Crime Fiction and Reality

How do you write a prison based novel when you have never been inside yourself?

How do you help prisoners to aim for better lives when they come out of prison?

How do you research local history for novels set in previous decades?

Which prisoner covered himself in butter to fight, and delay his slippery arrest, after his football team lost a game?

These are just a few of the questions that were answered during the course of last Saturday afternoon with our two brilliant local authors and speakers – Frances Brody and Veronica Bird OBE.

You may know of the acclaimed author Frances Brody, as she is very well known for her very popular Kate Shackleton mysteries, some set in Yorkshire, including Haworth and Saltaire but you may not have heard of Veronica Bird OBE who was the first female governor of HMP Armley in Leeds and of her aptly named autobiography, Veronica’s Bird.

This dynamic duo who met through Frances’s research into her new series of novels, the Brackerley Prison mysteries, thoroughly informed and entertained their large audience. As well as the writing of her novels and her characters, Frances also spoke about local history research and the use of news cuttings in libraries including the valuable collection in Keighley Local Studies. She also included notes on the craft of creative writing and very helpfully to budding authors in the audience, gave some really good advice on making a start at writing a story or novel, overcoming writers’ block and on how to find interesting minor stories to set within the main plot.

Veronica spoke about her deprived upbringing and subsequent hard won career in some of Britain’s most challenging prisons. She also highlighted the lack of literacy amongst at least 50% of prisoners with consequential feelings of hopelessness and sadly an increased chance of re-offending on release. Both Veronica and Frances support the Shannon Trust that helps with learning to read and improve other basic skills so that prisoners, “can pursue wider opportunities and thrive in the community”. Veronica also told us some amusing stories of what can happen when the occasional slip-up in prison guard vigilance occurs such as the attempted sale of prison knickers at a local market stall. Never destined to be a best seller, however, not one pair was sold.

Veronica, now retired but still working with prison inmates, also works for various charities including Ukrainian refugees, and was awarded her OBE for her charitable works. On Saturday, both speakers raised funds for their chosen charities and Frances Brody very kindly donated to Bradford Libraries two large print versions of her novels, including A Murder Inside (the first prison based novel), as well as an audio version of A Mansion for Murder, her latest Kate Shackleton mystery.

We thank them both for a great afternoon of information, education and entertainment and thank Alice and Felicity, the volunteers who so efficiently supervised refreshments.

Keighley Local Studies Team

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