Keeping it real: writing about sexual violence.

woman girl watercolor portrait sad face painting art tears pity female feminine eyes

*This article contains potential spoilers if you haven’t read Curve.

The storyline around the sexual violence experienced by Cass developed during the process of writing Curve.  I hadn’t started with anything other than the idea of someone posting pictures of a girl on social media; there had been a number of stories about similar events in the news and it had got me thinking about the impact on those involved.  This was going to be very much a sub-plot behind the romance. However, as I was writing and Cass developed as a character that I started to care about, the focus of the novel shifted and now, to me at least, how she deals with what happens to her is more important than her relationship with Flynn.

A key moment during the writing was when I researched the statistics about sexual violence in the UK.  These shocked me so much I felt I had to include them as an Author’s Note.  It horrified me that twenty per cent of women will be the victim of a sexual attack as an adult.  Even more worrying was the idea that almost thirty per cent of these crimes are committed by young men between the ages of 16 and 19.  I hope that Curve shows that a typical, average girl can be a victim, even though she has done nothing to put herself at risk.  Through Rob, I wanted to show that sometimes the perpetrators of these crimes can be young men who are popular and successful.  The issue isn’t just about the stereotypical seedy bloke pulling a scantily-clad, drunk girl into a dark alley.

Once the storyline developed, and I was increasingly emotionally involved with Cass, I knew I needed to portray the attack and its investigation with as much honesty and clarity as possible, but without sensationalising it in any way.  This research was the most harrowing part of writing Curve.  Everything that happens to Cass is factually accurate, based on the UK police and legal system.  I hope that the emotional experience is also accurate.  I read a number of blogs written by women who had experienced similar attacks, as well as some forums.  I am deliberately not using the word ‘victims’ here as many of them were writing online as a way of showing their strength in moving forwards after such attacks.  I read much that was upsetting, but much more that was inspiring.

Flynn’s love for Cass is a part of her learning to move forwards.  I hope that anyone who finds herself in a similar position to Cass also finds that she has someone as loving and loyal to support her afterwards.

*This article was previously posted on the Bookish Treasures blog


The important stuff

Yesterday was Cass’s birthday.  Well, the date I’d decided would be Cass’s birthday:  March 1st.

But why March 1st?

Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful grandmother: Nan.  Nan is still the nicest woman I have ever known.  She was loving, caring, thoughtful; but, above all else, she was constant.  When things were less than great between me and my mum, Nan was there, offering refuge and wisdom.  When I was struggling as a student, Nan was there, sending me a fiver in an envelope so I could treat myself.  When I needed someone to talk to, Nan was there, listening and never judging.  Nan loved and was loved for every day of her 86 years.

So, when I needed a date that would mean enough to be the birthday of my first ever character in my first ever novel, it made sense to pick Nan’s birthday.

There are lots of tips and strategies out there to help writers remember the important details about their characters’ lives.   Even if those details don’t feature in the stories we write, we have to know them; they make the characters real.  Some people make fact files.  Some people write potted biographies.  But I bet that most writers draw on the important moments and people in their own lives to make these characters real.

In Curve, every significant date, address and location means something to me.  It’s lovely when readers share that they means something to them as well, but, really, I’m being selfish.  I’ve been able to record those details in permanent form.  As long as there are copies of Curve around, they exist.  Every time someone reaches page 332 of Curve, and reads about Cass’s birthday, that date is marked, honoured.

Happy birthday Cass.

Happy birthday Nan.



“Do you know Jane Austen?”

jane austen books

 I’m only joking, I’ve never actually been asked that, but, along with Shakespeare and Dickens, everyone expects an English author to be very knowledgeable about everything any of these writers has ever written…especially when you’re a high school English teacher as well!  However, Austen is an undeniable part of my cultural heritage and an important part of what makes me as a writer.

I’ve visited Austen’s home in Alton, I’ve toured the museum, I’ve walked the streets of Bath and Lyme Regis; heck, I even know someone who had a Jane Austen themed hen party!  Yes, I think that Colin Firth is the superior Darcy.  Yes, Knightley would be the character I’d choose to marry.  Yes, I think that Mrs Bennett would have been insufferable as a mother.  And this is what I love about Austen; we get so drawn into her characters and their lives.

But, as a writer, there are five lessons I’ve learned from Jane Austen that carry through into my own novel, Curve:

  1. Second, third, fourth readings should be at least as good as the first.  It’s all about crafting the details until they are smooth and almost unnoticeable on a first reading.  The hours spent redrafting and editing hopefully mean this has worked for me too!
  2. Writers write best about the world they know best.  I’m a small-town girl at heart, like Jane, so it makes sense that is the world I would set my first novel in.  Visiting places Austen lived helped me to see how much she really knew these places.
  3. It’s OK to be the nice, quiet one.  Characters like Elinor Dashwood and Mr Knightley rightly get their happy ending; just because it was a little less dramatic, doesn’t make it any less fulfilling.  I wanted my main character to be a quiet, hardworking Everygirl; definitely more Elinor than Marianne!
  4. Young women face pressure on all fronts.  The types of pressure might have been different, but it’s always been harder to be a girl.  Cass, my main character, faces a really dark experience.  Let’s not shy away from admitting that the world is still not yet equal.
  5. You can’t choose your family!  Austen created some amazingly funny characters in family members of the main characters, but she also showed the tensions and friction in many families.  Yes, Cass’s family is rather more modern in their make-up and issues but family is family.

Jane Austen is always going to be popular, whether because of yet another film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice or because of an updated version like The Jane Austen Book Club.  Her writing is universal.  It tells of love, life and family…and we’re all interested in that.


The first time I…

So, this is my first ever blog post and follows a year of firsts around writing and publishing my first book, Curve.

I’m not sure about blogging. Who will read it?  Will they expect it to be humorously entertaining?  Will it become the proverbial albatross when I’m already struggling to write as well as work full-time?

Time will tell, I suppose, but you don’t know unless you try.

So, blogging is like olives, then?