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'Publishers wanted me to turn my mother into a man' - Tiffany McDaniel

Ohio author Tiffany McDaniel tells Sarah Gilmartin about the sexual abuse in her family that inspired her latest novel

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Too risky, too female’: Tiffany McDaniel 
wrote Betty when she was 18 and it was initially rejected by publishers. Photo by Jennifer McDaniel

Too risky, too female’: Tiffany McDaniel wrote Betty when she was 18 and it was initially rejected by publishers. Photo by Jennifer McDaniel

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Strong: McDaniel's mother is the central character in Betty

Strong: McDaniel's mother is the central character in Betty

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Too risky, too female’: Tiffany McDaniel wrote Betty when she was 18 and it was initially rejected by publishers. Photo by Jennifer McDaniel

There is a scene in Tiffany McDaniel's new novel Betty that stands out for its complex, nuanced portrayal of trauma. A mother, Alka, pins her nine-year-old daughter to a bed and re-enacts over the child's clothes the sensation of being raped by her father when she herself was a young girl. Reading the scene, we immediately identify with Betty, the book's narrator, as her damaged, depressed mother passes the legacy of abuse on to the next generation.

It comes as a surprise then, when speaking to McDaniel from her home in southern Ohio, that she has a far more generous view of her character's actions. "I see Alka as someone who has this past and really wants to tell it," she says. "Betty was the first person in her life that she actually told about her views. She didn't tell her husband or any of the older children. She singled Betty out because she felt that she was strong enough to withstand it and to hold it inside her."


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