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An interview with the author of Eyes of the Blind

It’s always a delight to meet writers who understand their craft in order to produce beautiful prose in addition to writing a compelling and unusual story. It’s my real pleasure to introduce you to Alex Tresillian, author of Eyes of the Blind, published by Urbane Publications. Alex lives in rural Worcestershire which I guess makes us neighbours.

Alex kindly agreed to talk about his writing life for my blog.

Alex, what would you like your readers to know about your writing background?

 Been writing creatively since I first knew how to hold a pen. Remember my father typing up two poems I wrote when very small. Have a lot of unfinished novels from my teens. Wrote mostly plays thereafter (my parents worked in the theatre), and was able to stage some myself when working as a teacher, which I did for more than twenty years. Working for an education company in Lebanon, I authored two series of text books, one on grammar (something I greatly enjoy!) and one on writing.

What inspired you to write Eyes of the Blind?

 I worked for eleven years in a school for visually impaired students. It was something that nothing could prepare you for. Having had that window into the blind world, it was something that I thought would be interesting to share, and a believable blind protagonist would be an unusual twist in the crowded thriller genre.

I understand you write in long hand. How long does it take to write a first draft?  Why do you choose this method over a computer/laptop? Is it a labour of love?

I don't see it as a labour of love: it is just how I work. I am anything but a technophobe, and actually type pretty fast. However, I find it very difficult to create when typing, whether it is because words are broken down into their individual letters as you type them (or, even worse, auto-suggested) I don't know. When I am writing I often write two or sometimes three options of verbs/prepositions one above the other and select when re-reading later.  I don't even know how I would begin to do it on a laptop. It is almost as though writing, for me, is a physical process, like sculpting. I literally 'work' on sentences even though the medium is just ink and paper. I was given my first typewriter (a cast-off of my father's) when I was about ten - a manual with the line spacer partially broken - and I have always loved the process of transferring my manuscript to typescript. For me it is a major part of the drafting/editing process. Mentally it would never suit me to write complete draft after complete draft. I would find that soul-destroying. The drafting and redrafting takes place on the pages of my notebook. I will still make changes after printing out a complete draft (in pen!), but would be unlikely to start again from scratch unless someone had given me a large advance!

 

What is your daily writing schedule? Do you have any quirky routines to keep you going?

 

I write in the morning. I have always been a morning person. If I can't get any done in the morning, then I don't do any that day. It doesn't matter what time I get up, whether it is six or nine, I will write for about an hour after breakfast. Sometimes, if it is really flowing, I might stretch to an hour and a half, although I am suspicious when it is flowing too easily. I reckon to write about 500 words of a book like Eyes of the Blind in that time. I might only manage 300 of something more 'literary'. However, for me the slow pace suits the creative process. If I write too much too quickly, the writing may be fine but the level of ideas goes down. Because I only have the most basic outline of where a book is going, I need plenty of time for the ideas to gel and grow while the writing is going on. So I will never write for more than that hour, although I may spend the rest of the day thinking about what might come next. I used to go for 'writing walks' in which I would think out the next phase of whatever I was writing, but parenthood and life in general taught me to do my thinking alongside regular daily activities.

I don't have any quirky activities to keep me going. I never mind missing a day or days because I know that it will all add to the creative melting pot when I do get back to work. The working session always begins with re-reading the previous day's or days' work, and changes often get made then.

 

You are traditionally published. What are your views on self-publishing? 

I have always taken the view that it was vanity. Yes, the publishing world is flooded with books and you almost certainly need luck to get your head above the parapet, but I am not convinced I would get much satisfaction from a self-published book.

 What advice would you give to writers working on their debut novel?

 Get to the end. It's a great feeling. Don't try to write like anyone else, write like you. Write it because you need/want to write it, not because you dream of being a best-seller. Whatever happens afterwards, don't give up. We are writers because that is what we do, not necessarily because the rest of the world recognises us as such.

 

Finally the moment those of us who have read Eyes of the Blind are waiting for; - The Sequel! What can you tell us about that without spoiling the anticipation?

