Interview with BereavementUK; Daily Mail article; Smashwords Interview
Interview with BereavementUK
Further to our book review, we are happy to have interviewed Jane on the background of her book, and her own personal story behind the inspiration and charectors in ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’. Please find our interview below:
Jane, your latest book, ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ had me completely engaged. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the story?
The inspiration came from the events that took place after my brother died in 1984. Stephen had inoperable cancer and we knew when his time was drawing near, but it was still such a shock when he passed away just two months after his 30th birthday. Not long after his funeral strange things started to happen in my brand-new house and when I mentioned this at work a colleague told me her mother was a medium. I went to see her and was introduced to a world I really had known nothing about! (an article covering these events was published in the Daily Mail in March, and is available on my website). This led me to research mediumship and all kinds of paranormal phenomena, including ghosts, psychic senses such as clairvoyance, near death experiences and afterlife beliefs. I met people with the most incredible stories, and was provided with stunning evidence about the continuing existence of my loved ones and so the story began to form in my mind. Following the death of my father from heart disease and the most amazing reading some years later about him from a medium I had never met before, the full story finally came together.
The characters in the book are so believable. I particularly loved Alex and Maisie. Are they based on any one you know?
It is interesting that you particularly loved these two characters, because I know from other comments I’ve received that they seem to stand out. Alex always meets with firm approval, but Maisie divides opinion! She is loosely based on someone I used to work with many years ago, a lovely, funny lady who always seemed to know all the gossip and liked to get involved in everyone’s business. I interviewed a couple of mediums about what it is like for them to be able to do what they do as the basis for Alex, but he pretty much wrote himself. I became so fond of him it was actually quite difficult to put him through this story! Usually, though, I take various character traits from people I know or even meet very briefly and I jumble them up, always taking care to create credible personalities. I am known in the village where I live for talking to myself when out walking my dog, as I work out plotlines and try out conversations between my characters to make sure they are realistic!
Your reflections on the characters’ individual experiences of loss and grief was, I felt, sensitively portrayed. How did you research or manage this?
Thank you for saying that you felt loss and grief are sensitively handled in the book, as this was at the forefront of my mind as I wrote it. If we are fortunate enough not to have first-hand experience of loss, I think we all know someone who has had a bereavement – as I’ve said already, I’ve lost a brother and a father, and I have been a volunteer for the Stroke Association and a hospice so I’ve seen the effects of losing a loved one from many sides. I wanted to show how far-reaching grief is, that there are no shortcuts, everyone reacts differently, and that, rather than ‘get over it’, you have to learn to accommodate it and do the person who has died the honour of living your life well.
I asked some friends to read it when it was still in the draft stage, and when they told me they’d really felt the emotions of my characters, I was satisfied I was getting it right.
In my years of supporting people in bereavement, I have heard mixed reports from people who have visited mediums hoping to hear from loved ones. When you were researching the book did you come across any not so successful stories?
I have met so many mediums in the last 30 years, and in all that time I have only met one who did not impress me (having said that, though, mediums have off-days just like the rest of us). People do write to me after reading ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ for advice about seeing a medium, and my answer is always this: be sure it’s what you want to do – if you have any doubts then please wait; ask around for personal recommendations (you’d be surprised how many people visit mediums but don’t talk about it); research the websites of mediums you are told about and see if they appeal to you; if you decide to make an appointment tell them nothing at all other than your name, and only speak to verify any information you are given. A good medium will not want you to tell them anything anyway, and if the session does not go well then you should not be charged for it. It is always useful to record the reading, and many mediums do this for you anyway. Keep in mind the importance of receiving evidential and verifiable information. Here’s an example: a medium tells you that your gran is proud of you. Is this evidence? No. But if the medium says your gran is laughing as she remembers how she tried to teach you to knit a blue scarf and you were hopeless, then you have a positive message. I was very sceptical in the beginning (and still maintain a healthy stance of scepticism even now), but the first medium I sat with gave me some information about my own family that I actually had to research. When I found it to be true, my whole belief system changed.
Are you a believer in mediums and psychics yourself?
Absolutely, yes. I wish I could be a medium! The evidence I have received since my brother died has been so amazing, and I am fortunate enough to count some wonderful mediums as friends now. I am slowly putting together my own story, which has the working title ‘Reason to Believe’, but I want to get the next novel finished first.
