Friends of the Bay Members Non Fiction

Inspiration for My Debut Novel

Nikki Smith

What inspired my debut novel?

PD James said ‘All fiction is largely autobiographical.’ I don’t think that’s true, but I do think first novels sometimes contain an element of this – often in the similarities between the author and their protagonist.

My debut novel, All In Her Head (and there are spoilers here, so don’t read on unless you’ve read it!) focuses on a woman suffering from post-partum psychosis. I didn’t suffer from this particular condition or consciously choose the subject because of my own experience, but after I’d finished writing it, I realised the fictional story about a woman who suffers from this condition was probably subconsciously a way of working through some of the trauma I went through after giving birth.

I had my second daughter in 2007, over ten years ago. She was an unexpectedly large baby at 9lb 9oz (I’m only 5ft 3) and I ended up in intensive care for several days after being rushed into theatre – I’d haemorrhaged as a result of an undiagnosed placenta accreta and lost over three litres of blood and needed several blood transfusions. I’d had a retained placenta after
having my first daughter a couple of years earlier and that should really have highlighted that I was at higher risk for another, but for whatever reason, it was never picked up.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate the mental trauma I’d suffered as I was too busy trying to recover physically in order to look after a new baby also my toddler who was just turning two. I attempted to carry on as if everything was normal and present an image to everyone else that I was fine, but actually I felt very tearful most of the time and certainly didn’t feel that instantaneous overwhelming sense of love for my daughter that other seemed to feel (and that I’d had with my first child). I suffered from flashbacks and difficulty sleeping, but still insisted I was fine. I was lucky; over the following months I healed; I began to sleep better, bond with my daughter and had fewer flashbacks.

When I started writing the novel that eventually became my published debut, and began to think about my characters and plot, I read some articles on post-partum psychosis and
became fascinated with the subject. I was shocked this condition affects 1 in 1000 women when they give birth and many people are still completely unaware of it. I also found it terrifying that the process of having a baby, something that we consider to be natural and normal, can change a woman’s mental state so fundamentally that they are unable to comprehend what is reality and what isn’t; a situation that can on occasion, sadly, end in
horrendous tragedy.

Most people have heard of women such as Andrea Yates who drowned her five children in the bath, but it should be stressed that such tragic outcomes are rare, and also preventable if they are identified in time. In all the cases that I researched, no mother ever intended to hurt her baby – in fact the exact opposite was true – the mother’s over-riding desire was to protect their child, but the delusions they were suffering from meant it was how they went about trying to do this that resulted in tragedy.

Although I didn’t suffer from post-partum psychosis, some of the feelings Alison has in the book made her, for me, an easy character to write. I think subconsciously she’d been in my
head for a long time – hence the idea for the title of the book. Writing about a fictional character gave me a chance to work through some of the more upsetting aspects that haunted me after giving birth – the lack of control over the birthing process, the horror of a traumatic birth, the feelings of isolation that I had afterwards, separated from close family by physical

When writing All In Her Head I wanted to highlight not only this extreme condition, but the fact that in the UK (and other countries in the developed world), women are often shielded from the dangers of giving birth. ‘Natural births’ are encouraged, and many women feel like a failure if they don’t achieve a birth without pain-relief, if they can’t breastfeed, if they end up with a cesarean.
No one likes talking about the potential dangers that can result from having a baby that many women are unaware of. In the UK, 67 women died in 2018 childbirth or as a result of complications arising from pregnancy. Women over forty are three times more likely to die compared to someone in their twenties. Less serious, but still incredibly traumatic are the consequences of living with long term conditions largely caused by pregnancy or childbirth
such as urinary incontinence (affecting up to 1 in 3 women) and pelvic organ prolapse (reported by 1 in 12 women).
And these are just the physical issues. Mental trauma is even more prevalent. 1 in 10 women will suffer from some form of post-natal depression; I’m sure I did, but it was undiagnosed,
probably because I insisted that everything was ‘fine’ when it wasn’t; ticking the ‘right’ boxes on a form I was given by a visiting midwife because I didn’t want to make a fuss. I hope by writing the book, it will make people more aware of these issues surrounding childbirth.

