DID YOU HEAR: A SNIPPET

*TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT*

Did You Hear (working title) is a novel that I’ve been working on based on the sexual assault of a girl named Maddy. Rather than writing about the aftermath of the assault, this novel explores the lead up to that night, following Maddy through her last year of high school. I wanted to write this novel to highlight many different issues that we face growing up; the ongoing double standards for both girls and boys, the dangers of rumours and gossip, the harrowing bullying that takes place every day on social media.

This is still in the very (very, very) early stages, but I wanted to share little snippets throughout the writing process to get some constructive criticism!

Below is a small extract from the prologue of the novel, set after the assault, looking at Maddy’s internal struggle. Let me know what you think in the comments! I’m grateful for any constructive criticism, but please be kind – I am quite nervous about sharing my work with others!

MADDY

Mum’s trying too hard. I can see her in the corner of my eye, smiling a maniacal smile, desperately trying to make it seem like things are normal as we sit around the dinner table. But they’re not normal, are they. How could they be?

I’m not their precious little girl anymore, not now that they know the truth about me. I’m tarnished. Broken. Something to be ashamed of. Dad can barely look me in the eye most days. Gaz acts as though I’m not in the room. Mam looks at me with eyes full of sorrow. It’s like they’re mourning me even though I’m not dead yet.

A part of me did die that night, though. The innocent, good part. And now all that’s left is the bad, dirty, used up rubble of his destruction.

I don’t feel sad or angry or anything much at all to be honest. I feel numb. Detached from myself. Like a ghost, I hover above us, watching and hearing but not really there.

Mam’s trying to put on a brave face, act like everything’s fine, but I can see how much it’s affecting her. When she looks at me she visibly shudders, like she’s disgusted by the sight of me. I think maybe she wishes she had a good, clean daughter. A daughter who stayed home and did her homework and never looked at or talked to or touched boys. She probably wishes I had never been born, then she wouldn’t have to deal with the shame of it all.

It’s all over the news, my dirty little secret. I read about it online all the time, I can’t help myself, and it feels as though I’m reading about a different girl from a different town far away from here. It reminds me of when I used to hear about terrible things on the news and I’d watch it with a sort of detached sympathy. I’d think aw that’s so sad, that’s terrible but in the back of my mind I’d be thinking thank God that’s not me, thank God those sorts of terrible things don’t happen to girls like me in town’s like Hartbury. You never think it’ll happen to you, until it does, and then you can’t imagine how you ever thought it wouldn’t.

I scroll through social media for hours, reading all of the comments that people write about me; slut, whore, liar, bitch. Lions gnawing at every detail of my character until there’s nothing left but my shattered carcass. They say how could she try to ruin that poor boys life and what an attention seeker and did you know he was her best-friends boyfriend. They post pictures that they’ve found on my Facebook, me out with my mates, dress on, drink in hand – pictures from what feels like another lifetime – they say doesn’t exactly look like the shy type and what did she expect – dressing like that, acting like that, drinking like that. They say she was asking for it. And I think maybe they’re right. Maybe I did ask for it.

If I was like my cousins, Charlotte and Emma, if I was ‘empowered’ like them and never wore makeup or short skirts or drank too much and told pestering boys to fuck off then it might never have happened.  

Do you fancy watching Dirty Dancing tonight, Maddy? Mum says you used to love that film.

Used to I think when I was old Maddy.

No thanks I say I’m tired, going to get an early night.

Ok, love. Well, if you change your mind.

She’s pleased, I can tell. She can’t really bear the idea of having to sit with me for longer than is necessary. I’m a reminder of everything that’s gone wrong in her life. In all of our lives. I’ve ruined everything.

I pick up my plate, take it over to the bin, scrape the dry chicken and overcooked vegetables into it. I say thanks for dinner to no one in particular as I leave the room.

