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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

When evil shapes us


One of the fascinating things about being a journalist and an author is when real life and fiction blend together. This weekend I had one of those startling moments.

I interviewed an incredible woman named Pepe, who was raped at gunpoint in her own bed. She woke in the night with a shadowy figure standing silhouetted in the doorway – and from that moment her nightmare began.

Think that sounds bad? You haven’t heard half of it. Because in bed with her were her two kids.

She managed to get her ten-year-old daughter to run to safety, but Pepe’s son, Richie, was only two at the time. The attacker held a gun to Richie’s head while he raped Pepe. The whole time, she stared into her son’s eyes to try to keep him calm.

After that incident, Richie developed mutism. He disappeared into a world of his own for years and refused to communicate even by written word. The trauma of what he had experienced completely overwhelmed him.

Eventually, aged six, he suddenly decided to talk one day. From that point he came on in leaps and bounds, although his imagination has a dark side – the eleven-year-old loves to write fantasy novels with themes of darkness and violence. Richie has used his dream world of escapism in a positive way, though. He has poured it into creativity, taking the terrible memories and feelings of fear and, against all odds, turning the life-changing, traumatic event into a force for good.

But it did remind me a little of the main character in my latest novel, Flowers for the Dead. Adam suffers trauma that sends him into a world of his own making; one of fantasy and fairy tale, where he can feel safe. He, too, lacks the ability to communicate the complex feelings that overwhelm his childhood. But for him, his quest for love becomes tragically warped.

Two very different outcomes. But both share at the core the idea that horrifying events out of your control can shape you – for good or ill.

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