Tomorrow I’ll stand at a train station, metaphorically speaking, and wave goodbye to a cast of characters who overstayed their welcome by a least a year. A long with my relief, I’ll feel a certain sadness as I wave them goodbye. They were born on the whim of an idea, shadowy, devoid of personality and an inability to utter anything that didn’t sound like a cliché. It’s always like that in the beginning and The Betrayal was never going to be any different. Not that my book was going to be titled The Betrayal. It had another title, more humourous and light-hearted, one that befitted the rom-com I intended to write.
My books have a tendency to stray to the dark side but this one was going to be different. A husband and wife, grown apart over the years, intent on an amicable divorce and new beginnings – but thwarted on all sides by their family, who were determined to keep them together. At first all went according to plan. My characters developed flesh, muscle, bone – and conversational skills that didn’t make me wince every time they spoke. They did what they were told to do until the morning she walked into my plot.
From the beginning I knew she was trouble. She didn’t belong to my rom-com. She darkened the tone, punched holes in the narrative and turned vengeful eyes upon me every time my finger hovered on the delete button. She was a tease, a challenge, a mystery. Then real life took over. I had to go into hospital for back surgery and the Muse was forced to take a hike while I recovered.
On the night after my operation I lay in a drug-induced stupor in a ward with three other women. I knew I was in pain but I was cocooned in morphine, drifting on the pleasure of a massive high. And it was all legal, acquired, admittedly, at a tough cost – and I was determined to enjoy it while it lasted.
Sometime in the small hours I heard her talking to me, this troublesome character who refused to leave my story. Her voice was so clear she could have been lying on the bed beside me, whispering her secrets into my ear. This was pure stream of consciousness, something that does not come naturally to me. When it does I’m wary of it, knowing it can be brilliant and equally capable of becoming self-indulgent pap. She spoke in a voice that resonated with wonderful possibilities. I could visualise her, understand her, take that journey with her. I saw my book changing shape, even as my mind argued against the wasted months of work, the new rewrites, the recreation of structure. Then, as suddenly as she had started speaking to me, she stopped – and the scream that came from her exploded into the air with the force of a mushroom cloud. I’d never heard anything as shrill and uninhibited in my life. On and on it went, this cacophony of anguish pulsating through the ward.
Did it take a nanosecond or an hour for me to realise that she was a figment of my imagination and, therefore, she could not be making that dreadful sound? Time was meaningless as I scrabbled frantically for the bell a thoughtful nurse had left beside me. I knew with a terrifying clarity that if I didn’t stop screaming the sound would kill me. I managed to press the bell and a nurse came quietly to my side.
“I can’t stop screaming,” I managed to gasp the words, my voice hoarse and barely audible.
She stood beside my bed, pooled in a discreet glow of light, and held my hands until the trembling stopped. “The nurse’s station is just outside the ward,” she said. “There hasn’t been a squeak from anyone all night.”
“But I was screaming-”
“You were hallucinating,” she said. “It’s the morphine. It happens occasionally.”
After the nurse left I was afraid to sleep in case it happened again. It didn’t. Nor did the voice return, not then, not since. I finally slept and in the morning I remembered enough of the words she spoke to make some sketchy notes. These would later glide her effortlessly into the narrative of what would become The Betrayal. My drug-induced Karin Moylan, tripping (in every sense of the word) dangerously through the lives of Nadine and Jake Saunders and turning what was to be my first rom-com into a psychological thriller.
As with the release of all my books, I’m nervous, apprehensive, excited and relieved that it is finally seeing the light of day. It’s now the reader’s turn to give my characters a new identity, to see them in the reflection of their own imagination. My mind needs a good clean out, so does the room where I plot my dark intrigues. The paths I took to tell my story – some straight and true, some cul-de-sacs, an occasional mountain pass or a forest trail too dense to see the wood for the trees – will soon be forgotten. But that scream lingers, so does her voice. Not her words, just the crystal clarity with which she spoke and infused my mind with infinite possibilities. You could say I was under the influence – and you’d be right. But that’s how she roamed through my imagination during those small hours, on a journey that was both sublime and utterly terrifying.