Guest Post: Malcolm Duffy

I previously posted a blog about the brilliant book: Sofa Surfer – Malcolm Duffy. Now, I am lucky enough to have a follow-up post from the author all about research that was carried out on the book. as well as telling the story of a loss of identity. I found the below post really powerful and I hope you do too.

Loss of home. Loss of identity. 

One of the benefits of writing a book is that you get to carry out lots of research and meet some amazing people. While working on Sofa Surfer I spoke to both national and local charities and was given the opportunity to talk to many homeless people and learn about their experiences. 

Since the book has been launched and, lockdowns permitting, I’ve returned to some of these charities to give creative writing lessons and learn more about the world of the homeless. It was at one of these sessions that I spoke to a young woman who’d been sofa surfing for several years. I asked her what the hardest part of her life was. Her answer surprised me. She said, it was her loss of identity. Her words got me thinking about the importance of identity, and how it’s vital to our very existence. 

You’re probably reading this in a warm room, maybe a bedroom, including any number of personal items – pictures of you with friends or family, posters, guitar, books, clothes, cosmetics, video games, all of the many things you’ve chosen, or asked for, that reflect your personality. Now put yourself in the shoes of a sofa surfer. Having lost your home, you spend each night in the front room of a friend or relative. Now look around you. How many things do you see that are yours? Maybe a phone. Perhaps a bag with a small selection of clothes. And that’s it. All of the thing that identify you, that are a part of your character, have gone.

But that’s not the only thing a sofa surfer loses when they find themselves homeless. There’s the freedom to do as you wish. You suddenly have to live your life by other people’s rules. You can only go to bed when they decide to stop watching TV. You get up when they get up. You have to follow the standards they’ve set. Your identity is once again eroded, along with your freedom.  

Loss of identity for a sofa surfer can manifest itself in other ways. They no longer have a permanent address, school or place of work. When people move into a new house, they talk about putting down roots. The sofa surfer is uprooting on a regular basis. And as they move from house to house, sofa to sofa, it can quickly lead to a loss of self-confidence. They may begin to wonder what on earth life is all about, leading to a downward spiral of negative thoughts.

Separation from loved ones plays a significant part in loss of identity. Part of who we are is defined by our friends and relatives. But what if you’re alone, as happens to the character Spider in Sofa Surfer. She lives in a small town where the only person she knows is her cousin, but she isn’t given the love she needs or deserves. She’s just one argument away from being thrown out and having to find somewhere new to spend the night. 

For people who live rough on the streets it can be even worse. They are not only homeless, they’re nameless. Imagine going a whole day and not a single person calling you by your first name. They become a figure on a bench, or in a doorway. Visible, yet invisible. 

That’s why securing a permanent home is so important. It’s more than just a roof over someone’s head, it’s the opportunity to give a person their identity back, by having a space they can decorate how they want, fill with whatever possessions they like, invite the people they want to meet. It means having the freedom to live by their own rules.

To help the homeless you can donate to any one of a number of charities both big and small. But there’s something else you can do. The next time you come across a homeless person why not say ‘hi’ and ask them what they’re name is. It’s a gift that costs nothing.

Let’s go back to your life again. You have a name, an address, a room, belongings, a job or place at school or college, a circle of close family and friends. Now imagine, if all of those disappeared. How would that make you feel? Our identity is key. It gives us strength. It gives us purpose. It helps us grow. It brings us confidence. It’s what makes us what we are. 

In Sofa Surfer the homeless girl Spider no longer has a permanent roof over her head. But she’s also lost something else. Her identity. The young lad Tyler helps he find it by giving her the most important gift of all. Friendship. 

Malcolm Duffy is the author of Sofa Surfer 

Thank you so much to Malcolm for your post.

Emily x

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