Things That Go Bump In The Night

So, what made me decide to write about the paranormal, vampires, ghosts, zombies and horror? Why does my writing have a dark and gothic twist? I thought that today I could share some of my real life paranormal experiences with you, so you can understand my inspiration for choosing to write in the dark fantasy genre, or how it chose me?

First of all let us consider the definition of Dark Fantasy. There are many different definitions out there, but my interpretation is that Dark Fantasy is a novel where the world seems the same as our own, but with a super natural / paranormal twist. The story will have a dark, gothic feel, and the monsters with be sympathetic, while the humans may well be worse.

How did I decide to write in this style? Well, it came naturally to me. As well as twenty years as a support worker meaning that I met many human monstrosities, and helped to heal their victims, I grew up in haunted houses.

It wasn’t actually me who noticed the ghosts in the first old Welsh mining cottage we lived in. It was my little brother who complained of the woman in white who woke him up at night. Apart from her nightly walks, she seemed peaceful enough. That house was only rented though, and we had to move quickly when we were given notice. The house my parents chose was actually a collection of three old cottages, one was habitable, one was a wreck, but recognisably a cottage, and the other had burnt down, and been rebuilt as storage. It didn’t take me long to realise it was very haunted. From my bedroom window I could look out at the raised plateau of grass where our swing set stood, and I could lie in bed and watch the swings move. First the two outer flat swings would swing, and then the middle baby seat would start, swing, brief stop in mid-air, swing, exactly like it did when I pushed my little sister, catching her on each upwards arc.

These children were friendly, and would help me find things I’d lost. If I told them what I was looking for, I’d quickly find it nearby. One night I left them a charm bracelet, telling them it was a gift, and the next day near the bracelet I found a perfectly round pebble, which I later found out was a Victorian marble. The man who bought the old wreck of a cottage to restore told us about being visited by a woman while he worked. He was not a man taken to fancy, and was very shaken up by the whole experience.

The next house we moved to though was not such a positive experience. There was a thick pine forest around the edge of our rear field, and there was a feeling of such malevolence from that woodland that I hated to go outside at night. Animals behaved skittishly near the woods, and my sister and I had the same nightmares at night of a laughing male face and the river filled with lashing eels.

The worst happened when I moved away to University. One morning as I woke up, I felt the bed sink behind me, as if someone had leant their elbow on the bed, to bend closer to my ear, and then a harsh male voice, right next to my ear said: ‘So you thought you could get away, and laughed. My sister developed Fibromyalgia while we lived in that house, and my Step-Father was diagnosed with M.E after he moved in, although he hadn’t had it before. My first boyfriend became ill soon after he started seeing me. Not long after that morning visitation I was finally diagnosed with Glandular Fever and Toxoplasmosis, which eked all the colour and joy out of my world, and plagued my right into my thirties.

It plagued me, in fact until I became friends with a Shaman, who I had approached for accountancy help. She taught me how to protect myself, state my intentions to only communicate with positive energies, as well as telling me that an energy cannot haunt you if you refuse it permission. I learnt that all I had to do with anything unpleasant that I felt approach was tell it firmly to go away, and it had to.
The very first time I meditated the blue bubble of protection around me, a furious male figure tore it open with clawed hands, and screamed at me in fury, but with my new knowledge I was able to tell it to leave, and close my bubble. Since then the Glandular Fever symptoms have gone. I’ve used the skills I was taught to help the curious child ghost in our old house move on with a feeling of love and acceptance, and whoever it was shaking my bed in the night to stop and go away.

In the hostel where I used to work, a hostel for homeless, and therefore unhappy teenagers, they often told me about a ghost. Year after year different tenants would do an Ouija board, or have bad dreams about a female who played the piano. The details were startlingly consistent. I always told them they were imagining it, because I didn’t want them to be scared, but I felt a malicious presence too. One that thrived on the discord and unhappiness of so many damaged young lives.

I hated to be left on my own there, and would hear footsteps stamp downstairs, linger in the office doorway, and then move across the room to where I worked at the computer. Then it would fiddle with papers besides me while I refused to look at it, or acknowledge it. Other times it would hurl into the room with an unhappy service-user, and swing letters pinned on the noticeboard around in semi-circles behind their heads, while I tried to smile and pretend everything was fine.

Once I had met the Shaman though, I knew how to tackle the malevolence, and so one night, when all the tenants were in bed, I stopped avoiding it, and met its energy head on. Like most bullies it cringed at confrontation. I told it sternly it had to leave, it could not be here anymore. I immediately felt the atmosphere lighten, and after that none of the subsequent service users ever complained of ghosts again.

monster picture

Loving A Monster

monster pictureLoving A Monster

I read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine the other day, about the effect of being snubbed or bullied by others, and it drew on research that has been carried out recently and confirms that emotional rejection or abuse hurts every bit as much as physical pain, indeed it stimulates exactly the same place in the brain. Only it lasts longer, much, much longer. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense. We evolved our pain response to avoid situations that put us in danger, and being ostracised from our herd is about as dangerous as it gets for a weak, soft creature without built in weapons like a human. Our only strength is in numbers and co-operation.

