My Sunshine Away

My Sunshine Away is a harrowing coming of age novel about the rape of fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson, told from the perspective of her younger neighbour who has been in love with her since the tender age of eleven.

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Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the story immediately called to mind a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird. It mainly follows the year of the rape, 1991, and the year after, 1992.

The narrator extremely naive, as admitted by himself when he looks back at his own thoughts and feelings years after the assault was committed. One of the most heart-breaking moments is when his mother explains to him that Lindy has been raped, and he makes it clear that he is unaware of what the word truly means.

But this endearing quality to the narrator also makes for a very confusing read, and as you work your way through the novel your emotions towards him change regularly. Yes, he is sweet, young and naive, protected from much that is bad in the world. However, as he grows up, you watch him discover his sexuality and his obsession with Lindy becomes perverse. You learn the narrators innermost thoughts and feelings, which at times are so personal that you feel like you are an intruder in his mind, like you should not be party to it. .

Throughout the book you wonder to yourself “Did HE do it?”. He admits from the start that he is a suspect in the rape, but your opinion of him will jump back and for during the tale. Obviously I will not reveal the truth here, as it will ruin this fantastic thriller for potential readers. I would simply like to mention that I found the revelation of the identity of the rapist disappointing.

This was an absorbing and heart-wrenching read. The characters have a brilliant depth which is not often easily found, and the plot itself is filled with twists that will knock you sideways. But I felt as if all of the suspense was built up for an anti-climax. If Walsh had altered the last three pages or so, it would have been an all-round knock-out.

Although I was slightly annoyed with the ending, I can’t get over the depth of character created throughout the novel.

Lindy herself is an outstandingly complex character, which is made all the more interesting by the fact that she is explained through the eyes of the naive narrator. When he sees Lindy rebelling against society and becoming strangely recluse, you as the reader understand what inner turmoil she must be going through. The narrator is too young, too innocent to understand why Lindy has changed so much since her assault, but the way in which he describes her changes tells us how broken she is, how much of a danger she is to herself. You see her suffering when he does not.

You read as slowly the narrator catches on to the gravity of what has happened to Lindy, as he realises the physical, emotional and mental torture that she carries around with her since the event. You watch as the narrator is hit with the brutal reality of rape and it’s consequences. You see him starting to understand that growing up means understanding how harsh the world can be, and how terrible things change people deeply inside.

For example there is also his mother, who was left by his father a few years before the rape occurred. Throughout the story you realise that his mother still pines for his father, you see how lonely and how depressed she has become, even though he doesn’t see it himself.

That is one of the most incredible things about this tense novel- through the narrators descriptions of other peoples behaviour you can clearly see that they are struggling and you can guess why, while all along the narrator himself simply does not understand.It is that harsh reality of life being told through the blissfully ignorant voice of the narrator which creates such an emotive, engrossing and disconcerting mystery.

Taboo and controversial topics are told through his innocent eyes, and he doesn’t understand the gravity of many of the things he hears and sees. Rape, abusive marriages, drugging, cheating and even paedophilia are examined within the book, but they are discussed subtly. We the readers know why we are disturbed by the idea of someone raping a fifteen-year-old, of someone keeping photos taken of children walking down the street without them knowing. The narrator is distressed by these, but he cannot put his feeling on why he is uneasy. It is only once that he has hit puberty and becomes aware of his own sexuality that he sees the gravity of what these perverse things could mean.

This book examines some of the most horrifying tragedies that can happen to anyone, and some of the most debilitating fears that can take over someone’s life.

These saddening and disconcerting issues are dealt with sensitively, in a prose which relays the weight of them so subtly that it will break your heart.

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A book hasn’t made me this uncomfortable, this disturbed in months. But while it was uncomfortable to read it was also incredible. The way in which Walsh has handled such delicate situations is like nothing I have seen before. The depth of character and scale of the novel is very, very impressive. I have a feeling this will be big when it’s published in the UK.

