- Interview with BereavementUK
- Interview with Spirit & Destiny (for the August 2015 issue)
- Daily Mail article
- Smashwords Interview
- Where Writers Write
Interview with BereavementUK
Spirit & Destiny magazine article, August 2015 issue
http://www.bereavement.co.uk/Media-Centre/?p=944 This is a wonderful organisation and I'm very proud to have Flight of the Kingfisher praised on their website.
Daily Mail Article, 15 March 2015
The article appeared online 14 March, and within a week it had been syndicated worldwide and been shared 1,900 times. The Daily Mail received 361 comments before they closed it. The response to the article in the newspaper the following day was also immense, with the Daily Mail receiving hundreds of letters and emails. I received two dozen personal emails, all from people who had experienced bereavement and who had found my story comforting. Here it is:
Who could have imagined that an ordinary china pot could change a life? My husband was in bed and I was just walking in from the bathroom when it happened - that pot flew across the room. And I mean flew: it travelled horizontally for four or five feet, from the windowsill where it normally sat, before crashing onto the bed and emptying its contents over my astonished husband. For a second or two, there was complete silence, neither of us quite believing what we had just seen. The pot had nothing special in it – coins, buttons, safety pins, the usual bedroom detritus – apart from a lock of my hair. Knowing what I know now, that lock of hair might well have been significant, as will become apparent. But at the time, all I wanted to know was how a fairly substantial pot could possibly fly across an ordinary Berkshire bedroom. Our cat couldn’t have knocked it anything like as far, and the windows were closed so there couldn’t have been any outside influence.
It was a complete mystery but one that fit into the series of odd events that been happening ever since we’d moved in a few months earlier. Lights would flicker on or off without either of us being anywhere near a switch and the television would suddenly change channels, despite the fact the remote control was on the coffee table.
But the idea that there was something “spooky” or “other-wordly” going on hadn’t occurred to either of us. We weren’t frightened – neither of us had even mentioned the word “haunted” or “poltergeist”. It was a brand new house; we just assumed there was something wrong with the electrics. Only the flying pot could not be explained.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the reaction when I told my colleagues at work what had happened. There was curiosity, of course, but then one of the secretaries said, “Maybe it’s your brother trying to get your attention. You should come and see my mother, she’s a psychic medium.”
For a moment, I couldn’t quite believe what she had just said. My brother, Stephen, had died only a few months earlier, aged just 30, from bone cancer, leaving behind his lovely childhood sweetheart wife and two small children.
But to go and see a medium? At that time, I was pretty much the last person on Earth who would ever visit one of those. I was 27 years old, a perfectly rational young woman and I had always believed that death was the end, that when you died, that was it – you were gone.
But I do have a really intense curiosity; I like to know why things happen. And, at that moment, there were things happening in our new house that I just couldn’t explain. If a psychic could shed some light on it… well, I was happy to let her have a go.
I was given a warm welcome, and was relieved to find there was absolutely nothing strange about her – no flowing robes or elaborate turbans, no dotty personality like you see so often on television. She was just an ordinary housewife in an ordinary semi.
“Don’t tell me anything,” she said, an instruction that I was happy to comply with. She already knew I’d lost my brother because her daughter had told her so, but when she tried to contact him for me – nothing. Rather unexpectedly, I found myself terribly disappointed by this failure, although impressed by her honesty. But this, it seemed, was not to be the end of the process.
“Come back at the weekend,” she said, “We’re having a séance and there will be a really good medium here.”
I immediately had visions of a circle of people sitting in a darkened room and the medium asking “Is there anybody there?” in a wailing voice. But once again my curiosity was aroused and when I got there the reality couldn’t have been more different. Yes, there was a circle of chairs but the séance – if that is what it was to be – was held in full daylight, with the curtains open. As for the medium, again he wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Bob was a large man in his late 60s, I’d guess, and definitely a bit down at heel. I vividly remember his green cardigan had holes at the elbows.
