A Psychological Thriller in #Sussex

With publication of LETHAL TIES less than a week away, I’ve been writing about my characters, the psychological issues that affect their lives, but this weeks post is about my book’s all important location: West Sussex.

Bognor Regis

I’ve lived here since 1996 and despite some of the adverse (and in my opinion), unfair publicity, Bognor in fact, boasts more hours of sunshine than anywhere in the UK, has a lovely stretch of beach and a unique coastal landscape to the west. The rocks lining the shore (Bognor Rocks) are haven to many fossils, a mysterious sight at low tide, even more so behind a sea mist or in the fading light of a sunset.

Bognor Beach

Woven into in the storyline, Sussex residents will recognise some familiar haunts: from meetings in the Waverley pub on the seafront, to a meal at Mamma Mia, and there is even a touch of romance when two character dine at Sen Tapas.

Bognor town centre features, as does the Job Centre and Marine Park Gardens. Maisie has a flat in Annadale Avenue (chosen for it’s proximity to the Station, a sneaky escape route through a garden) and Joe gets a job in Sainsbury’s as an online shopper, (a job I was hired for myself in 2016).

I have already mentioned the sea mists in Bognor Regis and in one scene, this creates an eerie atmosphere when characters find themselves at the centre of a police investigation.

sussex and the south downs

The story begins in Bognor. Maisie finds her old friend, Joe, sleeping rough in the beach hut opposite the Waverley and helps him to turn his life around.

That is, before Joe receives vile abuse on twitter. Clues in the tweets suggest they could be in danger but with a build up of suspense, one character is drawn further afield to other areas in West Sussex, fascinated by the countryside and various beauty spots.

Eartham

Nestling on the edge of the South Downs sits the village of Eartham, its idyllic pub, the George, and the Woods beyond. But when Maisie is invited on an impromptu day out, she has no idea what is in store for her.

The George at Eartham
The George is a pub where the characters enjoy Sunday Lunch
Eartham Woods
A lovely place for a walk… but for Maisie, forests cause panic.
Views from Goodwood Trundle
The view from Goodwood Trundle
The Pergola at West Dean Gardens
The Pergola at West Dean Gardens

The day takes many twists and turns. After nearly suffering a panic attack in Eartham Woods, (as a result of her phobia) she suggests heading over Goodwood way and a visit to West Dean Gardens, one of her favourite places. West Dean Gardens is an impressive estate which looks stunning in all seasons, notable for its pergola, mature trees and walled Victorian kitchen gardens.

“… as we strolled across the lawn, I could not wait to show him the pergola; a spectacular three-hundred-foot Edwardian walkway paved in flagstone. 
An air of mystery immersed us as we followed the path to the end; the climbing plants twisting around the pillars, a riot of wild roses fragrant against the feathery purple plumes of wisteria…”

East Lavant

The concluding part of the story takes place in East Lavant, a tiny village just outside Chichester. Maisie is lured to a mysterious but beautiful cottage nestling in the countryside beyond the village. Could this be the house of her dreams?

East Lavant, near Chichester

There is something about the remote woodland location that evokes suspicion in Joe. All he wants to do is protect Maisie yet fears she is becoming isolated. From the first trip to East Lavant however, the story gathers momentum, before the mystery that’s haunted them since childhood is revealed…

Pagham

The story ends in Pagham, with reference to the tranquil harbour, a nesting place for migrating birds and the tiny white herons known as egrets. Where do the characters go from here? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve, West Sussex

My debut Sussex based psychological thriller LETHAL TIES will be published this coming Sunday (April 18th 2021) and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

It will soon be available in paperback too, and I am hoping to hold a Bognor book launch in the summer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog in the run up to LETHAL TIES being published. For more information, stay in touch by networking with me on social media.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.helenchristmas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SFDPBeginnings
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/helenchristmas7/
Website: http://www.samefacedifferentplace.com/

Girl in a forest: FACING YOUR CHILDHOOD FEARS

Facing your Childhood Fears

Continuing with themes behind Sussex thriller, LETHAL TIES, with a special emphasis on mental health, I would like to introduce another main protagonist in this story. Maisie. She might appear professional on the outside but on the inside, her world is falling apart.

