Writing Matters #5: communication with the dead

Last week I watched a Netflix documentary called ‘Surviving Death’, covering subjects that are extremely hard to believe unless they are experienced first-hand. There were five episodes: Near Death Experience (NDE); Mediumship; Signs From The Dead; Seeing Dead People; Reincarnation. It’s well worth seeing, because they illustrate reasons for belief and scepticism for each subject. I found every episode fascinating, especially as I’ve drawn on elements from all the subjects bar reincarnation in my novels ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ and ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. The hero of my books, Alex Kelburn, is a psychic medium who sees and hears dead people, and he has a Near Death Experience in ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’. I haven’t had a NDE, but I have had signs and I’ve seen and heard some people who have passed over.

For instance, I have heard the voices of my late brother and father. In each case it was very brief, but the few words were deeply meaningful. My brother, who passed in 1984, often communicated with me through mediums – in fact it was Stephen that started me on my quest for information and evidence of the afterlife – but he spoke to me directly just once, and that was about eight or nine years after his death. He said, “I have to go now, sis, but you will know me when you see me again.” I had no idea what that meant, but wondered if he was going to reincarnate, something I didn’t and still don’t understand. Whatever it was, I had no communication from him for many years after that, but then, not long after my father passed, he came back through a medium friend. Even before she’d spoken his name I had known he was there, so it was just as he’d said: he wouldn’t be around for quite a while, but I would recognise him once he returned. I never thought to ask what he’d been doing in the intervening years.

When my father died not long after Stephen’s reappearance, I assumed he had returned to help Dad cross over. (I was later to find out I was wrong about this, but that’s another story!)

Dad passed when his life support was switched off following a catastrophic heart attack. The decision had been mine, as his next of kin, and although most of my heart knew it was what he had wanted me to do, there was a small part that still wondered if I had done the right thing. Only thinking that he and my brother were together again gave me some cheer (I was later to find out this wasn’t true, but that’s another story). Not long after his funeral I was out walking in the fields with my dog, my thoughts churning about his death and desperately wanting to know if he was OK. Then I heard his voice. A man of very few words, I almost laughed out loud that he could impart such an important message to me in just one short statement: “I’m OK, kid”.

So that was hearing dead people. What about seeing them as well?

When I was a very small child I used to see and hear an elderly gentlemen. I only ever saw his head and shoulders, which seemed very high above me as I lay in my cot. He was bearded, had a sparse covering of hair on his head, and he spoke with a deep voice with a distinctive timbre. If I ever knew his name I’ve forgotten it, nor can I remember what he said, but I’m sure I’d recognise that voice if I heard it today, some sixty years later!

I was at a mediumship demonstration in a town about ten miles away from my home. I went alone and, not recognising anyone else in the audience, I took a seat at the front. Within a few minutes two women, who looked like sisters, took the chairs to my right, and the rest of the row soon filled up with excited and expectant people. As you do in these circumstances, we smiled at each other, but there was no time for introductions or chit-chat as the medium came onto the stage as soon as everyone had settled.

From the reactions of those to whom she gave readings she seemed to be doing very well with her accuracy and evidence. She was entertaining too, managing to keep the atmosphere light and happy even when people cried when they got messages. During the interval we all gathered at the back of the hall for some refreshments and I spotted someone I knew. She said she had a spare seat next to her near the back, but as I’d left my coat on the chair at the front and we were being asked to sit down again so the medium could continue, I said I would go back there.

When the medium came to the end of her demonstration she invited questions from the audience. There were many! As I’ve researched mediumship for a few decades I was content to listen, but then I became distracted by a little girl to my left. She was softly humming a tune, skipping and dancing in in front of the two women sitting next to me. She was about eight years old. Her blond hair was long and braided into plaits. She wore a pretty blue dress with ribbons on the sleeves and black patent shoes, the kind of outfit a girl of her age would wear to a party. Because she was in front of the two woman nearest me I assumed that one of them was her mother, and as I hadn’t seen her until then, I thought she had probably been brought along by her dad to collect her mum at the end of the evening.

