Published Thursday, 24th May, 2018 in Student successes

Carolina Are is a PhD student of Criminology in the School of Arts and Social Sciences. She has a BA degree from City in Journalism, a background in public relations, and is a blogger and pole dancer in her spare time. She's published a novel titled Bad/Tender about a young woman's journey through an abusive relationship. Below is an interview about her life as a student, author and woman in London.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I'm originally from Olbia, Italy. My academic and professional background is kinda all over the place. I left Italy at 18 to do a Journalism BA here at City (this was in 2011). Some of the events that inspired the book happened in the summer of 2014 (so when I was about to graduate) and after that I took off and couch-surfed across the US for two months. Afterwards, I worked in PR for about a year and a half here in London (although I had been working in PR/Social media part-time throughout my uni degree) when the PTSD and depression from my abusive relationship caught up with me and mixed up with anxiety and burnout from work. So I decided to leave London and I went as far as I could go: to Sydney, to do a MA in Criminology at Uni Sydney.

I stayed there for about a year and a half while still working in PR. This was a great experience because I became quite senior - I got up to Social Media Strategist and Account Director at the age of 24, which I felt really proud of - and I also graduated with distinction. In Sydney my blog really grew and I got to travel a lot through it, but I realised I was far from everything and everyone I loved so I moved back. City was home in a sense, because I did my BA here, and my potential supervisor, Eugene McLaughlin, really took my proposal to heart so I was really glad to come back. So here I am, focusing on Twitter flaming (a degeneration of trolling, when it becomes illegal and it turns into threats and defamation, etc.). I'm going to present part of my paper at the International Criminology Conference in Washington DC this October - I'm really excited!

What sparked your decision to write a book? Had you written or published anything before?

I've been writing since I can remember and I finished my first novel when I was 18. I've written five so far but they were pretty naive and childish, things I wrote just for myself because I liked writing and I wanted to explore those stories. This one was different. Because of the abusive relationship I was in, I had a lot of anger and self-loathing in me that I needed to get rid of. At the same time, I wanted to explore different scenarios and outcomes for the relationship I was in, so I decided to use this traumatic experience in a cathartic way, if anything to help other people in similar situation understand that they are not alone and that they shouldn't be ashamed.

I've actually been published before, but it was just for short stories. Two of them are here and I also had a short story called Disconnected published in the University of Sydney's anthology book last year.

Plus, I'm a blogger, so I publish all the time and I have had work published on the Huffington Post UK's blog , on Hip & Healthy and on TimeOut Sydney.

How did you balance the responsibilities of being a student and author?

I'm probably the worst person to advise on that. Because I have anxiety, I live with the paranoia of failing in some aspect of my life, so I'm often working too much, doing too many things and stressing about them. But I love writing, it keeps me going and I enjoy doing it, just like I enjoy doing my PhD, so I guess it's a "can't live without it" type thing.

What advice do you have for other students on writing, or just trying something new during their studies?

Just do it. Life's too short to wonder what it'd be like to try something new. Just try it. If it doesn't work out, you move on.

What are the key lessons that other students can learn from your story?

I think a huge learning point for myself was that you shouldn't be ashamed to ask for help. I've always been very independent, I consider myself a strong person (who struggles a lot, but still strong), a feminist and an optimist. So when something as crushing as violence from an intimate partner hits you, you kind of have to rewire your beliefs and come to terms with a difficult reality. For me, I initially went into survival mode and I pretended nothing was happening. I told some people my story, but I minimised it, I didn't ask for help. Up until it all came back with a vengeance. So if something bad happens, grieve, ask for help, because recognising you need help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of healing.

Did the #MeToo movement have any effect on yourself, your writing or the story line?

It did and it didn't. I actually wrote this novel in between 2014 and 2015, on notebooks throughout my couch-surfing trip in America. So #MeToo wasn't a thing back then. However it did influence my decision to self-publish. The #MeToo movement was a sign that people are finally being forced to listen to women, to narratives they don't like and that they hadn't given space to before. My story did not get any space through traditional publishing, but it was time for me to move on. I had stopped grieving and begun healing. I wanted to focus on writing something different. But I did not want this story to be forgotten. So I thought this was the best time for it to go out.

Final thoughts...

I would probably say that I am extremely lucky. I have a supportive family and a tight-knit group of friends who were there for me even when I wasn't ready for their help, and they've seen me through the worst of times. I am privileged because of that. Not everyone is allowed this luxury, and that makes situations like these even harder, which is why I wanted my novel to go out. If anything, at least people will realise that being in an abusive relationship isn't something that happens to one group of people - it happens to all of us, because it's a symptom of a behaviour that spans across countries, classes, ages, ethnicities. And this means you are not alone, and that if you ask for help, somebody will hopefully give it to you, whether it's a friend or the state.

Also, I would like to say that I have always struggled to see myself as a victim, and that prevented me from asking for help. But if there's anything that the past few years have taught me, it's that you can be many things at the same time. You can be strong and in trouble; you can be a good student and a professional and write f'ed up novels; you can work towards being whoever you want to be, if you stop being your own worst critic.

If you find yourself in a similar situation know that you can find support services here at City.

Mental Health Service

Student Counselling Services