My memories of bullies are patchy, I’ve mostly wrapped them in rose tinted cotton wool and consigned them to history along with mad bulls and insane PE teachers. There were bullies, and at the time they were terrifying, but I can only imagine the details of their nastiness, something of self preservation has removed the fine print.
However, I do remember the feeling of being bullied. Like dementors , my bullies sucked everything nice from their surroundings. All fun and happiness disappeared while smaller vicious things buzzed around them poking, giggling and whispering, and it all felt very dark and frightening.
At the beginning of every term, I‘d long to discover that they’d died in a freak nail varnish explosion, or moved to Australia, but the only thing that got rid of them, in the end, was time and growing up.
In my years of studying bullying from the underside, I realised certain universal truths:
- Bullies drew strength from information and other people’s fear
- Their chief weapons were intimidation and small acts of extreme nastiness.
- Bullies always had satellite bullies, who circled in the real bully’s orbit and added the giggling and whispering.
- The entire bullying game hinged on humiliation and lack of empathy.
- Bullies made snide comments.
Snide comments were probably the thing I hated the most; so when I began SHRUNK! and Jacob appeared on the page, they became his trademark. As I wrote him down, I felt both delighted that I could let out my inner cow, and slightly appalled that I knew exactly how to create such a vile creature. He grew and he grew, fatter and stronger and more disgusting, eating more sweets, saying horrible things.
But he needed a particular victim. Someone who simply couldn’t fight back. So I invented Eric. Everything about Eric invites bullies; his hair, his geekiness, his dad, his niceness. Eric does that ignoring thing that I did as a child, the one your parents tell you to do that doesn’t work. Tom sees this and I wanted him to have the empathy and courage to stop it.
But it never occurred to me, until I was writing the scene, that Tom could shrink Jacob.
After the shrinking, I felt shocked. Tom, my lovely main character had without thinking shrunk another boy. And then, I thought, Jacob would have done that on purpose.
Loads of times.
After that, I felt that for all of us who had ever been bullied, even though Jacob had been shrunk, he still needed to suffer – a little more.
Revenge is sweet.
I might have fed him to a fish or squished him under a wheel, and in the 19th Century that’s exactly what would have happened, but a 21st century punishment?
It came surprisingly easily, in the form of a squirrel, chewing gum, Barbie and a baby grow.
If only I’d been able to do that back in 1973.
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