The month of Samhain 2022

Witches’ New Year approaches. With that, I’m Autumn cleaning, creatively speaking, at least. Washing away the dust of the summer fires, sweeping this germ-ridden circle clogged with ash. I say this with every positive intention, which in the current climate of my sick house, it’s not so simple. Some things are outwith control, but I try flow with, around, through it. (I may have recited ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ a few too many times).
Starting with the writing. I’ve taken part in only a few invite-only opportunities. This year, it has been difficult to say no, but something I’ve had to learn to do fast. It’s been challenging; each opportunity offered has been for a great project, and I am profoundly grateful to be asked. Short fiction writing has been on the back burner, which was always this year’s plan to invest in my degree studies and researching/writing longer works. Moving on, a quick recap of my own books released and scheduled to tie up 2023:

Asylum Daughter
Novella
5th May 2022

Incesticide: Collected Horror
Short Fiction Collection
14th December 2022

Clan Witch: Found Shadows
Poetry and Drabble Collection
31st December 2022

There has been lots of work going on in Brazen Folk Horror, which I launched with Ruthann Jagge this year. Here we share regular updates on ‘The Making of Delevan House’. We have many plans to execute, so it’s a great space to follow. You are cordially invited! We expect you to put in some effort—get tight-lacing, break out the good cloak, your best finery, and you better buy an extravagant hat while you’re at it. It’ll be one hell of a ride! You will want to be watching for that pre-order date as soon as we announce it. In the meantime, come enjoy the brazen tease and seduction.

Well, it’s been tumultuous and stable on the homestead with no middle ground— a seesaw over starving shark-infested waters more than a rollercoaster. The pendulum never stops. My kids and I have been struggling with fresh ongoing health issues since the start of the year when we contracted that virus. It then came in for a second hit in July, which haven’t recovered from. Between chronic coughs requiring prescription medications, chronic fatigue and opportunistic germs that keep jumping on board because of compromised immune systems, it’s been a royal shitshow. With medical support services (the NHS) being abysmal. My family (I) also suffered another pregnancy loss. During the second bout of that virus, my baby’s heart stopped beating, and I gave birth four weeks later. We were (are) devastated.

Grief so intimate is a profound journey we carry with us throughout our time on the rock. Lives that were given a second chance coincided with the loss of my last baby, Averey. My family adopted a small flock of ex-commercial layers (Hens) from The British Hen Welfare Trust. I have shared little updates on their settling-in and shenanigans on social media. The ladies (our little Queens, as we call them. On account of naming them after Drag Queens: Jinkx Monsoon, Bimini bon boulash, Raja and Ginger Minj) are so very full of stories and have settled in as though they’ve always been part of the family. They are part of the clan. Some things are meant to be, and these Queens were never meant for slaughter.

Something about coming from 2021 into 2022 held promise and a thirst for change. More than a thirst, it was a drouth of dry agony. So many I know felt it—a need for rewiring, redirection, reinvention, or simply getting back on track. The year hasn’t quite lived up to the promise. Instead, it’s been more like treading water. Trying to stay afloat, and more, fighting to survive. I guess that’s life for the most part. An ongoing battle, with Jack-in-the-box obstacles springing forth at any given moment. Damn clowns. Tomorrow will be better.

The veil is thinning as the gears continue to cycle. There’s much reflection as we dare to lift the veil and step through the shadows, opening locked doors to visit with ghosts. This season welcomes the shadows, where the light and dark dance. It’s almost Samhain. Listen… whose voice can you hear calling from the ether?

Sweep the circle, burn the candles, lay out the feast, and set out the favourite photographs and letters from the dead. They’ll be here soon. )O(

Co-conspirators

The thing about finding a partner to share the intricate and often messy process of life and or creation with is that there has to be a level of mutuality that bends and blends with something that could be conflicting but ultimately becomes complimentary to the other’s process. We come together to share and intertwine ideas to make new colours in life and in art. Colours that would never be without the other. The coalition becomes a new entity separate from the singular. And it thrums to its own drum, which exists inside each of us. Sending electrical impulses of ideas that invade our dreams as we (attempt to) rest and seize our minds at the most unexpected moments. We have much work to do, and the muse grows each day.

I’ve always been fiercely private when I’m ‘creating’. Yes, I was that child in nursery who would hunch quietly behind the easel with one arm hiding my recycled, crunchy foolscap paper. I didn’t want or be copied, ridiculed or questioned. What if they saw something through paint strokes that I don’t want to share? What if someone took a piece I wasn’t ready or willing to give up?

