July 2009

Inside Poetry

I’ve been co-editing and writing for Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners since it started in 1990.

A couple of years ago we began regularly publishing two pages of poetry written by prisoners, then a quarterly eight page supplement. It seemed that men and women locked up in cells had plenty to think about and, more surprisingly, felt inspired to turn their thoughts into poetry. The obvious next step, we decided, was to publish a book.

Inside Poetry, a collection of work from over 200 contributors was launched on July 2nd. Check it out on Amazon. Apart from being great poetry – sometimes from people who’ve never thought of writing anything before – it gives a vivid picture of life inside prison, the regrets and aspirations of the men and women captive there.

As a novelist, I find that my involvement with prison affairs over nearly twenty years has opened my eyes to the world of people who, through bad luck or bad judgement, have brought their lives to the brink.

Sometimes this surfaces in my own writing. The novel I’m working on at the moment, Break of Day, features a prison officer and a prisoner. They’re not the major characters in my story about a runaway boy, but they are important.

I don’t believe, unlike many contemporary writers of fiction, in a great deal of specific research, but I do believe that novels (which tend to take on a will of their own) pick over the data of a writer’s life and choose what is relevant.

I’m not a poet myself so I’m particularly excited to have had a hand in the making of Inside Poetry. It has a foreword, incidentally, by Andrew Motion and admiring endorsements from Boris Johnson, Michael Palin and author/prisoner Razor Smith.