Without any ceremony, he went around the circle giving messages to people. Most, I learned, were regulars, but I couldn’t believe how mundane the messages seemed to be. I distinctly remember one about liking the “new wallpaper in the bedroom” along with a warning: “Please be careful of the ladder!”
Then, suddenly, it was my turn and the medium confidently announced that he was talking to a relative. But it wasn’t Stephen; it was someone I’d never heard of at all. Again, I was so disappointed and when we adjourned for refreshments I was pretty much convinced the whole thing was nonsense.
And then the medium quietly came up to me and said the words that set my heart pounding. “Your brother is here.”
We headed straight back to the sitting room – apparently so he could concentrate better – and what ensued… well, I couldn’t tell you whether it lasted five minutes or five hours. I’d been so careful not to let slip any information, and the details the medium had – those little intimate things that only members of the same family could know – were extraordinary.
The medium said that my brother was right there in the room. “I can see him,” he said, “He’s standing right next to you.”
What was even more surprising was that very quickly, I started to believe him. The medium knew we looked similar – hardly surprising in siblings – but he also knew there were key differences too. “Your brother says there’s a joke about your hair?”
Indeed, there was. I have straight hair but, at the time, I was spending a fortune having regular perms to make it curly. My brother, by contrast, had curls that drove him so mad that in his younger years he used to sellotape them flat and sleep in a bobble hat. Never worked, of course, but the medium was spot on – we did used to tease each other about our hair.
He also knew that my brother had blue eyes. More impressively, he also knew that I used coloured contact lenses because I thought my naturally brown eyes boring. Only people who knew me well would have known that.
But it’s what he said next that was shattering. “Your brother promised to visit your new house, didn’t he?” I nodded, recalling the last afternoon I ever saw him, when we’d shared a chocolate cake and he’d made that promise. In the end, however, he died on the very day we moved in: my father suddenly turning up to tell us the awful news was one of the worst moments of my life.
“And he has – Stephen has been to your new house – he says who do you think has been moving things around?”
The flickering lights, the television changing channels, the flying china pot… could it really be Stephen? He went on to describe my house – a place that Stephen had never seen when he was alive – in impressive detail, right down to a red plant we had on the dining room window still. He was also able to describe Stephen’s own house, including his chair with a bottle of lemonade always at his elbow and a caged bird behind him. Everything the medium said was right, and there was no way he could know so many details… unless he really was talking to Stephen.
“He’s laughing now. He says he doesn’t need the tweed cap because his hair has grown back.” Right again: Stephen had indeed taken to wearing a tweed cap when he lost his hair during chemotherapy. But I still wasn’t completely convinced.
“Stephen knows you’re struggling with this, so he’s going to tell you a story you don’t know,” said the medium, before outlining the details of a fishing trip Stephen and Dad had been on many years earlier. He was absolutely right about one thing: I’d never heard of it. I didn’t even know they went fishing.
With that the séance ended and I left feeling shaken but strangely exhilarated too.
It took me a while to have that vital conversation with Dad but when I did he confirmed every detail of the fishing trip – how Stephen had fallen in the river and been forced to squelch home covered in mud. Everything the medium had told me was spot on and I remember being so excited that Stephen was in touch with me.
A couple of weeks after the séance – on a complete, spur-of-the-moment whim - I visited a Spiritualist church in Windsor that had been mentioned at the séance. Again, I was struck by its very ordinariness – hymns were sung, prayers were said – until a medium got up and began giving readings to the congregation of about 100.
Despite the fact that no-one knew I was coming – indeed I hadn’t known until that afternoon - she got me almost straight away – knew it was my first visit, that I was sitting at the back. She didn’t say a lot but what she said was spot on. She said the person wanting to get in contact was called Stephen and that he’d died young of cancer. Then, she almost chuckled: “He says he’s surprised that he can communicate with you in this way.”
That sounded like my down to earth, practical brother, a man who loved getting his hands dirty and fixing things. If he was surprised by what was going on, I was astonished.
