No Smoke & the 4th July
“To protect the innocence of our children, we must protect innocence for us all.”
This line is quoted at the start of the book, in place of the usual dedication page. It’s the final line of No Smoke.
In many ways, if forced to explain the play in one sentence, it would have to be that one. If the audience don’t understand the importance of that line by the end of the play then the message, the truth of the play, has been lost.
Where the play came from
In 2008 I was still a Drama teacher working in a school in Coventry when I was subjected to two colliding factors that made up for what must be one of the worst times in my life. There’s no melodrama in that — I learnt the hard way just how amoral, despicable, and abhorrent some people truly are. They tried to end my career in a way that would have marred my entire future.
I was subjected to a malicious false allegation of sexual assault by one of my pupils. This was bolstered by a whole dossier of deliberately skewed documents and reports about me that my head teacher had spent over 18 months compiling. He was a narcissistic workplace bully with a number of staff as targets.
I shall not bore you with all the details of my case, but suffice to say it did far more damage to me than I realised at the time. It also hurt other people, just as these cases do. Another pupil, who I had named as a witness, spent months worrying what would happen to me because he knew the other child had lied. Lied, and loved it. Lauded it. Even falsely accused another teacher of physically assaulting him.
Few people knew about my case besides one or two close family and friends. Everyone else just saw me become more recluse and unsociable. I lost a lot of friends back them — most, in fact — as bridges were burnt and very few ever bothered to ask what was wrong. I don’t think I have ever truly recovered from that isolation.
My case finally ended on the 4th July 2008 — ten years ago today. Independence Day. The CPS had returned a decision of No Further Action. It’s important to note that this does not mean “we believe that you are innocent” it merely means that they won’t pursue to charge or trial. For all I knew, the fact that I had been investigated would be on my file, on every CRB (now DBS), and could cause prejudice against me. However, I was very lucky in the sense that the two detectives who investigated my case did see through it from the start. As a result, nothing has ever been noted on any of the countless DBS checks I have had in the past decade.
I was extremely, EXTREMELY lucky. But I still didn’t feel it. And never have.
Writing the Play — why it is a fictional piece
I couldn’t touch the issues for nearly fours years after the events. In that time I had changed job, been promoted to a Head of Drama job, and left that one after a little over year. I had begun to leave teaching altogether, in fact.
I was filled with too much hatred and anger, and the feelings were too too raw to begin writing about it straight away. I needed objective distance if I was ever going to write something for an audience, and not just for me.
Finally, in 2012, I plucked up the courage to start righting. I was distanced enough from the issue to make a story that was not a biographical one, nor a kind of personal therapy for me. No Smoke is not my story — it is a fictional play. I am insistent on that in all my writing. I allow the characters to borrow from real life, and there are indeed totally truthful elements in the place, but few people know what these are. What needed to be told was a story that could be held more universal for the themes, tap into anyone’s personal story, and bring focus upon the issues in a natural way. A personal and vengeful rant at the injustices of the world would have been useless.
So, research for the play began in early 2012 and the play took nearly two and a half years to write, develop and stage the first production. Audience feedback was very positive, including from experienced detectives and police officers, and people who have been personally affected by the issues it raises.
No Smoke is a story about the dangers of false allegations, and especially the way we handle them as a society. It is about how the police and the media behave. The first developments of the story predate the Jimmy Saville fiasco, and the changes in the law that saw a massive increase in the number of false, malicious allegations being made. It predates the plights of Sir Cliff Richard.
The play is not about denying that abuse happens and that victims need helping. In fact, one of the main themes at the core of the play is how we spend our time seething over the latest media hyperbole, deciding that yet another man is surely guilty just because he’s been accused of a crime that might not have even happened. Meanwhile, there are real victims out there, not getting the help and attention they need.
So, no I am not in the slightest impressed with the vast amount of time, money and resources spent on chasing celebrities over allegations from twenty, thirty or more years ago.
I have been the victim of a false allegation. I have met and spoken to many more — hundreds, in fact. I have counselled many. I know of people wrongfully convicted — even one who is in prison now for an “incident” that was physically and medically impossible. I even know that there is a worrying growing trend to falsely accuse more and more young people of such abhorrent crimes. Yes, there are victims…on both sides. But not once have I ever, or will I ever, deny that there are genuine victims of abuse.
Because I have known them, too. I have seen, as it says in the play:
“Those eyes, that look — saying ‘help me.’”
The whole experience changed me. There are very few people these days that I wholly trust. Sadly, the most important one — my mother — died this year. Even though I knew she was always extremely proud of the play, I know how proud she would have been to hold the published version in her hand. And that’s why this book launch, for me at least, is bitter-sweet.
So here we are. Independents Day — to launch my play in publication for the first time. For me, marking ten years since I was freed from those legal shackles — but not the mental ones.
And next time you hear that someone has allegedly sexually assaulted, abused or raped a child — or even an adult, of either gender — just take a moment of pause. The law states that we are innocent until proven guilty. And that is why:
LINKS & Further Info
I have also launching a short story, Stench of Death and of course putting on this promotion with the entirely intentional pun on Independents Day. The promotion runs for an entire week, and I want people to celebrate Indie authors in every way they can. Buy their books, share the books — preferably the links so others can buy them, too.
REVIEW THEM! I’m not saying you have to put 5* star reviews everywhere, but just what you think and a short comment. The more reviews we get the better chance we have of our books just being seen amongst the big shots, let alone competing with them.