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What lessons can Entrepreneurs learn from CoVid-19?

The pandemic is here to stay. That’s an unfortunate reality several of us are digesting, probably still unable to digest. While it has been fraught with trauma, pain, and grief, it has also been challenging for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and artists.

Whether you are based in India, Asia, or the rest of the world, there is no immediate relief in sight for small business owners and entrepreneurs. How does one tackle this uncertainty and continue creating content, products, and services?

Adaptability

If there is one thing to take away from the world being locked up in their homes, it is that businesses and entrepreneurs need to be adaptable. How can you do that? Let’s look at a hypothetical example.

Tina is in her mid-40s, runs a small, niche, but successful bakery and sweets shop in Melbourne. Her clientele is loyal and through word of mouth, the bakery generates enough revenue to keep Tina going. In mid-2020, the city was shut down and all ‘non-essential’ businesses were told to close their doors till further notice. With a mortgage, a family to feed, and children to educate, Tina was left clueless.

Tina was forced to depend on Government payments and try to manage ends by stretching her budget. It was also frustrating to see her skills go waste and a business built by hard work languish. Tina’s son James suggested that she start taking local orders and they deliver it personally. It would be extra work but it was needed during this challenging time. James created a Facebook page, Instagram and TikTok account for Tina’s bakery and announced to the neighbouring suburbs that Tina was accepting orders.

The family also decided to pitch in. Tina’s young daughter was the defacto helper, sous chef, and packer. James and Tina’s husband did the deliveries in their free times. As bakeries were shut for months and people needed cakes for birthdays and events, speciality and bigger cakes became her bestsellers. Tina started to expand her cakes range, offering discounts, and even making breakfast items for weekends so people would be tempted to experiment. James used TikTok to show ‘behind the scenes’ of baking, decorating, and videos to keep audiences intrigued.

This is a great example of hyper-local businesses using social media and e-commerce to adapt to a fluctuating situation. Tina’s product range was such that could be personalised and adapted to a situation when there was a lack of user experience and customer service possibilities.

Before we move on to the next point, what about businesses that can’t be translated online or go digital? What about photography, films, sales, fitness, etc? How do these industries practice adaptability?

If your industry is a static one, one that relies on face-to-face experiences, on location performances, and local focus, then you can find extensions of your existing services or products? Photographers can try virtual sessions, offer training classes, or use people/products at home to keep creating new work. Fitness studio owners or personal trainers can offer online classes, newer workout plans that can be performed at home, and group sessions so people still feel the sense of community.

The key thing to remember is that it is possible to adapt your product or service if you push hard enough. We understand it is frustrating and can also be financially demanding, but if you can pivot and continue to produce consistently then it can be rewarding.

Having a digital-friendly business and attitude can go a long way in creating a resilient atmosphere

Patience

It is not over yet. We don’t even know when it will be over. So, all entrepreneurs need to have patience. For freelancers and independent contractors, it can be stressful as we don’t have a regular source of income and savings to dip on. The stress can cause us to panic and start taking jobs or roles that may underpay or be extremely unsuitable for our skills.

How can you develop and practice patience? Use your time off well. If you have no option but to sit at home, then do not wonder about the future or stress. Take it one day at a time. Every person has their individual way of coping and you know best what you need. Focus on your family, partner, or hobbies. Relax, try something new, and think of it as a vacation. You will get back to writing, creating, and producing soon. Rely on this time as a break and look for new inspiration.

Upskill

Many entrepreneurs, freelancers, and business owners are utilising this time to upskill. They are learning new, relevant skills and practicing updating their knowledge. LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Udemy, and Google are some great resources to try free or paid courses. You can update your resume by doing short courses or commit to it by joining a full-time online course. Think proactively of skills that will come handy in your future and how the course can act as a tool for your success.

Upskilling will also allow you to keep busy if you are stuck at home and it can help you network with other students, faculty members, and peers. Several freelancers have realised that a degree or education during the past year has come extremely useful in acquiring new skills, clients, and resources.

Learning a new skill can always come handy. Image Source- Unsplash

Pragmatic

The essence of any business is to be pragmatic. Idealistic and naive expectations harm your potential and present. Understand that the pandemic and it’s after effects are going to ripple through our lives for a while.

