What can you tell our readers about your new book Losing Agir?
Partly based on fact, ‘Losing Agir,’ is a teen thriller. The book starts at the destruction of a Kurdish mountain village in South-East Turkey. This part of the story is based on the facts of a human rights case taken by the villagers to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The book then switches to the UK where Alice, a 15 year old in care, moves into a new foster home which she soon discovers to be both strange and unnerving. It is here that she meets Agir, a Kurdish boy, escaping from a terrible past, who is smuggled into the UK. As an unlikely friendship develops, Alice learns the truth about the activities of her foster father and his illegal trade in children and she becomes determined to seek justice for them all.
The book is told from the point of view of a fifteen year old child, so how difficult was it to write from this perspective?
For many years as a solicitor I’ve represented teenagers. This has meant spending hours with teenage clients working out what their problems are and how best to tackle them. It’s also meant engaging with teenagers about often very difficult and sensitive issues. Although you never know of course if you get it right, I would like to think that all this experience has helped me create a teenage character and a teenage ‘voice’ which feels believable and authentic.
The book is a combination of fact and fiction can you expand on this for us?
As mentioned above, the book starts with the facts of a Kurdish human rights case. My husband represented the villagers in this case in Strasbourg. The facts of the case have always haunted me. In particular, after families being pulled out of their homes at gunpoint, the village men were separated from the women and children, were tied together and made to walk for hours, blindfolded and many barefoot, through the snow to imprisonment. With this in mind, I decided to somehow incorporate this case into a story and so my fictional character, Agir, was born. In terms of the UK element of the story, some of the problems Alice, my main character, encounters are based on real issues I saw in my work as a lawyer. For example, she moves about in the care system , is desperate for a stable home plus she longs to see her brother living in care a considerable distance away.
What was your own experience of representing young people in care?
I’ve always felt very lucky to work in an area of law which is so important. I met so many brilliant young people through my work, many of whom had suffered real disadvantage.. Through my own work, I tried very hard to help improve links to information and support for vulnerable young people on the basis that if problems are addressed at the earliest opportunity, they are far easier (and cheaper) to resolve. I remain firmly of the view that vulnerable teenagers, those in care and those leaving the care system should be given the highest possible level of support through our system.
What did you hope to achieve by releasing this book?
Although, most importantly, I really hope my book is enjoyed as a piece of writing, I would be delighted if it did create a bit of interest in the issues it raises. I would love my writing to generate some awareness of law and rights as I do believe young people should have this information and fiction is a great way to do this.
At what point in your career did you decide that it was time to write this book?
I started writing more by chance than anything else. My job changed so that I had to commute to London once a week. So I decided to do something constructive with my time and started writing. Having discovered writing, I couldn’t stop and now wonder if I ever will. I just can’t believe it took me so long to work that writing is what I really want to do.
How effective do you believe this book will be amongst young people in promoting laws and rights?
Honest answer, I don’t know. All I can do is try. I think to really promote law and rights amongst young people, it needs to be done through the school curriculum. In the past I have delivered workshops in schools on law and rights and I hope to, through combining it with creative writing, offer this as a service to schools. I would love to see a bigger focus on law and rights though through the education system. If young people are better informed, it may well cut down on some of the problems people encounter later on.
What is next for you?
I am in the process of re-editing my second book, ‘The Silk Slaves of Bangalore.’ This story stems from a report by the charity ‘Human Rights Watch’ about children working in the silk industry in India. I am also hoping to write more plays with young people/legal themes. I have just finished a play about a court application by a father in relation to 14 year old twins. The play deals with, amongst other things, the inequalities caused by the proposed cuts in legal aid. In my story, the mother, who suffers from bipolar disorder has no option but to represent herself at the court hearing despite the father being able to afford an expensive legal team.
Which case has stuck in your mind the most of all you have encountered?
That’s very difficult as sometimes it’s the cases which stick in your head and sometimes it’s the personalities. It never really ceased to surprise me how hard some people’s lives are and there were so many stories of young people surviving in all sorts of very tricky circumstances. I have a great deal of respect for so many of them.
Tell us about the charity you support, Youth Access?
