This week I was very lucky to attend what is, I’m told, an increasingly rare thing in the world of publishing: a launch party. Even more exciting: we were celebrating the launch of a debut novel by my friend Antonia Hodgson, who’s now proved she’s not only a deeply talented editor (she’s editor-in-chief at Little, Brown), but that she’s also a deeply talented writer (well, those of us who read her editorial reports already knew that: she brings a real wit to everything she does).
The Devil in the Marshalsea is set in London’s debtors’ prison in 1727. I’ve not read it yet, beyond its fantastic and bloody prologue (see for yourself via Search Inside, then turn to page xiii), , but it’s already getting super reviews (a ‘brilliant first novel’, says The Times), and I’m looking forward to setting aside some time to immerse myself into a Hogarthian world of brothels and taverns and coffeehouses.
What’s notable is that the bulk of the action takes place in a prison. Prison stories are some of my favourite tales: The Shawshank Redemption, Orange Is The New Black, Kiss Of The Spiderwoman, Prisoner Cell Block H … Prisons create constraints, and whether the story is a closed-room mystery or a psychological drama or a soap opera, the possibilities for narrative tension are instantly heightened.
For this week’s writing experiment, write something set in a prison. It could be a whole story story, or a prologue to a novel, or a poem. Use that setting well: push against the limits of those prison walls.
PS this writing experiment is dedicated to the principle that prisoners should be able to read books. I don’t usually get political or sweary here, but the justice minister is a sadistic fuckwit if he thinks books are a privilege to be revoked. This surely cannot and will not pass.