A possible survivor of child abuse like Joe, Maisie turns to psychotherapy. This post looks deeper into the symptoms of abuse, a turmoil that affects her every day life, as well as other young adults like her.

  • What are the origins behind Maisie’s recurring nightmares?
  • For what reason does she have a phobia of forests?
  • What causes her to suffer anxiety and panic attacks?
  • Maisie finds it hard to settle into relationships, lacks confidence, has a fear of intimacy.
  • But can psychotherapy regress her enough to unlock those painful childhood traumas?

What could have happened in Maisie’s life to trigger such powerful responses? Let’s start by examining her experiences, starting from her early childhood.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MAISIE

Maisie Bell, a character from LETHAL TIES
  • Maisie lost her entire family in a car accident when she was small.
  • Traumatised beyond reason, she became withdrawn, froze people out, shied away from relationships and made herself unlovable.
  • Condemned to live in a children’s home, she befriended Joe and later Sam.
  • She also remember’s the home’s creepy owner, Mr Mortimer.
  • Her memories are vague, but something bad happened in that home, something that has haunted her right up to present day.
  • Her lucky escape came when she was fostered by a loving couple in Kent, with whom she spent the rest of her childhood.

A character driven thriller, there is a mystery at the heart of this story.

Maisie has never forgotten Orchard Grange, the children’s home she and Joe lived in, nor the parties Mortimer dragged them to. Neither can they forget their friend, Sam, a vulnerable 11-year old boy who disappeared one night… He has been missing for twenty years.

Nightmares 

Trees seems to be a common theme in Maisie’s thoughts. In addition to her unusual phobia – where the very thought of walking into a forest brings on a panic attack – she sees trees in her recurring nightmare; specifically a spidery network of branches silhouetted against a night sky.

Maisie has no recollection of what happened on the night of the party she was taken to, other than what Joe has spoken of himself. It’s as if this memory has been erased, leaving a terrifying black void. But from leaks in her subconscious mind, (resulting from therapy) she begins to form the impression that whatever trauma happened took place in some forest…

Tree branches silhouetted against a night sky

Why Panic Attacks?

Thinking of a conversation I had with a senior officer from the Metropolitan Police, who handled child abuse cases, I was advised that recovered memories from psychotherapy cannot be relied upon. He did say however, that one of the most powerful triggers in recalling memories originates from smell, e.g. a particular aftershave at the time the abuse took place. 

In Maisie’s case, it is the musty smell of forests, traces of leaf mould and damp soil that has her reeling in fear, every time she goes near them.

TYPES OF THERAPY

For people like Maisie who suffer some form of trauma in childhood – something that impacts on every day life – there are various types of help available. 

In the first instance there is counselling. Just talking about problems can be a huge help as opposed to bottling them up inside. Even a fear such as a common spider phobia can be attributed to something harrowing in the past. Facing childhood fears is never pleasant, but in some cases may act as a release valve and once addressed can help the individual to move forward.

Counselling is available on the NHS but in some cases, may not go deep enough to get to the root of more complex traumas. This being the case, the next stage may be to look for a less general, more specific type of help.

Psychotherapy

When stressful events that people experience or witness make them feel unsafe or vulnerable, psychotherapy can help by eliminating or controlling troubling symptoms, in order to function better and improve well-being. Like counselling, psychotherapy is designed to get people talking about their symptoms, and devising coping strategies to improve mental health. 

Regressive Therapy involves placing a patient into a relaxed state, or inducing a mild hypnotic trance, so they can recover painful memories. These may include childhood traumas. 

Anyone considering this type approach needs to do their research though, make sure the therapist complies to accepted medical standards and is accredited with governing bodies such as BABCP (British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies), BPS (British Psychological Society) or UKCP (UK Council for Psychotherapy). Some examples of regression can be dangerous and have even been known to implant harmful ideas.