A week or so later I watched a documentary about the police trying to assist women fleeing domestic violence. Two of the women had been in long term relationships with their violent partners before they were arrested for violently beating them. One of them was unable to resist having ongoing contact with him, which meant he kept avoiding jail, and the other collapsed at court when she saw her ex, and sobbed and cried, and promised to wait for him to serve his prison term.

I know from experience, when I supported people- male and female- in abusive relationships that this is when people lose patience and understanding with the survivors and stop helping them. I can understand this frustration, but we need to see it differently from ending an unsatisfactory relationship. We have a name for people who are kidnapped and form a bond with their abuser- Stockholm syndrome, and we recognise that Cults brainwash people so it is incredibly difficult to leave. There are experts that specialise in intense therapy to help them rebuild their sense of self enough to leave. Yet we cannot see that both these factors have been at play for anyone, male or female that has been in an abusive relationship.

The abuser doesn’t choose just anyone. Different abusers have different favourite types- some like the feisty ones- they enjoy grinding the spirit out of them, some like the quiet ones- they’re less likely to face much competition, and others like the kind ones- easier to syphon off their energy. So they use different ‘hooks’ while they are out ‘fishing’, maybe it’s negative comments, or insults, or maybe it’s a sob story. The grooming starts at that very first meeting, then the victim’s sense of self is slowly undermined, and replaced with the abusers rules. Usually while the abuser remains utterly delightful and charming to everyone else.

Once it reaches the point where help is sought, the victim, and the support they seek is up against a corruption that has influenced every area of their lives, undermined every relationship, and was only been made to feel better when the abuser chose to be in a good mood. It is hard to outweigh this sort of damage, and while we as a society allow the abuser to get away with it if they wear the victim down to the point where they have contact with them again, what hope is there?

We need to recognise that these people are breaking the laws of our whole society, not laws made by their victims. It is not up to the survivors to enforce the rules, it is up to rest of us, who aren’t crippled with carefully crafted self-doubt. If someone hits someone, they have broken the law. It should not matter if they speak to them again or not. Simple.

And if you are someone who is fleeing abuse of any kind, be kind to yourself. The temptation will be to ignore the part of you that wants that person back, who misses them, who still believes that if you’d just tried a bit harder, been a bit better, they would have always been that amazing person you first met, but don’t. Acknowledge yourself, don’t you reject that hurt bit of you too, open your arms and love that part of yourself that has been so damaged, pity them for not believing they are worth better than that. Reassure them that they are, and then show them. And get expert help, there are support services available. Use them, and good luck, and much love.

 

Being A Plus Size Author

Blog Pic 2Being A Plus Size Author

Sadly, my size has influenced my whole life, until recently. I vividly remember crying to my Mum because one of her friends had said I was fat. I was a very little girl- three or four years old. I was not fat, I’ve looked at the photos, and I was a normal healthy little girl. I don’t know what I did to piss her friend off, but she chose the insult well. My mother hated her body, and was permanently on a diet, and that barb meant it became my problem too. The next clear memory I have of my size being an issue for me was maybe a year later, when I was sitting on the loo, I looked down and saw my little girl thighs spread on the toilet seat and was filled with hatred, they looked fat and boyish to my already fractured view.

After that, it was just a background issue humming in my subconscious as I changed schools twice while my family moved around. At the age ten my family disintergrated. While my mother was pregnant she discovered my father gambled on fruit machines, a lot, which led to their divorce three years later. When my sister arrived she had very severe colic, and screamed almost continually for about a year. Which is a very long time when you’re ten.

I was unhappy at home, and being bullied at school, and at this time I caught sight of myself in a full length mirror in a shop. The curve of my little girl tummy repulsed me. I decided I was the fattest, ugliest girl in the world, and put myself on my first diet. I was remarkably sensible and just cut out sugary treats. It didn’t last long, but that was the start of thirty years of starting and falling off diets. The majority of which were nowhere near as sensible. A cycle of hope and determination, followed by guilt and disappointment.

I wasted my adolescence, twenties, and thirties waiting to be slim. Everything was always: I’ll try that when I’m slim enough, I’ll do it when I like how I look. I had an entire separate wardrobe of lovely clothes that I have bought at the start of each diet, ready for when I was slimmer, clothes that filled me with guilt and misery every time I saw them.

The most horrible thing of all is that when I look back at photos of myself I really wasn’t that big. I’m five foot seven, and very voluptuous, so a UK 14-16 was not disproportionate. But at seventeen, when I went to the G.P and mentioned something about being fat, she checked me on the table and confirmed I was a stone overweight. So I spent the next twenty years trying to lose that stone, and got bigger with every failed diet.

