How My Husband and Ex Became Friends…

More than half a lifetime ago, midst an unhappy (is there any other kind?) marriage breakup, I fell in love and had a wild wonderful six months; the kind of feel-good, fun, we’ll-be-young-forever type love perfect to make you feel better after months of you-are-never-going-to-be-happy and who-will-ever-love-you. Instead of running off to England with him (he was from Manchester…actually, still is) I got back with my husband for a doomed last attempt and by the time that broke off my man from Manchester was 17,000 km away. I fell in love again…and married…someone else. We’re still together 28 years later (having lived all around the world) and have two children, and a joint novel coming out in October this year, set on the Camino, Two Steps Forward. But I hear a Mancunian accent—“me moom”(= my mum) or “Aye up”—and I am transported back…

One day, some years ago, after the first of two walks from central France to Santiago (which inspired Two Steps Forward), my husband, Graeme, and I were staying in France. It was warm, and we were drinking Beaujolais. Into the email box came “Aye up”.

Over the years, my Mancunian ex and I had kept in touch. I’d seen him a few times when I was in the UK at a conference, and he and his wife took me out to dinner once (and I really liked her). His accent hadn’t changed. But this “Aye up” was bad news—he and his wife had split. He sounded like shite. A year earlier a friend in similar circumstances had killed himself. As well as a novelist, I’m a psychiatrist—recently separated and divorced men in their middle age are at a high risk. Naturally, I suggested he come and cry on my shoulder. Over a Beaujolais or two.

It will surprise you to learn that my husband was not enthusiastic. I mean, it had been twenty-five years or so since they had met, so why the issue? Graeme hadn’t been my suitor at the time, but let’s say they didn’t get on well.

“Wanker” might have been mentioned by one or both back then.

Finally, years later, after a Burgundy or two, Graeme: “Okay. But no longer than three nights.”

Me: “Great. He arrives Friday and leaves Wednesday.”

My ex was still cute and didn’t look like shite at all, and his accent was still capable of making my stomach fill with butterflies…but it had been a long time since I had spent more than two hours with him.

What the hell had he put on the shelf in my fridge? Didn’t he know he needed to exercise regularly? OMG is he actually cooking LAMB’S FRY? Doesn’t he know how much cholesterol is in that?

And worse. He and Graeme were like best buddies. Like as in fishing buddies. Like going to the pub and getting drunk together buddies. And…telling dirty jokes. Really? I didn’t even know Graeme knew…why was he reciting the entire Eskimo Nell? How…or why does anyone ever learn it?

At the end of the five days, he turned to Graeme and said “Thanks mate for taking her off my hands.”

At least he made head way in the grief process.

Meantime, Graeme: “I’ve got a great idea for a book. What if he arrived and his accent had done more than just took you back down memory lane (along with the butterflies)?”

Roll on a couple of years (and a trip with said ex and husband to potential towns in UK for setting, as well as one or two more stints in the French abode) and The Best of Adam Sharp hits the book shelves.

No, I am not Angelina, Adam is not my ex and Charlie is not Graeme. But the house…well let’s say our friends who have stayed there had to go “la la la” while the audio version of the sex scene was running…images a bit too familiar. Of the house I mean. Oh, and it is true that like Angelina, I have sung at a few gigs, and do have a special mug…

 

 

 

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Dangerous to Know launched

I’ve now been away for nearly six weeks–we started in London with my husband’s book launch for The Best of Adam Sharp (required trivia knowledge in honour of the book’s hero…not my strength, though the young people on the table were impressed I knew the Madonna song from a mere couple of bars…). Since then we’ve done edits on Two Steps Forward (and enquiries about it when it was mentioned in the Real Estate section of the Age…while we are away our house is up for sale and the paper did a feature!), I’ve given a paper at the International Women’s Conference in Dublin, walked a few days of the Wicklow Way and now just before we went home, launched Dangerous To Know in London at Luyten’s and Rubenstien’s bookshop in Nottinghill. Thanks to all who came and who are blogging about the book (and all those who buy it, I hope you enjoy!)

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When Love is a Killer

Earlier this week a major newspaper headlined how husbands were more dangerous than terrorists. Given Russia has just essentially legalized domestic violence and the prevalence of gun related deaths in DV in the USA, love being a killer isn’t just a hypothetical. Crime fiction, and thrillers in particular, have headed towards the domestic noir. Here’s some of my thoughts on when love goes wrong – did a live FB of this with #mysterythrillerweek which still goes for another 10 days so check it out.

