• Barbara Elsborg

! Warnings !

I’m right on the fence about warnings on books. Part of me wishes they weren’t there because I like to experience a novel without a list of what might upset me. I rely on the blurb to inform me of what the book is about. The other part of me acknowledges that readers have the right to know beforehand if there is something in a book they won’t be able to stomach. Such as rape, religious persecution, racism, violence, suicide. Plus blurbs aren’t always going to give a reader enough detail for them to make an informed decision.

The warnings on my books seem to have moved from amusing – this is for ‘With or Without Him.’ Contains a “for hire” bad boy with a filthy mouth, an awkward guy with a penchant for BDSM, a hypochondriac butler who won’t shut up, a dog called Alcide, and a lot of hot and dirty M/M sex.

To serious – this is for ‘Give Yourself Away’ This book contains difficult flashbacks of child abduction and sexual violence, but also the incredible perseverance of two men who never give up on love—or each other. Bring your tissues and a heart that believes in the resilience of the human spirit.

Give Yourself Away isn’t a story about child abduction, but that is the backstory. There’s no detail on the real horrors of what happened in that room. It’s best left behind closed doors. But it’s not hard to imagine the terrors. We’ve seen many cases recently where children have been taken and held for years. My inspiration for ‘Give Yourself Away’ was what life might be like after release.

I’m not keen on reading tales where bad things happen to children. I struggled with ‘Room’ and with ‘Lovely Bones’. When there was a craze several years ago for heartbreaking true tales like ‘A Child Called It’, they weren’t for me. ‘Give Yourself Away’ doesn’t dwell on the horrors of what happened to an abducted child but is a story of that child grown up, about hope, and moving forward, and the ways in which he learns to live with what went before.

Still, it has the warning. But are trigger warnings necessary? They are a relatively new concept and fraught with problems. What if you miss something? How do you know what will trigger what for who? There might be an attempted rape scene in a book – no details given – that would set off PTSD for some, yet is a pivotal plot point and intended to surprise the reader – something lost if a warning is given.

But the very fact that warnings are now put on books shows that some readers need that heads-up. My hope is that the warning on ‘Give Yourself Away’ doesn’t deter a reader but encourages them to brace themselves for a story that might upset them, but might also give them hope. Maybe dealing with an issue in a fictional world would help if they have to do it in the real world. I’ve seen warnings described as mollycoddling and I don’t take that point of view. I absolutely respect that there are things some people can’t read about, just as there are films I would never go and see. I might be one of the few in the world who has never watched Titanic. When I know a disaster is coming, I get too stressed to enjoy a film. So the same has to be true with a book. But unlike disaster movies, my books ALL have a happy ending. I wish that happy ending for any reader who struggles with issues in their life.


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