Helen Walmsley Johnson’s brave and unflinching memoir on coercive control, LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO, is published today by Macmillan in hardback and ebook. Helen’s frank account of life in an abusive relationship is a valuable read that opens up an important conversation about what coercive control is, and the fight to overcome it.
For more than two years, BBC Radio 4’s The Archers ran a disturbing storyline centred on Helen Tichener’s abuse at the hands of her husband Rob. Not the kind of abuse that leaves a bruise, but the sort of coercive control that breaks your spirit and makes it almost impossible to walk away. As she listened to the unfolding story, Helen Walmsley-Johnson was forced to confront her own agonising past.
Helen’s first husband controlled her life, from the people she saw to what was in her bank account. He alienated her from friends and family and even from their three daughters. Eventually, he threw her out and she painfully began to rebuild her life. Then, divorced and in her early forties, she met Franc. Kind, charming, considerate Franc. For ten years she would be in his thrall, even when he too was telling her what to wear, what to eat, even what to think.
LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO is Helen’s candid and utterly gripping memoir of how she was trapped by a smiling abuser, not once but twice. It is a vital guide to recognising, understanding and surviving this sinister form of abuse and its often terrible legacy. It is also an inspirational account of how one woman found the courage to walk away.
You can read extracts from LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO in both YOU magazine, and The Times Magazine. Yesterday, Helen appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show, talking openly about the abuse she endured in her past relationships. She will be attending the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World festival tomorrow, joining a panel to discuss the how shame is used to control women. In June, she will be speaking at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival.
Helen Walmsley-Johnson was the author of the Guardian’s popular ‘The Vintage Years’ column, on older women and style. She worked for the Daily Telegraph, before joining the Guardian as Alan Rusbridger’s PA for seven years. Her book about middle-age, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, was published to great acclaim in 2015. She lives in Rutland.
Praise for LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO:
‘A brave and gripping book…Her book, part-memoir, part self-help unpicks exactly what happened to her, demonstrating just how blithely easy it is to succumb to this form of domestic abuse, but critically it’s also about how to recognise it, survive it, and rebuild your life in the aftermath.’ — The Bookseller
‘Walmsley-Johnson has succeeded in her fundamental aim: to offer a valuable map of coercive abuse. She has also written a warming, subtle and realistic narrative of recovery.’ — Terri Apter, The Times Literary Supplement
Praise for THE INVISIBLE WOMEN:
‘THE INVISIBLE WOMAN always speaks to me, and for me. It's about saying up yours to the cult of youth, but also about seeing the life of the 50 + as hilariously funny (not unlike the life of the 15-year-old, when you come to think about it).’ — Professor Mary Beard
‘THE INVISIBLE WOMAN remains a warm, companionable book with a tart aftertaste. Above all – and this is perhaps not quite its intention – it is a reminder to all of us, man, woman, young or getting on a bit, that, no matter how solid our lives seem, we are all of us one bad decision or single piece of rotten luck away from losing everything. And for that we should be both grateful and prepared.’ — Kathryn Hughes, Guardian
‘I imagined this book as a witty riposte to ageing, and in some ways it is. But it’s much more than that. It’s full of serious insights. The author, approaching 60 at the time of writing, tells us about ageing and about how it seems to have changed in her lifetime. She makes the point that, years ago, retirement was “a reward” but now it “could be seen as the punishment”. She is excellent, too, on midlife crises, the death of parents, memory, and how to deal with the passing of time.' — Evening Standard