Youth Access is a charity which, through its members, is the largest provider of advice and counselling services in the UK. It is very active in terms of campaigning to ensure access to legal advice for young people plus it offers training and undertakes research on issues for young people.
Female First Lucy Walton
Ormanici, Turkey. 5am. 20 February.
The sudden thunderous crackle of machine gun fire
slicing through the still, early morning air, wrenched
the boy from his sleep. He bolted up without thinking,
his hands mechanically pushing at the mound of
blankets which, until seconds ago, had shielded him
and his younger brother, Haran, from the cold. As
his hands fumbled, he swung his head towards the
space where his parents slept either side of his sister.
But his father was ahead of him, already scrambling
to his feet. For a second their eyes met. The panic,
terror and confusion he found in his father’s face
shot a jolt, like an electric current, through his whole
‘Up… get…’ His father’s words were lost, hijacked
by a second round of gunfire, louder, sharper than
before. The boy’s eyes stuck firm on his father’s
mouth as it opened and shut pointlessly, spewing
out only the terrifying sound of ammunition.
The hut rocked. A row of bullets hit the outside
wall, one after the other, crashing against the stone
not far above their heads. He understood his father’s
efforts. They needed to move. Fast. Stumbling to his
knees, the boy pulled at his younger brother who
remained rigid under the covers, his small hands
stuck to his ears, his eyes shut tight.
‘Move,’ his father screamed over the noise. His
mother jumped to her feet, grabbing Sema, his little
sister and wrapping her in her arms before staggering
towards the kitchen area of the hut. A fleeting flicker
of relief swept over Sema’s small bewildered face as
mother’s embrace, for a moment, made everything in
her small life good again.
‘Haran,’ the boy shouted at his brother as he reached
for the younger boy’s stiff shoulders. ‘Get… ‘ A
deafening blast lifted him from his feet and hurled
him, like a tennis ball, through the air until he landed
hard onto his brother’s small body. Sounds, so loud,
so foreign to any he had heard before, reverberated
through his head as stones and rubble crashed onto
his skull and back. Dust clogged his nose as he lifted
his head and tried to breathe. Though his ears were
caked in dirt and debris, a high pitched wailing
scream of pain made its way into his head.
The boy turned, managing to shake the rubble
from his back. He got to his knees and saw sky
through the wall of the hut which had caved in on
The welcome touch of his father’s arms pulled at
him, removing him from his brother whom he had
somehow protected by the cover of his own much
larger body. Taking one arm each, they yanked Haran
into the kitchen to join his mother and sister huddled
together in the corner of the room.
‘What’s happening…?’ the boy asked helplessly,
crammed in the corner beside his mother, brother
and sister as his father pathetically tried to shield
them with his thin body.
The door burst open, kicked in by a man wearing
white camouflage gear. As he waved his machine
gun wildly, he shouted something over his shoulder
and three others, all dressed the same, carrying guns,
stormed into the hut.
‘Out. Now,’ the man at the front shouted, pointing
the gun at the family. As he spoke, a soldier from the
back of the group marched forward and grabbed his
father’s hair, pulling him across the floor towards the
‘Move,’ the front man shouted as the family quickly
clambered to their feet and left the hut, by gun point,
into the freezing air of early morning.
Within seconds, the boy’s thin bedclothes and socks
failed to fight the cold, intensified by the snow which
had tumbled relentlessly overnight on to their mountain
village. He stared as he passed the remains of their
neighbours’ hut. The rocket propelled grenade had
done its job. The roof destroyed, the walls razed to
the ground, rubble and smoke everywhere. He heard
his mother gasp and watched as she pushed Sema’s
head firmly into her chest. His eyes followed his
mother’s stare to see white soldiers pulling their
wailing and screaming neighbours away from a
mound on the ground which he struggled to make
out. He gulped, swallowing hard at the vomit which
shot to his mouth as he realised the mound was the
body of Sema’s best friend, lying in the ruins with
half her stomach blown away. Her broken body lay
shattered in the precise spot where the two girls had
played the evening before.
