Session 1 - January 14, 2009|
Man: May I offer you some tea?
Woman: Oh, thank you, no. My five minutes would be over before I got around to got around to drinking it.
M: As you wish. So... tell me about yourself.
W: I'm a novelist.
W: Not unless you're interested in children's books. Most of my readers are age six to thirteen. I sell a lot of copies overseas. Japan was my best market but it's all in the past.
M: In the past?
W: I... haven't finished a book for years.
M: So when was your last book published?
W: That was five years ago. After that, I started another project, a children's book of course, I thought it was going to be my best yet. It almost seemed to write itself but I never got further than the first couple of chapters.
M: Why was that?
W: Health problems. It happened very suddenly. I was hospitalized.
M: What was wrong with you?
W: To be frank, I don't think anyone really knows.
M: How long were you in the hospital?
W: Forty-seven months in all. I was locked in a room and topped up with pills for nearly four years. I barely knew who I was, let alone what was going on.
M: And the... diagnosis?
W: Haven't you been able to make a guess by now?
M: What medication were you on?
W: Pretty much everything. Truxel and Phlustelmarine but mainly Phlupentexol.
M: And... none of them helped?
W: The symptoms got worse. Even after I stopped taking the medication, it took weeks to find my feet. In my opinion, that's proof enough that drugs aren't the solution to my particular condition.
M: What's different about your condition?
W: I'm a novelist.
M: So you said.
W: It's probably best if I give you an example.
W: The first thing I ever wrote was a short story for a competition. I was 13 years old at the time. My story was about a group of young people who set up a scientific experiment. I submitted the manuscript and that's when the problem started.
M: What kind of problems?
W: I was at a party at a hotel in my hometown and my best friend had just turned 14 and her parents had rented the ballroom. I slipped out to the toilet and saw in the lobby, she was waiting at the reception.
M: Your best friend?
W: No, Julia.
M: Julia who?
W: Julia, the character in my story. I introduced her in the opening paragraph.
M: Um, let's get this straight. The woman in the lobby resembled a character in your story?
W: No, no. She did not look like Julia. She was Julia.
M: What made you think that?
W: Because she repeated word for word the first line of the story.
W: Julia leant over the counter and said to the man at the reception,"Listen Honey, I'm going to do something special. How about you fix me up with a room?"
M: Didn't it occur to you that it might be a coincidence?
W: Sure, I gave it an awful lot of thought, but it seemed too much of a coincidence given what happened next.
W: Julia did exactly as I described. She stuck a pistol in her mouth and blew her brains out.
M: Are you serious?
W: I'm afraid so. Julia was the beginning of a nightmare that has been haunting me for nearly 20 years. Some phases are more intense than others, but I'm a writer- it's my curse.
M: Your curse?
W: My characters come alive. I only have to imagine a person and I see them, hear them and sometimes even speak to them. Call it schizophrenia, if you will, by that's the nature of my condition, my own particular mental take.
W: That episode in the hotel wasn't the first time. It started much earlier than that but I never experienced anything so... so... surrealistic... so... convincing.
M: When did it all start?
W: It's hard to know where to begin. I'd say the symptoms started when I was a child.
M: Tell me about your childhood.
W: Well, my father was a G.I. He fought for the Allies and stayed in Berlin. He was a DJ of the American Forces Network for a while. Women loved him and he was a bit of a local hero. Anyway, he had a string of blonde dalliances in the back room of a military casino and one of his many girlfriends got pregnant. Her name was Laura, she was from Berlin and the baby was me.
M: I see. I noticed you mentioned your father first.
W: He died when I was 8. My psychiatrist says the accident was the first traumatic event of my childhood.
M: What accident?
W: My father died in a military hospital. It was a straightforward appendicectomy but he developed a blood clot and no one thought of giving him compression stockings and the thrombosis was fatal.
M: How dreadful. How did you cope with your father's death?
W: Very, very badly. We lived in an end of terrace house near Andrew Barracks in the American Sector. We adopted a mongrel, a stray called Terry who lived in our backyard and my father couldn't stand him and banned him from the house and most of the time he was tied up on a leash by the door and I remember Mom telling me that the operation had gone wrong and as soon as she left the house I fetched one of dad's baseball bats...a heavy one made of metal...and I went into the yard. Terry's leash was so short that he could hardly move, let alone run away, and his legs buckled as soon as I hit him but I could see him whimpering and groveling on the ground but I didn't stop. I kept hitting him and hitting him. I was only 8 years old and out of my mind with fury and hurt. And after about 10 blows I must have snapped his spine and he lay there howling in agony and coughing up blood and I battered him to a pulp. He didn't even look like a dog when I was finished.
M: What made you do it?
W: I loved my father more than anyone in the world and Terry came next. For some reason, I got it into my head that I didn't want Terry if I couldn't have my dad. I was punishing him for being alive.
M: It must have been very distressing.
