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: Taylor Swift/Kim Petras-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, chapter 2 & chapter 3or read the story so far in one go.

Make sure to come back soon for chapter 5 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.

4. Cynthia

Ella is a pile of legs and arms. As pretty much always, she’s talking about boys.

“I called him this morning and asked him if he’d seen my watch.”

“What did he say?”

“He said it wasn’t where I said it was.”

“Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you left it somewhere else.”

Ella laughs in a way that makes it clear she knows exactly where she left her watch. Little Jo’s not so sure.

“How can you be certain?”

“Because I left it there on purpose!”

I pull myself up so that I can see Ella’s face.

“Why would you do that?”

“I needed a reason to call him that didn’t make me look like a stalker.”

“So you left your limited edition designer watch with some guy you only met last night?”

Ella nods in a way that’s almost rueful. Almost, but not quite. Ella doesn’t do rueful.

“I know, I know,” she says. “But, still, what a nerd, to pretend that the watch doesn’t even exist.”

I think about it.

“That is pretty shitty.”

“You shouldn’t go home with boys you’ve only known for an hour,” Little Jo says.

She’s fiddling with the lock on the door that leads into our secret garden.

Ella gasps.

“That is so not the point.”

“I think it is,” Little Jo says. “At least a little bit.”

Ella holds her fingers like a millimetre apart.

“A titchy, titchy bit.”

I scrunch my face up in a way that indicates my pretend disapproval and Ella laughs again.

“You can’t criticise what you don’t understand. You’ve got Kris. It’s not easy being an old maid like me.”

I grin. Ella is so beautiful. At four, she glowed. At fourteen, she glimmered. Now, at nineteen, she smoulders.

“Even if I didn’t have Kris,” I say, “I couldn’t do the things you do.”

Ella makes a noise that’s meant to suggest she’s taken offence but I know she hasn’t. She knows exactly what I mean. We’re different. Our lives are different.

Not that it matters right now. Little Jo has fixed the side door and we can escape into the garden. It’s a magical place. Over the years, we’ve hung all kinds of glass decorations from the spindly cherry trees and overflowing trellises that top the already tall walls – the ornaments shimmer in the moonlight and I breathe the outside air into my lungs.


I twirl on the spot and look up at the sky. It’s as wide and starry as it’s ever been. Before I can stop them, the words to a Bright Star song flash through my brain.

‘Standing below the disco lights.’

Even out here, in my own private space, that music’s in my head. I don’t want it there but, hey, there’s a lot in my head that I’d get rid of if I could. At least I’ve got Kris to distract me. He brings out the Taylor guitar I bought him last year. Its cutaway shape fits his body like a missing part. He plays the chords to a song we wrote together last night and everything else in my brain fades away. Kris looks at me to see if I’m going to sing. I shake my head. I want to close my eyes and listen. Kris picks up the melody himself and the sound of his voice makes me shiver.My friends all fall silent too. Lost in lyrics that Kris and I have sketched out together, I sense a part of me that’s so small hardly anyone can see it. A part of me that used to make me feel like I might be worth something.

Thank you so much to Kristen Key for the beautiful soundtrack.

Thank you to all artists for your amazing illustrations.

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