Ghosts of Writer’s Past

I drove past my old neighbourhood today on the way to my GP’s surgery where a vampire masquerading as a nurse took two vials of my blood. Okay, so she isn’t actually a vampire, but she does smile in a rather unnerving way when she punctures my skin with the needle. Anyway, I digress….

The doctors surgery is located right near the neighbourhood in which I grew up until the age of about nine years old and despite living there for less time than the neighbourhood in which I spent my teens/twenties, it’s still a place that is engrained so much in my memory that I couldn’t not bring it back to life in Dark Sanctuary. In fact, I didn’t even think about it, I just started writing and the place where Sarah grew up automatically became the same place in which I grew up. From the roads, to the farmer’s fields, to the tree in which Sarah, Jane and Alisha share their gossip, to the lane where Sarah is chased by the vampire Bourne. Even Sarah’s house is a little bit like the one I grew up in.

Today, as I turned left to head towards the doctor’s surgery, I glanced right and could see the entrance to the lane. I had such an urge to go up there and take a look around to see if it still looked anything like I remember. I wondered if the field was still there and if horses still stood waiting by the fence, waiting for a dog walker or rambler to pass so they could neigh softly for some tit-bit.

The weird thing is that whenever I think about my old neighbourhood now, I always see it through Sarah’s eyes. It’s as if all my memories have been somehow swept to one side and have been replaced with what she saw and experienced as a child. The lane itself, was never really a scary place to go. It was popular with local residents wanting to walk their dogs and a great place for children to play (that was until the 80’s descended upon us and we heard stories of a flasher and glue-sniffers lurking there and we were no longer allowed to go there unless with an adult). I don’t remember the surrounding trees being particularly menacing. I never felt threatened there. But now, whenever I think about the lane, that’s what I think about.

The road in which I lived, located in a fairly affluent suburb of Dunstable, consisted of mostly semi
-detatched and detatched houses, front gardens with no fencing (because in those days, you didn’t have to worry about anyone coming into your garden, as nobody ever did), and people who washed their cars on a Sunday and mowed their lawns. The stay-at-home mothers had coffee mornings and the fathers all went out to work. Every family was your typical 2.4 child unit. It was 80’s English suburbia at its best. But whenever I think about that road now, the people I remember, the friends I had, all seem like ghosts, dancing on the periphary of my vision and what’s solid are Sarah’s memories, Sarah’s friends, Sarah’s experiences. I think about Sarah running screaming from her house when her mother reveals she knows her secret. I can hear her mother shrieking her curses at her and the sound of Sarah’s footsteps as she runs up the hill towards her friend Alisha’s house (which weirdly, happened to belong to my childhood friend also called Sarah).

There are other places in Dunstable that materialized in Lost Creatures. The church next to the homeless shelter is the Methodist Church in the town centre, although the homeless shelter itself is fictional. The industrial estate where Michael gives chase to Marcus and Sarah is real. It’s called the Woodside Industrial Estate and when Sarah runs from them all and sees the traffic lights ahead of her and the sun slowly rising on the hills behind the town, that’s the intersection that meets the A505 and the hills are Blows Downs. The pink-painted farmhouse where Sarah and Michael find refuge before their move to London is a house that I pass daily on the A5 and every time I pass it, I hear Sarah’s voice, playfully teasing Michael for buying a pink house.

All these places have become less about my memories and experiences and more about Sarah’s and I kind of like that. I like seeing the town through her eyes. And one day I’m going to go back to the lane, to the place where it all started for her but if I happen to look into that field and see a man with bad dress sense and a habit of dabbing his mouth with a handkerchief, I’m going to run like hell……

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7 responses to “Ghosts of Writer’s Past

  1. I love this… In fact, I just recently wrote a story based where I am living now; my house and the factory land/river path/canal beyond, and I am wondering if I will start believing my own ghost story in time… Eeek!

    • It’s incredible how these places you know so well can become linked to your characters. And I think it helps you bring your characters to life….so watch out 🙂

  2. Interesting. I used to live down near Camberly and I’d go into London fairly frequently in my late teens/early twenties. Having set my books in an alternate version of London which is more or less like the real one, just a little different, I do now associate various bits of London with the characters and events in the book rather than my own time there.

    Mind you, that’s partially because London has changed so much in the last 20-ish years. I went down on a research trip just before Christmas and… well, I prefer my memories. The place was a bit of a dump. So, I think I’ll stick with my remembered/imagined version of London and leave the real one several hundred miles away.

    • I must admit I am in two minds whether to visit the lane and roads where ‘Sarah’ lived. I’m not sure I would want to see the changes there and no doubt there are many. but also weirdly I sort of want it to be the kind of menacing place I wrote about and might be sorely disappointed if it looks like a magic woodland straight out of a Disney film.

  3. We write what we know, thats for sure. So far ALL my stories have something to do with Alaska. If they don’t actually take place in Alaska the setting is Alaska like. But I was born and raised there, only been “outside” in the Lower 48 for two years. Its authentic. But now I have a whole new perspective to draw inspiration from :).
    If you do see that creepy mouth dabbler guy in a field, run fast!

    • I’m not sure I could write about places in which I have never lived or known. But I love reading about places I have never lived, I think that’s why quite often we are attracted by books set in other towns/countries. I would love to read stories set in Alaska!

  4. I wondered about the church in Lost Creatures! I love finding out that these places have a basis in fact. I end up doing the same thing when I write; my book (which you may eventually see if I ever finish typing it up) all started with a midnight musing about an abandoned military morgue on an airfield where I grew up.

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