We fiction writers already know how life experiences can inform our creativity. How getting lost in an unfamiliar town or eavesdropping on a quarrel can spark an idea; how the unexplored stretch of coastline or narrow, unmapped street can form the basis of a whole new storyline.
But what about experiences that aren’t part of this life? I don’t mean being abducted by aliens… I mean of this world, but not really. Let me explain.
Many years ago, a friend training to become a regression therapist was coming to the end of her course and needed to demonstrate her expertise by conducting a series of successful past-life regressions of her own. She needed a guinea pig; would I consider being regressed to a former life?
I’m not very spiritual; I’m rather sceptical. I don’t question other people’s belief in this sort of thing; it’s just not for me. Maybe being a lapsed Catholic has something to do with it. Either way, I wanted to know how it would work. I was convinced that any former life we might uncover would just be a hotchpotch of scenes from novels I’d read and films I’d seen. How would my friend know the difference? How would I?
She assured me that only experiences and events from my own alternative past would feature. Still very doubtful, I agreed.
Well. What can I say? It certainly felt real. In my new (old) life I was a young Victorian woman, the daughter of a wealthy household. I can still remember every tiny detail: the house and its contents; the people I met and how they made me feel; my clothes – that exquisite emerald green gown, those tiny silk slippers – the food; the tastes, smells and sounds.
I was led through an entire life, fast-forwarding through troubling episodes, lingering on happier and more fulfilling occasions. I conjured up a whole other life, peopled with those who had my best interests at heart, others with more dubious intentions. The whole experience lasted several hours and only ended when I died.
Yes, died. I actually survived my own death. Bit of a head-banger, that one. But on another level, it made perfect sense.
I was completely exhausted at the finish, but filled with excitement and enthusiasm. I’m not sure my experience was an accurate representation of life in Victorian England but it was an interesting way to spend an afternoon.
But here’s the real point of this piece. I’m still not sure I believe what happened to me that afternoon, but one odd thing remains a mystery: during the regression, I could play the piano very well. And I mean very well. I was an accomplished, sought-after pianist within my social circle; I even gave public concerts. It was an integral part of my Victorian life.
This was strange, because at that time in my actual life I’d had a deep yearning to play the piano. I‘d embarked on several courses of lessons over a period of years. I’d bought second hand pianos, rented a superb, shiny, black Yamaha upright, even bought an electric version so I could practice with headphones and turn the volume down to spare my neighbours. All because I really wanted to play the piano.
Progress had been slow. I was waiting for that lightbulb moment when the marks on the stave would suddenly rearrange themselves into a language I recognised instinctively, and I would be able to play fluently. But they never did. I practised assiduously; I was a demon with scales, chords, Chopsticks, but in vain. Everything else was laborious to say the least.
When I got home after the regression something felt different. I sat down at the piano and, ignoring my music book, open at a piece of Bach I’d been struggling with, I put my fingers on the keys and played. I played the piece perfectly, fluently, with not a hitch or hiccup, from start to finish, all ten minutes of it, without referring to the music once. I was exhilarated. At last! The Muse had found me.
You might wonder what this has got to do with creative writing. I don’t write historical fiction, but the regression gave me insights that are relevant to my writing today and I’m still benefitting from it today, creatively speaking. I think myself back into that grand old house with its enormous library and equally enormous kitchen, and conjure up details like the silver flatware, the fine bone china, the crystal chandeliers. I imagine many other lives, from the lowly to the exalted. The people hang around in my head like the cast of a melodrama waiting for a script – a great starting point for building characters.
One more thing before I go. The day after the regression, I approached the piano nervously. Would I still be able to play like a virtuoso? No. I was back to my usual halting, hesitant playing. I took this as a signal to stop. I sold the piano.
Take from that what you will. I haven’t tried to play the piano since, but I’ve written some cracking stories.
About the author
It might be a cliché, but writing about what you know certainly worked for Maggie. Seventeen years spent in the hectic environment of a 24-hour rolling news channel provided her with plenty of background material and so far, she has completed two novels set in a television newsroom. Her debut novel, No News is Good News and follow-up Breaking News were both reissued in 2017. Recently married to her long-term partner, she was thrilled to be able to put author in the ‘profession’ column of her new marriage certificate. They now live in Norfolk where Maggie can often be found walking on the beach, mulling over subplots for her next novel. She’s an inveterate eavesdropper and always has a notebook and pen handy. Not quite an insomniac, she makes a lot of notes in the dead of night.
Find and follow Maggie
What happens when your life makes the evening news?
Television producer Sara Cassidy has her life all mapped out. She loves her job making weekly feature programmes for TV news channel UK24, and is looking forward to furthering her ambitions in the media. She is devastated when her fiancé makes a shattering confession, but she hardly has time to come to terms with his betrayal when her closest friend is involved in a freak accident and Sara’s world is turned upside down.
As Sara struggles to maintain a professional perspective, she finds solace in a new interest and a blossoming romance. But she has to be careful who she trusts in the cut-throat world of television news. Just as she is finding her feet again the career that means so much reveals its murkier side.
When she suddenly finds herself at the other end of the camera lens, Sara discovers that in the struggle for ratings, loyalty is in short supply.
Eleanor was gearing up for marriage when her boyfriend Daniel rejected her without explanation and disappeared. Four years later, she has thrown herself into her hectic career as a TV news editor. She’s over the moon when an opportunity arises which could be the making of her career, and knows she’s definitely over her ex.
That is, until Daniel returns with a brand-new fiancée on his arm, and her golden chance turns to be not as shiny as she had first anticipated …
When an unusual storyline leads Eleanor into a reckless romance and a labyrinth of lies and deceit that threatens her job and her reputation, she turns to Daniel for advice.
But fate has another dramatic blow in store.
If you have had a strange experience or encounter that you would like to share, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or my usual email if you already have it) and we can discuss a guest post.
I am not looking for sensationalism or fictional tales… but in light of the response to some recent posts, I think it would be both useful and reassuring to others to realise that none of us are alone in these strange encounters and experiences and perhaps we can open discussion on what they may be or may mean.
If you would like to share your story but prefer to remain anonymous, we can discuss that too. If you would like to share your beliefs and opinions on the nature of these experiences, I would be happy to talk about a guest post. Through sharing with respect we may learn to understand our world and each other a little better.
You can find previously published encounters with elusive realities here