Kayla Harris

Review of Natasha Desborough’s: Weirdo’s vs Quimboid

Due for release October 3rd 2013.

I initially read this book and have written a simple review for David’s Bookshop review site as a favour, but whilst reading it, I knew this book should feature on my site too. I have many reasons to include it; there is fun and comedy (something any woman should have, daily) the classic clash of the popular, or ‘beautiful’ crowd versus the ‘weirdo’s’, the nerds, geeks or however they may have been seen in other times. However, more importantly for me, the sole reason this book made it into my blog came down to the underlying content that I so love to pick up on.

Desborough knows her teens. It’s evident throughout the story. Her characterisations are fantastic in that they are easy to relate to and engage with. Whether you consider yourself a nerd or popular type, it doesn’t matter, you can identify with any character thrown into this mix.

A bit of background…

The point of view comes from Blossom and she is a typical troubled teen, she has her mock exams going on, her parents are utter weirdo’s, her two best friends equally so, but that’s alright because they’re all ‘social outcasts’ together, and she is ‘like, totally’ infatuated with the most popular guy in school. She is bullied and laughed at, jeered at and ridiculed daily and is never invited to a party – however, she is not one to give up.

Her life seems on the up, when she and her best friend Petrina are pushed into helping out at their school radio station. Felix and Toby, the two hottest guys run the show… with their equally ‘hot’ girlfriends. However, not one to let an obstacle get in her way, she powers in and all kinds of events follow…

Throughout the story you grow to learn each character’s traits and can spot where certain situations are bound to head and a lot of the time you are right, but sometimes, you’re wrong – and not in a bad way. (Ok, so this may be a potential spoiler) The surprises are fantastic and you find Blossom climbing her way up the success ladder through a mix of sheer accident and pure dedication, I found myself punching the air whenever something went well for her and a sense of utter smugness whenever she witnesses her bullies’ get their comeuppance.

Her sidekicks; Walter and Petrina make for fantastic entertainment and keep the readers wanting more with hints of a little secret story of their own going on. Other characters, such as Paulette Dempsey – a self-professed asexual that creates her very own dating agency. Much fun and laughter ensues when Blossom signs up and many a gasps at the descriptions of Paulette’s wardrobe. Felix and Toby, whilst being typical teenage boys are not completely dislikable. And lastly; Fiona and Lucy – the two most popular girls in the school, complete with luscious blonde locks and a nasty personality. My personal favourite was Andreas, boyfriend to Blossom’s sister Breeze – their constant, trivial ups and downs and hilarious arguments had me thinking about them even when they were not mentioned – who was portrayed with hilarious wit and high volume emotions, but he proves his worth spectacularly.

Blossoms parents were a different matter. They actually had me feeling quite cross at times – Well the mother did… Desborough manages to highlight both the negative and the positive aspects of parenting whilst creating a very unusual set up. By keeping the father more mature and able to keep control (most of the time) he manages to keep the household from imploding, while the mother appears to be running around doing whatever the hell she wants and shows the damaging side to parenting that come from selfish desires. I think it’s a good idea to show conflict and issues within family dynamics because it highlights how and why teens behave in so many ways. It’s all too easy to cry ‘teenage angst’ and claim they have nothing to gripe about, but parental influence has as much responsibility as hormonal imbalance for their behaviour.

Desborough makes the reader deal with trivial issues that most adults dismiss as childish and unimportant, and reminds us of how they felt to us when we were that age. In fact she reminds us that WE WERE that age. By having the conflicting parental influences going on we, as the outsiders, gain the insight to what is a positive response and what isn’t. By seeing everything through a teenagers rose tinted vision, complete with contrasting pessimism and naivety, we are able to identify with all of her experiences – even if we never have pulled our previous days worn knickers from the bottom of our jeans… in front of our fancy men (boys)!! The humour is warm and considerate, so you won’t find yourself laughing in a derogative way, but it will get you giggling. Loudly (on a busy train in my case).

I so wanted to see Blossom achieve all her desires and I was really glad when Blossom goes to her first ever party… and has fun!! Of course, post party come down, with all alcohol flushed out of the system, brings her back to her usual feeling of humiliation. But that’s how it goes, we all did it and Blossom proves that she might just learn from her mistakes – can all of us say we learned?

Despite the crazy situations and hugely embarrassing outcomes Blossom finds herself in, she does actually try to reflect on her choices and their outcomes – ok she doesn’t always get it right, but at least there is effort. She certainly keeps that rosy vision firmly in place when it comes to her crush, but again, who didn’t at that age? What Desborough avoids doing with this ‘relationship’ is force it to happen.  I have seen so many times in teen fiction this blind persistence into relationships, behaviour and choice and there is no ground work for any teen reader to learn from, their lead into a world of misguided bullshit. Desborough does not fail me here. I feel her outcomes for Blossom, and the other characters, are well deserved and well planned. There is a happy ending, but not one that you might expect, say, with other teen romance novels. A teen’s sole focus at that age is the pursuit of LOVE, it’s practically all they are programmed to concentrate on, however, that does not always mean that there should be a happy ending for the leading female (or male) character if really, it would never work in ‘real life’. Relationships shouldn’t be forced if they’re just not right and Desborough shows this with perfection. Blossom may have her head in the clouds most of the time, with some truly spectacular fantasies and justification, but she seems to be on the point of learning to accept herself  for who and what she is and for me that makes for fantastic, responsible and influential writing. Any parent wanting their children to read books that will have them enjoying good writing and fun storylines, without the worry of them being mislead and come away fantasising about being with some dark and brooding character that by definition would have you wanting them running a mile from, then Desborough is definitely one that is as safe as houses.

On the whole, this novel was an utter joy, and was so NOT a letdown. And that is an actual, scientific FACT.

A Time for Honesty…

About this time last year, I was fiercely writing away like my life depended on it. I felt like I was churning out loads of stuff (partly because I had never written my own blog before, and it was all in a relatively short amount of time).

Then – nothing.

I suddenly had nothing to pour out to anyone, or so it may have seemed…

…I had always wanted my blog to be very honest and open to everyone but had wanted to ease into my background gently. I don’t think it would come as any kind of surprise to anyone who may be reading this that I have in one form or another experienced Domestic Violence. However, it came as quite a surprise to me when I learned this, as I just plodded along with a view that everything was just normal. I do not pretend that I suffered great injuries physically, but mentally I was left scarred. What may be new news is that with this experience came another that was completely unexpected and here, I most certainly had the view that ‘it could never happen to me’. What so many women do not realise is that with DV come the social services.

My situation definitely called for them to act, I had followed one abusive relationship directly with another, although the form of that abuse was different each time. One liked to mess with my mind and the other liked to use brute force. With the first partner, I birthed a daughter, with whom I have a fantastic bond. It’s amazing that we have this because the treatment I sustained whilst we were both living with her father left me weak and useless as a mother. Of course, with having had that child there came the realisation that I needed to be away from my partner. I knew things were wrong and causing damage to myself and daughter, however, I had a very broken and distorted view on why it was so. With a battered self-esteem and constant self-hating mind I set off on our journey to ‘freedom’.

What I did so horribly wrong was to ignore and dismiss all I had experienced for the sake of having made the move to single-parenthood. The effects were disastrous. My Ex still had a massive hold on me knowing exactly how to manipulate and torture me, whilst I was stuck in total conflict of independence and utter submission. I suffered depressive moods, major mood swings, frustration and an extreme desire for affection and to be noticed. Underneath, I think I probably knew all the information, I just had no idea how to utilise it and help myself.

Subsequently, after only a few months of being single, I met another who managed to convince me swiftly that he was better, more loving, more caring… and boy was I wrong.

This ‘man’ was a monster. Within one month of dating, he committed the most horrific crime. He hurt my baby girl, and lied about it. He put her to bed and covered up what he had done and put her at even more risk. This left me open to suspicion and trapped in the largest battle of my entire life.

