Monday, 2 April 2018

Hello, I am still alive

We went on holiday to Scarborough for a few days, too.
For weeks now, I've kept thinking to myself, in an idle sort of way, "I really must update my blog, otherwise people will think I'm either dead or have forgotten how to use the internet."

Surprise! I haven't forgotten how to use the internet. I did deactivate my Facebook, though, mainly so I could get some bloody work done. So if I seem quiet, on social media or in real life (I'm not doing much teaching at the moment, either), it's mainly because I'm spending all of my free time trying to write my next novel.

The novel is about outsourcing, and thanks to my K Blundell Trust Award from the Society of Authors, I've been able to spend the past few months concentrating on researching and writing it. Writing a novel, especially a realist novel, is somewhat like writing a Masters dissertation, in that you can find yourself ensconced in several research wormholes, and have a hard time deciding what to put in, and what to leave out.

Outsourcing is a fascinating business, horrific and surprising. One of the challenges I've had in writing a novel set in this world is that it's extremely difficult to think of something outlandish enough to dwarf some of the things that actually happen in real life. I'm incredibly grateful to the people who have met with me to share their knowledge and expertise.

Here are some of the things I've found out (SO FAR.)

1. In 2015, despite being rated "Good" or "Outstanding", a tier of the probation service was outsourced to the private sector. The most high-risk offenders stayed with the National Probation Service, with the lower risk offenders being managed by Community Rehabilitation Companies, or CRCs. The NPS [the public sector arm of the probation service] ended up being massively oversubscribed, because so many offenders were 'bumped up' from the CRCs [the outsourced arm] into their service.

2. To work in the National Probation Service, you have to have an MA in Criminal Justice.
To work in a CRC, all the companies have to do is ensure staff training is "appropriate".

3. England has the "highest incarceration rate in Western Europe" (Alan Travis in the Guardian.) We really love sending people to prison for a long time. And guess what! That's also why we keep running out of prison places. Hence, this is also why we have so much outsourcing in the prison service.

4. In 2012, Sheffield Council entered into a PFI contract with multinational corporation Amey, who were tasked with improving the streets and roads, a project that they said would involve felling up to 17,500 trees, more than half of the trees in Sheffield. (Josh Halliday, The Guardian.) Activists from Sheffield have put up a strong protest. One of the Council's most controversial actions was that it got a civil injunction to stop protestors entering the barriers around the trees. South Yorkshire police also accompanied Amey on a dawn raid. When householders refused to move their cars so tree felling could go ahead, the raid ended with pensioners still in their nighties being arrested (you can read more about that here.)

More recently, a vicar with a tambourine, and a middle-aged woman playing a pink glittery recorder, have been among some of the people arrested trying to stop the trees being felled. (Helen Pidd, The Guardian)

The PFI deal that Amey have with Sheffield Council is apparently due to run for 25 years.

5. At one stage, the multinational "Security" service G4S, whose "specialism" is in transporting prisoners between custody and the courts, were losing prisoners at court at a rate of about one prisoner a month. Even so, the government continued to give them contracts to move prisoners. Perhaps because they are so amazing at it?

6. There are 17 species of bat in the UK. All of them are nominally protected, and 4 of the bat species have extra protection: they are "annexed II species".

7 If you've ever seen a bat, most likely it was a Common Pipistrelle. It's the only bat that comes out at dusk. Most other bats only ever come out at night.

It may seem odd that I'm researching bats and outsourcing both for the same novel. The truth is, I have an esoteric method. Also, I know plenty more about bats that I'm not sharing here, because I've got to save something for the book.

Thanks for reading my little update. That's it for now. Check back for another update in about four months.


Thursday April 19th I'll be reading at the Leeds launch of the Verse Matters anthology at Leeds University. Book tickets through Eventbrite (it's free!)

Tuesday May 22nd helping with the launch of May You: The Walter Swan Anthology (Valley Press) at The Leeds Library. Again, it's free. More info & book tickets here.

Currently reading

The Underground Hamid Ismailov 
Home Fire Kamila Shamsie