W: It was...but not for the reason you think.
M: I beg your pardon?
W: The story doesn't end here. I lost my father and beat an innocent dog to death. But that wasn't what really upset me.
W: What upset me was that Terry didn't exist. I made him up. We adopted a cat, but never a dog. I still have nightmares about what I did to Terry, but I know for a fact that it was a product of my delusion...my illness.
M: When did you find out it wasn't real?
W: Much later. I started seeing a therapist when I was about 18 and after a while, the truth came out. It was the first time I summoned the courage to mention it to anyone. I didn't want people knowing that I murdered my dog--they would only think I was crazy.
Session 2 - January 28, 2009|
M: What are you working on at the moment?
W: I donít write fiction anymore or at least not what most people would see as fiction.
M: How would you describe it?
W: Well these days I only write about myself. Call it autobiography; it kills three birds with one stone. It allows me to indulge my literary bent. It gives me a way of coming to terms with my past and it rules out the possibility of fictional characters coming alive and driving me crazy.
M: I see. Then tell me about your most recent breakdown.
W: OK, the last character who come to life was the heroine of a childrenís book, a modern fairytale.
M: Can you tell me about the plot?
W: Itís all about a little girl called Charlotte, a delicate slip of a thing, with angelic blonde hair, the sort you see on commercials for cookies and chocolate, you know the type.
M: As hallucinations go, I can think of worse.
W: True, Charlotte was a darling, people found her adorable. Her father was the king and they lived in palace on an island.
M: How did the story start?
W: With a quest. One day Charlotte fell ill. Seriously ill.
M: What were the symptoms?
W: She lost weight, became frail and sickly and was struck down by all kinds of mysterious infections. One by one, the king consulted every doctor in the kingdom, but no one knew what was wrong with his daughter. It wasnít long before the royal couple were frantic with worry. Meanwhile poor Charlotte was wasting away.
M: What happened to the girl?
W: One day she decided to take charge of her own destiny, she ran away from home.
M: Oh, my God.
W: I beg your pardon?
M: Nnnnothing, I didnít mean to interrupt you. Carry on.
W: So Charlotte set off on a quest to find the cause of her illness, I suppose you could call it a parable. A little girl refuses to give up on hope and sets off to the big wide world on her own. Are you sure youíre alright?
M: (Long pause) Forgive me, I should stop drinking so much tea. Tell me more about Charlotte. How does the story end? What happened to her?
W: I donít know.
M: Surely you know how your own story ends.
W: I told you before, I never got past the first few chapters, and thatís why Charlotte came after me. Thatís how the nightmare started.
Man: What do you mean? What nightmare?
Woman: Charlotte was the last of my characters to come alive. What we experienced together was so distressing, that I broke down completely.
M: Umm, let's back up a little. Tell me exactly what happened. When did you first see Charlotte?
W: About four years ago in Berlin. It was winter. I was on my way to the shops, when I heard an awful noise- screeching tires, the crunch of metal on metal, splintering glass... it sounded like a car accident. I remember thinking 'oh my God I hope no one's hurt', then I turned around to see a girl in the middle of the road. She was rooted to the spot. The crash was obviously her fault. Suddenly as if she could sense I was there she turned around and she smiled at me, and I recognized her right away - it was Charlotte, the little girl from my book! She ran over and took me by the hand.
M: What happened next?
W: My mind seemed to shut down. On the one hand, I knew Charlotte was real, she had to be a delusion. On the other hand, she was standing right beside me. And in the end, I had to believe the evidence of my eyes so I followed her.
M: Followed her? Which way? Wh-where did she go?
W: Why? Does it make a difference?
M: Um, not in the slightest. I'm sorry, go on.
W: If you don't mind I'd like to take a break. I know I forced this conversation on you but I thought I was ready and I'm not. The hallucinations were extremely traumatic and it's really not easy for me to discuss them.
M: I understand.
W: You won't have to worry about me bothering you again, with any luck I can manage to leave this island tomorrow.
M: One last question. What was the book called?
W: I hadn't decided. I only had a working title. "Nine."
W: Charlotte was nine years old when she ran away from home.
Session 3 - February 11, 2009|
M: I'd like to pick up where we left off, if I may.
W: Of course.
M: You said that Charlotte was nearly run over by a car.
W: Yes, that was the first time I saw her.
M: Where did you take her after that?
W: It was... the other way around - she took me! I just followed.
M: How would you explain her... how would you explain her motivation?
W: She wanted to know why her story only had two chapters. She said, "I want to be well again! What happens next?" She told me to finish the book.
M: In other words, you were instructed to keep writing by a character created by you.
W: Precisely! In any case, I was perfectly honest with her. I told her I didn't know how the story ended so there was nothing I could do.
M: What did she say to that?
W: She took me by the hand and promised to show me where the story started. She said, "Maybe you'll think of an ending when you see where it all began."
M: Where did she take you?