Blind Justice takes us back into the world of the two main characters, Niall and Miranda, nearly a year after the events of Eyes of the Blind. Niall investigates a charity that is helping to empower disabled people through sport, and finds himself in the murky world of state-sponsored doping in athletics. Miranda returns to the British Association for the Blind, where much has changed but all is still not well. Before long, both find themselves at risk in more ways than one...

 

Eyes of the Blind is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eyes-Blind-truth-sometimes-plain-ebook/dp/B01NAAWBCR

This is a fantastic debut novel that will have you gripped from beginning to end. I read it in a few days and highly recommend it. I have some knowledge of children and young adults who are VI and Alex captures their struggles and strengths brilliantly. I do hope there is a second book coming soon.

 

Blind Justice is published by Urbane Publications and is published on July 5th 2018

 

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Why some books are getting on my nerves - literally

  I must be losing my sense of adventure. That, or I am simply getting old.  Books that would leave me unable to sleep or have me snatching a glance at yet another paragraph to see if murder most foul had been committed or some other heinous crime no longer suit my nervy temperament. My adrenaline glands are fatigued. So says my doctor. No more excitement for you!

   The term “gripping psychological thriller” used to be like a shot of the best red wine through my veins which, incidentally, I can’t tolerate any more. Now it’s becoming an overworked marketing strapline.  I should know, it’s partly the genre I work in. So many books buzz around on Amazon with dramatic headlines the books don’t deserve. Obviously I am not mentioning any here but I’m sure you’ve read stuff that neither lives up to the hype nor complies with some trades descriptions act.

  Keeping people in suspense for 80,000 words is no mean feat for the writer and I wonder how many books are abandoned because either the reader is disappointed after a few chapters or being of a  certain disposition can’t cope with the suspense provided by the unreliable narrator ( a new bit of jargon I’ve recently acquired). Can your nerves take another fictional garrotting or are you becoming so inured to blood and gore that it leaves you feeling cold? Are we being offered templates of similar storylines, defective characters and unrealistic interaction? In short, has the psychological thriller had its day? Probably not but I think it needs freshening up a bit.

  A lot has been written about this genre but here’s my tuppence ha’penny worth.

   One important ingredient for a psychological thriller is to get into the minds of those who are suffering and not necessarily the character responsible for inflicting the pain. It’s easier to do if you are weaving in some personal experiences as you can write from the inside out. This is what I’ve done in my two books to date. It’s more important to show how this suffering plays out – out of character behaviour, unexplainable mood swings and changes in perception – rather than forensics or police procedures. Even plot takes a bit of a back seat.

  The most ordinary and balanced of people can find themselves responding to a threat or a loss in the most extraordinary ways. I talk to many of these people through the counselling work I offer. When it comes to emotions, nothing is predictable yet I find myself wanting to shake some of the characters I read about because either they don’t come across as authentic or to use some recent vernacular like “snowflakes.”

As for me, I need a break from grubbing around in twisted psyches and have turned to something softer and less rooted in harsh reality, at least for the summer, to give my nerves a rest. 

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Why some books are getting on my nerves - literally

  • Published in Writing

  I must be losing my sense of adventure. That, or I am simply getting old.  Books that would leave me unable to sleep or have me snatching a glance at yet another paragraph to see if murder most foul had been committed or some other heinous crime no longer suit my nervy temperament. My adrenaline glands are fatigued. So says my doctor. No more excitement for me!

   The term “gripping psychological thriller” used to be like a shot of the best red wine through my veins which, incidentally, I can’t tolerate any more. Now it’s becoming an overworked marketing strapline.  I should know, it’s partly the genre I work in. So many books buzz around on Amazon with dramatic headlines the books don’t deserve. Obviously I am not mentioning any here but I’m sure you’ve read stuff that neither lives up to the hype nor complies with some trades descriptions act.

  Keeping people in suspense for 80,000 words is no mean feat for the writer and I wonder how many books are abandoned because either the reader is disappointed after a few chapters or being of a  certain disposition can’t cope with the suspense provided by the unreliable narrator ( a new bit of jargon I’ve recently acquired). Can your nerves take another fictional garrotting or are you becoming so inured to blood and gore that it leaves you feeling cold? Are we being offered templates of similar storylines, defective characters and unrealistic interaction? In short, has the psychological thriller had its day? Probably not but I think it needs freshening up a bit.

