The YA Book Prize

mrlIf you follow me on Twitter, and Instagram, you’ll know that to celebrate the forthcoming YA Book Prize, this week is #TeamSalisbury week – during which the YA Book Prize focuses The Sin Eater’s Daughter, one of the ten nominees this year.

Tonight, I’ll be taking part in an hour long Twitter chat, from 8pm, where you can ask me questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Please come and chat with me!

For now, I want to talk a bit, about The Sin Eater’s Daughter, and what it means, both to me, and apparently to a lot of young people too. And how unexpected that was.

I expect that to some people, at first glance The Sin Eater’s Daughter being on the list is a little strange. On a list featuring multi-award winning and critically acclaimed authors like Sarah Crossan, Louise O’Neill, Frances Hardinge and Patrick Ness. Against books that fight prejudice, raise awareness, and tackle big societal issues. Books that are both beautifully crafted, innovative pieces of literature and also complex, deep and essential explorations of the world we inhabit. Standing alongside some of the most important children’s fiction to have been produced EVER, is my book.

I thought I was writing a fairytale; a girl in a tower who falls in love at the wrong time. A wicked queen, and a handsome prince and a damsel in distress. It’s a tale as old as time, and one we all know. Sin eater  cover share

And I did write that. All of those things are in the book. What I didn’t realise until the end was that it was also a story about emotional abuse. Control. Manipulation, lies, and threats. Neglect. Growing up in a loveless environment. Being taken advantage of. Being used.

In writing about a girl who is trapped by her heritage, and her abilities, and her gender, I wrote about a girl discovering who she is, and what she wants, in a world that’s never considered she may be anything more than what it decides for her. I thought I was telling a story about a caged bird who longed to be freed. And I was. but it was also more. Darker. Less palatable. Twylla’s story might be fiction, but for a lot of girls it isn’t.

My heart breaks, at least once a week, when I get an email, or anonymous message on Tumblr. Girls (because it’s always girls) who thank me for writing Sin Eater, tell me they loved it. And then tell me their parents won’t let them go out with their friends, or stay over at people’s houses, or date. Girls who tell me they’re 15/16/17 and have to be in bed by nine o’clock at night. Girls who tell me they’re emailing from a computer in their school library because their parents check their messages. Girls whose parents choose their clothes for them. Girls whose parents choose their GCSE subjects, tell them what to eat, who they can and can’t talk to, and when.

Girls for whom natural obedience to their parents, and familial respect, has tipped over into something deeply sinister, and deeply damaging. “If you just do this, I’ll love you…” “If you’d just behave, things would be so much easier…” “It’s for your own good.” It’s always “YOU“, always the girls who are responsible for the way they’re treated. Often they don’t have relatives or friends they can run to, they don’t have money, or street-smarts. A lot of them don’t even have friends, because their lack of ‘normalcy’ makes them weird in the eyes of their peers. Makes them – wait for it – ‘unlikeable’.

We talk a lot, as readers, about wanting to ‘see’ ourselves in books. I wish so much that no one saw themselves in Twylla.

Because I know that without support, a lot of girls in Twylla’s position won’t be able to escape their abusers until well into adulthood. And the sad fact is that for some of them, they’ll escape controlling and abusive home relationships, only to end up in comparable romantic ones. When you are brought up in an oppressive environment, when love and support and basic kindness are lacking, it’s too alluring to believe in the first person who shows you those things, whether they mean them or not. To a person who has been brought up in an environment of emotional security, it’s easy to look at another person making what’s clearly a huge mistake and judge them for it. To think them weak, and stupid. To be smug in the knowledge they’d never make that decision. To walk away and leave them to it, alone, and vulnerable. And so the cycle continues…

We don’t talk about this kind of abuse very often. We don’t talk about the often-irreversible damage it does to be undermined, manipulated and neglected by the very people society tells you are bound to protect and love you. We have mechanisms and support in place for children who are physically abused. But there is so little exposure for children who are emotionally abused, day to day, in their own homes, by the people who are supposed to love them. They are the hidden victims, the forgotten ones.

For some girls, life is, and always has been a little medieval. We forget that having a voice, having agency, is a privilege not afforded to everyone. So I’m proud and honoured that my book has been a comfort to girls like Twylla. If my book has made them feel less alone, and feel less hopeless, then I’ve already won.