I wanted to know more about her current work which has been dominated by her new book - Into the Woods; When Love Isn’t Always a Fairytale. Julie is such a valued writer here at The Hills, so I am pleased to be able to share this fabulous endeavour of hers with you, and encourage you all to follow the links at the end of the post to find out more.
To dive straight in Julie - you are soon to be launching your second book, on a completely different topic, and in a totally different style to your first!
Could you tell us what has brought you to writing a second book now and why this subject matter?
I have been involved in the Freedom Programme (a domestic violence programme), which clearly lays out what makes a ‘Nice Guy’ and what makes a ‘Dominator’. It was such an eye-opener for me and made sense of the experiences I was hearing about - it made me even more passionate about achieving a deeper understanding of domestic abuse. I was curious to learn how women get into these relationships, what stops them leaving sooner and what they learn from this dreadful experience.
My background as a qualitative researcher has given me the skills to gather information so I interviewed women about their abuse. In order for the experience to be truly ethical and empowering for them, I returned the transcripts of the interviews to each woman, the actual recording as well as every draft of the book.
The first draft of the book was similar in style to my first book, Love Being Me. However, it didn't light me up at all so I put it to one side for a while. Then, through friends of friends, I met Kate Taylor from Middlefarm Press, Shrewsbury. Kate wanted to work with me as my Managing Editor and even offered her service for free. I was delighted to have her support. She believed wholeheartedly in the book. Her years of professional experience, and the fact that she was so interested and engaged made all the difference and I was newly inspired to pick it back up.
From the outset, Kate asked me many questions about what I wanted the book to achieve; who I wanted to read it, why I had chosen this narrative style, and so on. From here we started to play with the idea of fairy tales. I’ve always been a day-dreamer and I love fairy stories, my excitement for the project was totally reignited. I started to write again, and just loved every moment of re-imagining the traditional fairy stories using the interviews as a starting point. The whole process worked with ease and my imagination went wild!. Importantly the fairy tale form allows the interviewees to remain completely anonymous, and fairy tales universalise stories.
It was Kate too who suggested finding an illustrator for the book to complement the written style. I am extremely lucky to be working with Anita Wyatt, who has had her work commissioned by the National Trust. Anita has kindly donated all of her illustrations for the book, just because she liked the stories and wanted to join us in making a difference.
I don’t underestimate the importance of Kate and Anita’s skills and support. In some ways, I feel their generosity has been its own parallel story where women help other women to find their own power.
You have much experience in supporting sufferers of domestic abuse, how common is this problem?
I come across it more often than you might think in my work. When I talk to people about the book, it is shocking how many have either experienced domestic abuse personally, grown up with it, or have friends or family living with it. Refuge says that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
Domestic abuse is meant to be part of Sex and Relationships Education in schools, but how it is covered is not prescribed so it falls to the school and the individual teacher to decide. Too many people are either uninformed about abuse or just not comfortable talking about it - I definitely don’t think it is covered as powerfully as it should be in schools.
Do you think that the #MeToo movement is helping to open up this secretive world?
I think the #MeToo movement has started some conversations, but because it has been played out in the slightly unreal world of celebrity, I’m not sure what long term impact it will have. I heard one interview recently where men were questioned, a year on, about the impact of #MeToo on them which misses the point as #Metoo was about giving women a voice which is what I hope my book does. It is great to include men in the discussions and cases of domestic abuse will reduce much faster if both men and women work together against it. People have asked me if men can come to the book launch, this couldn’t be better! Men can educate other men and challenge their behaviours.
What do you want your book to achieve?
I would like the book to start conversations, not just about domestic abuse, but about how women give up our power, how we can re-empower ourselves and support each other. I want parents to talk to their children about it (the book is written for adults so not appropriate for young children to read for themselves). I want those who stand in judgement and say: ‘she could have just left’ to start to understand why ‘just leaving’ is so tough and why it takes most women many, many attempts before they eventually take this difficult step. Every week 2 women are killed by their partner and leaving often happens a time when the violence escalates.
What are the women on which the stories are based doing now? What has been their opinion of the book?
They have all approved their stories and the illustrations and a couple of them are quoted at the start of the book commenting on it. To find out what happened to each of them, you’ll have to read the book!
Anything else you want to put forward Julie to make your case for buying the book?
Fairy tales are not everyone’s cup of tea and domestic abuse is not the easiest of subjects to open ourselves up to, but 1 in 4 women living in fear is wrong. There is so much shame, secrecy and misunderstanding about domestic violence, I believe the book goes some way to challenging and changing this. I would like people to buy the book to raise money for DV charities, but more than that, I want people to buy the book, to show they care, to learn about DV so that they can help those who are suffering, to educate themselves and those they care about to avoid it and to challenge unhelpful thinking surrounding the topic.
In short, I want this book to make a difference. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where DV is as unthinkable as corporal punishment is to us today. People were caned or slippered when I was at school, how unimaginable is that now? Change can happen swiftly and ubiquitously if we all stand together and say “We do not accept DV, there is no excuse for it, there is never a justification or a reason for it, ever”.
All profits from the print copies of the book will go to Domestic Abuse charities to support families who need it. Please buy a copy for all of the reasons I have mentioned, and please encourage others to do the same and spread the word.
More about Julie: Julie Leoni is an academic, teacher, writer, coach, yoga teacher and mum, and she wonderfully juggles all of these so that her work fits around her family life. She moved from Kent to the hills nearly 20 years ago and can still remember the first two years when she thought she would never feel warm again. Now, however, when she goes back down south to visit friends, she heaves a sigh of relief as she sees the Shropshire hills on her return after the chaos of the M25.