Within the last 4 years I have had to face up to so many personality traits that contributed towards this event and have taken responsibility of the actions he took. I have taken courses on safe parenting, talking and communicating, CBT, protective behaviour, The Freedom Programme and had to see a psychologist in order to prove that I was of capable mind to have my own children.

He obtained a criminal conviction for what he did, but he still roams free, impregnating other women and shouting his mouth off at anyone within earshot.

One amazing thing that came from that relationship was the birth of my second daughter. It was both the worst and the best thing I ever did with him. The worst because this innocent child got tangled up amidst this awful battle already in progress and the best because she was the one that helped me gain so much understanding of myself that in turn has held the bond between me and my first daughter.

During the pregnancy, I found out exactly what was lurking under the surface of that monster. He turned violent and abusive, he threatened and he lied. Compulsively.

Following my experiences during my pregnancy and after I gave birth I was whisked away, with newborn child, to a ‘prison’ disguised as a safe house for mothers and babies. I spent 8 months under surveillance and supervision. I was assessed and probed, questioned and confined. I wasn’t allowed to see friends or family unless they booked an hour’s visit and I was allowed out for 2 hours a day for free time. During this time I attended courses on parenting and counselling. All of which came provided by the place I was staying at. The parenting classes were helpful by providing many tactics to handle difficult behaviour etc. But the counselling was nothing short of useless. At the time I found the woman to be helpful, but since I came home and attended the Freedom Programme, I grew to realise that all she really did was talk about herself and patronised me and made me feel like an idiot for getting myself into the mess. The biggest irony through all of this is that the system that maintains its pride in protecting and safeguarding women and children, is the same organisation that isolated me, cut me off from support networks and poked and prodded me to see when the cracks would appear and where my weak spots were. This same organisation put no actual safety measures in place for me, the ‘victim’, when they dismissed me from the safe house and sent me home, alone.

My first daughter had to go and live with her father, the original mentally abusive partner, and after the 8 months of living in the ‘safe house’ my second was placed in foster care and I was forced to get on with life alone and battle against the social services for a further year and a half. I was proactive and determined and did as much as I could. I never once failed to attend a contact session with my daughters and I never once failed to attend meetings with professionals. I enrolled myself at a women’s centre and that is where I discovered the Freedom Programme. This course opened my eyes to what I had really been experiencing and made me see what I refused to accept about myself. One of those things was that it wasn’t my fault. I had spent so much time allowing myself to be blamed for everything, being abused, my daughter getting hurt by someone else and for all the mess that followed. But what I was finally able to accept was responsibility. Blame and responsibility are two VERY different topics and neither should be used lightly. Blame is the world’s worst enemy and the root cause of most problems. Responsibility is very shy and all too often forgotten and dismissed. Responsibility is our friend, when we know how to respect her. Once I learned this, I made my slow and very agonising climb to success.

My youngest daughter came home to me in November last year and during the previous months leading up to that I fought the backsides off the ones who were determined to beat me. I had mediocre representation at court (it would shock most to hear what your representation will not allow you to fight for, speak out about or even do) and I decided to write all of my own statements for court and fought my own battles there. I won my own child back with a force of sheer determination and undamaged love for my children. I have accepted that I will have to wait for my other daughter to come to ours but that is down to adjustment and patience and fighting against an abusive man who likes to have control and a weapon at hand to keep me at bay. But I know our time will come.

And so, that is why, over a year down the line I am finally emerging out of a new shell. It’s been an incredibly busy year with many, many twists and turns. But finally, the tables have turned for us and for once, we are the ones in control and we are the ones who are happy. I decided to open up about my history now, because it explains so much of the reasons why I write what I write. I have seen what possibilities there are out there, but I have also seen how they are almost withheld or made difficult to attain, I’ve seen outcomes that have floored me and made me question the social services and their methods. I’ve seen them exploit and treat women in manners that don’t stray too far from those, which resemble abusive relationships. I don’t just want to help protect women from abusive men; I want to try to encourage women to protect themselves from their own repetitive behaviours, their influences and their peers. If young women can gain an understanding about what really goes on before, during and especially after DV takes hold, then they can equip themselves with the strength to protect themselves. Suffering through abuse is bad enough but punishment for it is a far too heavy weight to carry on top.

Poison – Sarah Pinborough (Warning: Potential Spoiler)

As I mentioned in my ‘return-to-work’ blog, I have found a new interest in fairy tales and I have been working my very slow way through many translations of the Brothers Grimm from authors such as Jack Zipes and Philip Pullman. About this time last year, it was suggested to me that maybe I would be interested in the works of Angela Carter and of course, I had far too many books on my to-do list and Angela was put off for quite some time. Anyhow, I eventually picked up The Bloody Chamber and from there it was a downhill ride in the Fairytale obsession stakes!!

A short time into my journey through The Fairytales of Charles Perrault the same person that suggested Angela Carter, bought me a gift; Poison by Sarah Pinborough. He thought it would give me extra food for thought whilst I was enjoying the fairytale theme. So I sat down one Sunday morning and I started reading. By late Sunday afternoon, I closed the book having read from cover to cover with very little pause for toilet and meal breaks!!

To say the least, Poison is a very easy read and it is written very closely in tune with the way in which the original fairytales are written with its simplistic language and matter of fact attitude. However, Sarah grows up this version by a good few years and I certainly would not be reading it to my children at bedtime, especially some chapters.

My initial reaction when I finished the book was similar to Mr Gru’s mother in Despicable Me. For those not familiar with this awesome film, it means I wasn’t instantly impressed. I basically shrugged and thought ‘it was alright’. However, my impressions were being overshadowed by the writings of Angela Carter, who had blown me away, making anything else I read weak in comparison, so I knew it was hardly a fair reaction.

Recently, I recommended Poison to some customers at the bookshop I work in after certain memorable moments crept back to me. While we were discussing it, I realised that I massively overlooked some clever and subtle writing. I decided to analyse what I had read further.

Initially what Sarah does, is take the story of Snow White and add sex and gore and little twists of adult themes to it. But she also darkens the underlying issues quite a lot. I really like her characterisation of each personality within the story.  Given that the story is relatively short there is little room for adding much background to each character, but Sarah handles this nicely by slicing little details in here and there and you gain a real sense of what experiences they’ve encountered or why they are the type of person they are, without it ever really being spelled out.

All of her storytelling and imagery is written in the classic way that we find within retellings of the Brothers Grimm etc., but because it was countered with some very detailed adult themes I often found myself wanting to read a more mature language. I think it’s simply due to the fact that this level of adult content is not usually encountered when reading fairytales and when it still reads like one, it can be difficult to get passed it. But upon completion, I certainly respected the way in which it was written a lot more and felt that the mini novel should be given the credit nonetheless.

The element that struck me the most was the Prince Charming character. Our hero in this story is certainly not portrayed as a classic Disney Prince Charming. Sarah does a respectable job of disguising his true nature in a very smart and subtle way and this is where I ‘big up’ my respect to her knowledge. Sarah manages to describe exactly the kind of character who would, of course, take an instant shine to a damsel in distress. For me, I feel she potentially makes the reader see things a little differently and forces them to take a different view on this seemingly perfect stranger.

For me what Sarah highlights here is the fact that we see an intelligent, but ultimately vulnerable, young woman who has managed to seduce her way out of being killed by the huntsman sent by her step-mother, gone into hiding and set up a slightly strange way of life with some dwarfs and then poisoned into a death-like sleep whereby she spends a considerable amount of time cooped up in a glass coffin. She is then awakened and finds herself in the arms of a handsome fellow who is seemingly besotted with her and is promising the world to her.

