There was a pronounced dampness in the valley that night of the type that heralds the onset of autumn. It soaked the grass and big grey boulders and the bodies lying scattered in the bog.

The hills above were silent. Barely a reed moved. Even the spiders had ceased their nocturnal spinning as though vaguely aware there were things out there, waiting.

A raven was the first to come forward; his shaggy throat and feathers fluttering as he swooped down through the gathering mist to investigate. His senses guided him in an unerring path, to a man who had received a cleaving slash to the mid-section, so deep you could see his liver; gleaming, naked and exposed. The ghoulish bird settled down upon him and after some tugging and pulling ripped out a beak sized, dripping morsel. A quick gulp and it was gone so he delved for another and another, turning his beak from black to red.

In the bushes and ferns, those that watched trembled – but not with trepidation, because the raven had proved to them that the humans were no longer worthy of fear. They trembled with excitement, because they knew there was a great feast ahead – an opportunity to boost their chances of survival. One by one they rushed forward to join him, wide eyed and nostrils flaring, determined not to miss out. They yelped and snapped at each other, twisting and crunching, their teeth biting through gristle and solid bone.

Instinctively they knew to build up their fat reserves and that protein was needed in order to grow a coat thick enough to keep out the cold. Millions of years of environmental conditioning had shaped them, imprinting this awareness on their primitive psyche over each subsequent generation.

It didn’t matter that they belonged to differing species or that some were just beginning their lives while others were almost at an end. All they knew was that in just a matter of weeks, or maybe even less, that a Northerly wind would sweep down from the Arctic Circle blanketing the valley in a layer of snow that could and often did last for months. Anything that helped them and their clans prepare for the inevitable had got to be worth fighting for. Life was everything to the living.

Dawn approached as they filled their growling stomachs to capacity; just a mere glimmering above the mountainous horizon. It was from that direction that the great golden eagle came, gliding softly on extended wings over an army of pine trees and firs. Invisible thermals carried her, over the shallow lake with its shores of granite and across the valley till she reached the hill on the opposite side. From high up between the clouds and earth she looked down and saw something interesting, half hidden in the thickness of the purple heather.

But scavengers were closing in. With a triumphant cry, she started to descend, wings pressed tightly to her sides giving her the shape of a Bronze Age arrowhead. Within fifty or so feet of her target she levelled off and a heartbeat later sunk her talons deep into an outstretched thigh. The corpse shuddered and twitched and with scream that echoed all the way to the Taiga River the young woman sat up waving her arms about so hysterically that the raptor flew away in shock.

Latest

Just finished my latest commission piece – 90 year old Jocelyn and her cat Jamie.  What a wonderful bond!  If you would like to be considered for a painting commissioned at a competitive price fill in the contact form below.jocelyn

New Book

So as you may already know, due to recent developments I’ve no publisher and for all intents and purposes I’m riding by the seat of my pants. But I want to let you in on a secret, just a small one – I quite like this situation. I like to do things my own way and under my own steam. And steaming ahead is exactly what I’ve been doing folks! In fact I’ve more than one new book on the way and the old books will be revised and republished just as soon as I can get round to it.

So here’s a little about my new novel; a historical fiction from the Glens of Antrim. It’s based on the life story of certain Thomas McCartney, a 19th century hedgerow teacher who taught in the picturesque town of Whitehead and the surrounding areas. I’ve painted the front cover myself in acrylic on canvas. So you may find that and the first unedited chapter below. Don’t be shy in giving me feedback. I’d love to hear from you no matter who you are. So be brave and fill in that contact form won’t you? Best wishes to you all. Sam x

cover

Prologue

Time is hard to measure in dreams. It could have been several hours or several days since we had first gone down to the Misty Burn to mess about as children do near the old fir tree locals call The Sentry. The wise old evergreen watched us, nodding and shedding its pine needles quietly. In front of it we built our dam using stones and other debris we wrested from the river.

Many years have passed since I dreamt that dream but when I think on it Martha I can still feel the water lapping at my ankles like a multitude of kitten’s tongues supping eagerly at a saucer of milk, only much colder than that. It felt real. It feels real; even though it’s just a memory of a dream dusted off and brought out into the light.

