We don’t usually review a single short story (even if it’s a long short)but in this case, I hope you’ll appreciate the exception to the rule. I wanted to use the work and the review to spark a more extensive look into Child Abuse in Fiction. Because I think it’s important! (editor)
I was warned that this story would not be a comfortable read; it’s about child abuse, after all. I can now confirm that it did cause me discomfort. But that’s not because the story is graphic or lurid or salacious in any way. It’s the exact opposite, in fact: a gentle, matter-of-fact and sometimes embarrassed account of the narrator’s journey into and out of a world of abuse. What’s discomforting about her account is its searing honesty, its authenticity, the reality of it. You just know that these things actually happened to the author or someone close to the author; perhaps not in the precise way they are chronicled here, but they happened nonetheless.
And that’s what’s so compelling and electrifying about the story. The truth behind the fiction makes you want to give your fullest attention to the narrator. You empathise completely with the innocent thirteen-year-old as she is drawn inexorably into a web of abuse that will trap her for many years to come and scar her for life. You condemn without compunction the spinner of the web, the loathsome predator who stalks his victim with spider-like patience, who smiles and charms publicly, but who is utterly, utterly callous in private. And you conclude that these twin portraits of the abused and the abuser simply could not have been imagined.
My guess is that Kirsty Eccles has waited a long time to tell this story, having probably found the courage to do so because of the many women who have come forward recently to expose the evil of Jimmy Savile and his cronies. I’m glad she has managed to bare her soul at last. I’m glad I’ve read her story. And I would urge the whole population to read it – fathers, mothers, grandparents, brothers, sisters. Truth or fiction, it’ll help you understand, it’ll help you spot the signs, it’ll help you act.
The Price of Fame is FREE on 7th and 8th November
Confronted with stories such as Girls and Boys come out to Play and The Price of Fame, (both published in the wake of the Jimmy Savile ‘scandal’ by Kirsty Eccles) I imagine people in their droves responding: I don’t want to read about child abuse. Wouldn’t it just be rubbernecking? Wouldn’t it suggest I have an unnatural interest in the subject?
I’m sure there are a hundred reasons why people don’t want to read stories about child abuse. I myself find the concept of ‘misery memoir’ quite distasteful BUT equally, when ‘scandals’ such as the Jimmy Savile one come out I begin to think that there is so much sex abuse going on all over the place that we need to bring it out of the closet and TALK about it. And one way of doing this is to WRITE about it and one way of writing about it is to write it as FICTION.
Why choose fiction? Perhaps the story is too painful for the writer to admit? It may be a ‘survivor’ story. A person trying to make sense out of their personal experience but without the courage to stand up and bare all. This in itself may have a therapeutic value for the writer who has not been ‘believed’ in ‘real’ life. But fiction has to do something for the reader too doesn’t it?
So let’s remember, writers have skills and can use these skills in a number of ways. For me, one strength of fiction is that it can take the personal and universalise it. It can show themes and patterns and structures and in doing so create a narrative which is ‘fiction’ but in fact represents more than ‘one experience’ and in doing so asks questions or shows aspects of a society as a whole. Because those ‘personal’ stories can get lost as ONE PERSON’S experience. Fiction can provide a way for us to appreciate that a character may represent a whole bunch of people. That’s what the Price of Fame is about – showing people that there are many, many victims of child sex abuse, not just by one celebrity, not just by many celebrities, but by a whole range of people who are ‘in power’ however that ‘power’ is defined. It doesn’t have to be defined by conventional ‘celebrity’ it is insidious and pervasive within the ordinary domestic experience of many many people. And that’s something that is unpleasant to think about. Unpleasant to read. But isn’t it time we all grew up a bit and took a close look at some of the unpleasant things we usually try to avoid.
Of course you wouldn’t read child abuse fiction for escapism. This doesn’t mean you are reading it for titillation. But I suggest the reason to read either fiction or fact about child sex abuse is either that you need to learn about it because you HAVEN’T been abused and so don’t really understand the complexity of the emotions which are involved and the life changing damaging consequences of such abuse, or because you HAVE been abused and you want some validation or a feeling that you are not alone and most importantly not to BLAME for the abuse you suffered.
You don’t have to dig very far to find fiction which deals with child sex abuse. We do need to read about it. We need to think about it. We need to talk about it and we need to work out how to DO something about it!
I asked a number of writers who have reviewed work on IEBR to give some insight into why Child Abuse featured in their work. Here are the responses and links to their reviews (click picture or blue highlight)
Catherine Czerkawska writes: ‘Issues of cruelty and abuse are absolutely central to Bird of Passage. They are less central, but certainly vital to understanding a particular character, Joe Napier, in my new novel, Ice Dancing. When I was writing these novels, I don’t think I had ideas of ‘child abuse’ in my mind so much as an attempt to examine and write about the ‘truth’ of cruelty and the exertion of power over an individual, and what that does to the individual in question.
