I'm Thrilled to announce that my Book Candy Flipping has won the 2017 Koestler Trust 'First Time Entrant' award for Life stories, but it wasn't all plain sailing to get there! After an arduous few months dealing with belligerent, unhelpful and sometimes aggressively hostile prison staff to even submit the entry on time, it was only dogged determination and sheer bloody mindedness that overcame these hurdles to enter the competition, so it was an unexpected delight to hear last weekend that I had indeed won the award, and quite aside from the award itself, gave me immense self validation and belief in myself as a writer, as I had written it completely alone, with no one able to help with editing, or even read it to provide feedback prior to submission. Here is a snapshot of the journey so far.
Having been hibernating down under in New Zealand for the past three months, I'd quite forgotten about the 2017 Koestler Trust Awards. I'd started writing the first draft back in August 2016, having been transferred back to HMP Thameside, after a brief but painful stint at HMP Maidstone. By this stage I had already completed my first book in this series, Chasing the Dragon, A Memoir about Chem-sex in London at the time, and the events which had led me to be there in the first place. A couple of months into my sentence I'd been unceremoniously and needlessly transferred to Maidstone suddenly, with no warning, and had worried and fretted for the entire eight weeks I'd been away as the Manuscript had been left on the Prison computer system, and not only had all my efforts to contact staff to have a copy sent to me been futile, but I also worried that they would purge all the old accounts and the entire 125,000 words would be deleted. I needn't have worried on that note, as they are not that efficient, but it was a relief to be transferred back after my scheduled 'Proceeds of Crime' hearing at Blackfriars Crown Court, and to finally be reunited with said document, but also to have the opportunity to edit it in cell, and to commence it's sequel, Candy Flipping, which I'd had a vague idea I might enter in the Koestler awards if it was good enough.
Each morning at 3am I would rise and set to work, typing on the in-cell computer whilst my cellmate lay asleep on the top bunk two feet behind me. Every day I would beaver away for five hours whilst the rest of the prison was dormant, until unlock at 8am, and would snatch any spare few minutes when I found myself alone in the cell, which of course was not often, to continue. I was amused to read months later in a Prison officers handbook I was editing ready for re-print in the print-shop where I worked, that Staff should be on the lookout for inmates who hid themselves away in their cell and refused to socialise or engage with others, as it was a sign of depression of suicidal thoughts but clearly the staff on my wing had not noticed, or seen anything wrong with my behaviour, even though, I must have fit the mould of a manic depressive exactly, as for those months I was a total recluse, with a single minded goal at hand. Part of the reason for this was that I was terrified I would again be transferred - they could come for you at any time without warning, like the KGB in soviet Russia, and I lived in abject fear of it happening again, so I was determined to make the most of what few days or weeks I might have.
Eventually in January 2017, after a good few arguments, much passing the buck amongst Prison Staff and Directors, a letter to the Governor, and then a letter to Liz Truss, the then Justice Secretary, who graciously replied with the legal requirements necessary, I was able to have Chasing the Dragon emailed out to an assistant who was then able to format it and publish it on Amazon and Kindle. I figured I should strike while the iron was hot, so I included the file name of the completed first draft of Candy Flipping to be mailed out as well. This meant of course that The Director of Education for the Prison, Andy Charalambous had to read the entire two manuscripts to ensure they didn't violate Prison Protocol - namely that there were no inmate or Prison staff full names mentioned, but as neither were about Prison, this was not an issue, although If he had no knowledge before, he now knows every minute detail of the sexual antics of a group of gay men during a three day crystal meth fueled orgy - I bet there were a few moment when he must have blushed at the narrative! The Prison expose is about to be published on 29th November in the third book in the series - Double Bubble - Inside Britain's Prisons!
During my 'Hermit' days, The one task I had left my cell for was to complete a one day course on CV writing, which gave me access to a system called Virtual Campus,installed at immense taxpayer expense in all British Prisons, to theoretically enable inmates to undertake online courses, write CV's and Business plans, and then access them once released, in order to improve their chances of rehabilitation and resettlement, but in reality, a massive joke which had never worked because the staff were basically too lazy to implement it, however this was a massive asset to me as it meant that if I were in fact to be transferred out of HMP Thameside, I would presumably be able to access my work at the next establishment, however as with most systems within the Prison system, what should happen and what does happen were two vastly different scenarios!
