Author Bryony Allen about how she wrote a book about bullying
Read here to get some tips on how to write your own bullying story.
OTOLI tells the tale of bullying from three different points of view: the bystanders, the bully and the bullied, although their roles may mingle and merge just to keep the reader guessing.
It was not written as a tale of woe and despair, as no-one who suffers at the hands of bullies needs to keep being reminded of such sorrow. It was written to raise awareness of the issue, to show people that the effects of bullying often last longer than the bruises and harsh words. It was also written to entertain, because reading should be for fun as well as to spread a message. Plus there was the challenge set by a rather negative group of children who announced proudly that, “Reading is boring because all books are rubbish!” Who can resist trying to prove that statement wrong?
My inspiration for writing OTOLI
Having worked as a teacher for far too many years, being a Mum to four amazing children and harbouring vague memories of growing up, I have seen a lot of bullying. I have seen the physical effects, the tears and talked through the trauma, taking care to listen to all sides. What has struck me most forcefully is the long-term effects – the child who thinks that there is something wrong with him or her, who is grateful for any act of kindness, whose trust in human nature balances on a tight-rope. Even when the shreds of that child’s self-confidence have been stitched back together, the repairs are never as strong as the original and it doesn’t take much to tear them apart.
I wanted OTOLI to make people think. The title stands for a feeling that many isolated people feel – a place in which they see themselves in society. From the feedback I have had so far from readers, those who have suffered work it out quicker than those who haven’t.
It was also a story that I needed to get out, so I could move on to the next one. Once I get an idea in my head, it ferments and keeps me awake until it comes to life.
An introduction to the extract:
This extract comes just after halfway through the book. The rest of the story focusses on the plight of two bullied teenagers called Alice and Kieran, and how they seem to find a friend with an enigmatic café owner called Jenny.
This particular chapter gives a glimpse into Jenny’s past and shows how the bullied can become the bully. It shows also the ultimate devastation that bullying can cause.
In my mind, it is the most poignant moment of the book and one that still makes me upset when I re-read it. Perhaps that is because one of my daughters is currently preparing for her first school prom. Or maybe it is possible to feel sorry for the bullies too.
JENNY - Wednesday 23rd May
Jenny had been shuffling around the school in between lessons when she felt a touch on her shoulder. She jumped and let out a small scream, though, thankfully, there was no one around to see that. No one, that is, except the boy who had touched her. “I’m sorry,” he smiled. “I didn’t mean to make you jump.” Jenny did not know how to reply to this person.
He was the new boy, Harry, who had moved schools just in time to sit his GCSEs. There must have been rumours floating around about him, but Jenny had not heard any. He was in a lot of her classes, but they had never spoken. Secretly, she had thought he was pretty good-looking and she contented herself with watching from afar. Now he was here, in front of her and talking to her.
“Are you okay?” he asked. Jenny just nodded, feeling herself going red and tongue-tied. “Look, I know that you don’t really know me and feel free to say no, if you like. But would you like to come to the prom with me?”
Jenny could not answer, and Harry took that as a refusal. “Don’t worry if you’ve already got a date, or if you don’t want to. I’m a big boy now – I can handle rejection.” With that, he pulled a puppy dog look of pity and Jenny couldn’t help but giggle.
“That’s better,” he said, quite obviously relieved. “Well, what do you reckon? Is it a ‘yes’ or a ‘no, I’m with someone else’ or a ‘no, you are far too ugly for me’.”
Taking a deep breath and praying not to stammer, Jenny whispered, “It’s a yes.”
Harry let out a whoop of joy, then grabbed hold of Jenny and hugged her. “Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! You have made me the happiest nearly-man in this school.”
While Jenny was laughing at his antics, the bell went and the corridor began to fill. “I’ll talk to you nearer the time and we’ll sort it out,” Harry yelled as he ran down the corridor. “Gotta run. I’ve got Science with the Sherbet!”
A few students heard Harry shouting to Jenny and shot the pair of them some curious looks. But Jenny did not notice. She was too busy reining in her own feelings of happiness as she too headed towards a different Science lab.
Jenny spent the evening trawling the Internet and flicking through catalogues, looking for prom dresses. She found the perfect one; it was lilac, with a tight, strapless bodice, dotted with crystal. The skirt was straight, with a couple of layers of purple chiffon over the satin. It even came as a package with a small tiara, a wrap and a pair of lilac gloves. What’s more; if she ordered it by ten pm, it would be delivered in time.
Harry did not talk to Jenny again but he did speak to the ‘Populars’. On the day of the ball, in a Science lesson, a message was passed to Jenny via Ruth Patrick, the most gorgeous, most popular girl in year eleven. “Harry asked me to tell you that he won’t be taking you to the prom. He’s a bit worried that he’ll catch something. He did say to tell you sorry. Oh, and by the way, he’s taking me instead.”
Jenny could bear the pain no longer and ran from the room not even taking the time to collect her belongings. She ran out of the school grounds all the way home, and never returned. As soon as she got home, she saw her prom dress hanging on her wardrobe door. Jenny pulled it down and cuddled into it, staining the satin with her tears. From that day on, she did not leave her bedroom until she was carried out, still clutching that dress. Her GCSE exams were untaken, her prom dress was unworn; in the dying days of May, her life was over.