Three out of every four children enjoy a good enough childhood, and manage to successfully navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood-emerging as sane and well-adjusted human beings. However, the remaining one in four of our children are ill treated, abused, brutalised and abandoned through circumstances beyond their control. The 26 short stories contained in Glimpses are all based on fictional characters, the circumstances displayed are true to life.

An extract from Glimpses

Zane and his friend stood on the street corner and watched a young woman moving boxes from a house to a nearby car. They were judging the situation and discussed how best to approach her. The friend suggested just walking up to her and casually asking if she had a spare cigarette. Zane, himself, thought it would be better if they pretended to be lost by asking her for directions. Eventually Zane’s friend grew impatient waiting and said he was going home. Zane nearly did the same but decided to wait and see what would happen.

Unbeknown to him, the woman he had been watching was Elaine Smyth who was clearing things out of her flat. She was soon getting married and was moving into a new house that she and her fiancé had just bought. It had been a stressful day for Elaine. She had hurried home from work to do some of the packing. She also felt that she had hundreds of things to do in preparation for her wedding day. She started loading the boxes in the boot of her car, oblivious that a young predator was closely watching her by the name of Zane.

Zane walked up to Elaine as she was coming out of the house with a box and pretended to ask for directions. Zane then asked her if she had a spare cigarette. Elaine told him that she did not smoke and added in a joking manner that she thought he was too young to be smoking. It was at this point that Zane started to grab the box she was holding which contained a new laptop computer.

Elaine put up a struggle and shouted for help. This annoyed Zane. He told her to ‘shut up’ but she continued to scream for help. His anger suddenly intensified and then he gave her a hard punch in the face. The force of the blow cut her face around her mouth. She put her hand to her face and discovered she was bleeding. However, Elaine was determined not to let him get away with it. She began shouting louder and louder. Unfortunately there was nobody else in the street at the time and her cries for help went unnoticed.

Zane was surprised and none too pleased at what was happening. He had committed several street robberies and usually his victims did not put up any resistance – especially women. Now he feared for his credibility and feared that his father would tease him for this.

‘Ha ha ha, a woman got the better of you Zaneie,’ he could hear his father saying in his mind.

His father always called him Zaneie. Zane liked his father styling his name this way. He lived at home with his father, in a house that was compiled of stolen goods. His father liked to think of himself as a ‘career thief ’. Over the past year a kind of rivalry had developed between him and Zane. This had started out as a joke but Zane took the jest a little bit too seriously and tried his best to outshine his father with the number of stolen goods he could take home, including money.

Elaine managed to tug the box away from Zane but then she tripped on the kerb and fell awkwardly onto the ground. He finally got hold of the box, but this wasn’t enough for him. He was upset at being challenged and kicked Elaine whilst she lay on the ground, narrowly missing her head. He then asked Elaine if she had any money. He took her car keys and went over and unlocked the boot and started rummaging through her belongings.

Zane thought he had got the upper hand with Elaine. Whilst going through her possessions he failed to notice that she had managed to get up and had run across the road to a nearby pub. It only dawned on him that she had slipped away after he suddenly heard loud voices and saw Elaine coming towards him accompanied by two men. The men gave chase but could not catch up with Zane, as he was a faster runner than them.

Although Zane was winded from running he managed to look round and saw that the two men had stopped chasing him. He gave no thought to Elaine or how she might be feeling. There wasn’t anything unusual about this because Zane rarely thought about his victims after he had robbed them. His mind was always preoccupied with plans for his next robbery, which left no room to worry about any trauma he had caused.

Zane was flushed and out of breath as he boarded the bus home. He remained angry with himself for leaving the laptop and other items behind. He wondered how he had been so stupid for not having noticed the men approaching sooner. He considered it a very unprofitable evening. Nevertheless, he reassured himself ‘Never mind Zaneie, you will have better luck tomorrow’. Zane, of course, could never visualise that his ‘tomorrows’ would eventually run out of luck and that he would be caught. Thoughts of him facing up to the reality of his actions were far from his mind. He sat on the bus and began to make up an impressive story about the evening to tell his father.

The thought of disappointing his father was greater than the anger he held towards himself for the bungled robbery. But the greatest shame for Zane was the prospect of being perceived as a failure in his father’s eyes. He knew he would not be able to cope if his father referred to him as being weak – and decided he would have to conceal what had really happened that evening and invent a story around it.

When he got home his father asked him how profitable his evening had been. Zane responded to the question by giving a dramatised account of the failed robbery, exaggerating parts of it here and there, in an attempt to amuse his father.

