The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Lonely Life Of Biddy Weir is a contemporary piece about a poor child who was at the heart of a severe bullying campaign which lasted for more than seven years and left deep psychological and physical wounds.
The book opens with a prologue, we meet thirty year old Biddy as she phones-in to a live TV show which is discussing bullying.
The book then goes back to 1979 Ballybrock, Northern Ireland. Biddy was already a lonely child, her mother gone when she was young, brought up by a grandmother and then a father with no experience and no help. When new girl Alison Flemming came to the school Biddy was an instant target, quickly naming her “Bloody Weirdo”, getting her into trouble with teachers and humiliating her at every turn in a campaign of evil. Biddy never understood why Alison did the things she did to her, she had no one she could talk to and ended up self-harming.
Biddy fell through the net of support systems and adults and fellow students chose the easier option of ignoring and avoiding Biddy rather than seeing what was going on. The one teacher who tried to help, stepped too far over the line and small town gossip played a role in her downfall. The bulling reached its height the night Biddy nearly died.
Part two of the book is back with Biddy the adult, when her father dies, Biddy is left lonely once again and at rock bottom with despair. Her doctor persuades her to meet his friend Terri Drummond and Biddy is finally able to inch her way to the surface of her life and discover happiness.
This book was so well written, my heart broke during part one when Biddy was so severely bullied, I had tears streaming down my face during the school trip. Part two grabbed me again as I willed Biddy to blossom and to face her demons. Not just a book about bullying, this is a roller-coaster emotional read which left me wrung out and in need of a new box of tissues.
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‘A wonderful debut: poignant, powerful and moving, with ripples of dark humour.’ Colin Bateman
‘A charming and uplifting story, perfect for fans of A Man Called Ove or Jonas Jonasson. ‘If you’re a bit of a weirdo you will love Biddy Weir’ – Ian Sansom, bestselling author of The Norfolk Mystery
‘I’m a little bit in love with Biddy Weir. In her, Lesley Allen has created a character who is the embodiment of all our adolescent insecurities’. Bernie McGill, author of The Butterfly Cabinet
‘In Biddy Weir, Lesley Allen has created one of those characters that gets under your skin and won’t leave . . . A must-read for anyone who has ever wondered about life and where we fit in.’ Doreen Finn, author of My Buried Life
The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir Lesley Allen
Published by Twenty7
Paperback Original, 3rd November 2016, £7.99 eBook also available
It is National Anti-Bullying Month from the 31st Oct – 30th Nov 2016 and this book examines the long-term effects that bullying can have.
Lesley Allen is available for interview and to write original features on some of the topics examined in the book such as bullying, loneliness, social exclusion & the danger of the ‘it-girl gang’
Biddy Weir is a shy young loner. Abandoned by her mother as a baby, and with a father who’s not quite equipped for the challenges of modern parenting, Biddy lives in her own little world, happy to pass her time painting by the sea and watching the birds go by. With no friends, no schoolbag, and, worst of all, no mother, Biddy is branded a ‘Bloody Weirdo’ by the most popular girl in her primary school. What follows is a heart-breaking tale of bullying and redemption, of falling down and of starting again, and of one woman’s battle to learn to love herself for who she is. Set in a fictional seaside town in Northern Ireland, the novel is a stark illustration of the extent to which bullying can affect us all, beyond just the victim and perpetrator. Spare, dark and often unrelenting, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is a story with universal appeal, which ultimately affirms the value of being different.
For more information and review copies please contact Emily Burns, Head of PR at Twenty7
email@example.com | 07540763179
About the author
Lesley Allen lives in Bangor, County Down. She is a freelance copywriter and the press officer and assistant programme developer for Open House Festival. Lesley is previous recipient of the James Kilfedder Memorial Bursary, and two Support for the Individual Artist Art’s Council Awards. She was named as one of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s 2016 Artist Career Enhancement Scheme (ACES) recipients for literature. She will be using the award to complete her second book. @Lesley_Allen_
My Book Deal Moment
I’ve actually had two book deal moments – the one that ran away, and the one that stayed put.