I’m not original. We’re all just unconscious copies, in a way. I know many of us have that feeling I had back then and carry it somewhat into adulthood, especially if we continue on or rediscover a creative path—a fear of being unpicked and someone else discovering something or disappointment of there being nothing. Exposure or emptiness?

With my BFH sister, Ruthann Jagge, I have found that I’m no longer anxious and scared of either of these things. I share my creative process with her as if we cohabit the same space. (I’m not embarrassed by the mess I make as we build.) Because of this, we are creatively bound for as long as that mutual muse whispers and screams—and oh, the muse certainly does that! Sometimes I can’t get the words down fast enough. Honestly, I never thought I could do that with anyone. It’s an intimacy that supersedes the distance—the sharing of minds, passions, drives, triggers, ideas, and art!

It’s still new, and it’s all so exciting! For updates on our first release and those that follow, tune in to Brazen Folk Horror.

Peace & Love—Natasha )O(

Delevan House, Ruthann Jagge & Natasha Sinclair

Clan Witch: Found Shadows

I’m sweeping the circle. The bones and remnants of word fusions are being expelled to make way for new spells. This collection is set for release in Hogmanay 2022. The preorder is live now.

Digital ARCs will be available well in advance of release, if you are a reviewer who’d love a first look at Clan Witch: Found Shadows, my mailbox is open for enquiries to be added to my priority early reader list.

Clan Witch: Found Shadows, releasing December 31st 2022

Synopsis (subject to tweaking)

Do readers buy poetry from undead poets?

There’s nothing quite like picking the prose and verses of the dead like vultures. There’s freedom in that unpicking, with no one alive to contest, at least not the mind which birthed them.

Sinclair consumes written and spoken as she does in its lyrical form, dressed in music and paint. Dancing to the beat or screaming into the voids of despair. Here, Sinclair presents Clan Witch: Found Shadows, no music, no paint, just words. A mix-tape of drabbles and anarchic free verse poetry..

The writer still lives. Perhaps you’ll read her unruly verse before the witch is dead.

Cover image from Christy Aldridge of Grim Poppy Designs

Interview with a Poet

Rafik Romdhani, author of The Crash of Verses

1: When did you first start writing?

At first, I didn’t know that inventing short songs and humming them in the fields of wheat and barley while stumbling behind my parents was what would, later on, develop into a form of writing. Writing has already been there in such funny songs I used to create out of the blue and sing in Tunisian spoken language (i.e. an amalgam of Arabic, French, and Barbarian) at the age of ten. I remember myself once beading words into smooth-running utterances and reciting them before a group of gleaners at tea time, which made everyone around express their admiration and admit that I am a gift to them to while away the tedious hours. Putting pen to paper and speaking my mind began later as I fell in love with Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil, taught by Mustapha Dhaya, our teacher of French when I was a student at secondary school. I started writing short poems in French and Arabic between 1994 -1999. But I have indulged in penning and rhyming in English since 2000 because I found English a musical language that matches my yearning for singing. Words in English felt like ways into poeticizing life in a much more inspiring way. In this regard, the English language acts like an inspiring realm in itself, not to mention Nature and life experiences which have become not apart from living. Still, a kind of double living lived within the English language.

2: What are the primary themes in your work?

I am of the opinion that themes can’t be mapped out for or prepared beforehand. But I think they are born or at least are struggling to be born during the writing activity itself. The primary themes in my work include the question of time, Man’s existential worries, and the notion of love as a raison d’être. The theme is the underlying message that every artist or writer wants to convey. Themes can vary across poems which cover a wide variety of topics. Still, the primary ones are usually the common ones like the human versus the natural, Good versus Evil, the metaphysical versus the physical, and so on. The Crash of Verses teems with themes that overlap and intermingle in a way that it is difficult sometimes to privilege a theme over another.

3: Would you ever co-author a project? If so, who would your dream co-writing partner be?

Well, in truth, I am a believer in collaborations and working with other poets. Poets could inspire one another avowedly or unavowed. For instance, a poet’s word could be the seed of another’s poem. For the time being, I am co-authoring and working on a third collection with my fellow poetess, Genevieve Ray. The title of this anthology, made up of about 120 poems, is Breath of Distance. The work is still under scrutiny and hasn’t been published yet. I would always love to co-author new projects because I think working with another poet is enriching, and we can learn different styles and discover different ways of thinking and interpreting the world around us. My dream co-writing partner would be someone like Paul Muldoon, for example.

I crave Muldoon’s poetry because it is challenging enough to be interesting, and it is known for its use of paradox. Muldoon’s poems are playful but serious, elusive but direct, innovative but traditional. In addition, they push far beyond the surface level. To my way of thinking, Muldoon is an interesting and convincing poet who uses traditional verse forms such as the sonnet, ballad, and dramatic monologue but alters their length and basic structure and uses rhyme and meter in quite innovative ways. This implies that he looks into the old with new eyes, which interests me and pertains to me a lot.

