Is there a secret behind the story?

by Thea Atkinson

I grew up in a house with 3 brothers: one who put snakes in my boots; one who stole the money from my piggybanks: all of them, even the one I hid behind my closet door; and one who continually tried to peel my fingernails from the nailbeds.

I love each one of them, and all for those same reasons mentioned.

My brothers, like many brothers the world over, tormented the living daylights out of me, their only sister. They made me play goalie in the winter so often I never learned to skate. They forced me to run bases when I didn’t want to by firing an orange hockey ball at me until I darted around at their bidding afraid of the sting those balls delivered. Those brothers of mine threw ski poles at me, hit me over the head with a glass liquor bottle ala cartoon barfights, they Indian burned my arms absolutely raw.

And they would absolutely all die for me, each one–or at the very least beat the snot out of a bully.

So when one of them began to suffer the torments of addiction and relapse, it was inevitable that it would affect me to my core. We in the family all held our collective breaths, working at loving the person and not the behaviour. We went through all of the sickness of enabling and co-dependency and all those other terribly guilt-ridden symptoms of being the healthy family members of a very sick person.

It was this particular brother who I’ve seen give away his last bit of money to someone who needed it. I’ve seen him sit with my months’ old daughter for hours trying to calm her during a colick spell. He tells a joke like noboby’s business and if you’re perched awkwardly at at party with no one to talk to, he is the one who will spend his time with you and pull you into the crowd.

He genuinely likes people: a strange thing in my family of introverts. I think people get this about him and they respond. He has never lost that, even when he was struggling with the worst of his crisis.

It wasn’t until he started coming through the tunnel that I was able to breathe again–and breathing for me meant writing.

Secret language of Crows doesn’t sell well–it’s my fault, really. It’s so close to my heart that I don’t market it much–if at all. It doesn’t detail my brother or my family’s crisis, (That would be highly disrespectful of the people I hold most dear) but it does explore my own sense of helplessness and guilt in ways that you can only do in fiction.

Metaphorically, it lets me beat myself up and come out clean on the other end.

There’s a lot of symbolism in there that may only mean something to me, as it’s an intensely personal novel, but I think you may just find your own intimacy in there. You might transpose your own personal truth–isn’t that what symbolism does, after all?

You see, in my own way, I died for this brother–or rather, I took on the bully for him.

And I’m quite satisfied for both our sakes that it’s not coming back.


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Thea is the author of several novels that she considers left of mainstream. You can find her on Smashwords, BN, Kobo, Sony, Apple

Anomaly by Thea Atkinson
Secret Language of Crows by Thea Atkinson

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Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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34 comments on “Is there a secret behind the story?
  1. […] of him. (what brother wouldn't feel such fierce protectiveness over a hurt sister? See: my blog post about my own brothers) But she returned to Nova Scotia and she stayed here. My mom tells me stories […]

  2. Heavy stuff. My best to you.

  3. Reblogged this on Thea Atkinson and commented:

    I wrote this post last year, and recent events have got me thinking about my family and my loved ones. Until I can write a proper blog post, I thought I’d re-share. Hope you don’t mind the regurgitation.

  4. v3ronicavida says:

    Yesterday, Boxing Day in Oxford Street amidst of the crowds of shopping a young man aged 18 was fatally stabbed. Even though I did not know him personally various young members of my family knew him and were affected by it. I must say that I feel very affected remotely everytime a young person loses their life in this way. I feel helpless and in a weird way partly responsible as I am part of a community and am not active in trying to curb or influence these young men’s mental disregard to lives. Anyway I am writing a script which focuses on the mother and how she deals with an incident which is quite similar. So I believe sometimes when a story is told it may have an input of some personal experience or feeling. Thank you for your post, it makes me more determined to tell the story from my heart. Looking forward to many more of your posts.

    • thanks for the lovely comment, Veronica. I’m glad my little post offered you some aid in your determination. So many things affect us and communicating our emotions is so important–even if in ‘story form’.

      take care

  5. […] Like many people, I have an understanding of addiction, not from the user perspective, but from the family perspective, so I know that while I’m not addicted to food, I do love to eat. It could easily be an […]

  6. […] Thea Atkinson brings us “The Secret Language of Crows”. […]

  7. […] I think she went home once, packed up my mother and rode the waves back to Scotland. I wonder what they thought of her back there: was she a failure, were they excited to see her? She had brothers who I don’t doubt would have torn my grandfather limb from limb if they’d been able to get hold of him. (what brother wouldn’t feel such fierce protectiveness over a hurt sister? See: my blog post about my own brothers) […]

  8. […] from Thea: I wrote a post about my motivation for one of my novels here. Feel free to check it out. Share me SomeTwitterLinkedInStumbleUponFacebookMoreDiggRedditLike […]

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this personal story. I know how it feels to watch someone you love hurtling towards self destruction. It always seems to be the brightest and the best of us too. Thank heaven and all the angels your brother saw sense and pulled back from the brink, I’m certain having such a loving sister was a huge part of his redemption.

  10. RC Heydn says:

    My aged mother passed away just last month after suffering for quite a while. We all suffer loss or the fear of loss in our personal way so I won’t say I understand your experience totally. But it does make me want to read Crows and I will when my present list of reads is done with.

