'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 16 April 2021

Guest Post: Maddy Tyers on When Anna Came To Stay - Helping Others

Rewind 23 years. Its 1998 and the Spice Girls are topping the charts. I was 8 years old and had seen Mulan several times at the cinemas over the school holidays. 

I was outgoing, creative and adventurous. I adored school, playing sport and loved nothing more than spending time with my friends and family. 

Despite my confident demeanour, I was incredibly sensitive and hard on myself behind closed doors. A textbook ‘perfectionist’ some might say. 

It was these traits, combined with a series of big life changes and a lack of knowledge at the time about the early warning signs of an eating disorder that triggered the onset of a 15-year battle with anorexia.

Since the late nineties, much has changed in the mental health awareness space but the taboo nature of eating disorders and their seriousness remains. The number of people in Australia with an eating disorder at any given time is estimated to be around 1 million, or approximately 4% of the population (Deloitte Access Economics, 2015). They are manipulative, debilitating and harmful mental illnesses that are becoming more and more prevalent in younger children. Statistics show that eating disorders can affect people of all ages but are increasingly being diagnosed in those aged 5 years and younger (NEDC, 2017). These figures were one of the main drivers behind penning my very first children’s book, When Anna Came To Stay.

In 2017 I was very fortunate to be invited to participate in a ‘Lived Experience – Story Telling’ workshop run by the Butterfly Foundation. Butterfly were an integral part of my lengthy road to recovery so getting the opportunity to work with them to develop my story and share it with other families was very important to me.

As an actor and children’s entertainer who worked for the Starlight Children’s Foundation for several years, it felt fitting to tell my story from the voice of a child. When Anna Came To Stay explores the nature and emergence of eating disorders and the negative emotions that surround it. My protagonist, May, is a carefree girl before she begins heeding the advice of her imaginary friend Anna (anorexia) which soon turns her world upside down.

Brisbane based illustrator, Siobhan Skipworth has done a remarkable job in bringing my words and the story of May to life. Her powerful imagery and beautiful use of watercolours has helped convey the emotional journey of May that is both relatable and easy to understand for a younger audience. When Anna Came To Stay will give young readers and their carers an insight into the complex thoughts and feelings associated with negative body image and poor self-esteem. It will also give readers a glimpse into the family dynamics involved when a young person experiences an eating disorder and highlight the need for family members to be sensitive and prepared to provide support during the healing process.

It took several years for my toxic habits and negative behaviours around food to develop into a life-threatening mental and physical illness, but the evolution was consistent and insidious. I often wonder what road my life may have taken; had I been introduced to a book like When Anna Came To Stay (and its themes) at an early age. Throughout the writing process, 8-year-old Maddy and the concept of developing a preventative tool for children, parents and educators was at the forefront of my mind. 

I really hope that this text can be the catalyst for an open and honest conversation between young people and their guardians about the importance of talking about their feelings and asking for help when they don’t feel they can cope. If When Anna Came To Stay can help encourage even one child battling with negative body image to seek out the help and support they need, then at least some good would have come from my own struggles with ‘Anna’.

When Anna Came To Stay, is available in all good bookstores and is also available as an audio book.