The Night the Wall had a Heartbeat – The Ideas & Inspiration Behind Cribbins

Ronnie Cribbins is the ghostly antagonist in my novel Cribbins. But who is he?

A fictionalised blend of two men I knew in the past. You don’t need to know who. Would it matter if you did? Let’s just say they were both highly unpleasant people. The kind of men who would spit at you and leer before blowing their nose on the twenty-pound note you’d dropped, and they’d picked up before you had a chance to. I amplified and exaggerated their combined unpleasantness, rolling all their nasty traits into one person. Voila, Ronnie Cribbins.

But I didn’t arrive at the creation of Ronnie Cribbins till I’d had the idea for the story itself. And that came at a particularly tough time. But then, isn’t that how these things often happen?

Here’s a bit of brief backstory that’s essential to the narrative. I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 2016. MS is an incurable neurological autoimmune disease that can cause a multitude of symptoms and damage. It’s when the immune system mistakes the myelin sheath (the protective cover) around the nerves as a foreign body and eats it away, exposing and damaging the nerves. It can be painful as hell. Or utterly numbing. Or both at the same time. Because believe me, that’s a thing.

I feel lucky that all the relapses and flare ups I had were sensory, and I wasn’t left in any way disabled. When it’s too hot or if I’m feeling unwell, it’s not unusual for various parts of me to tingle like pins and needles, because heat and inflammation pokes and prods at old nerve damage. But the great news is, I had a mild form of chemo in 2016 and again in 2017, and since then I’ve been in remission. No more relapses, no progression.

Now back to Cribbins. Let’s go to March 2015, before I’d been diagnosed (though MS was already suspected). I was in the grip of an aggressive relapse, and my neurologist sent me for IV steroids. My husband was working away, and since I couldn’t do much of anything because most of me was numb and hurting, I went to stay with my folks for a few days.

I slept in my old bedroom. Well, slept isn’t exactly correct. The steroids had left me feeling wired, and I couldn’t switch off. My folks live in a terraced house. Growing up, I was used to hearing the comings and goings of next door, both ways, through the walls. That night I didn’t hear any sounds coming from next door, but as I lay with my feet pressed against the adjoining wall, I thought I could feel a heartbeat. Probably my own pulse. But this sparked the initial ideas for Cribbins.

What if there was a horrible old man who used to live next door? An old man who died and his ghost remains. His ghost is so strong I can feel its heartbeat.

What if this malevolent spirit attacks my new protagonist (let’s say Sophie, because Sophie is a nice name) so aggressively it sparks an autoimmune response in her, thus causing MS? Because no one really knows for sure what causes MS.

Yes! Immediately this idea excited me. It felt like an original concept and so very close to home. I could take everything that was happening to me, along with all the uncertainty and fear, and do something creative with it.

Cribbins became a hugely cathartic project. I applied anthropomorphism to MS and made it a human monster. And in doing all of this, I made some sort of peace with my own diagnosis.

As a side note, my neurologist, Dr Petheram, read and enjoyed Cribbins. In fact, during my annual review each year, she always asks if I have any new book releases that she can buy and read on her next holiday. I reckon that’s a pretty cool endorsement. Who else can say their neurologist is a fan of their work?

Cribbins is currently on offer for 99c / 99p. So if you want to find out how much of an evil old bastard Ronnie Cribbins is, check it out in the following places:


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