Novelist Sanjida Kay has just published her latest book, a psychological thriller called 'Bone by Bone'. She is donating a percentage of her profits to Kidscape - she explains why.
I went to ten different schools and I was bullied at nine of them. Most kids don't have such peripatetic education, but otherwise my experience is not uncommon: according to the NSPCC, nearly half of all children and young people are bullied at school. Why was I bullied? Like any child it was because the bullies perceived that I was different. In my case, I was always the new kid and I was different. I'm mixed race and went to schools where most of the kids were white; in Wales I went to an all Welsh-speaking school; when I arrived in Yorkshire, I had a Northern Irish accent (that didn't last long!). I was also small, shy and smart - and being academically good, poor at sports and short were more reasons some kids felt they could pick on me.
As soon as my daughter was born, I started to worry about her. Would she - mixed race too - be bullied? What could I do about it? Would she be able to stand up for herself when I had not been able to? I started imagining a scenario where a mother discovers that her daughter is being bullied. She wants to help but she feels powerless - yet like any parent she'll do anything to protect her child. The mum confronts the bully herself, which ends up with tragic consequences for her and her daughter.
"She felt as if she had no bones, like a jellyfish, hooked from the sea. She walked slowly towards them, her ears ringing, but they ignored her. All except for Levi, who stood at the end of the bridge, his hands in his pockets, smiling."
That idea became my first psychological thriller, Bone by Bone, published by Corvus Books, this March. The story is told by the mum, Laura, and by her daughter. I decided to make the child - shy, sweet, artistic Autumn Wild - nine-years-old because there's something dreadful about the idea that a primary school child will be bullied. Somehow, I think we all think bullying only happens to students at secondary school but, from my own experience, I know it can happen at any age. None of the specific events that happened to me in real life have ended up in the book, but I used my experiences to imagine what it was like for Autumn to be the target of an older bully. Thankfully, when I was growing up, there was no such thing as cyber bullying. When verbal, emotional and physical abuse isn't enough for the bully in my book, he turns to cyber bullying. According to Ditch the Label, last year 62 per cent of children who were the targets of bullies were cyber bullied.
"Autumn began to run. She felt an icy terror flood through her. He must have been waiting for her. He'd followed her all the way here. To this open, empty place. He knows where I live."
I would love to live in a world where no child is bullied. It's a tiny step on this journey, but I'd like to donate a percent of the profits I make from selling Bone by Bone to Kidscape, to help us prevent bullying and protect our children.
"Autumn put in the DVD she'd been watching every night. It was Deadly 60. It was all about animals that could be a bit tricky if you tried to catch one. There was something comforting about watching it over and over and over again. You knew what was going to happen. There were no surprises. And even though all those animals bit, squeezed, stung, spat or poisoned, they did it because they were hungry or frightened. They didn't do it because they thought you were stupid and ugly and they wanted to hurt and humiliate you."
Bone by Bone is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.
Photo by Barbara Evripidou