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Young adult novel A Good Hiding deals with domestic abuse and discrimination

Launched this week to coincide with Belfast Pride, Shirley-Anne McMillan's new novel for young adults addresses issues of discrimination. The Co Down-born author spoke to Michael Jackson about A Good Hiding

Shirley-Anne McMillan's new novel has been published to coincide with the Belfast Pride Festival
Michael Jackson

HOMOPHOBIA, domestic abuse and discrimination are things that are still experienced by many people in our society; Maghera-based writer Shirley-Anne McMillan's new novel, A Good Hiding explores how, quite often, they are suffered by children.

McMillan began writing while studying English at Queen's University around two decades ago. This, the author's second novel, tells the story of 15-year-old Nollaig and her best friend Stephen. Nollaig lives with her alcoholic father, and since her mother's death she has regularly suffered from both verbal and physical abuse. As a young gay person, Stephen too has experienced his fair share of hardship at the hands of homophobes.

Nollaig becomes pregnant and decides to run away from home to protect her unborn child, and with only Stephen to trust, things turn out to be more difficult than she anticipated. While taking refuge in a church, she is found by a vicar who, we discover, has a secret of his own.

A Good Hiding offers an insight into the lives of individuals who face discrimination; McMillan said it was important for her to portray young people's experiences realistically and to relate the particular circumstances of life in Northern Ireland.

"I like books that are set in real life and in the present," she said. "The issues in the book are ones that young people experience, and are interested in. My publisher is in London, and they thought that [setting the book in the north] would be great for their readers too. Hopefully the book does give a sense of Northern Ireland. I hope the landscape comes across."

Character is key to Lisburn native McMillan's writing.

"I spend a lot of time before I start writing just thinking about each character and what they're like,” she said. “I try to do character sketches as well just to try to solidify it in my mind what they look like and what they think like. I might even write little diaries from their point of view that don't make it into the book just to get myself into their mind.”

McMillan is a former English teacher and a mother of two who has worked with young people for over 20 years. While her characters aren't based on any specific person, they are grounded in real experiences.

“Anything that strikes people as realistic just comes from my own personal background and my experiences with young people,” she revealed.

The story of A Good Hiding is told via the first person narrative of both Nollaig and Stephen, which McMillan insists was also vital to the story.

"I felt pretty strongly that I wanted them be able to tell their own stories in their own words." she explained. "Especially because they're all coming from a place of marginalisation. I didn't want anyone to be telling anyone else's story so I did that quite deliberately."

Despite the serious subject matter, the story is told in an endearing way and maintains a huge element of hope, which McMillan believes is present in Northern Ireland.

"I know that there is good work that goes on with young LGBT in Northern Ireland," she said. "There's a lot hope there because they're doing such excellent work. It can be a difficult place to be sometimes but I wanted the hope to come across in the book."

The novel will be launched at an event at the Black Box in Belfast on Tuesday August 02 to coincide with the ongoing Belfast Pride Festival. The novelist says that it is only fitting that the book coincides with Ireland's biggest LGBT festival.

"It was always going to come out in the summer but it was intentional to make it coincide with Belfast Pride because it deals with issues that affect the LGBT community," she said.

:: A Good Hiding is published by Atom Publishers and is available from August 04; for details on the book launch see blackboxbelfast.com. For more info on the author, see: shirleyannemcmillan.com. Belfast Pride Festival runs until Saturday August 6 (belfastpride.com)

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