“Write what you know” is the advice we writers always hear, and though a paranormal tale, What the Clocks Know, has a firm basis in my experiences within the mortal realm. It’s ultimately a story about the living and breathing, and making the most of our time on earth. So here are its top 5 personal influences:
1. Just as my protagonist Margot quits her job in Chicago and heads for London, I relocated to London from Chicago in 2008. Whereas Margot breaks up with her New York boyfriend, though, I actually married mine–who was also originally from Chicago but had transferred to NYC for a time. We’d just gotten married, in fact, three months prior to moving to London for my husband’s job, so while my circumstances weren’t identical to Margot’s (and my husband is not her ex-boyfriend James), I definitely transferred my anxieties to her. Life change in any form is a challenge, and grappling with more than one at the same time can feel almost crippling. For me, it was marriage, international relocation, and job change within the same summer, and it royally pulled the rug right out from under me. It was very much like a second adolescence in which I had to renegotiate my identity. So one of my ways to cope was to write, and in writing this story, I transferred my anxieties to Margot–and let the paranormal take it from there.
2. This is such a nerdy thing, but an unexpected influence on the story was my eyesight. I have a slight astigmatism and farsightedness, which only requires me to wear reading glasses. But in addition to that, I’m prone to ocular migraines, and my floaters keep getting worse thanks to longer hours at the computer. Preceding all of that, though, has been a “glowing” in my vision that I’ve had since I was a kid. I don’t know how else to describe it other than it being like the afterimage you get after glancing at the sun or another light source. Except I see it all the time and not in specific shapes but more of a glowing, pulsing layer over my vision. The eye doctors say nothing’s wrong, though, so I just keep rolling with that. Made for story material, anyway.
3. Some of Margot’s paranormal experiences were indeed inspired by real life. Were they actually paranormal? Yes and no… I could easily explain some away. Cross ventilation probably caused my bathroom door to fly open, for example. A quirky hinge probably causes my bedroom door to creak back open. And my computer does wake itself sometimes. There is also a scene where Margot is napping and feels a presence next to her. It kinda freaks her out, but she realizes she’s dreaming, so she shakes herself awake to escape the dream. That’s actually something I’ve done frequently–willing my body to move to wake myself. And I had the lucid dream of sleeping on my couch (just as I really was) and feeling presences next to me. I also woke up to hear a snap and then see something white streak the other way, but it was probably just the flame of a tea light that snapped and a reflection of light from outdoor traffic. Do I know that? No, but it was likely.
One recurring factor that Margot experiences is pressure on her chest, and this is something I’ve experienced and do attribute to something paranormal. I first felt it when standing at Ground Zero in NYC several years ago. It was my first trip to that city, and I found I just couldn’t breath. So I walked away, found my breath after a few blocks, and proceeded to walk up to Midtown and spend the rest of the day there. Catching a bus back down south, I sat with my back to the window and wasn’t sure where I was but figured I could only go so far south before the island ended. 🙂 Anyway, having no orientation of where I was, I at one point felt a tremendous pressure on my chest again. I joked to myself that it would be weird to turn around and see that I was back at Ground Zero. So out of curiosity, I did, and yep. There it was, right behind me. And I get that sensation when in very old buildings, especially in an old English cottage last year where I actually saw objects move that couldn’t have on their own–which was followed by another lucid dream in which I rose out of bed to meet and speak with a little girl ghost named Sarah.
4. Grandma Grace and the brooch have a backstory, too. Grace is based on my real grandmother Dorothy, who passed away from complications of diabetes when I was only five. But she left behind all this rhinestone jewelry that I loved to play with. The idea of the brooch came to me from that, in part, but also a rather spiritual experience that I had in Italy right after graduating from university. Long story short, after one hell of a day traveling, my friends and I climbed the steps to a hilltop hotel in Cinque Terre, and just when I didn’t think I had anything left in me to make it much further, we found ourselves in this little clearing, and beyond that was the Mediterranean and the moon. I stared at that moon a good long while as I underwent an epiphany of sorts, and the experience later inspired a short story–featuring a Margot and her grandmother’s brooch–that in turn inspired this book.
5. Much like Margot, I’ve always been very “dear diary.” I kept a diary on my own, but there was one I wrote for school as a daily assignment. Portions of Margot’s sixth grade journal entries came straight out of my real one and otherwise influenced the voice (and misspellings!) of the fictional bits. I kept a diary through high school, too, and beyond that, it became travel journals–Margot’s early London entries were similar to what I wrote on moving here. I’m also one to freewrite random thoughts as they come to mind, whether in a journal or on a napkin, and this is how a scene or two came about in What the Clocks Know, as well as Margot’s dream entries.
About What the Clocks Know:
Finding a ghost isn’t what Margot had in mind when she went ‘soul searching’, but somehow her future may depend on Charlotte’s past.
Woven between 21st-century and Victorian London, What the Clocks Know is a haunting story of love and identity. A paranormal women’s fiction, this title is available as of March 18, 2016 from Crooked Cat Publishing.
“A unique tale of the paranormal – as beautiful as it is haunting.”
~ Shani Struthers, author of Jessamine and the Psychic Surveys series