Throughout the beginning of the book we see Snow White portrayed as a strong and intelligent, yet sometimes defiant, character that speaks her own mind. But we also see a glimpse of a soft and kind-hearted person who can be won over with guilt trips and tears, someone who desperately sees the good in people and is devastated by the realisation that evil really does exists. So despite her intelligence and boldness, underneath it all she is just another vulnerable young female and that is ultimately the reason why she finds herself manipulated and herded into another desperate situation. Her guard is completely down after her harrowing ordeals and she is, quite understandably, pretty keen for a happy ending and that means she is just a little too naive when she agrees to allow this man to whisk her off her feet…

The reason I found Sarah’s Poison worthy of a mention is because she has done a fine job at highlighting underlying domestic issues, which are encountered every day and yet still fail to be acknowledged by so many vulnerable women. For those savvy enough to pick it up, it is a reminder that no matter what, you should never rely on others to save your life. To others, it would just be a saucy read with a nasty sting in the tale…

It’s Been Too long…

Having been well over a year since I last applied any effort to this website I finally came round to making my decision that now is most certainly the time to jolly well get back into it!! I was at a bizarre and yet surprisingly enjoyable party this weekend, planned on behalf of my parents. It was held at the home of a close friend of theirs, who had independently concocted an entire fictional wedding for them. It sounds a little crazy, I know, and believe me we all expected some kind of disaster to happen, considering that the whole thing was kept completely secret from the ‘Bride and Groom’, and even some of the guests!! My parents have been together 21 years and have never once thought of actually marrying since their engagement 20 years ago, so their friend decided she would nudge them in the ‘right’ direction…

Anyhow, I got talking to some people I hadn’t met before and got into a friendly debate about how passionate I am about the subject of D.V. and where lies the problems etc and began this long and excitable rant. This got me to thinking that all the work I had started was at risk of being wasted if I continued to neglect it.

I’m not without my reasons and to be honest, I had far too much going on at home to be able to concentrate on this, but nonetheless here we are, things have settled down and I am finally feeling motivated and ready to get tap-tap-tapping on my keyboard once more. I even made my first tentative steps back into the world of Twitter and have already been surprised by the response.

I have had a pretty extreme year; it’s been a roller-coaster of emotions and learning curves, tears and laughter. It has also been a very literary year. I have had my nose buried in as many books as I could squeeze in and I am full to the brim with opinions and excitement about what I’ve discovered.

Over the next course of, well, however long it takes, I am hoping to spread the word about literature that I believe speaks for women. I had started reading and then became quite fascinated by the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault and inevitably, by delving into this world it wasn’t long before I discovered the amazing Angela Carter, with whom I have grown to love more and more no matter what terrifying world she takes me into. I have devoured almost all of her novels and short stories from The Magic Toyshop to The Bloody Chamber and never once has she failed to deliver. Alongside her, I found authors such as Jeanette Winterson and Joyce Carol Oates. I am only just at the start of making my way through their collections but even so, I am very excited to continue. All such amazing writers with fantastic views and stories to tell and they write with the heart of feminists. When I first began expressing opinions and writing reviews last year, I very taken by Kit Berry and her fantastic knowledge about the subject and the way in which she puts it to use, her novels are educational in their own right. I also promoted my choices of YA writers who definitely took responsibility when portraying their leading female characters and was always keen to expand my reading horizons and share my views with others, but not only that, I wanted to find material that tackles everyday issues and expresses views for women across the board.

There were male authors that I read that have definitely been mentioned, if not pushed, to friends and family because of how they write and how they portray certain issues, for example; John Fowles – The Collector – was one that really blew me away. It certainly does not have a happy ending and leaves you with a sense of unease that is hard to shake, but should a young woman read it whilst she is getting to grips with people around them and their behavior, then their own protective instincts might be heightened by even a little after reading this. However, I shall save my thoughts on this and others for another time, but you might be getting the idea by now.

With all of this in mind, I am hoping to be able to connect the things I’ve read to my own experiences and try to explain why I believe they are important writers for women to experience (besides the fact that they are all hailed as superb writers from people of far higher credentials than little old me). I also hope I manage to offer a different perspective to anyone who enjoys reading.

Solstice at Stonewylde

Book 3 – Review

It may not be obvious to many people, but before ‘real’ abuse there comes; ‘Grooming’. This can be the most difficult and yet  is a commonly repeated issue that women contend with every single day. It indicates the very start of abuse yet is the hardest to determine. It can also be the glue that holds a woman captive even after she has become aware of what is happening to her. After all, we’re never really certain if that charming and generous appearance is the real deal. Yet how many of us have fallen for it, and how many times?

We have all, at some point, been taken by the guy who has showered us with expensive gifts, dazzled us with his charm and wit. Flattery works on us every time, right? Well, after you’ve read Solstice, you may hold a different view…

What Kit does in Solstice is cover all of the possible tactics any potential abusive ‘partner’ will use to ensnare their prey and how they will continue with this to ensure and maintain their hold.

This is the episode where Magus once again wins Sylvie over, despite her torment and suffering at his hands. We now see evidence of the Sexual Controller and of course, the Bully rearing their ugly heads within Magus’ ever evolving persona. He has now progressed to the Persuader, resorting to inciting a reaction brought about by guilt. By embodying all of the characteristics, added with the numerous other personalities he’s accumulated, he keeps her within his control without the need to raise his hands. Much. He exploits her kindness and effectively passes over responsibility of ALL his emotional welfare to Sylvie. Effectively holding her captive within his apartment, he showers her with expensive gifts and fine food. He turns his previous actions on its head and so poor Sylvie is once again confused and pliable.

Drunk and befuddled, from the frequent intoxication of alcohol Magus plies her with, her awareness of events are distorted and obscured. She is unable to comprehend her circumstances and is totally defenceless. This mirrors, perfectly, the reality of what women, young and old, contend with every day and I commend Kit for her bravery at exposing abusive tactics so skillfully.

The grooming process is the absolute key to the protection of oneself. If one owns the ability to work out potential dangers ahead, then it is possible to avoid falling into the trap. However, it more often the case that nearly all women do fall, because it is hard to detect without knowledge. We are not born with this insight installed in us (society and sometimes, the media contribute to our ‘weakened’ state of mind) we must learn. Kit gives us a severe and practical lesson of what can really happen to any woman.

This book was as much suffocating as it was intoxicating. Unsurprisingly, Kit absolutely blew me away with her abundant knowledge of such tragic experiences and realities. As with every other book I have read in this series, the storyline is captivating and enjoyable, spellbinding and beautiful, tragic whilst simultaneously sanguine. Combine that with its amazingly educational quality, this series will most certainly aid the progression of understanding.

It is my belief that novels such as these should be included in the national curriculum along with courses such as The Freedom Programme for all of our teens of the future. It may provide an opportunity to resolve and maybe even assist in reducing the ever increasing amount of children that are being lost to the system. Every single day.

Once again Kit, my utmost respect goes straight out to you.

Living with a Dominator – The New Breed

It is common knowledge that living with a Dominator can be very difficult indeed. Life with an abuser is frightening, confusing and exhausting. Up until quite recently, I believed my nightmare was coming to an end, that my dominator was gone for good. However, I was so, very wrong.

I keep asking myself the question: “How can I move on when They just will not let me move on?”

‘They’ are my new Bullies, my new Persuaders and new King of the Castle. ‘They’ are the ones who pull all the strings, shout commands and change the proverbial goal posts. ‘They’ are the ones who expect, nay, demand conformity, acceptance of their beliefs and obedience.

They pulled me into their game and made me a player. They told me playing this game is simple: There are only two ways to play and one of those ways may conclude in a positive outcome. Conditions are; If you accept everything We tell you (subject to our beliefs), agree to everything We suggest or encourage and do all that is required of you, ie; change, renew your skills, then you may succeed. If you choose the alternative option and do not follow our simple rules, you fail. Simple.