Engage with your clients and discuss potential solutions and alternatives. Converse with your employees and partners to make them aware about your limitations and finances. Lockdowns come at the last minute, leaving businesses scrambling. If you have faced that in the past, be prepared and have backups. Leave space for changes, alterations, and virtual movement.

Businesses can tide over this time if they combine practicality with out of the box thinking.

We are offering resources, support, and a community for entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers struggling to work during these challenging times. Write to us or leave a comment to give your business a shoutout.

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How to Plan Content for Freelancers

Productivity is a challenge at the best of times and with a doozy of a year behind us, freelancers can have trouble adhering to a schedule and creating content. Many of us either go too hard or can’t even get out of bed on some days so how does one find balance?

That’s why planning ahead of time for creating, editing, and publishing content is so handy. It can definitely save freelancers from rushing to meet last-minute deadlines or doing a hatchet job. If you are not a planner, then it can be overwhelming trying to schedule your content or plan it.

Before you say ‘YOU CAN’T PLAN INSPIRATION’ then you sadly haven’t been a freelancer for long. Bills and clients do not wait for inspiration. You have to churn content out whether you are in the mood or not. Hence this planning and coordinating can definitely help you create the kind of content you desire without it being too last minute or hectic.

Let’s go!

FIX A DAY TO PLAN YOUR MONTH

You can do it on a particular day, such as the last week of the previous month (plan for March in the last week of Feb, etc.) or the first week of every month. Set this day aside to organize your clients, work schedule, social schedule (if possible), school, and personal commitments. You can use a planner, a whiteboard, a calendar, or an app, depending on what feels comfortable to you.

Give yourself a realistic work-life balance and keep a schedule that you feel you can commit to. Most of us get carried away and write things such as ‘WRITE 5000 WORDS A DAY’ when we all know it’s not really happening. Use this day productively and sort through your really important, difficult tasks so you can space them out and have enough time to do things you want too such as hobbies and relaxing.

You can plan it in absolutely ANY form, using color codes, fun chores, and rewards for completing your tasks (not 5 hours of procrastination for 20 minutes of work done though). It is extremely essential that you understand your limitations and also remember that for creativity to exist you need to keep honing your skills without overdoing it.

IMPROVISE

Obviously life doesn’t always go to plan and with freelancers, there will be new clients, work or social commitments that can spring up last minute. You have to improvise and adapt your schedule according to the new changes.

When you plan your month, leave a couple of hours daily or few days a week to accommodate any new clients, work, or sudden changes. If you have a social commitment that is unavoidable then try to work around it or give yourself permission to relax for a bit. You can also absolutely take unplanned breaks depending on your state of mind and stress levels.

The idea of having a planned schedule is to allow yourself breathing space and freedom to create content positively and without any excessive worry.

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3 Golden Rules of Writing

Writing is always considered a basic, generic role that anybody can do at any point in their lives. While it may be somewhat true, some people are more adept at picking up writing as a skill and talent but ALL forms of writing are not for everybody.

If you have decided to pursue writing in any form or genre as an occupation or skill, then it is essential that you understand some basics before you begin. Like every role in the world, writing has golden rules. Golden rules include rules that beginners, experts, and intermediate writers all need to know and remember at all times. These rules come in handy when you are trying to get over a hump.

TREAT IT LIKE A JOB

The mundane reality of our lives is that we have to go do our jobs even on days when we don’t feel like it. But many writers, especially freelancers (yours truly included) consider writing as a hobby or art and wait for ‘INSPIRATION’ to strike. Unfortunately for you and the capitalist world we live in, bills don’t wait for inspiration or that moment of pure clarity.

If writing in any form is your primary source of income, treat it like a job. Do not wait for inspiration to show up every day. Sit in front of your laptop spewing words till they make sense. That is the ONLY way you will ever get any work done. Creative writing, scriptwriting, or novel writing allows for some leeway and space yet you have to foremost treat it like a regular job with regular hours.

I have mentioned it before and will do so again because I see so many writers falling into this trap. WRITE EVERYDAY LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. THIS IS YOUR JOB AND LIVELIHOOD. SHOWING UP IS HALF THE BATTLE WON.