But something about this little girl didn’t seem right to me. If I looked at her head-on she seemed to fade a little, it was only by looking at her through the corner of my eye that I could make out the detail of what she looked like. I went hot and cold. I felt my skin tighten and tingle. And I knew, I can’t explain how or why, but I absolutely knew that neither the two women nor anyone else in the hall were even aware of her.

I put my hand up to attract the attention of the medium, and when she came to me I nervously said, “I want to tell you that there’s a fair-haired little girl in a party dress dancing around just to my right here. I’m not a medium, but I think perhaps she has a message for one of these two women?”

The woman furthest from me from gasped as the medium turned her gaze to where I was indicating and confirmed that she could see the girl too. The hall went absolutely silent as medium and child had a short conversation that no-one else could hear, then the medium said the little girl’s name and gave many details, including her age, how and when she’d died, that she was wearing her party dress because her birthday had been just two days before. By now the woman was crying, both with sadness and with joy, because this was her daughter and all the details given by the medium were correct. The little girl had come that evening to let her mum know that she was happy, she didn’t feel ill any more and she was being taken care of. It clearly gave the mother great relief, which is what these messages are all about.

I was stunned by the whole event, and it wasn’t until I was back home that I realised how fortunate (or fated) it was that I did not change seats, otherwise that lovely reunion of mother and daughter might not have happened.

~~~~~~

Flight of the Kingfisher: extract

the full cover

1951, Chapter 1

“Come on, sweetheart, up you come.”

Though she weighs next to nothing, and he is as gentle as can be as he gathers her into his arms, she gasps in pain as he eases her up from the pillows. Gently, oh so gently, he persists, moving her little by little until she is sitting on the edge of the bed.

“I’m sorry, love, so sorry.” He brushes away the beads of perspiration on her forehead and upper lip with his fingertips. “I’m trying not to hurt you, but you know I have to get you dressed and downstairs.”

Her clothes are already laid out: underwear, petticoat, tights, her smartest, warmest dress, cardigan, her favourite low-heeled shoes that she’s always worn for going out somewhere a bit special. Tenderly he places each garment on her tiny frame, hiding his distress at how nothing fits her any more. Even the shoes are too big. He brushes her hair, so fine now her scalp shows through the strands of white in narrow lines of shiny pink.

“I think we can do without make up, eh, love? I don’t think I’d do a good job. Smear your lipstick and get more powder over me than on you, most likely. Anyway, you’re beautiful as you are.”

He steps back so she can see him. “And look at me, in my best suit and tie. I’ve even pinned on my medal and my shoes are so shiny you can see your face in them.” He lifts up his right foot, but her gaze doesn’t leave his face. She starts to slip sideways and he has to dash forward to catch her.

“OK, my darling girl, we’re ready as we’ll ever be. Let’s do this.”

Carefully, slowly, acutely aware of the sharpness of her bones and the sweet-sour scent of her skin, he raises her to her feet and wraps the thick quilt from the bed around her. She manages a few shuffling steps and it’s obvious she cannot make it on her own.

Can he carry her? He has to, despite being old and weak, with probably less than half the strength of his youth.

“Well, my love, we’re going to have to do this the hard way. Remember how I carried you over the threshold on our wedding night? I nearly took a tumble and you grabbed hold so tight you almost wrenched my neck. Remember that? I’m sure you do.”

He can’t risk the extra weight of the quilt or the possibility of tripping over a trailing piece of it, so he removes it from her body and tosses it on the bed, still talking all the while to distract her.

“It’s like yesterday to me, our wedding day. You looked like an angel in your white dress, you know. Fair took my breath away. And that little suit you wore afterwards, showing off your tiny waist. A hat, too, I remember, perched on your shining hair, which was all pinned up at the back so fancy. I thought I was a lucky, lucky man that day, and I’ve thought it every day since. Can you put your arms round my neck, love?”

He pauses, making sure the weight of her, slight as it is, is securely balanced against his body. Her head rests on his shoulder, and her feet dangle so that both her shoes slip off and land on the floor with a dull thud, thud.

“I’ll come back up for your shoes, don’t you worry. And the quilt. We must keep you warm, now, mustn’t we.”

He’s at the top of the stairs now, already nervous about how he’s going to make the descent safely.

After each downward step, shaking with effort, he has to pause and steady himself before taking the next one. He almost smiles at the bitter irony of not wanting to trip;