4: If you could have a dinner party with five writers (living or dead), who would they be?

I am going to assume that all of them would love to have typically Tunisian Kuskus for dinner and that there would be no language barrier, and all the invitees would be able to communicate with each other and myself.

I would invite:

1. Edgar Allan Poe

2. Herbert Zbiginiew

3. Mahmoud Darwish

4. Paul Muldoon

5. Charles Baudelaire

These are amongst the most influential and interesting poets to me. If I were to invite another important figure for a mouth-watering dish of Kuskus, I would think of Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish-American poet, and I would ask him to join us. The reason I would invite them for dinner is that I am their biggest fan. They must have different definitions and conceptions of poetry.

A dinner party with the five of them will not only be entertaining but highly insightful. Perhaps on occasion like this one, I might be able to understand what poetry means to them and what inspired them to become such great poets. I guess the one who would like my poetry the most would be Edgar Allan Poe.

5: What book had the most significant impact on you (either as a reader or/and as a writer)?

I can remember the first book that had a significant impact on me. It was a book entitled Mother written by Maxime Gorky and which I came across in the secondary school library when I was a student at Raccada secondary school. It wasn’t easy and challenging at first though the version I read was in French. But after reading it twice and looking up many of the difficult words in the dictionary, I came to grips with the encrypted messages and deeper meanings there. Gorky’s mother is a book in which Paul, the main character, reads forbidden books discreetly, which is why I liked this novel a lot. Another reason behind my being affected by Mother is that it deals with the hardships of life under the yoke of which factory workers were straining.

I felt like those characters were combatting manual back-breaking works in a similar way to mine while working under the scorching sun in the fields. As far as poetry is concerned, I think that Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil affected me the most as it paved and blazed the way for my writing career.

6: What is your favourite poem, and how did it affect you?

My favourite poem is Pessoa’s “The Tobacco Shop” (Tabacaria), in which the speaker finds himself torn between the abstractions of the mind on one hand and the mysteries of reality on the other. This is what I often feel whenever I try to idealize reality because everything at the end of the day is driven “down the road of nothing”, as Pessoa puts it. Reality itself does not seem to be authentic and concrete enough. Therefore, this poem made me rethink and re-imagine the outside world around me by re-inventing myself through the lens of poetry. After all, ‘the real’ is not necessarily what is not inside us.

7: Being multilingual, what is your favourite language to write in and why?

I am of the mindset that English is best for writing poetry because of its musicality, rich vocabulary, and easy-going flow. However, I think Arabic and French are better for spiritual and philosophical concepts. I love to write in English and think in English though I draw on writers who are well known in the French-speaking world and the Arabic-speaking one. This does not mean that I am not inspired by famous poets like the ones I have previously mentioned. English makes it easier for me to know which side my bread is buttered, as they say. It is the language that exceeds its circumstances, defeats distance and outgrows its native speakers.

8: If you could read your poetry anywhere in the world to an audience, where would you most like to go?

My dream literary destination where I would most like to read my poetry would be The UK. Who on earth doesn’t want to recite their poetry in a country where interesting literary figures like William Shakespeare, William Blake, John Keats, Alfred Tennyson, and John Donne were born. So, if I could read my poetry anywhere in the world to an audience, I would, without a doubt, choose the United Kingdom.

9: Does any of your pieces require research before or during the creation process? If so, how do you go about that?

In truth, all of the pieces I wrote are built upon a sudden incident or happening. Sometimes a word that I catch in a song or that my eyes set upon at first glance can develop into a poem. If there is any research required during the creation of the process, it is certainly meditation and deep reflection. I don’t think a poem requires research, apart from trying to put it in its historical or cultural context. But from my experience, I believe that the most difficult thing in the creation of imagination is the choice of a suitable title to go in tandem with what I wrote.

10: Being a teacher and writer, your schedule must be very demanding. What do you do to relax?

Well, I am a poet by passion and a teacher by profession, which is why I seem to be able to reconcile the two. I feel like teaching is harder and more demanding than writing poetry. I often do my utmost to be successful in both of them. To be a poet and a teacher simultaneously is like being trapped in a catch-22 situation. But the good thing with poetry is that it relaxes me from the two tiring missions ( writing and teaching). In other words, relaxation and relief could be in pressure itself because what I do to relax from writing poetry is paradoxically writing more poetry. That’s the same thing that refreshes my mind when I get burnt out from teaching twenty hours a week. Poetry is a safety valve.

