So here’s my big confession – I have trashy taste! But don’t go telling anyone! Cos if you read my author biog I sound dead high-brow – 1st Class Degree from Oxford in English Literature, writes for The Times and The Guardian, nominated for The Carnegie. I sound like the sort of writer whose novels are inspired by worthy stuff like Dickens and Chaucer and Shakespeare and William Golding and contemporary modern classics, don’t I? And I am – honest, I am! In fact, all those writers inspired I Predict a Riot. But not all my influences were quite so – um – classic! Made in Chelsea, Youngers, Top Boy, The Only Way is Essex, My Mad Fat Diary, Skins, Son of Rambow, The Smurfs …. even Twilight (so sorry!). Yup – they all feature in my latest book (although some more obviously than others!).
But I’m not going to apologise for my guilty pleasures (well, not much anyway). Cos I can’t be the only writer with a secret passion for Nashville and Alvin and the Chipmunks – can I? OK – perhaps it’s best if I explain.
The Outsiders v The Only Way is Essex
I remember exactly where I was when I first read ‘The Outsiders’ by S. E Hinton. I was thirteen years old, it was a blisteringly hot summer day and I devoured it in a single sitting in the field at the back of school. Up till then I’d been subsisting on a diet of pony books and Jackie Collins. Then I read S.E, Hinton’s masterpiece and felt as if a lightbulb had gone on in my head and the world would never look the same again.
‘The Outsiders’ is a story of teen gangs in 70s America that was written by a sixteen year old school girl and it isn’t like anything that had ever been written before – or since. The characters of Sodapop, Ponyboy, Dallas, Darry stay with you forever. It remains one of my favourite books of all time.
‘I Predict a Riot’ is set during the 2011 UK riots and tells the story of three kids who set out to make a movie and end up in a riot, in a summer that will change their lives forever. Like ‘The Outsiders’ it looks at kids on both sides of the tracks – from Maggie, the politicians’ daughter, to Tokes, son of a notorious gang member, running from trouble, and Little Pea, the kid who everyone has given up on – abused by his mum, neglected by society and pushed around by the ruthless Starfish Gang who rule the streets in Coronation Road.
There’s a stabbing, a shooting and a riot and I kill off one of my favourite characters of all time (are authors allowed to have favourite characters – it feels a bit like parental favouritism, but still…). The scenes in the park, the death of my most beloved character – all of that is indebted to S.E. Hinton. If I capture anything of the spirit of her ground-breaking novel in mine then I can die happy.
But – and this is going to sound a bit anti-climactic – I’m also a teensy weensy bit channelling ‘The Only Way is Essex’. Actually, more ‘Made in Chelsea’ (and I’m sort of allowed to like MIC cos occasionally an old pupil of mine appears in it – which makes it OK, right!) The thing is that ‘I Predict a Riot’ is written as a film script. Maggie is making a film about her neighbourhood and Little Pea fancies being a reality TV star. He turns it into ‘The Only Way is Coronation Road’ and ‘Made in the Starfish’ warning Maggie that ‘some scenes have been set up for your viewing entertainment’. His attempts to stage conflict and help Maggie find the perfect ending for her movie land all three kids in more trouble than they could ever have imagined.
At this point it gets less Binky and Jamie and a bit more Pigeon English, more The Knife that Killed Me than The Only Way is Essex, but, trust me, there’s a bit of Spencer and Louise written all over it.
Golding, Great Expectations and …The Smurfs
‘I Predict a Riot’ is my ‘Lord of the Flies’. Now that sounds like a more high-brow statement of literary intent, right?
In the summer of 2011 I watched the unfolding events of the UK riots with horror, seeing kids as young as ten looting, rioting, destroying their own neighbourhoods. Shortly afterwards, I was teaching Lord of the Flies; to my ‘naughty but nice’ GCSE group and, struck by the parallels with recent events, I asked the class if there were any circumstances in which they could see themselves getting involved. The discussion that followed fundamentally shaped the book I wrote.
Like Lord of the Flies, I Predict a Riot looks at how kids from very different backgrounds end up getting dragged into violence, crossing lines, fatally compromising themselves. In it, I set out to challenge the presentation of young rioters in the national press, the commonly held assumptions about class and the factors which prompted kids to end up looting and rioting that summer.
But unlike Golding’s book, I Predict a Riot offers a bit of optimism. Golding believed in the ‘darkness in man’s heart’ but I’ve always secretly suspected he was one of those teachers who don’t actually like kids very much (you know exactly the ones I mean – I bet you were/are taught by at least one!).
Golding seems to suggest that all kids are ultimately corruptible whereas the belief that underpins my writing (and my decision to be a teacher) is that all young people have the capacity to make good. That it only takes one person to say ‘I believe in you’ to help a kid turn their life around. In I Predict a Riot it’s a teacher called Miss Kayacan (who is based on a real wonderful teacher!) but who is also my tribute to all the teachers I have ever worked with who have refused to give up on even the most challenging of pupils.
But I also channel a bit of the Smurfs! And don’t knock The Smurf movies – small blue people can make great art too, you know! I went all Alvin and the Chipmunks in my book We Can be Heroes (Uncle Ian is the baddie – I mean, come on, how did you not notice this before!) and there are a couple of Smurf-a-licious references in I Predict a Riot which I challenge you to find (answers on a postcard please).
I could go on – ‘Top Boy’ v Dickens, The Twilight Volturi v ‘The Tempest’, ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ v Meg Rosoff – they all crop up in I Predict a Riot at some point!!!
So, Classic v Trashy. I think the lines get a bit blurred. Cos, you know what, I reckon Dickens would have LOVED Top Boy, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say I reckon he’d have enjoyed a bit of Made in Chelsea too. Golding might not have been an avid Smurf fan and I can’t see Shakespeare reading Twilight (actually, he’d have gone a bundle on the Romeo and Juliet refs in book one but surely he’d have objected to the misogynist incestuous overtones of the last book!).
I Predict a Riot is about a kaleidoscope of clashing cultures - a London neighbourhood where worlds collide and parallel universes clash together. And I guess that’s what the book does too, bringing together all the many myriad influences that inform my writing in an eclectic and rather volatile mixture that might detonate at any minute!
Thank-you so much for that Catherine! More information about Catherine's book below:
Author: Catherine Bruton
Publisher: Electric Monkey, June 5th, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository
Welcome to Coronation Road - a kaleidoscope of clashing cultures and parallel lives. There's Maggie and her politician mum in their big house. There's Tokes and his mum in a tiny bedsit, running from trouble. And there's the ruthless Starfish gang, breeding fear through the neighbourhood. Amateur film-maker Maggie prefers to watch life through the lens of her camera. In Tokes, she finds a great subject for her new film. And when violence erupts, led by the Starfish gang, Maggie has the perfect backdrop. But as the world explodes around her, Maggie can't hide behind the lens anymore...
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