Jennie Ensor is the author of The Girl in His Eyes, Blind Side and Not Having it All. Her latest novel, Silenced, is published by Hobeck Books on 7 December 2021.
Jennie kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Silenced.
Silenced is my fourth book and first crime novel. It’s an emotionally-charged crime thriller with strong psychological elements that ventures into the shadowy world of teen-exploiting gangs and police corruption. It’s written from the viewpoint of a murder squad detective and two teenagers.
After a 15-year-old schoolgirl is stabbed through the heart outside a council housing estate, Detective Inspector Callum Waverley finds himself on the trail of Luke, a teenager excluded from school, and his close friend Jessamine. Both teens have slid into the grip of Skull Crew, the gang that rules the estate.
Silenced is about the decision to either risk everything by speaking out about wrongdoing, or to stay silent and safe. A detective has to decide whether to reveal the secret that has haunted him for twenty-five years; a murdered girl’s mother must decide whether to tell the police everything she knows; an elderly council estate resident living next door to gang headquarters must decide whether she will stand up to terrifying intimidation.
2. What inspired the book?
The inspiration to write Silenced came after years of seeing practically daily news reports of teenagers shot and stabbed on the streets of London, e.g. in 2017 a 14-year-old boy, who’d been groomed by a gang, was shot in the head close to a children’s playground. Attacks were happening closer and closer to my home; in 2015 the High Road in Haringey was identified as the street with the most stab attacks in London. Gangs and drugs seemed to be connected to much of this violence. I wondered how a kid might be drawn into gang life – and what might happen if he wanted to leave but knew too much to be let go?
This led to a spate of reading about local gangs and chilling crimes involving gang members. Real-life criminals such as Mark Lambie, ex-leader of Tottenham Mandem, a gang once associated with the notorious Broadwater Farm council estate, inspired the Skull Crew’s sinister leader. Lambie was jailed in 2002 for kidnap and torture, and known as the Prince of Darkness. I also spoke to young people who had been in gangs and hung out on council housing estates (including Broadwater Farm – the first time with a friend for support). I learned that the day before our visit, a teenager had been fatally stabbed there.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I made a valiant attempt to become a planner with this book, and ended up writing a novella-length plot! (I never do things by halves, except for domestic tasks.) That turned out to be very useful, given the novel’s complexity, though some of the twists were unplanned and only emerged while getting on with the writing.
4. Having been through the process a few times, is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?
Reviews are now coming in for Silenced, which is equally exciting and anxiety provoking. What strikes me afresh each time publication comes around is how wonderful it is to have readers who totally get your book and what you’ve attempted to do. This makes the long toil of writing and rewriting worthwhile. Also I’m grateful that I’ve found a publisher (Adrian Hobart and Rebecca Collins at Hobeck Books) who from the start have been incredibly enthusiastic about my novel.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
There’s not been much of this lately, but I enjoy meeting friends for drinks/tea and cake. I’m a fan of crime drama (Baptiste, Line of Duty, Shetland, The Killing, The Fall etc) and would happily spend half the week watching long-running serials on Netflix if my OH didn’t constantly hog the TV… But that’s OK because it leaves more time for reading 🙂 I do yoga for relaxation and occasionally Argentine tango – but nothing can beat a long walk in the mountains or on a clifftop overlooking the sea (usually I make do with the local woods).
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
What a cruel and downright impossible question, Janet! I might have to go for the Staying Alive ‘real poems for unreal times’ poetry anthology (Bloodaxe Books) that’s in my bookcase. Second choice: something long and puzzling like In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust or 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – or the Stephen King book I’m keen to read, 11/22/63.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
The question I’ve not been asked is ‘What was your weirdest experience while researching your book?’ My most surreal experience of many was asking a young former gang leader about girls in gangs and the etiquette involved in big drug deals, while sitting in the back of a car in the basement of a Walthamstow car park. (It was a rainy day during lockdown and we couldn’t go inside any cafes or pubs.) But searching on the internet for instructions on how to make crack cocaine also felt pretty weird!
About the Book
A teenage girl murdered on her way home from school, stabbed through the heart. Her North London community is shocked, but no-one has the courage to help the police, not even her mother.
It’s DI Callum Waverley’s first major case as senior investigating officer – can he break the code of silence that shrouds the case?
This is a world where the notorious Skull Crew rules through fear. Everyone knows you keep your mouth shut or you’ll be silenced – permanently.
This is Luke’s world. Reeling from the loss of his mother to cancer, his step-father distant at best, violent at worst, he slides into the Skull Crew’s grip.
This is Jez’s world too. Her alcoholic mother neither knows nor cares that her 16-year-old daughter is being exploited by V, all-powerful leader of the gang.
Luke and Jez form a bond. Is it friendship, love or fear that brings them together? Can Callum win their trust, or will his own demons sabotage his investigation? And can anyone stop the Skull Crew ensuring all witnesses are silenced?