Updated: Dec 6, 2020
The narrative was beginning to take shape, at least the beginning of a structure was in my head. I had started writing by hand on paper, in the old-fashioned way, and then decided that that was ridiculous and opened up a Word document and began tapping. It was very loose writing and it certainly had no structure at this point at all, but I kept on writing as the story began to unfold. There were some days when I had a lot of things in my head and many ideas crowded in simultaneously, when I felt very imaginative. Sometimes, I would lie on the sofa and dictate into my iPhone which was really useful because from what was a dreadful jumble of thoughts became vastly more intelligible once typed and moved about. A lot of sifting out of the better ideas from the bad ones in that jumble occupied much of my time.
And then I began to think more deeply about the man who was doing these terrible things to her. Why was he doing them? What had happened to him to make him such a perverted human being that he could inflict such hurt on another person?
I decided that since something terrible had happened to this man to make him into the monster he had become, that he would be a soldier. He was suffering from severe PTSD and this was due to his combat trauma. I investigated where I could find a town in England that also was home to an army garrison. Although it is never named in the book, the city in which I based the story is Colchester in Essex. It is home to the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Paratroop Regiment. I decided to make him a captain because I wanted his age to be around 35. And then I began to fill in his background. He is called Captain Henry Peters.
At the time of the story, Peters is back in England after a tour in Afghanistan. PTSD has caused him to become quite aggressive with the men in his charge and he is suffering a lot of the typical symptoms of PTSD, such as blackouts, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and hyper-vigilance. He uses alcohol to numb himself as he repeatedly relives one particular incident in which two of his men were killed by an IED. He is suffering survivor’s guilt. One of the men killed had two small children. Peters has always been a loner and he does not have a social support network. He has alienated his girlfriends one by one. He does not treat them well and they leave him. He has been violent with at least one. This violence is beginning to escalate and to become apparent at work. He is losing his control over his actions as more impulsive behaviour surfaces. He lives on his own, not far from the barracks. He keeps to himself. A ticking time bomb...
I began to paint Peter’s background. He has Complex PTSD resulting from repeated and prolonged trauma in childhood. Born in Dublin, Ireland, his father left when he was aged three and his mother died when he was five. He has serious abandonment issues and from the age of five didn’t receive any love or attention. We now know that love and attention is absolutely vital for a child to develop in the best way emotionally and psychologically.
The orphanage in which five-year-old Henry was placed was part of an austere network of childres’ homes, industrial schools, reformatories and hostels. Run by the Catholic Church from 1930’s til the 1990’s they provided a service to the state because they had the money to run the institutions. However, within these institutions resided a deep and dark menace. The very people charged with the care of small, defenceless, innocent children who had no one else to care for them, were the nuns and priests of the Catholic church. As we know from the testimony of those who resided in these institutions, some of these preyed upon the children in the most heinous ways. A blind eye was turned by the church and if complaints were made, the offending person was simply moved to another institution, where he could reoffend with impunity. The ‘Ryan Report’ (which came out in 2009 after 9 years of work by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse ) found that violence, “molestation and rape were endemic in boys’ facilities”. 1
Henry Peters eventually ran away to live on the streets in London and do whatever was necessary to earn a bit of money. A little later he joined the British Army and he found that this was a good match for him. It was an authoritative and structured institution and as he had had experience of only just such living, he found it easy to settle into army life. He became an excellent soldier.
The monster does not talk much. The reader doesn’t see inside his head until he is in counselling sessions ordered by his CEO who has witnessed his changing behaviour towards his men. At first I didn’t want Peters to have a point of view in the book because this story was all about Chloe’s experience and terror. However, after a while I learnt that I couldn’t leave him out - it was important to know why someone like Peters, was now damaged. Why was he doing what he did? What were his demons?
Much of the drama in the book is the tension between Chloe and Peters. What happens between the two of them and the impact on Chloe. Alongside her increasing degradation runs the parallel disintegration of Peters’ decision-making facilities and his rapid descent into the abyss, due to the trauma visited upon him as well as the PTSD. I found this the most interesting part of the story – the dreadful consequences of one person’s pain due to trauma and violence, upon another person. One perpetrator, but two victims.
In some ways I feel very sympathetic towards Peters. So much that was horrendous had been done to him as a child. He had missed out on so much that many of us take for granted – to live through a happy childhood where we are loved and cared for, nutured and encouraged. The small boy, Henry, had been sodomised, neglected and deprived of love and attachment to someone who would care for him. His soul had died in that cold, evil boys’ home in which he had spent his childhood and where he had been abused in every way. That little boy had no protection, no one to help him grow, no one to encourage him. Instead he was brutalised as were the other boys around him. His basic human right to grow up with his needs met, was denied him. Not only that, he was expected to cope with grown men who abused their position of power over him. It is so dreadfully sad to think about, let alone to have lived though. The more I read about survivors of institutionalised abuse in the Catholic church, the more horrified I became. Yet, simultaneously, I was filled with admiration at the immense resilience, courage and stoicism of these children whose personal stories left me aghast and appalled.
I continued to research trauma though funnily enough, it was only after I had written the story that I bought a number of books including those written by Jaycee Dugard, Colleen Stan and Natasha Kampusch - three women held captive and abused and whose stories made headlines around the world.
I found that there were a number of common threads running through these real life stories. The similarities were to do with the ways in which both the captivity and the interactions with their abductors affected the women. And there were similarities evident in the personalities and psyches of the people who had abducted them and so dreadfully misused them. And while these stories are tough to read, these common threads are most interesting from an academic point of view. Those experiencing the prolonged trauma and abuse were left with the same impactful difficulties to overcome as did the victims of abuse in institutions as examined by the Ryan report around the world.
The counsellor that Henry Peters sees is called Sarah. She offers him strategies for trying to deal with his symptoms, but he is dismissive. He feels that things have gone too far, and he has irreparably jeopardised his career in the army. His life has lost purpose. So as his symptoms escalate, he becomes increasingly desperate and takes risks that lead to Chloe’s ability to come up with a very dangerous plan to escape.
I needed to pad the story out with other characters: a female detective in charge of the major incident team dealing with Chloe’s abduction, an eccentric elderly neighbour living next door to Henry Peters called Muriel Parks. She is very smart and very quirky. I enjoyed writing about her. Later on there is another counsellor who starts to help Chloe by working with her to overcome the trauma she has suffered which will be a long and difficult journey.
The climax of the story and the conclusion posed a few problems with practical details and there were lots of strings to gather together at the end. The narrative doesn’t offer a comforting ending. All the tips about writing a novel that I have read say that this is not a good way to end a novel as many readers will feel let down, disappointed. But as I have explained, this story was meant to be a cathartic exercise and only for my eyes. As with real life, the ending is less than satisfactory and there are many possibilities as to how things will turn out. Mirroring reality...