Rose Edmunds released her latest novel earlier this year. She has very kindly written a guest post for my blog about how her background as a child of a hoarder led her to write ‘Concealment’.
My mother is a hoarder.
You’ve seen the TV shows, or read magazine articles. So you all know what that means, or at least you think you do.
That’s a good start.
In the beginning there were no words. As far as I can ascertain, the first major research paper on compulsive hoarding was published in 1987 and it was not until 1996 that the term was fully defined.
As a child of the 1970s, this work lay in the distant future. All I knew was that after my father’s sudden death, our home descended into squalor and filth. And not only were there no words, there was no internet or support groups – only secrecy and shame. I thought we were the only family in the world to live this way and felt sure the mess was my fault – that was what my mother told me after all. Any attempts to clear up were fruitless – my good works were quickly undone. In any case, there’s a limit to what you can achieve if you’re not allowed to throw anything away. It seemed like my whole teenage years were spent making excuses why friends couldn’t come over, and hiding the Big Secret from the rest of the world.
I left home as soon as I could and spent the next twenty odd years frenziedly trying to prove how little my upbringing had affected me. I was the classic workaholic overachiever – a paragon of corporate virtue.
But what you try to suppress has a habit of catching up with you…
The turning point came when my mother fell, broke her hip and her unconventional lifestyle was rather dramatically outed. Predictably, I sprang into action, hired a firm to clear the house and ‘persuaded’ her to move into a retirement apartment with a weekly cleaner. I marvelled at the progress I’d made – it had been so easy to accomplish all this with my mother out of the way and unable to obstruct me. Finally, all sorted!
Except it wasn’t. Her apartment was gradually filling up and I sank into depression. For the first time, I began to confront not only how much my mother’s mental illness had impacted all areas of my life, but also the damage I was doing to myself by pursuing a high-flying career in finance for which I was not entirely suited.
I joined a support group for Children of Hoarders and against all the conventional wisdom, I quit my job to write thrillers set in the business world. My first novel Never Say Sorry was about a BigPharma conspiracy to suppress a cancer cure, and I completed it in little over a year. But I knew there was another book that only I could write, and now I was ready to embark on this more ambitious project…
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that the damage done by my dysfunctional childhood had cut deeper than I’d ever imagined. I had no wish to write a ‘misery memoir’ but began to ponder on what might happen if an outwardly successful child of a hoarder was pitched into a thriller plot, with murder, fraud, and a toxic boss. How would her insecurities hold her back – would her childhood adversity give her extra strength? Out of this germ of an idea my second novel CONCEALMENT was born.
On one level, it’s a corporate thriller, but Amy’s insecurities and the fear of her secret being exposed drive many of her actions and hasten her descent into psychological hell. Although the book is almost entirely fictional, it was extremely painful to lay bare Amy’s emotions, so much so that at one stage I put it aside for six months and began working on a new project. But I found myself inexorably drawn back to Amy and her dilemma. She is a strong character and she kept willing me to bring her adventure to a conclusion!
At this stage, I made some major structural changes, including introducing Amy’s fourteen year-old self as an additional character. Little Amy appears as a hallucination to grown-up Amy and gives the reader further insight into the damage that growing up in a hoarded environment has wreaked on her.
By the way, for those of you who think that growing up in a ‘messy house’ isn’t ‘a big deal’ – believe me, it is. Here is a picture (apologies for non-digital quality) of my mother’s living room taken in 2004. Do you think it’s reasonable for a child to grow up in that?
And for comparison purposes, here’s the same room after the intervention.
While I cannot blame my mother for an illness which she clearly could not control, I can hold her accountable for not seeking help. On the other hand, this was Britain in the 1970s, and there was little awareness of mental health issues… Perhaps it’s best to simply accept what happened, acknowledge how much it affected me, and to move forward on a neutral basis. In any case, my mother is now suffering from dementia and resides in the ‘Dunhoardin’ care home, where (in a final irony) newspapers are removed from the room daily. She has been the loser in all this, not me. Mental illness has wrecked her life.
It took me three years to write CONCEALMENT, but I don’t regret the time spent. This was the book that I was destined to write, the book that represents the coalescence of my professional, personal and secret lives. I am working on a sequel, which will be more of the thrills and less of the hoarding, and hence should be out about a year from now.
In the meantime, you can check out CONCEALMENT at http://ViewBook.at/Concealment
and find out more about me at my Amazon Author Page or
About Rose Edmunds
Rose Edmunds lives in Brighton with her husband David. She gained a degree in mathematics at the University of Sussex and a PhD from Cardiff University, before qualifying as a chartered accountant and embarking on a successful career advising entrepreneurial businesses together with their owners. She worked for Arthur Andersen and Grant Thornton, before being headhunted to join Deloitte as a partner.
In 2007, after more than 20 years in the business she jumped off the corporate hamster wheel and now writes financial thrillers with a strong ethical theme. Her writing draws heavily on her considerable insight into the business world and in particular the uncomfortable conflict between individual and corporate objectives. Concealment is Rose’s second novel. Her debut thriller, Never Say Sorry, about a Big Pharma cancer cure conspiracy,was published in 2012.
Rose is also a trustee of Brightside, a charity helping young people to access career and education opportunities they might not have believed were available to them.