11: How would you describe your work to a reader who hadn’t yet read you?

The Crash of Verses is a smorgasbord of poems with disparate but interrelated themes, wittingly or unwittingly. This collection is necessitated by experiences and circumstances which never occur in the form of poetry. So, there is a need to poeticize the world that surrounds us. The Crash of Verses could be understood as a journey of self-reinvention and rediscovery. It is a work of art that reports the conversations I had with Nature, with the desert and the sea, with the metaphysical and the invisible, with what sees through my eyes and speaks through my mind.

Each poem in this book has an architecture of its own, and it is a realm of its own that resembles a box of music in that it re-imagines and rethinks life in a new way. The entire collection is dotted with bright spots despite the deep sense of emptiness and loneliness here and there. It’s worth noting that The Crash of Verses connects with the past to make sense of the present. It goes beyond the superficiality of things and digs deep into Man’s inner workings of the mind, acting life as a reckoning mirror that exudes the smell of the soul.

12: What is your favourite piece from The Crash of Verses, and why?

In truth, I don’t think I can privilege one piece over the other ones simply because the question of what a poet’s favourite poem is from his collection sounds like asking a parent who his favourite son or daughter is. I fear the fall into unfairness towards the pieces in The Crash of Verses. But let me tell you that there are a few poems at least that I find the closest to me, namely “Life Goes on,” “Revolution,” “My Heart Was Cut in Two,” “The Genes of Poetry,” “Passing,” “A Descent on Chests,” “In My Country,” and “Poetic Blood”. Personally, it is too hard for me to identify a poem as a number one poem given that I indulged equally in ruminating about each idea and have given much of myself into each piece. Therefore selecting the best poem would be the task of the reader, I guess.

13: Finally, what are you working on now, and what can readers expect from you next?

For the time being, I am working on an anthology with my fellow-poetess Genevieve Ray, who is from Great Britain. She is a very kind and collaborative person.

Our styles are certainly different, but there are common themes in our work. Each one of us deals with them in his way. I hope we won’t change this anthology’s title, The Breath of Distance. I find it classy and very symbolic.

I also have a project in mind with Sinazo Crystal Ngxabani, a poetess from South Africa, and we talked about that a few days ago. We admire each other’s poetries, and we are glad that we represent our continent as two artists, one of whom is from South Africa and the other, i.e. myself is from North Africa (Tunisia). We got the ball rolling, and we started writing new poems for our project and sharing them. It’s a true pleasure and great honour for me to work with rising names in the world of poetry like Genevieve Ray and Zoe (Sinazo Crystal Ngxabani).

The Crash of Verses

Rafik Romdhani

This week welcomes the release of Rafik Romdhani’s second poetry collection, The Crash of Verses. A hearty congratulations to this exemplary wordsmith on his newest release! Working with the author in developing his manuscript to present digital and print editions to the public was a pleasure.

The book is available to purchase via this universal link.
Early reviews have been shared on Goodreads, which have been excellent so far (and well deserved). If you pick up the book, please consider leaving an honest review on your prefered platform. These are incredibly valuable to other readers and independent creators alike.

About Rafik Romdhani

Rafik Romdhani was born to Salah Romdhani and Mbarka Romdhani in Rakada Kairouan, Tunisia in 1981. He grew up on a large farm, where like many Tunisian children, he undertook years of heavy, back-breaking work. He is a poet by nature and an English teacher by profession. He studied English Language and Literature in the Faculty of Arts, University of Kairouan and started teaching in 2006 in Tunisia. From 2012 he taught English in the Sultanate of Oman before returning to work again in Tunisian schools in 2016.

Romdhani began writing poetry in 2000. His influences include Charles Baudelaire, Herbert Zbiginiew, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Seamus Heaney, and Sghaier Aouled Ahmed. His debut collection, Dance of the Metaphors, released in 2021, represents an authentic outpouring of his long-suppressed desire to share his poetry with a wider audience. His second collection, The Crash of Verses, hits global audiences in 2022.

Romdhani’s work tackles themes from his observations of nature, politics, culture, society and humanity. His prose is exquisitely conceived and presented in a form as elegantly classical as it is strikingly modern. In his prose, readers are guaranteed a journey never to be forgotten.

Delevan House

This week, we’re coming out of the stacks! We are letting the other book out of the bag and sharing a COVER REVEAL (that may be subject to slight changes) for a truly exceptional project with my magical mistress of folklore and mayhem, the lady in red, Ruthann Jagge! We are co-authoring a spectacular world for you. As the wheel turns to the darker side of 2022, you are invited to ‘Delevan House’. Here is the sneak peek of the cover art designed by the talented Don Noble of Rooster Republic Press.

