Cassandra Parkin on Belief and Fiction

Article published on October 16, 2017.

Here are six things that have happened to me, which cannot possibly be true, and yet they absolutely are:

  1. I once saw a stage psychic make contact with the dead relatives of dozens of people, and share secrets about them that only their relatives could have known.
  2. My parents’ old house had a ghost – an old lady who walked up the path and reached for the place where the doorbell used to be.
  3. I’m regularly visited by strange figures who stand enigmatically by my bed at night and scare the living shit out of me.
  4. When I was sixteen and our phone developed an intermittent fault, the telephone engineer diagnosed the fault as “a poltergeist”, and asked my father if there was a teenage girl in the house.
  5. When I write, I’m not actually inventing anything. Instead I’m discovering a story that has always existed, and my task as a writer is to record that story, as accurately as I can.
  6. I once saw a family group of panthers – a lovely sleek Mama Panther and four or five cubs – in a field by the M5 in broad daylight.

 

Ask a writer what we think’s going on when we write, and most of us offer a description that sounds nothing like writing. We’re fishing in a pond, hauling the story up through murky water. Our characters stand at our shoulders, controlling the pen. We’re driving without headlights at night. We’re doing jigsaws in the dark. We’re unwrapping a parcel. We’re digging for treasure. We’re haunted, or maybe even possessed.

What we’ll never say to you, though, is that we’re simply making stuff up using the power of the pink squishy stuff between our ears, because that’s definitely not what’s happening here. Although obviously, it is. But it isn’t. But it is! But…it isn’t.

The Winter’s Child starts with Susannah Harper – a woman tormented by the absence of her runaway son Joel, missing for five years – visiting a Hull Fair fortune-teller. Her head knows how the trick works. She’s learned the hard way about cold-reading, about Barnum statements, about getting the subject to make the connections for you. But her heart won’t listen. This might work, it whispers. This might be the way you find him.

As she begins to listen to her heart, she finds herself haunted – by visions, by dreams, by all the truths she’s been trying to hide away from. None of it’s possible. But still it happens. And of course, there’s always the other, even more astounding possibility, which is that everything she experiences is being created inside her head.

That’s where writing happens for me, I think – in that impossible place between knowing I’m making it all up and feeling as if it’s real. To create an illusion to convince our readers, we have to fool ourselves first. We’re making it all up…but it’s also real.

And besides, I really did see that family of panthers.

The Winter’s Child by Cassandra Parkin is published on 16th October by Legend Press and is available online and in bookshops.

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