  A lot has been written about this genre but here’s my tuppence ha’penny worth.

   One important ingredient for a psychological thriller is to get into the minds of those who are suffering and not necessarily the character responsible for inflicting the pain. It’s easier to do if you are weaving in some personal experiences as you can write from the inside out. This is what I’ve done in my two books to date. It’s more important to show how this suffering plays out – out of character behaviour, unexplainable mood swings and changes in perception – rather than forensics or police procedures. Even plot takes a bit of a back seat.

  The most ordinary and balanced of people can find themselves responding to a threat or a loss in the most extraordinary ways. I talk to many of these people through the counselling work I offer. When it comes to emotions, nothing is predictable yet I find myself wanting to shake some of the characters I read about because either they don’t come across as authentic or to use some recent vernacular like “snowflakes.”

As for me, I need a break from grubbing around in twisted psyches and have turned to something softer and less rooted in harsh reality, at least for the summer, to give my nerves a rest.

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How Spiritual are You?

  I’ve been asked to work on some ideas for a corporation to introduce an element of spirituality into their workforce. Since a vein of this theme runs through the spine of my upcoming novel, “The Future Can’t Wait,” I considered this to be somewhat synchronous.

  When we think about spirituality, the default definition is often linked to something theistic but it is much broader than this. The spiritual journey is a very personal one and not open to debate about any rights and wrongs. I was surprised to find that the Sloane School of Management has been considering this aspect of Human Resource Management since the nineties.  Rather than being about offering prayer groups or Higher Power Lunches or even group chanting every morning, spirituality in the workplace is more about a creating a sense of connectedness and belonging amongst employees which in turn is designed to improve communication, productivity and an improved feeling of emotional wellbeing.

  I can see some HR Managers rolling their eyes and seeing it as another way for some training consultant to make a fat fee on the back of the current trend in mindfulness and the rage for colouring books – I do know of organisations offering a colouring wall to deal with stress. I say sort out your systems first. However this takes me away from my thinking aloud blog this week.

  Despite having gone through periods of church going, dabbling in Islam in a previous life, hanging around Buddhist temples in the hope of enlightenment I have to confess to having no religious belief at all but I do have a feeling of being connected to what Carl Jung called the Collective Unconscious. For more information have a look at this website. http://carl-jung.net/collective_unconscious.html

  Reading a moving poem or a letter, a walk in the woods, rain clattering on the conservatory roof, painting a loose watercolour from my imagination are some of the ways I connect with a higher consciousness if you like. Some people would call it the divine. In my personal discipline, I call it the universal truth.

  Good questions to help stimulate thinking about spirituality include:

  • What is my purpose in life? What gives it meaning?
  • What keeps you positive and hopeful?
  • What is the shadow part of your personality and what is it trying to tell you?
  • How do you see your future?
  • What is your feeling about death?

Some cynic told me that the only reason I am interested in this topic is because I am a baby boomer ( not quite true) and I am at a time of life when thoughts about  mortality are taking over the need to make money. Well, here’s some news. I’ve always been drawn to the spiritual side of life and money making apart from providing for my family single handed has never been a motivator neither has fame. Through my writing I hope to light a pathway for some people who will feel a little bit better or have a greater understanding about an aspect of life than they did before.

  Writing about the tragedy of the ordinary life as I do helps me to connect with the collective unconscious and say, ‘Look, you’re not on your own.’

Whilst I do write about what I know I really write about what I feel and for me that’s what spirituality is all about.

  

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The Controversial Writer

  • Published in Writing

It takes slog to write an article, even more so a full length novel, but at this stage of the writing game you are in control. If you change your mind about something or are not sure of your facts you can scrub it and start afresh. When you are in your private world anything goes. I guess this is why many people put a protective arm round their work and don’t give in to requests by family and friends to “offer an opinion.”

Publishing for the world to grind its teeth on your words needs courage. Great courage. Especially if you are writing something that is likely to be deemed as controversial, a definition of which is: - of, relating to, or characteristic of controversy, or prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention; polemical. In other words you take an opposing view from the mainstream.

