Writers in Lockdown | Rebecca Freeborn, The Girl She Was

In these

strange times, many women writers are facing the sad reality of having to cancel the launches and publicity for their books, which they have spent so much of their energy and creativity in developing. Feminartsy will be sharing profiles of authors with books being released over the coming months, to shine a spotlight on their work and spread the word about their incredible books.

Today, we meet Rebecca Freeborn, author of The Girl She Was out now through Panterra Press.


Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’ve been writing since I was a child and submitted my first manuscript to a publisher at the age of twelve. I write fiction about the issues that affect women and girls – I explore the uncomfortable feelings we keep locked inside ourselves, pull them out into the light and examine them with a view towards hope and healing.

How would you describe your book to a potential reader?

The Girl She Was explores themes of consent, coercion and relationship power dynamics.

It is the story of 17-year-old Layla, a ‘late bloomer’ who is insecure about her looks and her lack of experience. When the owner of the café where she works turns his attention on her, Layla finally begins to feel like a sexual being, and the feeling intoxicates her. She knows it’s wrong, but Scott is going to leave his wife soon, and anyway, he loves Layla too much to let her go.

But when the relationship becomes increasingly volatile, Layla takes drastic action and is forced to uproot her life and flee her small town, leaving a trail of broken friendships and regrets behind her.

Twenty years later, Layla has papered over her insecurities and left the past behind when she receives a message from someone she’d never expected to hear from again: I know what you did. She’s run from her town, her friends and the memory of what she did. Now she must face them all.

How did the idea for The Girl She Was first come to you?

The book was inspired in part by a relationship I had with a married 28-year-old when I was 17. While the relationship was nothing like the one portrayed in this book, I carried the guilt around with me for many years before I finally came to realise how much coercion had been involved.

I was interested in exploring the issue of consent, particularly where there are imbalanced power structures at play – whether it’s age, role or other factors – and whether they blur the question of consent.

When the allegations about Harvey Weinstein first started coming out, I was drawn to story after story from the women who spoke out, and it was the first time I fully understood how powerful men take things from women and call it consent, and how the world believes them.

I was also inspired to write this book when I watched Hannah Gadsby’s groundbreaking Nanette, and she was talking about Picasso describing his 17-year-old mistress as being ‘in her prime’:

A 17-year-old girl is just never, ever in her prime. Ever.

I’d spent so many years feeling ashamed about what I’d once done that I’d never stopped to consider how he had used my youth and insecurity against me to get what he wanted. It was this vulnerability and uncertainty, and the shame that followed me into adulthood, that I wanted to portray in Layla.

How long did it take you to write the book, and what has been your process?

Once I started writing the book, it poured out of me in a great, dizzying gasp. I hadn’t realised how much anger I’d locked inside until I started trying to articulate how it had felt. I wrote faster than I’d ever written before, completing the first draft in just over seven weeks. It was a dark, ugly little thing, and I had to let it sit for a couple of months before I could return to it and bring some light and hope into it. It was then that I discovered one of the other important themes, which was the healing nature of friendship between girls and women.

I completed the second draft in another two months and sent it to my editor, who took it straight to acquisitions and it was unanimously accepted for publication. Nevertheless, the process of excavating my own adolescent mind was intensely uncomfortable, and it took some time after I had finished it before I was ready to start writing again.

How did you balance the ethics/morals of the scandal at the heart of the book, with creating balanced and well-rounded characters?

It was important to me that the protagonist was not an entirely innocent and passive character. While she has clearly been manipulated and taken advantage of, I also wanted to show a less generous side to her – that she doesn’t always treat the people who care about her very well. I wanted to acknowledge that she made some poor choices along the way, as we all do, and this is borne out in the regret and shame that follows her into her adult life and the scars she has been left with.

How does it feel to be launching your book into the world?

It is obviously a very weird time to be bringing a book into the world! I fell in love with the cover for The Girl She Was the second I saw it, and was hopeful that it would help to attract readers in a competitive market. But now that most bookshops are closed, the ability to browse for books has all but disappeared, and we’re relying solely on positive publicity and word of mouth to sell books. It’s definitely a challenging environment for everyone with new books coming out at the moment, but it’s also been lovely to see people in the industry pulling together to help market books. On the positive side, there’s never been a better time to become engrossed in a new book!

Where can people buy your book, and find out more about your work?

My book is available in hard copy from most bookshops, ebook and audiobook. Many bookshops are offering free delivery at the moment, and I would always encourage people to buy from their local independent bookshop. I have a very poorly-tended website and blog, but am active on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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