‘It was a horrible experience and a weird way to get into writing’ – how terrifying paranormal activity in Irish author Caroline Mitchell's home led to writing career
Irish author Caroline Mitchell has garnered a loyal following for her crime fiction novels over the past five years, but it was a terrifying experience with paranormal activity in her home that kick-started her career as a writer.
Caroline, who is originally from Ferbane in Offaly, moved to the UK with her husband Neil over a decade ago and was working with CID as a Detective Constable in 2010 when things started to go bump in the night (and day) at their Essex home.
The mother of four received a call at work from Neil, who was disturbed by crashing and banging upstairs in the house, even though nobody else was at home.
It was the beginning of a four-year ordeal which saw the activity range from objects moving on their own to Neil being physically attacked and scratched by an unseen force. The family also heard growling in the house and were forced to flee in terror on several occasions.
Over the course of that time the house was blessed by priests but this had little effect so eventually they requested an exorcism from the Vatican. The turning point came when they visited a local priest at his house, which was attached to the church. While they were there they heard heavy footsteps upstairs.
Speaking to Derek Mooney on The Ryan Tubridy Show on RTE Radio 1 this week, Caroline revealed, “The priest asked, ‘What’s that?’ and my husband said, ‘That’s part of what’s going on with us at home.' The priest turned white as a ghost and said, ‘That should not be happening here’.”
It took a year to have the exorcism approved and carried out at the family's home, but thankfully it quietened the activity significantly. Whatever is causing the issue appears to be attached to Neil and the family have found that removing their focus from any mild activity that does occur prevents it from escalating.
Given the litany of incredible experiences the family had over the course of those four years, and the 30 other people (including one of Caroline’s fellow police officers) who also witnessed troubling incidents in the house, there has been huge interest in the story.
Tired of repeating their terrifying tale to people, Neil suggested that Caroline write it down and her first book, Paranormal Intruder, was born.
“I don’t even tell everyone that I started writing because of those experiences – it takes so long to explain,” Caroline tells Independent.ie. “I just say, ‘oh yeah, I just got into writing’ because once they hear that they don’t hear anything else!
“It was just a horrible experience and certainly a weird way to get into writing. I self-published Paranormal Intruder in 2013 because I didn’t expect a career as a writer but it sold really well and even now it’s still a best-seller in that category.
“I think it’s very unusual to have a real life story from a police officer, the fact that this really happened, and we have so many witnesses - over 30 witnesses - that separates it from other books on the market,” she adds.
“The fact you have someone who is the most reasonable, respectable person standing up and saying ‘this happened to me’ makes it more interesting. I know it’s not for everyone and I don’t expect everyone to believe it and I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, I just started off telling my story.”
Once the book was published, Caroline found she missed writing, so she started penning crime fiction on her hour-long commute to and from work, and late at night, drawing on her experiences in the CID, a role she eventually left when writing full-time became a viable option financially.
“I used to interview vulnerable victims of crime, children, and the perpetrators of crimes as well,” she says. “And not just that but also being in the office with colleagues all trying to work really hard and bring people to justice, and how you and your colleagues feel when you work with those vulnerable victims – things you can only come up with if you’ve worked in that environment.
“Children are what got to me the most. I would have to walk away sometimes and just clear my head,” she says of dealing with some of the most upsetting cases. However, she adds that keeping morale up in the police is important so “the old black humour creeps in as well”.
“The books do get quite dark but there are lighter moments too. If it was dark and gloomy the whole way through it would be too depressing so there are human moments in there too that will make you smile, as there are in real life. At the end of the day my books always have a positive message. People love a detective battling evil. But good wins out.”
Caroline’s tenth novel in five years, Truth and Lies, will be published on August 30 via Thomas & Mercer. It’s the first in what she hopes will be a series about Amy Winter, a Detective Inspector, who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps. However, she discovers that her birth parents are two of the UK’s worst serial killers and a letter from prison from her birth mother may lead her to the burial sites of three murder victims.
She drew from the infamous cases of Rose and Fred West who committed at least 12 murders between 1967 and 1987, and Moors murderers Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, who murdered five children between 1963 and 1965, including school boy Keith Bennett, whose body has never been found.
“I love getting into the head of a serial killer, which is going to sound very strange, but it fascinates me and it fascinates a lot of people. Most of my books have a chapter written from the perpetrator’s point of view. I have done a lot of research into different personality traits, sociopaths, psychopaths,” she explains.
While Truth & Lies is her tenth novel, Caroline is already working on her twelfth and admits that she has worked extremely hard over the past five years to build her impressive back list.
“It’s not even that I write super fast – I work long hours," she says. "Most writers will write a certain amount for the day, maybe 1000 or 2000 words a day, but I will sit down for hours to write and work out plot and take a short break before coming back and working quite often late into the night.
“Having four children and a home to pay for is great motivation! But because I have so many books under my belt now I can start to slow down a bit. It’s great to have a back list. When you sell one book readers who love what you write want to go back and buy all the other books. There’s nothing worse than having to wait a year for a new book to be released.”
Truth and Lies by Caroline Mitchell will be published on August 30 by Thomas and Mercer. Paperback £4.99 (€5.55).