Stalking:

Stalkers make good villains in psychological thrillers because they can be scary…and sitting in the safety of the arm chair we want to be scared, but know that we (and ultimately our hero/heroine) will survive. Of course some authors will play with this a bit and allow a character you have followed to die, so be careful who you identify with! They also make good villains because they are closer to home than serial killers who overpopulate crime books, certainly with respect to the real number; even if we haven’t been stalked we hear about it in the news, and there’s always some slightly creepy person (next door neighbour, ex-partner, guy who looked at you weirdly in the train) that helps set the imagination off. Also, as many stalkers do know the victim, this takes us into our homes where we can get really, really scared.

There are five types of stalker (classified by Mullen, an Australian Professor of forensic psychiatry).

  1. Rejected partner – occurs after the breakdown of a relationship and the stalker is ambivalent, angry at times but at others wants to try and resume the relationship
  2. Resentful – the stalker perceives some real or imagined mistreatment and seeks revenge
  3. Intimacy seeking—lonely, often mentally ill, includes the “erotomania”
  4. Incompetent—want a date or sexual relationship but are insensitive/ poor social skills
  5. Predatory—less of these than the others in the real world but overrepresented in fiction and these ones end up in prison: the psychopaths, usually male and targeting female who they have not met.

In MEDEA’S CURSE I use a stalker to drive the tension: Natalie King is a forensic psychiatrist, so she knows about the above types and the risks…so when the stalking escalates from notes at her work to notes at her home and then a break in, she knows she’s in trouble…

 

A parent’s love: why do some parents murder?

This is, fortunately, rare, but as a professor of perinatal psychiatry, this is my area of expertise—and worldwide, with the exception of African-American men in the USA between 20-35, the highest risk of being murdered in in the first day then first year of life. My forensic work is largely with women who commit neonaticide (infant in the first 24 hours after birth, usually with a hidden pregnancy) or infanticide (killing your child under the age of twelve months in most jurisdictions that have this law). I also do abuse cases and parenting assessments. A nasty custody case is the basis of the third Natalie book due out early next year, This I Would Kill For.

With respect to mothers who are involved in these cases (fathers and stepfathers become more common perpetrator as the child gets older; in custody battles they may kill themselves and their wives as well), there are a number of factors involved. Originally the infanticide law was put in place for social reasons in the UK when there was no social supports and servant women were unable to care for babies (and were often pregnant against their will to the master of the house) and the infanticide law allowed some mercy (it is treated as manslaughter, and in some places/times no gaol time is done).  Certainly unwanted babies are still left to die in third world countries, but also in the western world – often in neonaticide cases, by poorly educated, young, naïve women fearful of being judged and with poor problem solving abilities.

In infanticide a number of other factors come into play—psychosis, intellectual disability, drug abuse and depression with complex social factors in particular. Rarely a Munchausen’s by proxy may be in play. In MEDEA’S CURSE Natalie in pulled into a missing child case where the man’s previous partner was convicted of infanticide…and I open up the world of complex interplay of relationships and expectations postnatally on women. There is also a case in the background of possible Munchausen’s or personality disorder.

 

Narcissistic Love: when he/she just won’t let you go…because they own you and you owe them…

There’s a lot talked about and written in narcissism of late. Anne Manne explores it in The Life of I. She starts off citing Anders Breivek (the man who committed the massacre in Norway, brilliantly written about by Asne Seierstad in One of Us)—his massacre had nothing to do with love, but he does highlight why narcissists turn up in crime fiction.

All of us have personality features that make us who we are—and even those with narcissistic traits don’t necessarily have a personality disorder. But under stress our worst often comes to the surface—and there can be a lot of stress in relationships, so love can indeed go wrong when someone does have a narcissistic personality disorder. These people feel easily slighted, have a sense of entitlement, and have little regard for others feelings. And narcissistic love is about doing what you are told…and being owned. All is well when you are seen as an extension of them, and do as they desire…but rage, and a dangerous rage, can be the consequence of such acts of treachery as leaving them.

