Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Every Move, PTSD, and the deep breath in

First, I have to say I’m excited.  Like, hugely.  Every Move is about to be released into the wild – uh, I mean, the world – and it’s thrilling to know that in a few short weeks, people will be reading it.

It’s also NERVE-WRACKING, like whoah.  I don’t think I’ve been this nervous for a book release before – I don’t think I was even this nervous with Every Breath.  I’m worried that readers won’t like it, or won’t find it a satisfying conclusion to a series in which they’ve invested time and love.  I’m worried about typos (every book has ‘em.  Me and Sophie tried our utmost, but like head lice, they’re really really hard to thoroughly eradicate.).   I’m worried about the spicy bits – I’ve tried to judge it right, but I can’t cover all folks’ comfort levels.  I’m worried about what reviewers will say (I know! I shouldn’t read them!  But I can’t help it).

So, yeah – stress.  Nerves.  But exciting ones.

Speaking of stress, there was one thing I wanted to talk about before the book came out: it’s the subject of Rachel’s PTSD.  I think it’s pretty clear, from the blurb on the back of the book, that Rachel has had a reaction to all the trauma she went through in Every Word.  Which stands to reason, yeah?  She and Mycroft had a pretty horrifying time in London. 

I’ve always tried to be true to the characters in the series: that’s been really important to me, that it’s obvious to the reader that chasing after murderers and hunting down clues isn’t totally risk-free.  It’s a fictional world, but I’ve tried to keep it real.  I haven’t glossed over the danger, or the injuries that both Rachel and Mycroft have copped in the series.

They both carry some physical scars.  But in Every Move, Rachel is suffering some of the psychological effects of those experiences.  Safe to say – without spoilers – that she is still having a rough time many weeks after England, and is exhibiting a lot of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.  Mycroft too, although he is coping with it in a demonstrably different way.  I wanted it to be clear that Rachel and Mycroft are just ordinary kids, who’ve experienced something terrible and have a reaction to that.  There’s no way I was going to just write it like ‘ok, we solved that one, la-li-la, now everything’s fine!’  In real life, it wouldn’t be fine.  In Every Move, it’s definitely not fine.

At this point, I need to credit someone here for some help, someone who (unfortunately, and my deep apologies) didn’t get a credit in the Acknowledgements.  Braiden Asciak – who is, I have to say, a superstar - provided me with some fantastically useful info on PTSD and how it’s diagnosed and treated.

PTSD sufferers display some classic symptoms, and I’m gonna detail them right here: recurrent distressing memories, recurrent distressing dreams, disassociative reactions (flashbacks), intense psychological distress in response to cues, marked physiological reactions to cues, persistent negative emotional state and exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself/others, diminished interest in significant activities, irritable/reckless/self-destructive behaviour and emotional outbursts, and hypervigilance.

These are only a few of the issues around the disorder.  It was my job in Every Move to write Rachel as coping with the problem, and hopefully finding her way out of it. 

There are readers out there who will find Rachel’s struggle difficult to read.  I wanted to say that I didn’t include ‘trigger warnings’ with this book, for a couple of reasons.  One is that they’re not in common use in print publishing – in Australia, or anywhere else that I know of.  Two is that I’m with Roxane Gay on this issue: I don’t think that trigger warnings are useful.  They provide the illusion of safety.  Just about anything is a trigger for somebody.  It’s clear from the Every Move blurb that the issue comes up.  I will trust the reader to make the decision about what they’re okay to read.  In the end, no one can make that assessment and decision except the reader themselves.

I also wanted to point out that there are no links at the end of the book to PTSD support organisations.  I did suggest it, but again, it’s something not frequently done in Australian fiction.  But I’m getting in touch with organisations like Beyond Blue, SANE Australia, ReachOut (for teenagers and children), and headspace (the National Youth Mental Health Foundation) to let them know the book is coming out, and that it deals with the issue.