‘You’re still not as clever as your old man,’ exclaimed his father holding up a collection of gold chains that he had stolen that evening.

‘Fucking hell, how did you get your hands on them dad?’ Zane asked.

Then they spent the rest of the evening discussing how they would sell the gold chains and how much money they could generate. The whole conversation between Zane and his father contained bravado with each of them pretending to be more courageous than the other. They began to discuss how they would sell the chains. Plans for this were interspersed with ideas for another haul that would supposedly earn them even more capital.

But nothing was fully decided before bedtime. They would resume the discussion next morning. They often did this. There was something about discussing robberies at the breakfast table that added excitement to the rest of the day. Subconsciously, they had discovered that the missing void in their relationship was best filled in this way.

3 reviews for Glimpses

  1. James Anthony Holt

    Glimpses, by Declan Henry, is just that; glimpses into the lives of twenty six young people who are all vulnerable, most of them damaged in some way, many by their parents. It is a profoundly depressing series of glimpses, with little hope that things can get better and that the characters involved can achieve any kind of breakthrough from their various prisons and compulsions.

    One of the characters, however, does ignite a feeling of hope. Could it be because he is caught up in the experience of love? A real self-forgetful love. The only problem for Todd is that the object of his love is the wrong one according to society. Todd is in love with Mark.

    We are not told what happens after Todd gives Mark a quick kiss when they embrace at the end of a football match. This is, after all, only a glimpse. But we are left with our two young heroes sitting and eating ice-cream as they watch ‘the majestic river freely flowing downstream’, and Todd with a feeling inside him, – ‘exhilarating, powerful, and sincere’. We can imagine that Todd’s future will not be all roses, especially not with a homophobic father, but can hope that these exhilarating feelings of his will give him the sincerity and power to cope with all that lies in wait in the future.

  2. Lynne Houston

    How often have I heard ”Lock `em up and throw away the keys”?

    How often have I wanted to shout ”If only you understood”?

    Well now you can understand through ‘Glimpses’ by Declan Henry.

    I have worked with mentally, physically and sexually abused children for 10 years.I have read hundreds of files on these children’s lives and oh how right Declan Henry is with his descriptions with every story in this excellent literary creation. I can relate to each glimpse contained in this book because I know that such cruelty exists in the world.

    It is not the child that turns from being an adorable little baby into a troubled youth of today. It’s the adults in their lives that inflict all this pain and suffering. Then each child has to try their best way to deal with this in whatever way they can, with some like those in Glimpses turning out rather poorly as a result of the way they were brought up.

    I wish I could make everyone read it. Then maybe the future could be different (but I have always being a dreamer). I really hope that Declan Henry doesn’t stop here and writes more about this serious subject matter. His passion and dedication to these young people shows up in his writing.I believe this book could change the way people see the troubled children of today.

  3. Helen Falconer, book reviewer for the Guardian newspaper

    The 26 short stories in Glimpses, which give us a snapshot into the lives of youth discarded by family and friends and classed as social problems, are fictional but the kind of circumstances displayed are true to life.

    Teenagers are shaped by experience – what happens when these experiences affect them negatively? Declan Henry uses these stories to show the reader that there are reasons for problematic behaviour and reminds us of untapped potential in the youth of today. It reads like a collection of dark fairy tales, each of them starring a horribly twisted monster. These monsters prey on the weak that cross their path; or they seek to destroy themselves, overcome with grief at their own ugliness. The monsters are human children, and the forests they haunt are all around us.

    Henry has drawn on his long experience as a social worker to bring us an unforgettable cast of fictional characters, each of whom would break your heart with fear and pity.

    Chenai cuts herself every time her father rapes her; her mother continues to disbelieve her. Fay rather hopes her joyriding will land her in prison, away from her dangerously violent home life. Jake wants to tell his side of the story – it is a long story, covering the 707 days since his mother’s terrible death – but now he has stabbed a man he worries no one will ever listen to him.

    There are redemptive tales: Gerry wants to be a criminal like his father and brothers, but decides to grow up when he nearly burns an old man to death. Young teenager Malena believes she is ugly, and therefore believes her baby is ugly too – until she suddenly sees the “magic in her daughter’s eyes” and decides to go back to school.

    These stories do not sentimentalise these sad children, nor absolve them from all responsibility for their lives – but they do illustrate with insight and compassion how easy it is to take malleable children and batter them into truly pitiful shapes.

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As a writer, I try to incorporate both sides of humanity into my writing, having learned that life is far from grim and that there is enough kindness, compassion, love and humour to overcome life’s obstacles, regardless of how much misery, abuse, or injustice exists.
Written by Declan Henry


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