Confronting The Demons Within

A homeless man

In the run up to the publication of Sussex thriller, LETHAL TIES, I’ll be discussing some underlying themes behind the story. If anything good is to come out of this though, it is to raise awareness of some of the complex emotional issues modern-day people face.

The abuse of young people is nothing new. People will have read about cases such as the Rotherham children’s homes (2015). Even footballers have spoken out recently of being sexually abused by their coaches, as revealed in a long-awaited report, ‘Football’s Darkest Secret‘ broadcast on BBC1.

But when I started writing Lethal Ties, I wanted to focus more on the long term psychological effects, rather than the abuse itself. 

  • The sense of powerlessness.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Addiction to alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Serious mental health disorders leading to suicidal feelings.

This story was always intended to be character driven, an emotionally charged psychological drama that delves deep into the minds of the characters.

Abuse can take many forms, be it physical, emotional, sexual or neglect, but leaves a scar of damage on the victims. Thinking of my characters, the long-term effects are very different. Maisie seems content. Raised by kind, caring foster parents, she has a successful career, a flat, the stuff most young adults dream of. Yet deep down, she is troubled; suffers anxiety and panic attacks, finds it difficult to form relationships. Joe on the other hand has made a complete mess of his life and with no career prospects, spends his life drifting from place to place, sleeping rough. 

Joe, however, is the one I want to focus on, starting with his experiences.

What you need to know about Joe

  • Joe has suffered a troubled childhood, including physical abuse at the hands of his violent criminal father.
  • Incarcerated in a children’s home, he is abused in ways he does not even understand yet, a truth that comes to light gradually.
  • Being suspicious, Joe has stood up to the boss, Mr Mortimer, but with terrible consequences. So when an 11-year-old boy vanishes, he fears the worst.
  • It is a slow drip feed of fear and threat that forces him to escape the home, but a campaign of intimidation that follows him into his adult life. 

The Consequences

Like many abused kids in care, Joe, the runaway, falls into a downward spiral of crime, prison, drug addiction and ultimately ends up homeless. This is not uncommon. Abused boys tend to gravitate towards trouble in the same way as girls turn to prostitution. For kids made to feel worthless, this often becomes their path in life. Nobody wants them, people have treated them badly, so therefore they must be bad. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Joe Winterton, a character from LETHAL TIES

Research into Joe’s Character

Writing the first draft, I had never really met a man like Joe, but all that was about to change when in September 2019 I was introduced to Graham Levell, by my author friend, Dan Jones. Dan, who worked in a number of children’s homes in the 90s, (the era of Joe’s back story) shared his own experiences, which went a long way in helping me depict the hostile environment inside the children’s home. Introducing me to Graham however, turned out to be the biggest inspiration behind Joe’s character.

The best part of Graham’s story is how he turned his life around. I have included a tribute in the book, but feel a powerful need to get it out there. For those who download my book, the tribute appears at the end, but publishing it on my blog is important  – not just to spread the message, but to make his life more meaningful.

Tribute to Graham LEvell

Graham’s story began when he worked at Butlins but at the age of fourteen, decided to leave home and spend the next fortnight sleeping under Bognor Pier. At no time did I get the impression this was traumatic, more an adventure, as he colourfully alluded to the homeless culture in Bognor. 

“That was before they put down anti-homeless alarms. Sit on a bench for too long, it makes a horrible noise so you can’t sleep.” 

Graham had dreams of going to college, to avoid the predetermination he would follow the path of many local youngsters and work at LEC. The more he talked, the more I got the impression he was unhappy with his life. Working at Butlins however, the next turning point was Dan’s girlfriend discovering he was sleeping rough; as a result, they invited him to come and stay with them. This was 1997, at a time when he had been gravitating towards other troubled youths, getting into drugs and alcohol. He described himself as quite a suspicious, cynical person.

“I mean I don’t have any lasting relationships and Dan was just about the only person I had a long friendship with.”

Dan Jones and Graham Lovell 1999
Dan Jones with Graham Levell 1999

Shortly after this, the police got involved. His mum had reported him missing and Social Services intervened; said he couldn’t stay with Dan (19) and his girlfriend, and that as a fourteen-year-old runaway, they felt uncomfortable about it.