Jane it is rare to come across such a well written fictional book from the perception of the psychic medium. Thank you for sharing it with us. Do you have a new book underway? It would be great to hear more about Alex?!
I get quite exasperated when mediums in films or television programmes are portrayed as eccentric at best and completely mad at worst, so Alex is written as an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift, just like the mediums I have come to know. There will certainly be more about him in the future!
In closing, I’d just like to say this to anyone going through bereavement: allow yourself time to grieve, do it in your own way, and when you feel ready, try to live the rest of your life to make your loved ones proud.
http://www.bereavement.co.uk This is a wonderful organisation and I’m very proud to have Flight of the Kingfisher praised on their website.
Daily Mail Article, 15 March 2015
The article appeared online 14 March, and within a week it had been syndicated worldwide and been shared 1,900 times. The Daily Mail received 361 comments before they closed it. The response to the article in the newspaper the following day was also immense, with the Daily Mail receiving hundreds of letters and emails. I received two dozen personal emails, all from people who had experienced bereavement and who had found my story comforting. Here it is:
Who could have imagined that an ordinary china pot could change a life? My husband was in bed and I was just walking in from the bathroom when it happened – that pot flew across the room. And I mean flew: it travelled horizontally for four or five feet, from the windowsill where it normally sat, before crashing onto the bed and emptying its contents over my astonished husband. For a second or two, there was complete silence, neither of us quite believing what we had just seen. The pot had nothing special in it – coins, buttons, safety pins, the usual bedroom detritus – apart from a lock of my hair. Knowing what I know now, that lock of hair might well have been significant, as will become apparent. But at the time, all I wanted to know was how a fairly substantial pot could possibly fly across an ordinary Berkshire bedroom. Our cat couldn’t have knocked it anything like as far, and the windows were closed so there couldn’t have been any outside influence.
It was a complete mystery but one that fit into the series of odd events that been happening ever since we’d moved in a few months earlier. Lights would flicker on or off without either of us being anywhere near a switch and the television would suddenly change channels, despite the fact the remote control was on the coffee table.
But the idea that there was something “spooky” or “other-wordly” going on hadn’t occurred to either of us. We weren’t frightened – neither of us had even mentioned the word “haunted” or “poltergeist”. It was a brand new house; we just assumed there was something wrong with the electrics. Only the flying pot could not be explained.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the reaction when I told my colleagues at work what had happened. There was curiosity, of course, but then one of the secretaries said, “Maybe it’s your brother trying to get your attention. You should come and see my mother, she’s a psychic medium.”
For a moment, I couldn’t quite believe what she had just said. My brother, Stephen, had died only a few months earlier, aged just 30, from bone cancer, leaving behind his lovely childhood sweetheart wife and two small children.
But to go and see a medium? At that time, I was pretty much the last person on Earth who would ever visit one of those. I was 27 years old, a perfectly rational young woman and I had always believed that death was the end, that when you died, that was it – you were gone.
But I do have a really intense curiosity; I like to know why things happen. And, at that moment, there were things happening in our new house that I just couldn’t explain. If a psychic could shed some light on it… well, I was happy to let her have a go.
I was given a warm welcome, and was relieved to find there was absolutely nothing strange about her – no flowing robes or elaborate turbans, no dotty personality like you see so often on television. She was just an ordinary housewife in an ordinary semi.
“Don’t tell me anything,” she said, an instruction that I was happy to comply with. She already knew I’d lost my brother because her daughter had told her so, but when she tried to contact him for me – nothing. Rather unexpectedly, I found myself terribly disappointed by this failure, although impressed by her honesty. But this, it seemed, was not to be the end of the process.
“Come back at the weekend,” she said, “We’re having a séance and there will be a really good medium here.”
I immediately had visions of a circle of people sitting in a darkened room and the medium asking “Is there anybody there?” in a wailing voice. But once again my curiosity was aroused and when I got there the reality couldn’t have been more different. Yes, there was a circle of chairs but the séance – if that is what it was to be – was held in full daylight, with the curtains open. As for the medium, again he wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Bob was a large man in his late 60s, I’d guess, and definitely a bit down at heel. I vividly remember his green cardigan had holes at the elbows.
Without any ceremony, he went around the circle giving messages to people. Most, I learned, were regulars, but I couldn’t believe how mundane the messages seemed to be. I distinctly remember one about liking the “new wallpaper in the bedroom” along with a warning: “Please be careful of the ladder!”
