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:
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 coveted photographs and letters from the dead. They’ll be here soon. )O(
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.
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.
Talk about curveball 2022! Another year of madness! There were plans. Big beautiful plans! And while those plans still exist, there has been movement because of those unexpected transitions life has her way of throwing. Personally, I’ve had some family upsets which I predominantly have to deal with and process alone (my partner, of course, has supported as much as one can). I’ve angered, been frustrated, hurt, grieved, run myself in circles, hurt some more, and accepted. Because sometimes that’s all we can do. Accept to find crumbs of peace and carry on. It just takes a little time. It’s a process many are familiar with. It’s been heavy.
Following the acceptances of a triple-pronged hit, I’ve another unexpected ‘bump’, who made himself known in a dream. My kids are excited about another sibling to teach and get up to extra mischief with. Since I have complicated pregnancies, and this one has already given us some wobbles, I’m (again) doing everything within my control to keep this little one inside until late 2022, ideally early 2023. My cervix needs a mantra, and this is the last! The instant physical hit means I’ve been heavily fatigued, and as of that wasn’t enough, I’ve been hammered with mine and the kids’ second bout of Covid of 2022. Because I wasn’t wiped enough by the heavy graft underway in my uterus, I am zapped because my lungs are in battle, and my body feels like it’s been used as a punchbag.
Moving in from all of that, onto the writing front update:
My sassy, immensely talented, and inspiring co-author, Ruthann Jagge and I launched our website, BrazenFolkHorror.com, for our upcoming 2022 release, Delevan House and future projects. Ruthann also released her fantastic solo debut novella in January 2022, The New Girls’ Patient; if you haven’t read her, this is an excellent example of her extraordinary work that should be on any horror fan’s reading list.
I’ve still been editing work for other writers and publishers via Word Refinery and also published poet Rafik Romdhani’s collection, The Crash of Verses.
I am working on my degree course too.
The latest developments has zapped my study schedule. I hope to recover enough to make up for that soon. Deadlines are looming! Anthology wise, unlike in the previous two years, I have not responded to any open calls. My dance card has been packed. I have gratefully received several invite opportunities but unfortunately had to decline several. One that I was able to submit a piece to was with KJK Publishing’s The Horror Collection: Nightmare Edition, which has just been released. It’s the biggest collection of the twelve-book series and worth picking up for a good flavour of many popular independent horror authors currently putting our new materiel.
More still to come for 2022, and 2023 is also beginning to fill up with a couple of accepted invites, continued work with my brazen co-author in crime and at least one (hopefully two) solo release(s). One of which will be a collection of poetry and drabbles, Clan Witch: Found Shadows.
I visualise the tiny holes Secretly infesting, Weakening bones Like woodworm. I’m on one of their backs; A voyeur In inner space. Woodworm cancer Speckling the Skeleton, Spreading spots Eroding this life’s vessel. He says he’s fine When he late Returns, Reluctant— Like a child Pushed towards Their failure, Their mistake, Disgrace. He says he’s fine When he lies to me— Face blue, Faceless Digital alphabets Thrown together, A string For a stranger— Loveless. I keep making Peace with the Distance; Goldfish swimming In circles. The no return Excuses, The rot in My soul, The hole He created With another falsity! It’s ok. I’ve made peace— I lie to myself too. The damnation Of Genetics.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 toAsylum 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?
No, I actually mean — thank you.
— The misunderstood, depressed, arty type. Such a cliche! The Clan Witch.
A couple of writing and publishing projects are currently underway so I thought I would drop a brief update here.
The second ‘Concoction’ anthology is one which is scheduled for release December 2019. This time the prompts are most distinctly Scottish and will feature the same three writers as the first volume; G G Flavell, Natasha Sinclair and Andrew Taylor. As before it is open genre so we should expect a unique eclectic mix of stories. There is potential for a fourth writer to be added to the bill, will just have to see on that one. The initial story submissions have started coming in though and it’s looking pretty good! You can’t beat a good wee Ceilidh!
It is also very likely I will be releasing a mini collection of poetry and drabbles this year. These pieces have already been written, some have been published and some have never seen the light of day beyond the notebook. One again an eclectic little mix of material. Very organic in nature, as with my own style of writing. Themes running through those collected so far include; depression, relationships, politics, sex, freedom, nature and more.