Since the story first appeared in December, I've been asked on many occasions where the inspiration came from, and what research I did.
Inspiration came from personal experiences on Twitter. I became so outraged about the behaviour of stalkers and bullies who harassed other users, that I became an active anti-bully campaigner. But then they turned their attention to me, and their attacks, stalking and harassment became so intense that I finally quit my campaign
Research? Well, I know exactly how the victims of such bullying feel...but I had to rely on my imagination to get inside the head of the bully in my story.
However, an essential part of the story was to parallel the helplessness felt by the bully while he is handcuffed, barefoot, in a tiny, cold cell deep underground, with how helpless his victims feel while they're under attack from his relentless, anonymous, online bullying.
None of them know when he'll strike again...in the same way our bully doesn't know what's going to happen to him in his current predicament.
I knew the story would succeed or fail by this running comparison. The emotions felt by the bully had to be realistic...I had to get the mix of fear and sheer bravado absolutely right.
So, I was prepared to suffer for my art. A friend in the police force arranged for me to spend a couple of hours barefoot, with my hands cuffed securely behind my back, locked in an old decommissioned cell.
This cell really was horrendous...it had been taken out of use because it was deemed nowadays to be too uncomfortable for the police force's "customers." It was tiny, around 6'6" square, with a small cubicle which had originally housed a toilet. It was filthy, it was cold, it was frightening.
I knew I'd only be in there for a couple of hours, but when that door clanged shut, I put myself in my character's place, and instantly fear and uncertainty kicked in. The longer I remained incarcerated in that cell, the greater my fears rose.
A line in the story mentions trying to "undress" the handcuffs -- namely having the bully trying to work his hands under his bum and step over the chain to bring his hands in front of him. I tried that manoeuvre in the cell, and couldn't do it.
The opening of the story was also critical to its success or failure -- and that's why my description of the sounds in the opening sentences had to be realistic. And believe me, they are! The sound of the handcuffs locking around my wrists, and the sound of the door clanging shut and the lock sliding into place showed me exactly how helpless I was...just as the bully's victims felt helpless as he relentlessly attacked them online.
So, all in all, a lot of the story is based on how I felt during what were probably the longest two hours of my life. With just six feet of wall in all directions, my thoughts were running wild for every one of those 120 minutes. The research told me everything I needed to know -- and made the story what it is.
Oh, and in case you're wondering what I'm holding in the cell in the photo -- it's a postcard promoting fellow novelist DM Cain's fabulous book The Phoenix Project, which is set in a prison, so it's extremely appropriate!