Over the last year or so, I have been working with Dr. Claire Cunnington and several other people to create Flow, a film which aims to help health professionals to understand some of the ways in which working with patients who have experienced childhood sexual abuse (CSA) can require extra care.
The film is based on interviews with people who have experienced CSA and I am very pleased to be part of a project which centres the views of those who have been through it.
It can be hard to talk about CSA experiences out loud, something I find often comes up in my work as a therapist. Within therapy it can take months — sometimes longer — for someone to be able to verbalise what happened to them. Memories can be incredibly painful, or sometimes they are fuzzy or unclear. This can make it difficult to begin to speak about traumas, particularly those which happened a long time ago.
The full film can be viewed here, or you can watch the trailer below. It does deal with some difficult themes, so please bear that in mind if you decide to watch it. A resource pack with further information can be downloaded from the film’s main page.
If you have been affected by any of the themes in the film, the following organisations might be helpful to contact:
NAPAC: 0808 801 0331
Rape crisis: 0808 802 9999
Survivors’ trust: 0808 801 0818
Male survivors’ partnership: 0808 800 5005
Therapy can also be helpful and this might be something your GP can help to arrange for you via the NHS. If you would prefer to find a private therapist, the UKCP, BACP and Counselling Directory all allow you to filter for therapists who specialise in working with people who have been sexually abused. Or, of course, you can also drop me a line to book a consultation session. The majority of my work, both within the NHS and in my private practice, has been with people who have experienced CSA.
My lovely agent, Anna from InterSaga, asked if she could interview me about my writing process and about how my first novel, The City of Saturdays, came to be. Here are her questions and my answers to them. You can also find the interview on Instagram here.
1) Can you describe your writing in 3 words?
2) How did you get the idea for The City of Saturdays?
In 2018, on a work trip to New Orleans, I began to think about how the geography of a place affects its culture. NOLA is a vibrant city that never seems to sleep, and I wondered what would happen if that were literally true: what would a city be like if its residents just partied all day and night, every day? What would happen if we all just simultaneously stopped caring and instead decided to have a good time for the rest of our lives? Initially that might sound like fun, but surely after a while it would bear problems.
In any new city I tend to take myself for aimless wanderings outside of the main concourses, which sometimes lands me in difficult situations. In NOLA I ended up in a number of neighbourhoods that were not meant for tourists and had a couple of experiences which affected me deeply. Again, this got me wondering: what if someone went to a place where the city itself had an agenda? What would happen if you went to a place where the land didn’t like you? What if it liked you too much, and didn’t want you to leave?
I have always been drawn to panpsychism as a philosophical position and alongside this, to the psychology of space. Much of my previous research involved talking to people who were in spaces they considered to be sacred, and I am fascinated by how spaces become imbued with the intentions of the people who inhabit them. I notice it myself in my therapy room: the more sessions a room holds, the more ‘therapy-ey’ it feels.
The next part of my US work trip took me to San Antonio, and I spent much of my time there holed up in my hotel room, frantically typing. I felt like this was a story that needed to be told, and at times it felt like the protagonist was writing through me, somehow. Spooky, but enjoyable.
On my way home from Texas the plane flew through a hurricane. This invoked a newfound fear of flying which remains with me to this day. I used that experience to inform the main character’s horrible flight experience!
3) Who is your favourite character?
Bethany. She’s the protagonist’s granddaughter and she hasn’t had an easy time of things. She’s grown up in a cult and is in her late teens, on the cusp of leaving school and starting her life anew elsewhere. There is a lot of myself in Bethany, and she is named after someone I knew a long time ago and really cared about.
4) Do you map out the whole plot first or do you just sit down and write it?
Kind of neither, kind of both. Initially when I got to San Antonio I just wrote solidly for days, and barely knew what I was writing. Most of that early stuff didn’t make it into the final novel.
Then when I returned to London I created a spreadsheet (I do love a spreadsheet!) which had a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what I thought would happen. I also did a lot of research about various elements I wanted to include, and tried to weave them all together using my notebooks and the ever-growing spreadsheet.
