About Me

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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Past Life Regression as a Source of Inspiration

From time to time, especially when I think a post may be of wider interest to my readers, I'll reblog one of my monthly contributions to the Authors Electric blog here. This was a popular post and I know a number of people were intrigued by the idea, even if a few others didn't believe a word of it! So here it is, and you can make up your own minds.

Something very old indeed.
A few years ago, one of my relatives, a Reiki practitioner, came to me with a slightly odd request. She was doing a course in ‘past life regression’ (yes – such things are available) and she needed a case study. How would I feel about being her guinea pig? Other people had said they would be too scared or just didn’t believe in it, but I jumped at the chance.

Which is how I found myself in a warm room, all wrapped up in a blanket, listening to her soothing tones as she took me through a set of preliminary relaxation exercises. This kind of session involves mild hypnosis, so I know it wouldn’t be for everyone. It also, I suppose, involves a willing suspension of disbelief – something writers find remarkably easy. At no point did I ever feel out of control or even particularly sleepy, although I certainly felt relaxed – with occasional lurches into inexplicable discomfort best described as a sense of falling, a momentary dizziness.

What happens next is a strange mixture of the extraordinary and the commonplace. She begins by asking me to look down at my feet. What do I see? That’s easy. I’m barefoot. I’m looking down at two small bare feet and I feel cold. The floor is chilly. So are my feet. What am I wearing? A white nightdress. Where am I? I’m in a room - it’s dark with the light filtering in. A plain room with whitewashed walls. It is my bedroom and there is a cat, fast asleep on the bed. (I don't have a cat, don't particularly like them, so have no idea what brought a cat into my head.) She tells me to go to the door, open it and go out. What do I see? I'm in a long corridor with wood panelling. But I suddenly know that it only looks long because I’m small. I feel small. I'm a child. This is a plain house, with white walls and dark wood and not much furniture and it’s my home. Plain but by no means poor. It smells like home. It’s morning and I can see the sunlight filtering in and I’m pattering down the corridor on cold bare feet.

We move on. I’m outside. It’s summer. There’s a huge, spreading tree. I’m sitting beneath it, playing. I have a doll or dolls. Made of wood, I think, but with clothes. My mother and father are watching me, my father in a long dark green coat. I’m still small. Yorkshire. I think we live in Yorkshire. What does my father do? ‘Does he work?’ my interrogator says. 'What is his work?' I feel faintly confused. No, he doesn’t work. Not work. In fact ‘work’ seems like the wrong word. He sees to things. He just comes and goes. Has things to do. Tells people what to do. There’s land, a farm. My mother sits and sews. There are ladies who come and sew with her, and then I have to play on my own but I don’t mind. Roses. I can smell  roses.

Time shifts. In fact time shifts a bit too quickly. I want the whole thing to go on much longer. I want time and space to explore and contemplate these places and people I can see so clearly. But these sessions seem to have a set length. Maybe they’re afraid we’ll get lost in some hypothetical past! I’m older. What kind of shoes am I wearing? I can see them very clearly: yellow satin, with ribbons and little heels. And they are pinching my feet. They are uncomfortable but beautiful. My dress is very stiff. They stitch me into it I say, casually. I know my full name now. I’m Anne Gilbert, I’m seventeen years old, my mother is dead and I’m still living in this plain stone house with my father. I have no siblings. The house smells of lavender, beeswax and roses. There are a lot of books in the house. But they don’t much interest me. The books are dry, sermons, I say. They are full of sermons and I don’t like them. I can read and write but I don’t want to read them. My voice seems a bit odd to me. Oddly detatched from me if that's possible. If I were to try to pin it down, it would be as though somebody else was speaking. Me and not me at the same time.

I have a friend. That’s why I’m dressed like this, in this dress, in these yellow shoes and this stiff dress. She is richer, lives in a bigger house. I go there to visit her. They are different over there. There are celebrations, visitors. We dance. I love dancing but our house is so quiet. Very quiet. In my head, I can hear the silence of the house. It's not unpleasant at all.

We move on again. I’m twenty and I’m married. I think I must have mentioned my husband’s name but I don’t remember it now. She asks me if I met this man at my friend’s house but I find that quite funny. Oh no, I say. Of course not. He came to our house. He only came to see my father. That’s how we met. He’s a scholar. I distinctly remember the way the word scholar pops into my mind and with it the image of a tall, scholarly husband – not old, but scholarly - with reddish hair. He doesn’t care about his appearance or what he wears, he’s a great ‘thinker’ I say, and I know that I love him dearly. He’s gentle, often distracted. I have to remind him of things. I read to him and I write things down for him. We live ‘in another house’ I say. Not my father’s house but not far away either. Another plain house with a lot of books. I have this image in my head of remote countryside with only a few houses and not much else. We have a little boy. He has red hair too and freckles.

In the next image, I’m forty years old and sad. There's a weight of sadness, of loss. I look down at my feet and see boots. My husband has died and I’m sitting in a chilly stone church – very small, a country church - and I’m sad. For the first time, a date pops into my mind. It is the 17th day of October 1696. (Can that be true? Who knows?) It’s after the funeral. I’ve lost track of time, here in this chilly little church. My son? He’s at sea. In the navy. I miss him. There’s a daughter. Her name is Alice and she’s married. She lives close by. I’m happy for her. But I’m tired. I can feel the sadness and fatigue seeping into me, but it’s not really distressing. I’m too removed from it now. Finally, seven years later, I’m ready to move on. It isn’t painful. I’m just ready to leave. I miss my husband and I’m tired and I slip away. Then, slowly and carefully she brings me back to the reality of the room where I’m still snug under my blanket.

