Why didn’t she tell the police? – A word on abuse, family and Beautiful Broken Things

Like all sensible authors, I don’t comment on reviews. At most I will thank kind reviewers who link me to their positive reviews, but I sometimes hesitate doing even that. Bad reviews, even those that sting, even those that I disagree with, are best left alone. But there are certain things that crop up occasionally that make my heart sink for a different reason than simple wounded pride. And that’s questions like this: “Why didn’t she tell the police?”

In Beautiful Broken Things, one of the three main characters, Suzanne, has been abused for much of her childhood. The book starts after she has moved to Brighton for a “fresh start”, so the abuse is only ever referred to, never seen. You know that it was physical and emotional, that it was at the hands of a step-parent, that it was a deep, ugly family secret. It’s not stated explicitly, but the abuse was never reported – not by Suzanne herself, and not by anyone else in her family.

And so to that question. Why not? Why didn’t Suzanne report her stepfather? Why didn’t she get help? And variations of the same. (And also “Why isn’t this discussed in the book?” which I’ll get to a bit later.)

Questions like this make me sad. They make me sad for abuse victims everywhere. For those going through it, and those recovering from it. Because what it says is this: why didn’t you save yourself?

And that says this: You could have saved yourself.

And that says this: You didn’t save yourself.

A child doesn’t stop loving their parents because they are abused by them. Maybe the whole thing would be a bit easier if they did; maybe breaking free would be easier; maybe “getting over it” would be easier. They want to be loved in return, it as as simple and as heart breaking as that.

How could a child who is desperate for their parents’ love and approval “report” them to the police? Think about how impossible that would seem. How unfathomable.

Suzanne grew up in a household where she was the only one being abused and so, alongside the physical violence, there was years of emotional manipulation from both her parents and her brother. For most of her life, she heard things like this from people she loved: “Don’t tell anyone, you’ll break up the family.” “You don’t want to be put in care, do you?” “They’re my parents too.” “You don’t want to be the reason your family gets split up, do you?” “What would people think of you if they knew?”

It wasn’t a choice for Suzanne to not report what happened to her; it was literally never an option, because it was never allowed to be. Manipulating children into keeping quiet is one of the most horrible parts of child abuse. Questioning why a child kept quiet is like asking them why they have a bruise. The answer is, “Because this is what was done to me.”

Now Suzanne, obviously, is fictional. But this happens in real life every day, and it happens to people who then have to read things like “Why didn’t this fictional character report this? They should have reported it, and then things would have been better.”

None of this is included in the text of Beautiful Broken Things for two main reasons. One is that there’s only so much backstory you can include in a story without sacrificing the actual story you’re trying to tell, especially when the character is not the protagonist. The second is that it’s the wrong question to ask, and including all of this justification for Suzanne not having done what she was “supposed” to do as a victim would feel like I was letting her down. What I would want to say is, Suze, you didn’t do anything wrong. You were let down by everyone around you, but it is not your fault.

Let’s keep the blame where it belongs, and that is with the abuser, not their victim.



Note to those who need it:

If you need help, if you are suffering, if you are being abused, and reporting it feels impossible for these reasons or any other reasons, there is support available. There are people who can help. 

If you are in the UK, Childline is a completely free, private and confidential service. When you’re ready, they’ll be there. 



Resolutions for my debut year

In 2016, I solemnly swear that I will:

  1. (Try to) stop looking at Goodreads
  2. Become very zen about reviews in general
  3. Stop peering over the fence at other writers’ gardens
  4. Take opportunities and be less of an anxious lump
  5. Take the time to recognise, appreciate and celebrate achievements
  6. Go on as many adventures as possible
  7. Edit Book 2. Write Book 3
  8. Keep better track of my expenditure so the tax return bit isn’t such a mare
  9. Be grateful for what I have
  10. Pay it forward.

What I Learned About Publishing in 2015 (aka IT’S A REAL BOOK!)

If I’m summing up my years in blog titles, this is The Year My Microsoft Word Document Became An Actual Book With Pages. Last year was The Year I Got My Agent And She Made All My Dreams Come True (Thanks, Claire!). Next year will be My Debut Year.

But in the interests of leaving the past in the past and not being clairvoyant, I’ll keep this particular blog post to 2015. My crash course in publishing. The year I learned what “stet” meant. The year I held a proof of my book in my hands and turned ACTUAL PHYSICAL PAGES.