While I was writing Bird of Passage, over quite a long period of time, I had become horribly aware of the physical – as well as sexual – cruelty inflicted on so many children within the industrial school system and just how recent these events were. It also seemed that our media had largely ignored the extremes of physical abuse as though these things were acceptable ‘back then’. They weren’t. It kept occurring to me that at a time when I had been very happily working in Ireland during university vacations these schools had still been in existence. I found that thought distressing. I didn’t ‘impose’ this on the character of Finn, in the novel, didn’t ‘make’ this happen to him. But I always saw him as deeply damaged and as I interrogated the character within the process of writing, this is what emerged. At the beginning, I genuinely didn’t know what it was that Finn couldn’t remember. I wrote to find out.
I suppose something similar happened with Joe in Ice Dancing, except that I had already written a stage play called The Locker Room, on exactly this theme. It didn’t seem enough, though. The character seemed to insist on saying more and the novel was – eventually – the result. Joe needs to tell his story to somebody and a very dark tale it is, but it’s also a story about healing and redemption. And not just through the power of love either. In some sense, the source of Joe’s problem is also a major factor in his healing. (Don’t want to give too much of the game away!)
I have some experience of writing what is generally termed ‘issue based drama’ and realise that it can be a minefield – unless the ‘issues’ spring from the experience of the characters themselves. I always begin with the characters.’
Ice Dancing is reviewed on this site on 20th November
Rosalie Warren writes: I didn’t set out to write an novel about an abusive relationship. Charity’s Child was one of those novels that develops as it’s written – plot, characters, everything. The main protagonists, Charity and Joanne, were not even present in the first draft, which dealt mainly with the relationship between a married couple. But somewhere in the second draft, Charity appeared, and she clearly had a secret. I didn’t know what it was until I wrote her story or, rather, until I let Joanne write her story. I was horrified when the truth was revealed. As an author, I believe in my characters and care for them – well, most of them. To discover what had happened to this 15-year-old was not pleasant, and I cried for her.
Where do an author’s ideas come from, ever? A mix of all we have experienced, heard and imagined, I suppose. Charity’s Child was not based on any one person I knew, or indeed on any one church, though of course I had heard many true stories of abuse, sometimes set in the most unlikely places.
If my books helps anyone, young or old, to recognise, acknowledge and report abuse of any kind, I will be very pleased.
Kathleen Jones writes: In ‘The Sun’s Companion’, one of the main characters – Anna – suffers a violent rape as a young teenager which affects her attitude to men for the rest of her life. She is only able to overcome her fear of sex when she meets a man she loves passionately. I wanted to show how early, bad experiences of sex can damage a child’s developing sexuality. As a victim of childhood sexual abuse myself, I have often worked with abuse survivors, using narrative therapy, to find a way through the trauma by writing about it. I suppose it was inevitable that it would find its way into way own work, particularly when writing about the war, where rape is used as a brutal tool against both women and men.
D.J.Bennett writes: After working in law enforcement, I’d spent several years looking at the top end of drugs – from importation downwards, and I wanted to see what happened at street level and below. On the streets, heroin is often “paid for” with sexual services, and sometimes sex is a small price to pay for a roof over your head and a better life than you ever had at home. Hamelin’s Child explores the relationship between sex, drugs and identity, and shows how spiking a drink in a nightclub changes a teenage boy’s life forever.
Kirsty Eccles writes: The Price of Fame shows the complex and challenging emotions which exist in an abusive relationship. We tend to think of these things as ‘seedy’ but as Hamlet points out, one can ‘smile and smile and be a villain’. It is an uncomfortable story and it’s a wake up call to society. Personally I’ve found that when you tell an ‘abuse’ story a lot of people are disgusted (as they rightly should be) but one becomes subject to a ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ mentality where they shy away from you the teller as if somehow you either caused or deserved the unpleasantness you are telling them about. I’m sure that’s why many people don’t tell their stories. It’s not that they won’t be believed, it’s that they become stigmatised. They are seen as part of the ‘problem’, as ‘damaged and dirty’. I’m afraid it’s still rather too prevalent that ‘nice’ people want to turn the other cheek. They don’t want to get close to someone who has been ‘touched’ by abuse because it is too unpleasant. Well, guess what, it’s unpleasant for the person who suffered the abuse through no fault of their own, and still suffers because they are an unwilling part of an unpleasant aspect of society that ‘nice’ people prefer to pretend doesn’t exist because it’s too ugly! The view seems to be: If you are writing about it, or if you experienced it, you are part of it and you are part of something nasty so I don’t want to engage with you. That’s been my experience anyway. ‘Nice’ ‘normal’ people can’t handle it, so they avoid you, shun you and thus reinforce the personal feelings of shame and guilt which exist within all who have been abused.
Remember The Price of Fame is FREE on 7th and 8th November
I won’t say I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post but I will say I hope you’ve found it thought provoking and will share it abroad as widely as you can. It’s an issue that touches many lives and as writers for whom having a ‘voice’ is very important, I think it’s important that we highlight voices which are NOT being heard and need to be.
Cally Phillips (Editor)
There is an ongoing discussion on this subject HERE where your opinion is more than welcomed.