Sounds easy. Only now I’m frightened. The statistics of success don’t sound like they are in my favour. The conditions are easy to understand, the rules are just as clear: Players must be open, honest and transparent, they must conform and comply. They must, at all times, be everything ‘We’ want them to be (nb. subject to their discretion rules may vary, order can be changed and may repeat whenever necessary). So, why the fear?…

I begin with the first part of their conditions: Change.

Change; ok, I know I must change “this, that and the other” about myself. For example; I must improve my decision making skills. I have made some terrible decisions/judgements of situations and characters  in the past. I also know that I must get my priorities straightened out, adjust and be more organised. I have been terribly selfish in previous years, not deliberately, but I have been known to put my needs ahead of others. All these I accept without prompt.

What I need assistance with, however, is apparent necessity to change my entire self. Completely.

Apparently, my personality is too ‘bubbly’, too friendly. I’m too outspoken, so then I’m no longer friendly enough. I’m far too intelligent, too much of a challenge, yet somehow it’s also lacking. My preference to company as opposed to being alone, is not acceptable. However, they suggest I seek out companionship, the right companion of course. My dress sense is too…well everything. It’s too considered, too planned out, too smart, too ‘pretty’, too fashionable, too eye catching. (I wear pencil skirts, smart trousers, sensible heels, blouses and smart jackets to important and/or social occasions) You would imagine that that could considered acceptable, but you see, I may wear it adorned with a bow, or my hair is fashioned in curl or with colour. My everyday wardrobe is similar, I choose to wear nice dresses or smart trousers, things that make me feel presentable and confident, feminine and proud. I wear makeup because I like to, I accentuate my eyes, they are best feature, at least my most transparent. Lastly, the worst of all my crimes, is that I manage now to walk with my head high, my shoulders back, I have – heaven forbid – a smile on my over made up face and to top it off; I look people square in the eyes.

What’s so bad about that? Well that’s a question I have asked myself, many times in fact. I lost count some time ago. And so, I have found myself at the first of their many contradictions.  From the outset I was told, repeatedly; be yourself, be transparent, be open and honest. Be yourself. But… Oh yes there is and always will be a ‘but’. If all that you present to us is not up to standard, in conjunction with the aforementioned expectations, then you will be asked to change. I, therefore, do not meet said expectations.

Now it is generally the case that if you are anything like the ‘unintelligent’, unkempt stereotypes that are frequently dragged through the system, then you will most likely be damned from the beginning. These characters are like little puppets, they are pliable, easy to mould and control. They are preferred to more challenging creatures like myself, because they make for easier and smaller workload. They usually fail. I on the other hand, prove to be a whole different ball game what with my inability to see things how I am ‘supposed’ to see them. You see, when you have an alternative perspective, you make it difficult for them to sculpt and control you. With all this in mind, we must consider our options, carry on as we are or stick to the rules. I choose to stick to the rules. Again.

Rule 1: Honesty, openness and transparency.

This one creeps up on you slowly, silently. Being the willing participant, I tell Them everything.  I open myself up to Them, giving them the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly truth. Bad move, because now I gave Them too much, I’ve left myself wide open to misinterpretation and exploitation. What They don’t tell you is that you should always be honest, but remember, any information you give Them can and WILL be used against you (no matter how innocent it all may have seemed), They will distort the truth and turn it into anything to suit Them. You could consider protecting delicate information, but then they could find out anyway and then you find yourself branded with deception and dishonesty. Knowing what is too much information, or information that can be used against you, may not be apparent until its too late. Either you’ve already said it, or someone else has already done it and you’ve unwittingly taken responsibility for it by being open and honest. Confused much? You will be. I have learned that if it is necessary for them to know, keep information simple and to the point.

I have grown to understand, during my time in the ‘game’, that in order to succeed, you must accept responsibility. You must take responsibility for your own actions and mistakes you have made along the way. And sometimes you may have to take responsibility for other people’s. When you consider that you’ve been open and honest by following rules and regulations, it comes as no surprise that you find yourself taking full responsibility for a great number of things, things you would not have expected. Well, it took me by surprise and I wasn’t happy about it. I found myself in trouble for things I personally did not do.

Conditions cont’d: ‘Acceptance and Compliance’; Decision Making, Responsibility and (of course) Change.

Decision making: now here’s where I can accept some of their logic, I have already stated that I accept my need to address these issues. However, there are still some complicated areas. For example, you are expected to know and accept that any decision you made resulting in an unhappy ending is negative, well, I understood that part. Any decisions I made whilst suffering from abuse, ‘depression’, anxiety, pressure from peers, family, friends, ex-partners etc, pretty much ended badly. This was mainly because I was unable to think clearly, or for myself for that matter and the ability to make informed and balanced decisions was somewhat hindered. This of course was still my responsibility. I may well have been completely unable to differentiate ‘support’ from blatant bullying, but what did I do about it?

With decision making comes instinct, prioritizing and insight. Granted, I know that I have the capacity for utilizing such tools, but I did not know what was real, true or even right during my time of abuse, my abilities had been completely distorted, damaged even.

I was offered the chance of meeting with a psychologist and a psychiatrist. They educated me on the things that I had considered normal whilst growing up, proving that they were in actual fact, quite detrimental and have misshaped my skills. I learned that my upbringing had many flaws (The impact on your future decision making skills lie deep in the belly of that upbringing). My trust in my own instinct had been broken and my perception was distorted. Now this, apparently, was all to help me understand the makeup behind my previous choices and therefore gave me a way to move on and make appropriate changes and necessary adaptations for the future. Later on, having already made said mistakes and wrong decisions, I found myself in abusive and/or violent relationships and wondering how the hell it happened. Well now I know, now I have the chance to move on.

This is all good. But unfortunately too late. I have already made said terrible mistakes, and already had such terrible insight and/or instinct. I’ve struggled to accept certain suggestions and my beliefs don’t match those of the System. I have struggled to understand all their contradictions or reasons behind their judgements against me, which in turn made it difficult to accept things. Granted, that there have been some who have sympathised with my situation. I’ve had such a terrible, misguided upbringing and poor ideals drummed into me that I didn’t have much of a chance. Regardless, I am still at fault, or responsible, when I ‘ignored’ the apparent signs and made all the wrong decisions.

Rule 2: Compliance and Conformity. (Conditions cont’d: Acceptance and Agreement)

I’m now left feeling that all this new and greatly helpful information is slightly wasted. Complying with the rules, I’ve been putting them to use and desperately, like an eager child to her disinterested parents, trying to show off my newly acquired skills. At some point, I almost managed the seemingly impossible task of proving that I have this capacity to change, I’ve taken a few wrong turns, but generally making vast improvements. Excellent. Except, I still find my efforts being rebuked. I’m still not quite good enough. There’s still an element of doubt hanging over me because of something they can’t put their finger on. I just haven’t got them convinced. Now they want something else from me.

This is where I really do get exasperated! I’ve improved my decision making abilities. I’ve got my priorities in order and evolved into a person who holds her head up high even when the world is against her. I still work on improving these skills, whilst, simultaneously, trying to retain a little bit of who I am.

Amidst all this playing along and changing and accepting, it has been suggested that I suffer from a mental health problem. Namely anxiety and ‘depression’. They don’t like you to have problems such as these, because it decreases your ability to make careful and informed decisions (as previously mentioned). Therefore, the only outcome must be one of detrimental consequence. Ok, I can probably agree with that, but there are varying degrees of depression, and there are different ways in which to tackle the issues.

When depression is undetected or unregistered by either the host or surrounding network of so-called ‘support’, well then yes, this form of depression can proceed down the wrong path, subsequently leaving destruction in its wake. What can also happen, is that someone who has suffered abuse and mistreatment, their coping mechanism could be somewhat disorientated. The dominator may have you, and those around you, convinced that you are suffering with depression, even when you are not. Combine them all together and you are in a whole heap of trouble.