In DANGEROUS TO KNOW I explore this when Natalie tries to help her research supervisor, charming Associate Professor Frank Moreton, deal with the grief of his first wife. She quickly finds herself involved in a family with secrets and the threads of narcissism run deep, back to the patriarchal grandfather.

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Mystery Thriller Week Feb 12th-22nd

mysterythriller

Put this is your diaries! https://mysterythrillerweek.com/contests-and-entertainment/

Is Love a Killer?

February 14th midday-1pm EST (New York) Time

Anne Buist, author of Medea’s Curse and Dangerous to Know, and Forensic Psychiatrist will talk about what happens when love goes wrong…how better to spend Valentine’s Day…

Stalking and obsession: he’s reading you wrong and really thinks telling him to f*k off is you playing hard to get…mad (psychosis?) or just plain bad?

A parent’s love: unconditional and pure, isn’t it? Then why did Medea kill her two sons? Why is there an infanticide law in some countries? Why do men kill themselves and their children…and sometimes their wives too?

Narcissistic Love: when he/she just won’t let you go…because they own you and you owe them…

 

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My Book Highlights and Awards – 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, even if I didn’t want to be reminded of it, FB ensures I am—to music! Not Prince, Cohen’s or Bowie’s, which might have been apt.

My year was busy! As the photos change (please share this says FB…really?) I wonder how I fitted it all in; Dangerous to Know came out in Australia, Medea’s Curse in London. Book events in Australia, UK and Sharjah (and a few others as I tagged along with my husband). Plenty of frequent flyer points…which we’ll use up for the family holiday in France next year (which will also be the time of Dangerous to Know coming out in UK).

At this time of year lots of people are coming out with their top reads for 2016 so I thought I’d do mine, along with some other highs…and lows. I’ve been writing not one but two books (due out 2017) so I haven’t read maybe as many as usual, but still over 100, probably 150, to choose from. So here goes.

Top Book

The impossible question. What criteria? The one I couldn’t put down, can’t forget, had the best writing or best characters or best plot? I have only just realized I’ve not read Tana French’s latest book which is likely to tick all of these boxes (how the hell did I miss it?) – if so it would most likely been that. I may still finish it before the year is over and have to change this post!

So at risk of spending too long thinking about it (and upsetting some friends) I’ll take the easy option—competently written, but its non-fiction: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Kleibold. It is unlikely I’ll ever forget it; some 16 years after Columbine shooting, the mother of one of the teenage perpetrator’s (who also suicides) reviews the toll this horrific crime took. It is thoughtful and considered; she feels responsible though by any rational evaluation of this book, if so, it was by being or trying too hard to be the perfect parent, and certainly not through any malicious intent. She lost her son, I expect her other son will never be the same, and it destroyed her marriage. What she learns about grief and recovery is illuminating, and though I would have liked more about the other teenager involved, and thought some of her conclusions were limited by her mind set (and she avoids tackling the gun issue but is clearly anti-gun and they never had one in the house—I think she had to in order to avoid backlash from the NRA), this is a book that cannot but help make you think.

Nicest Unofficial Review (my book)

Psychiatrist colleague at Christmas party: ‘God, when’s the next book coming out? I need to know what happens!’

Funniest Unofficial Review (Graeme’s book)

KW (friend)…when she got to the sex scene on the audio version of The Best of Adam Sharp she nearly had a car accident as she was trying to put her fingers in her ears. No amount of saying the characters aren’t us seemed to help…

Nicest Author to Have Drink with Overseas

Gavin Extence The Universe Versus Alex Woods. We were in a young person’s type bar that husband Graeme had talked our way into (past security) in Cheltenham and Gavin’s a young person ( Isuspect why they let us in)…he made us feel young again…actually he reminded us of sleep deprivation from young children and how being young isn’t everything! (The cocktails were great too).

Nicest Overseas Author to Have a Drink with in Australia

Midge Raymond My Last Continent. Bonus was she gave us details of a great writer’s retreat off the coast of Washington State. Now we just have to find time to get there!

Hardest Book Event

Sharjah Book Fair…with an Egyptian lawyer and a Pakistani cop…everything in Arabic…and we had run late because the traffic was execrable!!! The question, with genuine bemusement—why would anyone want to read a crime thriller?

And no alcohol to calm me down afterwards…

Most Interesting Book Event

Cheltenham—the strange crossover where I was playing thriller author and psychiatrist at the same time with audience questions. Last time this happened the other author was also a psychiatrist so I had help!

