Please be upstanding for the lovely Gill Hoffs, the very first blog take-over. Surely that deserves some Nutella?
Drugs, thugs, research and reading
Once, as a student many years ago, I tried a sip of Red Bull. When I was vegan, I ate very very dark chocolate. That, dear readers, is as experimental as I get when it comes to illicit substances. When I read Shaun Attwood’s HARD TIME, an account of his spell in America’s most dangerous jail, I was glad I stayed in the UK and (more importantly) never dealt or did drugs.
Attwood was an Englishman abroad in Arizona; a stockbroker, raver, and drug dealer who served his sentence amidst a torrent of cockroaches, sweated chunks of his skin off, and turned his life around upon release (he now delivers talks on the grim realities of prison to schoolchildren). It was horrible to read of the conditions the prisoners suffered through, especially the heat and the beatings, not to mention grisly murders. Even when I remembered the crimes some of them were incarcerated for, it was hard to reconcile their inhumane living conditions with 21st Century ethics. Whatever your personal opinion on this, there is no denying that HARD TIME is a gripping read, a powerful antidote to the tough guy glamour of prison life often found in fiction and the media, and an essential resource for crime writers, teenagers who might be attracted to the drug scene, and those wishing to discuss the justice system in the USA.
An alternative take, a funnier and more charming autobiography of a life tinged with illegalities, is included in Jeremy Scott’s FAST AND LOUCHE. I read this beautifully-written tale of an English rogue before meeting Mr Scott for myself, and have to say he is just as entertaining in real life. Disarmingly frank, he chronicles his misadventures with humour and panache, including the time he spiked Ted Heath’s vol-au-vents with speed, and intersperses his candour with quotes from Marcus Aurelius. An unrepentant rake with a gift for prose, Scott’s book is scandalous and delicious; one to be savoured and read aloud to anyone in earshot.
Both books are valuable to me as a writer, as a resource and examples of in Attwood’s case, direct and simplistic writing, and in Scott’s case, fluid and literary phrasing. From Attwood, I learnt the slang and tribal systems of an American jail, that my school dinners though vile were not as bad as prison food, and to associate Snickers bars with ill-fed inmates. Through reading Scott’s work I came to understand that no matter how awful an experience is, or how cringe-worthy, others will have blushed through worse, and there is always a market for a humiliating personal anecdote which will actually help take the sting away.
For example, my then-boyfriend (now husband) told me a dab of toothpaste on a spot overnight would clear it up. Magic, I thought, it must be great for my skin, and slathered it all over my face before bed. When I got up in the morning, my face peeled off. Not in an airbrushed-advert kind of way, either. My skin was red raw and itchy for days. I looked like pizza minus the cheese, but though unattractive I was minty fresh. And despite all the trauma, I still got spots.
Care to share any of your embarrassing moments?
Hard Time, by Shaun Attwood, is available to buy here. Its prequel, Party Time, is also out now.
Fast and Louche, by Jeremy Scott, is available to buy here. His book, Coke: an anecdotal history of cocaine, is out next month.
Gill Hoffs lives in Warrington, England, with a dwindling supply of Nutella. Her work is widely available online and in print – see here for details – including Wild: a collection, out now from Pure Slush . Her next book, The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: the lost story of the Victorian Titanic, is due to be released by Pen & Sword in January 2014. Find her on facebook or as @GillHoffs on twitter. If you send her chocolate, she’ll love you forever.