Bullying knows no boundaries. It can happen to children in a schoolyard, to adults working away at the office and between siblings at the dinner table. In Krista Bridge’s new novel, The Eliot Girls, she draws from personal experience as she explores the various depths of bullying at a private school for girls.
The germ of the novel had been kicking around in the back of Bridge’s mind for years and stems from a time when she was a student at St. Clement’s, a private school in Toronto where bullying was afoot.
“It really was just something I’ve lived through and it really made me want to write about it because it’s such a key experience to the development to my own identity,” says Bridge. “It was something that went on every day, sometimes in subtle ways, not necessarily in big ways. And it’s such a huge part of growing up.”
Bridge eventually left St. Clement’s to attend a public school for the last two years of high school.
In 2007, when she was pregnant with her first son, Bridge became serious about writing the novel. After her son was born, she mastered the parenting skill of maintaining a regular naptime routine, which allowed her to write for an hour and a half each day, chipping away at the novel a little more as her son slept.
Not too long after she started to get the foundation for the novel, the theme of bullying emerged.
“I’ve been through bullying and I’ve been on both ends of it really,” she says. “I’ve been a bully and I’ve been a victim. I haven’t been a bully in any sort of terrible offence, but I think a lot of students occupy this kind of middle ground where they move between those roles. And, at least in my schooling experience, most people weren’t always the victim or always the bully. Although some people certainly were.”
Even though there are some parallels between the novel and her youth, at the end of the day it’s a writer and her fiction. George Eliot Academy is not St. Clement’s – it’s a fictionalized private school.
Even with such a strong theme of bullying threaded through, Bridge didn’t write it with a principled message in mind.
“I really wasn’t trying to construct a moral message. I really didn’t really have that objective at all,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking about it from that vantage point of, you know, the social good. But I was really just thinking about it as a writer and how much that story interested me as something that I had lived through.”
She also looks into the lives of the educators, exposing their humanity and the way their private lives are reflected in the way they teach.
Bridge’s writing career began in 2002 when she had a short story published in Toronto Life. She also attended the Humber School for Writers under the mentorship of Elizabeth Harvor.
“She was wonderful. She was so supportive, so helpful, so instrumental to my development as a writer in the beginning,” she says.
The program resonated with Bridge so much she decided to take the program for a second year, furthering her relationship with Harvor.
In 2006, Bridge released The Virgin Spy (Douglas & McIntyre), her debut collection of short stories. She was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the Relit Award.
The Eliot Girls (Douglas & McIntyre) was launched on June 19 at the Dora Keogh Pub as part of the Fine Print Reading Series.