What if she were to survive the fall and he didn’t? It didn’t bear thinking about. He had a huge responsibility here, and he couldn’t afford to mess up.

“I have to be very careful, my love. I know this is uncomfortable for you, but you need to hold tight. Now, then, let’s take it really slow and steady.”

The narrow stairway means he has to turn slightly sideways to get them both down. He can’t hold onto her as well as the banister rail, so must take it one step at a time.

Right foot down.

Shift her weight a little to keep his centre of balance.

Left foot down onto the same tread.

Steady.

Steady.

Pause and breathe.

Down and down, step by step, until he is at last standing on the hall floor. His breathing is laboured and his arms tremble with the effort he’s made, but he has to carry her just a few more steps to the kitchen.

Once there, he lays her down on the thin mattress he’d placed on the floor earlier. Her skin gleams with sweat and has a ghastly yellow hue. He knows bruises are already forming on her arms and thighs where his hands have so firmly held her.

“I’m going back up for the quilt and your shoes, love. I’ll be very quick.”

When he returns, she is shivering and weeping, mewling like a newborn kitten. Quickly he covers her with the quilt and with a clean handkerchief wipes the tears from her sunken cheeks and kisses her forehead. His own face is wet, his throat tight, but he must not waver now. This is something he must do, a promise he must keep.

A promise he wants to keep, with all his heart.

His voice just above a whisper, he tries to reassure her as he once more puts on her shoes and covers her with the thick pink and white quilt. “It’s alright, sweetheart, it’s alright, my love. Very soon now you won’t be suffering, I promise, and everything will be wonderful again. For both of us. Just wonderful.”

Her huge, once-beautiful eyes fasten on his face and his throat catches to see the tears well up again and tremble on her sparse lashes. She has no voice now, hasn’t been able to speak for quite a time, but everything she is thinking shines from those eyes.

“Now, now, don’t you be worrying about me. My mind’s made up, and there’s no changing it. Since the day we met, you’ve meant the whole world to me, and I couldn’t go on without you. You know that, love, I’ve told you often enough. And this way I won’t have to.”

Satisfied that she is warm and as comfortable as he can make her, he bustles round the tiny kitchen, checking for the hundredth time that the sash window is securely taped up. It is so cold, ferny fronds of frost pattern the glass on the inside.

“Just got to do the door now.” His words plume in the freezing air.

From the wooden draining board, he grabs the roll of duct tape and the large knife he’s had since his army days.

In minutes, the door is sealed to his satisfaction, and he puts the tape and knife away in a drawer, wanting the kitchen to be tidy. He has spent the past few days cleaning every nook and cranny of this house to be sure that it is immaculate.

There’s a warning note taped to the outside of the front door and the letter to his sister-in-law, their only living relative, is propped against the clock on the mantelpiece. There’s hardly any money for her, but Mavis can have any of their possessions she wants, including a pearl brooch that he knows she admires. He’s sorry, though, that she will have to deal with the fallout on her own, and that plays on his mind constantly.

She’s been so good, helping out, has Mavis. Many times he’s wanted to confide in her as they sat drinking cups of milky tea after she’d changed the bed linen and done some

baking so he’d have something wholesome to eat. But feeling sure she wouldn’t understand, would certainly try and talk him out of it, he’s kept silent and, he is sure, has put on a good act so she has no suspicions.

Besides, what possible alternative is there to the plan he is determined to carry out this day? He would be nothing without his wife. Nothing. Only war has ever separated them, and on either side of those terrible times they haven’t spent a single night apart. He has no intention now or ever of sleeping without her by his side.

So this is the way it has to be.

He kneels beside her, croons softly, “Just one more job, my darling, and I’ll be right beside you. It’ll be just like we talked about; we’ll simply drift off to sleep. Yes, we’ll go to sleep and then we’ll wake up on the other side, and everything will be wonderful.”

Grabbing two corners of the mattress and trying not jolt her fragile body any more than he has already, he positions her so that her head is a little closer to the open oven door.

He turns all the gas jets full on and quickly burrows under the thick quilt, stretching himself out beside her, his beloved, his dearest friend, his soul mate.

Wraps his arms around her and tries to still her shivering body, even though his own hands are numb with cold.

Plants a gentle kiss on her dry lips.

Puts his lips close to her ear, and whispers. “Breathe deep, my love, and if you get there first, wait for me.”

