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Exploring HMP Harrodale 

Those who have read The Virus will know that a significant portion of the story takes place in a prison (as do the subsequent instalments, but I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free!) In order to make this as realistic as possible, I relied on a number of resources, not only to help me visualise what I was writing but also to help with continuity. In this post, I’ll go into some of the resources I used, and research carried out in order to bring HMP Harrodale to life.


So why a prison in the first place?

Well, I was sick of the same old trope. Don’t get me wrong, the zombie genre is a trope in its own right, but for me it’s the characters that make it exciting. Personally, I was sick to death (excuse the pun) of the good guy who leads a group to salvation amidst a hail of gunfire and exploding limbs. I wanted to create a conflict in the reader’s mind. Do you support the convicts who, let’s face it, aren’t the nicest of people? Or do you support the zombies—something which we’ve been conditioned against since Night of the Living Dead?

So, where better to find a bunch of ne’er do wells?

HMP Harrodale, of course.

The place itself is fictitious, but a lot of it is based on actual prisons in the UK. For instance, the idea behind Frank being embroiled in a fight club came after a number of reports (primarily from HMP Full Sutton) of the same thing. The evolution of technology has revealed this is happening more and more, with mobile phone footage of the fights from different prisons being posted online. 


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When it came to the actual layout of HMP Harrodale, I initially thought I’d have to rely on poetic licence. I’ve got friends who work in the prison service, so I relied on their input a lot, but I love the research part of writing a novel, and wasn’t really satisfied with first-hand accounts. But then you can’t exactly ring up a random prison and ask to have a nosy around – they’re a bit funny about that… Unless you’re Ross Kemp, of course. Ross Kemp Behind Bars provided a useful insight into prison layouts and was a pretty entertaining watch. 

It helped me visualise attire, commodities that are often sold/traded on the inside, and general lingo used by inmates. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend you give it a go!

But I couldn’t just keep referring back to a video. I’d lose my momentum! And, those who have seen my social media rants will know, it’s tentative at the best of times! So, I used a layout map of Pentonville Prison.


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Yes, it’s old. Yes, it’s outdated. But did it help? You’re damn right it did. I didn’t stick to this entirely, and actually used it more when it came to writing The Host. But it helped as a quick prompt. Especially when I was trying to visualise the escape from the prison. 

That, coupled with the binge-watching of prison documentaries, and a dash of poetic licence, and HMP Harrodale was built!



***If you haven’t read The Host yet, you might wanna skip this part***

I decided to revisit the prison again in The Host. Those who have read will know it plays a significant part in the story.

I’m not going to lie, the amount of times I had to re-read The Virus, just to remember the layout I described, was nothing short of embarrassing! But I had my trusty notebook to hand. It contains all the doodles, key points and info I acquired when writing the first book. Despite this, it still wasn’t enough. So there may have been another rewatch of prison documentaries for the 100th time…

I also adapted the prison layout, just to help me visualise who was where at any one time.



At one point, I had all the main characters in the prison at once. Trying to remember where Gus was, in comparison to Frank & co, who were looking for Lisa, who was trying to find a way out… Is it any wonder why I drink?! 😂 Anyway, I ran out of fingers to count on, so opted for a map to help me keep my bearings. And it worked… For the most part.

Well, that’s it. I think…

That’s HMP Harrodale in a nutshell. I’ll probably end up writing more about the prison when subsequent books get released. But for now, I hope it’s been insightful at the very least. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a message on social media. Links are at the bottom of the page!

Ciao for now!