The Release is now on pre-order from Candy Jar Books

Revenge is a dirty word, but what would you do if you met your child’s killer?

My novel The Release is now available for pre-order from the publisher, Candy Jar Books.

The Release by Alistair Moore

Blurb – Bennie lives hand-to-mouth in a little bedsit, spending his days avoiding the unsavoury people who wander about his building.

All changes one day, when he agrees to help a bereaved father find a small piece of information in exchange for a sum of money which could change Bennie’s life forever.

As he explores a stark urban underworld to dig into the past of a boy who became a killer, Bennie tests his wits to the limit, makes an unexpected friend, and risks his life to find the answers he needs.

Set in inner-city Britain, The Release explores vengeance, redemption, and the real meaning of freedom.

Background – I wrote it around 2008-2009, when youth criminality was big in the news. Tabloid newspapers and politicians started using the phrase ‘Broken Britain’ following a few high-profile cases which shocked the public.

I was interested in the idea of a violently bereaved parent who refuses to recognise the verdict of the courts. I was also intrigued by the idea of someone ‘invisible’ who blends into his surroundings without being noticed, and the kind of situations such a character might find himself in.

I wanted to write something a little more layered and reflective than just a grim council estate drama, a theme which has been somewhat overdone in the UK over the last decade or two.

The official publication date is 26 July 2018, after which it will be available from bookstores and Amazon.
Big thanks to everyone who has supported me, and especially to Shaun, Lauren and Will from Candy Jar. Watch this space for all further news!
Cover art and design by Finn Dean.
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Perspective

Perspective is a powerful thing. I’m currently reading a book called The Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker, in which he proposes that over the course of human history, people have become less violent. It’s compelling and highly informative, covering a wide range of periods and civilisations since the dawn of humanity. It’s an education itself in the various wars, conflicts and practices of humankind over the years, and goes some way to addressing questions many ponder: where does violence come from? Aside from the need to survive and thrive, what explains the seemingly uniquely human propensity to commit cruel and brutal acts for their own sake? And something I’ve wondered – whatever the cause of this behaviour, is one of the purposes of our existence to elevate ourselves as a species and, over time, rise above it?

Besides fascinating and entertaining me, I’ve noticed one other effect this book has had; cheering me up. I’m prone to gloominess during the wet, grey winter months (today happens to be ‘Blue Monday‘, considered to be the most depressing day of the year). At first consideration, the mood-lifting effect of the book might seem obvious – it gives some serious perspective. It’s one thing to feel grateful for all the things you have, and might well not have in other circumstances (time, place and various other factors), but it’s quite another to consider that in another time or place you might, right now, be being broken on a wheel, roasted inside a ‘brazen bull‘ – your screams emitting from the nostril holes, designed for that purpose, for the amusement of your tormentors – or dismembered, disembowelled or tortured in any one of the thousands of highly inventive ways humans have devised to inflict pain and death upon each other.

And of course, you wouldn’t have to be a criminal, or indeed guilty of anything. You might simply be defending your tribe against another, be a young man of fighting age, be of a certain religious denomination, race, or (as a fair number of women were) be accused of something unproveable like witchcraft. At various points in history, people just like us inflicted, and had inflicted upon them, levels of cruelty that by modern civilised standards are very hard to understand. They weren’t short and sporadic outbursts either – practices such as slavery and witch burning went on, variously and across different parts of the world, for centuries.

Being quite introspective, I thought deeply about this ‘cheering’ effect. Somehow it doesn’t seem right that hearing about acts of foul cruelty should lift my mood. How does that make me better than a baying spectator in a Roman amphitheatre, getting off on the sight of people being pulled apart by horses, yelping with delight and amusement at a cat burning, or making a day trip of a good hanging, drawing and quartering? Is it really ‘perspective’ begetting gratitude or something darker, some kind of schadenfreude? A friend once proposed a theory that took me back at the time – that we feel better when bad things happen to our friends. Not just ‘other people’, but our friends. He described it as a transfer of energy, arguing the converse was also true – that we feel worse in ourselves when our friends do well. The argument was that it wasn’t possible for two people to feel the same level of happiness, because the happiness of one will always negatively impact the mood of the other (married readers might disagree!) and vice versa – a sort of zero-sum game.

My first reaction was to think this very twisted. Why would anyone feel good about the pain of those close to them, or unhappy about their successes? I thought about it a lot and resolved to monitor my inner feelings as honestly as possible in these situations – in effect, looking for the worse angels of our nature. I found that there was indeed some truth to it – but rather than attributing this to any see-saw transfer of polarised, psychic energy, I decided it does in the end simply come down to perspective. There’s no shame in feeling you should be doing better if someone else has raised the bar, just as there’s no shame in feeling glad that, by comparison, you don’t have quite the level of problems that someone else does, be they close to you or not. This is entirely normal, and separate from compassion, which can be felt at the same time.

I should stress that I don’t recommend ‘misery porn’ as a remedy for low mood. Without the positive context, delving into the worst humanity has to offer isn’t going to make anyone feel better (just try watching the news every day). Happily, Pinker’s book does provide this context.

