An Author’s Dark Past as Inspiration
By Nicole Arlyn
I’m writing this from my kitchen in Brooklyn. It’s nearly December, and the afternoon is dark, cold and rainy. My baby boy is asleep in the next room. I’m making tea, trying not to clank around too much and wake him.
I used to get up, make tea, and write all morning starting at 6:00 a.m. Every day was like that. I’d get right into work writing—no phone calls, no emails, no people. I’d put a little makeup on, take a sip of tea and a breath, and then I was off into fantasy, into words and visions and adventure. Into life. Off writing for eighteen hours with a break in the middle for walks or the gym.
It took me seven years to write the Sadie books. They started out as one massive, handwritten manuscript that filled an entire suitcase and many notebooks full of backstories and character biographies and poems, doodles, and other books—all intertwined.
And now… My life has so completely changed from being the single, no-responsibility-for-others actress/writer woman with a pen in her hand and a suitcase who goes all over and writes all over. Now I have a home in Brooklyn with a baby snoring away in the room beside the kitchen.
And now that they’re all out there—all twenty-six novellas—it makes me wonder, “Am I okay now? Have I finally healed?”
(caution – may trigger)
In my home town on Long Island, it was really important to fit in. It was really important to have friends and a normal home life. To be like everyone else. I kept it hidden, this strange thing I was.
I had visions. The first time I remember experiencing this was one night when my parents were violently throwing plates and screaming at each other in the kitchen. My mother was screaming that my father was cheating on her and that she was throwing him out of the house. I had a fever that day and listened from my bed, under the covers. Though my head felt clogged, my heart raced. I knew my father was leaving us—this time for good.
But then suddenly through their fighting came a sound like music, the most harmonious melodic chorus of angels singing, coming closer and closer and saturating the room with this beautiful sound. It swept through me. It was so loud and full that I started to feel good despite the fever, like I was made of air. Like I was spirit. I felt love through that sound. And beauty. I knew I belonged to it and where it came from. And I knew, sure as hell, that I did not belong to the fighting.
When I was about nine years old, my then-divorced mother remarried a man I considered a monster. He was emotionally shut down, very cold and distant, and yet when he drank, he came alive. And he drank a lot. A lot of vodka, specifically. He moved in with my mother, my brother, and I, moved into our little white house and I was very scared of him. He was a big guy with red hair on a balding head and bad skin. He was like a broken pipe spouting sewage into our sweet, clean home. Hairy and mad. Mad all the time for one reason or another. He always looked at me funny—well, when he did look at me, which wasn’t often.
My room faced the front of the house. He used to come in there in his fucking white undies, look out the window, and stare toward the streetlamp. The light coming in would silhouette him so he looked like a monster in my eyes. And I would peek out from the fortress of pillows I kept around me, smelling his hissing vodka-breath and listening to his abuse.
“Who’s paying the bills around here, brat? I own you. You’re a brat. You’re spoiled. Are your tits ever gonna develop?” He would say all that as if it were a private thing between us.
He would come close and sit on the edge of my bed, and I’d feel the mattress sink under his weight. One time he grabbed my foot. It was harmless enough, but that one touch scared me so much that The Sugarspear Chronicles blossomed from it. Just his breath and that one touch. It was all inspired by that night, that threat, and the many nights and threats that followed. The terror riveted my imagination and sent it running, running off into the sky.
Off into the sky and off into many dark places I went, living my life recklessly and insecurely for years to come. I made things look okay on the outside, just like my mother taught me. I made myself look attractive, had lots of friends and talents, danced, acted, wrote. But writing was the strongest place where I could truly express truth, even if only in glimmers. Now when I look deeply, I see that I was often behaving erratically and rebelling due to the pain I felt from my father leaving me, and then how, because of that, I landed in the hands of this monster. I was searching for ways to fill that emptiness inside. That hole.
When I was going to school in Paris in my early twenties, I was crazy into my sexuality and one-night stands and all kinds of destructive escapades. When I was back living in the East Village, I got involved in the drug scene. So after trying to destroy myself across two continents, I ended up waiting tables and going to acting school, and that was when I picked up and moved to LA. There I rediscovered the passion I’d had for writing, the same one I had when I was that little girl writing every day in her backyard under the weeping willow tree.
Eventually I realized I needed to focus on writing the books wholeheartedly, without anything else going on. I disappeared to a flat in Devon, England, to write. It was peaceful there and serene every day, a green valley on the estuary of Salcombe, a wee town on the edge of Cornwall. I took walks and listened. My mind brought me visions of mighty angels flying around amidst chickens and sheep and moors. I often sat at the edge of the English Channel, writing.
I stayed up all night in my kitchen with the black, English fields outside my window, and I woke up each morning to cows mooing. It was bliss and still is. I felt I was born to do this job; it’s as easy and comforting as slipping on socks. I could finally search and discover and dig out what was inside: A girl named Sadie Sugarspear.
– Nicole Arlyn