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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
From blog to book
Car park

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

After living in her car for nine months, Anya Peters went from homeless blogger to published author in the blink of an eye.

Anya Peters' story is about three things. It is about the evil of child abuse. It is about the possibility of changing your own life. And it is about the power of stories.

Her story has taken her from living hand-to-mouth, homeless, sleeping in a car in woodland by night, to a published author, starting a new life.

In the summer of 2005, financial and emotional difficulties left Peters living in her car. By February last year she was writing a blog as the Wandering Scribe. A month later she was featured in a New York Times article.

This in turn was picked up by the BBC News website and a mini-wave of media attention followed. Among those who read the pieces on the Magazine was a literary agent who soon had Peters signed up to a book deal with HarperCollins.

WANDERING SCRIBE
graphic

The result, just published, and sitting firmly in the genre known as misery lit, is Abandoned: The true story of a girl who didn't belong.

It is proof that the internet, and the blogosphere in particular, can generate phenomena that are piggy-backed by the traditional media. Blogs can mean books.

The latter part of the book will be familiar to fans of the Wandering Scribe blog. It's all about the alienation and fear of being homeless, attempting both to survive and preserve a veneer of normality.

The blog, she says, was a beacon in a confused, depressed period in her life, as readers responded, wishing her luck and talking of the overcoming of their own troubles.

Horrific abuse

"It became something to get out of my sleeping bag for. It kickstarted me back into life. It was like having a huge dose of positivity," she says.

But most of the book will be unfamiliar to the blog's readers, being an account of how Peters, not her real name, which she refuses to give, was raised by her aunt in London and horrifically abused by her aunt's husband.

Peters says her biological mother, Kathy, had fallen pregnant during an affair with a married man. Fearing stigma, she prevailed upon her older sister to raise the child as one of her own.

I feel released from my childhood
Anya Peters

Peters writes of a childhood dominated by appalling abuse from her new stepfather, graduating from verbal bullying to violence and then rape. Writing the book presented problems but was ultimately helpful, she says.

"It was a very difficult book to write. It had never left me. It was quite a relief to write it down. I had had a very strange life, living two lives together."

She says she feels "vulnerable" about the book, having exposed a previously-secret life story. And there are some who will doubt the truth of it, just as critics have in the past posted their scepticism on her blog.

The author comes across in conversation as a bundle of nervous energy, rarely completing thoughts or sentences, preferring to voyage down trees of tangents.

But one thing sticks out: her repeated claims that "I'm not proud of my background". The genre of misery lit is ostensibly about triumphing over a terrible past to build a normal life, but Peters still feels the stigma of her former life.

No help

Now 35, she emphasises it is not that memories of her abusive upbringing have come back to her, more that she has finally decided to reveal a story which she felt she had to suppress for many years to appear normal.

"I never had anyone to talk to about it. You kind of didn't in those days. I didn't want anyone to know I had any problems whatsoever. I would never go to people for help, I would never reach out.

"It is something that I can't forget. But I've had a lot of life since then."

The audience for the book will be mostly women, many of whom may have suffered some form of abuse themselves, Peters says. Writing has been therapeutic and the reaction from readers has also helped.

"I feel released from my childhood. Not everyone is going to write a book and get out of it that way but people may be able to realise they are not stuck in a rut."

Now living in a flat, Peters has no immediate plans to write again and spends her days planning a normal future. Meanwhile, her story remains testament to the power of the internet to connect people in an increasingly solitary world.


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