We meet Carolina the woman behind BloggerOnPole and Author of Bad/Tender.
Hi Carolina. It feels like we've been wanting to interview you here at Sister for so long now. For those who don't know, could you please tell us who you are and what you do?
Hello Sister. So honoured to be speaking to you. I would say I'm a person who takes up too many projects! I'm currently living five different lives all at once. I'm doing a PhD focusing on flaming - so when trolling becomes harassment. I'm teaching criminology and journalism part-time at university. I work as a research assistant on a project on humanitarian journalism. I'm a writer, I recently self-published my first novel, Bad/Tender, and I'm a blogger for my own blog bloggeronpole.com. Which brings me to my final 'identity', that of a pole dancer and pole performer. Some people - both on stage and off stage - have called me a tornado, both because of my energetic performances and because I'm running around doing stuff all the time.
Carolina's book cover artwork is by Melbourne based artist Aurora Campbell, who has also experienced abuse. She designed the cover to signify the invisible pull abusive partners have over victims.
From the list you've given me, those are job titles people wouldn't usually expect to see together – is that what gave you the idea of starting BloggerOnPole?
Actually, all things happened gradually and came together as a sort of accident, but I would say that today I'm much closer to the woman I wanted to be as a teenager than ever. I had my quarter-life crisis at 22 when I went through a burnout when I was working in PR, and realised the path I had chosen wasn't for me. As a teen, I was always into mysteries and wanted to study criminology, but I also liked to write and I wanted to leave my native country of Italy to move to the UK. I thought studying criminology in a second language would have been too difficult, so I picked journalism instead because it included the writing and, in a way, investigation element. I started my first blog before the course started, because I panicked for not having done an internship like my classmates and thought the blog could have shown some drive. However, since I'm a control freak, by the end of my course I realised that journalism didn't look secure enough in my eyes, and that I liked being creative, and I had started working with some restaurants through my blog, so I ended up working in PR.
Fast-forward to last year, and my food and travel blog didn't reflect my life anymore. After winning an academic prize for my BA dissertation when I had already been working for two years, I realised I needed to go back to what I had always wanted. So I applied for a Criminology MA in Sydney, Australia, because I wanted to be as far as possible from London where at the time I didn't feel ok, and I got in! Here I took up pole dancing, which became my life and my creative outlet, and I thought that rebranding my blog into bloggeronpole.com just made sense. I had become a lot more confident and self-aware, through my studies, my research but also through success at work. In Sydney I became a PR account director and social media strategist, growing much faster to pay the bills than I did here in London - and through pole. It only made sense to be so open about it on my blog. I'm not just a pole dancer, or just a blogger, or just a writer, or just an academic. I'm all of those things together and my tone of voice and story only make sense if they're told as a whole.
What's your favourite thing about using your blog as a platform?
I have freelanced and blogged for a lot of publications but in doing so I've had to tone down my generally full-on writing style. I've had to write about things that didn't interest me as much, or I couldn't write about things that I cared about. I couldn't work with as many brands as I liked. Having my blog means I'm in charge, and it's kinda like a long press release about my crazy life.
You have written a book called Bad/Tender which has been described as the “coming-of-age literary novel for millennials that wants to be the anti Fifty Shades of Grey.” How do you want readers to feel when reading their copy of Bad/Tender?
I think I want them to have an understanding that nothing is black and white. You can be a feminist, a driven, strong, confident person and become a victim of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Being a victim doesn't make you less of a person, and coming forward before it's too late, recognising the signs and the alarm bells, is essential. Realistically, they will probably feel a bit turned on or grossed out by the sex scenes, and they will feel (according to what readers have told me) like a friend is telling them a story. Like it's something that can happen to all of us. Which sucks, but I'm happy with that, because I want the book to be relatable. I don't want abused women to go around thinking whatever happened to them is their fault like I did. The way the media and some types of entertainment report on sexual and domestic abuse makes you almost feel like you have to be a certain kind of person to be abused - it's wrong. The #MeToo movement has shown us it happens to everyone, from your friends to Hollywood stars.
The book covers a wide range of topics ranging from consent, rape, mental illness, immigration, social and professional uncertainty and survival with the London nightlife scene as a backdrop. You have been very open about an abusive relationship you were in. Would you describe Bad/Tender as autobiographical?
It's partly autobiographical in the sense that it starts from an experience I've had, and the characters are based on me and someone I was with. However, many bits of the book are complete fiction and my experience was a starting point. The character in the book has had a bit more of an extreme experience, but real life really inspired me in writing it.
Did you find writing Bad/Tender as therapeutic as you drew from your own past experiences?
