Bright Star is locked in her manager’s office, Cynthia is locked in a friend’s basement and Ayley is locked in her bedroom. Sound of Pen’s ‘fTrE’ novel explores what happens next.

  • MUSIC FOCUS: Billie Eilish/YUNGBLUD-inspired pop music.
  • ACTIVITY FOCUS: Lots of tasks to sharpen your analysis of writers’ techniques. Watch the video, press pause when you reach each activity slot and get ready to absolutely nail your English GCSE and A-level exams.

Catch up with chapter 1: video / text

Or read the latest chapter in one go just below. Then make sure to come back soon for chapter 3 x

‘NO U IN FTRE’ takes us inside the lives of pop sensation Bright Star, despondent songwriter Cynthia and piano-playing Ayley. Bright Star is locked in her manager’s office, Cynthia is locked in a friend’s basement and Ayley is locked in her bedroom – all three characters struggle with their mental health, the grown-up men who try to control them and an education system that never gave them a chance. The haters stalking them on social media don’t help much either. It’s these shared struggles that will ultimately lead the three girls to the very same place at the very same time.

2. Ayley

I watch myself in the mirror and go again.

I know there are so many girls who look hotter than me.

I don’t care about them.

I don’t.

I just want – need – to be the best I can be. I go again.

My laptop is open on my desk. The sound is off but random chart videos play one after the other. I hardly pay them attention. Then ‘Beautiful Girls’ comes on. I stop dancing and look at Bright Star. Is she actually beautiful? Not as far as I can see. Is she airbrushed? Definitely. I try to catch my breath. I’ve been dancing for over an hour. Oh yeah, and for about a hundred years before that. Still, I’m nothing like Bright Star. She’s been edited until she moves impossibly. She’s fluid but she’s fake. The song lyrics scroll across my screen.

‘I’m not quite real.’

Sounds about right.

I turn away from the computer and sit down at my piano. The dancing has cleared my head the way it always does. The way – at least – it always used to. I play the same chords that have been running through my mind all week and hum over the top. I’ve taken the song in this direction and that. Now I do something different. I start to sing and a new melody surges out of me. It’s not perfect but it’s a breakthrough. I go again. Then again. Then again. I feel like I’m floating.

This is the feeling I’ve been looking for.

I try not to look too far ahead but it’s hard not to.

I want people to hear this music.

I won’t need to start out the same way Bright Star did, dragging myself from record label to label, singing the same song over and over. A song that someone else has written for me.

That’s not what real artists do.

Or maybe it is.


I’m me.

I’m different.

I am.

Whether I like it or not.

I don’t want to do what Bright Star does. I don’t want hair extensions and I don’t want to read from a script. I want to look like myself and have my own opinions. I don’t want to do what I’m told.

There must be a place in the world for a girl like me. I don’t need manufacturing or modelling. I’m already who I want to be. Well, maybe that’s stretching it a bit (a lot). I mean, I’m not perfect. I’m selfish and I’m anxious and I’m obsessive – and I know what I said about extensions, but my hair is blah. But at least with me, you get what you see.

I’m real.

Just like most of the people in the world are real.

Maybe that’s why they like Bright Star so much.

They’ve had enough real.

They don’t need someone like me telling them what they already know. That life is sad. That things don’t always go the way you want them to. That being a girl is hard.

I can’t keep thinking like this. Until I actually play my songs to someone, I won’t know anything for sure.

I go again.

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