My second novel, Look What You Made Me Do is published in April (lockdown launch II for me – I’m beginning to feel like a pro!!) and I don’t think I have anything in common with the characters in this one – but it will be interesting to see what readers think – perhaps there is a small part of the author somewhere in every book they write.

Friends of the Bay Members Free Fiction

Look What You Made Me Do – a sneak preview

Nikki Smith

As well as the non-fiction piece on the inspiration for her first novel, Nikki Smith has allowed us to share the prologue and opening two chapters of her new book, Look What You Made Me Do – available in Hardback on April 1, 2021.

Click on the download link below to read!

Friends of the Bay Members Free Fiction

The ‘You’ Me

James Burnett

by James Burnett

I passed myself in the street yesterday, a strange experience to say the least.

You were pushing my bike and Timmy was in the basket with his tongue lolling out, as usual. That’s how I knew you were me, otherwise I would have thought you were just another
woman dressed too young for her age and smiling in the sunshine.

To be honest, I don’t have much to smile about these days, but the ‘You’ me did. I almost stopped to say hello but I was scared.

Excited too, if I’m honest.

So I came back at the same time today to sneak a good, long look at you. Your make-up is immaculate. And your hair, it’s blonde! When did that happen? Oh, and you’re wearing that
hat that makes you look like a French actress from the ‘60s. I’ve got the self same one at home; it doesn’t suit me.

You must have clocked me following you because you did a double take, I suppose you thought I was your doppelganger, or something.

They say there’s a perfect replica for everyone on earth and that God always makes a spare, one to use and one to lose, so to speak. But no doppelganger shares the same dog, and Timmy was there again, standing up in his little basket, slobbering stupidly and wagging his tail.

It was when you smiled at me, as if life was all cherries and chocolates, as our mother used to say, that I knew you were the one. I wanted to slap your face, you looked so pleased with yourself.

Instead I said, ‘Hello, do I know you?’

We talked for a bit and of course we had stuff in common. We had everything in common; the same school, the same class, the same first boyfriend, Ben Baker, and that childish scar on the back of our hands when we sliced ourselves with the vegetable peeler because he left us and we wanted to leave a mark, ‘For our pain!’

We both laughed out loud at that.

You have a lovely voice, I must say, much more refined than mine. No one would guess we came from Hull. I can’t imagine, ‘Hello ducks!’ leaving those prim lips. So you’ve done ok,
wherever it is you’ve been hiding. Do you have a nice house, too? And a man? Mine ran off with Samantha six years ago. They still live here; whenever I see them they scamper away like gutter rats. I just smile.

All happy families are alike, they say, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Well, now I’m unhappy alone.

The look on your face when I said that! I think you’re starting to suspect. But you know me, always good at hiding malice behind a smile.

So I said, ‘Why don’t we swap for a day, so we can see what it’s like to be each other, wouldn’t that be fun?’

I could tell you weren’t keen.

‘I’ve really got to go,’ you said.

‘I’ve really got to go…’

I’m not being funny but that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about; Geoff, Samantha, you…

So now I’ve got a plan and I’m following you home; difficult of course because you know exactly what to look out for. But would your children, if I made myself up and got my hair done like yours? Would your husband? I know I’m better in bed than you… those perfect, prissy nails; I bet you wear Marigolds to blow him.

My point is, would any of them notice, or even care, if we did a little swap?

Of course I’d come and visit you in my house, (not so big, in fact positively pokey; watch out for the bottles on the stairs,) and perhaps I’d let you out for a bit, once a day, but only in the garden, where you can’t get up to any mischief. And even then I might have to gag you.


On second thoughts you could just have an accident and die. No one ever visits me, so who would know? And then I’d come to your funeral, when they get round to finding you, and watch Geoff and Samantha shed their crocodile tears, and laugh at them from behind your designer shades. Because that’s something I’ve always wanted to do, laugh at a funeral.

You’re allowed to do that when it’s your own.

I’m talking too much. You’re at your door and you keep staring at me over your shoulder.

Nervous? Who cares, I’ve made a decision. You’re not going to like it but here it is: there’s room in the world for only one me, after all.

