Tricia Waller from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire has won a national short story competition that warns readers of the dangers of getting involved with a loan shark.
Tricia’s story “Uncle” is one of seven winning entries in the Stop Loan Sharks Short Story Competition, run by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT).
It has been released as part of the Stop Loan Sharks Week campaign, #SharkFreeSurfing, urging people to get advice and support if they have fallen victim to illegal money lending.
Tricia, a Home Invigilator for the Open University, works with vulnerable students and therefore has empathy towards young people and their parents.
Her story “Uncle” is about a young mum named Gemma, who is struggling financially and worrying that she can’t give her children the same things that other parents do. Gemma is targeted by a “friendly” neighbour who appears to be lending as a favour at first – until the repayments keep growing and threats begin.
Tricia said: “My inspiration for the story was partly taken from a news story about deprived families from London being rehoused in an office block in a totally new area and wondering about the twist and turns of people’s lives and who they’d turn to if in trouble.”
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “We would like to congratulate Tricia Waller for her winning entry for the Stop Loan Sharks Short Story Competition.
“Loan sharks may appear friendly at first but can quickly turn nasty. They may threaten your children and family if you get behind with repayments. Please remember you are not alone and reach out if you need help.
“We would urge anyone who is suffering at the hands of unscrupulous money lenders, or anyone who has concerns that a friend or loved one may be in danger, to contact us. Our officers and a range of support agencies are here to help, you are not alone.”
A loan shark is someone who lends money without the correct permission from the Financial Conduct Authority. They rarely give paperwork, can often charge extreme amounts of interest and may intimidate or threaten people if they can’t repay.
Written by Tricia Waller
‘What’s wrong with your brother?’ I bark at my nine year old daughter.
‘He’s sad because the other kids are calling him names’ she whispers in my ear.
‘Oh Mum!……. His trainers are falling apart!’
I grab their hands as we cross the road and walk through the swing doors of the office building converted into thirty-five flats which is now the place we call ‘home’.
After the kids have wolfed down fish fingers and chips watched too much tv and I have read them four bedtime stories I sit down with coffee and try to work out how I can afford new trainers?
I just can’t! ……..I don’t know what to do.
Next morning on the way home from school I feel a hand on my back.
‘Hi Gemm, you look like you’ve got the worries of the world on your shoulders?’
‘Hello Sam………. Oh Tyler’s getting bullied cos his trainers are old and I just dunno what to do?’ I blub wiping the tears away with the back of my sleeve.
Sam gives me a cuddle and says ‘don’t worry I’ll ask Uncle to call; number 33 isn’t it?’ He’ll sort it – he always does.’
Sure enough, at about five thirty that evening there is a tap at my door and there stands a smiley old gent with lots of white hair in an ankle length black coat who reminds me of my uncle Jack.
We sit in the kitchen whilst the kids watch tv and he seems like a nice kind old bloke. I make him tea, offer a hobnob which he declines saying he has to watch his weight as he pats his tummy.
‘Now my dear I hear you are in a spot of bother’ he says whilst stirring the third spoonful of sugar into his tea.
‘Let me help, times are tough when you’re bringing up kids. How much would you like?’
‘Oh, I thought you would have to do a credit check or something before?’
‘No my dear, not between friends shall we say £500?’
‘No. That’s too much!’ I gasp.
‘Look around Gemm, wouldn’t it be good to have fresh curtains, cushions, maybe buy the children something, treat yourself?’ he says smiling at me just like my grandpa does.
‘Well put like that, can we say £600?’ I hear myself ask.
‘Of course my dear’ and he reaches inside his coat and takes out a plump leather wallet. ‘here you are. Now I really must go, so good to meet you and your delightful children. I will pop in next week same time if this is convenient?’ and he pops the pile of fresh £20 notes on the kitchen table in front of me.
He doesn’t wait for an answer just calls out bye to the children and lets himself out closing the front door gently. And there begins a Wednesday teatime routine. Uncle calls round for his tea with three sugars and a chat about this and that.
He often brings the kids sweet sticky doughnuts or custard tarts from the bakers and I’ll pay him what I can, sometimes £10 but usually £20. If I’m honest I look forward to his visits. I miss my family in London loads and talking on the phone isn’t the same as dropping round for a chat.
We had to move from London to Essex though as our old flat was damp and tiny so this is a new start for the three of us and thanks to Uncle the kids have both settled in well at school and I have even got myself a part-time job at a local supermarket.
So, one wet Wednesday, I casually ask if I might see the records of my repayments as I am in a better position now and would like to clear my debt. He doesn’t say much, he doesn’t have to, the angry look on his face says it all!
‘I must go now’ he says standing quickly and almost runs to the door without even calling out to the children. Later, when I am reading the second bedtime story of the day to my children, there is a hammering on my door. I open it to find a tall guy about my age with a shaven head wearing a black leather jacket. He barges past me saying ‘I’m here about your debt’ and sits down heavily at the table as he withdraws a roll of papers from his chest pocket.
‘ I heard you wish to repay the whole lot?’ he asks one eyebrow lifting whilst his eyes look me up and down. He slides the papers over and I stare at the numbers in red.
‘What’s this I only borrowed £600 I must have paid most of that back by now!’ I shout at him.
‘I don’t think so sweetheart’ he shakes his head smiling at me. ‘You have to take into account our terms and rates of interest.’
‘But Uncle never gave me any paperwork!’ I shout.
Shush you’ll upset your kids I’ m sure we can come to an arrangement, nice looking girl like yourself. Maybe two nights a week, I’ll even supply a babysitter how about it?
‘Doing what exactly?’
‘Oh, nothing awful – hostess with extras at a bar I own in town, how’s about it sweet-cheeks? he peers at me from across the table.
‘GET OUT. GET OUT!’ I scream.
He gets up slowly muttering ‘Your choice but you’ll be sorry!’ and walks slowly to the front door. I try to calm the kids down, keep saying everything is going to be ok, but how can it be I just don’t know where to turn?
After a sleepless night I take the kids to school and even after they have disappeared into class, I just stand there, hands in my pockets and don’t even realise that I am crying!
Then I notice Mrs Sullivan the Headteacher who gently says ‘Come on you look like you need a hot cup of tea and one of my special biscuits’. I let her lead me inside as if I’m one of her young pupils.
‘Sit down Dear and tell me all about it – only if you want to of course – but I’m a good listener. Then between the tears and a few gulps of hot and then cold tea I tell her the whole sorry tale and she just listens and nods and hands me lots of tissues. When I stop talking, she passes a card across the table to me and says.
‘You know I guessed it was something like that. Phone this number as soon as you can and they will sort it all out and believe me it’s not the first time!’
So after apologising and thanking her and sobbing yet again I walk back to the flat and phone the number on the card and they are amazing – giving me heaps of advice and even my own Liaise Officer who helps me while I make a statement and supports me to sort my other debts and then I hear from the council that I am going to be rehoused in a nice little flat on the outskirts of town.
I never see Uncle or his vile accomplice again but if there is one thing this whole experience has taught me it is never ever borrow money from someone who pretends to be your friend!
To report a loan shark, call the 24-hour helpline on 0300 555 2222, email the team at email@example.com or complete an online reporting form here. Live chat is available on the website 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.