Let’s say you write a book on Fairies in Icelandic Folklore. If your narrative is supporting them then you risk ridicule by most of the world who don’t believe in the supernatural. If you argue they don’t exist, you risk the wrath of many Icelanders who set up road blocks to protest against a new construction which might disturb them. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/icelanders-protest-road-would-disturb-fairies-180949359/

See, your writing will be controversial to somebody the moment you wave your ideas above the parapet. We all want our books to be noticed in this screaming marketplace and that’s where the trouble begins. Too much bad language, sadomasochism, abuse and violence, bits from other writers slipped in and awful writing will draw attention to your work but not in the way you might want. High content is the mantra for novelists at the moment and sod the writing style. High content can mean writing a story about LGBT issues from a strong religious point of view with the character stating that gay people can be “fixed,” or it can mean sharing with the world a different kind of love.  Just writing about gay relationships can drain the blood from the cheeks of some publishers. Not everyone is prepared to take the risk of upsetting their regular readership.

Even the memoir is not without risk. Not everybody has enough stories in their life to warrant mass readership so maybe a little embellishment here and there isn’t going to harm anyone. Let’s say I write about being captured in the Middle East and held hostage. It’s partially true as I was held against my will by my former husband but that isn’t as dramatic as being held by the Druze militia or Al Shabab.

 Do I ham it up for my reading public and hope I don’t get found out? Not me but others might. Controversy sells especially today when there are facts and “alternative facts”. Lying seems to be de rigeur.

A book like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is considered a brilliant piece of fiction although opinions differ on the quality of the writing. He blended facts with fiction thus rattling the cages of historians with its alleged swarm of inaccuracies. I swallowed the whole story as a truth which shows how gullible I am.

Many publishers steer clear of controversy as a) it is unlikely to appeal to a wide readership if they can’t relate to the issue and b) fear of bad publicity. Having said that is there no such a thing as bad publicity but book retailers are risk averse. They like books on their shelves that are tried and tested and have a following: crime, romance, thrillers, and cosy village sagas with a soupcon of naughtiness.

What does that mean for writers? Should we stick to what’s safe just to get a publishing deal or should we risk writing from the heart about what matters to us but dress it  down to make it more palatable?

Andrew Smith’s powerful  novel, The Speech, is fiction woven around the very real but controversial Enoch Powell, who in the author’s own words, is usually perceived as a two dimensional character. Instead he chose to flesh him out as more rounded and therefore believable, balancing weaknesses against his strengths without underplaying his evil rhetoric against immigrants.

 All characters no matter how heinous their actions and behaviour are multi- dimensional but readers who have knowledge of Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech would not want to recognise some of the MP’s finer qualities. A classics scholar with a brilliant mind, he was as quoted in his obituary as, “hated by many, loved by many, but never regarded with indifference.”

What makes The Speech such a compelling read is that we are drawn into the fictional lives of some characters from that era who were affected directly and indirectly by the harm executed by Powell. We experience and feel the harm he did by firing up racism and intolerance.  

I too have staked my claim as a controversial writer. The Cruelty of Lambs is about the uncomfortable subject of domestic abuse which maybe doesn’t affect the majority of people but, let’s face it, we all know or suspect somebody that might be a perpetrator or victim but we prefer to turn the sound up on the TV than worry why the shouting next door has suddenly stopped and the kids are crying. 

My new novel, The Future Can’t Wait also challenges controversial themes; mother-daughter estrangement, terrorism and psychic addiction. Published by Urbane Publications September 2017. Some of us feel a strong urge to bring truth into the open and hang the consequences.

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A day in the life of a writer

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I am at my most productive and creative between 8am and 2pm. After that my eyes are sore at staring at the screen and my neck and shoulders feel they’ve been put through a mangle.

My day starts with a cup of strong tea with soya milk and one home-made ginger biscuit. Gluten and fat free. As somebody who suffers with gastric problems I find the ginger helps to settle my stomach. The Today programme helps me keep in touch with what’s going on in the world but if John Humphries slips into bullying and talking over people I press the off button. I guess my tolerance levels have dipped since I’ve got older.

