Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Lannah Sawyers-Diggins

Today I welcome a caring, passionate and determined woman. Lannah Sawyers-Diggins was the victim of relentless bullying whilst growing up at boarding school. It was this dark time in her life that prompted her to encourage other victims to speak out about their expereinces. From this Bullseye was published. Today Lannah shares some of her passionate and heartfelt opinions with us.

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THE IDEA FOR BULLSEYE CAME ABOUT?
It originates from my own experiences – I am a past victim of this hideous phenomenon.  Some years ago I had an ‘epiphany’, if you like.  I woke one morning – it was a birthday if I remember correctly and suddenly just realised that I had to get my late father’s book published and out there.  But how?  Seriously, how do you get a book published?  Google to the rescue and some months later, Dad’s book was successfully published.  Now this book and publishing ‘thing’ had got into my blood so – next off the rank was ‘Bullseye’.  The idea originally was to be able to ‘tell all’, to vent as it were – get it off my chest.  And after all that, while I found doing that was incredibly therapeutic, my story was not actually included in the book.

WAS IT HARD TO GET VICTIMS OF BULLYING TO AGREE TO BEING INCLUDED IN YOUR BOOK?
No.  Not really.  Through word of mouth and placing a couple of notices in one of the national magazines, I found victims around the nation responded pretty quickly.  I absolutely assured them that they could remain completely anonymous which did seem to encourage them.  I guess part of the problem with the book was that, acting on legal advice, all stories, being originals written and submitted by those authors, had to be reproduced word for word, including all original spelling, grammar etc.  And it did appear that many of the victims/authors, having been given this opportunity, just sat – and wrote.  It was obviously a huge relief and release for them and, understandably, they did not put a lot of thought into the way they wrote.  I can sympathise with that absolutely.  The fact that the stories had not been edited and proofread was mentioned in the introduction but many chose not to read that and criticism of the stories was pretty heavy – and unfair in my opinion.  But – the aim for writing and having the book published had been achieved – as a way for victims to let it all out, get it off their chests, to vent.  All that said, there were a few who were a little unsure and finished up withdrawing their experiences. 

DID YOU NEED TO DO MUCH RESEARCH OTHER THAN INTERVIEWS?
 No, not really.  And these were not actually interviews – I was simply offering these poor people the chance to be able to do as mentioned – vent and get it off their chests.  Doing so will never erase the fact that they have all suffered their hideous nightmares but almost all mentioned how therapeutic it felt to finally be given the chance to say something and not worry about any repercussions.  Further research has been done since ‘Bullseye’ was published.  There have been suggestions that I do a follow up book – describing the lives of the victims as they are now.  But most were not interested in doing this.

WHAT KIND OF RESPONSE HAVE YOU RECEIVED SINCE ITS RELEASE?
Amazement.  Pure amazement that this is being allowed to happen in schools still – and anger with the government, both state and federal.   Also with the schools.  Victims and their families alike are growing increasingly frustrated with the Education Departments nationwide as the general feeling is that they are just not listening to the people – there is not enough action.  Readers of the book itself have reported back that they were unable to put it down once they started, many cried throughout and there have been varying reactions – but the overall feeling which has come through very clearly is pure anger.  Toward the system. 

WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES.  ARE YOU?
Definitely.  I was a victim of bullying for six nightmare years in my teens at a boarding school in Adelaide.  In those days we only had three terms and believe me, that middle one was a killer – never-ending and horrible.  And if you were as miserable at school as I was – bad memories.  Being boarding school I endured it 24/7.  No escape.  And yes, had it occurred to me, suicide would have been considered.  I had kept this bottled up for all those years – until I finally decided to write it all down – which in turn, triggered ‘Bullseye’ even though my story is not included.  Both my daughters were victims in three different states across the nation, in both the state and private systems.  And history repeated itself – my niece, whose mother was a day student at my old school (and holds nothing but fond memories which is how it should be, surely) boarded there for a year and was also bullied badly.  She was actually threatened with death.  But her cries for help were met with a very luke-warm response from the school – her parents removed her and put her in a government one, where she thrived.  As for me – the one member of staff who I turned to for help, simply told me off for ‘trying to attract attention to yourself and you should try to get along with the other girls’.  Meanwhile my one call to my parents was ignored.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN TO MAKE A CHANGE WITH THE ISSUE OF BULLYING?
Ah, NOW you’re asking.  We actually have a list of strategies, all of which I understand are quite feasible and, ideally, we would like to see becoming part of a national framework adopted by all the Departments of Education and made mandatory for all schools.  But trying to get these Departments to understand that all the programmes, resources and specialist advice they have on hand for the schools to use, while to be applauded, are simply not working effectively enough – a bit like belting your head against a brick wall.  If they were working as they claim to be, why is bullying continuing, seemingly unabated?  Why are children being removed from the system in favour of home schooling?  Ideally it would be lovely to see bullying in schools made completely illegal but unfortunately, while I do not see why this could not eventually happen, I cannot see it happening during my life time anyway.  Many people also feel that this would not stop the problem anyway – and I do tend to agree with that.  However, I do feel that surely bullies might think twice if they had the law against them and to answer to.  At the moment, as mentioned earlier, there are several strategies that I would like to see put into place: 

·        Introduce a national framework  to cover the entire nations’ schools – as it currently stands the system appears to differ in every state, which is very confusing for everyone, particularly those families that regularly move interstate due to work commitments;  I also do understand that a couple of states are now looking at this – but I have yet to discover exactly what their policies entail;
·        Introduce a step programme of punishment for perpetrators of bullying:
            -         1    a mild warning;
-         2    a more severe warning and mild punishment;
-         3    a more severe warning and severe punishment;
-         4    expulsion, pure and simple.
·        A system for the schools to report back to the Department of Education in their state about any bullying incidents and the way the schools reacted, how it was handled, punishment for the bully (not the victim) etc.  I do understand that the NSW Department of Education already has something like this in place;
·        Have all schools nationwide include all policies on their websites, again something which I believe the NSW Departments already stipulates and this might already be more widespread than I am being led to understand;
·        Perhaps the introduction of some sort of training for teachers and school staff when confronted with any incidents;
      ·        Have some sort of reward system put into place for teachers and staff who ‘do the right thing’;
There are more ideas being suggested almost daily to me – some of these seem to be feasible, others not.  All are looked at carefully though.

