Monday, 6 February 2012

Hollow Pike Blog Tour: James Dawson Guest Post - 'It Gets Better'.

Hollow Pike, James Dawson's highly anticipated UK debut novel, was published last week and I'm really excited to be part of his very first blog tour. I haven't read Hollow Pike yet myself (hopefull soon) but I've heard fantastic things about it, and I know from meeting him that James is a lovely guy. I wish him lots of luck with his book!

James has written a very important, inspiring guest post for my stop on the tour, and I hope you all take something away from it. It's a subject important to me and a lot of my friends, so I hope you enjoy reading it!


It Gets Better
by James Dawson

Without a doubt this is the hardest stop on my blog tour. I’ve been asked to write about my school days. If you’ve read Hollow Pike, it’s probably pretty clear that these weren’t the happiest days of my life, and as such, I don’t spend a lot of time talking about them.

But wounds heal, and enough time has passed that it feels OK to share that time, even in such a public way. In fact, writing Hollow Pike has been something of a cathartic experience, and I feel like I’ve sufficiently exorcised those demons.

Secondary School was pretty bad. I was a victim of bullying. Victim and Bullying. I feel weak and defeated typing those words fifteen years on. Even now, that is so hard to admit, and I’m not actually asking for help – it’s all deep, deep in my past. The ridiculous thing is this: at the time I wasn’t even aware that the situation was as bad as it was. It was only when I got to university and people weren’t throwing abuse at me every day that I realised something had been amiss at school.

Teasing, name-calling, verbal abuse and homophobia were so common place that I thought them to be an expected part of the school day.

Obviously then, I was not the only victim. Quite the opposite, most of my friends came in for the same daily dose. I know what you’re thinking – ‘why didn’t you tell someone?’ Like I said, I didn’t see anything wrong with the picture. Worse still, when some of my closest friends reported bullying, they were told to ‘dress less weird’, and in one case ‘if you insist on being a lesbian, you have to expect this’. I was deeply upset to see reports like this coming out of Essex schools in 2011. I hoped things might have progressed. There were a couple of teachers who seemed willing to tackle bullying. One day, I owe a certain Mr Greaves a pint for what can only be described as his protection in PE lessons. The majority however seemed solely concern with the subjects they taught and the lessons they delivered. The perilous transitions to and from these bubbles didn’t trouble them in the least.

I’m painting a grim picture, and it was. But this is the where the ‘it gets better’ part kicks in. As soon as I left school, to the day, things started to improve. Now that there’s some distance between me and it, I see that it wasn’t a case of ‘victims’ and ‘bullies’, it was simply ‘school’, and that’s what inspired Hollow Pike. Nowhere else has the same pecking orders and social hierarchy bullshit. School is a zoo, and to survive, you have to be vicious. Here’s another admission that makes me feel sick. I also used to bully people. That’s right, I used to prey on those even weaker than myself. Seeing the bigger picture, I now recognise that school is hell for almost everyone. Even those at the very top of the tree had their own issues to deal with.

Back to the getting better part. In those difficult times, I actually started to enjoy school. How? I made the right friends. For most of secondary school I associated with people who were complicit in the name-calling and teasing. One day I had enough. I cut them off for three new friends who encouraged me to be myself. Within no time at all, I came out to them (told them I was gay) and felt freer and happier than I even had been. We helped each other through the last two years. It was still bad, but together we felt strong enough to laugh it off. We remain close to this day, and the strength of our friendship is what inspired me to write Hollow Pike.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and I feel that’s true after my bullying. Coming through something like that, you grow a thick skin. I think a lot of young LGBT people come out of school with skin like titanium armour for this very reason. I went into teaching after college, and was strangely unaffected by the daily grind of pupils, parents and OfSted – I owe this to my schooling. Later, when I set out to be an author, you deal with rejection all the time. Again, thank you school days. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if young people could come out of school with high esteem because their experience had been positive rather than negative?

Times have changed, and I know from my teaching days that bullying is taken very seriously in schools now. It is monitored and recorded. That aside, any school claiming to have eradicated bullying is lying for the simple reasons set out above – hundreds of young people vying for status are going to hit below the belt. What needs to change is ‘school’. There needs to be a shift in the way schools teach young people to communicate with one another. It’s not ‘banter’, it’s ‘bullying’. THIS, GOVERNMENT, IS WHY YOU MUST MAKE PSHCE STATUTORY.

For this reason, along with Fierce Fiction, we’re introducing the use of the Twitter hashtag #schooldaze. School is hard for everyone, but, just like me, with the right friends, it gets better. If your friends are giving you shit, make some better friends. So tweet us. Tell us about your schools – the good, the bad and the ugly. For those of you still at school, just remember, it’s only five years of your life, and one day you’ll look back and see it for what it was – the chrysalis. What happens after school, that’s the butterfly.

Thanks for such a brilliant post, James!



CarlyB said...

This is such a great post, James - you are brave and awesome and generally fantastic.x

Kit Berry said...

A brave post, James - I feel for you. I taught Year 6 for many years, and the poor things were rightly terrified about bullying at secondary school. In PSHE, along with the usual "you must always tell an adult" line that has to be taught, I also tried to teach them to stand up for themselves and actually dish the crap back. Not very PC but still ...
But sadly, I don't think bullying will ever stop and not just for the reasons you mention. It's endemic amongst staff too, often starting with big guys in the LEA and the Headteacher, all the way down. I know a teacher right now who's being bullied by the head into voluntarily resigning because his face doesn't fit. Schools are, as you say, the ultimate in pecking order henhouses, and sadly this will never change. But commercial companies, the Civil Service, hospitals - every large institution - all thrive on the strong victimising the weak. I fear this is simply human beings and the way we operate in society - a theme in my own books actually! All we can really do I guess is give the weak the means to at least stick up for themselves, if not actively fight back.

Jenny Alexander said...

A thoughtful post and comments - thank you. I agree completely that bullying is - even if it shouldn't be - a fact of life. That's why I wrote my books to help kids develop good psychological self-defense strategies. Some kids will be bullied however highly their school rates on any measure - for them, the issue is how to get through and not suffer lasting harm

Jenni said...

This post really hit a chord with me, as did your wonderful book. I experienced bullying throughout my entire school life, though it was at high school that it was really at its worst and some days I found myself wondering how I would survive. I did of course, though even more than a decade on a lot of the wounds still feel pretty raw - I think I'm still waiting for that butterfly stage.

I'm so pleased to hear how things got better for you, and I love the way you're trying to help things get better for the current crop of kids.

Luisa Plaja said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful, thought-provoking post.

Ailsa said...

Brilliant post James, thank you very much for sharing.


Jesse @ Books 4 Teens said...

Wonderful post James, thank you so much for sharing.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

What a wonderful post. Thanks for being so open. Things like this make me want to read an author's book...better go check it out now!

(Let's Get Beyond Tolerance)

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