The Girl in His Eyes ~ ‘the novel is about the consequences of sexual abuse, and the lies that people tell themselves and each other.’
Today I have a very personal guest post from writer Jennie Ensor. Jennie has been very brave in recent months speaking publicly about sexual abuse and her own personal traumatic experiences. (Please be aware some may find Jennie’s words difficult to read)
Today Jennie has written a post about the motivation behind her latest novel, The Girl in His Eyes, just published with Bloodhound Books and why she finally felt the need to speak out.
‘In my view we need to do more to prevent the guilt and shame that is felt by many abuse victims – and victims of other sex crimes – so more children will come forward as soon as something happens.’
What inspired my novel, THE GIRL IN HIS EYES
by Jennie Ensor
In 1999, during a period of depression after my mother died, I started getting therapy for many unresolved issues. A psychotherapist encouraged me to talk about and write down my dreams, and I found myself scribbling words into exercise books – in bed usually, often at night when I couldn’t sleep. This unleashed ideas for a story I wanted to tell. Spurred on by the wonderful Carole Burns at a City Lit writing workshop (whose enthusiasm and unconventional suggestions included secretly tape-recording conversations with one’s partner), I began working on a novel, working title “Shadow Man”. I’d tried to write novels in my twenties, on and off, but I always felt that something important was missing. This time, I knew I needed to address my own past. The impetus for the novel came from my experience of growing up in a deeply dysfunctional family, and a particular incident I’d recently heard about.
Last month (18 September 2018), nineteen years after I started the novel, following years of rewrites and agent rejections (along with two other completed novels), THE GIRL IN HIS EYES was published by Bloodhound Books. A psychological family drama, the novel is about the consequences of sexual abuse, and the lies that people tell themselves and each other. A young woman (Laura) struggles to find the courage to stand up to her abuser, her father (Paul), after she suspects he may have found another victim. For ten years, thanks to Laura’s fear and guilt, her father’s skill at manipulation and her mother’s reluctance to face the truth, Paul has stayed hidden within a seemingly ordinary middleclass suburban family.
My own experience also involved abuse from my father (touching my breasts and exposing himself). As a child I had been unable to tell anyone, not even my mother. I grew up in the 1970s when sexual abuse wasn’t talked about; no-one ever asked me if anything like that was going on, as I recall. My father made it clear that his behaviour wasn’t to be talked about; he was manipulative, bullying and sometimes violent. Also, for years I believed that I must have been at least partly to blame for his unwanted attention – a feeling that’s common among sexual abuse victims. Then there was the potential impact on my mother if I told; I knew it would have hurt her deeply if she’d known. (I finally told her when I started university. She was very shocked and blamed herself for not realising what was happening.)
I felt compelled to write THE GIRL IN HIS EYES – at the time, much of the process was instinctive and mysterious. With hindsight, perhaps I wanted to make sense of what had happened to me: how my father got away with it what he did, why my mother didn’t guess and why as a child I couldn’t tell anyone. The novel’s premise – What would happen if a young woman, abused by her father in childhood, suspects that he might be tempted to prey on someone else? – came to me when I heard about an incident involving my late father. I know little about this, except that some years after I’d left home, a girl visited him and ran off in a state of distress. This struck me, and for the first time, I wondered if my father might have abused someone else as well as me – and what I would have done years ago, if I’d ever suspected this.
Though the plot of THE GIRL IN HIS EYES is totally fictional, some of the characters draw (to a degree) upon reality. For example, both my real father and Laura’s fictional father were/are rage-prone and highly manipulative. They differ in other respects though, e.g. my father was often unemployed and my parents struggled financially, whereas Paul is a successful businessman with a sports car. Laura has some aspects of my younger self, such as her difficulties with work and relationships, and a self-destructive impulse.
Despite the difficult subject matter, I see THE GIRL IN HIS EYES as an ultimately hopeful novel. I hope that, apart from having an emotional impact on readers, it will give an insight into families where sexual abuse happens. I’d like to think it will speak to fellow victims and survivors of abuse, if only to reassure them they are not alone in what they are going through. (Warning: TGHIE has descriptions of abuse, though fairly pared back and non-explicit. Anyone who is particularly sensitive to this may prefer to avoid the book, or check the reviews before reading it.)
Perhaps THE GIRL IN HIS EYES will also play a part in getting people talking about the issues involved in sexual abuse. Sadly, this kind of abuse is still far too common (1 in 11 children in the UK is the current estimate, I believe). In my view we need to do more to prevent the guilt and shame that is felt by many abuse victims – and victims of other sex crimes – so more children will come forward as soon as something happens.
I could have stayed quiet about my own experience, but I’m glad I didn’t. I knew that people would ask me about the inspiration for my book after it was published. After so long keeping quiet as a child, I didn’t want to have to keep quiet once again! In the changed climate post Jimmy Savile and #MeToo it feels OK for me to talk openly about what inspired THE GIRL IN HIS EYES. Talking on the radio and writing articles and blog posts about this has been empowering, and seems to have released my inner activist! There is definitely a strong positive side to disclosing the truth – and these days of course, the personal is also political. I suspect many writers apart from myself have also been influenced by some kind of childhood abuse, or a past traumatic experience they’ve kept hidden. If so, maybe it’s time to consider letting other people know about it.
About The Book:
Her father abused her when she was a child. For years she was too afraid to speak out. But now she suspects he’s found another victim…
Laura, a young woman struggling to deal with what her father did to her a decade ago, is horrified to realise that the girl he takes swimming might be his next victim. Emma is twelve – the age Laura was when her father took away her innocence.
Intimidated by her father’s rages, Laura has never told anyone the truth about her childhood. Now she must decide whether she has the courage to expose him and face the consequences.
Can Laura overcome her fear and save Emma before the worst happens?
A dark and compulsive psychological drama about the repercussions of child abuse, and the lies that people tell themselves and each other.
Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/thegirluk
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2wX2HsA
A Londoner with Irish heritage, Jennie Ensor began her writing career as a journalist, obtaining a Masters in Journalism (winning two student awards) and covering topics from forced marriages to mining accidents. She isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues in her novels, either – Islamic terrorism, Russian gangsters and war crimes in her debut Blind Side (Unbound, 2016); child abuse and sexual exploitation in her latest book THE GIRL IN HIS EYES, a dark psychological drama published by Bloodhound Books in September 2018.
Jennie Ensor’s short story ‘The Gift’ was placed in the Top 40 of the Words and Women national prose competition; her poetry has appeared in many publications, most recently Ink Sweat and Tears. In her spare time, she sings in a chamber choir and dreams of setting off on a long trip with her Kindle.
Website & Blog: https://jennieensor.com
Twitter ~ @Jennie_Ensor
Thanks Mairead for hosting and sharing my piece on your blog – and presenting it so well! It is the first time I’ve written anything substantial about what led to my book so this is very significant to me
Jennie I am truly honoured. You are an amazing person and quite frankly I am in awe of your bravery. Thank YOU!! x