Having witnessed gang culture first-hand, lost friends to heroin addiction and been deeply affected by the murder of a close friend when he was a teenager, a dad-of-two has written his debut novel to highlight the widespread problem of drugs and violence in many towns.

Paul Linggood, who was born and bred in Stevenage and still lives in his hometown, dropped out of school at the age of 16 and lost control of his life.

He said: “I used to hang around shops and, though I wasn’t in a gang as such, I was around the culture and witnessed a lot.

“The main point was when a friend of mine was killed when I was 17 and I went off the rails.”

But Paul, a former pupil of Longmeadow Primary School and secondary Heathcote School has since turned his life around, completing a degree in English literature before going on to earn a masters in creative writing.

The 32-year-old’s debut novel, Just a Small Town, is due to be published on September 8. The book is about four young people trying to survive in the declining town in which they grew up. Industry is in decline, streets are in decay and many are taking short-term joy in drugs.

His novel highlights the neglect and oppression within old industrial towns and the damaging influence of gangs in society.

Paul says the grief following the murder of his friend when he was a teenager was “the main source of inspiration” for the fictional tale, adding: “I later lost friends to heroin, so violence and drugs are naturally issues I wanted to highlight in the book.”

Paul, who lives in Stevenage with his wife and two children, said: “I have been a painter and decorator since I left school, and I went to university in 2014.

“My novel, Just a Small Town, is urban fiction and set in a town in England that could be anywhere. The book highlights drug problems and violence that are commonplace in small town society. The book is not set in Stevenage.

“My aim was to give a voice to the unrecognised and downtrodden, to give a voice in fiction to people who never get a voice.”

Just A Small Town is available from Amazon in paperback for £7.09, or as a Kindle edition for £3.99, and can be pre-ordered now. It will also be available in bookshops including Waterstones from September 8.