J. L. Fontaine
Liam O’Connell is a man haunted by his past, who lives by stealing, scavenging and tricking those he meets. He takes shelter in a derelict cottage belonging to the recently widowed Laura West, and the unlikely pair begin a relationship. After a visit from Liam’s estranged wife, Peggy, they are left with Danny, the child she claims is Liam’s, currently living in care. The pressure on all sides leads to a complete breakdown between Liam and Laura and he leaves. On his return a year later Liam discovers that Danny is living at Laura’s house and has sworn to kill him. Now Liam has to find a way to survive Danny without losing Laura.
A story of guilt, loss and redemptive love, The Mark walks a tightrope, balancing humour, sentiment, and truth.
J.L.Fontaine has worked on a chicken farm, in hospitals and old people’s homes and as JJ The Clown, children’s entertainer and puppeteer. After gaining a Post Graduate Diploma in Counselling, she worked in a College and as a Police Welfare Officer. The character of Liam is based on a former client, a con man who she describes as ‘the most charming and frightening person I have ever met.’ Danny’s character is based on several young offenders with whom she worked.
On writing ‘The Mark’, by J. L. Fontaine:
Sitting in a room at the Probation Services, I watch the young man next to me lighting matches and burning the fuzz from his jumper. On my other side someone is passing round photos of his baby son. This is his eighth child and all of them are by different women. The meeting of the Offenders Group is about to start.
The men in the room are aged between eighteen and forty. All of them have been in prison, have reoffended and have been sent to this group to see if their behaviour can be addressed. This is done by teaching Life Skills such as budgetting and finding somewhere to live. But there is also an opportunity to look at why they offend and to hear their side of things.
A latecomer wanders in, sits down, yawns and casually tells one of the Probation Officers running the meeting that her car is being broken into. She rushes out to investigate, accompanied by one or two of the group members who are keen for a bit of action. The youth in the jumper leans towards me. ‘Never worry about your car,’ he whispers. ‘No one would ever bother to steal such a piece of crap.’ I thank him for his reassuring words.
The meeting eventually gets under way with a general discussion on finding accommodation and keeping it. The list of places where they have slept includes beside the heating outlet at the swimming pool, under fishing boats on the beach and in coffins at an undertakers. Two of the men once slept on the floor of an off licence having broken in and got so drunk they were still there the next morning when the owner arrived and called the police.
It is time for a coffee break which lasts fifteen minutes. The music system is locked in a cupboard and we can’t find the key. On hearing this, the group suggests that we go and make the coffee. We hesitate. Leaving the group alone is against the rules but we go out briefly, stand just outside the door and return to find the cupboard open and the music system playing.
During the break one older man complains that his flat was burgled that afternoon. This is met with loud laughter as he is a recidivist burglar. ‘You probably did it yourself,’ jeers one of the group members.
Whether this group with its carefully structured programme and its atmosphere of positive regard leads to great reforms is doubtful but there are small victories. One week I organise a treasure hunt in the town. This is a little risky as the men are to be sent out two by two and might just go home and not return. I have prepared clues for six places in town and a question about each which can only be learned by going there. The winners, who complete the task extremely swiftly, are awarded some very nice ballpoint pens. The following week they come to find me washing up in the kitchen. They want to return the pens. They have cheated. At some point they had read my notes giving the clues and the places. They had copied these, left the building, sat in a pub for an hour and then returned having ‘solved’ the clues. I am astonished that they have owned up. They say it’s because they know that I have put a lot a work into it and that, as they consider me a ‘diamond’, they have decided to confess.
From my time spent with these men and others like them over a period of three years, emerged the character of Danny with his refusal to back down or lose face, his need to shock, his apparently non-caring attitude and his sense of humour.