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.

‘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.

1. Cynthia

The radio’s on. I’ve heard this Bright Star song a million times. It makes me want to kill myself. Little Jo sees the look on my face and shrugs.

“I like it,” she says.

The same way she always does. Ella crosses her eyes. She knows why I want to cover my ears and scream.

“You could turn it off,” Big Joe tells me.  “You have the power.”

I stick my tongue out. He knows I have no power.

“It’ll be over soon,” I say.

And maybe everyone else thinks it actually will be. I know different. I know it will never be over. Not really.

Am I even talking about the song anymore?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Kris perches on the edge of the battered old sofa. I’ve been sprawled out here since I arrived and I have no intention of moving. Ever.

“I’ve got something that will make you feel better,” Kris says.

Nothing will make me feel better.

He gets up and turns the radio off. He pulls a record out of his sports bag and crouches by the turntable. I hear the needle dropping onto the vinyl. I close my eyes as the sound of Taylor Swift’s voice fills up the room. I do feel better.

I open my eyes and Kris is looking right at me, doing his best Taylor impression. How can I not laugh? The record keeps spinning. Song to song to song. The worst day becomes the kind of night I’ve been dreaming of. Me, love-of-my-life Kris and my best friends. We’ve grown up together. Well, maybe not ‘grown up’. We still act like we’re sixteen instead of nearly twenty. I mean, look at us, hiding out in the basement the same way we’ve always done. I can still remember the sparkly feeling I got when Little Jo’s mum threw up her hands, said, ‘well, at least I know where you are,’ and let us turn this place into our den. That was years ago. Posters of all the musicians we love paper the walls.

Taylor Swift. Obviously. Kim Petras. Obviously. Britney. OBVIOUSLY.

Big Joe brings us all drinks. He’s always looking out for us, making sure we’re alright. He does it without thinking. I smile up at him. Always up at him. He’s seriously tall.

Then I shut my eyes again and soak in the feeling of sharing this space with these people. If I left this room (which I won’t), I know my life would spin back out of control. The way it always does when I’m not right here. The basement may be small but it’s the only place I’m truly happy.

Out there, everything’s a mess.

Out there, nothing’s the way it should be.

Out there, I see myself the way everyone else sees me and it makes me sick.

Down here, there are no mirrors. Not even in the bathroom. Down here, I can pretend I’m somebody else.

Finished chapter 1 of ‘FTRE’? Next, you can check out chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5

Then, enjoy a Taylor Swift class and write your own poem!

‘Kris’ image: Farju

Thank you to all artists for your amazing illustrations. If we have not credited you, we really want to!! Please email: