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Need to talk? Get yourself a “Madeline”.

Shirley Valentine had 'Wall', and I have 'Madeline '...

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‘Ooh, how exciting!’ people exclaim when I tell them what I do for a living. I’m not sure why the title of crime writer does that particularly, I can only assume way too many people fantasise about ‘offing’ someone, their boss perhaps. Then, after the initial ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’, the next question invariably is, ‘That sounds like fun, how do you knit it all together so cleverly?”

That’s easy: by losing sleep at night.

Writing books for a living is a dream come true, but like many careers, it has its drawbacks. When I’ve reached the halfway point of creating a story, invariably that’s when my brain goes into overdrive and pretty much stays there until the book is finished. That can take several weeks. Figuring out where fictitious characters interact with each other or inventing plausible reasons for their actions is like having a room full of folks all jabbering on at once, but inside your head. ‘You’ve missed me out,’ one will scream; ‘But I’ve no reason to do that,’ shouts another, and that’s when I wish my skull had a flip-top lid to lift everyone out and lock them quietly in the safe for a few hours. But if I don’t listen to them, my editor or, worse, a reader will be quick to notify me that something hasn’t been resolved satisfactorily.

Let’s get back to sleep, shall we?

If only I could…

Enter reason number two. At 54, a good night’s sleep is one where I only wake up once during the night, and I couldn’t tell you when that last happened. Perimenopause has my hormones depleting faster than a river flows, which adds to the joy of tossing and turning in the furnace that is now my bed.

Nobody ever mentions this stage in a woman’s life. Once puberty has finished, we’re out on our own to figure out the palpitations, stiff joints, raging hot flushes and other delightful body changes, largely by ourselves. Waking six or seven times while a ‘hotty’ takes over quickly gets tiring, literally, and when sleep finally does come, the alarm goes off. Is there any wonder coffee and carbs are the first things we grab the next day? Even belittling flushes, calling them temperature tantrums, doesn’t help and there’s little to be done to ease things. For me as an ex–breast cancer patient, HRT is a no go, and that includes some herbal remedies too. I’m not alone, I know.

So, what to do?

I decided to write a book about it, but rather than moan and groan about the unfairness of it all, I thought I’d make the main character one tough woman. Enter Madeline Simpson, a woman on a mission, dishing out revenge to anyone who gets in her way. Hot to Kill is downright comical, inspiring and a little bit sad all rolled into one as the bodies she’s responsible for start to pile up. At least she gets a good night’s sleep.

Writing it was almost cathartic for me, and made me realise several things Madeline Simpson and I have in common:

  • We drive too aggressively
  • Alcohol doesn’t solve anything
  • A short fuse can cause dire trouble
  • Cats are cleverer than we think

I often think of her, and while I created this fictitious woman, in some ways she’s become a friend, albeit an imaginary one. Now, she sits on my shoulder like a small bird, chattering her advice and good intentions until I slow down, breathe a little deeper, and do my utmost to not let things bother me.

Imaginary friends are something we usually associate with childhood, but as an adult, self-talk, since that’s really what it is, can be hugely beneficial. Remember the Shirley Valentine movie where she talked to ‘wall’ each day? This is no different and if an imaginary friend helps you sort through issues, gives you someone to confide in or slow you down when you need to, then that’s a good thing.

I’m hoping my Madeline will eventually help put me to sleep. Now that really would be a good friend.

Who do you talk to? Let me know in the comments below.

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