A Painful Post Mortem

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A Painful Post Mortem is a novel which explores the perennial parental lament: "Where did I go wrong?" in respect of a wayward child.  Follow the journey of this father, Mark, as he drinks his way to death as a means of escaping the uncomfortable facts; and mother, Claire, as she sets off on a journey of discovery to reveal the truth.

ALL PROFITS from sales are for charities helping children: Care For The Family - educating against teen drug abuse; and Tearfund - supporting child victims of HIV / AIDS.

If you enjoyed Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper you'll love A Painful Post Mortem.


“I’m not normally a reader; however, I could not put this book down.” Penny (works in drugs rehab.)

"After reading your book, we felt it would be good to add it to the Bereaved Parents' Network library, which is a resource we have at all the events we run for bereaved parents, which many find very helpful . . . It is refreshingly different - writing it as a novel makes it so easy to read. And it is very well written too." Mike Coulson Bereaved Parents' Network Co-ordinators

"I loved the bereavement poem in the book. It was so moving . . .” J . . . Long Crendon

“Started your book last night – finding it most compelling.”
Celia Bowring of CARE

Skilfully handled, interlinking present tense narrative with third/past point of view – and oh boy, how it adds texture and dimension! Characterisation is strong and well balanced. I am, as you’ll gather, very impressed with A Painful Post Mortem – a most moving book." -­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Acclaimed Hodder & Stoughton author, Jessica Stirling

“I have read
A Painful Post Mortem with much interest and I am greatly impressed with the book and, not least, your actual written style.” Michael Saward - Canon Treasurer St Paul's Cathedral (rtd)

“Not only is this a good read but it would probably prove invaluable help to the parents of teenagers/young adults who are causing their family heart ache. I warmly recommend it.” USA Reader Review via Barnes & Noble

“The book is riveting I could not put it down..” Sue Jenner – Facebook

 “…very well written, easy to read and believable. I would highly recommend it.” Dawn Dorrington - Woman Alive Book Club

“A beautifully written book with strong characterization. The ending leaves an open verdict with sinister implications."  Sheila Johnson – Woman Alive Book Club

“...beautifully written, the characters well drawn...I felt that one of the messages of the book was “how to forgive yourself”. Hugh Doxat- Pratt 

“I couldn't put 'A Painful Post Mortem' down and stayed up to the early hours to finish it. Not only was it a good read but it made me start questioning the way I see and handle my relationships. I've bought another copy to give to a friend going through similar situations to Claire as I know she'll find it helpful.”
Rampant Reader – Amazon

"Although described as a novel, this excellent book is based on a real life story and the author takes us into a family life torn apart by the sudden death of one of its young members. As if this wasn't bad enough, the post mortem described the deceased young lady as a 'known drug addict'. Her divorced parents are devastated by this because they believed that she had won the battle against her addiction since becoming pregnant with her own child, now age fifteen months. The book deals with the various family relationships, the guilt, hurt, and all the raw emotions resulting from this tragedy. The family have one purpose, and that is to remove the status of 'known drug addict' from the death certificate. Anyone who has lost a child or maybe a sibling at a young age will be able to identify with the painful emotions found in this book. Highly recommended." 
17th February, 2011- Margaret Vaughan
“I received this book as a birthday present and just wanted to say how much I enjoyed it - the way you write about Faith and God is just incredible, and has really helped me at a difficult time. I am pregnant and facing death from cancer . . . according to Dr. prognosis is about a year . . . baby is 24 weeks. I worked for a long time with drug and alcohol abuse . . . now for CRUSE Bereavement Care and a Child Bereavement Charity and I would like to put your book on to our required reading for students if that would be OK. I love the way you change the tense so seamlessly
. It has everything . . . humour, pain, characterisation, existential angst.” Lydia



Q Most of the non-fiction books you’ve written – under various pen-names – have been on quite harrowing subjects such as drugs, divorce and debt. A PAINFUL POST MORTEM (pb Cumcaritas Books) follows that trend. What makes you think that anyone will want to read a novel about parental bereavement – particularly when it involves drug abuse?

A Sadly, it’s a contemporary issue. You’ve only to pick up a newspaper or switch on the TV to realise how many parents, these days, have to face the death of an offspring in shocking or violent circumstances. Sometimes they’re aware of the way in which their child’s life has been spiralling out of control. But sometimes, they haven’t a clue. A Post Mortem and Inquest can often reveal painful, shameful circumstances which, in their way, can be as shocking as the death itself. Circumstances like drug addiction and prostitution. In that case, you may feel doubly betrayed: angry with the way your child has deceived you; devastated because her death means you can do nothing to influence or change those circumstances; guilt-ridden because, inevitably, you wonder where you went wrong.

I’ve told the story through the eyes of Katya’s parents, Mark and Claire, and her sister, Rosie, so that the reader can identify with the internal struggle that each of them goes through to come to terms with what’s happened. The grief and loss are tragic — but they’re not the sum of the book.

