Dancing with Ghosts Tangles with Taboos

Dancing with Ghosts, Emily Gillespie’s first book, was inspired by her own experience and seeing others navigate the mental health care system.

“(The book) was motivated by political frustrations and it was also in part motivated by frustrations with how the mental health system is set up,” she said. “It was inspired by these concerns that were around me that I felt like I needed to contribute to.”

A part-time learning assistant and tutor at George Brown College (GBC), Gillespie also works with two organizations providing education and training around gender-based violence, as well as advocacy around disabilities and feminist issues.

Gillespie said she got into the field due to her experience going through the school system with disabilities. For the learning assistant and author, helping students with essays and other school work is a matter of, “helping them develop their confidence and skills to pull assignments apart,” she said.

Gillespie has a degree in gender studies, gender equality and social justices in English, and a master’s in disabilities studies. Using her education, she decided to tackle a narrative in Dancing with Ghosts that doesn’t shy away from taboo topics in today’s society: rape culture and the mental health system.

“The conversation you’re going to have with someone about an academic journal is different than the one you’d have with your friends on Friday or with someone on the subway,” she said.

“So my education helped with that, because I was taking the ideas I was thinking about that I really wanted to cover and think through more in academics and was really able to play around with them in fiction.”

Gillespie finished her master’s in one year and felt that she didn’t explore everything she wanted to with it. The book was a way for her to continue doing research and writing on something she is passionate about.

She began brainstorming for the novel in January 2015 and writing a couple of months later in March. Gillespie finished writing in August and following a period of editing, launched Dancing with Ghosts in March.

Gillespie’s characters, Patricia and Derek, are the main characters involved in an abusive relationship. The book tackles what the situation is like from Patricia’s perspective, including the battle against herself.

Part of what she wanted to create in Patricia was a character that was critical of other narratives which touch upon issues of domestic abuse.

“I wanted a really self-reflective, but struggling character,” she said. “I think something that was really important in creating (Patricia), was having a character that understood, that was struggling in staying in this relationship and the reader is probably going, ‘No, why haven’t you left,’ ” Gillespie said.

Dancing with Ghosts is published by Leaping Lion Books.

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