Rewriting abusive narratives

Article from:

Jenny Mao | Copy Editor
Featured image: Dancing with Ghosts by Emily Gillespie is one of the books published by Leaping Lions Books, York’s publishing house run by fourth-year professional writing students. | Courtesy of Leaping Lion Books

Most people wouldn’t want to see ghosts, let alone dance with them. Yet this is what happens—metaphorically—in Emily Gillespie’s debut new adult novel, Dancing with Ghosts, which had its book launch at Dora Keogh on March 9.

The story centres around Patricia, a small-town girl who moves to Toronto for university after being bullied in high school and is unable to connect with her career-oriented parents. Though she struggles with her mental health, Patricia is excited to begin her university years, make new friends and discover who she is.

Here, she meets classmate Derek, a young man returning to Toronto after backpacking around the world, partly with his former lover. Derek is intellectual and artistic, yet frustrated with the world and copes through heavy drinking. After being estranged from his parents, Derek only occasionally communicates with his sister, who happens to be a single mother.

“This is not a love story,” said Gillespie, who received her master’s degree at York.

Instead, Dancing with Ghosts is a story about Patricia and Derek’s tumultuous relationship that becomes abusive and deteriorates Patricia’s mental health.

“I wanted to show what intimate partner violence may look like with layers of systemic barriers in accessing health services, such as lack of access to counselling,” says Gillespie.

It is a story about a girl growing up and both losing and finding herself along the way, she added.

While writing and editing Dancing with Ghosts, Gillespie was careful to ensure that Patricia and Derek’s abusive relationship wasn’t romanticized.

“Quite often, romance novels or movies romanticize violence and frame it as love, whether it be physical, sexual or emotional, so I felt that fiction is therefore a great genre to challenge this problematic narrative,” says Gillespie.

“Glorification or erasure of domestic violence in literature may be very problematic for survivors. What does it mean if you’ve lived through abuse and all the works you come across frame the character of deserving of the abuse or erase it?”

Readers may be enticed to learn that Dancing with Ghosts is published by Leaping Lion Books, a publishing house hosted and run by fourth-year professional writing students.

Every year, Leaping Lion Books selects one or two manuscripts to publish in the fourth-year class Book Publishing Practicum. Over the course of the school year, these students work under traditional publishing roles to edit, design, publish and market a book, which is then sold by vendors such as Amazon and Kobo.

“Publishing Dancing with Ghosts was definitely a learning experience; we came across challenges that we did not know existed in the publishing realm,” says Simran Sachdeva, fourth-year English and professional writing student and publisher of the book.

Those interested can find Dancing with Ghosts on social media and purchase the book through Kobo, Amazon or the York bookstore.

My notes:


Follow me:

twitter: @emilygillespiem


IG: emily.m.gillespie


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