Today I am working in my spacious dining kitchen where it is warm. I am usually a tidy worker but today I'm in a bit of a creative tailspin. That’s because I am editing my second book and need to spread out my notes and ideas across the table.

The thought of restructuring parts of a novel is daunting but once I am into it I find it therapeutic. Like pruning or mowing the lawn. It’s got to be done if you want the best results.

Editing gets confused with proof reading. It isn’t as easy as casting a careful eye looking for typos or punctuation errors. It’s about ripping sections out that slow down the pace of novel, condensing dialogue from a ramble to something more snappy. Anything that on a second, third or fourth reading sounds clumsy needs to be rewritten to help with the flow. You might need to shuffle paragraphs around to a different part of the book or get rid of them all together.

Today I’ve gorged a hole in  two chapters that now need to be rewritten and introduced a new concept to replace the old. It’s hard slog  tiring but ultimately satisfying when you see the improvements.

By 1pm I’m word blind so it’s time for my daily adventure into the outside world. Living in Malvern gives me quick access to all sorts of walks where I can exchange pleasantries with early morning dog walkers on the common or engage in some serious hiking on North Hill which lies behind my house. I’ve just returned from a trip into Great Malvern where I get to people- watch in one of the many coffee houses. The town attracts a lot of writers and people who work from home so there is usually somebody to natter with.

Lunch is usually vegetable soup and a lie down for an hour. I don’t know how President Trump keeps up his schedule! 

I’ve recently taken up painting so this afternoon I shall make a start on a scene I photographed in the Peak District at the weekend. Churchill said that painting was a perfect way to relax an overworked brain. I failed art at school but having  attended an art therapy class in town I was encouraged to keep trying.  Sometimes that’s all you need.  I love daubing landscapes in acrylics using the techniques and the approach of the impressionists. If I think it looks like a tree then it is a tree!

My friend will be calling in around 4pm for a gossip and to tell me her thoughts on The Cruelty of Lambs. I do know that she had to keep putting it down for a breather as she found it very intense.

Tonight I am singing with a local choir that meets in Malvern every two weeks. I squeeze in an hour of reading during the day as writers do need to read across a range of books. At the moment I am enjoying Lost in Static by Christina Phillipou published by Urbane Publications. Being an early riser (6am) I find myself flagging around eight o’clock. I’m a radio addict so it’s always a treat to listen to Radio 4 extra for some of the old comedies or a play.

Before I drift off, I shall exchange my daily email with my friend in Chicago. She’s a democrat and has her regular rants about Trump and the state of the nation. I’ve learned more about American politics in the last year than I ever needed to know.

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Are you a flexible author?

  • Published in Writing

Publishers know what sells as do book shop managers and the two rely on each other to bring a book to the market place that customers will buy. The industry is noticeably risk averse especially when it comes to debut authors and feel safe buying the tried and tested writers who have proved to be good sellers. That’s the bottom line.

This is tough for those of us trying to create a platform for our work and I would say to newbie writers that if you’re not prepared to put in the work, develop resilience and a heap of patience then this might not be the career for you. Most of us don’t earn a squeak in the first year never mind the year or two before publication in writing the thing.

If you’re hoping for a big advance with promises of best seller stardom then talk to other writers and get a reality check. You’ve really, really got to want be in it for the long haul.

Suppose you’ve written a novel that’s a bit off the wall and you’re not sure who the audience might be. If you’re vague about its marketing strength it doesn’t augur well for sales. It’s a tough one as you thrash out 80,000 words of a novel that really means something to you only to find that your readership might be turned off by an aspect or a theme and so never finish it. That means that they are less likely to recommend it as opinion can colour buying decisions.

 Maybe you feel so strongly about your storyline that it’s publish and be damned. Integrity matters but your agent/publisher is taking a risk on you in the hope that your book will make money for both of you.  The bald truth about writing novels is that they are a product which are racked alongside millions of others all clamouring for the reader’s hard earned spare cash. Millions of people have never heard of you and are less likely to take a risk on a book that’s out of their comfort zone.

So what to do?

