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Cribbins, my third horror novel, is the story of a vengeful spirit who wreaks havoc in ways I hoped might put a different kind of spin on the ghost story trope. It’s about a single mother called Sophie Harrington who’s being haunted by her old neighbour Ronnie Cribbins. Sophie has recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and when she thinks back to when Cribbins began his terror campaign against her, she believes her first MS episode can be linked to that exact same time and wonders at the possibility that he’s the reason for her autoimmune disease.
I was diagnosed with MS myself back in 2016 and I’ll make no secret that that’s where the initial idea for Cribbins came from. At first my diagnosis wasn’t something I wanted publicising much beyond very close friends and immediate family (I didn’t want to be labelled as ‘that wifey with MS’). But as time went by and I made my peace, I decided that actually it was better if I didn’t shy away from it. In fact, I wanted to tackle it head on. Before my own diagnosis, I didn’t really know what MS was, so I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if I was to write a book involving a main character who has MS, in order to raise awareness. Then that sort of developed to, well wouldn’t it be even cooler if I could somehow incorporate MS as a more prominent theme and weave it into a ghost story somehow.
So that was pretty much how the challenge for Cribbins was set.
The idea for the story came to me one night, some weeks later, when I was staying at my folks’ house in what used to be my old bedroom. I was in the middle of a relapse and had been to the hospital earlier that day for a second round of IV steroids, therefore I had a serious case of steroid insomnia going on. I was tossing and turning, and feeling a bit delirious if I’m honest, when suddenly I could hear really loud snoring coming from the house next door. My folks live in a terraced house, so it’s not too strange that I could hear stuff going on next door, but the trippy part was that I convinced myself I could feel the wall breathing against my feet at the bottom of the bed, and it kept a distinct rhythm with the snorer’s inhalations and exhalations.
Ideas of a dark force in the house next door then began to form, and by morning I knew I wanted to write about a malevolent spirit who would infiltrate my protagonist’s immune system and cause all kinds of hell.
I was keen to convey a sense of creeping dread and doubt throughout, because Sophie is filled with so much uncertainty about what’s going on. I wanted to tie Ronnie Cribbins and the illness together as closely as I could, to anthropomorphise MS, in a way, so that it might be perceived as being the same monster.
As for Ronnie Cribbins himself, although he’s a completely fictitious character, he was influenced by some of the quirks and traits of someone I used to know. And the name Cribbins was borrowed from a gravestone in a cemetery that I walk my two dogs past every day. It’s fair to say that I take most of my inspiration from real people, places and situations. I love turning random elements of real life, good and bad, into pieces of fiction.