Interview with Jocelyn Bates (The Torn Pages Project)

Interview with Jocelyn Bates (The Torn Pages Project) Artwork

Hi. First off, tell me about yourself (and feel free to drop any personal social media links etc that you’d like to share)?
Hi Thomas, thank you so much for having me. My name is Jocelyn and I’m a poet who writes under the name J.V. Bates on Instagram. I’m based in the North of England and I am the founder of The Torn Pages Project. I’m pretty much your typical twenty-something who likes the usual things: coffee, animals and travelling.

Okay, now tell me about the Torn Pages Project, how long have you been doing it, how did it start, what exactly it is you do, and where does the name come from?
My journey as a writer began with a mental health breakdown at the beginning of this year and as I increasingly relied on writing to help process my experience, I began to think about how this could help others. Due to my former profession and wanting distance between my professional and writing lives, I write using a pseudonym. One day I was thinking about how much comfort this separation of identities gave me and how a similar process could help others. Not everyone is interested in writing prolifically, however they may want to write a singular piece anonymously, for the same reason I began and continue writing: to process emotions and get it all off their chest. Thus the Torn Pages Project began, a space to anonymously write what you never got to say. The name came from the therapeutic practice of writing something down and then tearing up/destroying what you have said, to allow you to move on. 

We are still in our very early stages, having begun only three months ago but we’re growing very quickly. We have already been on a BBC Radio Show and will be working with some other groups very very soon. It’s an absolute joy to see it all grow so quickly!

Now what has been the response to your project, and how has that helped you to shape its development?
In two months the response to the project has been absolutely phenomenal and a joy to witness. People have truly taken to the project, I have loved to see the stories coming from it and I’m so enthusiastic to see it grow. We’ve had the pleasure of seeing people taking part in deep and meaningful conversations in the comments sections, sometimes from different continents, which is an absolute dream. It has certainly been encouraging and shows the universality of its theme: everybody has stories they do not publicly tell.

Our participants and followers have been integral to the development of the project as we are constantly looking for feedback of what helps our followers to get writing, what they like to see and what they want the project to become. We are a project that is so dependent on audience participation and so we have to respond keenly and eagerly to what our audience would like to see. 

Following on from that, what have you learned while doing this that you feel is important to share with others?
Humans are often incredibly kind, caring and supportive however we do not know what goes on behind closed doors.

Regarding submissions to the project, is there anything you won’t accept or won’t post?
We won’t post anything that perpetuates hate or discriminates in anyway. As we’re an anonymous project, we also expect anonymity to be applicable for both the writer and the intended participant. Any pieces that fail to adhere to these guidelines will not be accepted.

What assurances do you make that the submission(s) will be totally anonymous? And why do you feel that that anonymity is so important?
In a digital world that is super saturated with sharing versions of ourselves, I still believe there are certain stories that do not fit. Although social media is attempting to become more open, I think it isn’t as accepting as it should be. There are still some stories that are so difficult or so personal to our sense of being, that to publicly air them can be incredibly painful. Anonymity provides a shield of protection from what could possibly be a brutal situation. 

We assure anonymity through our submission process and by providing hints and tips for participants so they can assure their submissions do not reveal their identity. 

Do you have any advice or tips for someone who wants to submit something but is perhaps struggling?
Don’t be afraid of a blank page! The biggest advice I give to anyone who is struggling to write absolutely anything, is to start by putting the simplest thing down on paper. Starting is often a major barrier to writing, as people can be intensely intimidated by a blinking cursor or simply a blank piece of paper. The sooner you realise your first draft of something doesn’t have to be perfect, the easier the whole process is. A brief reminder to anyone submitting as well is that I will act as your editor, so don’t let spelling or grammar be a barrier to telling your story as that is what I am here for. 

What advice do you have to people who are going through a hard time or who are struggling with mental health issues?
My primary piece of advice would be that your mind lies to you more than you think it does especially in the following categories: a) you are not alone, b) people do not hate you, you are not a bother and your worth is immeasurably higher than you believe it to be and, c) you are loved, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.

As we grow, we are taught to trust our brains implicitly, even though they are an organ that can be ill like any other. If you are in any doubt that there is a dip in your mental health, seek help even if your mind is making you doubt your illness. 

Why do you think people can find it easier to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously rather than talk with someone in person?
Although the stigma surrounding mental health is waning, it still persists in certain circles and as such it can be very difficult to admit that you are struggling, or to tell our most difficult stories. I believe that our most difficult discussions aren’t publicly aired and if they are, they are a filtered or sanitised version of what the reality is. Often people fear being misunderstood or not believed and so sometimes avoid these conversations. Therefore this barrier is removed when your story is told anonymously, when you don’t know who you’re talking to. 

Lastly, feel free to share your website and social media, and thank you so much for answering my questions?
You can check out our website, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Thank you so much for having us at Off the Record! 

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