How @Lesley_Allen_ & Biddy Weir gave me courage to tell my own story – #BullyingAwarenessWeek

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It isn’t often that you can come across a book which you feel was written about you, for you. A book that is written with such poignancy and devotion to the storyline and its true meaning; one that you can relate to in more ways than one. Unfortunately, when the book in question contains a storyline which in an ideal world, nobody SHOULD EVER relate to, you start to feel ashamed for feeling relieved that you DO relate to it.

Not long ago, author Lesley Allen released a novel titled; ‘The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir’, which has just been released in paperback to coincide with National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month.
(#Review! The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir – (@Lesley_Allen_) @BonnierZaffre #antibullyingmonth)
Thank you to Lesley Allen and Biddy Weir, I was able to muster up enough courage to finally tell my own personal story about being a victim of bullying.

This is my story….

Imagine this; you’re five years old, in Year 1 of Primary School and incredibly shy. You keep yourself to yourself and never get in anyone’s way, pretty much getting on with daily life at age five. Still imagining? Good. Keep going…
Now imagine being the five-year old that got picked on for sitting on the playground floor reading Noddy magazine on their own. Imagine being the five year old that got shoved, pushed and laughed at for being a quiet child (or in their world, a loner). Now, imagine being a five year old that has just been pushed into a brick wall and was called ‘fat’. I’m sure a few of you are probably shaking your heads in disbelief thinking it’s not possible at age five. It is. It was. Want to know why? Because I was that five year old that you have just been imagining for the last paragraph.

Back in 1995 if you were getting picked on, people used to come out and say ‘it’s only a bit of name calling, you’ll get over it’. No. Just NO. We wouldn’t stand for people calling us names now, as adults, why should we stick up with it as children?
From the very first moment of being called fat, my life turned upside down. ‘Fat’ didn’t just appear once, or twice, it used to be a daily occurrence. A FIVE years old. In school I was never considered popular and to be honest, given the nature of the ‘popular gang’, I didn’t even want to be. I was very happy sitting reading my Noddy magazine, waiting for the school bell to ring for home time so that I could see my mum. My protector.

As I got older, I felt like I was constantly looking over my shoulder, trying not to act in a way that people would bully me for. But no matter how hard I tried NOT to get bullied by trying to be someone else, I was still their target. Their meat if you will. Those fat comments did a little more to me than just upset me as no matter what I did, I couldn’t shift the comments from my mind and believed them. I believed them so much, I started attacking myself; I began to play up with my food. I hid it, I dropped it, I threw it away. You name it, I did it, as long as I didn’t have to eat it. At such a young age, I saw food as a poison instead of a necessity. Due to that, my weight plummeted and anorexia & bulimia took over. It was an extremely unhappy time for my family, especially my mum as she couldn’t understand it the way that I understood it as she wasn’t in my head. I mean, if you’re not going through it, how CAN you understand it? Outsiders assume that anorexia is a choice. It really isn’t, it’s an illness, a mental illness.

When I went to Middle School at age 10, I naively thought that the bullying may stop due to everyone being split into different classes with a lot of new students. Don’t get me wrong, it did stop…for a couple of months whilst everyone adjusted. I should have felt elated that I wasn’t getting bullied for a little while, but I wasn’t. Why? Because up until that point, I had already been badly affected by bullies and I wasn’t going to magically feel better and happier overnight. It doesn’t work like that. It cannot work like that. My eating habits were steady, I ate the bare minimum, but at least I ate.

As soon as the bullying started up again I felt more frightened as the bullies were now older and much scarier. I was only a small child, short and very slim build so if anyone towered above me it scared the living scherzy out of me. Getting pinched seemed to be the daily occurrence, as did getting chairs pulled from under me when I’m sitting down. Teachers didn’t believe me, instead, they blamed it on me by saying that I must have done something to antagonise them. I started to dread having to stay in a lunch times due to the bad weather as too many of the nasties were stuck in one room with me. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. I remember one day I tried to stick up for myself and ended up getting a huge sellotape holder bashed onto my hand. Ouch.

I absolutely dreaded going to school and it made me ill. The worry about what would be facing you when you walked through the school gates. Feeling unsure as to whether you’ll go home at the end of the day with all of your possessions. Oh sorry, I didn’t mention that did I? My possessions got stolen at school. Sometimes I was lucky enough to find them still there at the end of the day, even if they were outside in a puddle or covered in mud. Looking back on my school years, it is absolutely ridiculous thinking about what I was bullied for! Horrible names for having hair on my arms, my surname, my weight, my hair colour, my freckles, my dimples; you name it, I was bullied for it.

