MEET SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHOSE STORIES ARE FEATURED IN THE BOOK (THIS WILL BE ADDED TO FREQUENTLY UNTIL ALL THOSE WHO WERE HAPPY TO BE IDENTIFIED IN THE BOOK ARE HERE)
Conner is my cousin Emma's eldest son - he is pictured here with his younger brother Jayden in hospital after he had a massive bleed on his brain just after his seventeenth birthday. Emma and Mark (Conner and Jayden's dad) were told at the time that if he woke up he would likely be unable to communicate and would have to be in a wheelchair. Conner showed the same fighting spirit his great grandad (my grandad) had in living for nearly 40 years after a terminal cancer diagnosis. This is the main story in the book because I can't imagine how Mark and Emma found hope when told what they were, and I'm truly amazed by what Conner has managed to do to confound the doctors' expectations
WOJTEK GODZISZ AND ROSS CUMMINS
Wojtek and Ross seemed like the most famous people in the world when I was 15 - they were in the band Symposium and the life that was shown in the magazines I was ridiculously envious of. However, the reality was quite different to how I imagined and for every great moment they experienced there was a darker undercurrent. They ended up over £1 million in debt and although things have worked out Ok for both of them now, life really didn't go how they imagined it would when they signed their record deal whilst still at school
Joanne's partner Ian has been in prison now for many years - he had drug problems when he was younger that he's desperate to break free from but because of the IPP sentence (Imprisonment for Public Protection) he has been unable to have a second chance. Joanne and her daughter Darcey have campaigned exhaustively to get Ian released - he is in prison years after his original tariff ended because this is how an IPP sentence works. After the original tariff it's down to the discretion of the parole board when the prisoner is released, and it's made very difficult for them to be given a chance. IPP sentences were abolished in 2012 but many who were given them remain in prison. I didn't even know IPP sentences existed until after I started this book, but one of my main hopes is that it helps to raise awareness and to give prisoners like Ian a second chance. Another story in the same chapter shows the potential people in a similar position can have if allowed to change
Steve is one of the UK's leading fire, health, safety, security and resilience experts and has been heavily involved in trying to ensure that the residents of Grenfell Tower have their needs met; something the government have mostly failed to do so far. He has achieved a lot in his career, proving that dyslexia doesn't have to be a barrier to getting a good job and having your voice heard, and the Grenfell fire touched him in a deeply personal way, having lost several of his family in a gas explosion when he was a teenager and seen the tragic events of that day all over the news in the aftermath.
Justin is the national marathon record holder of Luxembourg and has held this and numerous other records for many years. He is still breaking age category records now in his mid-sixties and this is because he never stopped looking after his health and fitness. To me, Justin is an example that getting older doesn't have to mean letting your fitness slide - if you keep looking after yourself you can still be as fit and healthy as you were. Of course we all get a little slower as we get older but this doesn't have to mean we give up. Justin finds solutions to his problems during the thinking time running affords him and the happiness you see in the picture (taken by his son Jeff) was because he had come back to fitness after an injury. As a young man, 'lifelong running' was one of the goals he set himself, and you can see how this has benefited him.
Danny McCormack is best known as bass player in The Wildhearts, but at heart he is a lad from South Shields, just like my dad and my uncle, and Conner (see above.) When he was in his early twenties he went to a doctor to seek help for his depression but he wasn't given the time of day and so not knowing what to do, he self-medicated. This was the start of a heroin addiction that spanned two decades and then some. He describes how at the height of the Wildhearts' success he would be playing on Top of the Pops one minute and then taking heroin with his homeless mates in Kings Cross the next - a life of real contrasts. He tried to beat his addiction numerous times but what finally allowed him to was a terrifying hospital visit that nearly cost him his life and led to one of his legs being amputated. Now he has been clean of heroin for a few years and is doing better than ever.
Charlie is the author of several books including 'No Fixed Abode', 'On the Edge' and 'The Friendship Highway.' He was previously a teacher at a school just outside Taunton, where he worked with my old head of year from Secondary School (small world!) I was first made aware of Charlie's work when I read his book 'No Fixed Abode' about homelessness in the UK, in which he wrote honestly and passionately about his experiences of living voluntarily on the streets to try and find out what homelessness was really like. Of course homelessness isn't just about rough sleeping; basically it encompasses anyone who can't pay the costs of living and so has no place to call their own, and this is explored in the book, as well as the excellent work that is being done by some organisations to help with this growing problem when the government are spectacularly failing to do right by these people.