~~~~~

Want to know more? ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ is available in paperback and kindle formats from Amazon, for all e-readers from Smashwords.com, and to order from all bookshops.

(This is a revised version, the ISBN number is 9780956795410)

Writing Matters #4: turning off life support

In Writing Matters #3 I talked about an experience that inspired me to feature a character with dementia in my novel ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. I wanted to write about something that several psychic mediums had assured me of: that the mind/spirit/soul of someone in the depths of dementia has crossed into the Afterlife, even though physically they are still on this side. I thought it a wonderful way to look at what is a devastating illness and I hope this is conveyed in the story.

In this blog I’d like to tell you about another experience that both inspired and informed me when I was writing this novel. A character is on life support following a heart attack, and when complications arise that show there is no hope of recovery, her family elect to have life support withdrawn. This is the situation I found myself in with my father.

Dad had had several bouts of heart problems, the first happening when he was only in his fifties. In his seventies he had to have a triple bypass, but sadly the wounds caused by the removal of veins from his leg to create one of the bypasses refused to heal. It seemed that he couldn’t recover from the surgery, and a couple of months later I got the dreaded phone call that he had been rushed to hospital with heart failure and was in Intensive Care.

I had a two-hour drive to get there, and as I drove along the motorway I pleaded with the powers that be not to take my dad. Suddenly, like a film running inside my mind, that incredibly I could see and yet still be able to drive safely, I saw Dad sitting in an armchair, connected to oxygen, looking very ill, diminished and defeated. A soft voice asked, “Is this what you want for him?”

I arrived at the hospital, ran full pelt to ICU where a couple of family members who lived nearby were already waiting. I was allowed to see Dad and then asked to go with the others to the family room, where a consultant would come and talk to us.

It was bleak. Without a transplant they could see no hope for Dad, and because of all his health issues, it was unlikely he would even be considered for one. But if he was, finding a suitable donor could take years. Years of being kept alive by machines. I knew how much Dad would hate that. And the decision about what to do for him was solely mine, because I was his next of kin.

My aunt, Dad’s sister, said she could hear Dad saying that he wanted to go, and I knew that he wished it too. So I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and hope never to have to repeat. We were warned it could take hours for Dad to pass away once life support had been removed, but my aunt and I believed he had already crossed over and he was just waiting for us – waiting for me – to allow his physical body to die and so set him free. A nurse came back into the family room just minutes later and told us that Dad had died the instant the ventilator had been switched off.

I knew with every fibre of my being that I had made the right decision, yet I still had moments of doubt and longed for a sign that I had done the right thing. It took four years before Dad came through to a psychic medium to give me that sign! I did not know this medium, but when I saw she was coming from London to give readings at a spiritual centre that I knew well, I didn’t hesitate to make an appointment. She described that day in the hospital so clearly – who was there, what had happened – she could only have been hearing it from Dad. She even said that while we’d been in the family room he’d been shouting at us to let him go! He told me that he deeply regretted that I’d had to make the final decision, and he knew there’d been some argument about it with a third family member, but he was so very grateful that I’d held firm.

