Question and answer with Ross Greenwood author of The Boy Inside.



I am lucky to welcome the lovely Ross Greenwood to my blog today, to celebrate the publication of his novel, The Boy Inside. 

He has kindly taken the time to answer a few questions, ranging from how his time working in the prison service influences his writing and also tells us his favourite books from 2016. His answers are honest, powerful and funny!

I want to thank Ross for taking the time to answer my questions.

1. I noticed that The Boy Inside and your first novel Lazy Blood are set in a prison. Are the stories based on prisoners you worked with or events that occurred during your time as a prison officer?
Yes, very much so. Lazy Blood is a story where prison features, but it’s more a story about relationships. After I wrote that, so many people got in touch to say they loved seeing what really happens in our jails that I decided to give them what they wanted. The Boy Inside is very much about prison and the people in them. It’s not what people will expect though. All the action is based in some way or another on events that really happened. So it should be quite shocking. The violence in prison was often stupid and random, and frequently life altering.

All of the characters were based on the people I met. I mixed them up to make them more dramatic or to make it clearer where they came from.

2. Do you think readers will gain a better understanding of the prison community, both for prisoners and staff by reading your novel?

I really hope so. I was wrong about the type of people we lock up. Sure, there are career criminals, or people who have specifically gone out to rob a bank or ship cocaine, but many, if not most, have drifted into criminality, often through a disassociated upbringing. Drugs and alcohol play a part, as does boredom. Many have just made one mistake.

Our prisons are woefully understaffed. The government either doesn’t understand the issue or is lying to us about it. You can’t cut prison officer numbers to that extent with all the new threats (spice, drones etc.) and not expect to see an elevation in suicide, self harm, and violence. Both to other prisoners and to staff (including the healthcare staff). Figures released show this is happening. In effect, staff cuts are leading to more people dying.

It was the same in our jail with the healthcare staff.  They were often short staffed. This would cause problems with lock up as some prisoners had to have their drugs at certain times and the wings couldn’t be locked until this happened. Staff can’t go home until the jail is secure, so the nurses might get grief from some officers and abuse from prisoners.  Brilliant nurses or healthcare assistants who had an excellent rapport with the inmates would end up leaving and you are back where you started. Both jobs are hard, thankless tasks.  One which many people couldn’t do, or specifically wouldn’t want to do.

3. Is there anything you find challenging in your writing?

I took two years off as childcare was so expensive. I thought, right! I have some time to write, but it often gets taken away from me. I had three full days to write next week, but my son is just showing the first spots of chicken pox (daughter had it 2 weeks ago), so that’s gone! The main thing I struggle with apart from time is which person to write in. Lazy Blood was third person, The Boy Inside, 1st person, present tense. I suspect it doesn’t really matter if it’s written well enough.

I love being able to be at home with the kids, even though it’s sometimes harder than locking up a wing of felons. However, I often think of one of the worst jobs in a prison. That of gobwatch. Each prisoner when he gets his medication has to put it in his mouth and then drink a cup of water. This makes them swallow the drug, otherwise many would keep it in their mouths and sell it on the wing when they got back. So, every morning around 7.30 a.m., one job would be to stand next to the med hatch and look inside inmates mouths and under their tongues to make sure they weren’t concealing their tablet. You can just imagine the smells and sights that would assault you. Inmates are famous for the dental hygiene. Changing your own child’s nappy is a summer picnic in comparison.

4. I have a never ending curiosity about other readers favourite books! Given this, what was your favourite read of 2016.

I am Pilgrim was my favourite book. I got the paperback off amazon for £3.95. When it turned up it was over 800 pages long too. And then it was brilliant. Win, win, win!
I also enjoyed A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh which many wont have read. Someone once flattered me by saying my writing was like his (without the accents). I think what they were driving at is they loved my ability to make damaged characters likeable. We are all flawed, some more than others, but we all have good qualities too. Even the worst of us. Usually, someone loves us, even if its just our mothers.
The horrible part about prison is it brings out the worst side of everyone. You aren’t free, you can’t relax, get away, drink, sing, dance, whatever. Inmates often take their frustrations out on the staff. Even the smallest weasel, the bottom of the ladder, who is bullied by everyone on the wing is often lippy to the staff. It’s sometimes the only way he can safely let off steam as he could say virtually anything to an officer and not get battered, which is likely if he spouted off to an inmate. A strange way to ease the pressure cooker in your brain, but that’s prison.