When I get to my room I lie on my bed, pick up my phone. I’ve got 182 friend requests, people wanting to get a better look at ‘the girl who cried rape’. They’re not supposed to know my name but someone, my guess is Tracey, leaked it. I’ve been tagged in memes that say things like GIRLS WHEN DRUNK: with a GIF of a girl giving a blowjob next to it, and beneath it GIRLS THE NEXT DAY: with a GIF of a nun and a speech bubble saying HE RAPED ME. I’ve got texts from people who used to be my friends calling me bitch, slut, whore, liar. The top story on The Hartbury Times webpage is LOCAL GIRL CRIES RAPE. They talk about how I pulled out of court at the last minute, how I dropped the charges, they debate whether that could indicate that I was lying, and how the damage had already been done, how the poor boy had to deal with months of abuse, hate letters, death threats, all because I cried rape. They’ve even got a statement from him.

Even I’m starting to wonder what is true and what isn’t.

Maybe I did lead him on. Maybe I shouldn’t have kissed him that night. No, I definitely shouldn’t have kissed him that night. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn that dress or drank so much or accepted a lift home from him. I definitely shouldn’t have trusted him.

Maybe it’s me who has ruined his life and not the other way round.

REVIEW: LITTLE WOMEN, LOUISA MAY ALCOTT

Rating: 5 stars.

“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

I used to have a vintage copy of Little Women that I found, dusty and crumpled, at the back of a charity shop. I remember it well; it was blue and the pages were tanned with age. The spine was engraved with gold and the cover was made from a beautifully soft leather-like material, the kind that books these days are lacking. In my youthful ignorance I read a few chapters and decided that it wasn’t ‘exciting’ enough for me, and the old copy was lost amongst the rest of my unloved Nik Naks. Oh, what I would give to be able to find that book again!

It wasn’t until a few months ago when I fell in love with the new movie adaption of Little Women that I decided to give the book another go. The film was irresistible, with the most well-assembled cast I’ve seen in ages – Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timothee chalemet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. Each played their part as though they were born to do it, as was expected. Directed by the cinematic genius that is Greta Gerwig, it was destined for greatness, and it did not dissapoint. The movie pulled at my heartstrings, making me cry both sad and happy tears, and the beautifully put together scenes of carmaraderie and the cosy aesthetic gave me a sense of nostalgia.

“I like good strong words that mean something…”

Following the lives of four sisters on a journey out of adolescence, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women explores the difficulties associated with gender roles in a Post-Civil War America.

I’m so glad that I decided to re-read Little Women, for I would have missed out on a beautiful thing had I not given it a second chance. Just like the film, the book feels like home. The infectious spirit of the March sisters undoubtedly brightened my evenings and since finishing it I feel rather lonely. It is a beautifully written novel that reminded me of the simple joys in life and made me hold my loved ones a little closer. Alcott cleverly highlights both the beauty and the fragility of life, in a way that warms the heart and gives you a newfound appreciation for waking up each morning.

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.”

Alcott herself reminds me of a wise grandmother, teaching the reader morals and life lessons in a kind-hearted, non-preachy way that makes you feel comforted and assured of the good in the world. Her worldly words reminded me of my own Nan – she was one of the strongest, kindest and wisest women I will ever have the privilidge of knowing and I miss her every day – so maybe that’s why this book brought me so much comfort; it was like getting advice from her once again, something that I did often growing up.

“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.”

Some might think the book a little long-winded but I adored following the girls from childhood into adulthood, through the good times and the bad, laughing and crying with them, feeling their anger and their joy, and I finished the book feeling as though I had gained good friends. Many of the trials and tribulations that the March sisters experience whilst growing up are relatable and the plot isn’t overly dramatised, giving the book a very real feel to it. More than a few times whilst reading this book I was transported back to my own childhood, a welcome trip down memory lane. It made me feel grateful and nostalgic, if a little wistful.

It’s hard to put into words just how lovely this Classic novel is, it’s really something that you have to experience for yourself and I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already! (or if, like me, you didn’t give it the chance it deserves the first time around). It’s a bit of a slow burner I’ll admit, but if you can look past the lack of fast-paced drama that we are so used to these days, I think you’ll find that, just like in life, the beauty is in the simplicity of it.

“She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.”