Coming in 2022

We are a red-hot fusion that is guaranteed to create major waves; that is a promise!

Watch this space. You won’t want to miss a thing.

Writing to Music

Music is such a profound part of my writing process and always has been. With the imminent release of my novella, Asylum Daughter, I wanted to share the music that formed the soundtrack to the writing of this piece.

Art influences art, and I couldn’t create without music. Every piece I write has its own playlist. Sometimes, those playlists are unexpected and not my taste, but the characters have their styles. I can’t argue. The soundtrack to Asylum Daughter was ‘80s heavy and all good by me.

I can’t wait to hear what you think! And feel free to check out some of the early readers thoughts on Goodreads.

Soundtrack to writing Asylum Daughter:

Tears for Fears – Head Over Heels

Tears For Fears – Shout

Tears For Fears – Mad World

Tears For Fears – Sowing The Seeds Of Love

Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing

The Jam – Down In The Tube Station At Midnight

The Jam – Going Underground

The Jam – Town Called Malice

Depeche Mode – Strange Love

Depeche Mode – World In My Eyes

New Order – Blue Monday

New Order – Age Of Consent

The Cure – Pictures Of You

The Cure – Prayers For Rain

The Cure – The Hanging Garden

The Cure – Lovesong

The Cure – Fascination Street

The Cure – The Same Deep Water As You

The Clash – Rock The Casbah

The Cure – A Forest

Blue Oyster Cult – Shooting Shark

Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Dave Navarro – Hungry

Dave Navarro – Rexall

Dave Navarro – Slow Motion Sickness

Bauhaus – Ziggy Stardust

Bauhaus – She’s At Parties

Bauhaus – Dark Entities

David Bowie – China Girl

Patti Smith – Birdland

Patti Smith – Because The Nighy

Patti Smith – Smells Like Teen Spirit

The Lemonheads – My Drug Buddy

The Undertones – Teenage Kicks

Mortiis- Sins Of Mine

Korn – Coming Undone

Pixies – Here Comes Your Man

Garbage – I Think I’m Paranoid

A Flock of Seagulls – Space Age Live Song

Sonic Youth – Teen Age Riot

Mazzy Star – Into Dust

The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink

Urge Overkill – Girls You’ll Be A Woman Soon

Writing and other such Beasts

A revisit to what’s on the cards for release and writing this year. First up, is the imminent release of my debut horror novella, Asylum Daughter; this psychological horror hits the shelves on May 8th! The date is significant to the story — I wonder if any of my readers will spot it!

See what one early reviewer had to say about the book over on Erica Robyn Reads.

I was also invited to interview with Candace Nola, mother of Uncomfortably Dark for her 2022 Women in Horror feature. We chat about writing, the horror industry, and I share a little insight about influences of the upcoming release. For those who want to have a gander at the chat, head over to Uncomfortably Dark.

Cover for Natasha Sinclair’s ‘Asylum Daughter’. Cover art by Don Noble, Rooster Republic Press.

Next up, I’m working on a collaboration with another fierce horror author, my sister from across the pond, the formidable Ruthann Jagge! This is special to me as we have shared many pages within the indie horror scene, and we seem to have similar draws to particular elements! When I read her debut novella, The New Girls’ Patient, I could’ve been blown over by a feather with the striking similarities in some of her delightful, diabolical plotting! Have you read it yet?

Ruthann Jagge, author of ‘The New Girls’ Patient’. Photo from author’s Instagram @ruthannjaggeauthor

Our blend of horror will be a magical one for readers! I would love to share a teaser, but my lips are sealed for the time being — maybe come Summer, I’ll spray some of that sweet, irresistible elixir your way. I’ve got the feeling that when our novel is done, we’ll be cooking up something else!

Another compilation of horror shorts will launch later this year. Some stories have been published, and some will be brand new to print! Given my chosen title, Incesticide (yes, the title is a homage to a particular grunge band), I’m aiming for the 14th December release! And, Yes, like the title and cover, the date continues the ‘nod’ — 30 years since that album of B-sides. I will include at least one short inspired by one of the album tracks — which one would you like to see? Feel free to drop me a message with your vote!

Cover for Natasha Sinclair’s ‘Incesticide’. Cover art by Natasha Sinclair, ‘Clan Witch’.

I am publishing an exquisite poetry collection, written by Rafik Romdhani, The Crash of Verses. The collection is up for preorder now and releases July 22nd! It’s no secret that I was reluctant to have this much responsibility for another writer’s work, but Rafik is a persuasive wordsmith! And I’m honoured to support another writer in sharing his talent with the world! I’ve read a couple of his pieces over on my YouTube channel. If you fancy getting a feel for his work (which I encourage you to do!), please hop on over to check those out. And, of course, preorder his book!

