Twins and Sibling Rivalry

the replacement

“So why twins?”  That’s the question I always expect when telling people what my novel “The Replacement” is about.  Only I never seem to get it.  Instead my answer often leads to a lengthy discussion on that very subject.  It seems that twin relationships fascinate many people.  They certainly do me, and here is why…

Mine was a solitary childhood.  I was an only child whose parents divorced when I was five and though I loved my home it sometimes felt empty.  Like many only children I grew used to my own company and embarked on love affairs with books and history that have never ended.  But in spite of my developing self sufficiency I still longed for a constant companion of my own age.

All my friends at school had siblings.  My four cousins were siblings too.  Of course they didn’t always get on.  By the time I was ten I’d lost count of the number of times I’d listened to pleas that a particularly annoying brother or sister be flattened by a passing tank!  But at the end of the day that bond of affection was still there.  They bickered but they made up.  They fought but would usually stick up for each other.  And I envied them that.  I wanted that sibling bond too, and who better to provide it than a twin?

Over the years I’ve met many people who shared the same childhood fantasy.  Some were only children like me.  Others had siblings but still felt a sense of something missing.  It was only recently that I stumbled across a medical condition called “Vanished Twin Syndrome” and began to understand why this might be.  It is estimated that around 20% of conceptions are of twins but only 3% result in twin births.  One twin is lost at an early stage in the pregnancy.  The mother does not have the normal signs of miscarriage and the twin essentially vanishes in the womb – its foetal matter being absorbed by the mother, the placenta or by the surviving twin.  If, as many believe, memory begins at conception then there may well be an unconscious sense that someone is missing together with a desire to try and recreate that lost bond.

As a child my notion of twin-ship was very simplistic.  Twins were best friends.  They did everything together.  They liked the same games, laughed at the same jokes and always kept each other’s secrets.  It’s only as an adult, both through meeting twins or reading books and articles about them that I’ve come to see that the relationship can be far more complicated than I ever imagined.  Though many twins view their twin-ship as a blessing there are some that view it as a curse and it was these toxic types of relationships that I wanted to explore in the book.

There are advantages to being an only child.  One never has to deal with sibling rivalry.  It is inevitable in all sibling relationships but imagine how much more intense it can be between twins.  You are exactly the same age, you may be physically identical, and will pass through every childhood milestone together.  And with such closeness inevitably comes comparisons.  What if your twin is better than you at everything?  How does that make you feel, both about yourself and about your twin?  No one likes to feel second best.  To have that feeling permanently must cause immense resentment that can continue long after childhood is over, especially as your bond is often seen as a blessing by other people who are continually telling you how lucky you are to have it.

And what is it like to always be one of a set?  What if you really are extremely close?  I’ve met twins who’ve told me that as children the only friend they wanted was their twin.  Does that closeness impede the ability to form relationships with others?  What happens when, in most likelihood, the day approaches when you have to part ways to go to different colleges or to take jobs in different locations?

I read an article where parents of twins talked about how previously peaceful twin relationships suddenly became violent as the day of separation approached.  In a way it makes perfect sense.  All your life you’ve had this other person by your side.  Suddenly they won’t be there anymore.  How will you cope?  What if you can’t?  What if they can?  What if they don’t seem to need you anymore?  You lash out because you realise that there is a dependency there and you resent the other person for causing it.

In some cases of course that dependency can last a lifetime.  I remember watching the film “Dead ringers” in which Jeremy Irons played identical twin doctors whose bond was so complete that neither was capable of functioning without the other.  It made me wonder how twins who have so intense a bond can go on functioning if one of them dies.

There is actually an organisation called “Lone Twin” where bereaved twins can meet and share their stories.  In a documentary about twins one such twin said that he had formed so intense a bond with another bereaved twin he had met through the organisation that it was causing problems in his relationship with his girlfriend.  She was jealous of this new relationship but he had told her that she would just have to come to terms with it.  I guess what he was really telling her was this new “twin” did and would always come first.

So if I was ten years old again and had the power to conjure myself a twin would I still do it?  The honest answer is that I just don’t know.  If we could have that wonderful close bond I’d always dreamed of and neither of us would have to lose the other until very late in life then I think the answer would be yes.  But relationships aren’t like household appliances. They don’t come with guarantees.  So thank God for my family and friends, for books and history (!) and the fact that I will never have to make that choice.

A Very Happy Christmas and a Prosperous 2014

xmasgifts2Greetings everyone! It’s hard to believe that the festive season is already upon us.  When my cousins and I were children we felt as it time was grinding to a standstill as we waited for the big day.  Now, as adults, we all agree that barely have we recovered from one Xmas and the next is upon us.  Whoever said that time speeds up as you grow older wasn’t lying!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of your for your messages and e-mails and for your support of my work over this and previous years.  It means a great deal to me and I am extremely grateful.

