Books·How I Wrote It

Mona Awad's Bunny is a twisted novel inspired by teen movies, fairy tales and the horror of academia

The author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl discusses how she wrote Bunny.
Bunny is a novel by Mona Awad. (Hamish Hamilton, Brigitte Lacombe)

In Mona Awad's novel Bunny, a creative writing student meets a group of women with a disturbing secret — and eventually finds herself drawn into it too. 

The novel has been optioned as a TV show. It's Awad's follow up to 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the 2016 Amazon.ca First Novel Award.

CBC Books spoke to her about how she wrote Bunny.

The Bunnies

"It's about a clique of female graduate students at a college in New England. They are Master of Fine Arts students. They call each other Bunny and they move and speak as one. The story is told from the perspective of a girl named Samantha, who is also in the class and she is the outsider in the group. She's repulsed by the Bunnies and their closeness and their sweetness. But she's also drawn to it and wants to be accepted by them.

Things get very magical and violent and there are rabbits involved.- Mona Awad

"As the novel progresses she ends up, against her will to some degree, getting entrenched into the clique. Things get magical and violent and there are rabbits involved."

The power of imagination

"What excited me the most about the book was this play with what imagination can offer ⁠— especially to somebody who feels alone. The imagination can be a place where you can find consolation, it can be a place where you can find friendship, but it's a dangerous space too.

"I want readers to connect with that possibility. To connect with that idea that within every wonder, we have this incredible resource of the imagination to both save us and destroy us. I think the book shows you it can go either way."

The power of fairy tale

"I was drawing from fairy tales. I was also drawing from teen movies. The story felt like it already existed in the world and I was just making it into a book. Films like The Craft, Heathers and Carrie, those movies were great northern stars. Then fairy tales too: The Hare's Bride, Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella.

It's fun to play with the fairy tale, which is never accountable and doesn't ever have to explain itself. It just is and you accept it because it hits you immediately.

"I love entering into new storytelling territory and playing with new genres. I've always wanted to write a novel that used fairy tale logic. I hate explanation when something supernatural or magical happens. To me, that undermines the magic.

"It's fun to play with the fairy tale, which is never accountable and doesn't ever have to explain itself. It just is and you accept it because it hits you immediately."

On the horror of writing groups

"I was doing an MFA program at Brown University. I felt there was something about the situation — being in graduate school as an adult and also going to art school — that felt ripe with horror. You're being asked to be creative with a small group of people. You're making very intimate connections with them and you're doing it very quickly. You're revealing your own soul to people.

"As wonderful and exciting as that sounds, I think there's also a lot of danger in that situation. It was the danger that interested me. The potential for things to go kind of awry. When everybody's activating their imaginations and yet everybody's so vulnerable at the same time, it seems like that could get dark pretty quick."

Holding yourself accountable

"It was a three month process where I got up every morning and I wrote. I had an in-writing contract with a friend. I promised that I would write 1000 words in a day or that I would sit at my desk for four hours and it worked.

It was a joy to go down the rabbit hole of this character's imagination.

"It was really nice to be accountable to somebody every day because it is a lonely practice writing and sometimes it's hard if it's just you labouring in the dark. It can be hard to believe in it.

"I've been writing for a very long time and I had so much fun writing this book. It was a joy to write the first draft. It was a joy to go down the rabbit hole of this character's imagination and be in this world; to play with fairy tales and play with horror and play with teen movies. It was so fun."

Mona Awad's comments have been edited for clarity and length.You can read more interviews in the How I Wrote It series here.

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