If your editor/publisher/agent comes back and says they like the main theme of the book but they want you to rip out a large section which to you is the heart of the book there’s little point standing up indignantly to defend it. It’s not a PhD thesis. You have to ask yourself a few searching questions. Do you trust your publisher to know what they’re talking about? Do you want this book to sell?  Are you serious about being a writer? Are you in it for the long haul? Can you swallow your pride and do as you’re told? J

You might find you write more saleable novels for a different audience. In fact there’s a lot to be said for not getting locked into a genre like a Coronation Street character. It’s all about being flexible, listening to those with the experience, being a bit humble but not ever, ever giving up.

I’m not a great believer in overnight success. To me if there has been slog, grit and determination ( and in my case a lot of swearing, shouting and lap top tossing J) then the rewards are so much sweeter.

I’m 61 next week (groan) and I’m determined to leave a best seller behind me whatever it takes and the money can go to a support group for writers who regularly tear their hair out. I believe the condition is called trichotillomania.:)  

So if you see a balder version of me in months to come you’ll know why!

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Is Writing Cathartic?

  • Published in Writing

Much depends on what you’re writing, your intended audience and why you’re doing it. Some of us feel such a compulsion to express our thoughts, ideas, feelings and visions in the written word that a day without tapping out a few hundred words is like going without our beverage of choice.

Does that imply writing is a drug? In a way I suppose it is but a healthy one. If you are overwhelmed by unprocessed feelings then keeping a journal is one way of making sense of them and it provides a reference point for when you feel better. I’m not a diarist, partly because I no longer write legibly by hand but I am a list maker and someone who likes to jot as the very act of seeing words appear before my eyes helps alleviate stress and tension.

Back to my original question. What does catharsis actually mean?  Providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions; causing catharsis. Like tears.

When I wrote The Cruelty of Lambs and more recently my new novel, The Future Can’t Wait, I experienced catharsis by the letting go of anger and hurt through my characters. It allowed me to pour everything out then stand back and assess their responses to some terrible situations nobody wants to find themselves facing. Some of this was definitely an outpouring of my subconscious and there were times I had to stop writing because despite it being fiction I could relate personally to some of the events and I know other people could too. Some reviewers described The Cruelty of Lambs a painful read. It was meant to be because only by getting under the skin of people who have personal experience of a situation can we find empathy with them.

I think it’s empowering to incorporate a difficult period in your life in your novel even if you don’t think it’s very much – you know the argument- well people have had it worse than me. Readers are often looking for ways of handling difficult periods in their own life and can be inspired when they see your suffering character finally find relief and hope.

I devour psychological thrillers like I do my morning cornflakes – greedily and left eyeing up more! The fact that someone faces grave danger, comes face to face with their deepest fears, biggest nightmare or suddenly wakes up to the fact the way they are being treated really isn’t normal or right can resonate with most of us. Ask any novelist if there is something of them in their books – a broken heart, failed marriage, teenage angst etc and they are most likely to say ‘ well a bit maybe.’ When pushed they will also tell you it was a relief, better than therapy and it has helped them find closure. That’s certainly true of writing both of my novels.

I wrote The Cruelty of Lambs during another bout of depression. Instead of ruminating on past injustices or traumatic thoughts, I channelled them onto the screen which helped give them shape, order and a semblance of objectivity. We write because we want to make sense of the world even if it’s through fun children’s books, a How-to guide or a personal journal.

The memoir is the ultimate in writing for catharsis I think. We take a period in time, usually something that was challenging at the time and write our way through it. The experience can evoke old feelings about that time which become easier to process the more time passes. In some cases, memoirs are written for family alone, as a record of the period but many memoirists want to share their experience for the benefit of others.

Diving into a dark, skeleton- filled pit isn’t for the faint hearted.  Don’t write painful stuff if it’s going to trigger unhealed trauma. I waited 15 years before writing my first novel after being diagnosed with ptsd.  Have someone close at hand you can talk to about what you’ve written or are about to write. Think carefully about whether you want to go public or not. The misery memoirs and true life stories are still very popular from A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer to Damaged by Cathy Glass. Writing this kind of book provides a healing for the writer but it can cause tremendous pain for whole families, relatives, friends and even unsuspecting strangers once the book hits the stores and moreover the press.

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