It’s quite a story. (And a bit of a long one, so brace yourself!)
Let’s rewind almost eight years, to the summer of 2008. My novel (which was then called Biddy Weirdo) had been submitted for publication by my (lovely) agent, Susan Feldstein. Initial responses were positive; a few rejections tinged with regret that, for whatever reason, they couldn’t or wouldn’t make a bid, mostly because they didn’t know where to place it. A couple of publishers were properly keen, but my novel clashed with a recent acquisition or another book on their list. A couple of others made notes of interest, which eventually came to nothing. ‘It will happen’, my agent reassured me. ‘We’re close’.
At the same time, my (then) husband’s non-fiction book was also in submission. His had been doing the rounds a bit longer than mine and had also come frustratingly close to getting a deal on a couple of occasions only for his hopes to be crushed. We were beginning to lose faith that either one would ever make it onto a book shelf. Then, out of the blue, one sunny August morning in 2008, he got The Call. We whooped and rejoiced, and hand on heart I was thrilled for him. I can genuinely say I never thought, you jammy git, not even fleetingly! Then, a few hours later, just as the champagne was chilling in the fridge, I got The Call too. I was sorting socks at the time. When Susan said the words, those words that every writer longs to hear, I cried so much that my terrified daughter ran for her dad screaming, ‘something’s wrong with mum’. And then, of course, we were all crying, hugging, whooping and cheering – overwhelmed with joy. It was one of those rare, serendipitous moments of total symmetry and unabated joy. The kind of thing you read about in soppy, romantic novels. The twist at the end of a Nora Ephron Rom Com. We were writing our very own happy ending.
The next few weeks were spent in a flurry of exciting activity, agreeing terms, fine tuning contracts, getting our heads around the fact that we were both going to be published at the same time. John (the then husband) had already published a successful business book a couple of years previously, so his elation didn’t quite meet the heady heights of mine. But this was my game changer. From now on I would be known as a published author. Not a copywriter or a press officer, but a novelist. A proper writer. I’d been given the validation I had craved and my life was about to change forever. As the deal was with a small independent publishing company, the advance was extremely modest. But that was fine. It would take time to mould, this new life of mine; it would be a while before everything shifted into place. Publication was set for the following spring; hardback first, followed by paperback release a few months later. All I had to do now was sign the contract, and while we waited on that, I carried on with everyday life, a few feet taller in a haze of happy mist.
I was doing the weekly shop in Tesco when The Other Call came. Standing at the fish section, a packet of cut-price smoked salmon pieces in my hand. Should I or should I not add it to the trolley? It would do grand for scrambled egg brunch on Sunday. Then again, what if it was stinking? My mobile rang and I tossed the salmon into the trolley and pulled the phone out of my bag. Susan, my agent. It isn’t everyone’s call I will accept whilst grocery shopping, for fear that chatting will prolong the agony, but Susan has instant access, wherever, whenever. Of course I knew at once, just the way she said my name; the grimace over the ‘Les’, the extension of the ‘ley’. Lezleeeeeee. I looked at the salmon and immediately knew I didn’t want it.
It wasn’t me, they said, it wasn’t my book – it was the climate. The downturn had changed everything. They were experiencing problems. They couldn’t commit after all. There was an element of my story that was too, well, risky. Sorry, and all that. The ‘crash’ had turned into a pile-up and I was one of the victims. Granted, compared to thousands of others I walked away relatively unscathed; just a fractured dream, a badly bruised ego, and a few bottles of champagne I felt obliged to return along with the congratulations cards. I hadn’t actually signed yet, so the book was still mine. Apparently I was lucky. Only I didn’t feel lucky. The lucky I had felt for three short weeks stuck two fingers up my nose, shoved them straight through my eye sockets, and laughed in my face. Only joking, you stupid twit, it roared. I was devastated, mentally and physically shattered, literally poleaxed with grief. I’m fully aware how ridiculously ridiculous that sounds, it was only a book deal after all, but honestly, my heart was broken. I felt as though I’d been jilted at the altar. Actually, I felt bereaved.