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What I learned at the London Book Fair

  1. Try not to take heavy luggage with you. Cloak rooms are few and far between, often with long queues and small fees for the service. If you are able to, leave all of your luggage at your accommodation.
  2. Wear sensible shoes. This may seem like an insignificant piece of very cliché advice, but it makes a huge difference. After three days of wearing ankle boots which I thought were professional looking, my feet were so sore that I was walking extremely slowly, a difficult predicament to be in when seminars are tightly scheduled yet often extremely far away from each other.
  3. Take lunch with you. The queues are tragically long and the prices are extortionate. It will save you time and the pain of handing over most of your cash.
  4. Use the maps provided. Really. As a very proud and stubborn individual, I assumed that I would pretty much figure out the layout on my own. I was wrong. Save yourself a lot of time and grab one of the fold out maps.
  5. ATTEND SEMINARS. It is extremely surprising how few people actually attend the seminars which are on offer at the event. From engaging YA readers to the impact of the Ebook, the seminars are hugely beneficial and have a large range of content. Among the most popular talks were “How To Get Into Publishing”, “Creativity, The Internet, and Politics” and “Journalism and It’s Dangers”. I attended both “How To Get Into Publishing” and “Successful Social Media Strategies”, and I am so glad that I did. Not only were the talks concise and eye-opening, but the speakers were bluntly honest and willing to answer as many weird and wonderful questions that time allowed. Furthermore, the speakers for both provided clear advice along with the emails of professionals to send any enquiries to, useful websites and beneficial groups to join.
  6. Make the most of their slightly stranger events. For example, my colleague and I managed to grab a spare spot in “Publicist Speed-Dating“, where we had ten minute meetings with different publicists, where we could pitch event ideas and get advice on how to improve our relationship with these individual publishers.
  7. Ask for proofs. Obviously, do not be too pushy, as this could give you or your company a bad reputation. However, if the reps at the stall seem friendly enough, the worst they can do is say no. If they do reject the idea, bow out gracefully and thank them for their time.
  8. Do NOT lie, exaggerate or keep quiet about your position in your company or who you work for, and try to always explain your position when you first introduce yourself. My colleague and I were the subjects of poor miscommunication, with many people that got in touch with us after the event thinking that we were much more influential than we actually are (FYI, not at all). How this occurred, we are still unsure. We had badges which shouted our positions and where we were based, but it seems as if many people simply notice which company you work for, not what you do for them. Perhaps this is because those that run the stalls simply aren’t used to dealing with anyone so low down in a company, and therefore assume a certain status upon anybody there, but we mere booksellers were mistaken time and time again for regional buyers. The resulting emails are, at best, extremely awkward. Introduce yourself with a good handshake, your name, your company and your position within that company. Explain what you are doing at the LBF to begin with, and hopefully no misunderstandings can arise.
  9. Introduce yourself to other attendees. By approaching others who are also interested in the same seminars, you could well be making very useful contacts for the future. Swap emails or even phone numbers with anyone who seems friendly and wiling to help, you never know when they may come in handy.
  10. The main thing that I took away from the 2015 LBF was this: MAKE BUSINESS CARDS. – No matter how unimportant you think you may seem compared to everybody else attending the fair, not having a business card to leave with those you speak to will immediately put them off. It makes you seem unprofessional and gives the impression that you are not fully dedicated to the networking you are doing. Give business cards to as many people as possible and vice versa,  you never know when they may get in touch or when you may need to email them for advice.

The most important point of all is: GO.

If you have the slightest interest in the publishing industry and you are able to attend, do it. Even if you do not manage to get a space at one of the strange networking events, or if you miss that particular seminar you so wanted to hear, it will still be beneficial. On my first day I only made it to one seminar and I was too shy to approach many people, but at the end of that day I still realised how lucky I was to be there, because you learn a lot simply by walking around the event. You will see strangely formatted books in a number of different stalls, and realise that they may be the next big thing. You will hear what the publishers are focusing on, so that you are aware of the newest trends and focuses throughout the industry.

You will meet people from similar or shockingly different backgrounds, you will gain good connections even if you do not realise it at the time, but most of all, you will enjoy it. If you are passionate about the field, you will never forget it.