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Brutal Beauty

[update – Ashley Wales, one half of former music producers Spring Heel Jack, was a resident in Nightingale. He kindly shared his memories with me, I’ve included them at the bottom of this post.]

I grew up in Islington, North London, but used to hang around the more deprived neighbouring borough of Hackney, getting up to no good like many teenagers. One of many memories that stand out is running around Hackney Downs with a couple of friends at dusk, trying to come down after taking too much LSD. It was the early nineties.

The cold air hit my face and I felt better at once. Although still hallucinating heavily, I was grounded by my closeness to nature – grass under my feet, the open sky above me. Across the park, spaced evenly apart in the distance, stood the towers of the Nightingale Estate. As the sun set, twinkling lights festooned the tall blocks as one by one, the inhabitants illuminated their homes. To me, this sight was every bit as beautiful as the sun setting over a forest.

The Nightingale Estate seen from Hackney downs

The Nightingale Estate seen from Hackney downs

Nightingale was built in 1968 and comprised the six towers seen above, plus a surrounding sprawl of medium-rise terrace blocks. Even without the influence of drugs, I always found these buildings captivating from nearly every perspective – standing at the base of one tower and looking up, then across the wide open space toward the other towers, or on the few occasions I was inside one, contemplating the view from high up. The blocks sat on a large, raised plateau and were arranged in such a way that no tower stood directly in the view of another. I was impressed by the scale, the uniformity and the repetition – of the towers relative to each other, of the twenty-two storeys in each tower.

I wasn’t alone in this aesthetic appreciation – throughout the mid to late nineties, Nightingale served as the setting for these music videos by Travis, BlurSuede and more. It featured on several EP covers by experimental drum and bass outfit Spring Heel Jack. My musical backdrop for this period wasn’t indie and Britpop bands, but rather the Jungle pirate radio stations like Weekend Rush FM, broadcast from an illegal rig at the top of one of Nightingale’s towers.

demolition of the Nightingale estate

“All that f******g building’s gone – all that work” notes an onlooker. Quite

Nightingale at night

Nightingale at night

 

Between 1998 and 2003 all but one of the towers were demolished, paving the way for a wide scale regeneration of the whole estate. It’s a curious fact that these towers existed for no more than 35 years – the first to be demolished, Farnell Point, lived just 30 years. By most accounts the inhabitants of Nightingale were content, at least in the early days. Many came from cramped houses and were very happy with the relative large size of their new homes and the high-rise views across the city. I remember an interview with one delighted family who’d moved from almost uninhabitable council housing in a neglected industrial town in the north of England. Residents had everything they needed, including local shops and a youth club.

As time went on however, the estate fell into disrepair and crime levels rose. The sprawling, labyrinthine nature of developments like this, many built in the 60s and 70s, became an argument for discontinuing them. As one resident elegantly put it, with its masses of buildings and walkways, by its very nature Nightingale was ‘designed for skulduggery’. The estate’s demolition set a country-wide pattern, with local authorities deciding that packing council tenants into vast blocks and stacking them vertically in high towers didn’t work well, and so across the UK, these mighty structures crumbled down elegantly upon themselves in carefully controlled detonations.

Of course high-rise blocks are anything but consigned to the past, especially in major cities like London. The difference is, the kind now being built are expensive, luxurious, and available only to those who can afford them and the panoramic views they provide.

nightgale-flat

Designed for skulduggery

Nightingale was the inspiration for the fictional housing estate Broadlands in my forthcoming novel The Release. Without my very real memories of a place that impressed me so strongly, I doubt I’d have been able to describe the setting for this story in quite the same way.

Ashley Wales of Spring Heel Jack shares his memories of living in Nightingale and his feelings about its demolition.

“It’s great to see some pictures of the Nightingale Estate. I lived in Rachel Point from early 1987 until its demolition in 2002 and was one of the last residents to move out before its blowdown. That was the reason we used photos of the estate for our sleeves, the cover of the Sea Lettuce was the view from my front room on the 15th floor facing east. The photos we used were all taken by Steven Parker, an old friend of ours.

I have great memories from my time living on the estate and still have dreams about it after all these years. Every time I walk across the downs there is a big gap in the sky where the six towers used to be, the view is just not the same anymore.

It was not all great though and was a fucking tough place to live, lifts breaking down, people using the communal areas as a toilet, and anti-social residents making your life difficult, basically the same as the rest of Hackney. But on a sunny day it was beautiful and majestic. The downs was just across the road and you could have been somewhere exotic, and you didn’t mind that the council had basically given up on the estate by the 80s.

I remember watching the blowdowns of the other blocks, Embley and Southerland point, standing on my balcony with my daughter and thinking “Jesus, all that concrete and it has just vanished in a cloud of dust.”

When it came to the blowdown of Rachel point I took my daughters to watch it, but Hackney Council were so pleased with themselves for getting rid of what they considered a problem estate that they held a party for local dignitaries like Trevor Nelson and council officials with champagne and cake, while the residents of the estate were treated like dogshit. It really upset me to see the block I had lived in for all those years reduced to rubble. I didn’t feel like celebrating. It was my home for better or worse.

Weekend Rush, the Downs festival, the fantastic views, friends who are no longer here and some great parties. I miss it still.”

 

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