Archive for the ‘Jenny Downham’ Category

Klicka på länken för att se trailer med Dakota Fanning i huvudrollen som den döende Tessa.

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Vi återkommer med mer information om filmen så fort vi vet när den kommer till Sverige. Här en förhandsglutt på affischen i alla fall!


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En återkommande fråga från de elever som deltagit i projektet, men också från recensenter och bokbloggare, har varit: Vad hände sedan? En del har uttryckt irritation och frustration över bokens öppna slut. Så vi bad Jenny Downham förklara sig…


Good question.  Let me try and explain why I left the ending open.  Firstly, it was NOT because I’m writing a sequel.   Secondly, it was NOT to annoy and frustrate the reader!!

Here’s why:

Sexual assault is one of the most difficult crimes to prosecute because there are often only two witnesses – the defendant and the complainant.  Other factors, such as use of alcohol and drugs can muddy the situation further.  Often it comes down purely to issues of consent.  And that’s almost impossible to prove.  This means that many such cases don’t even make it to court.

When I was researching the book, I interviewed criminal lawyers, social workers, family support workers and police officers.  I watched court cases and read lots of books.  I interviewed adults who had been in similar situations and adults who worked with young people who had reported assault.  Nearly everyone I spoke to thought that although Karyn’s case would certainly make it to court in the ‘real’ world,  Tom would never be found guilty, because the evidence was too flimsy.

They also told me that with sexual assault cases, there is the ‘thirteenth juror’ to consider – the preconceptions of the twelve individual jury members.  One person might believe that any girl or woman who dresses provocatively ‘is leading a man on’, another might suppose that any girl who drinks alcohol before going to a guy’s house is ‘asking for it’, another might wonder why the girl agreed to go upstairs if she didn’t ‘want it.’  The odds are often stacked against any girl who reports such a crime.

This REALLY worried me.  I kept thinking, if I show a court case at the end of the book and Tom is found ‘not guilty,’ what message am I giving readers – don’t bother reporting an assault because your assailant will probably get away with it?  Yet if Tom was happily found guilty, this would not accurately reflect the very difficult realities of prosecuting a case such as this or show the likely outcome.

I tried not to let my fear inform the writing and when the first draft was finished, every single one of the people who helped me with research read it and gave feedback.  I wanted any gender bias or prejudice to come from the characters, not from the author.  I wanted to be sure I wasn’t perpetuating any myths or stereotypes around sexual assault.

And do you know what happened?

Many of my readers, including one of the criminal lawyers and one of the police officers said that they now believed that Tom would be found guilty. Not because there was more or better evidence, but due to the strength of the witnesses.  Ellie and Karyn.

Now I felt excited!  My story had made a hardened criminal lawyer change her mind.   A police officer who worked with these type of cases every day said that if Ellie and Karyn worked together to tell the truth, that Tom may be jailed for up to four years.

However, some of my other readers still thought that the girls’ story may be thrown out, that the ‘thirteenth juror’ would excuse Tom.  After all, hadn’t Karyn got drunk, dressed provocatively, and flirted all night?  Hadn’t Ellie consistently lied?  Who would ever believe them?

So, my ‘expert’ readers were passionately ‘split’ about the potential outcome.

Here’s how I tried to get the complexities across as succinctly as possible:

‘So, you’re going to plead guilty, are you?’ Dad dragged him (Tom) to the bed and made him sit down. ‘You’ll get three or four years in prison, you’ll be on the sex offenders register and come out as a convicted rapist. Is that what you want?’

‘No, but I don’t want this either.’

Dad got a hanky from his pocket and shoved it at him. ‘It’s a ridiculous step to plead guilty, when the conviction rate is so low. You have every chance of getting off.’

Tom listened so hard he forgot to breathe. He listened with every fibre, like he was falling from a mountain and Dad was yelling survival instructions.

‘This new statement means nothing,’ Dad went on, ‘not really, the police said as much. There’s no physical evidence, is there? No photos or videos, or texts, only her word against yours. The incentives for you to plead guilty are non-existent.’

He talked statistics and attrition rates and made everything seem so polarized – two foolish girls, one misunderstood boy. Tom made the occasional effort to struggle against it, but the simplicity of Dad’s argument was overwhelming. In court, the barrister would discredit both girls. Karyn wanted to sleep with Tom and regretted it later. Ellie was love-struck by Mikey and would do anything for him. Karyn got drunk and partied too hard. Ellie got seduced and betrayed her family.

