Monthly Archives: June 2015

The power of the narcissist

I’ve been grappling with a bit of a dilemma in the last few weeks. A figure from my past, who I worked hard to forget, has reappeared in a very public forum. He has been tasked by the government with a position of great responsibility, and that rankles with me. Because the person I knew ten years ago was far from deserving of such acclaim.

On several occasions I have come close to outing him – to sharing the details of his betrayal and asking, publicly, whether such a man should be trusted in this role. My decision not to was not an easy one to make: it does not come from a desire to protect him, or the feeling that he should be given the benefit of the doubt. It comes instead out of fear.

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Even as I type this I can feel my pulse quicken and a sour taste rise in my mouth. I am furious that, after all this time, he can have this hold over me: but such is the power of the narcissist.

This man did not abuse me, physically. What he did was way more insidious: undermined my self-esteem and worldview to the extent that I did not know which way was up any more, then pulled the rug from underneath me to reveal depths of deception that I had not even begun to imagine. He was an expert manipulator – to paraphrase his brother he was ‘a pathological liar who I would not trust with my own children’. And this is why, after much deliberation, I cannot bring myself to take him on. He has too much to lose, and I am sure he would have no qualms about destroying me in his quest to protect it.

Even at the time, it was hard to communicate to an outsider (or even to myself) what it was that was so toxic about our relationship. On the surface, I was holding it all together – a burgeoning teaching career, an active social life, the ability to turn on a smile whenever it was needed. But underneath it all I was slowly crumbling away. It took me many years to recover fully, and it’s just not a place I want to go back to.

It has got me thinking, though, about how strong women get taken down by manipulative men. I have met several women in the time that has passed who have escaped from similar situations, and each time my response has been similar: “But you’re so clever/pretty/funny/brilliant. How on earth could you let yourself get taken in by such a loser?”

And that’s from someone who’s been there. So how anyone who has not been subject to such skilled manipulation is expected to understand it is anyone’s guess.

This is in the forefront of my mind now as I begin to work on the latest draft of my second novel. Whilst it is not autobiographical, the dynamic of the central relationship definitely plays out along these lines. And the conversation I had with my agent about it last week mirrors my fears about trying to resurrect the injustices of the past. To her, it’s just not believable. The predicament my protagonist wanders haplessly into makes her look impossibly naive. It is the behaviour, she suggested, of a teenage girl rather than a confident woman in her twenties.

I wish I could go back and tell myself the same.

Of course, in the context of my novel, my agent is entirely right. Often events that are pulled directly from real life are incredibly difficult to translate into fiction. Without the anchor of incontrovertible fact the challenge of making someone buy into a story is all the harder. So I know I need to go back to the manuscript and work out how to do that, how to tweak and tease the details of my protagonist’s life and the way I tell her story to convince the reader that she really could be so vulnerable.

And against the backdrop of this ghost from my past being put on such a pedestal, my motivation to get it right is all the stronger.

I may not be brave (or stupid) enough to take this man to task on a public stage, but I can do my damnedest to expose the complex dance of mental disorder that unfolds in a narcissistic relationship. And maybe even, by holding a mirror sharpened by fiction up to the nightmare suffered by its victims, I can open up a dialogue which will enable others to be a little less afraid of confronting the demons in their past.

 

Muddled Manuscript

 

A new chapter

I never meant to be a mummy blogger. I stumbled into it by accident when I set up this blog, which if I’m honest I only did to give myself something to tweet about. Before that point I’d never really even read blogs, apart from the odd post a friend might link to, and I was blown away by how many people were out there, so many windows into so many worlds.

Before long I found myself getting caught up in it. Joining in with endless linkies, modelling posts on ones I read elsewhere, feeling elated when the words I wrote seemed to strike a chord, feeling frustrated when I began to focus on the stats that lurked in the background betraying how relatively few readers I actually had.

So many people were doing it better – funnier, cleverer, prettier. They were making a living from pouring their hearts onto the screens, whilst I was just taking up time that in my mind I should have been dedicating to ‘proper’ writing, or at the very least hanging out with my son.

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Of course that’s only part of the picture. Blogging has given me so much else: a voice when I felt I had no-one to talk to, the confidence to just write rather than panicking about having nothing to say, a community to keep me company as I made sense of my new, often lonely, existence as a stay-at-home mum.

I was reminded of this when I went to Brit Mums Live last weekend. In the run up to it I had wondered numerous times why I was going at all. I worried that in the real world I’d have nothing to say to these people I only knew online – that when it came to it I wouldn’t really know them at all. I worried that I would feel like a fraud – not ready to buy into so much of the blogging world, just hovering on the periphery whilst everyone else got on with the serious business of carving out their new careers.

There was a bit of that, admittedly. But it was actually wonderful to meet these women in the flesh – people I knew from the blogosphere and many others besides. I realised that everyone there was doing this for their own reasons, that none of those reasons were better or more legitimate than others, and that any attempt to directly compare our many different goals and aspirations, let alone the many different ways we’re choosing to reach them, is fraught with difficulty.

