Friday, 10 June 2011

On the Edge of Things

As a writer, I think it’s natural that I’m often on the edge of things, standing slightly back, looking in.

I’ve done it all my life. I wasn’t part of the ‘in-crowd’ at school and even if I was invited to a party, there was always a part of me that stood back (usually making snarky comments in my head). I’ve always been hyper-aware of how I appear to others, perhaps because I’m so aware of how others appear to me.

I like to think that’s the writer in me.

Recently I’ve been noticing a common theme in writers’ interviews – in almost every one I’ve read in the last few weeks, the writer admits to being bullied at school. And here’s my confession – you guessed it - I was a victim of bullying too (sometimes physical, sometimes verbal – I once cried so hard at the prospect of going to school and seeing a particular set of individuals that I threw up) and I’d love to know how many other writers were victims. Bullies target people who are slightly … other; so does being a writer on the inside put you on the edge of things outside and make you a target?

Perhaps in order to write, especially edgy fiction, you need to have experienced being on the edge of things yourself. Being an outsider – perhaps being bullied.

And of course being bullied, if it doesn’t destroy you, can sometimes make you strong, able to cope with rejection, criticism, even vilification – come to think of it- the perfect set up for dealing with the publishing world.

Which raises the question … am I writer because I was so often an outsider, or was I an outsider, because I was always a writer?

One of the characters in Angel's Fury is terribly bullied, another grew past it. It was hard putting myself in the position of the bully, too easy to put myself in the position of the bullied ...

And I'd really like to know, fellow Edgars – were you bullied? Did you ever feel like an outsider? And if you were, do you think it influenced your writing?


  1. Great pst, Bryony. It sounds like you had some pretty awful experiences being bullied at school, which is so sad. All bad childhood experiences can give you an edge, and, having had a few of those when I was growing up, I think for some of us it brings out the writer in us. Perhaps there is a need to share, to warn, to show different ways of coping and getting past the bad stuff that has happened. I know that's true for me. What's also true is the feeling of being an outsider. I had two lives - a school life and a home life, and they couldn't have been more different. Maybe there's a book in that...

  2. Great post, Bryony, though I'm so sorry you had such a hard time.
    I have some experience of being bullied at school - always by girls, and often by girls who were formerly some of my best friends, as is often the way. Then I went on to high school and found myself in the popular crowd - school social politics can be very fickle!

    But I think it would be very hard to find anyone who hasn't felt like an "other" at some point in their life, and I think it does affect my writing. I think it has made me much more aware of people and their behaviour - if you're on the outside you're much more of a watcher than a participant, perhaps, and that can actually be pretty useful when it comes to creating believable characters.
    My main character in SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE, Rosie, finds herself very isolated through no fault of her own, and I can empathise with that - I know how it feels. I think all our experiences in life, good or bad, can enhance and enrich our writing, and that our writing can, in turn prove cathartic to any negative experiences we have endured.

  3. I was treated as the Other, the outsider, in one secondary school I went to and it gave me a bad taste of what it is like to be bullied. In my case it was racist because I was Jewish. They would say things like, "There's a lot of dew on the grass today." It was of course only a few kids but they were the tougher ones and it was very difficult for my friends to stand up to them. But I agree, that probably everyone has been made to feel like an outsider at some time in their lives. If we can show how this feels in edgy fiction for teens ( a theme which I tackle in HIDDEN) then my hope is that we can show kids that they are not alone and possible also some coping strategies.
    Thank you for a thoughtful post.

  4. Not really bullied, although like Miriam I was very much the only Jewish girl around. It's a harsh world, secondary school,and I think unless you've got a very thick skin, everyone feels victimised at times. That outsider feeling is more common than we realise at the time.
    I blogged this week about darkness (and indeed edginess) in teen fiction, would love some

  5. Yes, reader, I was bullied. A lot. And now, of course, I hate bullies with a passion. Sadly it's not always something that people grow out of - adult bullies are all too common in the workplace, the supermarket or the school pick-up queue. Luckily, now I'm grown-up there's also something I can do about it - although it does mean that I find it hard to back down in an argument. At least I don't get into actual fights nowadays!


  6. Sending my kids to school feels like throwing them into a shark tank covered in fish paste. I doing my best not to panic every day, but I know that one day my little girl is going to come home crying because of something someone else has done and I'm sure I'll lose it. Bullying seems less prevalent now than it used to be (one of my teachers once watched and did nothing as I was punched and mocked and told to leave her class because everyone hated me - I don't think that could happen nowadays) but just this week a teenage reviewer I follow on Twitter was on the verge of tears because of bullies at her school.
    It's human nature, it'll never go away, but it's how we deal with it that will make changes in people's lives and I hope some of our words can make a difference to some of those teens.

  7. Bryony, thanks for this heartfelt post. In my novel, the heroine, Celia Frost, is an outsider who endures bullying and feels like a freak. However, the story opens with Celia taking a particularly satisfying revenge against a boy who has been victimising her.
    It’s possible that our characters provide some solace to readers who may be suffering and feeling isolated. It’s always good to know that you are not the only one and that you can survive. Being bullied at school may feel like a life sentence but in the longer term, if the bullies don’t change, they may be the ones suffering from an adulthood devoid of genuine love and respect from others.

  8. It always saddnes me how much bullying places a part in so many lives. I was hugely bullied at school as well. Being mixed race, studious and shy seemed to make me a good target. Very interesting post!

  9. Great post, Bryony. I can't say I was bullied but I was an outsider, sometimes targetted by the class bitches, but generally left alone - mostly, I guess, because I was willing to stand up for myself - but I never fitted in at school, was always the watcher - I think that might have been about being a writer - and a whole lot of other stuff.