I hope by this stage of the book it’s obvious whether Tom is guilty or not.  I hope it’s apparent that the girls will make excellent witnesses, but that the court may be biased against them.  I hope it’s obvious that the case will be protracted and extremely difficult for everyone involved.  I was NOT trying to be murky about any of these issues.  If a reader is still not sure if Tom ‘did it’ at this stage, then I have failed.  If a reader thinks the result of a court case is ‘obvious’, then I have failed.

Ultimately, I wanted the reader to come on a journey with me.  I wanted to make them think, to move them, to provoke them, to encourage them to tackle their own prejudices and to confront their own preconceptions about such a crime and to see how the truth can be a slippery thing.

By leaving the ending open, I like to think I have left an opportunity for thoughtfulness, for questioning, for debate…

Jenny Downham

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I’m so happy that my book, You Against Me, has been chosen for your reading circle.  I have been asked to say a few things about the book before you begin.  Here goes:

It took two and half years to write.  Most writers are quicker than this.  I’m slow because I never plan in advance.  Instead, I sit day after day with a notebook and write about whatever I see or hear.  I sit in different places – cafes, hospital waiting rooms, bus stops, etc, etc and wait for a story to spark.

This is how You Against Me  sparked:  one day I was sitting in a park and a I saw a young girl being followed by a large group of boys who were taunting her because she’d had seven boyfriends in one school term.  When she turned round rather furiously and accused one of the boys of having more girlfriends than that, the boys all laughed and said that made him a ‘player’.   That made me wonder…

–          Are girls expected to hide their sexuality?

–          Are boys encouraged to express theirs?

The girl haunted me.  Every day I wrote new stories about her.  But no matter how hard I tried to give her interesting things to do, she kept sitting on the sofa and hiding under the duvet!  I gave her a name (Karyn) and a place to live (a small seaside town in Norfolk) and a family who loved her.  But still she wouldn’t ‘join in.’

To cheer myself up, I started writing as her brother, Mikey.  I LOVED writing as him because he had a solution.  Someone’s hurt my sister? I‘m going to kill them!  He literally picked up a weapon and started running down the road.

I knew I’d found the book’s narrative voice.  So, imagine my surprise when weeks of writing later, Ellie appeared.  She’d recently moved to the area and had no friends yet.  She did however have a brother – the boy Mikey was determined to punish, and she certainly seemed to know a lot more than she was saying about what had happened to Mikey’s sister.

The story had begun in earnest.

More questions appeared…

–          Do we really KNOW the people we love?

–          Can you still love someone who does a terrible thing?

I began to talk to criminal lawyers and social services to gather material.  I watched court cases and interviewed police officers.

–          Are people influenced more by their attitudes, beliefs and biases than by the facts?

–          If there are no witnesses to a crime, how will the truth ever be known?

–          Does the truth matter?

I’m often asked if I am trying to ‘teach’ anyone anything in a book.  The answer is NO!  I don’t want my job as a writer to be about giving moral guidance.  Young people don’t want to read about things adults think are good for them, or about how they ought to behave.

I was attempting to write a good story, one that moved readers emotionally, but also made them think.  I hope that the book encourages debate for the very reason that I am not telling anyone what the right answers are.

I hope you enjoy it.

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Kära vänner,

Jag minns fortfarande känslan att läsa Jenny Downhams första bok i manusform: den av så många älskade Innan jag dör. Jag visste inget om författaren bakom, jag bara greps av den oförglömliga historien där vi fick följa den cancersjuka Tessas sista tid i livet.  Jag slukade boken som ett barn gör, läste ut den på bara några få timmar. Sedan var inte mycket sig likt därhemma.

När den nya boken kom i manuskript kom blev jag lite orolig. Tänk om den inte skulle leva upp till min magiska läsupplevelse första gången?

Men Älskar – Hatar gjorde mig desto mera tacksam och rörd. Till ytan är det rena rama Romeo-och-Julia-historian där två familjer ställs mot varandra då en överklassyngling anklagas för våldtäkt på en flicka från höghusområdet. Övergrepp, familjelojalitet, heder och så en fantastisk modern kärlekshistoria är bara några ingredienser jag kan nämna här. Men det finns så mycket mer att reflektera kring.

För vad är egentligen en våldtäkt? Och vad är lojalitet? Och kärlek?

Ännu en angelägen och välskriven bok jag önskar många med mig ska hitta till.

Jag hoppas att ni håller med om att Älskar – Hatar är en stor läsupplevelse.

Dorotea Bromberg

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Dakota Fanning får huvudrollen i filmen Now is Good, baserad på Jenny Downhams debutbok Innan jag dör.

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I England är det vanligare än i Sverige att man sätter samman så kallade ”book trailers”. Här en för You Against Me – som på svenska heter Älskar – Hatar.

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