This can make working on these issues quite difficult, as there is technically no depression to work with. However, I have been branded and now, being the inferior participant, I have to accept and work on it regardless.

So, I’ve been dealing with this alongside re-educating myself and making appropriate changes and maintaining a healthy balanced lifestyle, ensuring the management of usual everyday tasks; waking up, getting washed and dressed, eating meals, going shopping, etc etc. All with a smile painted on my face, gratitude and appreciation seeping out of every pore, because I am still in the game. There are days that are tricky; I’m repeatedly tested and pushed and reminded of the fact that there is still much work to be done, much improvements to be seen, much acceptance to be made. I accept these with dignity and strength, carry on and somehow still manage to be me in the process. Surely this is considered ‘doing well’, surely I’m heading down the path to success, albeit with harder tests, higher expectations of improvements, and maybe a couple of trip ups along the way, but generally…

Well, now you’ve managed a little too well. Appearing to be happy, the depression seemingly overcome. I’m maintaining a happier outlook on life and am quite upbeat and positive. (What’s the problem?) They feel I cannot be taking the situation seriously enough.

It is considered that this ability to overcome and do so well means that you are plain blasé. Or maybe you’re disguising your true feelings behind all the makeup and the clothes to detract attention from hidden depression. Either way, it’s an image of deception.

Rule 3: Be Everything We Want You To Be. (Conditions apply; Agreement, Act Upon Suggestion)

Here I find myself at a stalemate. I’ve made the necessary changes in my life. I’ve gotten rid of the excess baggage that, once upon a time, weighed me down. I have adapted, grown, matured, rediscovered myself, agreed and accepted all that they have thrown at me. I have become humbled, all for the sake of obtaining my ultimate goal. And as always, it’s just not quite good enough. I’m still not convincing enough, I gave away too much information and yet still I am accused of deception and dishonesty.  I have still not accepted enough and now it appears I am fighting against the rules. I am still not what They want me to be.

Not only that, because I find time to apply the makeup, put together an attractive ensemble of garments, (they’ve now noticed the fact that I’ve lost weight (a product from a loss of appetite during the tight grip of anxiety that has been induced since I began)). It is ‘plainly obvious’ that I am relishing all the attention they’ve assumed I so desperately crave. And more importantly, ignoring the needs of others. (We find ourselves full circle).

The ironic thing about this is that in one hand it is one of the conditions to show your ability to adapt, accept, comply (we know the mantra by now)… Yet, it has become a concern and so the rules are altered. So they are then given the opportunity to rule against us;

“If you are able to ‘find the time’ to be yourself, be able to look presentable and build your confidence and self esteem up, it must mean that at some point your duties must have been neglected. You’ve concentrated on yourself for a period of time. You must have become shortsighted in the severity of the situation, you can’t possibly be taking your responsibilities seriously if you can manage all these periods of ‘self-indulgence’. Therefore, while you’re speaking words of promise to change and concentrate on prioritizing adequately, you’re contradicting this by looking too good for us to believe that you have actually achieved this. Your mind must, indeed, be on other matters such as attracting a man, or gaining attention for your own self satisfaction. Thus further adding weight to our theory of deception.”

The final straw in all of this, is the realisation that although I have achieved a great deal, the truth is that I haven’t really moved very far at all. I may have gotten away from my abusive ex-partners, I may have control in my own little world. But I am still a pawn in someone else’s game. After all, a confused victim is a controlled victim. And I am truly confused.

The ‘goal-post’ has repeatedly moved, my achievements constantly rebuked, dismissed, belittled. I still live in fear, I am frightened that I may never get what I truly want and pray for every single day. So, I now have one final dilemma to decipher.

Do I hang myself up, become someone else, invent a new Me?  Well it wouldn’t be a new invention would it? It would be theirs. It would be what they designed. I could change my wardrobe along with all the other alterations, desist from applying make-up, apply a new mask perhaps? I could change the colour of my hair to a more agreeable shade, namely “mousey brown” and I could also conform to their ideal image.

I could, but wouldn’t that then make me a hypocrite? Or more importantly, them?

During this entire process it has been repeatedly drummed in: be yourself, be honest, be open. Be true. But at every turn there is always something not quite right, there is always something more wanted; expected.

So it is here that I find myself at the proverbial fork in the road. In one direction I conform and redesign myself, I give myself up to the contradictory expectations that will please the almighty, and run the risk of causing confusion, doubt and disbelief. Remain eternally in this ‘Game’ But that would just confirm my suspicions. I am no further advanced, I am still stuck in the same old rut I was in 3 years ago.

I am still living with a Dominator.

He just has a new face. He is now ‘The Local Authority’. They hold my child hostage because I was once in a domestic violent relationship. They dangle the carrot before me. They tease; tell me I can have her back in my care, if I just do as they say. They bully and abuse: forcing me to change everything about myself. They threaten; telling me that if I don’t comply I will lose, I will hurt and suffer. And They punish me time and time again for having gotten myself in this mess. Why? Because to them, I am and always will be a ‘Victim’.

But, no. I choose to go the other direction.

I am not a victim. I could make a rule of my own.  I have been honest, open, strong and above all else, myself. I have been true. I’ve given them everything. Now, I want them to accept just one thing and give something back to Me. As I am. Honest, open and true. Simple.

Life After The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins makes a powerful statement in her trilogy and it is most certainly not one that should be ignored.

As is my usual approach to any book, I tend to look with the point of view of how it can influence its readers, normally with a mind on how it can affect young people and their relationships. I will look at how someone could possibly follow by example; displaying detrimental behaviour or merely making poor decisions due to wanting to be like the characters. Influenced by their attractiveness; their successful lives or even the love interest. My interest is to see how seriously a writer takes their responsibility.

Straightaway I loved the main character, Katniss. Throughout books one and two I felt increasing warmth and affection for her. I admired this person and thought, yes this is definitely someone young adults could read about and be influenced by in a positive way. She has been dealt some heavy blows in the grief department, but manages to scrape through and saves herself from the despair of self-pity. Coping with the loss of her beloved father, her family is now struggling to avoid starvation. Her mother, having fallen victim to grief and her younger sister who is too young to understand, Katniss is forced to fight for her family’s survival single-handedly. Ultimately volunteering to replace her sister in The Games.

The Capitol of Panem, city of wealth, technology, fashion of the highest distortion and of course, The Games; a yearly reminder of how much control the Capitol inflicts on its subservient districts. This year, Katniss is a contender along with 23 others. All of whom are children. The aim is to fight for survival and kill your opponents in order to win. A seemingly far-fetched idea? There could be no way that children would ever be placed in such horrific situations, even years and years down the line? But, really, we know they recruit 16 year olds in the Army, the Navy and other similar armed forces all around the world. They are trained to fight for their countries. What’s so different to that of the Hunger Games? It’s still our next generation they are sending out there on the frontlines.

She proves she is capable of using the skills she was taught when growing up and is able to teach herself even more. She is strong and defiant, unwilling to fail. We follow our heroine as she fights to survive the horrors thrown at her and her fellow ‘Gamers’.  However, unbeknown to her, she has brought about a rebellion throughout the Districts through her undeniable bravery and her infectious determination for survival.

By the second book we are beginning to see her mature but she struggles with the emotional challenges from surviving such horrors. The repercussions have brought about consequences for her and those she loves and she finds herself back in the Games. Only this time the Capitol has it’s sights set on her failure. She isn’t a rebel by nature, she has absolutely no idea of her influence over the public. She struggles to comprehend her actions and the repercussions she has brought on her surrounding districts. I admired, yet pitied, her attempts to rectify her actions, only to find she has incensed the people’s desire further. Thus invoking her own death wish.

By book 3 it’s all out war and rebellion.  Katniss transforms and becomes the Mockingjay and signs up for battle. Now we really begin to see the cracks forming and this affects her actions, her mental health and her personal relationships. This was where I began to get a little frustrated with Katniss.