NEVER STOP LEARNING

As a writer, you will constantly need to be updated and aware of news, trends, situations, and scenarios. You need to know what is happening with the world to include it in your blogs, novels, books, stories, or scripts. The easiest way to do this is to read the news or stay updated on social media. The difficult route is reading books, asking questions, immersing yourself in the experience of learning something new. It is a challenge as it implies that you will forever be a student, forever on your toes, and always learning something new and fascinating.

If that doesn’t pique your interest, then you may have difficulty being a writer. Journalists, writers, bloggers, creators, scriptwriters, and entrepreneurs understand the value and importance of research and preparation. It is the commitment and dedication that will distinguish between an excellent writer and a mediocre one.

RESPECT A DEADLINE

Whether you work best in a last-minute panic or prefer working days in advance, learn to respect a deadline. Ideally, submit your work BEFORE a deadline if possible since that gives you time to make any changes or edits.

I have seen several writers fail to respect or remember deadlines and lose on good quality projects simply because they were poorly organized or relied on ‘creativity’ or ‘inspiration.’ In some roles, deadlines can be negotiated if research or interviews do not fall in the schedule. However, when the sole responsibility is on you to create content before a deadline, the most professional thing to do is to stick to it as well as you can.

Personally, I find myself working better and sticking to a schedule if I have a deadline coming up as I understand that another person is reliant on me and my work. It also reminds me of the trust and belief the client has placed in me and their respect which I need to return by following the deadline.

That’s it, the 3 golden rules of writing. Actually these 3 golden rules are applicable to any other occupation as well but since we are about writing here, it’s best to stick to the basics! Hope you liked this post. Do leave a comment or a message if you want me to post anything particular.

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How To Write When You Feel Stuck

Holiday season is upon us and with 2020 being a doozy of a year all of us need a good, long break to recover and recuperate. But before we can bid adieu to the storm, we need to finish our projects and work which always feel extra annoying in December. The mood is light and the festivity makes it harder to concentrate.

So how does one write when you feel stuck or uninspired? How can you draw creativity in moments that you feel blank and can only think of your holiday? Fear not, I have some handy and useful tips to try for creators and writers.

REFLECT-

Use your reluctance as a chance to reflect on your past work. Go through old projects, drafts, emails, or notes. This will help you understand your journey and often you will find several other ideas or notes among your files that can help you at present. Analyzing your past work also empowers you in reflecting on how far you have come and how you have improved on your skills. This is a great tool for the days you feel low and dull. I always save my projects digitally and physically so I have them ready to be read or analyzed later if need be.

SMALLER GOALS-

Reduce the size of your goal. Sometimes we are so obsessed and scared about the project that it can affect our ability to create. Especially in December with the entire world taking a holiday, CoVID being a reality, and the grueling loneliness of the year hitting us, we can feel overwhelmed. Instead, reduce the size of your goal. If you are tasked with writing a 2000 word article, write 200 words at first. Read, review, edit, and continue ahead only if you are satisfied with the 200 words. Setting smaller, achievable goals can boost your confidence and make you feel productive. This energizes you and can inspire you to be creative and engage positively with your work.

Sometimes all we need is a break from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives

TAKE A BREAK-

There is a reason you feel stuck and overwhelmed.

YOU NEED A BREAK.

If this year has taught us anything then it is that we should be grateful, we should savor each moment, and we should believe and cherish ourselves.

Your body and brain signal to you in several manners what they need. Feeling stuck, uninspired, or not creative can mean your brain and mind are in need of a break and a rest.

It is like booting a computer back up when it starts to glitch.

If you can afford to, and are able to then TAKE A BREAK. Let your mind rest. Nap, read, write, doodle, travel, dance, sing, eat, run, or do whatever you wish. Use this time wisely to not worry or stress. Focus on embracing the rest and peace as you deserve. This year has been hard and we all need something to look forward to.

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5 Things Creators Can Learn From The Crown

The Crown on Netflix is a beautiful, poignant, and raw depiction of the British monarchy and the curtains they use to hide behind. The show’s success for 4 seasons is an indicator of the public interest in understanding what makes a monarch. Creators can use the show as an inspiration and feel motivated to create something relevant and successful.

Here are 5 Things Creators can learn from The Crown.

