Author Guest Post: Cyber Bullying by William Hussey

Author Guest Post, Empathy, Social Media

William Hussey is our author of the month for January. He has kindly written an insightful post about cyber bullying and i’s incorporation within his new book Jekyll’s Mirror. This also ties in beautifully with our reading theme of the month- Social Media in YA.

Received from Publisher
Inspired by comic books, detective stories (and a summer job working on a ghost train!), William started writing chilling tales at any early age and trained as a solicitor before gaining a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Alongside Terry Pratchett, he was a finalist in the BRIT Writer of the Year Award in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Leeds Book Award for Witchfinder.
From Tom Brown’s School Days with its posh tormentor Flashman to Harry Potter and the mudblood-hating Draco Malfoy, ‘the bully’ has always been a central part of children’s fiction, and although the effects of bullying might remain largely the same, the methods by which people persecute one another and the motives of the bully seem to have undergone a transformation in recent years, both in fiction and real life.
‘Transformation’ is at the heart of my new thriller Jekyll’s Mirror. There’s the obvious physical transformation of some of the central characters of the book into their dark ‘Hyde-selves’, but there’s also the transformation of the story itself. You see, when I started planning the book it had nothing to do with the issue of cyberbullying.
This is often the way with authors and their stories. We begin with a vague central idea – in this case, I wanted to write a version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror masterpiece Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde set in a modern-day high school. But in the planning this began to change. I knew the original story pretty well – I’d once adapted it into a play – but when I went back to read it again two things struck me:
First (and this is something many people don’t understand about the book), it is not a story of good versus evil. Dr Jekyll, when he takes the potion, admits he isn’t a wholly good man but a mixture of light and dark. That is why, in the end, Hyde is the stronger personality, being utterly evil. No, the true essence of the tale is that Dr Jekyll wears Hyde like a mask, using the anonymity of this new face to do and say things he would never feel free to in the skin of the stuffy Henry Jekyll. Secondly, Mr Hyde is described in the book as a small, underdeveloped man with an ‘air of deformity’. When I reread that description a word popped into my head: TROLL.
And with those two insights the entire plot for Jekyll’s Mirror was transformed. I asked myself, what in the modern world is the equivalent to Dr Jekyll’s infamous potion? What can we now use as a mask to hide (Hyde?) our true face and give us the anonymity to say things we might never say in the ‘real’ world. Where in our modern age are thetrolls…?
This was the missing theme essential for my book: cyberbullying. The internet, especially in the form of social networking, is the new Jekyll potion. Through it, we present different faces to the world – mostly our ideal selves: funny, witty, clever –  while others use this distance from who they really are to wallow in cruelty. And so they are transformed.
This is how stories change in their planning and writing – how new ideas are hit upon and layers added to what might have been a simple horror story. Interestingly, the same thing happened with Robert Louis Stevenson when he was writing the originalJekyll and Hyde. He had written a quick first draft and showed it to his wife, who suggested it was very good but that, if he worked a little harder on the moral of the tale, it could become much more interesting than a simple monster story. Stevenson put that first draft on the fire and started again, adding depth to his macabre plot.
With this new idea of cyberbullying I realized that I would have to tear up a lot of my planning and start again too. The first thing I needed to do was to get to grips with the research. Through friends and contacts, I was able to interview two experts in their fields: John Neary, a nurse specialist in children’s mental healthcare, and Andrew Hickinbottom, a police officer whose job involved investigating online persecution.
These gentlemen gave me great insights into the damaging and hidden world of cyberbullying. Sergeant Hickinbottom showed me the true extent of online persecution and the effect on victims. I was staggered by the sheer scale of the problem (with over a third of young people experiencing some form of bullying online) and by some of the tragic cases, which occasionally resulted in the self-harming and even suicide.
Now, I was very badly bullied when I was at school. It happened for a whole year when I was about twelve, but in those pre-internet days the bullying had its limits. I knew when I went home it would stop. Don’t get me wrong, it was still horrible and stressful, but I didn’t have to put up with the ceaseless barrage of jeers and insults suffered by some kids today. John Neary made it clear to me that abuse online – the taunts, the name-calling – doesn’t end at the school gates. It continues in the virtual world, leading to sleepless nights as children constantly check their social media sites throughout the small hours to see what has been written about them. This then leads to paranoia and other psychological problems born out of stress.
But why do children bully each other online? Again, John provided me with crucial insights, and here is where the line between the ‘bully’ and the ‘bullied’ can become blurred. Often, he told me, the bully him or herself will be experiencing pressure or persecution in their own lives. They could be the victim of ‘traditional’ bullying at school or at home and this then leads to them wanting to lash out and vent their anger. The internet offers them a place of anonymity in which to do this.
More broadly, the many difficulties of modern life (peer pressure, the need to conform, the race to ‘grow up’ etc), with all the stresses and strains it places on young people, can lead to a need to inflict harm on others, simply to relieve tension. These are, of course, not the only reasons people bully online, but these and other insights provided invaluable material for me to start building the characters in Jekyll’s Mirror. Characters who themselves blur the distinction between bully and victim.
The horrible truth I came away with is quite simple: it is easier to be cruel than kind. Kindness requires effort; cruelty is simple, instinctive and primal: just like Mr Hyde. Cruelty gives us a sugar rush sensation of power and that is why it is so horribly addictive. If, like Dr Jekyll, we do not live happily with who we truly are and accept all sides of ourselves, light and dark, and if we do not find a way to live peacefully amid the rush and torrent of the modern world, then we might well be opening the door to Mr Hyde.
And once that door is opened it can be very difficult to close again.
Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads
Sam is a tortured soul, but his darkest hour is yet to come, when he’s invited to take part in ‘Project Hyde’. A new social networking site where users can enjoy total anonymity . . . it’s exhilarating at first, until Sam notices that the other users are becoming obsessed with the program . . . addicted to the cruelty they are inflicting online. Sam watches with a growing sense of horror as his classmates turn into something unrecognisable.
For the truth behind Project Hyde is this: it doesn’t simply change WHO you are, it changes WHAT you are.
One click away from Evil’s new domain. Are you ready to face the truth?

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