I can see it as clear as day in fact…

In that far off world my mind created, dappled sunlight filtered through the quivering leaves, beaming down on our mud caked shoes lying forgotten on the bank. Inside them, were the socks our mother made on the long winter nights, her needles gleaming in the firelight as they moved faster and faster beneath our somnolent gaze.

“It’s more than they deserve,” our stepfather Lyle would say on such nights, his eyes flitting fractiously between our mother and our outstretched forms playing marbles on the rug. I can see his face now, ruddy, robust and rather striking but always there was something implacable in his eyes, something that told me we would always be found wanting.

He had many unfortunate sayings. The one I personally hated most was,

“Bold boys have no need of kindness, Kaitlin. What they need is discipline and a firm hand.” It was meant to sound authoritative, fatherly even but when it fell upon my ears it filled me with the knowledge that we were but a grain of sand lodged within the cold shell of him, an irritation that could never be purged; an annoyance beyond all imagining. That feeling was mutual. We were locked in our endless battles day and night, year upon year, with no way to escape. We confused each other, wasted so much time. For instance, he had no understanding of what it meant when we used the socks Mother made us to catch tadpoles and turned them into mits when making snowballs. Our ‘naughtiness’ offended him. Later it would enrage him. But for now this story is about the dream I had then and those endlessly darned socks…the rest will make its own way I believe, if we let it.

So down by the Burn I had started to feel that we were soon going to have need of those socks since it was mid afternoon and the air already had a distinctly chilly edge to it. My brother Robert did not seem to pay it any mind though. On slippery bedrock his smaller feet were splayed out in confidence. In his left hand he held a dripping rock and with the other he gestured animatedly at whatever it was that had caught his attention somewhere at the top of the Sentry. It turned out to be a Jay.

As he stared I watched his fascination grow, his long dark lashes fluttering rapidly, the colour growing high in his cheeks like twin sunsets in an autumn sky. In low whispers we speculated about the Passerine and where it had stumbled upon the acorn protruding either side of its beak. We guessed it had to be somewhere near the sheep bridge where the oak trees shivered and brambles grew and the stones roundabout were covered in a thick green velvet moss. Squirrels often stockpiled them there for such times when food was scarce but the odd one was sometimes forgotten or lost in which case it usually became a baby oak or a meal for some other favoured creature. The latter must have happened in this case.

The bird was proud of its prize. He took it to his untidy nest of roots, horse hair and fibres, built in the most precarious of places where his mate waited patiently for her champions return with eyes of shining black. But Robert could not content himself with just this fleeting glimpse of her. He wanted far more than that. He stumbled forward hoping for a better view, then slipped, twisting sideways, dropping the heavy flint beside his chalk white feet sending splinters of it far and wide. Most flew into the rushing water to become precursors of what would one day be sand. The remainder rolled a few feet more gathering momentum till it crashed and demolished a small portion of our afternoon work. With the dam thus compromised the river did the rest.

“Ye daft ejit,” I cried, hurrying over to him. I helped him up and tilted his chin roughly this way and that to check for damage. “Ye almost smashed ye heid in. An’ luk at the state of the dam.”

Water was pouring through the gaps, making wider and wider holes. Logs were dislodged and sticks floated away. He ignored my rebukes and inspected a flapping hole in his trousers. They were beyond repair. We would catch it for that. I told him so.

“Faither ul have ye beat,” I warned.

“He’s nae faither o’ mine,” he snapped.

I decided to say nothing. I could see he was vexed. His jaw still throbbed as he splashed his way over to the trees crinkled girth and looked up sharply no doubt thinking that the bird must be gone by now. But he was wrong.

“There! Do ye see it?” he whispered to me. “The cock bird jus went in an’ fed her agaen. I’ll wager she’s sittin’ on a clutch of eggs.”

But I had no interest in any of that. His words had triggered something strange, something I didn’t expect; a memory or perhaps a premonition. I drew a halting breath and held on to it for several seconds before releasing it and following him over to the tree. Beneath its twisted boughs the deep foreboding continued to grow, spreading like the foulest of moulds. Something was going to happen, I knew it. Something far worse than just the hole in Robert’s trousers or the broken dam. The thought of what it could be chilled me. It was hard to move, hard to breathe. My limbs grew stiff and clumsy. Was the cold I felt actually fear? Or was the fear I felt actually cold?

When you’re a child such things can be difficult to tell. I remember asking myself in the midst of the dream why it should have been fear that I was feeling. After all it was no different than all the other times we had collected eggs as far as I could see and we had done so a great many times. From the moment we were old enough to go out and play in the fields of Glenwherry, Robert and I had collected eggs from the surrounding hedgerows and fields. It was a common pastime for country boys and so was the tree climbing that tended to go hand in hand with it. Yet on this occasion my passion had fled for no apparent reason that I could see.

“Let her be Rabbie. We’ve a dam to fix.”

I hoped that he would listen to me but already he was grasping my shoulders in his eagerness to ascend.

“It’ll only taek a minat.”

Desperately I searched for a reason why he shouldn’t go.

“It’s too high. It’s no safe,” I said.

He looked at me curiously and gave a little laugh.

“Chicken.”

I sighed.

“Come awn then. But see an’ grip taet whaen ye reach the tawp,” I linked my hands for him and braced myself in readiness for his weight.

He scrabbled around and hauled himself up to the lowest branch, puffing and grimacing. From there he planned his advancement to the next.

“Ye look more a feared than me,” he called down.

“See an’ mind what ye’re doin’ instead ae runnin’ off at the mouth like a gulpin,” I retorted.

He laughed at me and bared his lily white bottom.

“Kiss mae erse.”

“Enough of yer cheek! It’ll not be so funny whaen Lyle thrashes it later,” I yelled and threw a handful of sharp gravel with the intention of stinging his buttocks. Hastily he pulled up his breaches and continued his ascent wearing what was admittedly a much happier expression than before.

The climb was challenging enough. But with a little ingenuity and a fair bit of skill (all learnt from me I might add) he reached his destination without incident. At that point I felt all my fears had been for nought. All was safe. Nothing had gone wrong. Then as Robert gently placed the eggs in his cap, I felt something weighty drop into my hands, something unexpected and strangely out of place. For a few seconds I stared dumbly at the axe with its blade curved like a crescent moon. Slowly I turned it around and around. Then I remembered…

Robert was dead or was supposed to be at least. I had killed him twenty years ago.

I called out to him, my voice jagged like the thorns of a sloe bush.

“Robert!”

There was a muffled reply but I couldn’t make it out. The ghost child was too busy figuring out how he was going to descend without breaking the eggs.

“I’m sorry Robert.”

“What? Why are ye sorry? What are ye gan’ on aboot doon thar?”

I had no answers for him, only a terrible compunction. The tree had to come down, even though he – Robert, was still in it. That was the way it was supposed to be.

It bit into the wood with ease, splitting the bark from the cambium. Not surprisingly when he realised what was happening, my younger sibling let out a startled shriek.

“Wayit!” he pleaded, doing his best to get down before the tree was felled. The tears were streaming down both our faces. Mine mingled with sweat as I hacked at the lengthy trunk, Robert’s made it harder for him to see and therefore harder to descend. On the fourth branch from the bottom he lost his grip and hung for several seconds by one hand frantically trying to claw his way back up.

“Heyelp Tommy, please!”

But I couldn’t. All I could do was sob and continue my instinctive chopping like it was the only pastime in the world worth living for – even when Robert lost his hold and fell to the ground with a sickening crack. With the last swing I bowed my head, not caring at all if the falling fir wiped me out also. An elongated creak heralded the ensuing crash and then the old Sentry hit the other side of the Misty Burn sending a cloud of dust and frightened birds into the air. All was still except for the blood in my veins. It hurtled at great velocity, surging and pounding through me as I hurried over to face what I had done. Seeing him was excruciating. I scooped him up and held him to me, my head just grazing his chest. My eyes were squeezed painfully shut, from them tears fell heavy as silver. When they were spent I opened my eyes only to discover that the river was now gone and that we were in a house, in a room of green, with tall stems of bamboo scattered across wallpaper and a rickety unmade bed of brass pushed up against the wall. I recognised it as our old room.

“Rabbie, if only I knew then what I know now” I mumbled to the wasted body. “I could have saved you. But it’s too late.”

Then the slap of sea water commanded that I should wake.

I obeyed with a gasp and coughed hard, glancing about me. Where was I? And why was it so dark and cold?

The roar of the elements remained close so I listened in the darkness to them waiting for answers to come to me. Just when I thought my sanity had fled a flash of lightening illuminated my surroundings. I digested what I’d seen in those split seconds, the meaning of the rock all around me, the rain and the thick woollen blanket. So this was home. This was my cave. There were no duck down pillows here or gently glowing embers to keep me warm. But somehow it felt full of belonging. It was all mine, this place of my own. Here, I answered to none.

