Extract Post: The Source, by Sarah Sultoon

PUBLICATION DATE: 15 APRIL 2021 | ORENDA BOOKS | PAPERBACK ORIGINAL | £8.99

A hugely anticipated debut thriller from former CNN international news executive Sarah Sultoon. Inspired by Sarah’s own time in the newsroom, The Source follows a young TV journalist who is forced to revisit her past when she’s thrust into a sex-trafficking investigation in her hometown. TV rights have already been sold to Lime Pictures, with Jo Spain writing the screenplay.

1996 – Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak…

1997 – London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse
at an army base a decade earlier.

As the lives of these two characters intertwine around a single, defining event, a series of utterly chilling experiences is revealed,
sparking a nail-biting race to find the truth… and justice.

A tense, startling and unforgettable thriller, The Source is a story
about survival, about hopes and dreams, about power, abuse and
resilience.

Extract

Carly ~ Warchester ~ 1996

‘You need to do it before you leave the house,’ Rach grumbles, sparking up another tab as we squat in the bushes lining the fence that separates school from Victory Field. ‘Like first thing. When you get dressed. What’s the point in doing it now? It’s not like anyone in this playground is going to give us money for another inch of your skinny knees…’

‘Well Timmy said Drina did it with him for a packet of fags,’ I mumble, waistband bunching in my fists as I roll it over again.

‘And since when do you want to make like Drina? Tesco legs – open all hours?’

She frowns at me, mouth puckered round her cigarette like a cat’s arse.

‘I don’t…’ I blush as I fiddle with my skirt. It’s got to go shorter. Not even a whistle from the builders on the way in. Let alone any coins. ‘I just wasn’t thinking, that’s all…’

‘That’s your problem,’ Rach interrupts, snapping off a leaf to burn.

‘You only think about useless shit. Numbers, puzzles, sums – give you a riddle and you’re away with the fairies. But how’s dreaming about any of that going to get us any real kicks in this dump?’

The leaf hisses, curling in on itself as her cigarette punches a perfect hole through its middle.

‘I’ll go the long way home,’ I say, poking a finger back into my waistband to smooth out a wrinkle. My finger finds a hole. At least two other girls must have worn this skirt before I got hold of it.

‘It’s Friday, they’ll all be out, trying to finish up early. I’ll just walk round and round the block till I get us something. Then if you go home the other way…’

My finger traces the hip bone sharp below my skin.

‘That’s my girl,’ Rach says, snapping off another juicy leaf, all popping veins and plastic green, shrivelling as she burns a perfect four-leaf clover into its middle.

I smile. Suddenly there are four-leaf clovers everywhere as she murders her way through the bush. I’ve looked for hours, days even, practically mown half of Essex, never once found my own tiny stem of luck. And now Rach has made me loads.

‘What’s so funny? I’m serious, Carls.’ She takes a deep drag, before blowing a cone of smoke into my face. ‘You can’t go around forgetting about proper stuff. This is how we get ahead. We walk past the same blokes most of the time, all digging the same pointless holes … Finally we get a new lot because another load more army wives have shown up – because of course what this town really needs is more houses that look the fucking same – and you forget to take advantage?’

‘Give over,’ I splutter, grabbing for the cigarette packet sticking out of her pocket as she dodges me. ‘Is that how you got hold of this little lot, then? Or did you swipe them? Don’t tell me you’ve finally been allowed back down the shop?’

I muddle with the leaves by my feet as I steal a look at my watch. Only two minutes left before the bell goes, but I don’t rush, no way. Only Rach knows I actually like maths. The packet hits me in the cheek as she finally tosses it over.

‘Doesn’t matter, does it? The point is, I got them. You should count yourself lucky I’m sharing with you…’

I finger the plastic around the packet, tracing the letters with my thumb. Smoking Kills. Not if something else gets you first, it doesn’t. There’s another hiss as her lighter flares. I start to cough the minute the smoke hits my throat.

‘And I don’t know why I bother,’ she sighs, bush hissing disapprovingly as she stabs holes in a new clump of leaves.

I blush as I try again. I wish I was fifteen like her. It can’t be right that I can do sums better than I can smoke. This time I blow out almost straight away. She smirks as my eyes water.

 ‘Your brother,’ she says, jaw clicking as she pops out a perfect smoke ring. ‘Is he staying with you tonight?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ I try not to cough. ‘Like there’s ever any pattern to when he shows. Since he moved to the barracks he may as well have moved to the moon, learned another language for all I know. We may as well be invisible…’ I trail off, eyes still streaming.

At least when Jason was around I could pretend it wasn’t just me who had to deal with Ma, Kayleigh and our slowly collapsing house, every day springing a new problem that nothing can fix. At least when he was around I could catch at the memories floating like bubbles on the wind, popping if I dared grab at them too long. When breakfast was Ricicles, when tea was egg and chips, when bedtime was warm, soapy and clean. When everything didn’t taste of vodka, didn’t smell of burning, or wasn’t covered in ash.

‘Well, wait up for me then later, OK?’ Rach elbows me as she stands, shattering my pile of clovers as she grinds out her tab. ‘And don’t even try giving me any of that crap about Kayleigh. She’ll be dead asleep, won’t she? She couldn’t climb out of her cot even if she wanted to, and it’s not like you’re going to be leaving her alone. Unless you’re about to tell me your drunk old lady’s got it together for once? They’ll be good as gold in the house on their own, and they better be, since I’ve finally found us something else to do in this shithole town.’

I wince as I get up to follow her out, legs numb from crouching, tar still thick in my throat. Best just to remember the colours bubbles turn in the sun, when the light catches them just right.




ABOUT SARAH SULTOON


A hugely anticipated debut thriller from former CNN international news executive Sarah Sultoon. Inspired by Sarah’s own time in the newsroom, The Source follows a young TV journalist who is forced to revisit her past when she’s thrust into a sex-trafficking investigation in her hometown. TV rights have already been sold to Lime Pictures, with Jo
Spain writing the screenplay.
Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer whose work as an international news executive at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs.

As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters
of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an
undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if…

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