When my life fell apart a couple of years ago anxiety and depression started and I started taking medication. For the first time ever I didn’t hide from my problems by over eating, and then losing myself in all engulfing over-eaters hatred. In the past, while I was full of that, I couldn’t worry about anything else: terrified of failing my A’levels- eat loads of chocolate and cry about my weight instead, had a row with a boyfriend, eat the words back down my throat. I don’t know if it’s the medication which has helped, or if the terrifying twists my life took after the diagnosis. When my husband faced a false allegation from a foster child, and had a heart attack as a result of all the stress, then lost his brother and uncle in quick succession, while we desperately tried to sell our house before it could be repossessed. Was it the medication? Did my weight fall into insignificance in comparison to real terror? Or was it the writing? I had finally, after decades of planning to do it tomorrow, started writing again.

It may have been all of the above. All I know is that it finally stopped being the biggest factor about me in my own mind. (And therefore in everyone else’s minds, as far as I was concerned) I also stumbled across a plus size support group on Facebook that supports plus sized women to just be who they are without being throttled by self- hatred. The positivity, and cooperative support these women offer and share is life affirming.

And because of Sods Law- you know, the one that always makes you want to roar with frustration, I’ve lost weight. I don’t know how much, I don’t know how much I weighed before, and I don’t know how much I weigh now. I do know that some of those clothes I’d stock piled for when I was slimmer have come back out of my ebay boxes. It’s not a total surprise, I’m doing a job which involves standing up and walking around for up to eight hours a day, rather than mainly sitting at a computer. It is a job that involves pushing people’s shopping over a barcode scanner while I chat happily about their purchases, so when I leave I am not worried about suicides, self-harm, or girls being battered and raped by their partners.

I don’t need to sweeten my day with enough sugar to send me into a stupor anymore. I am also taking Raspberry Ketones, because they have made my periods bearable, and combined with massive doses of vitamin B and Kelp have helped me increase my energy levels, so that I have entire days without the suffocating mental fog of exhaustion and depression.

I am still plus sized. I have accepted now that I always will be, and do you know what? It’s ok. I have shed enough excess fat to improve my health radically. I don’t have permanent heartburn, or suffer a bad back or sore knees anymore, and walking has become a pleasure again. Best of all, when I dance I feel connected to my whole body again, so it fills me with delight to bounce around the kitchen with my dogs, or wriggle my funky stuff at my slightly disgusted cat (if I’m not feeding her, or being her cushion I am just a nuisance). I missed that when it hurt too much, and I felt frozen in my head, disconnected from my body.

How has this impacted on my writing? When I started writing I was the biggest and unhealthiest I had ever been. I used these experiences to write about Rae’s misery, and originally wrote about her losing a great deal of weight, and only leaving her husband and starting her new life once she was slim. I could only imagine being happy when slim, but with my maturing attitude, I have amended that. Rae drops some weight as she becomes more self-aware, and less unhappy, and as a vampire she is as firm and sleek as a dolphin, as all the vampires are. But she is tall, and strapping, dancer fit, Amazonian. My beautiful, plus size heroine.

Chloe and husband

A Tall Poppy Chats

Chloe and husbandA Tall Poppy Chats

I thought a good way to introduce myself to you, my dear readers (Gosh, that’s lovely to type!) would be to invite questions, so I posted the invitation on Facebook and Twitter, Rich Blackett from the exciting Folk Horror Facebook page responded with some deceptively devious questions for me. I have answered them below.

I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions, so I have decided to permanently invite questions from you- either here through the contact me form, or via Facebook or Twitter, and when I have enough questions to make an interesting post, I’ll do that months blog on the questions- so get thinking about what you would like to know.

1-Biggest influence on your writing from childhood TV?
I didn’t have a T.V growing up. Not until I was thirteen. I only saw a very few programmes when we visited friends or family. The only thing I can really say that has had a lasting impact on me was a documentary about people deep fat frying alive snakes. I saw it when I was very small, and apparently very impressionable. The snakes coiling and writing in agony with their mouths gaping left me with a deep rooted disgust of snakes. Which is unfortunate, because I can challenge fears, and overcome them; but apparently that level of repulsion is stuck. I’ve tried standing in the big aquarium in Berlin, and telling myself not to be so stupid, they can’t hurt me. Which was when I realised I’m not scared of them hurting me, it’s just a deep repulsion, which has spread to other legless things that writhe, like maggots and worms. Yuk.

