A young man I shall call Robert knocked on my door today. I could see through the window he had a large bag with him and he had the restless twitchy movements of someone who is beginning to rattle and needs a fix though he could just have been nervous, of course. He introduced himself, and shook my hand. I knew what was coming:

He was just out of prison, selling cleaning goods for a company and trying to make some money “to keep myself out of trouble.” He was edgy, but smiling, and his sales pitch pulled out all the stops. There were a couple of things I did need, as it happened, an ironing-board cover and a long handled duster. I could have bought them more cheaply from Wilko or the market, but I didn’t. I bought them from him, partly so he’d go away with something and partly because I feel sorry for young people with messed up lives, and he was bright, energetic and polite and didn’t sell us a sob story. The drug story is something else (if he is a user) and his to deal with, but as he talked I thought that he was typical of many young men I’ve come across who are trying to grow up without basic literacy or numeracy skills, family support or any prospect of earning a decent living. Drug use, prison, homelessness, broken relationships, no father worth the name, physical and sexual abuse – these are all part of the mix for these young men.

Yet some survive, even do well. They know a lifeline when they see one, and if the time is right can grab it and hold on.

The point is, though, the lifeline has to be there, and offered at the right time.

My latest book, THE MARSH PEOPLE is about people who take that chance, risking everything to begin a new way of life.

In my book Child With No Name (Kindle e-book) a true story, an orphaned child is found after the Boxing Day Tsunami in Banda Aceh. No-one knows who she is and her parents are dead. She speaks no language local aid workers recognise. But one young aid worker discovers her name and attempts a daring rescue – but I won’t tell you the ending. It involves risk-taking and initiative.

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