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Five minutes with author Samantha McDonald

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Written by Canberra’s Samantha McDonald and Lisa Portolan, Pretty Girls is a searing account of a woman exposed to the darkest edges of our society—edges that are all too common in our modern world.

A work of fiction that draws on elements of Samantha’s life, Pretty Girls was first created as a short film then expanded to a novel—and there are even plans for a feature film, directed by Indigenous filmmaker Sandy Greenwood.

We caught up with Samantha to talk speaking the truth and telling your story.

Pretty Girls has just been released—tell our readers a bit about what the story is about and how it related to you?

Pretty Girls was a book that was conceived when I started talking about my personal relationship with myself, my body and the issues women face in a patriarchal society.

It focusses on consent issues, domestic violence, youth suicide and brings to light to deep undercurrent of racial tension in Australia.

We aim to create a movement that allows women to tell and own their stories, embracing the past allowing us to move forward, past the shame to become fully embodied women who own and can share our stories without fear of reprisal.

Pretty Girls was first made as a short film for TropFest, then it was written as a script and finally as a book—but you’re still working on developing the feature film, tell us a bit about where you’re at with that?

We are currently in pre-production for this film with First Nation Director and Producer Sandy Greenwood on board bringing this story to life.

Sandy is a critically acclaimed director, producer and actor who has recently written, directed and acted in The Matriarch.

Pretty Girls is based on real-life events, is it your story, Samantha? And how is it different?

Pretty Girls is a narrative based on true events that have occurred in my life. The story also focuses on situations most women have found themselves in at some point in their lives and how these situations shape and influence your life moving forward.

The main character, Evie, is based on me, however, we have changed some events, names and locations to maintain the anonymity of people and stories. Evie is constantly told she’s a ‘pretty girl’, her sense of worth, outside of her physical appearance is always under challenge.

Her story is constantly being misinterpreted or denied by others. She finds herself in a consistent position of defence. In reality, she shouldn’t need to defend, it’s not for others to narrate her story.

The book is about her journey, and how she acquires the capacity to stand in her own, fully embodied.

Evie is the main character in Pretty Girls and she has to overcome a difficult and violent past—what do you think women can take from this story?

That once you tell your story, you can start to heal.

Slowly and surely you can find who you are and grow stronger and more powerful as a result. Look to the people who encourage and support you.

Evie’s story is impacted by her relationship with a father—and the impact of this relationship on all of her future relationships.

Tell us a bit about how Evie is able to distance herself or make peace with the relationship with her father?

So much of this story is about gaining your voice. Speaking your truth—even if your voice shakes.

On many occasions when we finally find our voice we’re told that the words we’ve spoken are wrong. That they shouldn’t have been said. This is an attempt to silence the truth. For Evie, it’s about not only telling that story, but also believing it.

Why do you think it’s so important for women to tell their own stories?

I’ve always been a very private person and I think it’s because I’ve lived in fear. Worried about no one loving me for who I am and fearing the backlash if I speak out.

The concept of stronger together is important in this context, to tell your story, to own it and shed a light on every dark corner of your psyche.

Telling your story will heal you and allow you to start moving forward from a dark or violent past, to an open heart.

So much of Evie’s story is impacted by shame. Brene Brown talks about cultures of shame and how we’re taught to feel shame about what’s happened and how we feel. How can we shed that shame?

Shame, vulnerability and trust are all deeply interlinked and impacted by your personal story.

Trust needs to start with you. You can look after yourself in moments of strife. You’ve got this. I think the rest flows from there—working on knowing that we are enough, as per Marissa Peer’s advice—this is so important for shedding shame.

Once you know you are enough then speaking your truth comes a little easier, being vulnerable is no longer about feelings the shame, but feeling of strength and courage. Knowing that you have healed also inspires others.

So many people believe they have a story in them, but don’t know how to begin—what would be your advice to them?

Talk, talk talk. Find someone you resonate with and speak.

What would you like readers to take from this book? And how can readers get involved?

Take a selfie with the book and tell your story if you feel comfortable. Use our platform—use your own platform but we are always stronger together. Use the hashtag #iamevie and speak out against violence in all forms.

Samantha McDonald’s co-author of Pretty Girls, Lisa Portolan.

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