Focus

Every single episode of The Crown has a particular element, a topic or subject they cover. Using cross-character stories, they blend elements to finally reveal what the entire episode was about. Creators can use this kind of focus to write blogs, chapters, or stories. Understand what your AIM/FOCUS/GOAL is and utilize as many tools as you need to help you achieve that purpose. Is your blog about Christmas gift guides? Then inculcate elements of holidays, gifts, and Christmas to suggest what it is about. Is your book about fitness? Include meals, habits, and exercises that provide assistance with your goal and focus.

Research

The audience is extremely aware of the copious amounts of research that has gone into producing, directing, and creating The Crown. From costumes to locations, to factual research, and to portraying relationships, the creators have ensured their research is authentic, honest, and accurate. Bloggers, creators, writers, directors, and artists should follow this habit diligently. Whether you are writing a blog, a book, an article, or a film, research will help you lend that authenticity to fact and fiction. Fiction writers tend to make the mistake of not investing time in research and preparation. Audiences are shrewd enough to notice inaccuracies in fiction too. For example, if you want to write a book about an American girl falling in love with a South Asian boy in Singapore, you would need to do research about your protagonists, the location, their culture, their jobs, and their personalities. The better your research is, the better audiences will be able to accept and approve your work.

Three-Dimensional Characters

In Season 1, we see clearly the two roles Elizabeth struggles to play- the woman and the Queen. She is new, fresh, and yet to discover the heady combination of power, hierarchy, and status. Writing a layered, multi-dimensional, and complex character like Queen Elizabeth is one of the reasons The Crown is so popular. As the series progresses, all characters undergo changes, growth, and a personality seems to develop that connects them to each other. Creators and writers should definitely pay special attention to the way these characters are written and use it as inspiration for character sketches and personalities. What motivates them? What drives them? Why does Prince Philip feel the angst and envy that he does? How does Princess Margaret feel living in the shadow of her sister?

Strong, well-etched characters form a definitive pillar of the show

Interpersonal Relationships

As characters progress, so do relationships. Audiences can vividly notice how relationships between particular characters deteriorate or develop with times, interactions, and changes in hierarchy. When Elizabeth and Philip are in Malta, they are in a cocoon of domestic bliss, playing the roles of a doting wife and masculine husband. With her coronation, Queen Elizabeth is thrust into a limelight she isn’t prepared for and that marks the beginning of the end of her marital peace and harmony. Power demarcates the relationships between sisters, husband and wife, friends, and even family as they learn to their own peril. Creators and writers can learn some beautiful and sensible lessons emphasizing emotions, connections, and the links between family and friends. How do you display the bond between sisters? How can writers show the fraying of the relationship between a husband and a wife?

In Season 4, we see iconic characters such as Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Margaret embody powerful female personalities

Balance

The show tackles sensitive subjects like the monarchy, the bureaucracy, the government, and the reality behind the glossy veneer of protocol and royalty. Yet it does so deftly and balances brutal honesty with tact and using strong, vivid imagery and photography. Creators, writers, directors, and filmmakers will find each episode a lesson in film studies to understand how to balance visual imagery with prose story-telling and a solid narrative. It does get too staid in certain episodes, focusing too much on building images and relying a lot on the actors to emote and act without accessing dialogue or even words. Depending on the medium you create in, this could be a blessing or a mistake. Creators can’t deny the balance, the tact it employs, and refer to it when necessary for their projects and future works.

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Pivot: A strategy for creators in the post-COVID world

2020 has affected the arts and culture sector massively. Global economic and job losses range up to billions of dollars. The fragile ecosystem of freelancing, informal employment, gig economies, and project structures has been badly shaken. There is an urgent need to address and fix those issues. How can creators tackle the future? How can they pivot? How can they ensure they remain relevant?

Below is a limited yet exclusive guide for creators and cultural entrepreneurs to understand how to Pivot, a way to adapt in a post-COVID world where creating and entrepreneurship have varied meanings. The file is free for download can be shared with other cultural entrepreneurs, creators, artists, and bloggers for understanding the situation and figuring a blueprint to evolve.

In this guide, I chart out ideas, information, and steps for writers, creators, and cultural entrepreneurs to comprehend what lies ahead. How can they meet with challenges thrown by the global pandemic? Can they survive? Can they do more than just survive?

