Angel’s Fury author, Bryony Pearce talks about fitting in and how to find your place – themes that are evident in her upcoming novel from Strange Chemistry, The Weight of Souls, which if you remember, I reviewed very positively recently. With her novel out in August, here’s her thoughts on some of her own experiences to get you ready for sixteen-year-old Taylor Oh’s own quest to find her puzzle pieces.
Fitting in, it’s the biggest problem there is. If we all ‘fit in’ there wouldn’t be teenagers starving themselves, young girls getting boob jobs, lonely kids dreaming of taking guns to school. I imagine world peace.
All of us go through a period of our lives where we don’t ‘fit in’. Sadly some of us find that we never fit anywhere.
I was a very lonely little girl. My mum and sister were blonde and blue eyed, ever so alike. They understood one another. I (with my black hair, brown eyes and serious, introspective, perhaps sullen personality) was the odd one out in every way.
My dad was Air Force, so we moved around a lot. Each place I went had new problems and the solution to ‘fitting in’ in one location would make me stick out elsewhere, like a mouse in a Hovis loaf. I was slow to catch on, slow to understand what made people like one another, how you got to be ‘friends’.
Worse, a practicing Catholic, I usually ended up in non-denominational or CofE local schools where the kids singled me out immediately for being new and different.
Compounding my problems I was clever and hadn’t learned that it wouldn’t endear me to the other children if I was a little know-it-all in front of the teacher.
Things may have been easier if I was classically pretty. I’m not. In one location some kids made up a story that I was a gypsy and that stuck for the whole time I was there.
In another they focused on my ‘hairy’ arms and legs (Dad’s Irish colouring combined with Mum’s Scandinavian heritage, thanks guys) and called me gorilla. That lasted for years, as labels do; way past the time Mum finally let me start shaving.
I was bullied for years. I tried different things to ‘fit in’ and one of the things I tried was story-telling. In one particular year I sat in a dark corner of the playground and told ghost stories to the other children. I was good at it.
But I gave them nightmares and their parents complained. I had to stop.
By the time I was eleven I had stopped making any effort. I had long, one-length hair that I pulled over my face. If I was forced to speak I whispered through this curtain. I spent every break and lunch in the library, by myself. There I read book after book. If forced to go outside I would hide behind a book. I read on my way to every classroom and through registration. I even walked and read at the same time, an excellent excuse for avoiding eye-contact with anyone.
All these books became my friends and I absorbed the stories, becoming increasingly adept at living in my own fantasy worlds. I wrote my first ‘long’ story when I was twelve. It was about giant mutant rats taking over a city. It had illustrations.
As a teenager, I developed a bit more attitude. ‘You know what?’ I thought, ‘I am clever, I am different. If you don’t like it, you can suck it’ and I started to stand up for myself. I was pretty insufferable. And they were still calling me Gorilla.
But by then I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a writer.
The character in my new novel, The Weight of Souls, is drawn heavily from that difficult transitional time. Taylor is different from her contemporaries from the start; her mother is Chinese but, in her class at school there is only one other non-white student. Heartbreakingly, her mother dies when she is still quite young in an accident that leaves her father paralysed from the waist down. Then there is her ‘gift’. When she is only ten years old, Taylor begins to see ghosts, a grim legacy from her mother’s side of the family.
Throughout the book we see how lonely Taylor is. She is bullied because of her differences, but she has also isolated herself. She is unable to see the world around her because she is constantly looking for ghosts and she is too afraid to show her few friends who she really is. Eventually she truly does end up alone, as her last remaining companion gives up on ever getting close to her and moves on.
Fitting in: it isn’t about finding people who are like you, or about making yourself similar to others if you can’t find anything in common; it isn’t about being the prettiest, or the coolest, or the cleverest; it isn’t even about standing up and saying ‘this is me, if you don’t like it, you can suck it’. Fitting in is about finding people who complement (not compliment) you; about finding your other puzzle pieces. These people might be your total opposites. But still they will understand and appreciate you.
How do you find these people? That’s the hard part. That is what Taylor and I took so long to learn.
You have to take other people for who they are and appreciate them. More importantly, you have to open yourself up to their gaze and their criticism. You have to trust people to see who you really are and like what they see.
Some won’t, true. But if you are open and honest then eventually your other puzzle pieces will emerge from the pile and, somewhere, you will find that you fit.
Taylor’s last friend, Hannah, goes off and tries to fit in with another group of girls, but she does it the wrong way. She dyes her hair and changes her look and personality. This is so obviously wrong, that when Taylor finally works out that she has to be honest with Hannah, we know that, as well as saving herself from a life alone she is saving her friend from a grave mistake.
In the end Taylor opens up and shows the other puzzle pieces all her jagged edges; that honesty is her greatest gift.
I admit I don’t have it all right, there are still places I don’t fit in and times I find it hard to open up, other times I’m too honest and that isn’t good either. It’s a balance I struggle with. At those times I will still retreat behind the covers of a book, or I go and make up a story; that helps too. My edges remain pretty jagged, but I have friends now who are jagged too, in different ways.
In a twist of fate I married a man with blue eyes and brown hair and together we made two beautiful children, both with blue eyes and light hair.
Massive thanks to Bryony for her post! Now go pre-order her book…!
For more information about Bryony and her work, please visit her website at www.bryonypearce.co.uk, like her Facebook page (BryonyPearceAuthor), or join in the conversation on Twitter where she can be found as @BryonyPearce
She is always looking for new puzzle pieces.