I realised that rather than looking out at the journeys others are on it is high time I focused on my own.

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My blog is only a small part of what I write. I cannot let it take over – not unless I decide that I want it to be an enterprise in and of itself. I need to refocus on how I can make this space one I am truly proud of, one which reflects my goals and aspirations rather than just the humdrum of the everyday. I need to refocus on my writing, on perfecting my craft. I need to refocus on my ‘brand’, however unmarketable that might be.

Because this is where I have that privilege – to write what’s right for me.

It’s the other words I need to be taking more seriously: honing my novels until they find a home with a publisher, seeking out opportunities through magazines and competitions to share my short stories with a wider audience. The time and energy and headspace that has been taken up by this blog needs to be invested there.

I’m not disappearing from here completely, but a shift in focus is long overdue. I have no idea exactly what that’s going to look like yet!

If you bear with me, hopefully we’ll both like what we find.

Writing Bubble

Dear daddy

It’s so good to have you to myself again. I know you’ve been busy, making people’s ouchies better in the hospital. I know you’ve been working hard.

But I’ve missed you.

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Life is so much more fun when you’re around.

I love going on adventures with you and mummy – I asked her where you were, every time, when we set out on our own. We had lots of good times together just the two of us, but it’s even better when you can come too.

Your shoulders are broader, and your hair doesn’t tickle so much.

I always got so excited when I saw your car pull into the drive: clamouring against the window, nose pressed to the glass as it misted up with my giggles. You would come right up and put your nose against mine and draw love in the cloud of our breath. When you disappeared again I would worry for a moment, but then I would hear your key in the lock and run as fast as I could for cuddles in the kitchen.

Thank you for always having time for me, even when you had been up since before dawn and had been ground down by mean consultants and endless traffic. Thank you for not even waiting to take off your coat before kneeling down to play train tracks, for finding the patience to do washing things before bed even when you would rather be having a glass of wine and collapsing on the sofa. Thank you for making me laugh and reading me stories until we both fell asleep in the chair.

I love it when you read with me.

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Thank you for the tickles and the Gruffalo cuddles and the prickle kisses.

Thank you for making mummy smile.

I know that sometimes I am hard work with my throwing and my hitting and my frustration at the world. But every time you listen to me it helps me begin to work it out, and every time you hold me it helps me remember how much I am loved.

I love you too, daddy.

Thank you for being.

The lure of the dark side

What is it we find so irresistible about dark and twisted fiction?

I’ve wondered sometimes whether it’s just me: often when I relay to my husband the plot of one of my favourite books, or try to convince him to watch a film that’s caught my eye, he can’t quite understand why I would want to immerse myself in such torment.

It’s not so much horror I like, and certainly not gore, but rather the depths and depravity of human emotion at its worst.

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Since I first read it when I was about seventeen, my favourite book has been Ian McEwan’s ‘A Child in Time’ – a harrowing account of the impact losing a child has on her parents. He is still the person I come back to as my favourite author, the person whose body of work I most aspire to, and it is the strong element of macabre I think that lures me in most effectively.

More generally I find myself drawn to tales of loss, of death, of suffering and abandonment. Stories which explore the evil that humanity is capable of, and expose parts of the soul that you would never wish to encounter in real life. And I find them fascinating rather than depressing. There is definitely something cathartic about them – a place to play out my deepest fears which I can put to bed again simply by closing the book.

My most recent novel definitely strays into this territory. An examination of the horrible ways people can treat each other, with an antagonist who brings together some of the worst traits I have come across in my experiences and those of others. It was a little harder to switch off from that – there were days (and nights) when his consciousness seeped into my own and left me feeling distinctly unsettled. But still I found myself compelled to tell his story.

The short stories that I have written are even more twisted. I’m sort of playing around with the idea of putting together a collection, and in trying to identify the common thread which binds them together there is no escaping the darkness at their core. Obsession, murder, man-eating hermit crabs, psychosis, self-amputation: putting them all side by side is making me wonder a little exactly what it is that’s going on in my head!

But it seems that I am not alone in feeling the pull of the dark side. When I alluded recently to a short story I was working that was possibly too dark to share I wasn’t intentionally building up intrigue, but it seems that just that thought was enough to make people want to read it. It’s still sat on my hard drive, waiting for an appropriate outing, but it’s kind of good to know that I’m not the only one who likes to immerse myself in these shadowy worlds.

I’ve been working on another story this week, one inspired by the awesome story of a woman in Exminster placing a Gumtree ad for someone to help her test her home-made time machine. I was struggling for a hook at first, and of course when it did begin to emerge it was from those shadows.

I guess there is just a part of me that is fascinated by the more sinister workings of the human mind, and how they play out in interactions with other people. The seeds of those workings must be lying somewhere in the recesses of my mind, but by germinating them in the realm of fiction I am satisfying that desire for darkness whilst being able to focus my real life on altogether more pleasant pursuits.

And I suppose that is one of the many reasons why fiction is so important! Who knows what would happen to the world if our imaginations did not have that safe place to explore their darkest fears…

 

Muddled Manuscript