Archive | April 2012

Rejection Slips

I have received two rejections in the last two days. One liked the idea of the legal background and thought my personal knowledge shone through, but didn’t think the plot was ‘big enough’ and it was too realistic. Also my main character Cassie Hardman needed more ‘oomph’. The other said the novel, Crucial Evidence, was well crafted and well conceived but not for them.

Sometimes I feel I am nearly there and the next agent who reads it will love the book and want to try and get it published, other times I just want to give up the whole idea, put Crucial Evidence, metaphorically in a drawer’ and forget about this writing business, but I’ve started a second novel and perhaps that will be better, but I am struggling more with the new one.

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Expert Evidence

  • The Times Newspaper has given some prominence to the case of Jayda Wray who, after eighteen months has been returned to her parents Chana al-Alas and Rohan Wray after a lengthy battle in the Courts. The young couple, they were both under twenty, were charged with the murder of their first child Jayden, when he was discovered to have multiple fractures to his body. When Chana gave birth to their second child, Jayda, she was taken into care immediately.
  •  They stood trial for the murder of their first-born, and were acquitted after experts for the defence said the injuries were caused by rickets due to a vitamin D deficiency that his mother suffered from, and had past on to him. The prosecution experts disagreed and claimed the injuries resulted from the parents assaulting the child.  The couple then endured the trial being repeated in the Family Court as the Local Authority continued with proceedings to keep Jayda in their care. This second hearing lasted six weeks as experts gave their conflicting opinions again, eventually the judge rules in the couples favour and their now eighteen month old child has been returned to their care.
  •  How could this happen you might ask? The answer lies in the difference between the standard and burden of proof required by the two courts. In the criminal trial the standard is high, it stays with the prosecution throughout the trial, and they have to make the jury sure of the defendants guilt. In the family court  the Local Authority only has to satisfy the judge on a balance of probabilities that the defendants caused the injuries. Presumably the Social Workers involved in the case believed that on balance it was more likely than not Chana and Rohan had murdered their child, so went ahead with the care proceedings.
  • No doubt the Social Workers concerned wanted to ensure the safety of the younger child and therefore were right to continue to seek care orders for Jayda, but I can’t help but feel there must be a better way than this double trial of the issues. Has anybody any ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review

I have just finished reading ‘Scenes from Early Life’ by Philip Hensher. The life in this novel is that of Zaved Mahmood the author’s husband. Philip was one of my tutors on the Creative Writing course I did at Exeter University. He told us that he didn’t like ‘I’ novels, those written in the first person singular and yet he has chosen to do just that in this book, and does it brilliantly. He has taken those childhood memories both real and believed as Zaved’s family have repeated them, and told a story about the war of independence that gave birth, violently, to the country of Bangal Desh. When he finds the first person singular too restrictive, Philip changes to the third person to tell the story of two musicians and their reactions to the war and to describe some of the atrocities committed. The change in perspective works and provides a lesson for aspiring writers in switching point of view.

Meet Cassie Hardman, Barrister

The main protagonist in my novel ‘Crucial Evidence’ is female barrister called Cassie Hardman. Here is one of her early experiences at the Bar.

Being in a rush seems to throw one off balance, or at least that’s my experience. It was nearly seven o’clock when I grabbed a robe from one of the pegs in the ladies cloakroom. Fortunately it was not too big or too grubby so I didn’t have to search for another one amongst the few still remaining. I hurried from there across the lane into the medieval hall of Grays Inn. The room was almost full; a mix of  bespectacled students down from University planning a drunken weekend, smug young barristers not yet aware of the problems of pupillage and a sprinkling of more senior members of the bar who didn’t have anyone to cook them a reasonable meal. Dining is obligatory for full membership of an Inn. It’s not a pleasure, the food is indifferent, the wine sour and the port hangover inducing.