HOW CAN SCHOOLS DO BETTER TO ADDRESS THOSE BEING BULLIED AS WELL AS THE BULLIES?
As mentioned above, I feel that staff and teachers need to be put through some sort of training to be able to better handle this problem.  This would need to be worked on carefully.  For bullies, the degree of punishment would vary – but that would be where the step punishment programme could come into play.  From what I understand, at the moment, many principals  appear to be in denial that bullying even occurs in their schools and while this, in my opinion, is a very na├»ve attitude, it would also be a fair one if the victims are too scared to come forward and tell someone in authority about their nightmares.  But with the principals feeling this way, this does not encourage interest in doing something about it, handling this situation properly, among their staff.  Unfortunately this is all too often still the situation.  The victims are terrified of repercussions (a situation which has just occurred in Adelaide confirms this), copy-catting or simply being punished – rather than the bully.  I am not saying this happens in all schools, not by any means, but sadly from what I am hearing it is happening in far too many.  But I do feel that teachers are in an impossible situation – they are blamed by the parents of the victims and the bullies, but they are also trying to guide both and they are answerable to the Principals and to the Education Departments.  There are a number of relevant programmes for them to use but nothing is mandatory, from what I understand.  Also so much depends on the school principals. 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO THOSE WHO ARE BEING BULLIED?
This is incredibly hard for the victims – and for the teachers, particularly those who are concerned and want to do something about it.  Obviously the best thing the victims can do is tell someone – a person in authority at the school, or their parents.  I know many turn to the police but I believe they are pretty well powerless to do anything as well.  There are groups and resources available for victims and their families and we are offering for them to tell us – pour their hearts out – get it off their chests.  But doing this will not stop their nightmares – and the only way to try to achieve that is by the victims telling someone.  It’s a rather vicious cycle.  The perpetrators also need to be punished – and while that in itself, would not be difficult, it could be unbearably scary for the victims.  They are terrified of repercussions, or being punished – rather than the bullies being punished.  This, from what I understand, is happening all too often.  It is also part of the reason that these poor kids are considering suicide – how very tragic.  Or they are staying away from school and eventually being homeschooled.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR OTHER PUBLICATIONS/AWARDS IF ANY?
No awards but I have another published title on the market, called ‘The Sawers From Pitcairn’ which is my late father’s writing.  He has followed the steps of the first two of our ancestors as they moved from our seat in Scotland, out to Australia, their employment on various sheep and cattle stations throughout NSW and SA and finally settling on the station which remains in our family today.      It describes life on our station as it was in his day and into the next (our) generation.  Then came ‘Bullseye’ which is a compilation of some thirty six case histories written and submitted by victims of Australia and one from the UK.  My current book is my ‘baby’ – I am finally combining two of my life long passions – the outback and writing.  The working title is ‘The Book on Stations’ – there is an enormous amount involved in it and to say I am having the time of my life ‘working’ on it, meeting the most wonderful people etc would be very much the understatement of my life.  I am also working on my first work of fiction (thanks to Melissa) – which is me, opening up, publicly, finally about my own six year bullying nightmare.  And believe me, it is so therapeutic.

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I cannot go past Australian authors – my favourites are Nicole Alexander, Rachael Treasure and I liked Sarah Henderson.  Di Morrissey is another favourite and of course, Melissa Wray. (Thanks Lannah!)

OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
My family – and our pets.  Photography (which is a new passion).  The outback.  I used to draw a lot and I still do a bit of calligraphy.  I do love working on causes that I am absolutely passionate about – fighting bullying and also encouraging our wonderful elderly to sit and talk about their lives and have someone tape these memoirs, before these fantastic people pass on and take it all with them.  I am in the best place in my life now.  In short, I LOVE life.  LIFE IS GREAT.

WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING THING ABOUT WRITING/PUBLISHING THAT YOU HAVE LEARNT?
Believe it or not, I think all the wonderful authors and other people that I am meeting through this and the invaluable advice they are giving me.  And (sorry – starting a sentence with an ‘and’) I am being approached for advice etc.  It’s a whole new world – one I NEVER thought I’d be in and enjoying so much – but, hey, I am and I am LOVING it.  So, not really anything in particular.  Just – everything.

IF YOU HAD A PREMONITION YOU WOULD BE STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND, WHAT 5 BOOKS WOULD YOU THROW IN YOUR BAG?
‘How to Survive on a Desert Island’ (if there is such a book – or similar); a couple written by my favourite authors mentioned above, my Dad’s book and something funny.  Long and funny.  None of which would probably be much help but what the heck.

WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST SUM YOU UP?
Passionate.  Caring.  Determined.  Stubborn.  Friendly (I think).

 

HOW CAN WE LEARN MORE?
www.bullseyeandthefightagainstbullying.com
www.abcpublishing.info
www.bullseye-bullying.blogspot.com
www.twitter.com/bullseye_book
www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=9498546&trk=tab.pro
http://about.me/abcpublishing
www.facebook.com/bullseyeonbullying?fref+tes

 Lannah would love to hear from anyone that works in schools and who would like to share their approaches to combat bullying. You can email her via the link below.
 http://about.me/abcpublishing

 

2 comments:

  1. Hi Melissa, coincidence or what? I've recently connected with Lannah at LinkedIn and other spots. So good to get together with other Aussie authors.
    Cheers
    Alana Woods

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    Replies
    1. Hi Alana, that is a huge coincidence! She is a lovely, positive lady who I hope to meet in person one day :)

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