I did! I wrote it on notebooks while I was couch surfing by myself in the US to stay away from London and the man I was with. I never thought I'd publish it up until I transcribed it and realised it was better than any of the childish novels I'd come up with before. I wrote it because I wanted to explore all the possible directions in which my relationship could have gone - and somehow it morphed into this worst case scenario kind of thing, which became Bad/Tender.
Does the main character Chiara hold any personal traits to you?
She is very much like I was at that time. A person who blended moments of crazy self-confidence and moments of self-loathing. A woman not fully formed. I poured all my fears and faults into her. I wrote her deliberately as an unlikable character, first of all to show that abuse is wrong no matter who it happens to, but also because I felt awful, unlikeable, like I didn't deserve anything but hurt at the time, and that's how she came out.
How did you come up with the name of the book?
Initially it was called Psychotender because both the guy and I are obsessed with American Psycho and because I legit thought he was a psychopath. Then I studied criminology and realised I can't just go and diagnose people like I'm a psychiatrist, and I thought of Bad/Tender because it played on the fact that he was a bartender and with the fact that he had this dark side.
You're very open about wanting to break down the image of the ‘bad boy’, to show that there is nothing glamorous in the sadly wide spread trend of the abusive partner. How do you hope Bad/Tender can do this?
I want it to show that bad boys are not what they look like in the movies. They're not the guy with a bike who doesn't hang out with the cool crowd. If they're bad to others, chances are they'll be bad to you. The whole 'stay away from me' vibe just sounds over-dramatic... but I fell for it at the time. I also want it to help victims understand that everyone reacts differently to this kind of experience, and that there isn't a right or wrong way to heal. I'm the living proof that healing isn't linear, and that for some of us it means shaking your butt upside down on a pole while also going to therapy and being high-functioning.
It also feels like you are breaking down the notion that woman can only play 'one role' in their lives. Do you still feel judged when you tell people what you do?
Oh yeah. Some men automatically assume I'm going to sleep with them, or that I'm doing it for the attention, when actually it took me months to be confident enough to show my dancing and to perform in public! They also assume that I'm dumb, not a feminist, not serious enough. But in a way this has helped me cut through the shitty people and give my time only to those who appreciate me and love me for who I am, and who deserve it.
I feel like Bad/Tender is a novel so many women could relate to especially in the age of #MeToo, which you've already mentioned. You talk a lot about toxic masculinity – could you expand on this for our readers and how you think we could change this?
Toxic masculinity affects both men and women around them. Men can't show emotion, they have to be strong and, sometimes, violent to show they're the bread winner. We have to change these frat-like attitudes and allow men to be who they are, to embrace their contradictions, to be sensitive without feeling emasculated - and as women, as mothers, friends and sisters we've got to stop calling them a pussy or things like that, because first of all we're insulting ourselves by using those terms, and secondly because that undermines a person and their confidence. Secondly, we need to help each other as women. We need to back each other up, fight for each other, stop arguing whether someone's not a feminist, or a bad feminist, if she had it coming or not, and fight to help women be vocal about what is and isn't okay in a relationship, and what they want for themselves in life, in love and sex. I feel I could write a whole essay about this but I've recently written a blog about this here.
You openly talk about being raped at the hands of a boyfriend, which unfortunately is all too common. Do you hope women will read Bad/Tender and feel less alone?
I definitely hope so. The majority of rapes go unreported because so many women - and men! - are raped by people they know, often by a partner. Intimate partner rape is even more painful because it's the ultimate betrayal. It takes a while, too, to realise how many times you actually did not want it to happen. And it's a crime. I hope Bad/Tender will help women understand this and fight it.
Would you like to wrote another book? If so would it be a follow up to Bad/Tender?
I'm actually more than halfway through an unconventional detective story with a female detective at its centre, written for the social media generation.
LITERARY AGENTS HOLLA AT ME!
Do you have anything exciting coming up that our readers need to know about?
I do indeed! I've just spoken at the International Criminology Conference in Washington DC, and I've got a couple of academic papers coming out on the back of that. This Friday 26/10 I'm performing at Manchester's PD Filthy Friday Halloween Showcase, my second performance this season, together with a whole crew of badass women who embrace their bodies and filth. I'm also speaking at the Undergraduate Awards in Dublin. I won their Media and Journalism prize in 2015 so I'm now speaking to this year's winners, and I'm hoping to turn it into a kind of Ted Talk to promote being a nasty woman. And then I'm hoping to chill for a bit cause I can't breathe!
Lastly, where's the best place to keep up to date with you and buy a copy of Bad/Tender?