Samurai sword attack victim Simonne Butler's memoir shortlisted in New Zealand book award
Simonne Butler doesn't think of her cruel ex-boyfriend anymore. Yet, questions about their hellish time together keep coming, especially as the story is printed in Butler's memoir Double-Edged Sword.
The novel - with its matter of fact title in reference to the samurai sword used to hack away at Butler's arms - is in the running for New Zealand's ultimate prize in non-fiction crime writing.
It was in July 2003 when Butler's former partner, drug addled murder Antonie Dixon, started his deadly rampage. The then petty criminal would go on to kill one stranger, attempt to execute Butler and his new girlfriend Renee Gunbie. He chopped off their hands before shooting at police before being arrested.
Butler's book Double-Edged Sword, was released in 2016 and is now shortlisted in the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards. It reveals the attack in gruesome detail and tells more about the aftermath Butler faced.
Being imprisoned for murder didn't stop Dixon. He continued to use methamphetamine and, Butler said, he used to manipulate her from behind bars too.
Escaping him wasn't easy, she now says. It took years, with death threats being sent from behind bars, she said it wasn't until 2008 that she finally felt free of Dixon.
Then in February 2009 he killed himself. "That was the icing on the cake," Butler said.
Their relationship lasted four years, they lived together for half of that time. Butler was 22, he was 11 years her senior. And she was trapped.
"If somebody's telling you all the time that you are a worthless piece of s... and nobody will love you, you'll believe that," she said.
While Butler could have forgotten this, and left it all in the past – which would have made the questions finally stop – she says she wants people to talk about her story to stop dometic violence.
At the time, Butler says she had no one to tell.
"I wanted to show what goes on behind closed doors to the people who could never imagine it," she said.
"I never told anybody, I was too scared and too embarrassed and so full of shame. I was always making my plan. I would runaway in the nights sometimes."
Butler says that with hindsight, the only way she could have got out of that situation earlier was by talking to people.
Writing her life out in a 320 page book, analysing her choices and reliving the horror was hard but freeing, she said.
"Unless someone asks about it now, I don't think about it at all. We wrote it all in the book, and I finished writing that a year and a half, two years ago, now.
"There were certainly times that were confronting, writing it and reading it all back. It's all there in black and white and I can't hide from my choices. I had to own them and not be shamed by them. There are a couple of things in the book that every now and then I still feel shame about," she said.
Butler and her co-writer Andra Jenkin have held little back.
Describing the gruesome sword attack, they recount the moment that could have been Butler's last: "He wanted me to bow down, to kneel, so that when he chopped my head off it would land in the washing basket, because he didn't want a mess. I wouldn't back down."
They go further, too. The writers piece together journal entries from almost the entirety of Butler's life. She said the diary entries started as a 6-year-old and she kept them going through the regular attacks she faced from Dixon.
They also record instances of sexual assault and abuse. "It's the story of my life, including the story of neglect and child abuse that I experienced - although I never saw it as that. And then me getting into a very abusive relationship with a man, and then him attacking me with a samurai sword and chopping both of my hands off," Butler said, describing the book and also the earliest memories of her life.
After the trial, the retrial, and the physical healing following intensive surgery to reattach Butler's hands, she says the emotional healing began.
The book talks about her alternative healing, with a shaman, that led to Butler's own trauma healing business.
"Soul loss is a real thing. I went through a lot of soul retrieval to retrieve those lost parts of myself. And soul illness, too, is a major issue," she says.