At its heart, it’s a love story. It’s about the enduring love of a parent for a child: a love that wants the best for that child, no matter how rebellious or self-destructive the child may be; a love that continues beyond the grave; but also a love that recognises its own shortcomings. And the sub-text is about creating a healthy self-love: empowering yourself and your child to have a sense of self-worth. Plus it portrays the love that can exist between a man and woman, which, despite betrayal, divorce and distrust, allows for forgiveness and peace of mind.

Q Throughout the book, the anger and guilt of bereavement comes across very movingly. It sounds as if you have inside knowledge of the experience?

A I lost a daughter in similar circumstances, so I can identify with many of the stories I read in newspapers and see on TV. And I have friends who’ve lost adult offspring in violent and shocking circumstances. In the book, Mark and Claire’s anger is directed at the unknown entity who has declared, on the Pathology Report, that Katya was ‘a known drug addict’. The whole book is about their quest to prove the error of that statement and have it removed from the Death Certificate.

Q How, as a writer, do you approach a story like this?

A Titles are very important to me. I see a title as being like a tailor’s dummy, and the plot as the garment I’m constructing. The whole story hangs from the structure of the title, which, in turn, gives the narrative its shape.

A Post Mortem is actually a pathological examination of a body to determine the cause of death. Obviously, it can’t inflict pain on the deceased, so A PAINFUL POST MORTEM is an oxymoron! But the title and content of my book isn’t simply to do with a physical assessment of what led to Katya’s demise. Its prime concern is with the psychological and emotional scrutiny of past events and attitudes in an attempt to establish a cause of death. In other words, the guilt and blame game played out by Claire, Mark and Rosie. In my understanding, the bereaved need to find just as many answers in this realm as they do with the pathological, practical, or even criminal aftermath of a sudden death.

Q But there are practical issues to be resolved, as well, aren’t there? Can you tell us the sort of thing that arises, and how your characters cope?

A Planning a funeral and clearing a house of the deceased’s possessions can, actually, be quite therapeutic, as Claire finds. Having to make decisions on whether to go for burial or cremation, church service or secular, deciding who gets what, closing bank accounts, settling debts and so on, becomes the focal point of your mind and gets you through the initial trauma. In some situations, there may be no other practical matters to cope with. But in the book there’s the custody of Katya’s child to consider, too. And because drugs are concerned, Mark and Claire have the added worry that Social Services might become involved in an adverse way.

Q You’ve written quite scathingly about ‘the establishment’ in respect of drug addiction. Do you think more should be done in terms of policy, policing, imprisonment?

A I’m sure there are many caring, individual, professionals. My gripe is with the system. I think we’ve lost our way in this country. There’s so much antipathy to our Christian roots that we forget that much of our law was based on Christian ethic. In recent years, we’ve had governments who thought they could improve upon existing law by becoming increasingly liberal. But what they’ve done is throw the baby out with the bathwater. Consequently, they’re bending over backwards to be more humane, more honourable, more compassionate, more understanding. But as the vast majority of people are aware, the fact is that one person’s ‘rights’ inevitably impinge upon another’s. You simply can’t legislate for every facet of every situation.

For example, in the book, Claire tries to find help when Katya runs away. She’s told that the law says that she is responsible for her sixteen-year old daughter who, because she has no income, can’t support herself. Then she’s told that – hey! – Katya can apply for benefits, in which case, she can legally leave home, even though she’s planning to live with a boy who’s alleged to have taken part in the gang–rape of a girl. All Claire wants to do is to protect her child. But the law pulls the rug from under her.

Q So if legislation is ineffective, how do you see the answer?

A The ethos of the Welfare State – like many good things – has been abused, so that what we have, now, is a culture of dependency and blame. Parents like Mark and Claire, and teachers like those who reprimanded Katya for bad behaviour, have been robbed of their authority, their right to discipline the children in their care. Discipline, in effect, has become a dirty word. What we have to do is to start again: to create a society where self-discipline, a work ethic, and ownership of responsibility are perceived as desirable qualities. Qualities which are not inherent in the human race, but which have to be taught from the cradle and throughout childhood, and reinforced in adolescence and young adulthood.

Q It might sound a bit Victorian to some people, to be talking of discipline.

A Quite! You only have to look at the number of TV programmes there are on child-rearing and boot-camp for adolescents to see how confused we’ve become about the merit and method of teaching self-discipline. By muddling cause and effect, rights and responsibility, we’ve left a whole generation with no satisfactory pattern for living a meaningful life. Personally, I find it helpful to think of self-control – i.e. discipline – in terms of practising selection, rather than abstinence. Learning to say ‘no’ to one option leaves you free to choose another. For instance, the TV programme The Choir showed, very movingly, the benefits of disciplining yourself to show up for rehearsals instead of roaming the streets or playing computer games. Making that choice meant the youngsters had a chance to go to China or The Royal Albert Hall to compete against other choirs. What those kids gained was not simply a skill, or even a trip abroad, but a huge pride in their achievement; a mutual respect for each other, and a sense of self-worth.