2-What you’ll never write about? Probably.
What won’t I write about? Well, I know a sensible person would keep away from politics and contentious issues. That’s not me. I’m the person who can’t make small talk at parties or the hairdressers. I’m the person strangers find themselves telling their life story to. My own background, and working twenty years with the vulnerable, the frightened, the brave, has given me an unerring ability to ask the questions people didn’t know they wanted asking. I can see what they’re smiling through, and I can bear their answers. I am very opinionated, but I do not judge. Some people love that, some absolutely hate it.

I know that to appeal to a wider audience I would benefit from steering clear from society’s ills, and ‘issues’, but if I did that I would be lying, that wouldn’t be me. You know that saying: ‘Tall poppies get their head’s chopped off’? Well, it’s true, but if you try to live with your knees bent, you get ill. So be prepared for contentious issued both on my blog, and in my novels. I want to make people think, I want to be engaged with you, so ask me questions, or tell me things that make you cross, hurt or happy and we’ll be tall poppies together.

3-What you’ll realistically be doing in 5 years time?
I really can’t tell you. I had my future very clearly planned out. I already had anxiety and depression, and knew I was reaching burn out, and wanted a total change of life style. My husband and I had a plan. We were selling our big Victorian house, the one where Being Human was filmed, selling the majority of our belongings, and moving into a smaller rental property for long enough to get the current foster children through to adulthood. While we waited for them to finish their last couple of years of adolescence we would buy 2 properties in France, and spend all our holidays over there with the kids, doing them up and getting to know the area. Then we’d move over there and live in one house, renting a room out as a writers retreat, and let the other one as a family gite.

Everything was trundling along nicely to plan until September 2014. I had started writing, and was promoting Darkly Dreaming. We had the huge house we’d bought in a very rundown state finished finally, and on the market. We spent the last two 2 weeks of September in Charente, and fell in love with the whole sunflower coloured region. We managed to hone our search area down to a small vineyard stripped region right on the coast. We even fell in love with a beautiful house to be our gite, about 2 miles through leafy lanes from a tiny port. As well as a fisherman’s cottage right on a slightly larger port, for us to live in. We returned home full of excitement, sure we had made the right decision.

The day after we got back we found out a foster child had made an allegation. Our world fell apart. We didn’t know who was accused, or what they were accused of. It took three days to find out that it was my husband who had had the allegation made, and to be told that the police would be investigating. We fostered teenagers with higher support needs, and had always known that this was a daily risk, as angry teenagers often lash out with lies. We had always assumed we would be told what the allegation was. Six weeks we waited, frozen, only knowing that whatever the allegation was, it was a lie. Which meant we assumed the worse, my husband was the main carer, and so we were terrified he had been accused of sexual assault. Our supporting Social Worker did not phone us once.

My husband was finally interviewed, and we were relieved to find out the allegation was an outright lie we could easily disprove. I was able to give a witness statement and highlight the other, similar allegations, the young person had made to us, about every other adult who had looked after them. Finally, two weeks later we were told that the police were not taking any action. Two weeks after that Social Services met to agree they also wouldn’t be pursing the situation.

It was just before Christmas by then, and we were supposed to available to take children again, but I was very reluctant. My issues were not with the child, strangely I can understand why they did what they did, poor broken thing. However, I was completely disillusioned by how we had been treated. We had been left far too long without being told what the accusation was. And my husband was supported better by my manager at the charity I worked for than he was by our supporting Social Worker, who still had not been in touch.

It was agreed that we would take a break over Christmas, and come back to it fresh in the New Year. Only my husband had a heart attack at the start of January, and that was the end of that. Once he was home we quickly realised that neither of us could bear the idea of fostering anymore. We also realised that we wouldn’t be able to go to France. The week immediately after the heart attack had been completely surreal for me, and I’d needed all of my friends and family close to help me through. The thought of trying to do it alone would be unbearable, and the medical terminology was difficult enough, without trying to do it in French. I speak quite a lot of French, but Hubby’s classes had only got him as far as hello and counting.

Since then I’ve been living day by day, moving away from what I could not bear anymore, and towards a more peaceful, creative life. We finally got the house sold, and moved to a lovely little house a few streets over, with lovely views. Hubby has found a new job he enjoys, and despite two massive bereavements, and grieving for the loss of his plans for a life in the sun, he’s slowly coming to terms with our life now. His mood dips erratically, but I was warned to expect that, and try hard not to respond.

I’ve stopped working with homeless teenagers, and started a job in a wholesalers, which I really enjoy. I’ve self-published my first book, and found an online group of writers I love and admire, and I contribute writing to their charity anthologies. I’ve started writing book 2, but it’s sluggish. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m still struggling a bit. We went through a lot for a long time, so it’s probably normal to still be so tired now. Isn’t it?

I can’t tell you what I will be doing in five years, but I can tell you what I want to be doing. I want to be writing full time, I want my time to spent travelling to sunny places to write and promote my novels, or at home with the pets, seeing friends and family, and writing. Every day I take another step in that direction, I’m not running there yet, but I am walking as fast as I can.