In the next part of Graham’s life, being in care, some really enlightening stories began to emerge. I asked him about the process of being fostered, which he described as being “really scary… where they used to force us into these gatherings. It was all well-intended, but all a bit weird and false. Social workers present, theatre groups… others were just ‘happy clappy’ Christians.” 

During these gatherings, he would meet all sorts of people – girls who had been sexually abused – but with the lads, he remembers a sense of brotherhood, the usual teenage dominance (chest beating), and then laughing and joking about the different foster carers they’d had. 

“There were some right bastards out there caring for people… One couple used to have the kids living in a caravan at the end of their garden and then drag them indoors for bridge games every Wednesday night, and the kids would be made to work this huge great big garden and were generally slaves and dogsbodies around the house. These days, they wouldn’t pass the fostering board.”

An interesting transition from being in care arose when Graham ended up working in care himself. But before this could happen, he needed an education. He missed a lot of schooling, messed up his GSCEs (was even threatened with suspension) but turned things around in the sixth form and finally achieved his dream of going to college. It was amazing how fast he adapted, joyfully describing how this was the making of him; first studying a National Diploma in performing arts and a Diploma in vocational education in business. 

“They worked me ragged for four years but I had some wicked tutors and started mixing with people who were fairly decent.”

Graham Lovell (17) receiving an award for Educational Achievement

Best of all, Graham achieved a National Diploma, went on to do a Professional Development Certificate, then a Professional Development Diploma (which is a level 5 certificate) and was hailed as 1 in 10,000 kids to come out of care with a degree level qualification (in Health and Social Care).

I feel blessed to have had this one-to-one with Graham, who gave up his time entertaining me with his stories and accomplishments. To an author this was gold dust, and as the conversation gathered momentum, he became more animated, describing his work in care homes with troubled youngsters, one of which was for young offenders and substance misusers. 

“They would get wrecked and come back late after staff had locked the doors… and I was a bit of a soft touch, because one of the rules was ‘three warnings and you’re out’ – and I wanted to keep the kids with me until my dying breath. There was no way I was going to let anyone else look after my kids, because I knew what it was like to have no one you could depend on around the corner. I mean, they used to throw me through doors and everything… I got the shit kicked out of me loads of times BUT no one else was going to look after them. Not as good as me and my team.”

So when did Graham turn his life around? He was quite frank. 

“When I got my ex-wife pregnant. With a little baby on the way – the first of my three daughters – I got a job selling mobile phones to retail. Business supplied the learning and I found myself taking on a lot of what they taught me in terms of sales and communication. Knowing Dan, too, was a massive help.”

Graham won various awards in quality of business (still has the glass statue), and even Dan said he felt like a proud father to see him achieve success. This was the start of his professional development.

A darker side of Graham’s musings emerged in some of the stories he came across about kids in care; from a high functioning autistic boy left to fend for himself in a studio flat who became almost feral – to a three-year-old child raped by his adoptive father. He ended up in a foster placement and it completely went undetected, but he used to sleep in the same bed as his foster father and nothing was ever said. 

“He was schizophrenic when he came to me, because this had been a repeat pattern with every placement, but looking after him around 2007, he became the abuser. If it happens from an extremely young age it becomes a sense of normality…”

This was one of the last things Graham spoke of, the referral files he used to read, which would make him cry; cases of abuse that emotionally floored him: 

‘Awful. Absolutely awful. This is why I would never let my kids go, because I’d seen what they’d been through… I could never be a social worker because I would KILL people.’

I will never regret meeting Graham, not only to hear his amazing story, he became the biggest inspiration behind Joe’s character. I’ve even included some of his quotes, one being that kids in care have a huge chip on their shoulder. 

“You’re either a victim or a fighter.”

Anyone who knew Graham might recognise a little piece of him in Joe, from his flickers of insight to his sunny personality, his compassion and sense of humour. For all the while we were talking, I sensed neither bitterness nor regret. Graham was a genuinely lovely guy – had the gift of the gab, portrayed life in a colourful, humorous way and had a wicked laugh. 