When I left school, the bullying stopped. I felt free! I could be ME, or could I? Sounds simple doesn’t it? The thing is by that age, I had no idea who I was. I had spent so many years trying to make people like me, blaming myself for what the bullies did, or wondering what was wrong with me that I lost sight of who I truly was. All I was certain of by the age of 17 was that I was a very timid, unconfident teenager with a big heart. Regardless of how broken I was, I gave my heart and soul to other people. Why love myself when for over 8 years, I was attacked for who I was. Does that make sense?

I got my very first job when I was 17; made my wish come true by becoming a checkout girl so I could sit down all day. Ahem. I seemed to follow the family by working in Tesco, and I worked really hard. I wasn’t work shy at all, I did what I had to do and more, without complaining. For a while I was loving it but then overnight, that got robbed of me and I had no idea what I had done. Walking into the canteen or past a group of people you had grown to really like, only to overhear nasty comments about yourself felt like a kick in the stomach. I was the new girl in town and soon enough, those nasty comments seemed to go everywhere and the friends I thought I had, bar one, became no more. Thankfully, that friend has been stuck with me for ten years!

This is harder than I thought, wow. I am tearing up writing this because it is extremely hard to see just a small part of what you went through in black and white in front of you. I feel ashamed. I feel as though there is something wrong with me for people to constantly find fault with me in such nasty ways. I don’t understand it, and to be honest, I don’t think that I ever will.

Bullying is a subject that gets spoken about a lot, but barely anything gets down about it. Not only do people get bullied face to face, people can get bullied online too. Cyber bullying. It’s horrendous and unfortunately I have been on the receiving end of that too. It is quite known that there is a huge stigma attached to bullying because assumptions are often made about the severity. ANY form of bullying is severe and should not be tolerated. Constant name calling etc can leave scars on your emotional well-being and even affect you for many, many years after the event. Physical bullying is often seen as worse because people can physically see it rather than take the victims word for it. Physical bullying can leave scars in the same way as name calling etc can, unfortunately, both types of bullying can result in such devastating endings. Suicide.

It can take an awful lot of courage to be able to speak to a person that you trust, about any forms of bullying that you are going through. It’s far too easy for an outsider to go ‘you need to tell someone’, whereas the victim is probably sitting in fear wondering what would happen if they told anyone. I know I did, I was petrified that the bullying would escalate even more. I couldn’t handle it at the level that it was at, how would I be able to handle it any worse? Luckily for me, my mum believed me. She also was one of the two people to believe me when I was getting bullied at work when I was pregnant.

It’s probably sad to say that my story isn’t much different to millions of others out there. The scars are still evident deep within, I’m not a confident girl and I struggle to trust people due to what the bullies did, and everything else that has happened in my life. I don’t feel worthy of people’s love or attention, and every time I’m being treated rubbishly by people these days, it brings me back to moments I wish to forget. But I can’t. I’m trying to, don’t get me wrong. I will never be like anyone else, never. I am truly thankful to the people who have stood by me and have had my back over the years. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.

Over the years I have told my stop in dribs and drabs, never have I ever told it like this. What you have read is only a summary of what I went through, there is far more to it than that as I am sure you understand. Reading Lesley Allen’s book shook me to the core, but, without Lesley writing such a safe haven of a storyline, I don’t think that I would have found the courage to speak out properly. Thank you Lesley and Biddy Weir.

Bullying needs to stop. We need to stop feeling ashamed for being bullied, but we need to have the safety net to do so.

This was my story, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading it.
If you have been affected by anything in my post, or are getting bullied yourself and have no idea where to go from here, you can find contact numbers and support details right here:
Bullying UK

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#Review! The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir – (@Lesley_Allen_) @BonnierZaffre #antibullyingmonth

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Blurb.

Biddy Weir is a quirky girl.

Abandoned by her mother as a baby, and with a father who’s not quite equipped for the challenges of modern parenting, Biddy lives in her own little world, happy to pass her time painting by the sea and watching the birds go by. That is, until she meets Alison Flemming.

Because there are a few things about Biddy that aren’t normal, you see. And Alison isn’t afraid to point them out to the world.

