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Are the biggest lies, the ones you tell yourself?
Maddie Bale is almost happy. After all, she has a nice family, a nice job and a nice dog. There's just one tiny thing that needs fixing - her.
What she really wants is to flick a switch to transform her from doormat to diva, but as her husband, Victor points out she'd need a crash diet and personality transplant for that.
Or would she?
When a glamorous military family moves into the village, Maddie finds her rampant fantasy world turning into reality as the sexy General in the Royal Marines seduces her.
As she lurches from one crisis to another in the increasingly manic quest for her elusive happy ever after, the only friend she can tell her secrets to is her dog. Victor would kill her if he knew.
But in the end, it's her who ends up doing the killing.
The question is: could murder be the making of her?
A darkly comic tale of and obsession
Why I wrote the books
This was supposed to be an ‘About Me’ section, but I sat for hours (OK, days) in front of a blank screen unable to think of anything to say. It was a bit like trying to write a dating profile where eventually you give up and pretend that you love long walks on the beach and sitting by a roaring fire. My editor suggested a ‘why I’m writing the books’ section instead, and so now I’m sitting here like a rabbit caught in headlights, still too scared to write.
Which, now I come to think of it, is exactly why I did begin writing the books.
The core of what I rather pompously like to call my ‘childhood survival adaptation’ (instead of my ‘serious mental disorder’) is that I grew up with no sense of self, no voice of my own and very little sense of worth - the result of having a narcissistic parent. That’s the reason why I created Maddie to sail forth in my stead with a narrative fairly similar to mine. The book begins with Maddie’s rock bottom moment as she faces a judge and jury in a court room. Unlike her I didn’t commit any heinous crime, but my rock bottom happened when I found myself in a field in Yorkshire, curled up in a broken ball wanting to die. Like Maddie, this was also my Eureka moment. I couldn’t go on pretending I was just fine.
Once I’d uncurled myself and dusted myself off I decided my first step to living instead of dying should be pouring all my thoughts out in a journal, or memoir. But having no voice, I couldn’t find the words. So instead I started writing the Maddie books as a less head on way of exorcising my demons.
I was travelling in a camper van and earning a meagre living with translations at the time. And I was doing a lot of research.
Why hadn’t I been able to leave my bullying husband and take my daughter with me? Why did I become so obsessed with other men? Why did I get drunk every single night and self-harm? And most importantly, why did I talk to my long-suffering dog non-stop?
I read books on women who love too much, on sex addiction, alcohol addiction, depression - all the things I thought were wrong with me, and then I graduated to books on things that might be wrong with the controlling men I chose (yes, just like my darling Daddy) and finally I started reading about how adverse childhood experiences have a devastating effect on our mental and physical health.
The more I wrote the more my eyes were opened and the more people I met who were Maddies too. From a Swiss banker in Turkey to a Colombian IT consultant in Prague. I realised I wasn’t alone. I also realised that almost none of these troubled, addicted-to-love women were aware that their core problem was having been emotionally stunted as infants.
‘No, no,’ they would say, ‘my parents are lovely! They never hurt me.’ Well, they might not have been beaten black or blue or locked in a coal cellar, but what few people realise is that it’s not what our parents do but rather what they don’t do that harms us. Emotional neglect is a hidden bruise which spreads inside us throughout our adult lives. And I don’t just mean the Maddie’s of this world, but the Victors too.
I found it interesting that there’s only one powerful and grandiose word for narcissists (`Narcissus, the original handsome hunter of Greek Mythology would be chuffed) yet there’s a whole range of them for the people like me who are parented by them and end up in relationships with them. Empath, co-dependent, enabler, person with Borderline Personality Disorder, echoist, victim… the list goes on. Each one of those labels embodies the same traits: people pleaser, warm-hearted, overly emotional, insecure, lack of sense of self… that list goes on and on too.
But here’s the good news about our real happy-ever-after.
We can heal.
Just as Maddie does (eventually – keep on buying the books dear readers!) and just as I am doing. Writing chapter upon chapter made me realise that like many of us I had been living in denial, keeping reality desperately at bay: drinking too much? Moi? Mean husband? Hey, he’s just protective, he needs me, he loves me, that’s why he’s so jealous, I’d never leave him. Cruel lover? It’s me that makes him act that way! There was nothing I or anyone else could say or do to persuade myself otherwise – until I came crashing down.
These are the books I wish I had read many years ago to shine a chink of light into my darkness. A book I would have picked up with pleasure because it was a hot romance and made me chuckle. Not a book that I’d have dropped like a hot coal because it dealt with nasty stuff like domestic abuse, self-harm and addiction. And if I’d read this book back then, I might have taken a good long look at myself and realised that the only person I really needed to be loved by - ding dong - was myself.
And that’s the reason I’m continuing to write the book series now. If I can get just one person to recognise themselves in Maddie and take the first few tentative steps to self-awareness, I’ll be happy.
Ever after? Maybe.