County lines is a big crime issue. Gangs are using young teens as runners to transport drugs and money across the country. The teens are young enough to not arouse suspicion by police and, once drawn into the world of drug running, getting out is near impossible. Young people have been stabbed, murdered and even pushed to suicide.  

It’s a terrifying world that did not exist when many of us were young. However, we read about it in newspapers and imagine it far away from our own lives. This was how I felt until the manuscript for Just a Small Town hit my desk, and all my attention focused in on four teenagers: Alex consumes heroin to escape his abusive father. Jim hides from guilt after the death of the friend he didn’t save. Chelsi’s brother killed a local boy, pushing her towards a rival gang and prostitution. Danny, is the youngest and, as a county lines supplier, he thinks he’s in control. But the drug gang that supplies him are his threat and, he thinks, his saviour.

Paul Linggood’s novel drew me into the newspaper stories I had read but gave the young people names, families, personalities, hopes and fears. Suddenly I could understand how they were drawn in and why they stayed.

Paul writes about what he knows. He dropped out of school at 16, joined a gang, and drugs and violence became a large part of his life. Just a Small Town, reflects this life as he highlights the neglect and despair within old industrial towns and the damaging influence of gangs in society.

His friends became gangsters, were incarcerated, became addicts, died from overdoses, were killed or killed themselves. He says, “I believe I have some authority to write about aspects of the novel. When I was younger, I had many similarities to the characters in the early chapters, particularly Jim. I came from a family broken by divorce. I was involved with drugs and hung around the streets. My friend was stabbed by another of my friends when I was 17 and this had a massive impact on me. I went to a pretty bad place for a while but managed to come out the other side.”

Paul’s life changed when he met a girl, went to night school, studied for a BA in English Literature and followed this with an MA in Creative Writing.

I think about Just a Small Town every time I read a story of teens who are pulled into drugs, stabbed, jailed or worse. For me, this novel made the newspaper stories real.

Stephen Scarcliffe, who wrote The Chemical Estate series, said: “Each helpless soul, from the middle-aged labourers down the pub, to the hustling teenagers, down to the addicts and prostitutes on the street, are woven together by one common denominator of hard drugs.” 

 It’s a short book, 166 pages. Not a page is wasted.