My Transfer came as usual, unexpectedly, and just as suddenly as the last time, however this time I was fairly secure in the knowledge that I had safeguarded my work, and that even if I couldn't access it at Maidstone - Gods waiting room, before one is pushed off the White Cliffs of Dover and banished forever under the guise of a deportation order, I would at least have it waiting for me on my release. Once I was once again settled back on my previous wing, I set about putting the wheels in motion to be able to continue my literary endeavours. I had been employed as an Education Champion in my last stay, so I applied to return to that, thinking I might be able to get a bit of editing done in between mentoring IT students in Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint. I already knew that this employment lark here was going to take quite some time, so realising that the deadline for submissions to the Koestler Trust awards was only some six weeks hence, I had a word with the wing staff, about getting access to a computer while waiting to be allocated to a job. They promised to speak to the Head of Education, so when nothing happened, I began to badger them, knowing I was running out of time. In the end they let me off the wing and told me to go over and talk to the Education Head directly - Picking up a telephone receiver had evidently become too hard for them to manage themselves!
Sean Reynolds, the education Head was a Young, dynamic, 'can-do' type of guy, and readily agreed to allow me all the time I needed to complete the edit and send it off, in fact he couldn't have been more helpful, stating that these programs should be promoted and encouraged within the Prison education system. To him I will be forever grateful, as at the time I was battling with depression and anxiety, so in enabling me to focus on something, to me, as important as this, went along way to keeping me stable, however the Allocations staff were not so accommodating! Once they got wind of this arrangement they very quickly allocated me as peer mentor in the gardens, a position which was neither wanted nor needed as the garden staff were supposed to be undertaking a City and Guilds horticulture course, but in reality, all they wanted with a garden job for was to sit in the sunshine in summer or congregate around the heaters in the winter, and they had no interest in education whatsoever. Once again I found myself having to circumvent the system, but this time I was able to enlist the help of the Gardens Officer, Justin, in liaising with Sean to bypass allocations and spend mornings in the computer room and afternoons in the gardens. this cut down my editing time, and with the deadline looming it put me under extra pressure, but it was better than nothing, and only made me more determined.
Eventually at literally the eleventh hour it was as close as it was ever going to be. The edit had been rushed and not as polished as I would have liked, But I printed it out, and rushed it over to the education department for Sean to very kindly courier (at prison expense as well!) overnight in order to ensure it arrived on time. I knew it could have been better, and wished I'd had time to go over it once more for a final polish, but it was not to be and I'd done everything I possibly could have in the time I'd had.
I then tried to continue working on it, maintaining my morning typing routine as long as possible, and as I'd thought, after another week I had it exactly as I'd wanted it, and I knew now that it was finally ready for publication, even if the submitted version wasn't as perfect as I'd have liked, and in fact it was just in time, as allocations finally caught onto my rort a week later, just 30,000 words into my third book, and sacked me from the gardens, banning me from the Computer room, and eager to teach me a lesson, allocating me to the print shop, seemingly to fold boxes. Lucky for me, the Print Shop also had a design area and they soon put me to work proof reading documents, and designing in-house posters and brochures, which took up about 15% of my time so I was able to continue as before, this time on an iMac with a 24inch screen! It also meant that I could design all my book covers in Photoshop and inDesign, and before my release, Kevin, the Head of the design department very generously burnt all my work to a CD and deposited it in my stored property where it was waiting for me on departure, which is more than I can say for all my other work!
Sadly, by this stage, Sean Reynolds had resigned and was succeeded by a fat, bellicose box ticking baboon of a man in the form of one Paul Fry, who had obviously had a sideways promotion to HMP Maidstone, a move which usually signals the end of ones career - It's God's waiting room for Prison Staff as well as Foreign Nationals! He was immediately suspicious of my literary endeavours, and frightened of what I might write about him and his staff, so banned me from using any computers, blocked my Virtual Campus account and to this day has refused to allow me access to any of my work, including my Koestler Trust entry, my CV, my Business plan which was part of the SWEDI Business startup course I'd completed at HMP Thameside, and the first 16 chapters of Double Bubble. I'm sure he will be fascinated to read all about himself in my new re-written version which is unsurprisingly more colourful than the original!