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Things Writers Can Learn From Emily In Paris

Netflix’s latest original, ‘Emily in Paris has garnered a lot of attention, critique, and interest for its premise and fashion. The show is about a marketing executive Emily who relocates to Paris for an American takeover of a French marketing firm. Naive, innocent, and brightly dressed Emily convinces her boyfriend to be in a long-term relationship as she leaves him in Chicago and is excited to move to Paris. What follows is a tale of American arrogance, confidence, innocence, and Parisian drama.

Garish fashion moments aside, Emily In Paris has several lessons writers can learn if they pay attention. Let’s find out!

Learn the Culture

Writers often need to create worlds that either they are too intimate with or have no knowledge of. Like American writers brashly writing about stereotypes, it can be easy to ignore research or perpetuate racial, cultural, social, and gender stereotypes and cliches. Emily, for example, comes to Paris with no knowledge of French and keeps calling Parisian culture or things as ‘weird’ or ‘random.’ When she reaches her apartment which is on the fifth floor, she keeps counting the ground floor as the first, and hence barges into Gabriel’s apartment on the fourth floor. Of course, that is their meet-cute but please don’t be like Emily. Respect other cultures, and just because they are different from yours, doesn’t make them ‘strange.’ If you are writing about other communities, cities, or cultures, try to read about it or interview people who actually belong. Make some effort to build a world that your readers can relate to. Don’t pay superficial homage or mention something just for the sake of mentioning it.

Expand Your Worldview

As amazing as the city is, Emily in Paris painted such a small, overdone picture of Paris. The show didn’t offer anything new in terms of narrative or explore the city as much as it could. It was one dimensional which is a mistake many writers (including me) tend to make in our work. We project our beliefs, opinions, and assumptions on our characters, and forget to draw from reality or expand our horizons. Is your work based in a real city or place? What can you do to give your reader something unique about it? In shows like Sex and The City, Gossip Girl, and Younger, the city (New York) became a protagonist, each episode taking us to a part we haven’t discovered in the same way previously. The place you set your story or characters in shapes them. Have you avoided falling into the pit of cliches or mistakes? Why should I read your book or watch your film if it follows the same map as every movie/book ever made?

Flesh Your Characters Out

Emily is sweet, confident, sassy, and resourceful. But what drives her? Why does she jump at the chance of coming to Paris? Has she always wanted to be a marketing executive? What motivates Gabriel other than cooking? Why is Sylvie keen on never letting any man close enough? The lead characters don’t have enough meat. Their motivations and aspirations are vague, hastily built, and urgently summarized. It is the need to be light and breezy but flesh your characters, please! Talk to them. Why do they have a particular favorite song or a movie? In The Boys Season 2, we finally learn the reason behind Hughie’s obsession with Billy Joel and it gives you a connection, a moment of vulnerability, you understand him, and what fears he has. There is no such moment with Emily. Like Paris, she too is one dimensional. Create a character, a protagonist that the audience feels invested in, committed to, and relates to. How is your protagonist the way he/she is? What lead them here?

I have a lot to say about the fashion choices in the show but I digress. Writers need to research and watch existing shows to understand what works and what doesn’t. It is also a great exercise to rewrite existing shows, draft pitches, or screenplays as a way to test your skills. Many production houses appreciate when writers send them reworkings of an existing television show or movie, like fan fiction, to display their creativity.

This weekend, why don’t you rewrite Emily in Paris, try to avoid the pitfalls, and create something unique and one that is your version of it?

Do let me know in the comments below if you liked the post.

(Image Source-Popbuzz)

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How to Increase Blog Traffic Part 2

Last week, I published the first part of this post, providing effective guidelines for increasing and improving traffic to your blog or website. Today we shall look at streamlined techniques to further analyze and improve your traffic and viewership.

EFFECTIVE DESIGN

The way your blog or website is designed affects your traffic and your viewership immensely. Readers want clean, crisp, and easy websites and blogs. Adding irrelevant, outdated, or excessive elements can make it overwhelming and distract from your purpose.

If your blog is about written ideas, then the focus should solely rest on texts with some images thrown in. If you have a visual product or service, then keep it minimal with imagery and very little to no text.