I’m delighted to report that my short piece for The Crime Vault has now been published.  If you would like to read it Click Here.

Soon I will be joining my family for our traditional Xmas get together.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing everyone – and to watch them try and keep straight faces as they tell me that I “really haven’t put on any weight at all”!!

Wishing you all a very Merry Xmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014.

All the best


Letting your characters lead the way


In the bleak winter term of 1954, something terrible happened at Kirkston Abbey school for boys…

So reads the back cover of my first novel: The Wishing Game, and it all seemed so straight forward when I started.  It was going to be a conventional horror story.  I had the entire plot worked out.  Now all I had to do was write it.  Little did I suspect that one of the characters I was about to create might have very different ideas as to what my tale was really about.

One thing I’ve learned is that fictional characters are like actors whose careers grow ever more successful as a book progresses.  At the start they are desperate unknowns who will agree to anything in the hope of landing that elusive big break.  By the end they are established stars with a very clear sense of what they will and will not do.  The first character who taught me this was a rebellious schoolboy by the name of Richard Rokeby.

When I began the book, Richard was a blank slate.  I remember spending ages pondering his appearance: was he tall or short, dark or blond, blue eyed, green eyed, cross eyed, bald – unlikely admittedly as he was only fourteen but you get the idea.  The important thing was that he was mine to command.  He really wanted the part and would willingly have spent the whole book in roller skates and a tutu if it meant getting cast.  He was humble and obliging and I loved him for it.

Fifty pages in and dear, sweet Richard was starting to develop a bit of an ego.  A key feature in the story is the destructive friendship that develops between him and another boy called Jonathan Palmer.  Like any good director – yes, I know I’m an author but let’s stick with the acting metaphor – I had it all planned.  Richard saw Jonathan looking upset, took pity on him and so their friendship began.  What could be easier than that?

It took my mother – who had kindly agreed to read the early chapters – to point out that befriending Richard would not be nearly as easy as I’d written it.  “I think he’d be a much tougher egg to crack” were the words she used.  As I battled an urge to tell her I was writing a novel, not making an omelette, I had an image of Richard standing on the edge of the set – in this case the school library – rolling his eyes and sighing.  “I’ll do it your way if you insist,” he seemed to be saying, “but I’m not sure it really works.  However you are the boss so I guess you know best…”  Rather like an actor who had been in the business a few years and gained good reviews for supporting roles in BBC dramas he had experience of the business and wasn’t afraid to drop hints that my approach – though obviously brilliant, inspired etc – might not necessarily be correct.  And, though I still naively considered myself the one in charge I did end up writing it his way.

By the middle of the book Richard and Jonathan were inseparable and, courtesy of a Ouija board, were unleashing supernatural hell on an unsuspecting Kirkston Abbey.    That at least was my idea, only Richard was having none of it.  He had now made the jump to A list star and one of the resulting perks was script approval.  “You can beg all you want,” he told me, “but I’m not doing it your way.  The heart of this story is my power over Jonathan.  I can make him do whatever I want.  Focus on that rather than all the Hammer House of Horror stuff and don’t call me back to set until you’ve done it.”  He then flounced off to his trailer, followed by his adoring entourage while I swallowed my pride and set about trying to make my temperamental star happy.

It probably sounds a bit silly when I put it like this.  Friends I’ve told this story to have often looked bemused.  “But Pat,” they say.  “You’re the author.  It’s your book.  You’ve created these characters and can make them do whatever you want.”  And yes, in a way I can.  Only the book would suffer.  If you’ve created a psychopath then you can’t have him flying off to the North Pole to rescue Santa and save Christmas.  It’s not believable, and though a novel is a work of fiction it needs to have some grounding in truth.  And that’s how what was intended as Tom Brown’s Schooldays meets The Evil Dead ended up being a psychological thriller about the dangers of charisma and the power of a strong personality over a weak one.

So, five novels down the line, how do I now feel about character power?  The answer is often bloody frustrated but ultimately very positive.  The Wishing Game may not be the book I initially intended to write but, courtesy of Richard Rokeby, I truly believe it is a better one.  And for that reason, in spite of all of his diva antics, I will always owe him a huge debt of thanks.

The Wishing Game

“Patrick Redmond’s chilling debut novel is a first-rate page-turner . . . Other writers may be hailed as the new Patrick Redmond in years to come”-Daily Mirror

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