Ironically the chapters he is with-holding are the ones about HMP Thameside, and are very mild, and the 140,000 words dealing with his ineptitude and the entire Foreign National's Prison and Home Office Deportation policies and practices are all safely back on my laptop having been recovered from the CD which Kevin burnt for me, and I carried out unobserved. Furthermore, HMP Maidstone have since banned the writing of books by inmates whilst in their prison, which flies in the face of all Sean Reynolds positive initiatives and ethos, and is exactly the kind of backwards thinking which has put the system in such turmoil today. It's now in the hands of my lawyers and I'm suing them for theft of intellectual property, and loss of earnings. They have deliberately obstructed my attempts at gaining meaningful employment and thwarted the progress of the publication of my latest books, and cannot be allowed to get away with this truculent and obstructive behaviour.
Edd, my Assistant in London had looked at the results online when they were first announced in August and hadn't seen my name listed anywhere, so we had both, rather despondently assumed that they hadn't liked the content, or that I just plain wasn't good enough. Chasing the Dragon had been published on Amazon some months earlier, but having had to leave all the work to someone else, and having not even been able to check the final look of covers or format before publishing, it hadn't been what I would have chosen for myself, and of course, pressing the 'publish' button is only the start of the process. There is then the arduous and time consuming task of promoting, marketing, developing a website, sending out review copies, chasing publicity... the list goes on, and no one does it with quite the same gusto as one who is personally attached, so needless to say, it was all done in a rather haphazard way, if at all. Sales were however trickling through and those who had written reviews had been quite favourable, so I had put the Koestler Trust experience behind me, and ploughed on regardless, basically re-writing Candy Flipping from my original HMP Thameside first draft, and publishing it on my release on the 15th September, when I also re-launched Chasing the Dragon with a new cover and a better format (And a sneaky extra edit!)
I then set about attacking Social Media, re-designing my website and learning everything I could about book publishing and marketing. I'd been released with no money and no resources apart from my old iPhone and iPad which had been returned by the police, so had to make do with free versions of everything, and make up for it with extended hours of labour to make it all work, and finally after nine weeks of hard slog, it was all starting to pay off. My social media platforms were growing rapidly and sales were gaining traction for both books.
I woke last Saturday morning to the sound of my iPhone pinging with a WhatsApp message from Edd, and opened it to see a picture of an envelope. Having no idea what it was, I told him to open it, and to our amazement and delight there was the letter advising that I had won, together with a cheque for £25.00 and the feedback notes from Judges, Author Shaun Attwood, and Television Personality Louis Theroux. The prize, and of course the cheque are very nice, but I think the most thrilling and satisfying part of the package were the Judges comments as I realised that to date this was the first professional opinion I had received about any of my my books, so to have positive comments staring back at me off the pages was sheer delight. I was also pleased that I had already rectified the constructive criticism they had proffered as well, and finally I feel as if I can hold my head up, and honestly call myself an Author. I'm not proud of this period of my life, the events leading up to my arrest and the subsequent Prison term, but after all those months of struggling to make my time inside count, and not be wasted, and fighting the system every step of the way to do so, against, small minded, insular minions who will never amount to anything, I feel as if I've succeeded in my own small way, and that all that work was not for nothing.
the Judges comments were:
"Most professionally written entry. Reads like a Brett Easton Ellis book. Strong command of original language, gripping action and dialogue, strong use of cumulative sentences, verbs..."
"Thank you for sharing this very detailed account of your life. You have a very clear voice and make good use of Metaphor and Semantic
tic 'Like a seagull on a rubbish tip', 'Like flies around a septic sore' and a wide range of vocabulary. the dialogue of Police is well differentiated from that of other people... Writing to this length is a breat achievement - Well done!"
Chasing the Dragon and Candy Flipping are both available in paperback and e-book at www.amazon.com/author/cameronyorke or on my website www.cameronyorke.com
The next book in the series, and the one HMP Maidstone are still trying to kill, Double Bubble - Inside Britain's Prisons will also be available on the same sites from November 29, 2017 and proceeds from all three of these books will be used to fund a charity to support victims of Chem-sex addiction. I hope you enjoy them all!