But the medium hadn’t quite finished. She said he was sad to have left his family and worried about how our parents were coping with their grief, but she also passed on a clear instruction, specifically from him to me. “He wants you to keep looking into what happens after death.”
It was in that church I felt a definite shift in my thinking. My original feelings of doubt had now been replaced by a warm and reassuring belief: Stephen was still with us and he wanted me to keep on investigating.
And that was the beginning of three decades of research and an entirely new phase of my life. I would go on to read everything I could find and interview anyone willing to talk, always looking for more evidence.
Life went on, as it does. I got divorced, remarried and moved to Wiltshire – a place I had no previous connection with but just felt right. But my interest in the subject didn’t wane; it accelerated, despite the fact that by now I had discovered I had no mediumistic ability of my own.
I’d tried, of course – someone as curious as me couldn’t not – but I’d got almost nothing. A flash maybe but never for long enough for me to tell whether it was a genuine psychic phenomenon or my over-vivid imagination. It was disappointing but at least all my hard-earned knowledge provided the perfect starting-off point for a new career writing novels and short stories with a psychic theme.
But if I wanted to keep in touch with Stephen – and, oh, how I did – it would have to be through a medium. Thankfully, just about every time I consulted one – something that initially I did once or twice a year – he came through loud and clear. Although in saying that, I ought to explain that one thing I’d learned by now is that this is not a two-way conversation. A medium can only pass on what your departed loved one wants to tell you, a fact that I would shortly be given the most extraordinarily powerful reminder of.
My father had developed a heart problem in his 50s. In his 70s he had a triple bypass, but he never quite recovered from it. Now, a year after I’d moved to Wiltshire, he was suddenly very ill again and as I rushed to the Ascot hospital where he’d been taken I feared the worst. When I got there, however, he seemed OK but after a short while he was absolutely adamant that he wanted me to leave. I didn’t want to go – I knew he was very ill – but he insisted.
But almost as soon as I got back to Wiltshire, another phone call came. Dad had had another heart attack – a massive one – and had been moved to a bigger hospital in Slough, where he was now in intensive care. As I rushed back down the motorway, I had only one thought in my head: “Please don’t take my Dad, please don’t take my Dad.”
And then suddenly I had something akin to a vision; I saw my father, pale and ill, slumped in an armchair, breathing oxygen from a tank and with tubes connected to the veins in his arms and a voice whispered, “Is this really what you want for your father?”
When I got to the hospital, his partner and his younger sister were already there, but as I was his named next of kin, it was to me that the doctors presented the bleakest of choices. They could keep him alive almost indefinitely on a life support machine but he’d have almost no quality of life. Or, the machine could be switched off and nature allowed to take its course.It’s got to be the worst decision that a person can ever make but I was sure of two things. Having been through my experience with Stephen, I was convinced Dad would be passing over to another life. And I also knew he’d never forgive me for prolonging the misery of his current one. He hated the process of growing old. “No,” I said quietly, “We’ll let him go.”
Many patients live for hours, if not days, after their life support machines are turned off, so we didn’t expect anything to happen quickly. But I wasn’t totally surprised when a lovely nurse came rushing up to say that Dad had stopped breathing the second his machine was turned off. He’d been ready to go.
I tried one or two mediums over the next couple of years but, apart from bland messages of reassurance, got nothing that convinced me they were really speaking to Dad. And then – again acting on a whim - I went to see a medium in Bath. I’d never visited her before and, as has become my habit, I didn’t use my real name or tell her anything about myself. But once we’d done the hellos and settled down in her sitting room, the first thing she said was: “Your dad is right behind you.”
It was such a lovely feeling, knowing that Dad was there.
“He’s telling me about his last day,” she said. “He’s so sorry you had to go through that and says it was heart-breaking watching you.” Even as his physical body had lain dying in that hospital bed, his spirit, his soul – call it what you will – had been in the family room with us, the people who loved him.
“He’s so grateful you were strong enough to make that decision.”