All of a sudden, Biddy’s quiet life is thrown into turmoil. If only there was someone to convince her that, actually, everyone’s a little bit weird . . .

A story of abuse and survival, of falling down and of starting again, and of one woman’s battle to learn to love herself for who she is, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is Lesley Allen’s startlingly honest debut novel.

What does TWG think?

I have had to psych myself to write this particular review due to the nature of the storyline and my own personal memories because of it. It takes a lot of strength to read a novel with contains such emotional situations, especially when those situations are still incredibly raw for the reader.

Meet Biddy Weir; a girl who is extremely content in her own company and enjoys the simple things in life. After all, that is all she has ever known her life to be. Seeing as Biddy was brought up by her father, the ‘basic’ female tasks had to be discussed with someone other than her father. She didn’t have a female role model. She didn’t have her mum. As soon as Alison Flemming came onto the school scene, Biddy’s life got turned upside down and suddenly her life and her thoughts became all too suffocating. The thing is, what exactly can you do when your normal is too abnormal for everyone else…

‘The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir’ has been published in paperback to coincide with National Anti-bullying Month. A subject that has thousands upon thousands of victims and not enough people doing anything about it. As soon as I realised what this book was about, I knew that I had to read it. I also knew that it would be extremely hard for me to do so. Why? Because, like many other people, I was bullied at school from the age of five until the age of thirteen. Lesley’s book has given me nod to write about my own bullying (which I will do later on in the week on here), and hopefully others will realise it is ok to speak out.

Biddy Weir’s life was made hellish all because of one girl and her ‘gang’. The outcome of every single attack on Biddy was jaw-dropping and incredibly numbing, I felt so sorry for her. There were times (most of the book), that I wanted to climb into the book and take her away from it all, try to keep her safe. But I couldn’t. Biddy couldn’t speak out. She needed someone to speak out for her, yet no-one would believe her because they all thought she was a ‘bit weird’. Everyone around her didn’t want to do the right thing and stick up for poor Biddy;  instead, they watched/joined in with the ring leader so that they could stay in the gang. I felt physically sick reading what Biddy was subjected to, as well as reading about the toll it took on poor Biddy’s mental state. Absolutely devastating that people get a kick out of physically and emotionally attacking others. How is that fun?

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir contains a lot of hard to read events, most definitely, but the way Lesley Allen has written them is real. Lesley didn’t fluff it up or make the situations completely unrealistic and completely fixable. She made Biddy’s life into a powerful journey. A journey that we, as readers, took with her. A journey that will open readers eyes and minds to the devastating impacts that bullying has on a person, especially as some people believe the impacts to be short-term. More often than not, the effects of bullying can last, and, just like Biddy, the scars never truly fade.

I began reading this book with my eyes and mind fully open to the implications of such a devastating topic. What I didn’t realise was how beautifully and powerfully written this book would be. I don’t want to say that I loved this book due to the subject within the book, however, I did love the book due to the powerful, raw and emotional messages that Lesley Allen incorporated beautifully into it. During the last third of the book I felt like I was getting a pep talk, and not in a bad way. The colourful character that took charge in that third, came with such a strong voice. So strong in fact, I felt as though she was talking to me and having stern words with the demons. If all schools came with such a colourful and beautiful character as that one, the stigma that surrounds bullying would be abolished.

An emotional, powerful and beautifully written book about life, re-birth, bullying and learning how to love yourself, quirks and all.

Thank you BonnierZaffre.

A Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen, published by Bonnier Zaffre, is available to buy now from Amazon UK

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen (@@Lesley_Allen_) Blog Tour! @BonnierZaffre

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The lovely Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre Publishing, contacted me and asked if I would take part in one of their blog tours. The company publishes such incredible books and Carmen and her team know that I usually say yes to all of them. However, the book for this particular blog tour isn’t just any book. It is a book that has such a powerful message. A book which, unfortunately, a lot of readers will resonate with. National Anti-Bullying Month begins on the 31st October until 30th November 2016; The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen, examines the outcome of such a devastating topic.

Joining me on the blog today with such incredible writing advice; is author Lesley Allen. But first, here are the all important book details and its beautiful cover.

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Blurb.