CBT

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, reference: Mind-health.co.uk) is designed to help patients understand their current thought patterns. This may include such things as their mental image and beliefs, but is used to identify harmful thoughts and misperceptions, anything that may be holding them back in life. It is possible that negative thought patterns can be reversed by trying to do things differently, which may in turn help the patient discover new paths in life.

IN THE CONTEXT OF MAISIE 

Maisie’s phobia of woods, anxiety attacks and nightmares are the cognitive responses that have a negative impact. But at a deeper level, her fear of intimacy is the more harmful issue that stops her from enjoying a happy, fulfilling life and settling into a lasting relationship. This is not unusual in abuse victims as I have read in various blogs I’ve researched. Thus, in one of her therapy sessions, she describes her first sexual experience as traumatic; that she became so frozen, so tense it felt more like consenting to a rape. 

A hooded figure used as an illustration in my blog

LETHAL TIES is a work of fiction, intended as a suspenseful, twisty novel, but also addresses some of the mental health issues that prevail in today’s society. Next time, I’m writing about Asperger’s with a view to promoting a better understanding of the condition.

UPDATE: First Draft of #WIP Complete

This is an update to my recent a post Entering the Final Phase of a #WIP and on September 30th, I finally completed the story.

This standalone psychological thriller set Sussex took me on a long and twisted path but I’m delighted to have crossed the finishing line.

The next day, I had an impulse to revisit a significant location in the book, the village of East Lavant near Chichester.

The story is mainly set in Bognor Regis, a pleasant seaside town on the south coast, but I needed somewhere more remote for the book’s chilling finale.

An Idyllic country village

The reason I chose East Lavant was not just for its idyllic village setting, but the narrow winding road that draws you deep into the countryside. With swathes of thick forests on both sides and soaring oak trees this was a perfect location to create a surreal and spooky atmosphere.

A web of trees

One characteristic of my character, Maisie, is her fear of forests, something that features prominently in her recurring nightmares. So when she is cut off from her friends with a deadly enemy at large, these woods are exactly the type of place her enemy would choose to lie low.

A concealed forest track

I researched the police procedures before writing the closing scene but with a full scale operation in place, involving distance surveillance, I needed to double check there were tracks in the forests to allow vehicle access…

It seemed impossible to believe how an idyllic corner of West Sussex could conceal a crime of such evil.

Fresh Inspiration

I have always advocated to other writers that putting yourself in the setting of your story can be inspiring and the extra photos will prove useful. At least I didn’t have to travel very far this time, no train journeys to London and beyond which was another advantage of choosing my home county for this novel.

In many ways it feels like a great weight has been lifted but I am looking forward to the editing process.

Fundraising Book Stall at Arundel Festival

Oh, how life has changed this year and I am yet to rise to the biggest challenge ever! Organising of our annual CHINDI event at Arundel Festival, selling signed paperbacks to raise funds for Cancer Research UK.

CHINDI Authors at Arundel Festival 2017
CHINDI Authors Arundel Festival 2017 (managed by Carol Thomas, top left, and Dan Jones, bottom right)

Our stand at Arundel Festival began in 2016 with the authors networking group, CHINDI (Celebrating and Helping Indie Authors). It was launched by fellow author, Carol Thomas, who writes heart-warming romantic comedy, and turned out to be our most successful venture to date. CHINDI not only smashed their target to sell 100 books but raised an amazing £308.63 for Cancer Research.

Carol has successfully run the event for 3 years with the help of her husband and author Dan Jones but decided to step down this year to enjoy a well earned break with her family. Taking on the role of a director last year however, we agreed that if CHINDI was to repeat the event, it was up to us,  the new directors to organise it.

I have a new title out this year, Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories, so this is a chance to publicise it and sell some signed copies, alongside my other 5 books. Yet in another it is nice to do something worthwhile, to get together with a bunch of like-minded authors and raise a bit for charity. Arundel Festival itself is a wonderful event, a week in August when the streets come alive with colour, live music, arts and crafts, and many other attractions. As far as selling books this has always been a most fruitful event for CHINDI Authors so let’s hope that we are in for another good year.