So, without further ado, here’s what I learned about publishing in 2015:

  1. It really is full of brilliant people. It’s true! I thought I’d have encountered some mediocre ones by now, but I haven’t! My publishing house – Macmillan Children’s – is just full of incredibly talented, passionate, friendly and supportive people. And they give me books! They’re pretty great.
  2. Everything takes a really long time. Like, a really long time. Maybe even longer than that. Learn to be patient, or this is not the industry for you. Unless you’re a contestant on The Apprentice.
  3. Editing is hard. And however long you think it’s going to take, double it.
  4. And you will realise you hate your book. Then love it again. Then hate. Then love. Then
  5. Goodreads is where happiness goes to die. Don’t go on Goodreads. Just don’t. (Maybe next year I might even take this advice.)
  6. Book v/bloggers are all kinds of awesome. Passionate, dedicated, supportive and enthusiastic. Guess which blogger I’m talking about? Jokes, it’s ALL OF THEM.
  7. Author friends make the best friends (aka Ode to Mel Salisbury). Written a book? Find someone else who has written a book and make friends with them immediately. Then find some more. Repeat. They will pull you out of funks. They will celebrate the highs with you. They will remind you why you are doing what you are doing. They will go on adventures with you. They will sign their book for you with a private joke. Get writer friends. Really.
  8. It’s not all joy all the time. Getting a book deal is a dream come true, there’s no doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean everything will be perfect and wonderful from then on. Don’t feel guilty for having bad days. They’ll still happen.
  9. Someone else will always have a better deal, a higher review, more buzz, more followers, more territories, more more more. Don’t compare, you dingbat. There lies madness.
  10. There are a lot of brilliant books in the world. And they’re being written, edited, marketed, sold and read by some pretty brilliant people. Huzzah for publishing! Here’s to next year.

Please judge my book by this cover

There are certain milestones every young writer dreams of and, aside from holding your book in your hands, seeing the cover may be the very biggest. The face your book will wear in the hearts and minds of future readers everywhere. You hope for something eye-catching, something memorable. You dream of magic.

All the while knowing that magic is rare, that eye-catching design may not match the book, that something can be memorable for the wrong reasons. So you hope and you dream, but you try – try – to keep your expectations in check.

And then you get that email. It has an image file attached. Your heart goes: ZING! Your brain goes: Don’t get too excited. Just click the file. Click it.

And everything you ever dreamed and hoped for appears on your screen. You actually gasp, even though you’re alone in your office.

I am so, so pleased to reveal the cover for my debut novel, Beautiful Broken Things, courtesy of the brilliantly talented folk at Macmillan Children’s. The designer is Rachel Vale, and I think you will agree she is a fantastic one.

BeautifulBrokenThings3D (1)

Isn’t it beautiful? The birds! The gold! The hands! MY NAME!

It’s memorable and eye-catching. It’s magic.

Please tell me what you think in the comments!

To find out more about Beautiful Broken Things, you can read my previous posts on the topic here or mosey on over to the Goodreads page, where you will also find reviews and ratings from people who have already read it.

And if this has all convinced you, you can pre-order the book now from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles!

The proof is in the… proof.

Something very special has arrived in the post.

It’s quite a deceptive package. It looks like a proof copy of an upcoming book, like a hundred other proof copies. It has the name of the book and the author on the front, a line about being an uncorrected proof copy. The design is simple, understated and beautiful. That’s a nice looking proof, you think.

But this proof is actually extremely special. It is different from all the hundred other proofs. And that’s because it’s mine.


I could gush about how dreams come true (they do) and how this is everything I’d ever hoped for (it is) and how it’s the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever held in my hands (by far), but no doubt that will get boring for everyone else very fast.

So I will just say, BEHOLD! The proof copy of BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS. Coming at you January 2016 from Macmillan Children’s.

You should read it, it’s good.



Find out a bit more about it over at MyKindaBook.

Walking the tightrope, toeing the line – YA and the duty of care

Of all the myths and misconceptions about YA, few are quite as pervasive as the idea that every YA book is one of two things: fluffy and trivial or dark and depressing. For every thinkpiece deriding adults for reading silly YA stories and therefore somehow dumbing down literature as an art form, there is another article wringing its hands that YA is “too dark”. Plenty of journalists and commentators have spent earnest paragraphs trying to decide once and for all what counts as “too dark” for teenagers, as if that darkness is something that exists only within the pages of books; that the power to shield young people from emotional traumas belongs to writers and librarians and booksellers.

Even if YA books about depression, suicide, drug use, murder, death and rape ceased to exist, these things will still happen in real life. To teenagers. Teenagehood is essentially an isolating experience, even for the most social of young people, and experiences like mental illness or personal trauma only exacerbate this. We know that young people who are suffering seek out stories that speak to them; depressed teenagers read books about depressed teenagers; suicidal teens will read books about suicidal teens, and so on. They are looking for reflections of their lives and experiences; they are looking, consciously or not, for guidance; hope; answers. Denying them this need is just another way of turning our backs on suffering under the guise of protection.

The duty of care within YA is a contentious issue in and of itself, with some arguing it is a necessity unique to authors of books for children and teenagers, while others say that writers should have the freedom to express topics without worrying about gatekeepers. It is my view that both of these things are true; the answer is, as so often, a bit of both.

The heart of the solution is, to my mind, truth. Writing is all about the truth of experience, whether or not it is in a book about a young wizard, a roof-skipping orphan girl or a teenage assassin in an imagined royal court. Stories come to life when they feel real, and this is the case for all genres and age ranges of books. It is this very thing that causes such problems in so-called “issue books”. If you are writing about suicide, how truthful should you be? Does a duty of care mean you are duty-bound to write a happy ending? Are you failing your readers if you don’t?

