“It is so important that we get to tell our own stories. As soon as you’re not in control of your own narrative, you become what other people have done to you, instead of what you choose to do,” says writer Bri Lee. And that is exactly what she did with her bold, brilliant debut novel, Eggshell Skull, released last year.
The memoir explores systematic sexism in Australia’s criminal justice system through a personal lens, with the first half following her time working as a judge’s associate in the Queensland district court and the second half detailing her own case of bringing her assaulter to justice. “What I saw was my perspective completely exploding and expanding, to experience that system from the opposite side,” she says.
Off the back of the #MeToo movement and at a time when conversations around gender equality are more relevant than ever, the book has not only been highly awarded, but has opened up pathways for Bri to connect with abuse survivors and engage in advocacy work. The whole process has been cathartic, ultimately providing a sense of closure. “The worst part of your life is just a phase; you won’t be stuck there forever,” she reflects.
QUESTIONS WITH BRI
When do you feel most comfortable in your own skin?
Sometimes I get emails or Instagram messages from readers who talk about how my book made them take action for themselves. I respond to every single message, sometimes they can be really upsetting and it’s a great burden, but it’s also a great privilege to receive them. I have this overwhelming sense of deep satisfaction in my work and what I do. I feel like I am making a difference and doing something constructive with my life. It’s a deep sense of peacefulness and satisfaction that comes from that.
Given the subject matter of the book, how do you control the narrative of your life?
It is so important that we get to tell our own stories. As soon as you’re not in control of your own narrative, you become what other people have done to you, instead of what you choose to. Being in control of your own narrative means feeling ownership of your own life and having self-respect. That is the most exciting thing that has come out of the “me too” movement, when I was growing up there weren’t that many people that you could look to that had something awful happen to them, who weren’t then painted as being ruined from that.
Even the simplest thing of calling people survivors instead of victims and letting people feel proud of what they have lived through. The worst thing that ever happened to me used to feel like such a big part of my identity, now I don’t think about it at all. I’ve turned it into something that I can be proud of. That has been the most fundamental shift that has happened in my adult life. Everything is so much better now because of it.
How have you managed to turn a negative into a positive?
If you’re going through a really hectic time and you’re feeling angry or upset, that is valid and is a totally okay way to respond. For me personally, to find a way out of that anger and real sadness is to take control of the situation and turn it into something. I think that was an important lesson I had to learn, as I realised that was a choice I had to make. It will take a while to get there, but if you want to be that kind of person and have that attitude you can develop that within yourself, nobody can take that away from you.