And it’s the ‘You’ me.

Friends of the Bay Members Free Fiction

Derry Lodge

Derry Lodge – a ‘pretty spooky place’ according to author Suzy Aspley

Suzy Aspley

It’s freezing up here in the Glen. The wind is coming down from the North and forecasters predict a heavy dump of snow which will hit the Highlands sometime after midnight. It’s early in the season for snow, but I can imagine it. The clean air, painful to breathe in, out here.

          I’m glad I packed extra layers and those Fair-isle socks that cost me a bloody fortune in the mountain shop in Glenshee on the way north. Scandi style is definitely in, but I draw the line at the £350 Fjallraven designer jumper. Maybe after though, I ponder. I’ll go back and buy the red one with the blue and yellow diamond patterns around the neck. If all goes according to plan, then I’ll deserve a special treat.

          I’ve had a good feeling about this one. Innes’s profile indicated a Ben Fogle type. Someone who’d look as good in the flesh beneath his Goretex jacket, as he did in the photos. And when we meet up at the bothy, I’m genuinely impressed. He has those rugged model good looks, roll neck jumper that matches the blue of his eyes and a fair beard that is subtly trimmed into just the right shape. Neither effeminate hipster, nor smelly farmer type. Unfortunately, his good looks are just not enough though. They never would have been.

          I’d given him the latest version of my story by email. As Heather, I needed someone strong and experienced to guide me in the mountains for a few days and he looked as though he was up to the job. It had always been Heather’s ambition to walk the Lairig Ghru. When I set out from the car park at Linn of Dee, following the trail through the ancient pine woods which dot the hillside, I know things will go well with this trip.

          I take my time during the four mile hike up to derelict Derry Lodge. I didn’t realise just how much I’ve missed this view. More than a decade has passed since I’ve watched the weather change over this part of the Cairngorm Mountains. It’s such a treat. Sets the scene nicely for what’s to come later. A staggeringly beautiful, yet desolate landscape. Who’d have thought you could get this remote in Britain?

          A stag roars on the hillside opposite and idiotic young grouse, eyes bulging with fright, scoot out across the path, running in all directions as I approach. It’s well after the glorious 12th though and hunting season in this part of the world is already in full swing. I never liked it. Not until I began to hunt myself. The thrill of my first kill still gives me a warm glow inside.

          Not like those amateurs who take an annual bloody pilgrimage. Teams of shooters, paying tens of thousands for the privilege, pile into Braemar, to stay at the newly renovated Fife Arms, where after a day sweating on the hills, taking pot shots at the wildlife, they retire to the bar after a gamey dinner and reminisce on their hunting prowess over a few fine malts. They’ll spend a few days gathering anecdotes and patronising the locals, before piling back into their metallic Land Rovers and Porsche Cayenne’s to head back to the central belt, their arses toasted by heated leather seats. Then the Barbour jackets are put away and guns locked up, their blood lust satisfied again for this year.

          As I sit now, back in my old car, enjoying hot coffee with a dash of brandy to warm me through, I  recall a similar party all those years ago, when I was a young waitress at the restaurant in the Fife. When I’d been Ellie. I don’t often let myself remember. It’s too painful. But that was where my character was made. That night, when the crowd of young hunting bucks had offered me a drink after the bar closed and despite my protests had bundled me into the back of an old Defender and driven me out to Derry Lodge. I shift in my seat.

          I couldn’t scream with that scarf tied around my mouth, or scratch with my hands tied behind my back. But I remember the pain and the shame of it. Six of them, one after another. Drunk, but still able to make use of me and then leave me shocked and hurt, to make my way back home along the dark track through the storm. I vowed that night that they would pay. The hunters would become prey, no matter how long it took me. When I look into Innes’ eyes today and tell him who I was, I can tell he can’t even remember. He denies it, of course. Says he’s never been up here before. That I am wrong, as he pleads for his life. Liar. His mistake was underestimating me. I’ve learned how to play my part. Said it would be so exciting to break into the old lodge and see what was inside, pretending I was frightened so he could protect me. He didn’t know I’d hidden the axe there weeks before. That I let him go first, to make sure it was safe. The first blow knocks him to the ground. He wasn’t expecting it. He turns, confused.