Cover wrap for Rafik Romdhani’s ‘A Crash of Verses’. Designed by Natasha Sinclair, ‘Clan Witch’.

I have another collaboration scheduled later in the year, with another force of indie horror energy, this one much closer to home, with KJK Publishing’s gaffer, author of Halloween Land (another novella you horror delinquents should read!), Kevin J. Kennedy — more on that when work is underway!

Kevin J. Kennedy, owner of KJK Publishing. Photo from author’s Instagram @kevinjkennedyauthor

Mental Health and Writing

This may get heavy…

Bear with me. This will be a bit of a concoction — I am, at this time, rather raw, discombobulated and emotionally disfigured. I am feeling uncomfortably challenged. Feel free to look away from the car crash while you have time.

You staying?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Let’s dive in.

Admittedly I have not done as much writing as I had hoped by this point in the year. January felt like I was playing catch-up to wrap up a few things from 2021 before my degree course started and I could channel writing energy into larger projects. I have also been heavily working on my novella release — finalising the manuscript(s), getting bonus content nailed, finishing covers, developing marketing materials, contacting reviewers, supplying ARC’s and all the other ‘back-office’ that goes into putting out a quality book. As I’ve shared before, so much unseen work goes into getting a book into the hands of readers, writing and editing is only a part of the machine. All in all, Asylum Daughter is feeling pretty pleased with herself. I’m proud to share this debut horror novella with readers and delighted with the positive feedback from early readers. It takes the edge of the nerves (a smidgen). And, of course, working with Word Refinery clients on their projects.

As part of February’s internationally celebrated ‘Women In Horror Month’, I was invited to interview with D&T Publishing. You can read the feature here.

I also participated in a panel for a podcast series about ‘Hidden Voices in Horror‘. The focus of the episode was on Mental Health in Horror. I had some technical hitches (as if my nerves weren’t already showing)! But the wonderful and inspiring creator and host was professional and understanding. It didn’t hold back the conversation between the host, myself, and the other awesome panellists of independent horror writers who stepped up to the plate. When I can do so, I will share more specific details when this airs and where to access it. I’m not in the position to share much yet. This panel was one in which I was nervous about taking part because of my mental health issues and reservations about talking so publicly about those, but I was keen to be involved because it’s a critical discussion that should be far less hidden.

‘Mental health’ can be a buzz phrase, along with the interlinked ‘wellbeing’ and other such sentiments. I always worry about the lack of substance behind so-called ‘awareness’ and ‘support’. My experience has proven such reservations to be true. As a writer, mental health issues come up regularly in my fiction and non-fiction work. Honest discussions without shame and judgment do not happen enough to break the discomfort of getting to the nitty-gritty about ill-mental health. I feel a profound responsibility, as a mother too, to strip any stigma from ‘real talk’. So here I am going to share some of that with you. 

I’m going to ‘talk’ and feel free if the notion takes you to do the same.

I’m ‘coming out’. Emerging from between the lines, out of my shoddy poetic disguise. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with mental-ill-health — yes, childhood, (very) pre-adolescence. I actively covered it up and felt shame. The shame was most definitely linked to nurture and not nature. However, it has felt like nature in parts of my life due to its early, deep infusion. I like to thank some of that to those good old Christian’ values’ washed in through family and catholic schooling and, in a small part, my nature to consider things literally, which was misunderstood and shut down my voice from early on. The hypocrisy in those organised religious roots was (and is) blaring. Not the best of foundations. That’s my perspective anyway.

I secretly self-harmed (pre-teen — no, it was not cool, and it was not for attention). I hated myself. I had zero self-esteem, I struggled with friendships and social dynamics. I was bullied — inside and outside of the home. Every day was hard. And as a child, when I struggled to sleep, I begged inside my head to whatever’ higher power’ there may be to let me not wake up. I wanted to cease existing. I felt my existence was a mistake. I longed to die. I was a pre-adolescent child. I was entirely alone in my deep depression. Children often get ‘fobbed off’, talked down too — how could a child have such complex feelings? This was the ’80s and ’90s; maybe I should cut parents of that time some slack for that?

On the outside, attitudes towards the complexity of the human experience of all ages may have evolved. But I fear (as a mother) that it is not enough. I left school and home sharp to escape my terrible relationship with my mother, which fed into my ever-dwindling mental health state. I had to escape. I was ridiculed, blamed, threatened, the emotional punchbag. I had no choice but to get a job — any job, and leave. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens and had moved out from the parental home that I sought professional support for my ill-mental health (too ashamed to try to deal with it while I was there when I had little privacy. I was desperately suicidal and had planned it down to the finer details when I sought that help.

