In her debut as a graphic novelist, a Gabriola Island woman hopes to give a voice to sexual abuse survivors and make readers aware of the predatory grooming process.
Emily Carrington first started Our Little Secret as a class assignment three years ago, but once the story-gates opened she found herself unable to stop until the final panel was drawn.
Our Little Secret, published in April, is a memoir that depicts her experiences of sexual abuse at 15 years old while living in the Maritimes with her father during the ‘80s, and the neighbour who would abuse her. The novel also reveals her struggles to heal as an adult.
“Keeping the secret is the hard part,” said Carrington. “I just needed to get the story out.”
The graphic memoir is not the illustrator’s first attempt to alleviate the weight of trauma that shadowed her since her teen years. Poetry and creative non-fiction helped a little, she said, simply as expression of it, but “still left a huge amount inside.”
It wasn’t until her childhood interest in comics was renewed, and through this new medium, she said felt like she could judiciously capture and share her experiences. Combining written word and visual depiction was where her creativity truly shined, she said.
“[The graphic novel] expressed things that would have taken 1,000 pages [of writing] to express,” she said. “I feel like there’s nothing left really that I haven’t expressed … and finally being able to has freed me from it.”
Although Carrington often drew as a child, she said the origin of Our Little Secret stemmed from a class assignment through Langara College’s comic and graphic novel course in 2019.
After completing the assignment, she set it aside for a few months and finally returned to it without a plotline or storyboard prepared.
“It was sort of an act of faith and I was just hoping that it would all work out in the end,” she said. “Once I got the story down, once the story started coming out, I spent as much time as I could at it because it felt like an ‘entire thing’ – it didn’t feel like little parts but an entire story, all at once … And until I’d finished the last page the story was still in me.”
In her creative process, Carrington said the first image that stood out and came to mind was a fly – a possible metaphor to encapsulate the overall mood of the memoir.
“So I wrote that down – and then an image came into my head of this huge fly sitting on the countertop. Now that didn’t make any sense to me, but I went with it. And that’s how the story starts.”
Without revealing or spoiling the ending, Carrington described the legal proceedings at the end of the book as “unusual and shocking.”
While being a freeing externalized experience, Our Little Secret looks to not only give a voice to other survivors of sexual abuse, but to help their loved ones understand and possibly provide better support.
“And for people who have not been abused, I want them to understand the grooming process – how an abuser works,” she said. “Healing is possible. It can be a rocky trip and it might not go the way you wanted, but healing is possible.”