With literature of a fantastical nature It’s sometimes easy to forget that the characters are ‘real’ people.  I started to view her as a fantasy character that would/should ordinarily metamorphose into a superhero of sorts, in places I simply thought she was turning into a spoilt brat. However, I realised this was exactly Collins’ intention. What’s important to remember is that this girl is still only a child. Collins works hard at maintaining our memory of this fact by involving this display of difficult behaviour. How else would we expect a child like her to act after all she has been through? It may be fantasy fiction, but there’s a statement being made here.

I have read fantasy books and I have watched many a film in which the main character(s) are supposed to be only 16-18. Because it is fantasy they are given abilities beyond what would be their usual means and we as an audience accept it. Well some of us. I tend to shout at the screen claiming “that would never happen!” I tend to overthink things, I would be the one philosophising about what happens to these characters after they just saved the world, or changed the future. Whatever it is they get to do in fantasy, I always think; so what happens now? Friends of mine would just go, it’s finished,  get over it.

I believe Collins has watched films and read other books and thought the exact same thing. How many times does a story end on the ‘happy-ever-after note’? The audience goes away with a sense of completion, safe in the knowledge that all is well. These people have just faced death, defeated monsters, suffered inconceivable injuries, are they really expected to just get on with it now? What Collins does is ask the question, “Does it really ever end?”

I think about the personal battles I have fought, I think about my successes and my failures. I think about the things that have happened in my past. I believe our troubles have a way of staying with us no matter what. They can make us stronger, but they can also have long lasting side-effects. This is true of all battles; from wars around the world to battles in homes from violent partners or abusive parents; bullying in schools, government control, law, crime… the list goes on. After the final chapter of our own life experiences we can try to ‘close the book’ and forget them. Collins makes us think further. She doesn’t allow us to forget easily. She takes her responsibility as a writer seriously and does not mislead us. We are not influenced into thinking we should take on the world.  We all have battles to face in life and what she reminds us of is that we can.We can aspire to be strong, clever and brave. However, it’s not always the case that everyone will end with their own ‘happy-ever-after’. But we can and should always try.

Stonewylde Review Number 2

Moondance of Stonewylde

Book 2

I was under no illusion this time when I approached Moondance, there was no doubt that I would be taken deeper into the rabbit hole and shown an even darker side to Stonewylde. Yet, still it left me breathless. This book had me feeling like I was suffocating and drowning all at once. I would surface gasping for air and immediately dive back in just to see how far I could be pushed before I needed to close my eyes for good.

The more we journey toward the heart of Stonewylde, the more secrets we uncover. This story unfolds slowly and painfully, revealing more and more truths about abuse. By now, Magus’ abusive persona moves on from being just a ‘Bully’ and the ‘Liar’. We begin to see the shift towards the ‘Sexual Controller’, the ‘Persuader’ and the most definitely the ‘Bad Father’. It is a common misconception that there are different types of people who exhibit abuse in individually different ways and to some extent this can be true. However, there are many personalities embodied by a single abuser and Pat Craven, the founder of the Freedom Programme describes these in detail in her book “Living with the Dominator”. By introducing her audience to the multi-faceted Magus, Kit Berry once again shows off her indisputable knowledge of this specific subject.

Magus is the ‘gift’ wrapped up by God himself, or so it is considered and now he has found out Sylvie’s secret.  He thinks, “I want a piece of that” and what Magus wants, Magus gets and apparently, he will stop at nothing to get it. We see how he exploits his ability to lie and manipulate everyone around him and most worryingly, Sylvie’s mother who is held tight under his thrall. Emphasised by the use of hypnotism, we watch how he placates Sylvie, whilst in turn, ensuring that there is not a single person who can help her, including Yul. Not only is Sylvie isolated she is only at the very beginning of her nightmare.

Magus will one minute offer her tenderness and kindness, the next he is torturing her. By constantly changing his tactics with conflicting actions, Sylvie is almost completely unable to comprehend what is happening to her. Combining this with the effects of feeling isolated and desperate, Sylvie is utterly confused and therefore pliable and so Magus gains full control. This ‘episode’ in the series accurately reflects the harsh truth about emotional abuse. Magus has no need to lay a hand on Sylvie, the threat of ‘what may be’ works equally effectively on her.

In reality this would be where it all begins, it would be the crucial point where a victim may be lost to the vice-like grip of abuse. Any reader able to really connect with this book could potentially educate themselves in recognising the signs of a potentially dangerous situation, either for their own good, or even for the benefit of another. So many women today are still not equipped with such information and like Sylvie, fall into the trap and it is rare for these women to ever make it out.

As with all the Stonewylde books, this is yet another entertaining novel. Simultaneously educational and an absolute inspiration for young adults. Kit Berry deserves massive praise and recognition for her bravery in her blatant portrayal of abuse. Her clever use of magic and fantasy knitting the whole story together beautifully, allowing her audience to fully enjoy the experience whilst potentially learning something along the way.

Influencing Women: Responsibility in Writing

Having been a keen reader since childhood, I have devoured a great many books over my time. In the early days it was the Point Horror series that had me glued to my bed every evening and weekend. From there I felt brave enough to tackle Stephen King until finally taking on Shaun Hutson novels; an attempt on my mother’s part to scare me off horror for good. When I really did ‘grow up’, I moved on to J R Ward and Gena Showalter! But I never really got any of it, I just read never thinking about the influence they were having on my thought processes and decisions I made whilst growing up, or how they impacted on my actions and attitude.

In recent times, having gone through life-changing experiences that have helped me to rediscover myself, I’m still reading at the same phenomenal pace, only this time, I have a new perspective.

When I attended the Freedom Programme I was reminded of my time studying A-levels at school; one of those subjects was Media Studies. Pat Craven often refers to the media in her programme and points out the deficiencies within it. For example, imagine you are an alien visiting planet earth and you were to look at newspapers and magazines for guidance about the human race; what would you discover? It doesn’t take a genius to work out how much of an influence the media has on the general public, does it? There are many women out there who complain about how magazines objectify us; men’s magazines portray us a sexual objects and even our own magazines promote objectifying ourselves for the men of the world.

Going further than that, you could look into advertisements on the TV, again in magazines and on billboards around towns, they all display a similar image of women and it never seems to matter what it is the company is advertising. They give us this perfect persona and image we all should aspire to be. Then we get to film. Here we get to see women strutting around in barely-there, sexy outfits and seducing the leading hunk into bed.

On the flip-side to this, we could say we are seeing more promotion of the all empowered female in this predominantly male world. We read about the women who can manage full-time careers whilst being a parent, we see women making choices about what they want out of life. The ladies who are making all the money they want, enabling them to buy fashionable, designer clothing (advertised in the magazine that features them) to strut around in and attract themselves a ‘real man’. How they are taking control of who they sleep with and if they want to sleep with 1500 men in a year then that’s their choice. Right? We also see the ‘Kick-Ass’ female in leading roles in films, who takes the enemy on and wins. You know the ones, the ‘all-fighting, all-aggressive, bad-ass, sexually dominant girls who won’t take no shit from no one’ attitude, the girls who will never be victims in life.

In any case, it still comes down to sex, no matter which way you try to look at it, it will always come full circle. By promoting the women who are choosing to sleep around we are giving the public the impression that having sex is the key to power and being in control. Therefore, all we’re doing is pacifying them into the state of belief that they are empowering themselves, when in reality, they are just allowing themselves to be treated as sexual objects, just without realising it. This is the image of a woman having to prove to the male that she can be anything the male can, if not better. We are beginning to see women act like men in order to gain status and respect. A misguided Neo-Feminist attitude of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for empowering women and for gaining us some respect in today’s world, but must we really act like men for that to happen? I’ve always lived by the moral, two wrongs do not make a right.