If I had any lingering doubts about there being some sort of after-life, they disappeared that day. I’m still frightened of dying – having watched what my brother and father went through, how could I not be? But death itself holds no fears. I now know for certain that I will see my loved ones again.
Q What is your writing process?
Much as I'd like to be disciplined and work set times to a set amount of words, I can't do it! I write whenever the mood takes me, whether that be every day for five hours or once a week for 20 minutes. For poems I write by hand - very messily - to begin with then type them up so I can see how they look. For stories I go straight to my laptop, and am always grateful for my secretarial training that means I can type as fast as I can think.
Q Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The very first stories were the Janet & John series at primary school, but the ones that made the most impact were Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books.
Q What are your five favorite books, and why?
Impossible to answer! My five favourites of today will be replaced by another five in a matter of weeks.
Q What do you read for pleasure?
I love mystery novels, thrillers, paranormal themes, fantasy, some romance (not too slushy!). I belong to a reading group, so read many books on a mixed range of themes I wouldn't otherwise pick up. I would recommend this to anyone as an excellent way of widening your reading horizons.
Q Describe your desk
My desk is in my little studio that was built specially for me in the garden (you can see pictures on my website, www.jmforrest.com). A lot of the time, though, I use the dining table, which is not ideal as I'm so untidy when I'm working.
Q What's the story behind your latest book?
'Flight of the Kingfisher' has been years and years in the making and I will eventually write about this. For now, I'll just have to say that the story behind it is my belief in the Afterlife.
Q What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Knowing people I will never meet are reading my words and laughing, crying, considering, enjoying.
I have scribbled stories and poems practically since I learned to write, so over the years I have sat on many chairs at many desks and tables. When I was younger I wrote, of course, with pencils and pens, and then, having learned to type when I started work, I progressed through manual and electric typewriters to word processors, desktops and laptop computers. Still though, I craft poems using pen and paper before putting them onto computer, crossing out and re-working as I go, until I end up with writing all over the page in different directions. Stories and novels are typed start to finish, as I feel a real connection from brain to fingers to keyboard when working on prose, and I can type just about as fast as I can think.
I've lived in my current home for nearly 6 years, a place bought as a DIY project. As we were transforming it I was too busy to write much, but when I did, it was usually at the dining table. This meant having to clear everything away so we could have our evening meal there, and putting it all back out again the next day.
Producing Reflections in 2011 meant taking over my husband's office as well as the dining table, as that's where our printer is, and formatting is so much easier on the bigger screen of his PC.
Fed up with me totally usurping his space, George offered to build me a studio in the garden. Well, I could hardly say no, now could I? And here it is, complete with beamed ceiling to match the house:
My own attempts at art hang on the walls, my favourite books and CD's are in the bookcase, and special gifts from special friends are on display. I absolutely love it. To the left as you look in, there are cupboards on the wall, and a long worktop where I can spread out my papers if I'm writing, or work on my creative hobbies of making greetings cards and stained glass Christmas tree decorations.
The writing desk started out against the back wall (not good, according to Feng Shui, as I had my back to the doors), then it was against the side wall. I recently moved it to how it is here, facing the double doors, and hence the lovely view to our garden and beyond.
This is my place. I still sometimes use the office and the dining room, but no-one is allowed into my studio without invitation. Oh, except for the dog. He's welcome everywhere!
It can take me ages to settle down to a writing session, as I am excellent at finding displacement activities: moving furniture around /defrosting the fridge /tidying my wardrobes / playing Spider Patience. But when I do get started, I'll work for many hours at a time, with just a few brief breaks to make tea, coffee, or something to eat. I get right inside the story, to the point where I think it is more real than anything else around me.
When I need to get away from the laptop to think about my characters and plotlines, I take Darcy across the beautiful fields nearby and let Nature help me to focus. I talk out loud, acting out the dialogues to ensure they sound authentic. At first, this alarmed quite a few fellow dog walkers, but I think now they are used to seeing this crazy woman strolling along, gesticulating and chattering away to herself!