And then I really was bereaved. Not long afterwards a dear friend lost her battle with cancer. Within weeks my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, after a horrendous few months, he too lost his fight. And shortly before his death a cousin, a beautiful, vibrant girl who had just turned 40 also lost her life. Cancer, again. All I’d lost was a bloody book deal.
I got over myself pretty quickly once I had proper heartbreak to deal with, but my confidence was wrecked and my ability to write seemed paralysed. A combination of all the grief coupled with some other personal garbage stifled me. My agent continued to send Biddy out to publishers, but in truth I felt like it was damaged goods. She encouraged me to write something new, and I tried, I really did, but each time I came up with a new idea for a novel the story sank like a brick, or stank like a stink bomb. I have several drafts of novels begun and discarded, sometimes after a few hundred words, sometimes thousands.
Fast forward a few years and I’d finally found my groove again. My second novel was taking shape, and Biddy had been neatly tucked away in a drawer somewhere, the key discarded. But then a friend visited from San Francisco. He asked if he could read Biddy, and after a few gin and tonics, I finally agreed. He called from SF a few weeks later. “Well, I loved it,” he proclaimed – I knew a BUT was coming – “but, have you ever thought of moving the telephone scene to the beginning?” I hadn’t. Of course I flipping hadn’t. And there was no way I was going down that road again. Biddy was over. Dead in the water. Done. But his suggestion kept flitting into my head like an annoying fruit fly, until eventually it stuck there. Okay, I sighed, I give in. So I found the key, opened the drawer, and dragged the manuscript out. Three months later, after a total re-write and valuable feedback from a very respected and totally lovely author friend, I pinged Biddy Weirdo mark two off to my agent. She loved it, and so began the submission process all over again. Initial responses were positive; a few rejections tinged with regret that, for whatever reason, they couldn’t or wouldn’t make a bid … oh, we’ve been here before, haven’t we?
I forced myself to put Biddy away once more and divert my attention to that second book. And then life took over again. My marriage ended suddenly in the most horrible of ways, and I was once again poleaxed by shock and grief. My focus became getting out of bed every day, finding a way to earn more money, and, most importantly, making sure my daughter got through the trauma that had decimated our family life. As far as writing was concerned, for a long time the only words I could pen were long, wild, rambling letters to my husband, most of which remain unsent. One day, a few months after the first thick layer of dust had settled, someone asked me what one thing would make ‘it’ better. A new man? A lottery win? (And a few other suggestions which are best not to repeat!) ‘A book deal,’ I replied, without even a hint of hesitation. And I slowly started writing again.
It was a dark February evening when The Call Mark Two came. I was sitting in the lounge dong some boring paperwork, my daughter and a bunch of her school friends were singing nosily in the kitchen. There were six of them, all staying overnight on a half term sleepover. My mobile rang. ‘Who the hell…’ I thought, then saw Susan’s name flash up on the screen. And I knew. I just knew. ‘This is it,’ she said when I answered, barely even able to whisper a hello. ‘This is it, and this time it’s for real.’ And it was. And it is. She had never given up on Biddy, ever. Over the years Susan and her husband, Paul, who run The Feldstein Literary Agency together, sent my book to almost one hundred different publishers and imprints. How’s that for dedication? For tenacity? And finally their perseverance paid off. A man called Mark Smith, who had just moved to Bonnier from Quercus to set up an innovative new imprint called Twenty7 Books, had read it. And he loved it. And he made an offer. And he produced a contract which I signed and he signed, and then, well, a year on, my book, which is now called The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir has finally, gloriously taken flight.
After Susan’s call, when I picked myself up of the floor and finally stopped crying, I went into the kitchen to share the news. Luckily I had a bottle of prosecco chilling in the fridge, and six enthusiastic sixth-formers on hand to help me drink it! And, yes, I do feel better. I feel very well indeed.