Write on The Edge

belfieAs of June 2014 our mind bogglingly advanced world is fit to bursting with attention seekers sharing all manner of intimate details about themselves. Only in our generation has it become widely accepted as ‘normal’ for young women to proudly post pictures of their derrieres (belfies) in the public domain for the sole purpose of gaining the adulation of millions. Feuds that would once have taken place in private are now paraded across twitter and other social media platforms presenting ample opportunity for complete strangers to enter the fray. Even the moment of birth is not a private affair. Women give birth on live webcams for all to see. And what about Lindsay-Lohan’s much talked about sex list? I shall sum it up for you in just one word. Yuck!

Yes it’s true. Things that would once have been considered deeply private have now become acceptable to share. Sure, all it takes is the click of few buttons. So what about writer’s? Do the same rules apply to us? Can we put pen to paper now and write about whatever we want? And more to the point – should we?

Well unless you’ve been living on a desert island with nary a book in sight you will probably know that writers have been doing just that since the year dot. Take for example Susanna Kaysen’s book, Girl Interrupted published in 1993. That documents her two year stay in a mental institution and the suicide attempt that lead up to it. Her story is intensely personal and was no doubt difficult to write. Thankfully though, she did not let that hold her back from telling it. Not only has her story been made into a highly successful film starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie but it has also helped countless people who have been through similar situations. Book forums are full of people who are thrilled to have found a story they can actually relate to.

Then there’s The Confessions of Saint Augustine. These are a series of books written in AD 397 by Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis which many regard as the first Western autobiography. Although it was written a long time ago, Augustine did not shy away from documenting what he regarded as his ‘sins’ – even those of a sexual nature. The main themes of the books are his intense regret and subsequent enlightenment upon converting to Christianity.

In light of the passing of Maya Angelou, I could hardly write this article and fail to include her. Over the years she wrote four outstanding autobiographies – all of them candid and unflinching in their narratives. Amongst other things she wrote about prostitution, rape, divorce, family and incest. Not exactly subjects for the faint hearted. These are stories of survival and strength and I’m sure I speak for many when I say that the world is a richer place for the telling of them.

mayaThere are many books that tell difficult stories, where the writer bravely opens up their heart to public scrutiny. But why do so? What can be gained by reading or writing such accounts?

Why?

Christine Wilson, author of The Kimmy Diaries also asked herself this question…

“Why would anyone want to write anything sad – something we’ve locked away and tried to forget? Is it a writer’s vanity that says I must use every experience in my life in order to be a better writer? Or is that I hope it will help me to ‘unload’ and for a reader to think ‘Oh, I felt that way too’. We all love a shared confidence. Writing the ‘sad thing’ meant writing up to it and beyond it but I just couldn’t write ‘it’. I felt like a racehorse refusing Beecher’s Brook but having cantered around for several chapters I had no choice but to write ‘it’, and I did it fast – at a gallop. I took no pleasure pulling the memory from my mind and trying to take a literary photograph – capture that moment in time. Forever. It felt like I was taking an ice cold bath but with a warm towel waiting for me after.”

Memories of the past can be like a prison without walls. When life treats us harshly it’s difficult to detach from the pain no matter how much we long to forget. Providing it doesn’t become an all encompassing obsession, writing about what hurts really can help. Many use it as a therapeutic tool to cope in the aftermath of abuse, bereavement, ill health and addictions etc. From 7/11 survivors to war veterans, literally millions of people cope by putting pen to paper.

Whitbread and Orange prize-shortlisted novelist Jill Dawson kept a journal since the age of nine. She had this to say about her reliance on writing;

‘It has helped me personally and also made me a better writer,’ she says, ‘because going over and over something eventually makes it clearer. A dream you don’t understand may make sense two years later. Obviously, it undergoes radical transformation before it becomes writing that you would want published, but it is a part of the process. You can find feelings by writing in this raw way that you can then explore using different events in a story.’

Believe it or not, studies have shown that there are even physical and immunological benefits to written disclosure whether in the form of creative writing or therapy. Professor James Pennebaker, author of the books ‘Writing to Heal’ and ‘Opening up’ had this to say on the subject;

“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience…standing back every now and then and evaluating where you are in life is really important.”

