For twenty years I was a clinical psychologist. Every week I would listen to people talking about their problems and try to work out what was going on in their minds. I would try to discover what had caused them to be depressed, anxious, or dissatisfied. On the whole it was very interesting work. Intellectually satisfying – when I joined the dots correctly – and emotionally rewarding when people got better as a consequence.
Although I regard myself as a reflective person, I’m remarkably indifferent to my own mental processes. So when people ask me how I write my books or how much of myself I put in my books, I’m usually not very forthcoming. Not because I’m being cagey, but because I really don’t know and I haven’t given such questions very much thought. That said, there are so many obvious connections between my life and my new horror novel, THE VOICES, the book might be regarded as a kind of symptom arising from my unique history and neuroses. I won’t explain all the connections here, because I have some residual self-respect, but a few are worth mentioning. The novel is set in Hampstead in the scorching summer of 1976. For the British public (and particularly those who remember it) that summer has acquired mythic status. A common device in supernatural fiction is the use of extremity to signal the breakdown of the normal, which then facilitates entry of the supernatural into our world. I was seventeen in 1976 and watched Hampstead Heath turn into a dust bowl. Everything that was familiar suddenly started looking very alien and the experience was actually quite disturbing.
The protagonist of THE VOICES is an electronic film music composer who finds his recordings spoiled by communications from the dead. Those of you conversant with psychical research will know that this form of spirit manifestation has a technical name: electronic voice phenomena or EVP. There is an academic journal dedicated to such recordings. In 1977 I was a musician. I owned an early synthesizer and I would occasionally get session work. While I was doing an all-night session in a very spooky studio in South London, the engineers confided that some recordings were ruined by the appearance of spectral voices on the tape. The studio was alleged to have been built on the site of an old dungeon and the engineers became increasingly jittery as the night progressed (probably too many pills, I know, but that’s beside the point).
Finally, in my novel, a particularly malignant supernatural presence makes itself known through a baby monitor. I have an eight year old son, so memories of his infancy are still quite fresh. I would often wake up in the middle of the night and listen out to make sure he was still breathing. My anxiety was almost always magnified by thoughts like: Oh my God, wouldn’t it be terrible now if I heard an intruder’s voice! What would I do? I am, to say the very least, a bit of a worrier. Ironically, I’ve written a best-selling book on worry which is one of a small number of self-help books available on prescription from General Practitioners. My wife says I should I read it.
I could go on dissecting THE VOICES and demonstrating how it reveals my history and neuroses, but the above should suffice. The interesting thing is, I never set out to write something autobiographical or revealing, it just came out that way. Which is just as well, because now when people ask me whether connections can be made between my life and my books, I can give them a definitive answer instead of mumbling incoherently and looking shifty.
THE VOICES by F.R.Tallis is published by Pan and available in paperback from 8th May 2014.