Since last autumn, I’ve been working on my latest project; a full-length, semi-autobiographical novel called In Bloom. I’m currently on my second draft, conducting a full read-through, and getting feedback from beta readers. I’m aiming to have a final draft ready to submit for publication within the next month.
I want to talk about In Bloom, because writing it has been an incredible journey for me. When I say it’s semi-autobiographical, what I mean is that one of the key events in the novel is based on something that happened to me as a teenager. When I was 15, I was raped by a guy I’d been seeing casually, and had agreed to go off with, but when I wanted to stop, he wouldn’t.
It took a long time for me to realise that this was rape. We were warned about strange men lurking in dark alleys, or even creepy “uncles” who might touch you in the wrong way, but not about this. I was never told that I could say no at any point. That having full body autonomy means that I can give and withdraw consent whenever I wish. And that if someone doesn’t respect my decision, they are doing something wrong.
As girls, we’re taught all the wrong things. To quote my own novel:
It starts when we’re young, of course. We’re told what good girls do, and don’t do. Then we start to have periods and grow breasts, and we’re told to hide ourselves, lest we attract The Wrong Attention. We’re told to be wary of boys, afraid of men, and their questionable intentions. Yet we also have to live with them, trust them, love them, so we don’t know how to cope when those men betray us, hurt us. The world takes us apart, piece by piece, turns us into unsure, trembling, fragile creatures. We’re left bare, vulnerable.
And so it goes, our confidence slowly ripped apart, our sense of self destroyed. How many young women know what constitutes rape? How many young men know what consent actually means? The answer is pretty terrifying.
I didn’t start writing In Bloom so I could name the guy who raped me. The time for that has passed. I’ve changed enough details so it’s unlikely he, or anyone else, will realise the event I’m talking about. I wanted to write this story because writing is my outlet. It’s cathartic, therapeutic. I wanted to tell this story because it’s the story of so many other women and girls; women and girls who may feel that they’re alone, that they’re wrong. In Bloom has a very simple message: You are not alone. You are justified. You are heard.
That scene is pivotal for my protagonist, Lauren, but it isn’t the end of the story. She has to deal with someone sharing a photograph of her from that night – passed out, half-naked, vulnerable. She loses her friends. And then, almost a year later, her sister, Hannah, is found dead.
In Bloom may be a story of pain, of sexual violence and trauma. But it’s also a story of sisterhood, of maturity, of confronting your past, your ghosts. It’s a story of acceptance, not of what has happened to you, but acceptance of yourself, as you are. You are more than the sum of your experiences.
I’m still open for beta readers, though I will caution anyone that this book contains the following themes: rape, child abuse, suicide. But nothing is graphic or gratuitous. Read the blurb below, and if you’re interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Winters must return to her hometown, the town she fled from after her sister, Hannah, committed suicide.
Before Hannah died, she revealed a truth to Lauren that she knew could never be forgiven. After Lauren experiences a traumatic event, she relies on Hannah to keep her safe and sane. But what happens when the one you trust the most betrays you?
Lauren has no choice but to go back, to face the life she left behind. 10 years later, a memorial is being held in Hannah’s honour. And someone is desperate to bring her back to life.