home of author R S Pateman

word up

As a copywriter, there’s a lot of my writing out there – most of it largely ignored and in the bin within minutes of receipt!

But it exercised my writing and editing muscles. No word is ever wasted.

My work for the Friends of Kennington Park helped too. I’ve taken reams of minutes from committee and public meetings. I’ve written press releases, walking guides and 5 booklets on the park’s history

All these things were steps along the way, as were the poems, play, children’s stories and short stories I wrote. But I was convinced I could never sustain the effort required for a novel.

I was pushed along the way by unexpected success in two writing competitions.

In 2005, a very short story, God's Fingerprint, was joint runner up in the Fish Flash Fiction prize, judged by Dave Eggers. It was published in the Fish anthology ‘The Mountains of Mars’ – the first time I’d ever had anything published.

In 2007, panicked that I had nothing to read at my writing group, I dashed out...something. They were enthusiastic and said I should enter it for the Bridport Prize. I was astonished, but, for a laugh, I did. I was even more astonished that House Rules made the long list...

Encouraged, I continued with the story. It became the novel that hooked Oli Munson as my agent.

god's fingerprint

I haven’t seen her for twenty odd years but I recognise Mandy instantly. It’s the dimple in her chin that gives her away. Her hair is darker, her face fuller but her eyes are still as brown and flat as puddles. And the dent in her jaw is as deep as it always was. Deep enough to fit my forefinger snugly.

Seeing her stare from the television screen slaps me. The news reader’s face is stern, his voice low and slow. A train crash. Seventy dead. A car on the line at a crossing. Mandy’s car. The reporter at the scene says police are speculating why she was there.

‘Because God didn’t want her’ I say.

He never had. That’s what I’d told her when she was about six and me eight. She was on her way home from the sweet shop. I was bored.

The damage we can do in a moment.

‘See that’ I’d said, sticking my finger into the dimple in her chin. ‘That’s where God took one look at your face and pushed it away with his finger.’ Her head snaps to the left from the force of my finger. Click.

She hardly ever came outside again. A year later I moved. The last time I saw her she was sitting at her living room window. I wagged my finger at her. She put her hand over her chin and began rocking herself slowly, as if I’d set a metronome going.

Tick-a-tick-a time bomb.

house rules

Just his name set something inside me ticking.


We hadn’t had one of those before. After years of Johns, Stephens and Pauls, he sounded exotic, unique. He looked it too. Blond. Not the yellow of the straw in my rabbit’s cage, but the shiny vanilla of the Milky Bar Kid.

I showed him up to his room whilst his social worker went into the office to talk about him with the staff. He stared at me as I walked by. His eyes were blue. Bluer than mine.

‘Hello,’ he said quietly. One of his front teeth was chipped and I climbed the stairs, delighted with this tiny flaw. Our feet squeaked on the grey lino, his footsteps echoing mine.

‘You’re in here,’ I said, opening a door at one end of the corridor, ‘with the others.’

Each wall had a single bed, draped with an orange counterpane.

‘That’s yours.’

He put his suitcase on the bed right by the door.

‘That’s Kevin’s, that’s Tony’s. Patrick’s got the one by the window and the radiator as he’s been here the longest.’

‘Where’s yours?’

I’m down the other end of the corridor. I’ve got a room all to myself.’

‘How long have you been in here then?’

‘All my life.’

I couldn’t help smirking at his wide eyes.

‘How old are you?’

‘Nearly ten,’ I said, cautiously.

‘I’m ten already.’

We both straightened up. I was taller by an inch or two. He looked away, missed my triumphant smile.

‘Do you want to see my room?’

He nodded and followed me down the corridor. I stopped at the door to each room. Caroline and Kate’s, Pauline, Laura and Sharon’s. They all had the same sour air, the same beds with identical orange counterpanes. I pointed out the airing cupboard, the hatch to the loft, the medicine cupboard. A narrow shelf ran around two walls of the bathroom, plastic beakers lined up on top, the flannels on the hooks below like limp flags.

‘That’s where yours will go,’ I said, pointing to a gap in the middle.

I didn’t let him into my room, just opened the door. Neatly spaced pictures of T-Rex and Slade covered the wallpaper I’d chosen to match the red of my counterpane. A transistor radio stood on the windowsill alongside books arranged in height order, from a large Collins Atlas to a pocket-sized guide to Indians. I held the door open long enough for him to be impressed then closed it quickly.

‘What’s in there?’ he said, nodding at the next door along.

‘A bathroom - but you have to use the other one.’

I stepped into the bathroom but kept the door open and unzipped my jeans. Pee splashed back from the toilet seat onto my jeans. I zipped up and wiped my hands on a bit of toilet paper.

‘You can’t go in there either,’ I said, pointing at the next door. ‘That’s where the grown ups sleep. Auntie Peg and Uncle Derek you have to call them.’

‘Why, what do you call them?’

‘Mum and Dad.’ I let the words fill my mouth. ‘I’m not in care.’

He blinked several times and I thought for a moment he was going to cry.

‘David!’ Mum called up the stairs. ‘Can you bring Ivan down? His social worker’s going now and she wants to say goodbye. Bring the suitcase with you too as she needs to take it back.’

We walked back to the boys’ room.

‘You’ve got the bottom drawer, of course.’

I pulled the drawer out. The slip of paper sellotaped to the rim says ‘Christopher.’ I picked at the edge and pulled; it came off easily. Christopher hadn’t lasted long.

‘You’ll get a label later.’