Rico is the CEO of his own company, Vapestar, and has done work with Cocaine Anonymous to reach out to addicts both in and out of prison. The latter he does because, having been drug free for thirteen years, he can now look back on the life he used to lead and be in a position to help others get clean and change their circumstances. On a downward spiral after personal tragedy at a young age, Rico could have found himself on an IPP sentence but instead was lucky to encounter a policeman who wanted to help him and got him into rehab. His journey to sobriety was not an easy one but he is now living proof of the potential people society may write off can have when shown understanding and allowed a second chance.
Adam lost his brother Lloyd in a senseless act of random violence back in 2005 and knew that his life would always be defined in a way by this tragedy. In the hope of some good coming from this horrific situation he set up the Stand Against Violence charity in the hope of reaching out to young people and educating them on the impact of violence. The charity has gone from strength to strength and Adam has even met one of Lloyd's killers who has shown remorse for his actions, hoping that they can work together in some way to get the message to others who may find themselves in a similar situation. Adam is incredibly brave and humble, and was a late addition to the book but I was delighted that he wanted to be involved.
Janus is the national marathon record holder of Greenland. A former policeman who once had to deal with a polar bear, I found his story fascinating because he used to push himself so hard during his marathon races that he would sometimes faint before the finish line and was told by his doctor that he couldn't keep doing this or he may even die but it wasn't until he suddenly became a single father to two very young children that he slowed down. Now a father of six, he isn't as fit as he once was but is still living an active lifestyle. I think Janus' story is interesting because it shows how priorities change when it's no longer just yourself you have to consider.
DECLAN O'SHEA AND CHRISTIAN MONTAGNE
Declan and Christian I first met when I saw their band Cyclefly in Bristol back in around 1999. They are now making music as Mako DC and this was talked about for the book but they both had a lot to say about how greedy the world has become and how the domination of technology is taking away much of what was good in the times we first met. They both live in Ireland close to nature and both say without this they would struggle to stay sane, and advocate a more simple way of life with old school values that are fast disappearing in this crazy modern world.
Andy was on the same Creative Writing course as me in Bath back in the early 2000s, which is where we first met. He is a childhood friend of Adharanand Finn, also featured in this book, and he writes about his passions for foraging, home brewing and self-sufficiency as well as hosting foraging walks and wild cocktail evenings. For the book he talks about finding hope in nature and how it can always be found no matter what the season. He also makes me want to get rid of my smart phone (at least consider it anyway!)
Adharanand is the author of 'Running With the Kenyans' and 'The Way of the Runner' as well as the upcoming 'The Rise of the Ultra Runners.' In Where Hope Springs he talks about how marathon running represents hope for so many young kenyans and that some manage to change their families' lives through running, but because there is such an abundance of talent there are also many who don't make it. Adharanand is a decent runner himself and hosts running and writing retreats on Dartmoor. He is a childhood friend of Andy Hamilton.
James is a gas fitter by day but by night he takes to the mean streets of Weston Super Mare as a street pastor. Armed with kindness, compassion and prayer he seems immune to the violence and aggression that many face on a night out. Along with his team he has seen some amazing answers to prayer and he does it because, in his own words, "If Jesus came to Weston on a Saturday night He would be on the street with the homeless people rather than having dinner with the mayor." Compassion and understanding go a long way.
James' theme leads us nicely onto Gary Stringer, vocalist of popular Somerset band Reef. In their 90s hit Consideration Gary sang "I don't think that kindness is a weakness, I don't have a problem with compassion," which for me epitomises much of what the book is about. He speaks of how when writing the song he was thinking of when you might say hello to someone at a bus stop only for them to scowl at you. You can either choose to judge them, or you can consider the fact that they might have something awful going on in their life and might not usually act in that way. Reef's music has always been full of optimism and Gary was someone who really exuded hope when I spoke to him.