Should you write about what you know? That’s one of the questions Deirdre Sullivan asked herself when she started her latest book, Needlework, and here are some more.
Needlework is an angry book. I wrote it in November 2010, and basically vomited it out onto the page. That’s what it felt like, vomiting. Getting rid of something pent up in me.
The seed of it, the first little spark grew from a story that isn’t mine to tell. So, I told a story I could tell. One that I made up, about surviving. About how tough it is. How much of you it takes. The dull and daily pain you have to carry.
I wanted Frances to be a survivor, as opposed to a victim. Victimhood is something thrust on you, surviving is something you do yourself. It takes strength and agency. There’s a wealth of strength in human beings. We need to support survivors, recognise that bravery. It takes enormous strength to get away. To carry what you’ve lived through every day, and not to let it steer you.
When I was sad or angry as a teen, I wrote. And it was terrible, but it was mine, and that helped me get through the little heartbreaks everybody faces growing up. But what Frances has been through is damaging, so she finds a way to make scars she can control. To warp what’s happened into something lovely. To weave her talent into an escape.
“When I was sad or angry as a teen, I wrote. And it was terrible, but it was mine, and that helped me get through the little heartbreaks everybody faces growing up.”
I don’t know what will happen to her when Needlework ends. She’ll need her strength. I’m very sure of that. She’ll need her art, as an outlet, but most of all she’ll need support and love. A world that’s ready to hear her and believe her. We don’t live in that world yet. The legal infrastructure isn’t there. And organisations such as Womens Aid have significant cuts to their funding, which means fewer survivors can be supported.
When somebody emerges from a damaging situation, the core of them is tender. It needs gentle, understanding treatment. And there isn’t that for everyone right now. It depends on your circle of friends, family, community. The very things that you’ve been distanced from. Laura, Frances’ Mam, doesn’t speak up because when she has, she hasn’t been believed. She doesn’t have the strength or the language to demand what she needs for her and her daughter.
“I wanted Ces to use her art to steer herself towards increasing agency, increasing strength. I wanted her to battle, not for justice, or resolution, but just for herself.”
Frances is named after Frances Farmer, a woman whose story was stolen from her after her death and reshaped into something else for public consumption. I wanted Ces to use her art to steer herself towards increasing agency, increasing strength. I wanted her to battle, not for justice, or resolution, but just for herself. She just wants a life where she can be herself, and not be fighting all the time for everything. That shouldn’t be a massive aspiration. But it is. And, like I said, I’m not sure where she’ll end up. It’s hard to be a young woman, surviving. I wish her well. I think I’ve left her hope.
Needlework is published by Little Island and is out this Thursday, February 25th. You can pre-order your copy here, or if you’re in Dublin why not pop along to the launch party, which takes places in Eason on O’Connell Street at 6.30pm.
About Deirdre Sullivan
Originally from Galway, now based in Dublin, Deirdre Sullivan is the author of four books for 12+/young adults. Her trilogy on the teenage years of Primrose Leary –Prim Improper, Improper Order and Primperfect has received widespread acclaim, with two of the Prim books shortlisted for the CBI Awards and the third shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature.