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Focus on Theme with Colette Caddle: From This Moment On

Writing.ie | Resources | Plotting and Planning
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Anyone who goes into a bookshop today will see that women’s fiction is changing, moving away from the ‘chick-lit’ (whatever that was anyway) of the boom years, the pink covers and the cupcakes, towards much more issue driven stories with serious themes that reflect the lives of real women. A strong theme gives a story strength and resonance with the reader and is something to consider as you write. Colette Caddle’s new book From This Moment On, tackles the all too prevalent issue of bullying in the workplace as it’s core theme. We asked Colette to tell us a little about why she chose this as a theme for her thirteenth book:

“I will never forget some years ago hearing a man tell a radio presenter  he had come close to taking his own life earlier that day.

He was the victim of bullying and as he made his way to work that morning he’d been wondering in what way his boss would manage to humiliate him today. As he drove along the quays of the Liffey in Dublin he considered driving into the water and ending it all. Thoughts of his wife and children stopped him but the shock that it had actually crossed his mind prompted him to call in to the radio show. I often wonder what happened to him and if he dealt with his problem; let’s hope so.

Usually when we think of bullying we think of children but it is just as common in the workplace and men can be on the receiving end as much as women.

From This Moment On, my new book, is based on the fallout of a woman who is bullied by her boss. It opens with her employer settling the case out of court but despite having been vindicated, she finds it hard to move on. When I was researching this subject, I found that this was often the case.  Many adults feel like failures because they weren’t able to cope with the situation and sometimes blame themselves more than the bully. One woman told me that she found it so difficult to explain, even to herself, what was going on that she waited over a year before finally reporting it to her HR department. When she did, their solution was to move her to another department away from the job that she loved. She finally left but it took another year of counselling and anti-depressants before she got her life back on track. This happened some time ago but bullying in the workplace seems as prevalent now as it was then.

But it’s not always easy to recognise the problem and even the professionals have struggled to come up with a definition of work-place bullying. The best I could find was from Washington psychologists, Gary and Ruth Namie.

repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three.”

But to use work-place bullying as a theme in From This Moment On, I had to really understand the characters involved, grasp their motivation. What makes a bully? I found that some may well have psychological problems including feelings of inferiority or inadequacy and difficulty in relating to others. Some may simply have learned at an early stage that their size, strength, or quick tongue was the only effective tool they had to fight their corner. Some may be bullies at work but be completely different outside the office. And then there is the psychopathic bully who is a callous, vindictive, controlling individual with little or no empathy or concern for the victim.

Unlike in childhood, workplace bullies are often operating within the company guidelines. This makes it harder for them to be dealt with and as the definition above explains, the term bullying encompasses a vast range of inappropriate behaviours.

Some bullies will belittle victims’ opinions or humiliate them in front of peers or clients. Some will undermine personal integrity or not acknowledge good work. Some will indulge in destructive innuendo or sarcasm, make inappropriate jokes or persistently tease, insult or intimidate.

And then there are the more subtle forms of bullying such as withholding information necessary for victims to do their job properly and generally keeping them out of the loop;  Allocating meaningless tasks; taking away responsibilities;  shifting the goal posts without warning or setting impossible deadlines.

Sadly there will always be bullies, we can’t change that. But having researched the issue, I feel we can change how we deal with them. The greatest incentive for companies to take this issue as seriously as it demands is the cost to them in terms of litigation and sick days. It’s not only the victims who may suffer. Witnessing bullying can be very stressful and result in ill-health or create an atmosphere that can have a negative impact on the productivity of the business; who wants to spend every day in an atmosphere charged with fear or intimidation?

From This Moment is my thirteenth book and despite the heavy topic, it is not all doom and gloom, promise! I’ve found the more I write, the more I am naturally inclined to focus the story on the protagonist dealing with a current or topical concern. We are all either affected by these things or know someone who is and I feel it’s important in a contemporary novel to reflect the serious issues facing us all.

Colette Caddle’s latest book, From This Moment On comes out on 31st January, 2013 and is available in all good book shops and in ebook format in Ireland only.

About the author

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