After keeping it a secret from her family, the sister of a stabbed Birmingham man today launched debut novel, The Life He Chose, raising awareness of the reality of knife crime.
Candace Bertram, 27, lost her brother, father-to-be Leon Francis in 2007 when he was murdered by a friend, within a year of him being released from prison where he served over five years.
The mum-of-one with a daughter, began writing five years later to cope with her grief and dispel the myths around knife violence.
She said: “We’re fed that it’s just gangsters who get stabbed but anyone could be victim of senseless attacks, that aren’t just with knives. No matter how you’re raised or who you’re around, it’s about making the right decisions.
“Leon dying so unexpectedly and in a way that was happening to so many males at that time inspired me to spread a message, but this book isn’t inspired by his life or to glorify it because there’s so much that I didn’t know.
“He was a family man and someone that we looked up to.”
An ‘everyday story’ aimed at 16-30-year-olds, the crime drama novel centres on the relationship between Jay and girlfriend Lauryn, who is blissfully unaware of his dangerous street life.
The plot explores subjects like love, infidelity, crime and loyalty, but also tackles more sensitive and ‘complex’ issues such as sex, siblings with different fathers and biracial identity.
She said: “Jay lives his life how he wants to while Lauryn stays at home and reaps the benefits with expensive everything, but she’s happy to live that life because she has no self-worth.
“He doesn’t respect her and Lauryn has distanced herself from her family, she has just one friend, so she doesn’t know where to turn.
”When she does try to make a change in her life, it ends in tragedy.”
Candace shielded her parents from the book because they had been ‘dragged to Mars and back with grief and upset’ over their son’s death.
Now that they’ve read it, they’re said to be ‘really happy and proud’.
She said: “It’s nearly eight years now and it’s not getting any easier because it’s something we’ll never accept, but my anger towards his death got left at the door a long time ago.
“I think if Leon could come back and give me a message he’d be pleased that something positive came out of it and probably ask why I didn’t put him in it for his five minutes of fame.”
Candace wants the self-published book to feature as a set text on the English curriculum and aspires to deliver workshops in schools and colleges nationwide.
She said: “I’m hoping that in the future it will be adapted into a play or film because I’m a visual learner, so the next step would be turning it into something people can watch.
Already talking of a sequel, Candace is also planning a UK tour in the new year, with the next stop being London, where the novel is set.
The Life He Chose is available to buy here.