Truth No. 13 – The Past can be the Present



Have you ever experienced a visceral reaction to a place, a person, an object? If so, have you considered why? On enquiry you may discover the past has become the present.

“The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” –William Faulkner

A poignant thing about humans is that we seem hardwired to replay the past, especially when our past includes emotional pain or disappointment.

Today I visited a place I have never been to before. I experienced such a violent reaction to this place, in order to safeguard my own wellbeing, I needed to remove myself immediately. This place was a busy small town, not particularly significant, very much like any other town / suburb close to a major city.

You may be wondering why I experienced a visceral reaction. Was it the people? The weather? The environment? The traffic? The noise? The smell? The pollution? Was it fear?

No, none of these things.

It was the past.

For the short time I was there, this place became for me a psychological representation of my childhood town and home. My felt experience whilst in this place, came wholly from my past.

The past was the present.


Consider the complexities of developing characters who experience deep visceral reactions. How deep can you go with your writing? You might discover something about your characters that surprises you. You might even discover something about yourself that surprises you more.



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Truth No. 12 – Alone and Lonely


Most adults have pondered the difference of being alone and being lonely. Simply put being alone is a state of being; loneliness is a state of mind.  But what about children, small children, children under ten? Can they articulate their feelings and are they adept at recognising when they are lonely and if so, are they able to do something about it? A fortunate child will have parents and care givers who will be monitoring for loneliness and will act if they detect their child is lonely.

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time on my own. I suffered emotional neglect as well as being left alone at home, so it was a common place occurrence for me to be alone physically and alone psychologically. I was aware I was on my own a great deal of the time and I was aware it was unusual. With no siblings, a latch-key kid, a mother who was there only for the necessities and an absent father, it was my norm. But what I wasn’t fully aware of, was that I was lonely.  I just felt miserable all the time.

Loneliness impacts children in different ways. For me:

  • I developed a low self-esteem
  • I didn’t take risks. Trying new things and calling attention to myself left me feeling vulnerable and risking rejection
  • I felt disgruntled, disconnected and worried, pulling away from others and feeling more isolated as a result
  • Attempts to get close to my mother as a child and failing plus having no male role model caused me to feel hopeless about developing close relationships later in life


What about now?

Fortunately, I understand the psychological impacts loneliness has had on me during my childhood and later in adult life. Most importantly, I understand the danger of clinging to the feeling of loneliness because that’s what connects me most closely to my mother and because loneliness feels like a private space which is familia and which is shared with my distant and rejecting mother.

I understand the risk that I may cling to social isolation because isolation is what most closely reflects my emotional experience as a child.

With this self awareness I can act in ways that matter to me to avoid the state of loneliness.

I take care of myself.


Now to the writing.

If you have a character who is experiencing loneliness, how can you portray this in your writing? Consider:

  • Physical signs of loneliness most likely to be observed by an outside observer and not the lonely character. For example: slumped shoulders, gazing into space, tears, sadness, a monotone voice, looking down or away …
  • Internal responses to loneliness. For example swelling in throat with the onset of tears, insomnia, fatigue, unrest …
  • Mental responses to loneliness. Your character avoids social interactions, is consumed by anger or sadness, daydreams about connections with people …
  • Cues of long term loneliness. Addictions, unreasonable / unacceptable behaviour, withdrawal from society, suicidal tendencies … there are many more.
  • Suppressed loneliness. Being too friendly, being taken advantage of, committing too quickly in relationships
  • Loneliness is not introversion. Remember not to develop your character in this way.   An introvert is a character who seeks, thrives in, and enjoys their solitude. A lonely character is one who lives in self- or socially-inflicted solitude—who feels that they are not accepted on some level and who desperately wants to escape their isolation by forming strong relationships with others.



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Truth No. 11 – A face that doesn’t fit



Faces. We all have one.

Whilst I am sure you have considered what your characters look like and may have described their eyes, nose, mouth, any distinguishing features, hair and facial expressions (without using cliches and overdoing it of course!), have you thought about how their faces ‘fit in’ with society or how they feel about their face?

Maybe your character suffers from a skin disease like pityriasis rosea, has a cleft lip, no eyebrows because of a condition called madarosis or maybe they have a severely protruding lower jaw.

More interestingly, maybe your character has psychological issues with how they feel about their face and how they fit it with those around them. How would you describe their face then?

All writers know that less is more and strive to allow the reader to form their own impression of how a character looks. As writers, we learn early on not to over describe, but can we enhance our writing and our readers experience by delving a little deeper?

When you introduce and develop your characters for your readers, don’t write the usual about how they look facially, think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective.


I have a face that doesn’t fit … doesn’t fit into the family I was born to and brought up in; my maternal family. I have always felt this, but until today have never told anyone or expressed feelings about it.

I don’t look like my mother at all. I don’t have her eyes, her nose, her ears, her hair. I sometimes catch a glimpse of her in my lips and eyebrows, but that’s all. I feel the same about my maternal grandparents, my aunties, uncles and cousins. I can see family resemblances between them, but not to myself. And I have no siblings to compare myself to. I stand out as looking different from my known family. My face just doesn’t fit in.

When I first met my father at the age of 49 and my paternal family, I could tell straight away I was my father’s daughter and part of his line. Ah, yes, this is where I get my nose, eyes, ears and everything else from.

In my enquiry, I can go deeper; I feel as well as my face not fitting with theirs, I don’t fit in with my maternal family. As a child and young adult, I struggled to relate and to connect to them. I still do and it still hurts, but I am working on that. I was different, I am different. I know why now. I am no longer ashamed.

Would I have felt any differently from how I do today if I’d been part of my paternal family as well?

I will never know.



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Truth No. 10 – I don’t have one


November 6th – My father’s birthday. I know this as fact, but I don’t feel it as truth, because the truth is, I don’t have a father. There is a man still alive in this world who’s sperm fertilised my mother’s egg, but this man is not my father.

I don’t have one.

I grieve for the loss of a father I never had.

I know if I had father, I could have been a more resilient person in my younger years. I believe my own natural resilience, found much later in life, has assisted me in finding the fathering I need. But it took a long time.

A father is supposed to be a girl’s first example of men. She will choose her future romantic partners based upon the man that her father proves to be.

I didn’t have the role model I needed to make good decisions in partners. I bounced from one disastrous relationship to another, each being a painful experience with lasting consequences. It took me a long time to feel comfortable with men.

I haven’t been fortunate to get what I needed from my father as a single source, so I have learnt to adapt and have found fathering from diverse sources; in mentors, spiritual experiences, from looking at my father’s life and his past, who and what shaped him and indirectly from the fathers of my friends and loved ones, from heroic role models I will never meet, from images and art and even from encounters with strangers.


I have been thinking about good father figures in literature. One of my favourite books of recent years is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The relationship between young Liesel and her adopted father, Hans Hubermann, is in many ways the heartbeat of this book.  Mama addresses Liesel only as ‘saumensch’ and is quick to offer a slap across the face, Hans, or Papa, adores Liesel, playing his accordion for her and teaching her to read. Hans Hubermann’s soft strength shines throughout Markus Zusak’s novel as a positive force in the otherwise harrowing and tragic setting of Nazi Germany.


In your writing when you have a character who is a father, consider the father you want him to be. Do you want:

A Bad Dad like Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov

An OK Dad like Franklin Plaskett in Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin or

A Good Dad like The Dad from The Road by Cormac McCarthy.



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