Martelle McPartland, a poet and writerwho runs a creative writing group in Northern Ireland had this to say;

“When facilitating groups one has to be mindful of a safe space. Some stories, especially in Northern Ireland where we are still dealing with the legacy of the conflict, are too traumatic for the participant to deal with, which is why topics need to be kept neutral to maintain and establish a safe space where creativity is allowed to develop without the attachment of residual trauma.

Poets and writers are more sensitive than the majority of people with a percentage of them admitting to be socially awkward. Often they focus on the unseen, a mood or the memory of a mood that affected them. They see something and that something is usually transferred via their subconscious into their conscious which can be recalled years later. The writing of a story is the marking of an event; this happened; I lived through this; this is my story; I am important; I am not alone; this is my voice. The most fascinating stories come from the margins of life, ordinary people living ordinary lives and yet, sometimes something out of the ordinary happens and does not fit in with life around it. These events form the nucleus of our stories.”

She asked a small cross section of her group about their own experiences in writing about matters close to the heart.

Kate Catney: It’s therapeutic. I desire to help others and be empathetic. It makes us feel secure in ourselves to share a way of thinking that is different to others. Writers and creative people are of like mind that’s why we get together

Christina Mitchell: Humans need to express and create. On a good day it soothes and relaxes, on many others it frustrates and exhausts. Yet like an itch, no matter how we try we will always eventually scratch.

John Thompson: It benefits the writer and the people who read. A person that doesn’t write has no advantage over someone who can’t write.

Denis Linden: I have written many stories about my life, they may not be well written but what I have written is my life!

Philomena Gallagher: For me, creative writing is the lifeboat on my turbulent sea of life. In the ebbs and tides of life, often the pen scratches its own story. Creative writing has given me a lifeline and a voice, which would have remained silent and static.

Laura Cameron: Writing is like tearing out your own heart with your bare hands, pinning it to the pub wall and inviting people to throw darts at it.

Below is an example of the deeply emotive work Martelle and her group produce.

When we open up with such candour there are undoubtedly benefits for the readers too. Anything you share about yourself and your life has the potential to enrich the life of another. Ancient cultures retold each other’s exploits and stories, handing them down orally to subsequent generations. That’s how knowledge and life skills were passed on. Not much has changed in that regard. Lessons can still be learnt from history and I’m not just talking about the stuff you find in museums. Each and every second that every single one of us lives, is history in itself whether we realise it or not. We are all part of its elaborate tapestry.

Kathleen Smith, author of Marriages & Miscarriages says,

“My book about my three miscarriages was writtento help other women recognise they aren’t alone in their pain. Without me even realising it, it also helped me heal emotionally. It helped me reflect on all that I had gone through during my miscarriages and how my marriage became stronger as a result. That’s not to say it was easy. I did a lot of crying during the writing process, but the struggle was well worth it!”

But What If People Don’t Approve of Our Frankness?

Well firstly, no one has to make public what they write unless they want to. There are still benefits to be gained even if no one else ever reads it. But that’s where it stops. To write and publish a true life account takes strength and the willingness to accept whatever criticism and judgement comes your way. And that’s not easy. Not only may people criticize your writing style they may make comments about your character or choices you and others made.

In my own book, Not Your Legacy, I found it vitally important to hold onto my original motives for writing it. To some it may appear that I wrote it out of a desire for revenge or perhaps to set the record straight as it were. But in actual fact the simple truth is that I needed to tell it. And I wanted to be able to say to others ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’ And ‘Hey, keep your chin up. You can get through it.’

To be fair, there are always going to be people who miss the point or who berate you for having the bravery to put yourself on the line. So worry not about the haters and just concentrate on giving free reign to your gift of expression in the hope that something good may come out of it.

A range of books published by the authors who either contributed to this article or who were mentioned, can be found by clicking on the links below.