What I did not know at the time, though, was that he had mental health problems and battled with bi-polar disorder. Sadly in 2020, with his existing problems exacerbated by the impact UK lockdown had on single people during the coronavirus pandemic, Graham died from an overdose of his medication. It broke my heart to discover the loss of this inspirational man, but he often spoke of suicide among males and took his life before I had a chance to properly acknowledge his help. My time with Graham is a memory I will forever hold dear. So I hope I have, in some way, kept his spirit alive in sharing this emotional tribute.

******

Conclusion

There are better safeguards in place for children now, especially in residential care and foster care, as Graham refers to in one of the sound clips I kept.

There is also more awareness of emotional problems, a better understanding of conditions like Asperger’s, bi-polar disorder, anxiety and depression. Social media too, plays a vital role.

There is no doubt that abuse has a terrible impact on people lives and on society as a whole. But what else can be done to break the cycle? 

The underlying premise of my book is that victims MUST come forward and report their abuse, a mantra one of the senior police officers I spoke to insisted on.

If abuse carries on undetected, nothing can be done, the cycle continues and some victims may themselves turn into abusers. Victims should always be listened to and while it is known there are fantasists, some who invent stories for personal notoriety or compensation, genuine victims have nothing to fear or to be ashamed of. 

Raising self-esteem is another form of help, which goes a long way in helping some people turn their lives around, but this does not just apply to abuse victims. This applies to anyone with underlying mental health issues, which stem from a variety of causes: Job loss and redundancy; the stigma of unemployment; excessive weight gain; a relationship crisis such divorce or bereavement; alcoholism, drug addition, debt, homelessness… the list seems endless but what I am trying to say is that if you can find it in your heart to be kind, to listen to people instead of maligning them, it could make a huge difference to the way they feel about themselves.

To conclude, here is another sound clip from Graham.

Graham Lovell 2020
Graham Levell 2020

In my next post, I’ll be introducing another character; Maisie, the deep underlying traumas that affect her every day life, not to mention the invisible enemy who is watching her. LETHAL TIES will be launched on April 18th 2021.

#Giveaway #Audible #Promotion for St Patrick’s Day

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, the Irish government has called on pubs and bars to close from Sunday to help tackle the spread.

The closures, (which came into effect at midnight on Sunday), were announced ahead of St Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest days in the year for these establishments, especially in locations such as Dublin. Sadly, 40 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed by the government, bringing the total in the Republic of Ireland to 169. This must come as a huge disappointment to those who enjoy celebrating St Patrick’s Day, myself included. But don’t be dispirited. Get some Guinness in the fridge and have a virtual celebration instead.

It so happens I chose St Patrick’s Day to run a book promotion, as my newest title has a strong Irish theme running all the way through with a colourful cast of characters.

Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories

This collection of gripping stories follows the lives of three abused teenagers. With snippets of social history from the 70s to the 90s, these are the personal journeys of ordinary citizens who never had a voice but I wanted to give them one. Focusing on the Irish connection, orphans, Bessie and Peter are separated by the Catholic Church, their lives about to twist down very different paths.

Bessie (later known as Beatrice)

Six-year-old Bessie overhears a conversation between novice, Sister Maria and the Mother Superior. Taken in by the nuns, she is far from happy in the Convent but at the mere hint of being torn from her homeland to be adopted, she panics.

Photo used for book cover 'Rosebrook Chronicles, the Hidden Stories"
This picture from 123RF.com of a frightened little girl seemed just right to depict little Bessie on the book cover.

What of her parents?
They say they went to live with the angels.
And where is her dear brother, Peter?
They tell her he was chosen by God but where is St. Benedict Orphanage?
It’s not impossible he is in Ireland somewhere. If only she could see him…

Leaving Ireland, Bessie’s tragic life starts to unfold where fate will throw many obstacles in her path, from family estrangement to poverty. How will she survive?

Irish actress Dorothy Duffy
With beautiful Irish features, actress Dorothy Duffy is how I imagine Beatrice would look as an adult.

Peter

Peter is an intelligent boy but with good looks and a quiet, pensive nature, he catches the eye of Father O’Brien. He is the most senior priest at St Benedict Orphanage.