Biddy Weir is a shy young loner. Abandoned by her mother as a baby, and with a father who’s not quite equipped for the challenges of modern parenting, Biddy lives in her own little world, happy to pass her time painting by the sea and watching the birds go by.
With no friends, no schoolbag, and, worst of all, no mother, Biddy is branded a ‘Bloody Weirdo’ by the most popular girl in her primary school.
What follows is a heart-breaking tale of bullying and redemption, of falling down and of starting again, and of one woman’s battle to learn to love herself for who she is.
Set in a fictional seaside town in Northern Ireland, the novel is a stark illustration of the extent to which bullying can affect us all, beyond just the victim and perpetrator.
Spare, dark and often unrelenting, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is a story with universal appeal, which ultimately affirms the value of being different.

The e-book version is available to buy now from Amazon, but the paperback version will be released on the 3rd November 2016. To purchase a copy (or pre-order) click here: buy now.

Guest post by Lesley Allen – Help! I want to write a book…

So you want to write a book, but you don’t know how to start. Maybe you have all these ideas running around in your head; genius ideas. Bestseller ideas for sure. But the thing is, you haven’t a baldy notion how to deposit them from your head onto paper. Or perhaps you have no ideas at all. Zilch. You’d flippin’ love to have an idea, any idea, but you haven’t got the foggiest where to find one. What you do have, however, is an ache to write; a constant itch that consumes and distracts you, and drives you to stand in bookshops where you stare longingly at the shelves knowing that that is where you belong. But how the hell do you get there?

That was me: no ideas, but an overwhelming urge to write, an urge that had come at me in waves over the years, but I’d always swept away citing one excuse or another; until eventually it saturated me. So, I joined a creative writing class and finally, finally, my pent-up creative ache began to unravel. The relief almost made me cry. And this is my first piece of advice – I’d suggest you join a writers group, or take a creative writing class. It doesn’t need to be anything too highbrow or serious – just a gathering of like-minded people with whom you can comfortably share your work, experiment with different styles, and spur each other on. But if you do fancy highbrow and serious, then that’s good too. And if you can’t access a class or attend a group, then there are lots of online
courses you could take. It won’t be long before the ideas start to flow, or the ones that are there already begin to take shape.

The second thing I’d say is prepare to share. For me getting honest feedback was a vital part of my early writing steps. And there’s no point in sharing for feedback if you’re not prepared to listen to criticism – so grow a thick skin. Once the novel really starts to take shape, choose a couple of readers to share your early drafts with, people you trust to give you truthful and constructive notes. It’s imperative that this doesn’t become an ego stroking exercise, so don’t select someone who’s going to tell you how wonderful your book is, that you’re an absolute genius, and that, with a talent like yours, you’re bound to become a Booker winning, best-selling, multi-millionaire, purely because they’re your mother/partner/best friend. And if anyone utters the words, ‘you’re the next J.K.
Rowling’, run a mile. Unless said words are spoken by the publisher who’s about to sign you for a six- figure sum!

Once you have your finished draft, it’s time to look for an agent, which can be just as difficult as securing an actual publishing deal. Get yourself the most recent edition of the Writers and Authors Yearbook – a must-have for all aspiring writers. It’s the most important tool you will need for the next stage of your journey to publication. And research! You should already be familiar with your genre, so identify the agents who represent the authors you admire in your category. If your book is a comedy crime caper, don’t send it to an agent who focuses on romantic fiction. Draw up a ‘hit-list’ of around a dozen agents, send your cover letter, synopsis and first three chapters to the first three
or four. Some will reply, some you’ll never hear from, and if you’re lucky one will ask to see the full manuscript. If all twelve pass, don’t be too disheartened. Get the Yearbook out, and draw up another list. Remember that thick skin you needed back in the writing class? Well, dig it out and pull it on again.

And finally, keep going – no matter how long it takes. And when you reach the point when you think it’s never going to happen (and you will, time and time again) try, if you can, to remember this thing you read once about a girl (okay, a middle aged woman) who finally got her book published after several years, ninety plus rejections, and a withdrawn deal (yes, really!). It CAN happen. I’m the proof of the sticky pudding.

Thank you to Lesley Allen for writing such an honest guest post whilst showing everyone that it is okay to be a sticky pudding or even an apple crumble.

About the author:

Lesley Allen lives in Bangor, County Down. She is a freelance copywriter and the press officer and assistant programme developer for Open House Festival. Lesley is previous recipient of the James Kilfedder Memorial Bursary, and two Support for the Individual Artist Art’s Council Awards. She was named as one of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s 2016 Artist Career Enhancement Scheme (ACES) recipients for
literature. She will be using the award to complete her second book.