Can you tell me about your new book Britain’s Toughest Women?
There’s a terrific quote that I should like to start this interview with, which one of the women featured in my book uses in her chapter:
When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and set you free. But even better than that, your story will heal somebody else and set them free.” Iyanla Vanzant
This is a book on two levels. Firstly it spotlights some of the toughest female bodyguards, bouncers, bodybuilders, boxers, martial artists and MMA fighters in the UK, and why they do what they do. This in itself is a book worthy of its title; to show women excelling at tough things and things that are mostly male-dominated. It takes a tough women to work on the front-line as a bodyguard in Iraq, or to stand on the door of a club dealing with the often drunk and aggressive, or stepping into the arena as a boxer or cage fighter, or standing on stage as a competitive bodybuilder. These are tough things and things that few women do. But, on top of that, secondly I also want this book to influence, motivate and inspire others, because some of the women featured have also had such difficult, challenging and at times brutal and horrific backgrounds, and shows in a powerful way that it is not what happens to you that makes any difference to your future…it is how you choose to deal with it.
Each chapter is biography based, looking at each person’s past, present and plans for the future, what inspires and motivates them, and why they do what they do. For some it’s having a tough, challenging or traumatic upbringing, or feeling an underachiever at home or at school, or being bullied, or sexually or emotionally abused, or being pushed into things by their friends or family, or just overcoming life’s challenges. For others it’s solely their mindset and attitude, or simply following their dreams. It can be all sorts of things, and each person has their own, unique and fascinating story.
Fundamentally, I would this book to help show people that, depending upon how you react to what life throws at you, will reveal what the rest of your life will be like. Life doesn’t have to be bad, just because you have had a bad life, and all these women featured have all chosen to do something with their life, to stand out, to be different… to achieve, even if at times some of their lives have been horrible. But it hasn’t stopped them, in fact it has driven them forward. And I think this is brilliant, and empowering. It isn’t a book about making excuses for not doing… but it a book about doing.
What sparked the original idea?
It was a sort of evolution of an idea. I have had quite a number of other books published focusing on tough things; bouncers, bodyguards, gangsters, criminality, but almost always male-dominated. And so I initially thought; why not do a book about women within these environments? And then, as I started to look around at the sort of ‘tough’ things women do within these very male-dominated environments, and chatting to a few ‘tough’ women doing these things, I soon realised that some of them had such interesting journeys to what they do, and why. And so I decided that, not only do I want to do a book about tough women doing tough things, but I wanted it to be a book about their journey; what life’s path has brought them to where they are today. On top of that, some of the women featured have gone through some undeniably horrible experiences including domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse, bullying, and yet they have all gone onto do some much in their lives. This was inspiring. And lastly, I feature two incredible Mixed Martial Art cage fighters, one of whom is autistic and another who is dyslexic – she struggled at school but eventually studied sports science at University – and so, after reading their stories, I also wanted to show that challenges in life such as these need never stop anyone doing anything they want to. And lastly, lastly there are also women in the book who simply had a dream and focused on fulfilling it. All of these things makes for an extremely inspiring book.
Each woman featured has a very unique story but let me give you a few different examples of some of those featured:
Targeted by a paedophile at just eight years-old, and raped as a teenager, KC became British Arm-Wrestling champion at sixteen, and then turned her attention to martial arts, MMA and combat sports. She first stepped into the ring at twenty-five, and into the cage at thirty-two years-old, with a record so far of twenty-two fights. She refuses to let her past dictate her future.
As a close protection officer, Deborah worked in Iraq and was in charge of the Control Room when the British Council offices were attacked in Afghanistan. She also competed as a semi-professional boxer.
After years trapped in a vicious cycle of domestic abuse by her fiancé, Michelle finally decided enough was enough and planned her escape. She started competitive boxing and MMA as a way of getting back her self-confidence and inner strength, and has since gone on to win a number of amateur and semi-pro fights.
Diagnosed with autism at high school, and bullied horrifically because of it, Claire’s mother took Claire to her first kickboxing lesson as a way to increase her self-confidence. She quickly became hooked on the sport and won her first competition just a few weeks later. With dedication and hard training, Claire has overcome her difficulties and has gone onto win a number of major title fights.
Deborah was brutally abused at just thirteen years-old, and later, her eighteen year marriage ended horribly. Struggling to cope, she found her love of bodybuilding and, as a grandmother, now competes on the international stage.
I could give you many more, but you get the idea; powerful women with powerful stories and powerful messages to tell.
Is there a particular message in the book you’d like readers to understand?
I’m all about personal development and growing and evolving, and of not making excuses why something isn’t possible, but of finding a way to make it possible. We lie to ourselves all the time, and make excuses to ourselves as to why we can’t do something. We know they are excuses and lies, and yet we defend them fiercely as though they are true. All these women featured here could have given up, could have make a hundred excuses as to why they have gone nowhere or done nothing in their lives. And it would have been so easy for them to do that; to blame the past. But they refused to. So the message of the book would ultimately be; The past is the past, it cannot be changed, so you can either blame it for everything and do nothing, or say it means nothing and do everything. Follow your dreams!
Where can people buy the book?
- Robin Barratt’s ‘Writing Life’ interview can be read here.