After a few chapters, though, the characters took over. I had made a plan, but they had other ideas. So although there were things I knew had to happen to move the story along, the bits in between were very much things the characters just kind of did as we went along. And some of the things I thought were going to happen didn’t, and vice versa.
5) What was the most surprising thing about writing the book?
The most surprising moment by far was when Raimon appeared. Raimon is the son of a woman the protagonist meets early on in the story, and I had not planned him at all. I hadn’t even planned for this woman to have any children! But he turned up, and as soon as he did I knew he would form an important part of the story.
6) How do you motivate yourself to write?
It depends. In general, I find it hard to motivate myself to write if I don’t have an external deadline. It’s useful to have someone who’s waiting to receive something on a specific date; otherwise, I find it too easy for other things to seep into my schedule and take precedence.
The City of Saturdays was written during a very busy period of my life, in which my days were scheduled in blocks. Wednesday mornings were my novel-writing times, and I stuck to that pretty strictly for at least a year.
Now, however, I find it harder to find time to write because my lifestyle has changed. My timetable is more flexible, which in some ways can be nice. In other ways, though, it can make it more difficult to motivate myself to sit down and start writing, because there isn’t a specific time in which I have to write. I’ve been looking at ways to change that recently, so hopefully soon I will start working more consistently on Molly Sometimes, my second novel, which currently stands at about 10,000 words.
7) What scares you about being an author?
I don’t know, really. I think I’d be scared about it if I were going to try to make a living from it, because that’s notoriously difficult. But as for the rest of it, not too much scares me about it.
8) Why is it that you don’t put yourself out there on social media / do a lot of self-promotion?
A couple of reasons. Firstly, I prefer to think really carefully about things and craft something meaningful (and often long and labyrinthine!) rather than short and to-the-point. I’m not saying you can’t think carefully about things if you use social media, but I personally find it hard to engage fully with anything in that way. I might see an opinion I initially seem to agree with, but I prefer to take the time to step away from my initial response, consider it carefully, wonder what’s going on for me and what other factors might be coming into play etc., before forming an opinion or an alliance with someone else’s view. By the time I’ve done all of that, there are usually another several thousand social media posts on the same topic, and doing that with all of them would be impossible.
Secondly, I don’t have the time. Or rather, I don’t prioritise it. I enjoy a good Insta-scroll from time to time, but it’s definitely not my primary choice for how to pass my spare time. Of which there is not a lot in the first place!
Thirdly, for me social media seems endless, and I find that exhausting. I’m not a fan of constantly having to update something with a few choice words or a couple of carefully edited images. I’d rather save all those minutes I might spend doing that every day and instead spend them all in one go working on a long-form essay which I’ve really put a lot of myself into. Of course, plenty of people use social media in ways that are deeply meaningful to them. But personally, I’ve never been able to use it like that. It’s always felt either like a compulsion or a chore, and neither of those things feel healthy, fun or useful for me. That’s also a big part of why I keep most of my social media posts private: I use them to diarise what’s going on in my life for me to be able to look back on (“Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that was the day my cat came to live with me!”) rather than to curate my life for public consumption.
And finally, I’m a therapist, and I’m not sure how useful it is for clients (current or potential) to find out loads of information about their therapist upfront. I’m sure there are therapists for whom that works well, but it doesn’t sit especially comfortably with me, probably because I’m not all that comfortable with social media in the first place.
In 2021, during a period of illness, I was unable to wear eye makeup. This caused me more distress than I would have expected, and prompted me to think about what my makeup choices mean and why my sudden inability to wear eyeliner had such an impact on me. A paper grew out of this, which was then published in Existential Analysis. It presents a phenomenological exploration of my relationship with makeup — specifically, with gothic eyeliner, which I have been wearing to various degrees since I was a teenager.
This paper presents a phenomenological exploration of my relationship with eyeliner. I draw parallels between the loss of possibilities in Heidegger’s being-towards-death and the cutting off of the possibility of wearing eyeliner through illness. I discuss Sartrean and Kierkegaardian views of the self and how, through illness, self can become Other.