Saturday, 19 December 2015

What a novel blog post...


I would apologise for the title of this post, except... I'm not sorry; we all know I can't resist a pun.

Anyway, this post is essentially something of a celebration.  To explain what we're celebrating, I'll tell you a story...

Back in 2012, I was recovering from an abusive relationship that had threatened to completely destroy my life.  I'd been in a really bad place in the first few months since leaving, but, as 2011 gave way to 2012, I was starting to turn a corner.  I began to have counselling and my counsellor eventually suggested I contacted a charity called Women's Rape And Sexual Abuse Centre (or WRSAC for short).  I was massively hesitant about calling them.  I hadn't ever been raped and I felt like a fraud; I was still in a place where I didn't fully believe that what had happened to me had even been abuse.  But I called them.  And making that call changed - possibly even saved - my life.

Unfortunately, it was also during that time that lots of people I knew started banging on about a book called Fifty Shades of Grey.  They kept saying how "hot" it was.  How "romantic" they found it.  How every woman should have a man like Christian Grey in their life, if only they could be so "lucky."

I told my mum that I was going to have to read this fantastic book and bless her heart, she came back from a trip to the supermarket with a copy for me.  To this day, I feel a sense of genuine guilt that the book was a present from the person I love most in the world, because reading it... Well, reading it was akin to being smacked over the head with the relationship I was literally just beginning to get over.

It felt like I was being told I should be grateful to have been with someone so wonderful.  It felt like I was being told that I just wasn't perfect enough to "cure" my abuser with my amazing love, the way that we're supposed to believe that Ana cures Christian (which is bullshit on so many levels).  It was as though EL James had taken my experiences of abuse and rewritten them as a love story.  I felt sick.  And EL's silencing of abuse survivors and charities who tried voicing their concerns - not to mention the nastiness doled out from legions of Fifty Shades fans to anyone who dared to criticise the trilogy (and yes, I've read all three books) - only worsened that sick sensation in my belly.

And yep, I got my "angry writer" hat on and wrote to the press about it.

Then, one Summer evening, as I sat with my new support worker from WRSAC, I found myself blurting out: "Someone should write a book that tells the truth about men like Grey.  A book about a girl who meets this sexy, passionate guy with a dark, tragic past, but instead of romanticising abuse and making it sound as though you can "cure" it with love, the story should actually show emotional and psychological abuse for what it is."  And then, given how I was already making big, blurted statements, I made another: "Do you know what?  I'm going to bloody do it myself."

That's how Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections was born.  And it's why the very top person in the list of individual dedications at the start, is Chloe from WRSAC - my support worker.  The first person I ever told about this book, before I had even started writing it.

It took me well over a year to write the story.  Partly because I'm so used to writing children's fiction and partly because I was trying to juggle a day job, as well as other writing at the same time.  But mainly because the story is semi (and I emphasise that word) autobiographical.  Some of the cruel jibes Richard North (the Christian Grey of this tale) makes are words I've had spat at me from the person I loved.  Some of the situations are ones I found myself living in.  All of the pain that Jenna - my lead character - experiences is pain I went through myself.

Even the title comes from personal experience.  When I went to see my GP to ask for counselling - four months after I left my ex - I caught sight of myself in a mirror on his desk and I didn't recognise the reflection.  I thought of those funfair mirrors, where everything is distorted and you don't look like yourself.  Then, because I was in such emotional pain, I thought "no, those mirrors are fun.  This is more like when a mirror is cracked and your reflection is bent out of shape."

I revisited that experience not only to gain the title for this novel, but to try to explain the trauma that Jenna is going through, when she seeks help.  Towards the end of the novel, she explains to her own support worker:

“When I went to the doctors, I saw my reflection in a mirror and I looked so different.  It felt like I wasn’t looking at myself.  It was like... You know when you look into a mirror that has a crack in it and your reflection is distorted?  It was like that, only the mirror was fine.  It was me that was broken.”

- Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections, chapter 33

The subject matter is such that it's unlikely this book will ever be "beach-reading."  It's not always an easy read, but it's an important one.  And, I hope, a powerful and moving one.  If reading this book makes one person realise that abuse doesn't have to just mean hitting, or raping a person, then it's done its job.  

Yes, there are sex scenes.  Because abusers are charming, clever, passionate.  They don't waltz into rooms like pantomime baddies, accompanied by a thunder clap and eerie, dramatic laughter.  They could be the most gorgeous person you've ever laid eyes on.  They could be the funniest person you've ever met.  They could be the best sex you've ever had.  It's important to write that into a story 
like this, because too many people are convinced that they'd spot abuse in reality, when the truth is, even when you're going through it, you don't necessarily recognise it for what it is.  I didn't.

So, yes, this is a big leap from anything I've written, previously.  And no, this isn't a story to share with your little ones before bed (seriously, don't do that).  But it's an important book and it's one I hope you do share with your friends and loved ones.  Because when we educate ourselves on what abuse really is, we hopefully protect ourselves from it that little bit more.  And that can only be a good thing.

Once the story was written, I spent a long, long time editing it.  It was massively important to me to get it right.  Eventually, after two years of cutting bits, adding bits and deleting words here and there, I came to realise that I could carry on editing forever and never think it was perfect.  So, after one last edit, I decided it was what it needed to be: Real.

It's not my story.  It's heavily influenced, obviously, but I didn't want to just write an exact account of what had happened to me.  Instead, this book is half-autobiographical and half-fantasy.  I think it works better that way.  

I said at the start of this that this blog post is something of a celebration and I meant it.  We're celebrating the completion and publication of my first adult novel.  But much more importantly, we're celebrating the fact that I was free to write it in the first place.  

There are no "cracked mirrors" in my life, anymore.  When I look in the mirror these days, the woman staring back at me is one I recognise and am proud of.  

And I'm proud of the book she's written, too.






4 comments:

  1. Wow. This...really hit close to home.

    I think I started following your blog because I shared that anger--after I managed to break off a very abusive relationship, I started to get angry at all the ignorant comments thrown around when Fifty Shades of Grey came up as a subject.

    Like you, being a writer meant there was truly only one way to express the fear and rage and confusion that happened in the wake of my realization. I didn't write something contemporary and wholly reflective of my experiences, but I was in a very angry place when I started, and once I finished, I saw the influences.

    I don't know if writing that book made me "get over" my anger, as people might expect. I don't know if it made me cope with it. But it did make me understand my feelings more. After all, like you, I never really felt comfortable describing what happened as "abuse" for a while.

    Anyways. Although I'm just a stranger who's just been following your blog, I just gotta say, I too am proud you wrote a book like this one. It's always great to hear of people speaking out and the written word--with its longevity and reach--is just the perfect medium.

    Congrats on the publication!

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    1. Thank you so much! I really did find that writing helped me to unpick what had happened to me, if that makes sense. It was like I was all knotted afterwards and every time I wrote a blog post about it, or a chapter of the book, I felt those knots loosening.

      I'm glad you found that writing was helpful as well and I hope that you're in a good place, now. :) x

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  2. I finished reading the book about a week ago, and it was fantastic. You're a wonderful writer. It was heart-breaking to watch as the abuse became clearer and clearer, and I just wanted to hug Jenna so many times. You did a brilliant job showing how craftily Richard entrapped her with his charm and push-pull. A lot of people seem to think that abusers let their raging asshole flag fly from the start, but that's just not the case.

    Thank you for writing this novel. I am going to pass the title along to my friends as well as the staff at my local DV shelter. Its message needs to be spread!

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    1. Aw, thank you so much, I've only just seen this comment, but it means the world to me. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know what you thought and I'm so happy you liked it! x

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