          ‘It’s Ellie,’ I say. ‘Remember me?’

          It was only when I list their names. Rory, Dominic, Fraser, Jonny, Rupert and finally Innes, that I see a flash of recognition cross his face. The last expression he will ever make. I glance across into the dark, where I know the others are buried. It is hard dragging his body over to the pit I dug weeks ago, but this is the last one and the thought gives me strength.

Back at the car, I take off my boots, and put my hat and gloves on the dashboard. I’ll burn everything later. But for now, I sit and enjoy the view.

I know now I’ll never come here again.

Find out more about author Suzy Aspley in her author profile here.

Friends of the Bay Recordings

VNatB Christmas Special

For our Christmas Special 2020, and the last planned Virtual Noir at the Bar for the foreseeable future, we had quite the line up to see us off in style.

Catherine Cooper, Gytha Lodge, Hayley Webster, Emma Christie, Danny Marshall, Nell Pattison, Derek Farrell , Trevor Wood , Allie Reynolds, Andrew Cotto and Gregg Hurwitz PLUS the winner of our first Bay Tales Christmas Short Story competition Louise Mangos.

So full of Christmas goodness we had to split it into three sections!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Friends of the Bay Recordings

Virtual Noir at the Bar Halloween Special

After we’d finished our regular weekly shows we got lots of requests for a return and we couldn’t let Halloween go by without a special show. And what a line up we had for the show – Ramsey Campbell, CJ Tudor, Max Seeck, Matt Wesolowski, Alison Belsham, Vanessa Savage, Laura Purcell, Suzy Aspley, Ian Skewis, CJ Cooper and Ian Rankin.

The show was so full of spooky goodness we had to split it into three parts…

Part 1: CJ Tudor, Max Seeck, Vanessa Savage, Ian Rankin

Part 2: Ramsey Campbell, Suzy Aspley, Ian Skewis, CJ Cooper

Part 3: Alison Belsham, Catriona Ward, Laura Purcell, Matt Wesolowski

Friends of the Bay Recordings

VNatB at the Lyme Crime Festival

A bonus episode of Virtual Noir at the Bar as we did a ‘virtual road show’ last summer which took us to the Lyme Crime festival.

Hosted, as ever, by Vic Watson, this special edition features: Amanda Jennings, Neil Broadfoot, Leye Adenle, Marnie Riches, Simon Bewick, Paddy Magrane, Derek Farrell, Helen Fields, Rob Parker and Ed James.

Lyme Crime Special Episode
Friends of the Bay Recordings

Virtual Noir at the Bar Episode 6

The May 6th show featured Michael Nath, Tony Kent, Quentin Bates, AM Peacock, CJ Cooke, Bea Davenport, Alison Bruce, Craig Robertson, CL Taylor and Susi Holliday

Friends of the Bay Recordings

Virtual Noir at the Bar Episode 22

And just like that, we got to our last weekly show. For some reason the graphics at the beginning read November – it wasn’t! It was the end of August…When we started VNatB back in April we were intending to run for a few weeks. 22 weeks on, we didn’t miss a week, but decided it was time to call time on the weekly shows. Our guest authors for our final regular shows were: CD Major, Kate Medina, Rachel Ward, Stu Turton, Emma Curtis, Kia Abdullah, Lauren North, Chris Lloyd and Karen Hamilton.

The celebrations went on – so due file size, we have had to split the final show into two parts.

Part 1
Part 2
Friends of the Bay Recordings

Virtual Noir at the Bar Episode 21

In our penultimate weekly show we featured Rhiannon Ward, Lin Anderson, Jack Jordan, Ian Skewis, Araminta Hall, Kate Reed Petty, Harriet Tyce, Stuart McLean, Luke Kuhnes and, as a last-minute replacement, the artist known as Polly Filliere (aka Simon Bewick)

Note: due to copyright issues, the session from tonight is in two parts – be sure to watch them both!

Part 1
Part 2

Return to the Virtual Noir at the Bar Archive page