You don’t need to be an expert or a designer to have a website that attracts traffic. WordPress has several free options for bloggers and entrepreneurs to select from. This blog post about WordPress themes assists you in selecting and designing a theme that supports your niche and genre.

Your design should ultimately provide a complete and immersive user experience. Also, is your content optimized for mobile? Many bloggers and entrepreneurs make the mistake of creating content or images that look good only on laptops. It is absolutely vital that your content is optimized for all devices. A poorly designed layout or slow loading times can annoy consumers and readers and cause them to stop visiting your site or blog.

Utilize tools like PageSpeed Insights by Google to understand how to improve load times.

EMPLOY SOCIAL MEDIA

I don’t need to reiterate the power of social media but just to give you an idea, every time I share a link on Twitter or Instagram, I get 2x the viewers I would generally get without social media. That is a rough estimate. All blogs and websites have plugins or buttons available for you to display.

You can use visual plugins like Better Click To Tweet which makes it really easy and interesting to share your content with just a click. The idea is to involve the audience, engage them, and allow them to be an active performer in discussing and debating ideas.

DIRECT MARKETING

Bloggers tend to ignore organic sources and dismiss the data they have in hand for other flashier forms of marketing. Direct marketing is the best tool you can utilize for targeting content to specific readers and consumers. Give your audience a compelling reason to sign up for your list and make it really easy for them to sign up. Offer exclusive content, premium ideas, and discounts as a way of attracting traffic and improving the quality of readership.

Your emails or newsletters should have a SINGLE goal. Don’t dilute them with multiple ideas or messages. If you want them to buy your Christmas offer, then let that be the singular and repetitive message. Set an autoresponder to continue contacting your subscribers but for the important messages, craft an interesting proposal that ensures quality traffic and engaged viewers.

GUEST BLOGGING

A long-term strategy and one that requires investment on your behalf is guest blogging. It builds your online presence, cross connects you to another blogger and supports your authority. You can start off with small blogs, work your way up, and eventually find relatable bloggers and materials which you can use to support your blog and website.

Connect to other bloggers via social media platforms, comment on their materials or blog posts, and build relationships. Once trust has been established, offer to write a guest post or invite them to blog for you. The idea is for the blog and the pitch to be mutually beneficial. Provide helpful, informative guidance to other bloggers and offer support to their publications which indicates a willingness to engage and build a community. You will have to network and constantly socialize to enhance outreach and promote your blog/website.

GETTING TO WORK

Now that I have rounded up an exhaustive list of strategies and ideas to increase traffic, the next step is getting to work. It is extremely important that you try some or all of these tactics in combination and figure what works for you and your website. It will also depend on what your goals are. These strategies and techniques are an integral part of a long-term commitment and don’t expect magical results or an increase immediately. Just remember that effort and persistence pays off.

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My Dark Vanessa

(Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual assault, Pedophilia, Violence)

Set in 2017, My Dark Vanessa on its surface is about the #MeToo movement, the patterns of abusive men in power display, and how Vanessa Wye (the protagonist) feels about her past. In 2000, she was fifteen when Jacob Strane, forty-two, her English Professor embarked on a relationship with her.

So, are you ok…?

Vanessa to Jacob

When a junior, Taylor Birch, comes ahead and accuses Jacob Strane of sexual assault in 2017, Vanessa’s concern is for him. Anger for the girl, who according to Vanessa’s mind is exaggerating. ‘You barely touched her‘ Vanessa snaps when Strane suggests that Taylor may not be lying. My Dark Vanessa is about a victim (whether Vanessa likes it or not) so psychologically merged with her abuser that for 17 years, she sees it as a relationship, an affair, a love story. Between overwhelming fear and the harsh reality that he did groom her, Vanessa tries to believe she was willing. She was ready and he did love her. It’s the only way to reclaim some power and semblance over her life.

Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it?

Vanessa to Ruby

The book goes into explicit details about what it means to watch your life be overtaken by something you have no control of. As a woman, as a victim, and as a human, it is disturbing to digest what Vanessa goes through. When she defends Strane, part of me wants to reach through the pages and shake her. A part of me, one that recoiled page after page, understood.