Books by Helen J Christmas on sale at Arundel Festival
Brand new Paperbacks, Rosebrook Chronicles and ‘Same Face Different Place’ books 1-5 ready to be signed.

The Festival runs from August 16th – 26th 2o19 and you will find us outside the Cancer Research Charity Shop, as you come into the town. I am there on Saturday 17th, Monday morning, August 19th, Thursday 22nd and Bank Holiday Monday 26th.

Apart from the Festival, Arundel is an idyllic Sussex town with a beautiful old castle, a cathedral and along the banks of the river Arun, you will discover Swanbourne Lake (for boating and picnics) as well as a Wild fowl and Wetland Centre. The festival itself in an extra attraction with entertainment for all the family, lovely pubs, tea rooms and plenty of tantalising street food.

Am I looking forward to it? Of course! But I won’t deny I am a bit nervous.

I would therefore like to extend my gratitude to all the volunteers who are helping me, especially Carol Thomas, Rosemary Noble, Gunvor Johansson, Patricia Feinberg Stoner and Julia Macfarlane. For a full line up of authors attending and their books, see the blog on our CHINDI website: https://www.chindi-authors.co.uk/chindi-authors-return-to-arundel-festival-for-their-4th-year/

UPDATE: after a very successful week with plenty of sunshine, CHINDI Authors helped raise over £286 for the charity. Thanks to all who supported us.

Roll up, roll up… for our 1st CHINDI Book Fair!

I have recently got together with a bunch of local authors in the Chichester area of West Sussex. But before I go on to talk about our group, I first of all want to plug our first public event, coming up this Saturday.

CHINDI BOOK FAIR – Saturday 8th March

This is a FREE event scheduled to take place at the New Park Centre Café from 9am-5pm. A group of local authors are setting up an exhibition of our published works, to talk about our books as well as our journey into self publishing. There are books from many genres: including children’s books, crime thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, mystery suspense, romance and alternative history – and of course, signed copies of the books will be available throughout the day.

For further information, check out our website www.chindi-authors.co.uk

screen grab of chindi website

We have a write up in the CHICHESTER OBSERVER this week and in addition, the Mayor & Mayoress of Chichester will be attending. But that’s not all…

To coincide with National Book Day, best selling Indie author, Ben Galley, is hosting a workshop: ‘Shelf-Help: An In-Depth Guide to Self-Publishing’, from 11am – 12pm. (Tickets for this event are £6)

Entrepreneur, Katy Lasseter and local self-published author Daniel Hobden will be offering a free talk at 2pm, on the importance of proof-reading, copywriting and marketing for the self-publishing author.

For those who like books, or are interested in writing and publishing, come along as this promises to be a great day. Refreshments will be available and we are also organising a BOOK SWAP – so any books you’ve read that are in good condition, bring them along and exchange them for another one.

How did CHINDI come about?

A little while ago I was approached by another local author, named Jeremy Good, who asked if I would be interested in participating in a book fair. It sounded exciting. I confess, public events such as book signings are something I have always been shy about – but I cannot deny I was intrigued. Just before Christmas, 5 of us met up for a drink and by the end of the meeting, I came away inspired. First, it was so nice to meet other authors face to face and share  writing experiences. In addition, we have agreed to support each other and work as a group to market ourselves as authors and get the type of publicity we deserve!

Photo of CHINDI authors
Founder Members of CHINDI L-R: Jeremy Good, Marion Kille, Christopher Joyce, Helen Christmas, Andrew Weaver

Independent authors don’t enjoy the same back up of PR as traditionally published authors. It is something we do ourselves and extremely hard work! I personally, am not really driven by sales; writing is something I enjoy and if several people get to read and enjoy my books, I feel honoured. Having said that though, it has been a lonely process. The marketing effort you can make as an individual is pretty fruitless, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time and money on it. I see networking with a group of like-minded people, as a way forward – and hope that together, we can really make a difference to the success of our books.