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Finding Your Characters: The Children of Albion by Jill Turner

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Jill Turner

Jill Turner

It was a real child who was the inspiration behind The Children of Albion. I was working as a volunteer youth mentor with teenagers some years ago now. One of the lads, as bright as a button, was struggling to lift himself out of the life he had been born into – depressed mother, family in and out of prison, living on a drug-riddled, gangster-strangled estate. He wanted better for himself and he told me, ‘My story is going to be, the greatest story ever told.’

His words stuck with me as did the stories of other children, trapped in lives they did not choose, coping with difficult situations day after day but with aspirations to create something better for themselves despite the inadequacies of the adults around them.

When I sat down to write The Children of Albion, I borrowed his voice and his words to create the character of 11-year-old Robbie: a sharp-witted, tough but good-hearted urban kid who bunks off school, smokes cigarettes, steals and finds solace in his ‘den,’ an abandoned house.

This is the greatest story ever told. I think someone else said that once but as far as I’m concerned, they’re wrong. This is. I know. ’Cause it’s mine. Well ours. All of ours.

The book came after many years working as a journalist and seeing the harsh lives lived by many of our children, in the UK and in Ireland. During my career, I spent time with the police and other authorities, inside and outside the justice system and with charities as they tried to help children who were really running ‘feral,’ children whose lives I observed and whose stories I heard and sometimes reported on.

It was while living and working in Dublin that I cultivated the idea. I was helped by a wonderful screen writing course at the Irish Film Centre which helped me craft a good story and create dialogue and the encouragement of the Irish writer John Boyne who read my work and encouraged me to pursue my idea of telling the stories of young people in their own words.

I wanted to raise the issue of what was happening in our affluent Western society, and I saw Robbie as a modern ‘Artful Dodger’ to tell the story for me: that of children who try and set up their own community, their own world, their own family to do a better job than the adults who had failed them.

However, my story needed to be a story. Robbie had the energy to create a better life, but he could not do it alone. The tale takes off when he finds a stranger has been camping in his ‘den’ – an ethereal looking teenager who calls himself Albion, talks of King Arthur and Camelot and has a dream of returning England to a romantic idealised past of safety, security, community and care – everything Robbie craves. They create a home for themselves in the den and soon other kids, those in need of escape from the abusive, neglectful, selfish or inadequate adults around them, join them under Albie’s caring leadership.

Albie was a completely different character to create and had to be a foil to sharp-faced Robbie and his street smarts. I imagined him as a gentle version of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Steerpike in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast: all long-flowing hair and dark clothes, or a figure that had walked straight out of the Pre Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones’ depictions of King Arthur.

A flame. And a face. Bloke’s face. Lighting a fag. Pale, pale skin. Bit like a girl. Long white fingers holding the cigarette in the way girls do, the other hand clutching the lighter. Older than me, fourteen or fifteen maybe.

He had to be a polar opposite to Robbie in appearance and style and in the way he spoke, distancing him from the sink estate and creating the Arthurian otherworldliness he so desired. His past remains a mystery and his polite, grammatically correct and educated speech sets him apart. Robbie has never properly learned to read or write, but Albie carries with him a notebook in which he jots drawings and prose poems, a dystopian take on the ugliness of the real world in which they live.

Their unlikely but true friendship and their care for each other is the foundation on which The Children of Albion try to build a better way of life.

It may not truly be as Robbie claims ‘the greatest story ever told’ but there are many truths within it.

And as for the real teenager on whom Robbie is based: he has had a rollercoaster of a life, veering from addiction to fatherhood, bereavement to imprisonment, employment to rehab and back again. He is currently settled with a young family. I hope he has found his happy ending.

© Jill Turner

About The Children of Albion:

“An urban ‘Lord of The Flies’ for our times.” In post-millennial England, the next generation are falling through the gaps of a very broken society. In the wasteland of a English sink-estate, where the adults are lost to drink, drugs, poverty and destructive relationships, the next generation run feral, surviving day to day by any means possible. Starved of food, love and affection, the children face a bleak future following in the crime-riddled footsteps of their parents, and their parents’ parents before them. However, when the middle-class dreamer, drop-out, and revolutionary teen, Albion makes camp in one of the derelict houses, an unlikely friendship is struck between him and Robbie, a boy born of the estate who desperately longs for things to be different. With dreams of establishing a modern-day Camelot, and refuge for those children let down by society, Albie and Robbie attempt to create a new and better world, but they soon discover the weight of a crown is a very heavy burden to bear, and the legacy of the last generation is a terrifying and consuming beast. EDITORIAL REVIEW In this real-life ‘dystopian’ novel, Jill Turner uses her extensive experience gained as a Fleet Street journalist (at The Sunday Times, Daily Mail, The Guardian and Daily Mirror) to shine a light into the shadowy corners of a sector of English society far removed from the Great British ideal. With a great sensitivity, and passionate desire for social change and intervention, Jill explores a narrative often ignored in English literature, giving a voice to a generation and social-group whose voice is so often ignored. In a country that boasts some of the most educated and richest citizens in the world, tens of thousands of British children are facing the challenge of simply surviving, of growing themselves up with very little love, affection or nurture; facing little alternative but to either sell themselves or turn to a life of violent crime just in order to live. ‘The Children of Albion’ is a stark observation through the eyes of the children, and offers a fascinating and eye-opening read. EXPLICIT – please be informed that there is extensive expletive usage and reference to themes of a more adult nature which are entirely reflective and in context with the story being told.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Jill Turner began writing as a three year old. What started out as little stories about horses and cats developed over the years into teenage novellas and romances, which are still in a bedroom drawer (and should probably stay there).

A love of writing was fulfilled by a very successful and fast-paced career as a Fleet Street journalist at The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, and The Daily Mirror among others. Working in journalism fed Jill’s interest in the individual human experience, and developed Jill’s storytelling abilities. The pursuit of journalism exposed Jill to many of the complexities, tragedies and socio-political contradictions of the human condition.

Jill now lives in the beautiful coastal countryside where she writes full time, still writing periodically for national press, and increasingly dedicating her time to fiction writing. She lives with a very clever little boy, who adds infinitely to her life.

A voracious reader, she is passionate about getting young people into literature and has worked as a mentor with Youth At Risk, and Fairbridge/ The Prince’s Trust and currently works in an alternative provision school for children and teenagers struggling in education.

When not working, she likes to be out on the beach with her son, or at the nearest riding stables.

@jilltwriter www.facebook.com/JIllTurnerAuthor/ www.jill-turner.co.uk

Read about The Children of Albion @LiteratureWorks

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