Even though the weasel would get told off or disciplined, if it was done by a professional, it would be done in a considerate manner, even along the lines of, ‘Come on mate, that’s not you. What’s bothering you?’ It may have been the only decent piece of human interaction the boy has had for months.

5. Cwtch is the Welsh word for a hug or a safe place. I you could choose someone to cwtch famous or not, who would they be?

I’m a secret ginger admirer, so I had a thing for Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones for a while. My partner (a lovely blonde) has now told me it’s dyed. Just to hurt my feelings, ha ha.

And finally

6 .Can we look forward to more novels bringing life behind the walls to readers or do you plan on trying other settings in your future books?

The third book is underway. The odd character crosses over from each book. Call it ‘The Prison Lives Series’ if you like. The next one tackles perhaps the most stretched understanding of prison life. That of sex offenders. Our immediate reaction to anyone who has interfered with children is lock them up, throw away the key, possibly even castrate or bring back the death sentence. A crime against the vulnerable goes all against human nature. However, is our justice system so infallible that we never make mistakes. Are innocent men in jail?
In my experience the courts rarely make mistakes but even though some of these people have done terrible things, they are often victims too. Many paedophiles were interfered with when they were young themselves. Sometimes by members of their own family. If you are taught that having sex with your family is normal when you are too young to know any better, perhaps it’s not overly surprising if you repeat learned behaviour. Some men who see their father beat their mother, repeat domestic abuse in their own lives.
Rightfully, these people must be locked away from any contact with children.  If it was your child who was attacked you would wan maximum punishment, maybe pull the trigger yourself.
We don’t imprison them forever though. If you locked them up for 23 hours a day for 10 years, gave them no worthwhile activity or purpose, didn’t try and rehabilitate or educate them, then what are you going to end up releasing? What kind of angry person would be free to go?  I can’t think of anything more dangerous.  Research shows that pushing sex offenders to the fringe of society means they are more likely to offend.  Most know what they are thinking is wrong.  Almost like an urge is coming, like a drug addict wanting a hit.  The relationship between them and their probation officer is crucial.  They recognise the dangers, maybe even recall them to prison to stop them re-offending.  Some volunteer to go.  These are bitter pills for society to swallow when every part of us wants to punish them.
Some of the crimes I heard were so sickening and depraved, it was breath taking. It is almost impossible how anyone could wake up after doing something so utterly inhumane and not throw themselves in front of a train. These people exist though.  There are wings full of them. Someone has to feed them, wake them, teach them, give them their meds, take their blood, and ask them if they are okay.  It’s not easy.  When you work in a prison, you walk into work and leave your judgement at the gate. Otherwise you simply wouldn’t be able to do your job.
The books I enjoy are often exciting and thrilling but also educational. I like to learn something for my money, like The Fault in our Stars, understanding more about dying young. I think that’s why we enjoy crime books, as we see procedures and understand detection. Thought provoking books can be difficult reads, like Betsy’s Frailty, or surprising like Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. I love a book I can discuss with someone. I hope I provide that for my readers.
About the author.

Ross was born in 1973 in Peterborough and lived there until he was twenty, attending The King’s School. Following this he began a nomadic existence, living and working all over the country and various parts of the world.

He found himself returning to Peterborough many times over the years, usually when things had gone wrong. On one of those occasions he met his partner about 100 metres from his back door whilst walking a dog. Two children swiftly followed.

This book was started a long time ago, but parenthood and then four years as a HMP Peterborough prison officer got in the way of Ross being able to finish it. Ironically it was the four a.m. feed which gave him the opportunity to finish the book, as unable to get back to sleep he completed it in the early hours of the morning. 

Here is the link to Ross’s personal page


The Boy Inside can be bought from Amazon

It can also be purchased from Waterstones and other book sellers.

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