The Hall is imposing, a hammer-beam ceiling of oak, large windows reflecting the light, the panelled walls hung with portraits of past Masters of the Inn, sombrely dressed and serious; all presided over by that painting of Queen Elizabeth 1 which everyone knows; a diamond and pearl tiara in her tight red curls, a white ruff round her neck, a cream dress embellished with rubies and the most unfriendly black eyes. Under the portrait, the High table, as usual, was ablaze; the silver was polished, the wine glasses sparkled and the napkins were a bright starched white. The four long rows of refectory tables were not quite so well furnished; the cutlery, a dull steel, the wine glasses, slightly opaque and  thin paper serviettes. I looked round for a space and saw that Mr Senior, not his real name which I have now forgotten, but part of the strange rituals in which the Inn indulged, was a man who had been pestering me for the last few weeks. He was an unattractive specimen, over weight, over-confident with a bad case of halitosis and I had been doing my best to avoid him. He waved at me; I pretended not to see him and ducked down onto a bench near the back of the hall, trying to keep out of sight. Also I was nearer the doors making it easier to escape after the meal, and avoid the possible humiliation of being challenged over some minor mistake in observing the Inn’s etiquette. As I said they go in for some strange rituals.

I was in the middle of introducing myself to my neighbours when the High Steward, actually Bob, the Head Porter, in fancy dress, robes of deep lilac, embroidered with black braid and pompoms and carrying a silver topped staff, walked towards me purposefully. I panicked – were my earrings too large, my skirt too short or perhaps my pale pink shirt had been noticed.

‘Miss Hardman, Mr Senior has asked if you would care to join him’

I gulped, forced a smile to my face and got up. ‘Of course, I’d be delighted.’ I followed Bob to the seat opposite Mr Senior.

‘I thought that you would prefer to sit with us than with those rather disgusting students.’ Mr Senior said. I nodded at him and poured myself a glass of wine. I leant back, as far as I dared without falling backwards off the bench. I was saved from making any further conversation with him by the sound of a gavel on the table. We all stood up whilst a procession of the Benchers, Law Lords, High Court  Judges and eminent silks to a man, and I mean man, slowly moved  into the room. Their black robes embellished with gold braid worn not with tabs but with collar and tie to demonstrate that they were not in formal court dress.

   Another one of the bizarre rituals is that the two most senior Benchers come to the table where Mr Senior sits, and shake his hand and those of the other three members of hall sitting with him. Lord S and Mr Justice Y approached us and began to shake hands with the group of four. I was last; I was stood in an awkward position, my knees bend by the bench behind me, which had not been pushed back far enough to enable me to stand upright. I needed to turn to my right, lift my right hand and extend it across the table to reach that of Lord S.  As I moved my arm, the hands and fingers extended, the tip of my middle finger caught the glass full of red wine. I watched, my eyes wide open in horror, as it tipped and rolled slowly over the edge of the table, showering the left pinstriped leg of His Lordship’s trousers and depositing droplets of wine over his shiny black shoes.

I couldn’t move. I looked down at the table as I mouthed an apology.  Lord S backed off stepping on Mr Justice Y’s toe and ‘Bob’ hurried over with a spare napkin to mop up the spilled wine.

After we sat down again Mr Senior leaned across and said, ‘Well that’s your prospects at the Bar ruined.’

At least he never bothered me again.

Ancient Laws

A report in The Times says that out of date laws are to be repealed. It reminded me of my favourite unenforceable and rather laughable piece of legislation that makes it illegal to fail to do archery practice every week. So get out your bows and arrows and head to your nearest archery ground – usually called something Butts. I would guess most are under concrete now.

Beetroot

I looked up recipes for Beetroot and found one in Jane Grigson’s Vegatable book for beetroot with potatoes that came from a book of recipes by Jessie Conrad, wife of the novelist Joseph. Mrs Conrad’s cookery book contained a preface written by her more famous husband who concluded that cookery books are the only truly moral books as there ‘only aim is to increase the happiness of mankind and add to the cheerfulness of nations.’ he argud that his theory was proved by the ferocity of native Indians around the Great Lakes was due to suffering from dyspepsia.

I’ve never done this before

Why the title scribbling advocate, you might well ask. It’s simple, I was a barrister who worked in the Courts in London principally defending those accused of crime, murder, robbery, burglary etc. The sex and violence but also some serious frauds. Since retiring I have written a novel using my experiences called ‘Crucial Evidence’.

I find friends are always asking me about cases they read about in the newspapers or they see reported on the TV so I thought it would be a good idea to explain why somethings happen the way they do in the Criminal Courts. Or at least why I think they have occurred. So if anyone has a question about stuff they’ve seen or heard, just ask. I can’t help on any ones individual cases and any way you wouldn’t want your personal affairs all over the internet would you.

I will also describe my search for a publisher and, how if I fail, my route to self publication of my novel.