‘Move’ the soldiers shouted as the boy, with a
tight hold of his brother’s hand, took in the
devastation. Soldiers, guns, chaos everywhere as
doors were kicked in and bewildered villagers hauled
out of their homes at gun point. The mountain air
stank of burning, as flames worked their way through
both homes and corpses, swallowing up horses,
dogs and precious village livestock shot at point
blank range and left to burn with the buildings.
They approached the village square.
‘Over there.’ As his father was dragged off in
another direction, they were pointed towards a group
of women and children huddling together.
‘Quickly… move,’ the men shouted, waving their
guns trying to get heard over the screaming and
crying, gunshots and flames. The boy stumbled with
his mother and siblings, through the slushy, wet
snow, the cold wind smacking him hard in the face,
like some bad-tempered old man, perversely enjoying
the contribution to his pain. They reached the group
of terrified women and children, clustered together
in a silence which screamed of despair.
‘This one’s too old.’ A voice shouted as a soldier
marched over. ‘Put him with the men.’
A firm hand grabbed the boy’s arm and tugged
him hard. The boy pulled back, but the grip tightened
as he was wrenched from the group and dragged
towards the village square. He stumbled and fell. A
heavy boot landed hard in his ribs. As he clambered
back to his feet, he twisted his head to look back at
the women and children, scanning the group for his
As Haran and Sema hung to each other, their white
faces dazed, his mother held out her arms, as if trying
to gather him back, to return him to her embrace.
Their eyes met, she screamed.
Jupiter Mansions. It hardly looked like a mansion,
more a small, newly built box in a cul-de-sac. And it
certainly wasn’t anywhere near Jupiter, it was only
two miles from town.
‘Are you sure about this Frances?’ I asked.
A look of irritation flickered over her social work
smiley face. I knew I’d annoyed her. My voice, the
words I used, the way I was slouching in the front
seat of her clean, sparkly car.
She pulled up outside number 37.
‘Of course. Tom and Glenda seem really nice and
the fact that they’re new to fostering is a good thing.
You’ll get loads of attention.’
I remained slumped in my seat. I didn’t really
want to get out. All my excitement at the thought of
this move, another fresh start, seemed to be evaporating
fast; seeping out of the car and vanishing into the
clean, perfect air of the clean, perfect cul-de-sac where
clearly nothing ever happened. I fiddled with the
hole in the knee of my scruffy, worn jeans, enjoying
the feeling of the threads as they ripped under my
Frances lent over, a fixed smile caked across her
face. ‘OK then? Shall we go?’
I turned my head towards the window, closing my
eyes really tight, trying desperately to stop the tears
that I knew were there, hanging about, waiting for
their chance to break free. The dull feeling in my
stomach, which had started after breakfast, had
worked its way upwards sometime during the journey.
It now stuck in my throat, somehow sucking all the
moisture from my mouth. It always made me feel
like this, going somewhere new.
‘Alice?’ Frances repeated.
I didn’t speak, scared that my shaky voice would
give me away. And then, Frances would be on my
case. Going on about how lucky I am that she found
me this home, that other kids would jump at this
chance, that I ought to be more thankful. Frances
glanced over as I let out a long sigh and wondered
why I should be grateful when none of it was my
fault. I never chose a life in care and certainly never
opted to move from foster home to foster home,
wondering each time if this would be ‘the one’, the
one that lasted.
‘It really is time to go,’ Frances snapped, checking
her watch as she started to get out of the car. She
flicked back her long brown hair which she tended to
do, almost twitch-like, when she was stressed and
hurried, which was always. ‘I’ll grab your bags.’
I slowly unclicked my seatbelt, the last bind
holding me back from an unknown life waiting
behind the shiny red door of number 37. I climbed
out of the car.
Frances pulled two bulging bin bags from the boot
mumbling an apology for forgetting a suitcase. ‘Right,
this way, come on.’ She thrust one of the bags at me
then hurried down the driveway, stumbling slightly
in her high heels as the bin bag, which looked ready
to split, bashed against her legs. ‘I think I got the bag
with your books in, you know.’ She called over her
shoulder through gritted teeth before swearing quietly
to herself as she almost toppled over. ‘Isn’t it pretty
though,’ Frances said in a super-cheery voice as she
dropped the bag by the front door and pointed to the
perfect daffodils, perfectly spaced in perfect rows. I
nodded just about resisting the temptation to stamp
on them and pummel their sunny, yellow petals into
As Frances turned and knocked, the door
immediately sprung open.