It was rough.

I didn’t want to take drugs.

I didn’t want to ‘talk’ to a therapist (I’m not one of those Americans on TV?!) I’m British, even harsher – Scottish! We don’t talk about those things.

I didn’t want to admit my shame.

My weaknesses.

I didn’t want to be seen.

I was desperate.

In short, and let’s be honest, these things are never short in ‘real conversation’ terms — I have Major Depressive Disorder. I’ve also struggled with Post Natal Depression (much later than one would expect) and interlinked Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Of course, mothers who have a history of depression are more at risk of PND. That’s another thing with mental health. Women are often not heard — ‘hormones’ takes much of blame, which does little to support solutions — for many folk with mental health problems beyond that. My lifelong depression has undeniably manifested in physical ways; insomnia, chronic headaches, chronic pain, chronic tiredness, anxiety and panic attacks (which can be separate — being in many ways depression’s opposite) and nausea. Depression does that; it’s an all-consuming beast.

Solutions?

I’ve gone through therapies, tried different medication regimes, mindfulness techniques. I’ve written and utilised art and nature as my therapies for as far back as I could pick up a pencil and make shapes with it and walk on my own two feet. I’m insanely self-aware. I will never be without this illness; I have accepted that and understand when a spiral is snaking in and darkening my days. I’ve been spiralling lately, though it’s easy for me to pinpoint the whys on this one — when triggers are circumstantial, it’s easy. I have coping mechanisms in place — boundaries where they need to be for my survival. I know what helps (sometimes) and (with certainty) what doesn’t. I still struggle. I still require prescription medication. Depression and ‘recovery’ is a selfish illness in many ways. Another thing that brought me ‘shame’ — I was never ‘allowed’ to be ‘selfish’.

This is still uncomfortable.

Is it the same for you?

So, I’m a writer, and such related posts are the prime focus in this space — why am I droning on about my mental health here?

Well, I was inspired by the candidness of my fellow writers in the horror community (which is bloody fantastic) on the podcast recorded recently. And I’ll share a little of how the subject links with some of my published work. A debatable move, and trust me, I am an over-thinker of everything. To compartmentalise or not? Eeeeek! To try to maintain a ‘brand image’ or be authentic and real?

Well, fuck it — this is straight-up raw, and you chose to keep reading.

The first book that I published in 2018, my mental health was a dominant feature during a specific window of time when one of my daughters was born and fighting to live in neonatal intensive care.

That experience taught me more than I ever imagined. It taught me how resilient and strong I am, through family estrangement on top of baby loss and having one (then another) in NICU and going through isolation and a troubled, strained relationship. I also (alone) dealt with the loss of my grandmother. I love her deeply and couldn’t physically be with her due to my circumstances, having a baby in another hospital. Winter has been heavy for so many years now. 

So many highly underestimate the HSP; I, like many, am very thick-skinned. Sensitivity is not necessarily weakness — a common misconception. Nor is my boundaries a ‘cold heart’. My heart is guarded for my protection. The cold reputation couldn’t be further from the truth.

I learned that to be the best mother to my children, I had to respect my boundaries (finally) and provide an example to them as they grow. Part of parenting is sorting out your own shit so you can be right for them. Brushing real stuff under the rug wasn’t a path that I was willing to fall in line with — not good enough for my children.

My honesty, protecting my boundaries has alienated me from the majority of my family. How dare I right? 

Trust me when I say my decisions as far as my family go were the last line when all else had been exhausted. Nothing was changing. I had no choice but to draw my last line of defence.

Mental health isn’t recognised as a thing — I wasn’t physically abused, unlike some, so it was all rosy as far as some saw. Emotional abuse is entirely dismissible. I imagined if someone treated my children as I had been. Suppose they had gone through snippets of it. If they had felt as hopeless, unsupported, unloved. No, it’s not good enough. It’s not easy being the one to break the cycle, but when my priorities were lined up — it was a quick, decisive cut. My inner child needed my support to protect my own brood. 

I’m mostly at peace with that, the alienation — being the ‘bad egg’. I’ve had to be. I know I’ve been the subject of gossip. There’s no love lost in that. I’m happy about the dilution of that blood. Opinions based on little to zero facts are meaningless idle static.

My skin has thickened, and that is no bad thing. It’s survival. Responsive to experience.