Then, suddenly, it was my turn and the medium confidently announced that he was talking to a relative. But it wasn’t Stephen; it was someone I’d never heard of at all. Again, I was so disappointed and when we adjourned for refreshments I was pretty much convinced the whole thing was nonsense.
And then the medium quietly came up to me and said the words that set my heart pounding. “Your brother is here.”
We headed straight back to the sitting room – apparently so he could concentrate better – and what ensued… well, I couldn’t tell you whether it lasted five minutes or five hours. I’d been so careful not to let slip any information, and the details the medium had – those little intimate things that only members of the same family could know – were extraordinary.
The medium said that my brother was right there in the room. “I can see him,” he said, “He’s standing right next to you.”
What was even more surprising was that very quickly, I started to believe him. The medium knew we looked similar – hardly surprising in siblings – but he also knew there were key differences too. “Your brother says there’s a joke about your hair?”
Indeed, there was. I have straight hair but, at the time, I was spending a fortune having regular perms to make it curly. My brother, by contrast, had curls that drove him so mad that in his younger years he used to sellotape them flat and sleep in a bobble hat. Never worked, of course, but the medium was spot on – we did used to tease each other about our hair.
He also knew that my brother had blue eyes. More impressively, he also knew that I used coloured contact lenses because I thought my naturally brown eyes boring. Only people who knew me well would have known that.
But it’s what he said next that was shattering. “Your brother promised to visit your new house, didn’t he?” I nodded, recalling the last afternoon I ever saw him, when we’d shared a chocolate cake and he’d made that promise. In the end, however, he died on the very day we moved in: my father suddenly turning up to tell us the awful news was one of the worst moments of my life.
“And he has – Stephen has been to your new house – he says who do you think has been moving things around?”
The flickering lights, the television changing channels, the flying china pot… could it really be Stephen? He went on to describe my house – a place that Stephen had never seen when he was alive – in impressive detail, right down to a red plant we had on the dining room window still. He was also able to describe Stephen’s own house, including his chair with a bottle of lemonade always at his elbow and a caged bird behind him. Everything the medium said was right, and there was no way he could know so many details… unless he really was talking to Stephen.
“He’s laughing now. He says he doesn’t need the tweed cap because his hair has grown back.” Right again: Stephen had indeed taken to wearing a tweed cap when he lost his hair during chemotherapy. But I still wasn’t completely convinced.
“Stephen knows you’re struggling with this, so he’s going to tell you a story you don’t know,” said the medium, before outlining the details of a fishing trip Stephen and Dad had been on many years earlier. He was absolutely right about one thing: I’d never heard of it. I didn’t even know they went fishing.
With that the séance ended and I left feeling shaken but strangely exhilarated too.
It took me a while to have that vital conversation with Dad but when I did he confirmed every detail of the fishing trip – how Stephen had fallen in the river and been forced to squelch home covered in mud. Everything the medium had told me was spot on and I remember being so excited that Stephen was in touch with me.
A couple of weeks after the séance – on a complete, spur-of-the-moment whim – I visited a Spiritualist church in Windsor that had been mentioned at the séance. Again, I was struck by its very ordinariness – hymns were sung, prayers were said – until a medium got up and began giving readings to the congregation of about 100.
Despite the fact that no-one knew I was coming – indeed I hadn’t known until that afternoon – she got me almost straight away – knew it was my first visit, that I was sitting at the back. She didn’t say a lot but what she said was spot on. She said the person wanting to get in contact was called Stephen and that he’d died young of cancer. Then, she almost chuckled: “He says he’s surprised that he can communicate with you in this way.”
That sounded like my down to earth, practical brother, a man who loved getting his hands dirty and fixing things. If he was surprised by what was going on, I was astonished.
But the medium hadn’t quite finished. She said he was sad to have left his family and worried about how our parents were coping with their grief, but she also passed on a clear instruction, specifically from him to me. “He wants you to keep looking into what happens after death.”
It was in that church I felt a definite shift in my thinking. My original feelings of doubt had now been replaced by a warm and reassuring belief: Stephen was still with us and he wanted me to keep on investigating.
And that was the beginning of three decades of research and an entirely new phase of my life. I would go on to read everything I could find and interview anyone willing to talk, always looking for more evidence.