‘Hello, welcome, I’m Tom.’ A large pale man lunged
at me with his fat hand outstretched. As Frances
gave me a glare, silently telling me to get on with it, I
limply shook the sweaty hand of my new foster
father. He then smiled down at me, his small, brown,
stained teeth out of place in his wide mouth. He
pushed back a strand of light brown hair as it fell
over his pale eyes which were almost invisible against
the colour of his skin.
‘Come in, come in,’ he ushered us into the hallway,
giving me the chance to wipe my sticky hand down
my jeans. A woman approached from the kitchen.
‘This is Glenda,’ Tom said as Glenda nodded at me
then quickly stood behind her husband who towered
over her. Like the house, Glenda was small and tidy.
Her dark hair pulled back in a bun, her skirt and
shirt, plain, dull and boring. She was probably only
in her thirties but dressed like one of those old
grannies you see on TV who shuffle around in
cardigans, thick tan tights and checked slippers and
talk more to their grossly over-fed cats than their
Tom led us into the sitting room just off the hall. I
glanced about quickly, not sure that a scruffy tomboy
like me would ever fit in to such an immaculate
room. Glenda quietly offered me a drink and I
followed her past the brown sofas and small dining
table, into the kitchen.
‘Will water do?’ she asked, her voice flat, as she
reached into a cupboard where gleaming glasses
waited in lines.
‘Fine,’ I mumbled taking in the kitchen which
looked more like a showroom. Clear surfaces, shiny
units, a kettle that sparkled. So often, during the
chaos of the past, I had longed for a life like this, so
different, so tidy, with everything in its place. And
now it was here, right slap bang in front of me. I took
a large gulp of water and wondered if, amongst this
tidiness, the mess in my life would somehow magically
clear up too.
I moved to the kitchen window and looked out to
the walled garden where weed-free flower beds,
framed a square area of flat, lush grass.
‘So, what do you think of our humble abode?’ I
jumped at the sound of Tom’s voice as he spoke
quietly into my ear.
‘Yes, um, it’s lovely,’ I mumbled not appreciating
that he had crept up behind me. I turned around and
without realising, took a step back away from his
large body. Tom then started on about his flowers,
lisping and sputtering, occasionally splattering my
face with a shower of spit which splayed from his
mouth as he spoke. As I nodded here and there,
desperate to wipe the liquid from my face, Glenda
appeared and took my arm and offered to show me
the rest of the house.
We went upstairs. Quietly, with head bowed,
Glenda pointed to the closed door of their bedroom
and then to an immaculate, sparkling bathroom.
‘This is your room. I hope you like it.’ I spun round
as Glenda mumbled and pushed open the door.
Now, how could I not like it after some of the
places I’d lived in the past. Childrens homes, foster
placements, rooms shared with strange, awkward
kids, no privacy, nothing normal.
‘It’s lovely,’ I said for the second time that day.
I walked into the room and looked about, touching
the bed, the drawers, the small desk. It was nice,
really nice. I moved to the window and looked out
over the front of the house at the small houses in the
Jupiter cul-de –sac as they sat together quietly, as if
waiting for something to happen. As my mind
wandered, Frances’ voice wafted towards me from
the hallway, cutting dead my daydream.
‘… she’s moved about a lot… bright girl… has
exams next year… a terrible family tragedy… had a
big impact on her… she needs some space… usually
quiet, well can be withdrawn actually… no… no, I
haven’t told her yet…’
Hang on, hang on. What hadn’t I been told?
I froze, my hands tightening on the window sill
until my knuckles became white. I knew it was all
too good to be true, this perfect house, with perfect
flowers, in a perfect cul-de-sac. How could I ever
imagine for one minute that my messy life with so
many changes and a past I struggled to understand,
could possibly be a happy-ever-after?
There was something that I hadn’t been told and it
was obviously bad.