Actor Billy Boyd
Billy Boyd (who played Pippin in Lord of the Rings) has just the Irish features I imagine Peter to have.

Peter is destined to study for the priesthood but all is not what it seems. Within a few years his life is turned into a living hell. Desperate to go searching for his sister, he embarks on a daring escape only to land in England with the law on his tale. But he clings the hope he will find Bessie, his letter to her a talisman to guide and inspire him.

Dear Bess, dearest little sister. Where did you go? I been wanting to write a letter to you for ages and pray I am not too late.
It feels like thunder and lightning struck at once. An almighty storm blew down from the Heavens when one minute we was together fore the angels swooped in and parted us.
Lord knows what happened to the others so bout you, Bess?
You was my only hope, the only one left in Ireland.

Actor Billy Boyd
If Rosebrook Chronicles was dramatised, it would be amazing if Billy Boyd was cast as Peter.

There is a third character, Robin, who weaves in and out of the plot. No one can possibly know the influence he will wield over these two naive youngsters as the story rolls through the decades. It is not light read but a book that will make you think. Not everything in society is rosy but it is how people deal with their emotional traumas that mould them into the people they become.

This novel can be read as a standalone, a mix of domestic noir and suspense, rich in social history from the 1960s to the 1990s. A book that will immerse you in the stories of these three troubled characters as they strive to find love, success and happiness.

Promotion

Rosebrook Chronicles is on a Kindle countdown promotion for 99p/99c
(March 17th – 21st).

Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories by Helen J Christmas

Or if you are a fan of audio books, you can hear the musical Irish accents of my characters come to life in an audio version, narrated by Paul Metcalfe.

I have 10 codes up for grabs. Download the Audible app from Amazon, enter your promotional code and enjoy the experience for FREE.

Two ways to get your free audible code

Audiobook Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories

Leave a comment on this post and will contact you with details on how to claim your free audiobook (open to readers in the UK and the US)
Or
Use the ‘FREE audiobook’ form to send me an email.
No personal data will be harvested from this promotion and once I have sent your code I will discard your details.

Reviews

K T Robson
This was such a powerful read – Helen Christmas has managed to navigate the complicated worlds of abuse, politics and religion expertly, weaving the stories of her three main characters seamlessly together.

Terror Tree
This story was well researched, with the historical facts running through the book, you really feel as you are following these characters throughout their lives

Jessica Belmont
Gripping, dark, and emotional, Rosebrook Chronicles is an incredible novel. The sensitive material is handled well, and the stories merge beautifully together. I highly recommend reading this.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

A pint of Guinness

** FREE Short Story ** with #NewRelease Rosebrook Chronicles

Publication Day is getting close for noir suspense saga, ‘Rosebrook Chronicles, the Hidden Stories’ with a FREE short story to download.

Rosebrook Chronicles is a series of interlocking stories which fuse into a compelling saga. People inspire me and while my favourite genres are thrillers and suspense, I like stories that delve deep into the human psyche.

ROSEBROOK CHRONICLES The Hidden Stories, a novel by Helen J. Christmas

Abused as teenagers, three young adults strive to repair their broken lives; Robin has ambitions to rise to power, while orphaned siblings, Beatrice and Peter, yearn to find one another.

Deeper stories of these characters drive the plot, intended to keep the reader emotionally hooked. What lies at the heart of Robin’s political power play? Why are Peter and Beatrice kept apart for so long and is there something more sinister behind their segregation?

A dark suspenseful drama from the 70s to the 90s, this is a unique blend of social history and domestic noir. 

New Edits thanks to my Beta Readers

This book has passed under the eagle eye of four beta readers, successful, talented authors in their own right. I would like to convey my thanks to Ray Green, Joel Hames, Rose Edmunds and last but by not least, best selling historic fiction author Beryl Kingston, for taking the time to read my book.

Inspiration

Completing some extensive edits (to address points raised my beta readers), I was pondering over the launch date. I approached a few literary agents, since Rosebrook Chronicles was quite different from my previous work. Writing this book, I found a distinctive voice for each character and endeavoured to explore the deeper issues of child abuse, the impact on victims and the way it shapes people’s lives.

It’s been interesting but I know what it feels like to be suppressed by controlling people, the power of lies and of not being believed.