My father had developed a heart problem in his 50s. In his 70s he had a triple bypass, but he never quite recovered from it. Now, a year after I’d moved to Wiltshire, he was suddenly very ill again and as I rushed to the Ascot hospital where he’d been taken I feared the worst. When I got there, however, he seemed OK but after a short while he was absolutely adamant that he wanted me to leave. I didn’t want to go – I knew he was very ill – but he insisted.
But almost as soon as I got back to Wiltshire, another phone call came. Dad had had another heart attack – a massive one – and had been moved to a bigger hospital in Slough, where he was now in intensive care. As I rushed back down the motorway, I had only one thought in my head: “Please don’t take my Dad, please don’t take my Dad.”
And then suddenly I had something akin to a vision; I saw my father, pale and ill, slumped in an armchair, breathing oxygen from a tank and with tubes connected to the veins in his arms and a voice whispered, “Is this really what you want for your father?”
Life went on, as it does. I got divorced, remarried and moved to Wiltshire – a place I had no previous connection with but just felt right. But my interest in the subject didn’t wane; it accelerated, despite the fact that by now I had discovered I had no mediumistic ability of my own.
I’d tried, of course – someone as curious as me couldn’t not – but I’d got almost nothing. A flash maybe but never for long enough for me to tell whether it was a genuine psychic phenomenon or my over-vivid imagination. It was disappointing but at least all my hard-earned knowledge provided the perfect starting-off point for a new career writing novels and short stories with a psychic theme.
But if I wanted to keep in touch with Stephen – and, oh, how I did – it would have to be through a medium. Thankfully, just about every time I consulted one – something that initially I did once or twice a year – he came through loud and clear. Although in saying that, I ought to explain that one thing I’d learned by now is that this is not a two-way conversation. A medium can only pass on what your departed loved one wants to tell you, a fact that I would shortly be given the most extraordinarily powerful reminder of.
When I got to the hospital, his partner and his younger sister were already there, but as I was his named next of kin, it was to me that the doctors presented the bleakest of choices. They could keep him alive almost indefinitely on a life support machine but he’d have almost no quality of life. Or, the machine could be switched off and nature allowed to take its course.
It’s got to be the worst decision that a person can ever make but I was sure of two things. Having been through my experience with Stephen, I was convinced Dad would be passing over to another life. And I also knew he’d never forgive me for prolonging the misery of his current one. He hated the process of growing old. “No,” I said quietly, “We’ll let him go.”
Many patients live for hours, if not days, after their life support machines are turned off, so we didn’t expect anything to happen quickly. But I wasn’t totally surprised when a lovely nurse came rushing up to say that Dad had stopped breathing the second his machine was turned off. He’d been ready to go.
I tried one or two mediums over the next couple of years but, apart from bland messages of reassurance, got nothing that convinced me they were really speaking to Dad. And then – again acting on a whim – I went to see a medium in Bath. I’d never visited her before and, as has become my habit, I didn’t use my real name or tell her anything about myself. But once we’d done the hellos and settled down in her sitting room, the first thing she said was: “Your dad is right behind you.”
It was such a lovely feeling, knowing that Dad was there.
“He’s telling me about his last day,” she said. “He’s so sorry you had to go through that and says it was heart-breaking watching you.” Even as his physical body had lain dying in that hospital bed, his spirit, his soul – call it what you will – had been in the family room with us, the people who loved him.
“He’s so grateful you were strong enough to make that decision.”
If I had any lingering doubts about there being some sort of after-life, they disappeared that day. I’m still frightened of dying – having watched what my brother and father went through, how could I not be? But death itself holds no fears. I now know for certain that I will see my loved ones again.
Q What is your writing process?
Much as I’d like to be disciplined and work set times to a set amount of words, I can’t do it! I write whenever the mood takes me, whether that be every day for five hours or once a week for 20 minutes. For poems I write by hand – very messily – to begin with then type them up so I can see how they look. For stories I go straight to my laptop, and am always grateful for my secretarial training that means I can type as fast as I can think.
Q Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The very first stories were the Janet & John series at primary school, but the ones that made the most impact were Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books.
Q What are your five favorite books, and why?
Impossible to answer! My five favourites of today will be replaced by another five in a matter of weeks.
Q What do you read for pleasure?
I love mystery novels, thrillers, paranormal themes, fantasy, some romance (not too slushy!). I belong to a reading group, so read many books on a mixed range of themes I wouldn’t otherwise pick up. I would recommend this to anyone as an excellent way of widening your reading horizons.
