Shawnie is not an easy novel to read. It was written, says Ed Trewavas, in an attempt to make sense of the casual, stomach-churning degeneracy that he witnesses on a daily basis in his job as a social worker on a deprived housing estates. His relentlessly grim tale of sexual abuse, violence, petty criminality, drink and despair was originally written for Trewavas himself, as a sort of unburdening at the end of a hard day.
But two friends read it and persuaded him to send it to a publisher. And now Shawnie is out, and he wants everyone to read it, although he's worried it may lose him his day job, just as it has already cost him his marriage. It follows the fortunes of the eponymous year-old girl, overweight and a pupil at the "divvies" school.
Shawnie's glad her psychopathic dad, Tony, is behind bars. Her mother, Lisa, only gets off the sofa to grab another White Lightning cider from the fridge, or to have paid sex with her boyfriend's mates. And her brother, Jason, 15, is on a mindless rampage. Shawnie's family, noted one reviewer, makes the cast of Shameless look like the Swiss Family Robinson.
Trewavas says the book portrays a "pernicious sub-culture" where bringing your mates round to gang-bang the missus is apparently run-of-the-mill, where no one questions fellatio with a year-old, and child abuse is accepted as the norm. This is normal to them. Shawnie's family is an amalgamation of people and incidents that Trewavas says he has encountered while working "in a social work capacity" he won't be more specific in Bristol for the past 13 years.
Written in dialect, it inevitably draws comparisons with Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh's acclaimed tale of drug addiction on an Edinburgh estate.
As a former sports journalist and technical author, Trewavas, 44, has always written. He says the reason he went into social work was "to do something worthwhile" he is embarrassed by the cliche. But despite his jaded air and dry sense of humour, verging on the bleak, he clearly loves his work - and his face lights up when he talks about the difference social work can make to people's lives. If you can't take control of your life, that's where the violence and abuse comes in.
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