Something else I wanted to say is that I’ve experienced PTSD myself.  My partner and I lived in Indonesia for a long time, and we lived and worked in Jakarta during the fall of President Soeharto in 1998-99.  It was a period of dreadful political and social upheaval.  We didn’t live in a gated expat enclave, but in an apartment building right in the middle of the one of the most riot-prone areas of the city.

I was working at an international school at the time: all my students and I had overnight bags in a locker in case we couldn’t leave, after a nearby school’s bus was overturned and set on fire one afternoon – all the kids made it out, thank god.  I rang my partner every day to find out if the roads were clear of riots, so I could make it home.  I rode a motorbike, and needed to know if I would have to dodge rocks, Molotov cocktails, military forces or angry crowds.  My partner and I were at home on the day a large contingent of tertiary students staged a protest march along our main road.  Military forces fired on that rally, and many students were killed – and we watched it all happen, hiding behind the concrete balcony of our apartment.

It was not a good time.  It was a horrible time, and when we finally left the country, we were heartsore and traumatised.  The country we loved to be in was tearing itself to pieces.

We left Indonesia and went to India, for a six-month hiatus.  Unfortunately we arrived in the middle of Diwali.  The constant explosion of firecrackers made both us edgy.  We jumped at loud noises, and had bad dreams.  We recovered to a large extent, but it’s still a time of my life I remember with a great deal of anxiety.  Typing this out now, my hands are shaking.  When I try to explain it to people, they look at me like I’m joking, like it’s exaggerated recall, or something I saw once in a movie.  But it was real, and I still get a reaction to the memory.

These experiences made me try really hard to do justice to Rachel’s story in Every Move.  I hope I’ve gotten it right.  How does Rachel find her way through?  Well, I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out :)  But I do hope that it strikes a chord with some readers who need to know that it’s possible to recover.

Phew!  Okay, it was great to have a chance to talk about things before the book comes out.  I hope you like the book, and I’d like to say again a huge thank you to all of you, especially all the readers out there who’ve come this far on the journey with me and Rachel and Mycroft.  I’m feeling the love!  Now I better get back to writing (I’m getting there on the new MS), and I’ll be in touch again very soon to let you know about the Every Move launch party (probably March 16 – that’s gonna be the next post) and the upcoming blog tour.

Have a good week, good luck to everyone who’s back at school, and hooray for March!

Xx Ellie


  1. 2nd try:

    So, yeah! Readers will understand that PTSD is a very big spectrum. After 9/11, I was afraid to hear planes flying overhead. (The F16s that buzzed NYC all day after the attack scared me senseless.) But that faded quickly. And then you have guys who end up hiding in the closet with a knife. So there's no "right" way to characterize it.

    I'll bet your readers will understand!

    1. Hey Sarina! Thank you so much for commenting, and I hope readers will understand (they're usually pretty good like that). It's been on my mind.
      And I'm looking forward so much to YOUR next book :)
      xx Ellie

  2. I loved reading this post (I read it last week but have only just found tme to come back and comment, haha).

    I love your honesty and think some of your life story sounds fascinating! All the travel and in times of great turmoil.

    I am really looking forward to seeing how Rachel is going in Every Move. I think it is fascinating, all the ways we handle PTSD and how it effects everyone differently.

    My husband got caught up in a robbery, became stuck to the getaway vehicle, repeatedly punched and dragged (at 60k's an hour) for a few blocks before being run over. It didn't even really involve loud noises but for ages he woke in the night thinking the perpetrators were breaking in and was jumpy at loud noises from cars in our street (those days we lived in the burn-out area of town..lol). it doesn't even make sense that the guys would try and find him or even care but he was irrational about it at times. He is fine now but it did take a while. He also felt weird about being anxious about things and didn't want people to know.

    I really liked Elizabeth Scott's YA book 'Miracle' which deals with PTSD. She said she wrote it after (trying to remember/summarise the gist) nearly choking/allergic reaction that ended with her fighting for her breath in hospital. That sparked a lot of PTSD in her. Although her book is about a girl who is the sole survivor of a plane crash.