Back to that book, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back — a condensed, diluted snapshot of my reality in my early motherhood. I shared it for my children and in camaraderie with other families struggling through that particular trauma — a little to take the edge off the isolation, perhaps for someone who may read it when going through or reflecting on their NICU journey.

The reception of that book was interesting — predominately supportive. I was inundated with messages of support, many from the staff we had been supported by in the unit. However, the flip side was a few nasty reviews, several who hadn’t read the book but jumped on the attack bandwagon to try to discredit me and ‘defend’ what they viewed as an attack on the nursing staff. You spend every day for 106 days in a ward — trust me, mistakes and lapses in care are made. NHS staff are human and make mistakes. My grandmother’s death mentioned earlier was also the victim of such a mistake. My baby, like many other people and loved ones, are on the other side of mistakes and oversights. I was expected to overlook these and paint a rose-tinted picture since my child survived. Gratitude only. My honesty doesn’t negate my gratitude for those that did their work well and saved the lives of my children. To not mention (some) of the bad would’ve been disingenuous to the book and painting that honest view as a NICU parent. The irony of direct attacks (on a mother who had gone through trauma) by care professionals didn’t go unnoticed. This is a reality that I’ve faced in person when I’ve opened up about my mental health struggles — and trust me; it’s been rare that I talk about this thing that is embedded into me, my everyday war. My demon.

The second book was fiction, published later that year; a trio of short stories all with the central theme of one character’s suicide; A Life of Suicides. Fiction, yes. But it’s not gratuitous, exploitative or designed to shock. No, I will admit here, publicly to you despite my deep discomfort. I have sat on that rock, stood on the windowsill, waded into the loch to my knees. I’ve played out those suicides and many more of ‘my own’ in graphic detail. I’ve done it all but the execution.

I am a survivor of suicide — a survivor of myself. In many ways, ‘Rebecca’ is me. I admit it, and I am not ashamed. The subject of suicide is another riddled with shame and ignorant judgement. I’ve heard it all — it’s for the ‘weak’, it’s the ‘easy way out’, a ‘sin’, it’s a ‘coward’s way’ — is it?

Try it?

It is no coward’s way. Nor is it the easy way out or any other ignorant sentiment. Something that cut a little deeper than it should was some reactionary comments from ‘friends’ who couldn’t read such a piece because it would be too uncomfortable, too ‘triggering’. Honestly, being so intimate, this was akin to “You can talk to me” then being shut down cold if ever attempted. Talk, but not about that!

This struck me again as to how ill-equipped many are to genuinely support someone who is deeply depressed or/and suicidal. It’s easy to say ‘reach out’, ‘I’m here for you’, ‘you can talk to me’, until someone does… again, I know this from experience.

A number of my short stories have been published since then. I enjoy the freedom of frolicking in the horror field. Not all of my work is steeped in these notes, but there are crumbs here and there, no doubt. Writers so that we scatter pieces of ourselves — blood spills into each story, even the more extreme, fantastical and unlikely of places, sometimes just a light aroma, but it’s there.

Moving on again to Asylum Daughter. The novella — the events, the characters, the entire story is fiction. But themes sprinkled through this horror are strong elements of mental health, stigmatism, abuse, matriarchal control, and corruption. 

True horror has nothing to do with gratuity and shock value. True horror is born of reality.

It’s March now, and I have some serious writing to do with a vivacious and magical red-headed horror queen. More blood to be spilt, and I have a phenomenal accomplice. And academic assignments to tackle — it turns out that I still love essay writing after all these years. They excite me.

I’m spiralling, but I recognise it, and I’m clinging on for dear life instead of planning my death today. I have to be strong for my family. They need me. And I realise that I have to be strong for myself too, even when I don’t always like her and it feels too selfish — mental health matters.

If you read this all the way… what is wrong with you?

Hahaha! 

No, I actually mean — thank you.

Natasha )O(

— The misunderstood, depressed, arty type. Such a cliche! The Clan Witch.

Summer 2022 Release

Asylum Daughter, my novella is bouncing off the padded walls to escape!

I present the cover wrap! The blurb was written by the utterly enchanting Author of The New Girls’ Patient, Ruthann Jagge, and the cover image is from the wonderful Rooster Republic Press. What do you think?

Print Cover

Thanks to everyone who has supported the project so far and those who have preordered — I love you, big time!

The eBook can be preordered. Paperback and Hardback editions will go live upon release.

Digital Cover

Fancy a little peek inside?

I recorded reading the preface of Asylum Daughter. You can tune in on YouTube. I promise the book is more polished than my awkward speaking!

I was invited to interview with the ever-inspiring D&T Publishing for their Women in Horror Month feature in other writing news. You can check out the interview here.