tall tales & short stories is very pleased to welcome author, Miriam Halahmy, back to the blog to talk about her new book, Illegal.
Illegal is the second book in a cycle of three novels set on Hayling Island. Each novel stands alone, but a minor character in the previous novel becomes the central character in the next.
When fourteen year old Lindy is offered a job by her cousin Colin she's been thrown a lifeline, an escape from her desperate family life.
But Colin's a drug dealer and Lindy soon realizes she's out of her depth.
Terrified she'll go to prison, and seeing no way out, she becomes locked in a downward spiral.
But then help comes from a surprising ally in fellow misfit, Karl. With the help of her jailbird brother, Lindy and Karl embark upon a desperate plan to ensure her freedom.
Vulnerable kids, crime and easy money
My new novel Illegal ( Meadowside Books) asks, What happens to kids who have no significant adult looking out for them? Fifteen year old Lindy’s family are in a downward spiral after the death of baby Jemma. The two eldest boys are in prison, the parents are unemployed and drink all day and little Sean is permanently hungry. Bereaved and lonely, Lindy has no friends as school and the teachers don’t like her either. So when Cousin Colin asks her to look after his cannabis farm on Hayling Island for £40.00 a week, she jumps at the chance. Colin knows how to suck her in.
Colin had taken her out in his open-top BMW, all the way to Southampton on the motorway. She stood up part of the time, gripping the roof and feeling like a film star as the wind streamed through her hair. They had lunch in a pub – steak and chips and half a lager.
“You look old enough, Linds,” Colin assured her as he brought over the drinks and certainly no-one challenged them.
In one short hour her life completely changed. Colin had a bit of a job he wanted doing: he needed someone he could rely on, and who better than family?
“Let’s face it, Linds, your mob, they’re either locked up or flat out worse than useless.”
She raised her eyebrows and nodded her mouth full of chips.
“You’re the pick of the Bellows family, so…” Colin pointed his steak knife meaningfully towards her best pink top, “...you’re the one I want.”
It was the first time in her life anyone had said that.
At first Lindy is delighted to be earning some cash and she’s not bothered about ‘a bit of weed’. Everyone she knows smokes it. It feels as though Colin has come to rescue her after Jemma’s death. But once he has trapped her into his illegal business he reveals his real plan - to make Lindy push cocaine. Terrified she will end up in prison like her brothers and with no-one to turn to, Lindy begins to self-harm. Then Karl appears, a fellow misfit at school, who hasn’t spoken for two years and has his own problem parents. Karl wears a t-shirt that says, The Rules Don’t Apply to Me and rides around on a motorbike, even though he’s only fifteen. But even Lindy recognises that Karl isn’t really a delinquent.
Karl was standing at the edge of the pond, silent as usual, his dark hair blowing over his face in the breeze. He looked a thin, lonely figure. Karl breaks the law a little bit, thought Lindy, but he wouldn’t do any harm. He’s just getting back at his parents. He’s not a proper criminal, like everyone in my family.
But Karl is practical and intelligent and he is prepared to support Lindy in her desperate bid to escape from the clutches of Colin and his evil illegal business.
Both Lindy and Karl are based upon young people I have worked with who come from disadvantaged homes and have ended up in terrible trouble with the police. Vulnerable and unprotected young people like this easily become the ‘foot soldiers’ of street gangs who become a substitute for families. These gangs even call themselves ‘fams’ in order to underline their influence and ultimately their control.
For Lindy, Colin represents the big brother who would look out for her, treat her nicely and supply her with easy money, just like her own big brother Garth did before he was locked up in a Young Offenders Institution. Lindy has visited him and she is horrified by the smell, the officers and the doors clanging behind them. She definitely doesn’t want to end up there.
Even Lindy’s own parents don’t protect her from Colin. Her Dad gives her a warning but then he disappears off down the bookies as usual. Lindy is left to Colin’s clutches.
Cousin Colin turned up just after Easter. Mum was all over him, even though he was Dad’s nephew. He reminded her of Garth, of course.
“There’s some cans in the fridge, be off and get one for your cousin, girl.”
Dad wasn’t pleased. “There’s a bad smell in the house,” he muttered, his face dark with dislike. “You want to stay well clear of him,” he told Lindy as he went off to the bookies. “He’s proper no good.”
But Mum just said he was jealous, “You’ve made something of yourself Colin, sure enough, and he can’t even get a win on the horses.” She patted the sofa for Colin to sit down.
Lindy didn’t understand what Dad was going on about and anyway, Colin was a bit like Garth, wasn’t he? She watched as her cousin handed out Easter eggs all round the family, Lindy’s egg had a selection of her favourite sweets inside and was sitting on a beautifully wrapped make-up box.
In Illegal I have shown how easily vulnerable young people can fall under criminal influences and find themselves trapped, without an exit plan. Lindy is the most vulnerable, but even Karl could get into serious trouble for keeping Lindy’s criminal activities secret, let alone riding his bike.
In both cases these young people had been let down by the very people who should be protecting them from negative influences. The challenge for Lindy and Karl is not only to extricate Lindy safely from Colin’s clutches, but to get back on track in life and make something of themselves. Illegal will keep you guessing until the last page and challenges you to ask yourself, How might I have turned out if I came from this kind of disadvantaged background?
ILLEGAL ~ a tall tales & short stories review
As mentioned, Illegal, is the second book not in a trilogy as such but from a cycle of three novels set on Hayling Island. To get a taste of, Hidden, the first book of the three you can read an interview with Miriam and a review of the book here on tall tales & short stories.
Illegal explores some difficult subjects but Miriam Halahmy tackles them in a sympathetic and age appropriate way. The main character of Lindy isn't instantly likeable and very often shows a cruel, bitchy side but we are also offered an insight into the other side of Lindy, the broken teenager let down by her family, filled with guilt and still grieving the death of baby Jemma. Sometimes things aren't always black and white, and look beneath the surface and maybe we can better understand why people sometimes do the things they do. For me this is the strength of the novel, it's far too easy to dismiss someone for the public persona they display but in the case of Lindy, all she really wants is love, help and support.
I really enjoyed Hidden and Illegal, and I look forward to seeing what Miriam Halahmy comes up with for the concluding story in her three book series.