The Kimmy Diaries

by: Kimmy

publisher: Authors OnLine Ltd, published: 2008-10-13

ASIN: 0755204360

EAN: 9780755204366

sales rank: 6849225

price: $10.28 (new), $12.53 (used)

How to go from unwanted to most-wanted in just six months. Does your cat ever worry that he or she is not spoilt enough? Does your feline friend fear you’re not quite good enough. And do you worry that Bath Cats and Dogs Home is not making enough money to keep its doors open to the cats, dogs and small animals that it takes in every day? Well worry no more! By buying The Kimmy Diaries you can learn how to seriously spoil your cat rotten whilst helping the animals at Claverton Down. That’s because all the author’s royalties from this book will go to help the animals at Bath Cats and Dogs Home. So buy one and then buy a few more for your friends. This is the book your cats would write if they didn’t have you to read it to them. Top Tip Whiskas, Felix and even gourmet ranges are all well and good – delicious even – but a truly pampered cat will aspire to food that has to be specially ordered from a pet shop at huge expense to your Mum. It should go without saying that own-brand cat food is never acceptable under any circumstances.

Marriages and Miscarriages: One Woman’s Personal Experience

by: Kathleen Smith

publisher: lulu.com, published: 2011-02-03

ASIN: 1257104489

EAN: 9781257104482

sales rank: 3827900

price: $7.50 (new), $11.00 (used)

Kathleen Smith shares her experience regarding the three miscarriages she experienced. The trials and emotional changes, the feelings experienced when being around other pregnant woman after having had a miscarriage, how turning to God got her through them, and more. Kathleen, a mother of three and entering her sixteenth year of marriage, relates her personal feelings and emotions. As you read the book you will experience a conversation with Kathleen about this topic, and learn how one woman dealt and struggled with this topic.

Not Your Legacy

by: Samantha J Wright

publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, published: 2014-05-28

ASIN: 1499711492

EAN: 9781499711493

price: $10.69 (new)

After a chance meeting at the age of sixteen, Sam leaves behind her father and her reformed alcoholic mother and moves to Northern Ireland to set up home with a man she barely knows. The two of them continue to practice the religion they were both raised in but scratch below the surface and life’s not what it appears. This story documents her battle with depression, abuse, the aftermath of suicide, a troubled marriage, and most of all her disastrous involvement with the Jehovah’s Witness church. It’s a journey that cost her dearly and as many of her readers have already discovered, Not Your Legacy is far more than just a series of real life events. It retells the story of one woman’s metamorphosis of mind, body and soul.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by: Maya Angelou

publisher: Ballantine Books, published: 2009-04-21

ASIN: 0345514408

EAN: 9780345514400

sales rank: 8

price: $3.52 (new), $3.43 (used)

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age–and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a modern American classic that will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions

by: James W. Pennebaker

publisher: The Guilford Press, published: 1997-08-08

ASIN: 1572302380

EAN: 9781572302389

sales rank: 43306

price: $8.96 (new), $0.72 (used)

Anyone who has ever entrusted a troubling secret to a journal, or mourned a broken heart with a friend, knows the feeling of relief that expressing painful emotions can bring. This book presents astonishing evidence that personal self-disclosure is not only good for our emotional health, but boosts our physical health as well.Psychologist James W. Pennebaker has conducted controlled clinical research that sheds new light on the powerful mind body connection. This book interweaves his findings with insightful case studies on secret-keeping, confession, and the hidden price of silence. Filled with information and encouragement, Opening Up explains:

*Why suppressing inner problems takes a devastating toll on health

*How long-buried trauma affects the immune system

*How writing about your problems can improve your health

*Why it’s never too late to heal old emotional wounds

*When self-disclosure may be risky–and how to know whom to trust

This is a piece I wrote two months after the death of my husband. It now forms part of my new book Not Your Legacy – OUT NOW on Amazon.

COLD

I’ve decided I’m going to write this letter as though you could still read it, if only you hadn’t killed yourself. An odd decision to make I know, but in my books it’s not nearly as odd as committing suicide. And yet it must have made perfect sense to you. If only you could somehow come back and explain it to me and the kids. It can never make any sense to us. You have deprived us of the answers we deserve along with so many other things.

It’s almost like an avalanche is doing its best to bury me alive; pressing down on me, crushing me relentlessly. There must be literally thousands of questions buzzing through my head. Like a shower of snowflakes they’re all different. I always have to have the answers. You’ve always known that that’s the way I am. So what kind of parting gift was this? A snowstorm or a shit storm which ever you prefer and not a single answer in sight! Is that what you wanted?

All these questions piling one on top of the other – each one leaving me colder than the one before. There is no one to share them with, to stop me from sinking down and disappearing forever beneath their weight. I can push them aside when I’m feeling strong enough, but when night time comes along or a day that feels wrong from the start, what am I supposed to do then?