Vanessa is a teenager shaped by no adversities. Her parents are decent if middle class and aloof. Her life was ordinary till she sees an advertisement for a private boarding school, Browick. Getting a scholarship, convincing her parents to let her move out at fourteen, a recent fall-out with former roommate Jenny, have been some of the most interesting things to happen to her. An ordinary teenager, her striking red hair form the start of an attraction to Strane. The textbook predator, Strane grooms her before she even understands the implications of his behavior. It is so predictable you want to tell her to snap out of it. He compliments her, he notices her work, he compares her hair to a maple leaf, he gives her books and poems to read. He gives her Lolita and emphatically informs her that she is not supposed to tell anybody she received the book from him. They have secrets. She feels special, noticed, and beautiful. In a poem she writes, Strane asks her if she meant to sound, ‘sexy’. He is so innocent, so gentle, that she feels in power, she feels in charge.

He was so in love with me, he used to sit in my chair after I left the classroom. He’d put his face down on the table and try to breathe me’ explains Vanessa to Ruby, her therapist as a symbol of her relationship with Strane. She likes being loved and adored by a man, what girl wouldn’t? Not for her dumb boys her own age but a man who has lived his entire life. This teenager, painfully aware of her self, and Strane’s ordinariness, distances herself from the narrative once Strane becomes physical with her. Russell leaves no detail to the imagination, the first time Strane forces himself on Vanessa, she feels repulsed. ‘Slimy’ and ‘raw’ she believes, one that is denial about having been violated. Strane like the expert manipulator he is, starts with consent, ‘Can I do this?’ but even Vanessa notices that he asks for permission after having done the thing. Strane wants Vanessa to be the child, his disdain evident as he deftly continues to assault other younger girls while using Vanessa and projecting his monstrosity on her. ‘A black cloud‘ is what he calls Vanessa when she has to withdraw from Browick, after allegations about their affair surface. He paints a picture of jail, scandal, court cases, notoriety following both of them. The teen, afraid for his safety, takes the blame on herself and confesses to spreading rumors. The school, unforgiving and eager to get rid of a scandalous girl, ask her to withdraw, but not before confessing in front of her entire class that she lied.

Strane watches in the shadows, eager to get rid of her as Vanessa is forced to leave the school, her chances at a good education. He asks her to stay away. Vanessa’s life has been marked, her trajectory changed, and one that she feels she is no longer in control of. Her eventual choices, her return to Strane at sixteen and continuing a relationship on his terms till she is twenty-one, marred by his dominance, abuse, and gaslighting all set the tone for a life doomed for something dangerous. In college, Vanessa attracts the attention of another English Professor, Henry Plough. They begin flirting, harmless flirting, he offers her an anchor, a job, a future, and she is consumed by him. In her anonymous blog, she pours her desire out. Henry is kind, he is sweet, and he is younger than Strane. On a trip to visit Strane, she learns that Henry is married to a counselor at Browick. Vanessa feels cheated, yet excited, that Henry married a former student. She is desperate for his body, she tells herself. When she tells Henry she was raped by Strane, she sets in motion a chain of events she tries to take back. ‘I wasn’t raped raped‘ she justifies her faux pas.

Russell has tried to convey a love story, a sweet tender building of relationships, yet all women can see is a man grooming a teenager while the authorities turn a blind eye. Vanessa keeps returning to Strane, even after learning he forced her out of school, he assaulted other girls, he labeled her as a troublemaker, she keeps coming back. She looks out for him. The threads with Henry are so frayed due to what happened with Strane that she decides to not apply to grad school. ‘I can see that too-another classroom, another man at the head of the seminar table reading my name off the roster, his eyes drinking me in. The thought makes me so tired all I can think is I’d rather be dead than go through this again’ thinks Vanessa when imagining grad school, another tryst with a Professor.

In the final moments of the book, Vanessa gets some clarity, some distance, and understanding. She is not a perfect victim, you find her unbelievable, I personally found myself so angry I had to stop reading. But you empathize. Trauma hits people differently and Vanessa who is stubborn, an attention seeker, inconsistent, and a liar finds it difficult to separate reality from fantasy. Is the story worth the journey? I am unable to decide. Should you read it? Again, I am not sure. The searing assaults, the ways in which Strane manipulated a teenage girl and destroyed other girls made me uncomfortable. It is a journey you should only take if you are mentally prepared and interested in it.