Writing to empower young people and children is a topic close to my heart, so I was thrilled to interview Karen Tyrrell, a local Brisbane author and former teacher, about her latest book Stop the Bully.
I met Karen virtually through the Monday writing sprint group on facebook (started by Anita Heiss and now chaired by Angela Sunde) which we are both members of and more recently have caught up with her in real space at Write links ( interested in joining email – email@example.com)
Karen’s book is written with children, victims, bullies and bystanders, parents, teachers, school Principals and the community all in mind. It focuses on eight to twelve year olds but as we shall find out is intended as inspiring and equipping anyone reading it to stop bullying. I ask Karen what led her to write a book about how to deal with bullying.
I was bullied as a child. Grade six was a bad year for me. I dealt with it by focusing on my school year and doing well. Later as an adult I was bullied when working as a teacher, by both parents and students over a period of two years, and although I initially seemed to cope with it, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital and suffering from a mental illness. I have since recovered from the bullying and mental illness and have become a mental health advocate and anti-bullying campaigner.
I realise now, I am the kind of person who when criticised becomes stronger and these experiences have made me into the advocate I am today. The goal with Stop the Bully was to create a fast paced story, a page turner with hooks that could send out positive messages about bullying prevention and resilience. I wanted an appealing story, where children could become engrossed in the story and care about characters.
Karen wanted to create a narrative which would empower readers to have their own discussions about how the characters deal with their challenges. She tells me the storyline of Stop the Bully:
Eleven year old Brian is hiding something can Brian stop the bully without revealing his shameful secret… His life is falling apart. Dad abandoned his Mum and sister Tara. Brian hates his new school. And now an aggressive bully attacks him every day. His shameful secret is a mystery, and is clues and hints as to what it might be are part of what makes the reader want to turn the page as they wonder What will Brian do? What will happen next? The mystery reveals the bullying dilemma from all angles including his parents, his classmates Pete and Amelia, his teacher Miss Bliss, the principal and even the bully who reveals his honest perspective.
Karen is keen to emphasise Stop the Bully will appeal to a wider audience than children being bullied:
It is a helpful tool for Teacher’s counsellors, mental health workers, and parents – as well as children themselves and I’ve had many children’s writers interested in it too.
I could have done with this book when my children were this age and being bullied and can’t help but share some of our family story with Karen. She is an empathetic listener.
Karen shares one of the major strategies for dealing with bullying in her book:
The book covers a range of strategies as different approaches might be needed depending on the situation, but the bigger picture is that a team including victim, perpetrators, parent, classmates and community is needed to deal with bullying, I cover all angles in Stop the Bully.
I am particularly taken with the idea that the whole community needs to be involved in stopping bullying.
Although it is early days in the case of the response to the book from the public, Karen has had a number of beta readers and reviewers from advocates for mental health to school Principals, children’s writers, and parents with children in the target age group of the book. She is active in a number of writing groups for adults and children and has drawn strength and support from these writers to write her book.
Since Karen’s past mental illness and triumphant recovery she has maintained links and connection with SANE and Beyond Blue. The response, from all who have had early exposure to the book, whilst it has been written, or in the limited pre-release has been overwhelmingly positive.
I was excited to receive some five star reviews and an extremely positive response from a school Principal. One of the reviewers, Ali Stegert, was particularly impressed that I wrote about the bully as sensitively as I wrote about the victim.
Another reviewer, a Children’s Mental Health promotion specialist is equally glowing: ‘My kids couldn’t put this book down! Clever characterization and compelling storyline gives ample opportunity for in-depth discussions on bullying and the strategies needed to tackle it.’ — Michael Hardie.
Karen’s most cherished goal is to have the book resonate with and empower children and their families.
She intimates that it is the:
emotion in book which allows young readers to identify with either Brian or his other classmates, a few kids going through challenge, boy and girl characters, empathise challenges, identify anti- bullying strategies come together at end. The book aims to open up discussions and then children can identify how they would react.
Just a few of the writers Karen considers inspirational to her own journey are:
Anita Heiss, Jenny Stubbs, and Susan Gervay for their work in the community with literacy, spreading positive social messages. Susan Gervay has also written a book about bullies, called I am Jack. PLUS I am spurred on by real life working class heroes who strive to speak out to help humanity.
I am inspired by people who have had big challenges in their lives, bullying, abuse, domestic violence and have then risen up and often become advocates for others.
When I ask Karen whether this book might have made a difference to her as a child she answers thoughtfully:
When I was a child bullying was not spoken about at all, school was all about learning facts. I had no idea when I was in year 6, of what to do, and felt like victim. Reading a book like this as a child could have possibly have changed my future life. Although the experience I had was necessary to writing this book. That said I think I have become stronger through my experiences and developed emotional wisdom and self -awareness, as well as greater awareness of how other people feel.
The irony of bullying is that whilst it is an experience that tests our children and can have dire consequences, for those who develop the same self -awareness and emotional wisdom as Karen it can be a crystallising and motivating experience.
The conversation with Karen, makes me recall another one with a woman who on hearing about my son’s experience of being bullied through high school by both students and teachers, had the self-awareness to admit, ‘I was a bully at school, and I totally regret it. We went for the sensitive boys, and one in particular who we teased or ignored, grew up to be extremely handsome and successful, and we gave him hell at school.’
There are several launches of Stop the Bully planned for Queensland. One has already been held in Brisbane. The Logan launch of the book will be held at Logan Library on June 21st Karen is looking forward all those who would benefit from the book joining her. All are welcome. There will be taekwondo demonstrations and some guest speakers in the mental health advocacy field.
To further enhance the engagement of children with the book Karen has some online support resources.
The Next Stop in the Blog Tour for this Book is: Nicky Johnson Review 11th June http://www.nickyjohnston.com.au/blog