Today is one of those days. What makes one day harder than another? Another question with no satisfying answer.

What about our children? Surely the way you were feeling could never be more important than their happiness? They need you. I am not enough.

I feel cold. Cold at the thought of what lies ahead for us. Cold at the thought that you were so determined. Cold at the thought that you wanted this for us. Colder than ice when I remember how I found you.

Not Your Legacy

by: Samantha J Wright

published: 2014-05-26

ASIN: B00KLHWUP0

sales rank: 526843

After a chance meeting at the age of sixteen, Sam leaves behind her father and her reformed alcoholic mother and moves to Northern Ireland to set up home with a man she barely knows.

The two of them continue to practice the religion they were both raised in but scratch below the surface and life’s not what it appears. This story documents her battle with depression, abuse, the aftermath of suicide, a troubled marriage, and most of all her disastrous involvement with the Jehovah’s Witness church.

It’s a journey that cost her dearly and as many of her readers have already discovered, Not Your Legacy is far more than just a series of real life events. It retells the story of one woman’s metamorphosis of mind, body and soul.

The Story

Naturally I remember the day we first met. It would be strange not to when it altered my life so radically. People around us thought it a dalliance. But I felt differently. I sensed there was change afoot. Doors were opening.

December 11th 1994

“I’ve met the man I’m going to marry,” I told my mother when I came in that night. She’d been waiting up for me in the living room, knitting a bright blue jumper for one of my cousins, by what was left of a once roaring fire. A handful of shrivelled coals glowed in the grate, their heat reaching no further than the boundaries of the old shag pile rug. Outside the wind picked up. It toyed with the letterbox and rustled leaves as if it had lost something important and was hell bent on finding it. A powerful down draft whooshed down the chimney scattering ashes and soot all over the place. The wind must have changed direction.

“Hmpf,” was mother’s response to its mischief. She set her knitting down on the table and reached for her trusty brush and pan.

Mother belonged to a generation of women who were typically very house proud. She had a low tolerance for dust and dirt of any kind, even in places where it was quite normal to find it – like the garden. After she’d swept up every little speck she settled back down to her knitting with a sigh. I was beginning to wonder whether she had heard me at all.

“So was it a good night then?” she asked eventually.

“Yes…very.”

I felt let down. I’d been looking forward to seeing the surprised look on her face when I told her my news. But she didn’t seem interested at all. As I warmed my bare legs, I started to realise how ridiculous I must have sounded. I’d walked in like a fool, spouting off about my latest crush. Statements like that belonged in romance novels. Not the lives of regular folk like me. Yet the words had fallen out of my mouth before I could do anything about them. Something in them rang true. They were instinctive, like the feeling of being watched or the knowledge that someone is honest.

No matter how trite they may have seemed at the time I have never been able to forget them. Years later I would still remember the innocence they held. In the dark. On the road. Whilst our children slept in their beds. I would wear them again like clothes, found locked in a dusty attic. They were the ball gowns and frocks left over from another time. When I wore them I became another me.

I waited for her to burst my bubble, to echo that faintly audible warning coming from a far off place inside my head.

“You’re only sixteen! What are you doing? You’ve already had one relationship that ended in disaster. Are you really ready for another? What’s your rush?” the little voice had protested, as I had kissed my Irishman in the corner of the pub.

The more his dark eyes had burnt into mine, turning me to wax with the mere act of his presence, the more I shushed the voice of reason. His strong hands had felt perfectly right on the small of my back as we shuffled around the dance floor of the market town pub. I have no doubt that as we moved in synchrony he too was forcefully rebuffing his sensible side so that we could get better acquainted without hindrance.

“So I gather that you’ve met someone,” she said, looking up from her rapidly clicking needles.

The delay in her response was irritating.

“It doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you about it some other time.”

How was I to have known she’d be so upset that I’d come home an hour and a half late? Besides my head hurt and my ears were ringing, thanks to the pulsating beat at the pub.

“I have to go to bed,” I admitted, yawning widely. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Hang on just a minute now. I want to know what’s happened.”

My hand hung just above the door knob and I turned slowly on my heel. Well, better late than never I suppose…

“I thought you weren’t interested,” I teased, slipping my arms around her neck. She patted my hand and kissed me on the cheek.

