Monday, 1 September 2008

A Labyrinth of Entrails

This story is out in November, so I thought I'd give a little more info on it.

Basically I wanted to examine the role of victim in our society. It seems to me that victims of child and sexual abuse are labelled as victims whether or not they feel that way. There's an assumption of psychological scarring, vulnerability and taint from the experience. But this is often assumed without consulting with the individual in question.

Someone very close to me was once involved in what could technically be considered child abuse. She was 7 and he was 14, and he asked her to touch his genitals. She was frankly imperturbed by the experience and only became distressed when she was sat in front of a counsellor, in front of a one-way mirror, and recorded on video camera whilst being interrogated. The girl in question had never considered herself a victim. True, she was only 7, but even now, as an adult, she always states she does not feel she is the victim of any kind of abuse and she does not feel bad about the incident. Rather, she feels indifferent to it, seeing it as part of her childhood, and finds the encounter more traumatic.

This is in no way excusing the actions of the 14 year-old (who had learning difficulties); in all truth, he doesn't come into my argument. It's not about what he did and how we should feel about him (because his actions were clearly wrong). It's about her. How does she feel? And why should we call her a victim if she doesn't want to be one and doesn't feel like one?

So this was part of the original decision behind the character of Cathy, who is the protagonist of the story. Cathy is being held captive in the basement of a paedophile and is only twelve years old. She does not, however, reveal herself to be anything less than strong. Cathy is irreverent, cocky, powerful and magical. She's also very badly behaved by traditional standards. She smokes cigars and is involved in a sexually-active (we assume) lesbian relationship with the other girl locked in the cellar.

Cathy is not a victim, and no matter what her captor does to her, she will not become one either.

One way in which I revealed her power, and her refusal to be a victim, is by sidelining the abuse elements themselves. The words 'paedophile' and 'paedophilia' never appear, and you'll be hard pressed to find any words relating to abuse and victimisation. These issues are irrelevant to Cathy. Her story is not about paedophilia; it is about self-identity and freedom. Her journey, which she instigates through her own inner strength, is to escape the cellar and be free, but she feels fully confident in her abilities. It is only the narrator who doubts and thus provides the narrative tension that keeps the reader intrigued.

I intend to write more Cathy stories. She's very much the childlike element within all adults. She does what she wants, when she wants to. She reminds me of the Victorian idea of the child, where kids were seen merely as smaller adults. In Victorian literature, children are very much sexualised and capable of evil. It's only in the last century that we've become obsessed with children being innocent and separate from adult concerns. I've always thought this hypocritical. Children do think about alcohol and sex and smoking, even if they don't always understand them. Children are capable of morally dubious and even criminal activities.

And most importantly, it is up to an individual to self-identify (whether as victim or not), not society. That's what the story's about and that's what I hope readers get from it.

Now, let's wait till it comes out and you can tuck in ;)

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