W: I... don't know the name of the place but we drove for a while to get there.
M: And how long did it take you?
W: Over an hour. We went through a little village, I remember seeing some old buildings, Russian architecture, I think.
M: Can you describe what you saw?
W: There was a Russian Orthodox chapel on a hill in some woods, we crossed a bridge, continued for a couple of kilometers on the road, then turned onto a forest track and we drove another kilometer and stopped in a narrow lane. I parked the car there.
M: Where did you go after that?
W: We walked down a path; we had to go in single file but I could see she was taking me to a building. It was a little wooden house like a cabin, only nicer.
M: What did you feel?
W: At the time it seemed real, but everything was so luminously beautiful that I can't help wondering whether it was part of the delusion, like Charlotte.
M: So you and Charlotte were standing out at the cabin. What could you hear?
W: Do you think it will help with my therapy?
M: Yes, of course.
W: Nothing. I couldn't hear a thing. I remember thinking how quiet it was. It was like being at the top of the tallest mountain with nothing for miles. I asked Charlotte where we were, but she obviously thought I should know. "Don't you recognize the house?" she said crossly. "We used to come here most weekends. Especially, in the summer. I had my last good day in this cabin. Before it went wrong."
M: Before what went wrong?
W: I assumed she was talking about her illness, but I didn't like to ask. The subject seemed to make her angry. "You're the novelist!" she said irritably, pointing to the cabin. "Something happened in there, and it's your job to write it down!"
M: Did you?
W: I had to find out what had happened. Charlotte had made it clear that she intended to pester me until I finished the book. But I couldn't very well describe the cabin without going inside. I broke the glass in the backdoor and I walked in. I thought I'd be able to find out what was making Charlotte ill.
M: And did you?
W: No, I didn't know what to look for. I was surmised by the size of the cabin. I was expecting to find three small rooms, but there was this spacious kitchen, two bathrooms, a lounge with a fireplace, and a couple of bedrooms at least.
M: What did you inside the cabin?
W: I went through all the cupboards and drawers. I looked everywhere, literally everywhere, including the toilet cistern. It didn't take long, because the place was pretty bare.
M: Did Charlotte come with you?
W: She refused to cross the threshold. Whatever had happened must have been really traumatic. I hunted about inside while she stood on the porch and she shouted instructions.
M: Can you give me an example?
W: Well it was all a bit cryptic. She said things like "Don't look for what you can see. Search for what's missing."
M: Did she explain what she meant?
W: No, I wanted to ask her, but there was no time for questions.
M: What happened?
W: I don't... I don't like to talk about it, to be honest.
M: It's important to try.
W: Can... can we talk about it tomorrow? I-I want to go home.
M: That wouldn't be wise. It's better to get it over with.
W: I hadn't noticed the light was fading, but suddenly I couldn't see a thing. It was probably only half past four. Sundown was pretty early at that time of year. And at the far end of the cabin, there was a door I hadn't noticed before. It looked like a broom cupboard or something.
M: What did you do next?
W: I wanted to take a closer look, but then I heard voices.
M: What sort of voices?
W: Actually, it was a single voice. A man's voice. He wasn't talking, he was crying. it sounded as if he was whimpering to himself. The noise was coming from the room at the end of the hall.
M: How could you tell?
W: The whimpering got louder as I approached.
M: Weren't you frightened?
W: I managed to stay calm for a bit, but then Charlotte started screaming.
W: She wanted me to leave. She was yelling at the top of her voice, "He's coming! He's coming!"
M: Who did she mean?
W: I don't know. In the same moment that Charlotte started shouting, the whimpering stopped. I was right outside the door, and the handle was moving. And I felt a draft and the lighter went out and then a terrifying thought occurred to me.
W: The danger that Charlotte was warning me about had been there all along.
M: Excuse me, Mrs. Glass.
Session 4 - February 25, 2009|
M: Okay, keep going. What did you do after you left the cabin?
W: We ran.
M: What were you running from?
W: I didn't stop to think. I just sensed that whatever had been hiding in the cabin was coming after us. And I grabbed Charlotte's hand and we ran through the snow to the car, and neither of us dared to look back. We were... we were frightened of what was behind us. And the path was very slippery and we really had to watch our step.
M: Who was in the cabin? Who was following you?
W: I can't say for sure. My first priority was to get Charlotte into the car, lock the doors and head back to Berlin. And as soon as we were on the road, I tried to get some answers but Charlotte was talking in riddles.
M: Can you remember what she said?
W: Things like "I'm not here to give you answers. I'll show you the clues, but I can't explain their meaning. You're the one who's writing the story. Not me."
M: Where was she taking you?
W: To see the next clue. She said, "You've seen where everything started. It's time I showed you something else."
M: The first clue was the cabin in the forest.
M: So, what happened next?
W: Charlotte, said something really strange. Something I will never forget.
M: What did she say?
W: "I want to show you where the illness lives."