When I was a kid back in Canada, my Uncle Vic once said to me, ‘You’re interested in religion, aren’t you?’
Then, he paused before adding, ‘But in a weird way.’
I don’t recall what I had said to prompt this observation, but his tone suggested I’d understand his meaning. He wasn’t being derisive; rather, his question was almost conspiratorial. Vic was interested in weird stuff, too. He and I would often read and discuss the same strange novels. My uncle had spent some of his early adulthood attending Spiritualist churches. He was also a Freemason – not because it offered great networking opportunities (as was the case for my father, for example) but because he was genuinely attracted to the group’s spirituality. At his home on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Vic attended a weekly hypnosis circle run by his friend Al, an ex-cop turned hypnotist and parapsychologist. Back in the late 1970s, I used to visit Vic over the summer school break, and he’d take me along to these hypnosis gatherings. (They were strictly adult affairs, but Al made allowances for a Canadian teenager with too much time on his hands.) Then, in off hours, I would listen to Vic and Al talking about guardian angels, spirit guides, out of body experiences and other arcana far beyond my youthful comprehension.
The other thing about my Uncle Vic was this: he was psychic.
Let me explain that. I really need to, because, nowadays, I consider myself a sceptic. I believe in the scientific method and am suspicious of anyone who claims to read others’ thoughts, move objects with their mind, predict the future or (especially!) speak to the dead. I do not believe in out of body experiences or spirit guides. And yet, I do know this: when Uncle Vic told me about things that were going to happen, they usually did. I understand all the rational arguments against these spooky recollections - the ways in which we all cherry-pick anecdotes and misremember things - but I gathered enough circumstantial evidence to stop me dismissing my uncle’s abilities out of hand.
The takeaway is, I really do believe that my uncle was psychic. But I’m also a sceptic. And I know those two states of mind don’t sit together happily.
Indeed, it’s that very tension between belief and disbelief that gave rise to my Accent Press crime series, The Sara Jones Cycle. In Book One, Dead in Time, sceptical occult expert Sara Jones confronts the possibility that she may actually be psychic.
When I had the idea for that novel, I didn’t even know that the subgenre ‘paranormal crime’ existed; Dead in Time was simply a crime story based on my own interest in psychic phenomena. That interest, which I exploited so casually as I plotted the story, became the bedrock of my series.
In a couple of weeks, Small Justice - the third book in The Sara Jones Cycle - will be released by Accent Press.
And, once again, I have mined one of my ‘weird’ obsessions. In Small Justice, Sara takes part in a murder investigation that leads her to a cult that worships fallen angels. Cults have been another keen interest of mine ever since I was a kid - I’ve written about that fascination, too. It strikes me that, when writing a series, we tend to draw on our earliest, most abiding interests, one by one. A series builds book upon book, growing in layers of a lifetime’s obsessions like sedimentary rock.
For me, this time, it’s cults. Next time...
Well, I’ve only just started planning the The Sara Jones Cycle, Book Four. But I suspect that, next time, real psychic Sara Jones will have to confront a fake showbiz psychic. Fake psychics happen to be another interest of mine. (Try to hunt down an old copy of phoney spiritualist medium M. Lamar Keene’s autobiography, The Psychic Mafia. It’s a real eye-opener.)
And so, over the next several months, a fourth Sara Jones novel will emerge, based on another of my ‘weird’ obsessions. I only wish that Uncle Vic were still around to read them all. Sara Jones owes him a lot.