That was fourteen years ago. I think about Dad every single day, knowing that he’s close and watching over me and, more importantly, he’s very happy where he is.

~~~

PS: Just after I’d written this and scheduled the date for it to be automatically published from my website, my dad’s sister died. We know she is with Dad, their mum, my brother, and other loved ones who greeted her when she crossed over. No RIP for my dearest aunt, she’ll be kicking up her heels and showing everyone how to party, just as she did when she was here!

Writing Matters #3: the hospice patient

Real life events inspire my writing, and here is an example from ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. Rainstones House in the novel is a fictional place where one wing is a hospice and the other a residential dementia care home. The hospice scenes in the story are from my experiences being a volunteer at a local hospice a few years ago. I occasionally assisted in the Day Patient Unit, but my main role entailed visiting a patient with a life-limiting illness at their own home. I was assigned to a delightful elderly lady, many years a widow, whose life expectancy was about one year due to stomach cancer. When I started visiting her she was a lively person. Always beautifully dressed, with her nails painted, her hair immaculate, she would sit on the sofa and tell me stories about her life and give her opinions on current events. I so enjoyed our conversations and debates on all sorts of topics. Of course she was frail and the physical changes in her in the time I visited were all too apparent, but after a couple of months I began to notice mental changes too. These were so rapid it seemed that one week she was the lady who looked forward to my visits and the next she seemed not to know me at all. She kept asking who I was and if she owed me money. I had been advised to answer her questions each time as if it was the first time she’d asked me, so I would tell her my name, explain that I came every week, and she didn’t owe me any money. She would accept what I said for a short while and then ask me again. And again. And again.

All too soon she was bed-bound, not knowing who and where she was. Clearly she had dementia, and this could have been the result of the cancer reaching her brain. Whatever caused it, the vibrant lady I had known had completely disappeared and I found myself wondering: ‘where has she gone’?

I was not sad when she died for she had told me early on in our acquaintance that she knew her husband was waiting for her to join him, and she was looking forward to dancing with him again. When the hospice contacted me to tell me of her passing, this is how I chose to think of her.

I never forgot her and as the idea for this novel began to take shape in my mind, the experience with her was the trigger-point. Through extensive research I learned of some intriguing and wonderful theories about what might happen to us when the mind no longer functions but the body goes on living, and this is what the story is about.

ISBN 9780956795441

(Previously published as ‘The Waiting Gate’)

Jane, 28th October 2020

Writing Matters #2: the leaf

In my first Writing Matters blog I wrote about how I had taken back the rights to my novel ‘The Waiting Gate’, thoroughly revised it and published under my own imprint with a gorgeous new cover and a new title: ‘Walk in the Afterlight’.

Although I felt I had done the right thing, there was always a little niggle at the back of my mind that maybe I hadn’t. I belong to a fantastic support group, Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and when I posted on the forum about changing the title of a published book I had mixed responses. Some said go for it, some had actually done it and considered it the right thing to do, others said it was a risk. As you know, I decided to go ahead and I’m very proud of the result. But still… that niggle wouldn’t go away. Until I got a little message that convinced me I had done the right thing.

At the beginning of this month I was fortunate enough to visit our Greek home for two weeks, a place of tranquility and beauty where I always find it easy to write. Every morning I set my laptop up on the marble-topped table on the patio, work on and off throughout the day, then pack up for the evening and watch the sun go down (yes, lucky, lucky me!).

On this particular morning, I’d gone into the house to make coffee, and when I came out I noticed a leaf. It is a large patio, but there was just the one leaf. A couple of feet from my chair.

Study that for moment and then look at the cover:

It literally sent shivers up and down my spine.

Jane, 19 October 2020

Writing Matters #1: starting over

It’s a hard decision to rebrand a novel and republish it under a different ISBN, perhaps even rename it, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do for both author and reader. I have so far written and published two novels featuring psychic medium Alex Kelburn, covering life, death, afterlife and in-between: Flight of the Kingfisher and its sequel The Waiting Gate. The first was self-published, the second was not, and the paperbacks were a different size and printed with different fonts. I hadn’t thought about this before signing up with the publisher (yes, I know I should have!), and I just wasn’t happy every time I saw images of the books side by side on social media. I also wasn’t satisfied with one of the plot lines in The Waiting Gate, feeling I could truly improve it and, in fact, refine the whole story if given the chance. As the third novel in the series is now underway, I decided I had to bite the bullet, and get to work making the Alex Kelburn books the best that they could be.

Firstly I took back the rights to The Waiting Gate and engaged talented cover artist Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs to create two themed covers immediately, and a third in due course, and also a new logo for my imprint, The Moon Tiger. I gave Flight of the Kingfisher a thorough edit, then I rewrote that troublesome plot line of The Waiting Gate, thoroughly revised the whole story and retitled it Walk in the Afterlight.

For more information go to author website https://jmerrillforrest.com/

At the time of writing, Flight of the Kingfisher is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon and will be on wider release from 10th October. Walk in the Afterlight is available on kindle and will also be on wider release around mid-October. The third novel, as yet untitled, is in the initial writing stages and I hope to have it ready for publication by January 2021.

Jane, 28 September 2020