“Of course I am. I’m just tired and I’ve been worrying where you’d got to, you know.”

“I’m sorry. We just lost all track of time.”

“So who is he? What’s he like?”

“Hang on. Just let me get out of these clothes first. Then we can talk.”

“Alright. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”

That was more like it. We were both wide awake now. Chances were we’d be burning the midnight oil on this one.

She stowed her knitting in the black and white check bag that she’d owned since the dawn of time while I shuffled off in search of my beloved PJs. From in the bathroom I could hear the kettle boiling in the kitchen below and the familiar sound of the battered old tea caddy being opened. Mum was never without a cup of tea in her hand. Especially during moments of crisis or excitement.

A short while later we found ourselves sitting on my shell pink bedspread, dunking rich tea biscuits into scalding tea. I was in my nightshirt because I couldn’t find anything else and mum wore her pale blue quilted housecoat that she had once bought for a stay in hospital. I wondered if she could see that I was still slightly inebriated. I hoped not, because she’d raised me as a Jehovah’s Witness since the age of four and they were never particularly impressed when one of their own went down that path.

Mother could testify to that better than anyone. When her first marriage had broken up, she had turned to drink in a big way and had got into a terrible mess. You would have thought that they might have offered her support, but instead she was expelled by the church and shunned by its members. How they thought this would help, I don’t know. Yet, somehow she managed to claw her way back from the brink of self-destruction and was now a fully fledged, teetotal member of the flock again.

“Well,” she said after taking a long slurp of tea. “What happened then?”

I definitely must have been a little drunk still because once again I repeated my ridiculous claim.

“I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.”

She responded with a strange lilting laugh. It made me feel good to hear it.

“Marry?” she said.

There was giddiness in her voice – a tinge of excitement, which I wrongly interpreted as approval. I’ve thought about the way we were a lot since that day; the late night chats that ended up in me sharing far too much information and the way she had to know simply everything. I’ve come to understand that there was far more to us than a mother and daughter who were just ‘very close.’

Modern thought has it, that some mothers develop a relationship with their daughter’s that’s so close it’s more like a friendship. They become enmeshed in virtually every aspect of their child’s life to the point where they live vicariously. In other words they live through their daughters.

Over the years we had become like that, especially after my first serious relationship foundered. She had prided herself on being there for me, when my heart was broken and those of my own age let me down through one reason or another. We would sit on my bed for hours, talking about what had happened and examining the minutiae till we lost all track of time. Poor Dad must have felt out of it I’m sure. But neither of us gave it much thought. We were simply doing what felt natural. It was parenting on a whole other level.

The lines were in danger of blurring further still now that this had happened, yet neither of us cared to acknowledge it. There was a lot that I did not see that day whether by choice or through the act of neglect. The recklessness. The neediness. The eagerness for this new relationship to simply be.

I assured her I wasn’t joking and gave her a little more background information on what I hoped would be the new man in my life.

“I met him at Steve and Rachel’s house. It’s Antony’s brother,” I said, trying not to look too besotted.

“So he’s a Jehovah’s Witness then?”

“Yes.”

That was important. For us there was no such thing as dating for fun. You dated with marriage in mind. Nothing else. And nobody was supposed to marry a ‘worldy person’ or in other words someone who was not of the faith. You had to stay in the club.

“So he’s from Northern Ireland too. How exciting! You must tell me all about him,” she said, patting my knee.

I wasn’t hard to convince. I’d been bursting to tell her since I’d walked through the door. So regardless of the hour and the amount of vodka hurtling through my veins, we talked until the morning. Not mother and not daughter. But two friends with a story to share.

Not Your Legacy

by: Samantha J Wright

published: 2014-05-26

ASIN: B00KLHWUP0

sales rank: 526843

After a chance meeting at the age of sixteen, Sam leaves behind her father and her reformed alcoholic mother and moves to Northern Ireland to set up home with a man she barely knows.

The two of them continue to practice the religion they were both raised in but scratch below the surface and life’s not what it appears. This story documents her battle with depression, abuse, the aftermath of suicide, a troubled marriage, and most of all her disastrous involvement with the Jehovah’s Witness church.

It’s a journey that cost her dearly and as many of her readers have already discovered, Not Your Legacy is far more than just a series of real life events. It retells the story of one woman’s metamorphosis of mind, body and soul.