    • Ross:

      I’m so so sorry to hear about your Mom. I still have both of my parents and I’m not sure I’ll be well prepared for either of their passings, but they are both young yet, so hopefully that won’t be for a while. I do wish you peace in your grief and thank you for stopping by to allow me to ponder the gift of life.

      thanks t

  11. […] because my childhood was so horrible I felt I needed to escape. Well, I did have 3 brothers who tormented the living snot out of me, but that’s not the […]

  12. Viv says:

    I am confidently expecting that I will love this book as much as I have loved Anomaly and One Insular Tahiti.
    I think all strong experiences and characters in our lives fuel stories. My current place of work is chock full of them but alas, while I still work there and count some of the people as friends, I’m not sure I can bring myself to write about them if I still have to go in every day.
    I have an older brother who used to do terrible things to me like put mousetraps in my bed. We get on ok as adults but I think that he is probably someone who would now be defined in the autistic spectrum. Family, hey?
    great post and I am sure another great book.

    • Thanks, Vivienne. Your words as always mean the world to me, as I’ve read some of your work and it’s always so stunningly crafted. I do hope Strangers and Pilgrims finds the widest audience it can as I’m enjoying it so far and think it’s a must read. (Finishing it when i go camping next week so I can give it my undivided attention)

  13. Jaxbee says:

    Thea, that’s a wonderful, powerful post. Let me know when it’s out in paperback as I would buy that book. My friend has an ongoing battle with her brother’s alcoholism. Her Dad spends his life driving around Nottinghamshire trying to find the pub her brother will be in. He’s late forties, living back with parents and in his few sober moments, only talks of wanting to take his life. It’s awful but they still keep on hoping and supporting. I hope your brother has found happiness now. On a lighter note, I have three sisters, all still very close. Different upbringing to the one you describe but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have our girly scraps!

    • Jaxbee:

      It doesn’t matter the addiction, does it, it destroys so completely. I’m sad to hear of your friend’s troubles. May her brother find some sort of peace from it. My childhood was incredibly happy. I have so many memories to enjoy if I ever have to suffer from the dreaded Alzheimer’s.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and then post a response. It’s nice to know I’ve touched someone with a few words.

  14. Sammy Sutton says:


    Thanks for sharing this story, I have chills. I have two brothers, your words strike a chord.

    Much love to you!


    • Sammy, it means a lot that you slipped over to my blog and read…and then commented. I admire the way you keep your own blog fresh and interesting. Thanks for the kind words too

  15. Call me a sadist for using my writing to work through personal issues, but I thrive on finding inspiration in family situations (work life, general worldly experiences) to inform the thoughts and feelings behind my stories. The experience doesn’t need to necessarily translate directly to plot or character (as you’ve illustrated in this case, Thea) but it needs to have a beating heart inspired by something you — as a person, more so than as a writer — feel strongly about.

    You can study the writing of others, follow all the tips, and write very successfully, but if the heart of the piece doesn’t come from somewhere more personal, I feel that it can become prone to “dying on the vine.”

    Thanks for sharing this personal story of “left-ventricle” style inspiration, Thea.

    • thanks, Jason. My brothers fuel many pieces of fiction, although never blatantly, as you say. They are the mold I seem to put many characters in as they are such grand characters themselves.

      I think for writing to be authentic it must come from an authentic place. We seem the same on that thread. thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s much appreciated.


  16. Lynn Kelley says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories and how your family’s love help your brother get through such a horrible time in his life. I’m so glad to hear a happy outcome because the past few years I’ve heard of too many young lives lost to overdoses. And seeing how their families suffer, it’s just heartwrenching. I wish your brother a long, healthy life and wish you much success with your books. Nice post.

  17. My older brother also struggled with substance abuse, but he’s been clean for almost four years. He also has a heart of gold and would sit with his handicapped friend for hours and hours on end, even when he was so addicted then himself. Pray your brother finds complete healing if he hasn’t already.

    • thanks so much for your comments. I’m pleased to say my brother too has been clean for about that long. It’s a long road. I’m pleased to hear your story came out clean, too!

  18. Tia says:

    Beautiful. As soon as I can make my way to my kindle I’m buying this book. It sounds amazing. Knowing you wrote it from such a personal place draws me to it. Thanks for sharing.

    • aw. Thanks so much Tia. I really appreciate that my little bit of angst has touched you in some small way. And I really appreciate you coming over for a visit. I hope you’ll return. I do hope if you buy, you like it.
      my best,

  19. DEb:

    thanks so much for those kind words. It’s funny with family, isn’t it? My brothers are the most amazing people, each one of them, and the little torments that they put me through were all just part of the teasing, the comraderie, the…boyishness of childhood. There was never any malice. And I look back on all that with pride and nostalgia. Love those boy/men.

    How many sisters do you have?

    • Deb says:

      I have five sisters. I was raised with three (the other two are much younger, but they’re still mine). We were very close in age- terrible when we were little, but really great now.

      • 5? good heavens! I thought 3 BROTHERS was bad. I always wanted a sister, though. I have a very close friend who I feel that close to, but it can’t compare to a real one.

      • Deb says:

        I think all siblings are precious 🙂 (since I now have two boys and two girls).

  20. Deb says:

    Thea, what a wonderful post. My sisters and I fought like crazy and did terrible things to each other, but we are each others’ best friends and would do anything for each other.

    I am filled with respect for you that you did not write a memoir about it. Yes, it would be disrespectful, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people.


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All Thea's novels are available on Kindle, Nook, Sony, and Kobo

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