | Twitter

Bridge 108: Amazon