Writing about this now, several years later, I can still see it as vividly as though it really had happened. Especially the wood panelled house, the stiff dress, the yellow shoes. But of course I’m a writer. I can see all kinds of things as clearly as if they had actually happened. That’s what I do. Make things up. And what's more, I often write historical fiction. What both I and my relative found intriguing though, was the very ordinariness of it all – a plain, circumscribed and quietly contented life. I think both of us expected more fireworks. A stronger plot. Fame and fortune. But the reality of day to day living probably was very much as I’ve described for most people, barring war, plague and other terrible eventualities. As you can imagine, I’ve done a bit of googling of Anne Gilbert. I certainly have no Gilbert forebears, to my knowledge. But beyond the fact that Gilbert seems to be a Yorkshire surname, there’s nothing. Nor would you really expect it. 

I still don’t know whether it’s all make believe or not. But I would caution anyone thinking of trying it to make sure the person leading you through it knows what he or she is doing. Even with Anne’s quiet life and death, the images conjured are surprisingly powerful. I could imagine under other circumstances that the whole thing might become a bit distressing, that you could have a ‘bad trip’.

Otherwise, well, whether you believe in it or not, it might give you some interesting ideas for fiction.

The Crusader Rose: one of the oldest in cultivation.
I haven't yet written about Anne Gilbert (not much plot there!) but you can find my Scottish historical novel The Physic Garden, published by Saraband, in paperback and as an eBook on various platforms. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ten Things I Love About my Kindle Paperwhite

I love books old and new.
Last Christmas, I asked Santa for a Kindle Paperwhite. He must have been sitting on the top of the chimney listening, because guess what turned up on Christmas morning? Now that I've been using it for about half a year I've realised that I'm ridiculously attached to it. I love it more than any other gadget in my possession and that includes my smartphone - which I love too, just not quite so much.

Kindle Paperwhite. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1 It began when I opened the box on Christmas Day. I love the design. The whole thing is just so beautiful: sleek, light, intuitive, easy. Light weight is important to me. I get carpel tunnel syndrome from time to time. Big, spiky hardbacks leave me literally in pain. I have to rest them on a cushion if I want to read in bed. If I want to snuggle up with a good book, my Kindle beats everything else for comfort and convenience.

2 I love the cover. With my previous Kindle, I had bought an inexpensive cover elsewhere. It was nice enough but a little clumsy, a bit heavy. But this one came with a dedicated Kindle cover in fuchsia pink. It too is sleek, light and beautiful. When you open it, it wakes the Kindle up. When you close it, it shuts the Kindle down. It slides into my handbag unobtrusively. I carry it on just about every journey. I can read in places not normally reached by books.

3 The lighting. I don't know how they do it, but it isn't backlit like this PC is backlit. It's a soft light, very easy on the eye, and you can adjust it instantly to whatever the background lighting in the room is like. This means that if you wake up in the middle of the night (I'm sporadically insomniac) you can set the lighting to precisely the level that is easiest for you, and read a few chapters without disturbing your partner, without switching on the bedside lamp at all. Children and young people should note that a Kindle allows blissful midnight reading when you are supposed to be asleep.

4 The touch screen. This means I have the ability to change the font including size and spacing with ease. Especially useful for - ahem -  older people.  If I wake up and want to read in the middle of the night, I don't even have to fumble around for my specs. Everything pops up when you want it, and quietly goes away when you don't.

5 The way in which it opens any book I've been reading at the page where I left off reading, even if I'm reading two or three books at the same time - and I often am. The way in which if I happen to fall asleep in the middle of a chapter, it will quietly switch itself off, and as quietly switch itself on again whenever I want to resume.

6  The Cloud. If anything goes wrong, the books are still there. And so far, I've been deeply impressed by the speed of Amazon's customer service. I haven't had anything like this from any other company. Not once. Not ever.

7 The battery life. Very, very long. So long that when the little message pops up saying 'your battery is getting low' it comes as something of a surprise. Then you realise it's been weeks.

8 The speed of download. If I find a book I want to read, I can be reading it within seconds. As a writer, I love the idea of the impulse buy, because I know how very often as a reader, I have thought 'that looks like a good book' but haven't been able to find the time to travel the ten miles to the nearest bookshop, and then I couldn't find a parking space and when I did, it wasn't in stock and then I meant to buy it but life intervened and I forgot. Also, I can find books I didn't even know existed, but typed a few random search terms into Amazon. This is especially true of non-fiction books. Because I do a lot of research for my own fiction, this facility is vital. Invariably, it's a pleasure to use.

9 The ability to 'sideload' other documents, including my own work, onto the Kindle by means of a simple email attachment. For a writer, this facility is invaluable. We're always paranoid about losing versions of our work. Plus reading a document on a Kindle is a very good way of doing some additional editing. Typos and other mistakes fairly leap out at you.

10 Above all, I love, love LOVE the way it isn't connected to anything else except the bookstore. No social media. No Facebook, no Twitter. None of those new Facebook heads that pop up on your phone when you have downloaded the horrible FB message app even when you don't want them. No temptation to comment. Nothing that doesn't relate to the book. The dictionary is there if you want it. You can highlight and make notes. You can find more books. When I'm reading that's all I want. I can imagine that I might at some point acquire a Kindle Fire, but I wouldn't want to be without this simple version. Are you listening Amazon? I love the purity of it. I love the peacefulness of it: me and my Kindle Paperwhite, quiet, comfortable and completely without distractions except for the cup of tea on the bedside table.

It's an affair of the heart.

To read some of my books on your Kindle, follow the links from my website
www.wordarts.co.uk