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Saltwater (An extract from my debut novel)

My school belonged to an inbetween town called Washington. It was technically in Sunderland but equidistant from Newcastle. Our school crest had three stars on it to mirror the American flag. George Washington’s family originated there and went on to form Washington DC. We were the forgotten beginning of things; ugly and unassuming, overshadowed by our famous cousins across the ocean. We clung to the story because we wanted to feel like we mattered.

It was made up of retail parks and motorways and there didn’t seem to be anything natural or organic about it. It was split into numbered districts like a paint-by-numbers picture where someone had run out of colours and swirled everything into a greenish brownish grey.

There were lots of housing estates made up of identical houses with bricked back yards and there was a river with a couple of pubs and a working men’s club. There was a big, brutalist shopping centre where mams pushed prams in velour tracksuits and babies with snotty noses and frilly socks clutched sausage rolls like pasty pastry angels.

It was the site of the Nissan car plant, one of the North East’s biggest employers. Boys at school knew the factory was looming in their future, waiting for them to grow into the overalls.

At the weekends we usually ended up at a party in a council flat rented by someone who used to go to our school. People combed the carpets for spilt drugs with their fingernails at the end of the night and fucked quickly in cold bedrooms, wasting the days away before work or school again on Monday morning.

There was a certain charm surrounding the pebble-dashed houses and the bus stops and the endless drama of our lives played out between cities on bridges and abandoned railway lines. There was a sense of camaraderie at those flat parties, the feeling that we were all in it together and just looking for a good time.

High-rise tower blocks and the despondency of stale, squat houses are aesthetically pleasing when you are removed from them. Middle-class architects with utopian ideals might be able to appreciate the solidity and the magnitude of a huge hunk of concrete with lives carved unapologetically into it, but when that becomes your reality and you have no choice and no way out, when you’re living every day under the shadow of someone else’s vision it becomes oppressive, the weight of their dreams crushing the life out of you.

A set of disused railway lines ran the whole length of Washington, a proud scar from our colliery past. We hung out on them sneaking cider and people climbed onto the old viaduct and snogged in damp corners, daring each other to hang off the edge, legs dangling down onto the motorway below.

We spent evenings trudging through parks and around the perimeters of misty football fields. We pushed each other on swings that we couldn’t quite fit into any more and followed the railway lines from one house to another, where we took tokes on joints and listened to heavy metal in boys’ bedrooms while they groped our breasts through our t-shirts. The smell of Lynx and weed and socks was a new kind of delicious; getting under my skin and bringing my veins and capillaries to the surface.

To be published by Sceptre in Spring 2019.