Okay now – bring on 2017!

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Writing Partnerships -a Case of Shared Delusions?

There are lots of couples where both partners are writers—particularly if under the term writer you include journalists and maybe those who write speeches, and academics who write journal papers. It makes sense—you are likely to meet your partner while studying, or at courses. You’ll be attracted by similar interests. Easy.

Except when it’s not.

Seems to work okay for Michael Chabon, American novelist and Pulitzer prize winner whose wife Ayelet Waldman is also a novelist, and who we heard declare him the greatest writer in English alive today. Well in public anyway; I wonder if in private she ever says not up to your usual standard darling to which he replies you’re so right honey bear. It does highlight one thing though—what of one of you is a lot more critically or commercially acclaimed than the other? Marriage/relationships are hard enough; does this add more stress?

[I’ve written before about how when The Rosie Project hit the bestseller list Graeme and I were equally dumbstruck—and thrilled. I was—and remain—delighted for him. To be honest I’d have found it overwhelming. I get a lot of attention as a leading perinatal psychiatrist within my field—but that’s fine. I spent eighteen years of study (and a string on initials) to get there—I know my stuff. In writing? Past perfect? Misplaced modifier? Mmm…bit like I am with stats. Get the general idea but not so great on specifics. And all my learning had been vicariously through Graeme’s courses, reading fiction, reading a couple of brilliant texts (Screenplay and Seven Basic Plots), as well as two courses as evening classes over 10-12 weeks and a one-week master class. Not at my 18 years worth yet.]

Then there is another aspect of writing. Graeme and I physically write together in the same room, talk about characters and plot each of our books together. This is unusual enough. But even more unusual among the many author couples are those that write the same book. Nicci French is the only one I know of (bound to be more)—Nicci Gerrard and husband Sean French. How they manage it I’m not sure; presumably like us with plotting and characters, but does one write the first draft and the other then edit and re-write?

This isn’t what we decided you’d write petal.

Oh I’m so sorry I wasted the last three months perfecting it but I know you’ll do soooo much better?

We’re in dangerous territory…but forge on intrepid writers! We at least are writing alternating chapters. Should be easy, right?

Left Right is due at the publishers in February. How many days is that again? (and I have a third Psychological Thriller due in January…)

So I combined our first two drafts (we had thought originally it would be great to have too separate books on same subject. The publisher thought otherwise. Hard enough to get people to buy one book let alone two…and there’s the other problem of sales comparisons. Mmm.). Graeme was too busy on The Best of Adam Sharp to do much else. I rewrote and re-vitalised it (my chapters) as we re-walked the Camino earlier this year. I got bored waiting and re-wrote This I Would Kill For (thank god—its way better). Graeme then needed space after five editors had finished with him…so I started adding footers (scallop shell), my idea of a cover for Left Right – a photo of one each of our feet either side of a scallop shell—which will I can confidently say will be ignored/removed before it goes anywhere. Then had lots of fun finding quotes for my chapters. Finally…we had a two week intensive writing.

And I mean intensive. Eight to ten hours per day, both of us. On one manuscript. Started at 130,000 words, now down to 100,000. Okay, my chapters are longer…

No, your chapter was meant to flow on from mine and start with the note, remember?

What do you mean you took out the scene where…?

What do you mean it’s boring?

She isn’t miserable!

Actually that’s been it. We’re still in love with the project; well the idea of it anyway. I have the answer now to how it works for us too…psychiatry has a term. Folie à Deux. In this case maybe a folly rather than a joint delusion (though Camino walkers can get a bit evangelical…)

And wine helps.