Q Describe your desk
My desk is in my little studio that was built specially for me in the garden (you can see pictures on my website, http://www.jmforrest.com). A lot of the time, though, I use the dining table, which is not ideal as I’m so untidy when I’m working.
Q What’s the story behind your latest book?
‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ has been years and years in the making and I will eventually write about this. For now, I’ll just have to say that the story behind it is my belief in the Afterlife.
Q What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Knowing people I will never meet are reading my words and laughing, crying, considering, enjoying.
Where have you spent most of your childhood?
I was born in Slough, Berkshire and my childhood years were spent in Ascot, Berkshire, not far from the famous racecourse.
What developed your interest in the suspense genre?
At school I loved reading ghost stories, but the death of my older brother really brought my interest in the supernatural to the fore. I have researched paranormal matters, particularly evidence for life after death, for over thirty years.
Did you always want to be a writer? Is this why you chose to study BA (Hons) in English Literature?
I wrote short stories and poetry from a young age and English Composition was my favourite subject in school, though I didn’t ever see myself as a published author. University was a long-held dream of mine, and I went to Royal Holloway, University of London, at age 40, and I did an MA at Bath Spa University ten years later. I went for the sheer joy of studying the subjects as well as to give me the skills I needed to write to a publishable standard.
When did you decide to become a published writer?
About ten years ago, when I felt I had a good story to tell. Before then life got in way somewhat – work, marriage, divorce – but once I was in a settled relationship I found a real desire to write stories that I wanted other people to enjoy.
In life, who has been your biggest inspiration as an author?
I can’t name just one, as I like quite a mix of genres and therefore admire a lot of authors. But the top names for me are Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Brenda Jagger, Mervyn Peake, John Wyndham, Anne McCafferey
How has holding a MA in Creative Writing helped you in developing a writing career?
The biggest lesson was Point of View, as I had previously tended to slip into different POV’s in the same chapter, which is confusing for the reader. Also taking time to work out the plot lines so that the story is coherent in every way – readers are very quick to spot to an erroneous timeline!
Who inspired the character of Alex Kelburn in “Walk in the Afterlight”?
My lovely Alex, who first appears in ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’, is a mix of psychic mediums both famous (Colin Fry, Tony Stockman, John Edward) and mediums who have helped with my research and subsequently become personal friends
Who designs your book cover? Do you believe a book cover plays an important role in the selling process?
Covers certainly do play an important role in the selling role, and they need to successfully convey the genre of the book. My covers are designed by the very talented Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs, and she has so far created the covers for my new edition of Flight of the Kingfisher and its follow-on Walk in the Afterlight, and she will also create the cover for the third Alex Kelburn novel which I’m currently working on. She is also designing the cover for my new edition of Orders From Above, and will do the follow-on, Orders From Below, which I hope to publish at the end of next year.
What is one, often overlooked piece of advice that is crucial to being a good writer?
Once your brilliant book is written and has been proof read and edited by you and all of your friends, you still need to have it copy edited and proof read by a professional.
Do you believe in the afterlife? If so, what do you think it will be like?
Yes I do believe in the afterlife! As I mentioned before, I became interested in this subject after the death of my brother in 1984. Strange things started happening in my house shortly after his passing, and a friend recommended I contact a medium. I did so, my brother came through with information that only he and I knew, and from then the most amazing things happened. With a little bit of creative licence, what I imagine the afterlife is like is described in my Alex Kelburn novels.
What’s one thing you will put off today that you know you shouldn’t?
I’m an excellent procrastinator and will put off several things! I don’t have a writing routine, I work as and when the mood takes me, but when I’m about to start a new story I’ll put off starting it and give the house a thorough clean before I even write the first sentence.
Who was the first reader that reached out to you? What did they say and how did you respond?
One deeply personal and touching message came after I’d published the first version of Flight of the Kingfisher. This person wrote that they had been so touched by the story they had hunted for six months to find the perfect model of a kingfisher to have in their home to remind them there is light in the darkness. When I read this I almost cried, just to know that something I had written could touch someone so deeply.
What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?
I’m a volunteer Boarder for Guide Dogs for the Blind, which means I usually have my own pet dog and a puppy in training or a working Guide Dog on holiday lying at my feet when I’m writing.