IMAGINE YOUR mobile phone going off, and you realise it’s a friend who has accidentally pocket dialled you. Common enough. Then imagine realising that you can hear shouts for help…and that what you are hearing is a terrifying attack.

That’s what happened to Antonio, a man I interviewed last night. He had known Helen for several years, and they had helped each other through bouts of depression. Helen in particular struggled, but in Antonio she found a friend who was always there for her without judgement, offering a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear.

As time passed, she confessed that the reason why she was depressed was because she was trapped in a violent relationship, too scared to leave. Antonio was helpless to offer anything more than advice, unable to force his friend to break free.

Then one day Antonio received that accidental phone call. He heard shouts, thumps, and within seconds he realised he was listening to an attack. ‘Don’t do this,’ he heard Helen beg.

He rushed to the scene, listening to the skirmish the whole time. When he arrived, he saw his tiny, 4ft 11in friend lying on the concrete near her home, surrounded by a crowd. When he pushed his way through, he saw she was covered in blood. She had been stabbed through the heart with a Samurai sword.

 It isn’t always easy coaxing these stories from people. The memories are traumatic and difficult to revisit. Interviewing is a balance of knowing when to speak and when to say nothing, when to empathise, and when to ask the tough questions.

Leaving the stories behind once written…well, that can be pretty tough too. Writing my novels is a catthartic experience for me. I have spent so many years hearing terrible things – many too terrible to ever be published, and only the more sanitised versions appear in print. so many years being a sort of counsellor to people who have been through terrible times. Now, in my fiction, I am able to tap into these raw emotions as inspiration

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