A blur in the sky, a brick – no, a trainer, red – falls to the water… There seems to be a scuffle… a hand grabbing at the dangling child. Then, with the awfulness of inevitability, the hanging child drops, gravity takes him.
A child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity.
Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B’s reintegration into society. But the general public’s anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep.
Cate’s loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. Or is there a greater evil at play?
TO HULL AND BACK
Because you can’t go home, not really. Home isn’t fixed, an unaltered state, and upon returning the native is changed, by what took them away, by what happened since.
And so I return to Hull for the first time in many years. I have married, had children, followed a career, written books. And Hull is different to, the house I grew up in looks smaller than I remember, my Grandma’s house has been bashed within an inch of its life by some DIY fanatic, and the neighbours’ houses all have Alsatians. Or so the signs warn.
Do I belong here?
My children trail me, as we walk in the rain, across the Humber Bridge. I’m thinking about my novel now, about the boy who dies, but here is my son running with fingers touching the railing, a surmountable barrier to the drop. It makes me shiver, connects me to the mother in my novel, and this is why I came. To check that the Humber in my head, the one I’ve tried to portray in the book, is real. The rain stings my face and the water is muddy brown, all as I remember.
We drive down Hessle Road, past closed up Fireworks shops and tanning booths. Poundland and Wilco are the only places that look thriving, but the people are as friendly as my mother always says, more willing to chat than their Suffolk counterparts.
We visit Arctic Corsair, and the guide’s accent as well as his stories take me to the heart of Hull; this is a working city, built on hard graft. My own family came here to follow the Herring from Brixham, big and tough men who joined the police force and fire service, a legacy that hasn’t translated down physically but may be there in other ways. I like places with edges, I’m interested in crime, the ugliest cases. And my boy, the one in the book, is the worst kind of criminals. Humber Boy B has killed another child, despite being a child himself.
I may not be able to come home, but I want to find Ben’s home, my Humber Boy B. As I walk the streets of the city I feel my perspective shifting, and I don’t want him to be from the roughest parts, to be a boy who could be explained away by neglect or abuse. His step-father, a minor character up to this point, begins to breathe inside me. Could he be a fisherman? Working on the Icelandic boats, away for three weeks at a time? An absent parent, but for the best of reasons.
We go to The Deep, Hull’s world-class Aquarium, because Ben would go there, and also because water is a major theme throughout the book. I look at the jellyfish, with no hearts or minds, and wonder what Ben would make of them. I enjoy the comical penguins, one of whom stares at the wall for twenty minutes as if it is running a film, and wonder if Ben would have laughed.
And this, I think, is why I’m here. To meet the characters who have been growing in my imagination, to see if they can make their way in the Hull that exists today. I’m still listening to the voices in my head, still trying to get it right on the paper. It needs to be real, authentic. Ben needs to live.
The answer will only be known when other people meet Ben, and tell me that he does.
Humber Boy B is going to be published by Legend Press in April next year.