In the book, Katya has been taught self-discipline, but what she’s witnessed at home hasn’t been entirely in accord with that ethic. For instance, the rows between her parents; her father’s drinking habits and, later, her mother’s religious hypocrisy. But there’s a paradox. Because the turning point in Katya’s life comes only when Claire stops trying to make Katya accept responsibility for her predicament (by pointing out that using drugs to escape from the unhappiness at home was the wrong choice) and makes herself accountable for her failings as an adult and a parent. When she asks, weeping, for Katya’s forgiveness, Katya responds – for the first time – by accepting responsibility for her own destructive behaviour, and absolving her mother from fault. Only then is Katya able to take the first crucial step towards helping herself to make the right choices.

Q You don’t honestly believe that by using these methods we could wipe out drug addiction and crime?

A Because we’re human, there will always be Claires and Marks and Katyas making wrong choices. But I don’t think that criminalising drug addicts is the answer. To a rebellious teenager with low self-esteem, like Katya, taking on ‘the establishment’ is a huge fillip. It’s at this point that we need systems in place to support, correct, guide and help those concerned. To give them a second chance.

Q You mean counselling – that sort of thing? But wouldn’t it be prohibitively expensive?

A Preventative measures would be far more cost-effective than what we do now. At the moment we’re simply picking up the pieces; dealing with the aftermath. And that’s very costly, financially and emotionally. There are charitable organisations – I’ve listed some at the end of this page – which exist to educate the young about the dangers of drug addiction before they start; others that aim to help addicts to give up their habit. Both have their place. But it shouldn’t be left to charity. Government should be involved. The huge sums spent in locking up drug-users would, in my opinion, be better spent in providing alternatives for them.

Q Can you give us some example of that?

A It’s back to discipline, again: creating the opportunity for choices to be made. As Claire observes, when she’s asked to write an article on her experience with Katya’s drug abuse, the physical addiction to heroin is relatively easily knocked on the head. (Easier for some than nicotine, I believe.) But the vacuum that’s created when there’s no need to steal or prostitute yourself to get the money for the next fix, is much harder to deal with. Claire likens it to a flower bed that’s been weeded, but left empty. In no time, it’s full of weeds again.

She tries to get Katya interested in her childhood pursuits of sewing, baking, drawing – and it works to some extent. It buys Katya time to discover for herself that she wants to resurrect the urge she recalls from childhood to work with animals. The result is that she puts herself through Agricultural College. And although she never works in that capacity, the satisfaction she feels in knowing that she had the self-discipline to stick it out and to graduate, gives her more of a ‘high’ than the diminishing returns of a heroin injection.

Q You mentioned a Christian ethic in this country’s laws, and I see that you’ve included a religious theme in the book. Is that wise in today’s climate of multi-culturalism?

A It’s true that religion can be highly contentious and divisive. But that’s because it’s a subject few people can be indifferent to. Faith evokes strong feelings: scorn; disbelief; anger and prejudice. But for many people – who would never, in their day-to-day lives, acknowledge, even remotely, the concept of faith – it can also be a source of reassurance, guidance and strength.

When you’re staring death in the face, the thought of a beneficent God and an afterlife is a powerful and comforting influence. I wanted to explore this dichotomy: the prejudices and misunderstandings, the zeal and the hypocrisy. Mark, for instance, initially uses his anger with Claire’s faith as a means of wresting care and control of the children from her by declaring her unstable when they divorce. However, much later, when he learns of Katya’s death, the thought of his daughter simply going up in flames at the crematorium proves too hard to accept. So whilst admitting nothing, he relinquishes arrangements for the funeral service to Claire – silently hoping and trusting, that a church ritual of hymns and prayers will assuage his grief. Finally, whilst still outwardly scornful, he asks for the Tennyson poem, Crossing the Bar to be included. And as Rosie comes to realise, when she reads it, it’s a powerful and moving acknowledgement of the dangers to be faced in leaving this life and crossing to an afterlife – unless you put your trust in the Pilot who will take you through.

Q Thank you, Mel. Will there be any religious elements in the book you’re working on now?

A The answer to that is, I don’t know. It depends on the characters, their lives and beliefs. At this point, I’m as much in the dark as anyone!

Links to Helpful Organisations in the UK:

clicking on any of these links below will take you to the organisation's own website:

  • Care For The Family: nationwide education, advice and support
  • Narcotics Anonymous: nationwide group support for addicts
  • Families Anonymous: nationwide group support for the families of addicts
  • Betel of Britain: Birmingham, Nottingham, Watford, Ireland: offers help to ‘restore homeless and substance-dependent people to productive independent lifestyles.’


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