I’d like now, to bring the focus back to books and reading because, this for me, is where the real action can be found. Again, there are authors out there who are just as bad as the filmmakers and magazine publishers, but I’ll deal with them in due course. The ones I like to talk about are the Kit Berry’s, Suzanne Collins’, Maggie Steifvater’s  and Jackson Pearce’s of the literary world. Authors such as these are, in my opinion, producing some amazing work that women of all ages should be getting to grips with.

The one thing that strikes me, every time I finish one of their novels, is how impressed I am with their female characters, especially given that they are all in their late teens, which is not an easy age to write realistically. To me, every one of their characters are the kind of person I wish I had aspired to be when I was a teen myself. They are strong, clever and successful. They are not the air-headed, kick-ass, sexually motivated freaks we are all too frequently bombarded with.

I have already reviewed one of the Stonewylde books in the Kit Berry series so far and am excited to review the rest. The message that comes out from those pages are all too meaningful to pass up. But, I am also very excited about the other authors, despite them having very different styles and characters. Kit Berry manages to create a world that is so believable within a fantasy setting. She is extremely smart in her use of ‘magic’ within the story, because it is used in such a way that not only gives credibility, but it is all part of the character’s journey into discovering themselves. The ‘magic’ is always within them, they just need to learn how to channel and use it well. What I am trying to say is that the reader is not mislead or dragged off into pure fantasy. She can legitimately aspire to the lead character and take a positive outlook on tackling their own issues at minimal risk of being for all the wrong reasons.

Jackson Pearce was an absolute joy to read, Sisters Red and Sweetly are brilliant concepts. Their message is almost ironic on some levels. Her ingenious twist of the original fables we heard as children got me thinking that this could almost be a little two fingered salute to the tacky, tasteless fantasy novels or films that are churned out for public consumption. She has a fresh and original idea of the werewolf, or Fenris, theme and she delivers this with exceptional effect. As with my other favourites, her lead females are strong and courageous, but are kept firmly grounded. She too plays with the romance issues, but rather than making it the focal point, she weaves it into the tapestry of her storyline subtly. In Sisters Red, although written from two perspectives, we find that the secondary character is the one to find love.

I find myself placing Jackson Pearce neatly between Suzanne Collins and Maggie Steifvater, although I think she has a clear, definitive style of her own. The boldness and strength of her leading females can be likened to Katniss, who we find in the Hunger Games. While the romance side resembles the almost fragile relationships we find within Maggie’s plots.

Suzanne Collins is the genius behind The Hunger Games; another very well deserved success. She again brings a similar element as Kit Berry, just in an altogether different way. Collins goes into the Sci-Fi, Futuristic and a more political note than Berry. I again ventured into this plot feeling a little apprehensive, not knowing quite how well she may deal with keeping the character grounded and believable. I am yet to finish the final book in the trilogy, and yes it is taking a huge amount of dedication to this article to keep away, but so far I am once again impressed with her visuals and morals.

Without going into details of the story lines, (I’ll be doing that any time soon) I want to focus on Katniss, a marvelous and remarkable young lady who is dragged through hell and back repeatedly. She’s a little kick-ass and feisty madam, but I actually like this about her. Its captured in all its teen glory and you are constantly reminded throughout this story that she is, after all, still a teenager. Despite the horrific and deadly situations she has to face, and lets hope that it could never become a reality, she succeeds. Yet Collins holds true to the person we are following. What I mean is that, although Katniss matures throughout the book and has had to through previous experiences, it’s depicted in such a believable way that you don’t question it.

I was also particularly warmed by the minimisation of the romance element. Through Katniss’ eyes, we see how she struggles with love and boys. She clearly has no idea how she feels about the boys in her life, but she does have very clear morals and respect for her peers. She contains a fierce love for her surrounding family and close friends, and her sense of loyalty is so very strong that you would be hard pushed to exceed it. In my opinion, the great thing about Collins use of romance, is that she allows it to enter the plot so naturally, because of course it is normal to encounter these experiences during any girls teen years. However, the love element does not outshine the really important issues and messages within the plot. We’ve seen, all too many times, the heroine falling head over heels in love with her co-star and together they succeed on love alone.

What many of us will say is that we love to see, read or hear about is that love conquers all and to some extent this is not untrue. However, at what cost should we rely on ‘love’ to get us through life and all its twists and turns?

We have been witness to the heroine ending up with the man who by definition, would not be classed the best suitor in the world. We watch how she is the one to change this person, turn him into the perfect man, tame him and make him hers to love and cherish for the rest of her life. We experience the torment that she suffers in trying to work him out, to build trust in this person and push past all the detrimental behaviour he repeatedly spews out throughout the entire plot. If this was real life would any self-respecting woman really want to take such a risk and end up with a guy that has taken up all her energy, effectively destroying her self-esteem and all for the sake of turning him into the guy she desires?

The response from women would be a mixed one, because the obvious reaction one would have is “no of course not!” Think deeper though, because rather worryingly most teenagers and adults do make this choice, they do put up with these kind of men because they see it work out in the movies and novels time and time again. Women believe when they find this exciting and dangerous man, that he is the almighty fish to catch and is just what they want. Instead they find themselves in a less than desirable reality and they don’t understand why.

Maggie Steifvater is yet another stunning writer within this subject. She is a romance and fantasy novelist for young adults. Yet throughout her books, she doesn’t often give the reader the perfect happy ending. The reader is left almost expecting the worst for the characters. The female character meets and falls in love with the dangerous and exciting ‘bad-boy’, yet she is aware of her conflicting emotions. Steifvater explores protective behaviour by describing how the character feels when she is in the presence of this love-interest. For example, she describes how her lead female will get a ‘butterfly’ feeling in her belly whenever she encounters this boy and will openly question whether or not it is fear or excitement (how many of us would just simply call it excitement?). The best part of it is that Steifvater does not fall prey to the stereotype who would quell the thoughts of fear and apprehension without consequence. In fact she never misleads the reader into believing that her main character will live her happy-ever-after with this character. Yes the male character reciprocates her feelings, but Steifvater casts doubt over the success of this relationship. I believe this style of writing offers respite to the constant promotion offered by the media that this is the best women can hope for.

Of course, we still find the generic novels by authors such as Rachel Vincent and Lauren Kate, who do nothing to help the situation at all. Vincent desperately tries to convince the reader that in order to find love, danger and ‘excitement’ must be included in the mix. While Kate just gets confused as to what kind of woman she wants to portray. She repeatedly changes direction with her main lady, Luce, in Fallen. One minute she is a strong young woman who is determined to face her ‘demons’, the next she’s a timid little creature unable to fight and so needs the protection from the dark mysterious guy who refuses to acknowledge her until danger strikes. Everytime Luce seems ready to stand up for herself she goes and faints or needs to be removed from any dangerous situation and never actually faces anything, her rescuer does it all for her while she just contradicts herself from the safety of her bedroom. My point here is not that women should necessarily fight physically,  the message is more about the fact that women should be able to find their own courage and face their fears, not hide behind a shield, modelled into a handsome stranger. For a young teen taking in this kind of writing, this would just be confusing.

Vincent’s series that begins with Stray, is all about the self-obsessed, kick-ass wannabe, spoilt brat Faythe. She is, by definition, the epitome of what all teenagers and young adults should avoid aspiring to become. Vincent confuses her reader into believing that the hard, aggressive, violent male character Marc, who has issues beyond repair, is the best thing Faythe could ever hope for. What!?! The two constantly dance around each other fighting one minute, loving each other the next, then they have brutal, violent sex by way of ‘making love’ to one another! This completely exploits the consensual love-making that should occur between two people in real love. I lasted three whole books before I finally came to the conclusion that this kitty-cat was never going to grow up!

