INTERVIEW WITH Yvonne Cassidy
What is the name of the piece that you have in Grabbed?
My piece is called Tuesdays.
What was the inspiration for your piece? What compelled you to write it?
The piece is about my experience of group therapy in a group for survivors of sexual abuse run by an organization called One in Four, based in Ireland. The essay details the arc of my healing journey, starting with my first night arriving there and finishing with how I felt when I left.
What compelled you to submit your work for this anthology? Was it a difficult decision?
When Nikki Moustaki - one of the Grabbed editors - approached me to be part of the anthology, I said “no” straight away. But that night I came home and almost against my will I started to write Tuesdays. It was one of those pieces that comes out nearly fully formed - I actually wrote most of it on my phone! In many ways, I think the piece had been inside me, waiting to be written. Until Nikki asked, I didn’t know I was ready.
Once it was written, I knew I had to submit it, though that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision. On the contrary - initially I wanted to publish it as a fictionalized piece although I’m so glad that I didn’t now. For me, publishing this meant disclosing my childhood sexual abuse trauma to family members who never knew. It was a secret that I’d carried mostly alone for nearly four decades. The hardest part and the most important part was breaking that silence.
Why did you choose this particular form or genre for this piece?
Apart from the occasional dabble into poetry I am a prose writer, so it was always going to be in that form. While I mostly write fiction, over the last number of years I’ve enjoyed mining my own experience through personal essay.
Can you speak to the evolution of writing your piece? How long did it take you to write this piece, including revision?
Very infrequently, a piece pours out of me almost fully formed. Usually with my novels, it is one key scene that I write early on, before I even fully understand what the story is or how it will develop around this scene. This is what happened with Tuesdays.
I am a creature of habit and I like routine - especially when it comes to writing. But Tuesdays just bubbled up late one Sunday night while I was putting away laundry. I typed it into my phone - the words were coming so fast I didn’t have time to turn on my computer. I stayed up past 1am - also not like me! - just to get it down and capture it all.
Of course, I revised that original piece a couple of times but the edits were minimal - the biggest revision I made was change the point of view. I had originally written Tuesdays in the first-person but it felt too close to me, almost suffocatingly close. Nikki Moustaki suggested trying second-person and it was the perfect suggestion. Second-person made it feel more immediate and yet gave the breathing room I felt the piece needed.
As a writer, do you feel obliged to share difficult experiences?
When I was a kid growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, there was a lot that wasn’t talked about. Books and music became my way to connect with people beyond my own limited experience - they were a way to understand life and human emotions. I would read a line in a book and think: “That’s it! I’ve felt that way, I know that feeling!” and it would be so exciting to me to make that connection with someone I didn’t know and had never met. As a writer, I believe that’s the most important thing I have to offer readers - a point of connection - that by sharing my own experiences I can help someone understand their own a little better and maybe feel less alone.
Something I tell my students - whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction - is that the moment they start to feel uncomfortable or scared, that moment when they start to worry about what other people will think of what they’ve written, that’s the moment you know that you are writing something really good, something true.
What do you feel the impact of the #MeToo movement has been on your work, if any?
It’s almost impossible not to have been impacted by the #MeToo movement. Having so many voices break their silence raises a bar for me in my own work, my own life. Beyond writing about sexual abuse or trauma, it poses wider questions: How authentic am I willing to be in my own work? How willing am I to own my own experience, even when owning that experience is hard or scary - maybe especially then?
What would you say to another writer who has been uncomfortable or silent about their experience? How can they begin to share their experiences?
I would say start small. You don’t need to start to write about your biggest secret right away, you can write about your experience of something where there is less at stake for you. Getting comfortable with that will help you find your own voice and demonstrate to you the benefit of sharing your experiences through your writing - you’ll notice what you get from it and how it feels afterwards.
The other thing that helps me when I write that first draft is to remind myself that no-one ever has to see it. In my mind, the act of writing and the act of sharing your work - through publication or other means - and two totally separate things. When I first wrote Tuesdays, I wrote it for me - I didn’t think of it being published, I had already said “no” to being included in Grabbed. For me, I need to write the piece first, to get it out and then decide how and with who and when I want to share it.
How can a publication such as Grabbed help to empower or heal readers?
Shame breeds in silence. Shame has the power to rob me of my voice, my experience and even my sense of self. A publication like Grabbed, on so many levels is saying: “No, you can’t take my power away, whatever you do to me, I still have my voice and here it is.” The power of our collective voices shines light into the dark. Our voices - my voice - has the power to dispel shame.
My own journey to healing began with reading the book “The Courage to Heal” by Ellen Bass and Louise Thornton. I’ll never forget how terrified I was to even buy that book. I bought it thousands of miles from home, in a Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn and I was shaking, bringing it to the register. That book was the cornerstone of my healing. Through the voices of the courageous women sharing their stories, I began to understand what had happened to me and feel more hopeful, less alone. Today, Grabbed is on the shelves of that same Barnes and Noble bookstore and Ellen Bass is a contributor who I am honored to be published alongside. None of that, would have been possible for me without the first step of buying a book that changed my life.
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