Suicide in YA has been something of a trend over the last couple of years, with books like All The Bright Places, I Was Here and My Heart And Other Black Holes all dealing with the subject in very different ways. They tend to fall into one of two categories:

  • Will this character die?
  • This character’s friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/family member has already died and this is the aftermath.

The former is by the far the most popular, for the simple reason that it tends to make a better page-turner. It’s also a nice formula for a twist. Ha! You thought she’d die, didn’t you? Gotcha. Oh, you thought he’d live? Surprise! Enjoy your tears.

If done right, these books can cut like a knife – in a good way. If you’ve experienced these kinds of thoughts, reading them in someone else’s mind can make you feel less alone, even as it hurts. Through the character’s experience, you can begin to recognise the possibility you have in your own life; how you could do things differently. This can change a teenager’s whole life.

Done wrong, these books can read like how-to manuals or exercises in emotional manipulation. They can feel cheap, cruel or even downright dangerous. You imagine a lonely teen, arms scarred, head full of pills and razors, reading a book about suicide and finding only hopeless darkness. If she was doomed, then so am I. This isn’t scaremongering: this is a real danger, made even worse by books that go into frankly horrifying detail about potential methods and scenarios.

I think we need books about suicidal teenagers as much as we do happy ones, but it’s true that they carry an extra burden of responsibility. Pretending otherwise is to deny the power we have as writers to an audience still learning who they are. We can do this without patronising them or denying them their own experiences. On the contrary, we can honour them with counter-narratives and hope.

It does a disservice to the depth and integrity of YA to focus so much on whether an ending is happy or sad; as in all fiction, what matters is that an ending is earned and feels true. Sometimes people live and sometimes they die, in real life and on the page; not all stories can end happily. But there’s always room for a sense of hope and it is this that can make all the difference. In darkness, even the smallest light can brighten a room.

The Unknowable Teenage Girl: When Fandom and Politics Collide

I love teenage girls. I love them with the affection of an older sister and the nostalgia of a once-was. I love their spirit and fire and wit and imagination. I love their energy and loyalty and humour. I love how they are remaking the world, even as it tries so hard to contain them within its borders and limitations and rules.

As a writer of YA, I’ve often been asked – with genuine bewilderment – why teenage girls?, as if teenagehood represents some kind of a subspecies of humanity instead of an age range we have all lived through. But there is an assumption in our society – sometimes implicit, often brazen – that something created for teenage girls is intrinsically lesser. It must be easier; it must be frivolous; it must be, y’know, like all emotional and stuff? Oh em gee, babes, and the like. Hashtag, what is life.

This is patent nonsense, of course. Teenage girls contain multitudes, just like teenage boys do. Just like adult women do. Just like we all do. There are countless stories to tell about them and for them. Stories that are light and dark and hope and shade; love and tears and life and death.

Last month, the story of the General Election took an unexpected turn thanks to the wit and wiles of a 17 year old student called Abby. She didn’t like the relentless attempts of much of the media to portray Ed Miliband so negatively and decided to tackle this with the truest 21st century weapons that a teenage girl can have: a hashtag and a sense of righteousness.

My favourite thing about the Milifandom phenomenon is how unpredictable it was. Not a single one of the brains behind the Labour campaign would have even dreamed of presenting Ed Miliband as an object of affection, let alone to girls under 18 – who can’t even vote.

But the reason the Milifandom took off and succeeded as it did was because of exactly this. It was spontaneous and genuine, and there is something utterly irresistible about that. Amongst all the contrivances of any election campaign, here was something truly grass-roots. For all the attempts that were made to dig up some dirt on the irrepressible Abby, to undermine her intelligence and sneer at her enthusiasm, no conspiracy or puppetry has come to light. This is so baffling to many – particularly (but not exclusively) the Old White Man – that the only solution is to patronise and dismiss. Oh, those teenage girls with their incomprehensible language and stupid slang.

This article, printed in the Guardian of all places, typifies this response. It does not attempt to understand the origins of the Milifandom and the very valid reasons for its success, because why would it? It’s just teenage girls. Instead it turns the whole thing into a joke at the expense of the very people it should be celebrating, and in doing so reinforces the most fortified of cultural myths that batter teenage girls generation by generation: this does not matter, because it matters to you.

When Zayn Malik left One Direction, the news had barely broken before the mocking tweets and thinkpieces about broken-hearted girls and their silly obsessions began, as if grown men were not throwing their toys out of the pram on the very same day because Jeremy Clarkson had been (rightfully) sacked from Top Gear. This dissonance matters because it is explicitly telling girls that their grief (and yes, it is a kind of grief) and their feelings are somehow invalid. And worse,fodder for mockery.

For me, all of this comes down to the fact that adults – particularly adult men – just don’t understand teenage girls. It is this unknowability that makes them frightening and unpredictable, and dangerous. A 17 year old girl with a Twitter account can change the narrative of an entire election. And she did it against the full force of a media rolling its eyes at her impertinence and silliness.

And this is the saddest thing. Just imagine what all the other teenage girls could achieve if they were encouraged to believe that what they want and love and hope for matters.