Clearly a fan of writers such as JR Ward and Gena Showalter, as am I, Vincent also quite obviously misses the point. Whereas, JR Ward and Gena do describe scenes of ‘rough’ sex, they also do not forget to include the necessary ingredients in order to make this an acceptable part of any relationship. They do not hide the purely fantastical nature of these scenes, they merely offer the reader escapism. By doing this they do not mislead the reader into thinking that all is well in the love stakes. They both make constant reference to an unseen force that brings the two characters together. Neither character understands why they are so irrefutably drawn to one another, but they give into it. This saves the reader from believing this is the natural way of falling in love, a constant reminder that this is pure fantasy and not to be taken as something that could really happen. Therefore the reader may simply enjoy without consequence. Which is probably the reason as to why they write for the older, experienced reader and not our easily influenced teens.

It is my belief that all artists bear the responsibility of the messages they convey to their audience. It is imperative that when putting those messages across, the authors give consideration to what it is they are trying to say and exactly how they wish to be understood. Reckless and thoughtless writing has consequence and with the level of influence the media has over our teens today those repercussions are all too evident. We have teens with eating disorders, wanting surgical enhancements and an ever increasing level of domestic violence. The results of this alone are having devastating effects on the child care system and we are forever finding women battling against the odds in care proceedings. All this because society will not voice its opinions against the media and what it is doing us all. The first steps are being made, albeit small, but by recognising where the problems are and tackling them head on we can hope for a better progression.

The Freedom Programme

Living with a Dominator

As a previous victim and now a campaigner for women who suffer at the hands of violent and controlling men (or women), I took an active interest in taking part with the ‘Living With A Dominator’ course, otherwise known as The Freedom Programme. This is a nationwide accessible course that victims of Domestic Violence can attend. As I understand it, a referral is required, either by your GP, social worker or police officer. In my opinion, it is not heard of half as much as it should be.

Pat Craven began the programme after experiencing domestic violence and began training women to understand and give them the tools to be able to recognise an abusive character. The idea was to empower women and give them the ability to walk away from potentially dangerous men and save themselves from torment. Pat also gave talks to men who were either self-confessed abusers or had been convicted of violent crimes. This was meant as a means to give these men the abilities to understand their own behaviour and to encourage them with the ability to change. Of course, this lecture alone is not substantial enough to enable the amount of therapy needed for this amount of change to take place, but it is most certainly an excellent starting ground.

Having experienced domestic violence in more than one previous relationship, I found this course particularly helpful, insightful and supportive. I made friends with many women who were on my wavelength and for the first time able to really speak my mind and talk about all the experiences I had.

Initially, I minimised my experiences claiming them to be “not so bad” when compared to others, as I engaged with the other women who attended. It seemed to me that there was always someone with a more horrific story than my own. But as time went on, I began to understand that it isn’t about who was punched, who was raped or who was mentally abused the worst, it isthe fact that every individual experience is each women’s own personal nightmare. Yes, having the attitude that “there is always someone worse off than me” can be positive in many ways, strength can be drawn from this motto, but what we must all get to grips with is the fact that, no matter what each individual has experienced, abusive behaviour, mild or extreme is not acceptable.

Over the course I began to accept this in my own mind and came to terms with my experiences and I watched proudly as other women began to do the same. It is after all, the hardest part of recovery, acceptance. I felt energised and strong for the first time in my life.

Over the course of the 12 weeks I attended the Freedom Programme, I began to wonder why it was that I’d never heard of this before. I had been referred via a psychiatrist after an assessment was commenced. I had learned that this course was a recommendation whilst involved in child care proceedings and/or part of bail conditions etc and so I wondered how else the public might access it.

It is not hidden from the world, search engines on the internet show sites with plenty of information about this. I bought the book “Living with a Dominator” online along with the study guide that goes with it. It got me to thinking, what if I had known about this information when I ended my first abusive relationship? Or better still, before I even left school and began dating in my teens? How would I have benefited from learning more about domestic violence whilst in school and how would teenage girls of today benefit?

When I was 16 and still at school, I had lessons in PSE (Personal and Social Education) these consisted of topical issues like sex education, illegal substances and pro-social behaviour (to a degree). I remember learning about things like abuse and violence within relationships, yet it had always seemed to be portrayed in the most simplistic of ways that even now I am not sure anyone would be able to ascertain exactly what domestic violence really is. Most young adults will tell you it’s being physically beaten and bullied and being made to believe, as a victim, that you are worthless. To a certain degree, they wouldn’t be wrong, but there is so much more to it, so much so that it completely took me by surprise.

With this in mind, I decided that I wanted to ‘spread the word’ so to speak. I am not an active feminist, but I do believe in giving women strength and the ability to protect themselves. Pat Craven is a feminist, one with some extremely valuable points of view and opinions. Through her lessons I tuned into my own beliefs I had grown up with, thinking about where they came from and why I had these beliefs. What I hadn’t realised, was that almost all abuse comes from belief.

The course encourages you to investigate beliefs taught to us by the media, law, the government and our own family. From there we can learn about what we, as individuals, have learned to tolerate and accept. Our tolerance of certain actions is what actually leads to us being victims of domestic violence and this same level of tolerance is what makes us minimise our own experiences. By exploring this further, we can assess this level and decide for ourselves what should be accepted and what we would tolerate. For this, there is no real right or wrong answer, it is purely personal. Pat gives us the the ability to see how much society has almost enforced a belief that abuse is tolerable. Of course, acts of violence are not acceptable within our laws, but even the law seems to have confusing levels of its own tolerance and beliefs. This of course does not help those trapped in abusive relationships to gain the right help and support.

What I began to realise was that if women gained this knowledge and way of thinking at an earlier age, for example, when we are beginning to venture out and form relationships of our own, then we they would be far more likely to make healthier choices. Let me explain further.

A teenage girl will have grown up within a certain environment in her family home. Lets say, for example, her own mother is a victim of domestic abuse of the emotional side. Her father is a verbally abusive man who constantly puts her mother down and criticises her etc. This is a common thing in relationships as women allow, through their own beliefs and tolerances, this to happen. This then creates the next link in the chain where the teenage girl believes this is normal, and therefore would begin to tolerate this behaviour at school by other pupils and more worryingly, potential partners. Thus beginning her path towards Living with a Dominator. This could lead to finding an abuser who could potentially put her life in jeopardy. Furthermore what would happen if she had children? They would be placed in care, under child protection orders and she would have to fight her way to getting her children back. It would be at this point she’s finally introduced to this course, but this, by then is too late. She’s already found herself in trouble and her children have already suffered.

If she were to attend classes during this crucial stage in her life, she would be enabled to make up her mind and form her own beliefs. She would have the opportunity to re-evaluate her tolerance of certain behaviour and possibly amend them, therefore allowing her the possiblity to make better choices of partner in her future and gaining the strength to say “this is not acceptable” when she encounters behaviour that she would not tolerate.

Should we as women, put up with being treated as objects for men to use and criticise, abuse and torment, rape and beat? No.

Young girls are constant prey to the media what with magazines proclaiming they should preen and primp, slim and diet, beautify and objectify themselves because that’s what men want, right? I am not saying that girls should not follow trends or make themselves look good, I am hoping to give them the power to ascertain why, and if they are doing it all for the right reasons.

This course certainly helped me begin to make decisions for myself and even more importantly, for my children. I no longer feel a overwhelming desire to hunt the next Mr Right-Now, instead I am finally happy in my own skin and discovering my own beliefs, tolerances and desires in life. I merely want other women, young and old, to discover the same. It truly is exhilarating.

By introducing this course into the national curriculum, we would be enabling our teens to make better choices, we may even help teenage boys to re-evaluate their own behaviour and approach relationships in a healthier way too. We do not want a society of abused individuals, where their children will be subject to child protection orders, possibly even adoption. Do we?

We cannot change the media, or what society leads us to believe, but we could give the children of the future a better start.