This leads me to mention the books I enjoy reading, all psychological thrillers.

Recommended Books

The RumourThe Rumour by Lesley Kara
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most original stories I have read. This book certainly opened my eyes; a story of gossip with terrible consequences, how one rumour can unleash suspicion and any one of your friends could be a killer. An absorbing book with a heart-stopping twist.

Spare RoomSpare Room by Dreda Say Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read by Dreda Say Mitchell but Oh Boy what a good read! The secrets of the past are drip fed through the plot. Why is Lisa so drawn to this house? Who is the mystery man who left the suicide note and could her life too be under threat? Brilliant.

The Secret Child (DI Amy Winter, #2)The Secret Child by Caroline Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A crime thriller packed with psychological suspense, where you start to question who the victim really is. Amy is forced to confront her past, to get into the head of a sinister kidnapper. What ensues is a gripping game of cat and mouse, a race against time to save the victims.

What She SawWhat She Saw by Wendy Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am currently reading this and utterly hooked. It is not just the beautiful descriptions of the Lake district I am enjoying but the pure unadulterated suspense. I am dying to know what is causing Leona’s panic attacks, a phenomenon I can relate to. A real page turner.

To conclude, there are some bloody good psychological thrillers out there at the moment. But aspiring to their standard is something I dream of!

FREE SHORT STORY

So let others be the judge with a FREE story to download and read at your leisure.

Chapter 14: The Bracelet can be downloaded either as a PDF or mobi file… and if you enjoyed this short story and want to read more about the lives of Bibi and her daughter, my book can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

The Bracelet, a free story by Helen J. Christmas

| CLICK HERE FOR PDF VERSION | CLICK HERE FOR MOBI VERSION |

Please note: the mobi file cannot be delivered wirelessly to your Kindle as with Amazon. You need to email the file to your device (the address can be found in your Amazon account under devices) or use the Kindle app on your computer.

Rosebrook Chronicles, The Hidden Stories
Publication Date: 1st July 2019

Available to pre-order on Amazon, in Kindle or paperback.

With a publication date planned for July 1st 2019 I am also participating in a blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources from 14th to 20th July.

 

Rosebrook Chronicles (The Hidden Stories)

As 2018 is drawing to a close, it is time I revealed a little more about a new book I’ve been writing this year.

The concept of this book of stories arose in Yorkshire, over 2 years ago, whilst visiting the Parsonage Museum in Haworth. Gazing across the writing table where Charlotte Brontë created her world famous masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, I felt a calling, an eerie feeling this was to be my next project. The feeling was so overwhelming I decided there and then that I would do it (once I had finished the ‘Same Face Different Place’ series.)

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the book is now written.
So allow me to introduce the thinking behind
‘ROSEBROOK CHRONICLES (The Hidden Stories)’

A bright moon is a prominent influence in one of the character back stories.

Rosebrook is the fictitious town I created for my series. It is based south east of London in a rural area of Kent, between Bromley and Swanley.

Before I had finished the series, I figured there were some powerful back stories hidden behind the scenes and one or two characters who never quite made it into the story.

This book is not a thriller, more a collection of character driven short stories following the lives of various people, from childhood to adulthood.

The one thing they have in common is they were all abused as children and it was interesting to explore the psychology behind each one of them.

To drop a hint, Peter was a prominent character in my series but his younger sister made a brief appearance in the last book. Due to the complexity of the series, her story was very much glossed over, as I didn’t want to wander off on a tangent. Only later did I realise I could develop an intriguing back story behind her character.

I would describe Rosebrook Chronicles as a combination of social history and domestic noir.

So to date I have a complete draft, a synopsis and an idea for a cover. There are 24 stories featuring some lesser characters at different stages of life, from university and work to forming relationships. But the paths of the characters begin to interweave. I am in editing mode at the moment and working hard to get my draft as polished as possible. Whether to self-publish or not is the next question but given the interest I have picked up, I think the next stage would be to get it out to a few beta readers. After that who knows.

In the meantime, I am battling a stinking cold and getting ready for Xmas but I hope to get a more ‘Christmassy’ post written during the festive week, so Seasons Greetings for now!