Today, I’m very happy to welcome Nottingham’s very own Niki Valentine to my blog as she tours the web in the run-up to the Kindle pre-release of her second supernatural novel, Possessed. Her first The Haunted came out last year (and she is of course, as Nicola Monaghan, also the award winning author of The Killing Jar, Starfishing and The Okinawa Dragon)
Although our latest novels are quite different, Niki and I discovered several disconcerting coincidences in our stories when we were both first writing our ghosts (the draw of a remote Scottish setting, lochs and loch houses and I don’t think we even mentioned unreliable narrators… Spooky!)
My supernatural leanings
I’m a logical person in many ways. I did a degree in maths, for instance, and have plenty of sympathy for the atheist cause. I certainly don’t believe in the God I was brought up with, or any similar deity. But I do find the mysteries of life fascinating, and I’m prone to agree with Hamlet when he suggests all the answers aren’t necessarily in Horatio’s science books. I think my fascination with the supernatural comes from some formative experiences to do with death and loss and family.
A lot of the members of my family are natural storytellers and boy do they have stories to tell. Like the time, months after my granddad died, when my mum was hanging out the washing and heard his voice. Shaken, she came inside the house to find a police officer at the front door, wanting to speak to him about a car tax summons. My mamma1 gave the bloke a shovel and told him to get up to Bulwell cemetery and dig him up yersen!
The strangest tale, though, is about my Uncle David, my mum’s younger brother. He had a hole in his heart and a genetic condition called Marfan’s syndrome, which has blighted our family and killed too many too young. David went into hospital in 1970, at the age of 17. He’d been in and out of the place his whole life and so his family didn’t expect this to be the last time. But he told my mum that he was going to die. He said he’d been told this, by men in white, and that he’d also been told he could ‘move on’ or come back here again and have another chance.
David died, like he’d said he was going to. My mum worked as a nurse a few years later and heard other people say similar things days before death. She was told by the ward sister that it was common in dying people, and was a hallucination. But she never believed that. She tells me that she never had a spiritual experience before her brother died but, when he did, everything changed, as if something was switched on inside her. It changed the instant he died.
My mum woke up at the moment her brother died and she knew he had gone. My dad woke up too and they talked about it. He told her not to worry. David was a ‘big, strong lad.’ He noticed that the alarm clock had stopped and worried about how he’d get up for work the next day. But the next morning, the alarm went off, as if nothing had happened. And my mum went to see her family, who confirmed what she already knew; David had died and it had happened at the exact time she woke up in the night.
This was May 1970 and I was born in March the next year. Unsurprisingly, the loss of her brother and, subsequently, of her dad too, coloured my early life with my mum. I wouldn’t say it put a shadow over it, because it wasn’t like that, but it I think that the experiences she’d had and the stories she told about it were what fuelled my fascination with the otherworldly. And it had a huge impact on my philosophy and beliefs.
There’s another aspect to the story. The one where I grew up remembering trips in a lorry with my granddad that I could never have taken. I was only eighteen months old when he died, and he’d stopped driving a long time before. But, in my memory, these outings were vivid, and I was big enough to look into the glass counter at a transport café. Other things, like telling everyone I’d grown up on Huntingdon Street, where my mum’s family had lived, and being convinced of it. Memories of a school playground on a rooftop, somewhere near the IBM building in town. Pointing towards Nottingham’s Victoria Centre when giving directions and telling people to head up past the ‘station’, a place demolished four years before I was born. I can’t explain any of this but I can promise you that it’s true.
The supernatural, to me, is a subtle thing. I think we all experience it, in our own ways, even if we choose to reject it. My life, certainly, has been filled with synchronicity and strange goings on. I had a close friend at University and we knew so clearly what each other was thinking, so precisely, that we very often didn’t need to speak. A friend of ours, a real sceptic, even he came to call us ‘telepathetic’.
There are so many remarkable things I could tell you, which this margin is too small to contain2. Real paranormal experiences are never as blatant as they’re portrayed in books and films. They play out quietly, and leave room for doubt. For this reason, I’ve always loved the classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, where you are never quite sure if it is a real ghost, or if something psychological is going on. It is this territory that I find interesting and where my own spooky stories exist. I always give an alternative explanation. I suppose you could call it realist supernatural fiction, to satisfy the sceptic and the believer inside all of us.
1Mamma is pronounced mommar, and is a Nottingham word for ‘grandma’
2Warning: geeky mathematical reference here.
Thank you Niki!!!