Final edit now…er of first draft that is. This is about the time we start thinking maybe it isn’t as good as we think… Onwards to make it better…

 

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Cheltenham Festival and Launching Your Book in the UK

 

img_4344img_4382Perhaps it is because I am old enough to remember an Australian society steeped in British tradition (we sang God Save the Queen at school) or because my heritage is from one English grandparent (Whitby) and two Scottish grandparents (and a 3rd who wished she had been born in Scotland but her parents had arrived in Aus before she was entered the world; Glasgow, north of Edinburgh and somewhere west of Culloden among the Scotch distilleries). There is a certain feeling of familiarity with being among Brits, with their tea, toast and marmalade; pale grey-blue sky (Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country jumps to mind); and variation in vowels as you swing up and down and across the country that has you reliving Steptoe and Son one moment, and Upstairs Downstairs the next. It is true that over the years as I have visited and welcomed my escape from London winters, I have seen much change and not always good. It was the punks pink Mohawks that offended me in my twenties (I don’t have an issue with pink Mohawks, just that I was wanting, well, Upstairs Downstairs, to play out before me); later the mix of cultures continued to confuse my childhood version of Britain—but I welcomed the cuisine that came with them, and by the time each culture had been in UK long enough to have their own range of Steptoe and Royal plum vowels, I had changed my view of what Britain was.

But until this visit I had never worked here (I had sadly had to turn down a fabulous offer as I had just had a baby) or had any excuse other than a wistful return to roots reason (scrambling around Scottish graveyards), or a walk across the country to come to the UK. This time I was launching a book—and appearing at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. Not quite a triumphant return of the convict (my grandparents were just escaping the cold anyway) but at the very least a different angle to view the country from.

Legend, my publisher, has a small office on Fleet St. Fleet Street. Forget Monopoly, this is the heart of newspapers, real London. Standing outside, I have St Paul’s in front, the Royal Courts of Justice behind. And an ancient lift that I want to move into – I may have had to had some kind local not shown me how to get out. Legend are enthusiastic and deliver red wine to my launch at the Stoke Newington bookshop that (thank goodness) is not Australian. I read to a small crowd, half come for Jean McNeil’s The Dhow House, also being launched—but they are polite (they’re British!).

Then Graeme and I are interviewed by a British journalist. I’ve read this weeks column and hope that between now and November it hasn’t changed into a tabloid that will give us one of the more lurid headings that British tabloids can do…Clio seemed very nice…

Cheltenham was next, via a night in South Devon with friends. In Cheltenham, with its leafy streets and elegant rows of houses and shops in buildings that have probably stood there for hundreds of years, you expect to bump into the Queen (well, at least someone walking a Corgi) or maybe Rupert Campbell-Black. For those who don’t know, the latter is a Jilly Cooper fictional character and this is horse country (racing specifically) and though he wasn’t there, Jilly was. I hadn’t read one of her books since Riders 25 years or more ago, while attending a three day event in Queensland where my sister was riding—but I remember how it sparked my interest in the jodhpur clad men. Loved their boots.

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Jilly Cooper should be declared a National treasure; about to turn eighty, she has a grandmother smile and a mischievously naughty twinkle in her eye. Both her, and interviewer Clare Balding’s, sense of comic timing was pitch perfect. $1000 a shag? Horses…You didn’t base that character on my father did you? (they are old friends)…did you?

There was too, of course, the intelligentsia in full force (with the plum version of vowels); Ian McEwan with Nutshell… ‘I am upside down inside of a woman…’ and comments about his character being in the unusual position of having his father’s rival’s penis an inch from his face (the story is told from the POV of the fetus and his mother is having an affair). Sebastian Faulks on psychiatry and war…I don’t think he blames us psychiatrists for war but I can’t be sure. Less well known, a heart-warming session about two books written about fathers with autistic children (based on their lives for all the fiction label)—Shtum by Jem Lester (just finished reading it—this is about the hard end of nonverbal incontinent autism, but defines what true parental love really is) and The Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart, a more feel good but equally authentic take on parenting special children. This was chaired by Graeme Simsion (Rosie Project/Effect, The Best of Adam Sharp) who also appeared in his own session (and a late night reading) with Gavin Extence (The Universe versus Alex Woods and others); the later another wonderful take on autism which won loads of prizes. Gavin did the bar…oops I mean reading crawl with us…a brief reprieve from caring for a 2 and 4 year old!

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In the midst of all this my session was a tad more clinical…and I was there more as a Professor of Psychiatry than for Medea’s Curse and Dangerous to Know but I managed to sell a few books anyway…and even if I hadn’t, the magic of walking around Cheltenham, wandering into tents with 1600 others (Jilly Copper’s event!) or the more exclusive Writer’s room with my red arm band…was worth it. The enthusiasm of the attendees, and even the shop assistants seeing my band and asking what I had written and hurriedly writing it down…well the book isn’t dead yet!

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