Favourite Things: Something soothing about the Peace Gardens
After studying for her masters degree in the city 20 years ago, crime and thriller novelist Lisa Bradley is now deputy head of the Department of Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Her second novel, The Lesson, was inspired by the sharp spike of mental health issues in students that she has experienced first-hand over the past few years.
Millanoy House, Regent Street
This scruffy building just off West Street isn’t going to win any architecture awards. It’s scruffy and needs some love in its life. It felt like it was on its last legs when I turned up at it 21 years ago for the first day of my print journalism masters (the very fact there was an entire masters devoted only to print journalism proves how long ago this was.)I had barely any confidence but starry eyes of writing for Empire magazine one day. I wasn’t interested in news, and just wanted to indulge my love of films. My lecturers changed my outlook and fast. I fell in love with news journalism and worked as hard as I could. From a girl who used to be too scared to put her hand up in class, I was soon challenging police officers in press conferences and shadowing The Star reporters in court. When I was on placement there, I was given the chance to interview a victim of harassment. Her stalker had affected her mental health so much he was actually charged with grievous bodily harm, even though he had never physically touched her. It was a landmark case, the national press were all at the hearing but I managed to convince her to talk to me first. I felt really privileged that she chose me to speak to. After that I knew that wasn’t anything else I ever wanted to do but tell other people’s stories.
My lecturers and the amazing women I met on the course, who I am still friends with, inspired me and made me believe in myself, so much so I was determined to graduate with a job offer. I did every placement I possibly could, all across the country, slept on sofas, worked in bars to fund myself. But it all paid off.I was really lucky to be hired before the course was finished a trainee reporter at the Wakefield Express and then spent the next fifteen years in regional and national newspapers and magazines, before moving into teaching. Even though the department has moved now, I still park opposite Millanoy House and think about the nervous girl who was so anxious she couldn’t do it, she almost didn’t get out of the lift.
The Peace Gardens
If my day is ever frantic, I try and walk down here to sit and breathe and have a coffee outside, even if it’s freezing cold. There’s something really soothing about it, even when it’s rammed in the summer I love listening to the kids laugh and play in the fountains and watching the pensioners on the benches, still holding hands after all these years. If my students are ever feeling overwhelmed it’s the first place I send them to try and get some perspective. Or vox pops.
The venue where I have fallen in love, had my heart broken, lost a shoe, fallen over on the dancefloor and fished my friends out of the gutter. It’s where I spent every weekend in 2001 to 2002, and it was that wonderful but dangerous time where you could smoke and drink on the dancefloor and somehow no one ever ended up in A & E despite the potential for lit tab end casualties. One of the main things my potential undergrad students ask about is the nightlife in Sheffield when they come here for open days. I’d hardly best placed to say at my age, but one of the things I love about this city is I have genuinely always felt very safe, and nowhere has a music scene like it.
It’s where I got my first nose piercing age seventeen, then again last summer after a wine-fuelled accident with a tyre swing. It’s also where I broke up with a boyfriend in a vinyl shop over a row over whether Who’s Next was a superior album to Tommy. Years later I still maintain I won that argument, and even named my firstborn Tommy to prove it. I am very fond of that street. It’s where I first got my life back, and found the strength to walk away from a toxic relationship. The vinyl shop isn’t there anymore. But I always sing ‘I’m free’ to myself when I walk down it.
The Lesson is out July 8 in paperback, e book and audible. Visit www.amazon.co.uk/Lesson-Lisa-Bradley-ebook/dp/B08TM9MTVM