Researching disturbing storylines
By Freya Barrington
Where does one begin when researching for books with a factual, yet disturbing story line? One which has to portray the realities of your subject material, while being mindful of the potential for causing distress to readers.
In my debut book, Known to Social Services, my aim was to weave a story, which would raise the profile in regard to the complex and often thankless task undertaken by social workers. As an ex child protection social worker I drew heavily on personal experience; sifting through the hundreds of cases I had been involved with and choosing ones, which I felt depicted the common themes of social work. Unsurprisingly, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, drug and alcohol issues featured throughout. However, I also chose more controversial subjects, such as the reprehensible practice of female genital mutilation (Female circumcision), which is a growing issue in the UK. Striking the balance between providing an honest yet non-gratuitous account of such an emotive, yet topical subject matter was challenging.
For my research, I read extensively, and was numb with horror at the almost insufferable first-hand accounts of women who have undergone this tortuous procedure. In Known to Social Services, a mother smuggles her child out of the UK for the purpose of being circumcised. I wondered if this was too far-fetched, but only a week after the book was published, a mother was arrested at Heathrow doing the very thing I had written about in trying to take her daughter back to Somalia to be circumcised.
A combination of personal experience and relevant reading, produced what I hoped was an honest and authentic glimpse of the realities of front line social work.
My latest novel, Caught in Traffick is the sequel to Known to Social Services, and was a more demanding book to write. The plot revolves around a gang of child traffickers in Thailand who target and abduct children for the sex trade. While I have experience and knowledge of child sexual abuse, writing about the specifics of child trafficking was a new challenge.
Conservative estimates put the figure of adults and children currently enslaved by human trafficking at an astonishing 29 million; 27% of this number are children. Human trafficking has now surpassed the sale of illegal arms in terms of criminal activity, and is a growing international problem, surpassed only by the drug trade. I hoped that a novel based around this heinous trade would contribute to raising awareness of it.
My choice of Thailand as a setting was deliberate. Rated as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking; it has gained notoriety as a place where one can live, free of the most basic moral codes of decency. With high profile cases involving the victimisation and exploitation of children dating back many decades, it is hardly surprising that Thailand has earned a reputation as a sink hole of depravity.
That said, child trafficking is a worldwide problem. Who in the UK can be ignorant of the scandals which took place in Rotherham and Rochdale? Gangs of predominantly Asian men targeting, grooming and sexually abusing young girls, and effectively trafficking them for the sex trade within their own communities.
For research purposes, I read several books relating directly to victims of the Rotherham and Rochdale cases; all were utterly depressing and while offering an inside view of what had happened; all the books left me bewildered as to how these spectacularly high profile cases had managed to happen in a society, which is supposedly aware of such issues.
It was crucial to make Caught in Traffick as credible as possible while weaving what I hoped would be an exciting and captivating story. The Internet became my best friend when researching in this regard.
I found charities and other organisations which work towards the eradication of child trafficking especially informative and included a list at the back of the book as a reference.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) are two of the major organisations in the UK combatting child trafficking. In depth research using their websites and related reading proved invaluable.
In addition to researching online, I used my network of social work professional groups and colleagues, I was lucky in speaking directly to Charlie Hedges; an authority on child trafficking who has been awarded an MBE for his efforts, Mr Hedges provided an enormity of information and gave advice on what would and would not be plausible.
My dear friend and fellow author James Morgan Ayres also provided invaluable knowledge on the country of Thailand in general, having lived and worked in the Far East for many years. The sights, sounds and smells of the place were all essential in creating a 3 dimensional world in the mind of the reader.
Research done; all that remained was to actually write the book, and as we all know – that’s when it really gets interesting.
About Freya Barrington
Freya Barrington is the pen name of the author of Known to Social Services, the number 1 UK Bestseller in the Social Work Category in early 2015 and again in 2016. Known to Social Services won its section in the 2015 London Book Festival and won an honourable mention in the 2016 Paris Book Festival. Many UK Universities list the book on their essential reading list for students as while the book is fictionalised, they recognise the value of authentic accounts of front line social work.
The book titled Gozo: Is the Grass Greener? was Freya’s second work; an autobiographical account of her and her husband’s lives on the island of Gozo, the book earned an honourable mention in the 2015 London Book Festival and won its section in the 2016 Paris Book Festival.
Caught in Traffick is Freya’s third book to date and is the sequel to Known to Social Services.
About Caught in Traffick
Caught in Traffick
By Freya Barrington
Published by Faraxa Publishing (28 August 2016)
'Caught in Traffick' is the sequel to 'Known to Social Services', and continues the story of social worker Diane Foster. Set mainly in Thailand; Diane and her partner Ethan are on a working holiday, blissfully unaware of the dangers lurking against the beautiful backdrop of white beaches and glorious monuments. When four-year-old Darcie Taylor is abducted from a crowded beach, Diane and Ethan find themselves sucked into the horrifying world of child trafficking. When Darcie’s abduction is followed closely by the kidnap of another child, there can be no doubt that a well co-ordinated gang is operating in the area. A chance meeting with the Director of Social Services Nicholas Bishop leads to a shocking revelation about the man who is still Diane’s most senior manager. Together, they become embroiled in a dangerous web of subterfuge and corruption, where organised crime syndicates and depraved sex offenders engage in a desperate battle of wits against those dedicated to their downfall. Trapped within this labyrinth of immorality are the children, who are sacrificed on the altar of greed and perversion for financial gain. With the gang’s tentacles reaching across to England, Diane is shocked to find herself faced with some old adversaries.
Find Caught in Traffick on Amazon UK here