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October 29, 2012

Keira Michelle Telford: My Life with Death (guest post)

I’m comforted by the smell of decomposition. It reminds me of my childhood, and I’m so desensitized to it that I sometimes don’t even realize that’s what I’m smelling. It triggers memories of sunny afternoons, spending time with my father, and playing in the fields beside my house. Let me explain...

I grew up in the countryside. We lived on the outskirts of a tiny village, beside several farms and small-holdings. One of the farmers, whose land extended up to our property line, had a problem with crows and magpies. To combat this, he trapped and killed several, strung them up by their necks, and tied them to the trees that surrounded his fields—including the trees that marked the edge of our property.

As a small child, I used to clamber about in the bushes around my yard, and happened one day to come across these decomposing corpses. They were firm to the touch, slowly desiccating in the summer sun. Their eyes were gone, leaving behind tiny holes that were filled with maggots and flies. From my recollection, this was the first time I’d ever seen anything dead, and I was fascinated. This experience also led me to the first major realization of my young life: all that lives, dies.

That was lesson one.

Lesson two came when, at the age of five, I found a dead blackbird in my yard.

I don’t recall whether it was at my request or upon his own doing, but my father put the blackbird inside an old plastic ice cream tub, poked a few holes in the lid, and stored it in the rafters of the car port. Every day, we’d check on it. The holes in the lid of the tub allowed flies to find the corpse and lay their eggs on it. The eggs hatched into maggots, and the maggots began to feast. They hatched into flies, and the cycle began again. Eventually, all that was left was feather and bone. I don’t remember what we did with the remains after that.

So that was how my life with death began, but there was much more to come.

When I was eleven years old, we moved to Wales. This new house was even more rural than the last one. Stuck halfway up a mountain, we were almost a mile away from our nearest neighbours, and we were surrounded by farmland. One day, while roaming the nearby fields, I came across the skeletonised remains of a sheep. It was sun-bleached, perfectly clean and intact. I still remember the way the bones felt in my hand: lighter and smoother than I’d expected. And of course, me being an incurably strange child, I collected them up and took them all home.

From then on, I was hooked. I spent my free time roaming the fields, scouring the land for animal remains. Some deep ravines ran along several of the fields, and these were a treasure trove of corpses. When it rained, the banks of the ravines were treacherous and slippery. Many sheep tumbled to their deaths here, and I picked over their bones as soon as nature was done with them.

To be honest, I was a very morbid human being. I still am. Death intrigued me so much that I began to write about it. Between the ages of eleven and fifteen I wrote hundreds of short stories, the subject matter of which mostly explored the moment of death, the biological processes that follow death, or the spiritual processes that I imagined might follow death. I wrote about ghosts and hauntings, demons and monsters, and all manner of other gruesome things.

And I never stopped. My medium changed from short stories to scripts to novels, but the subject matter was always pretty grisly. My obsession with death truly became a way of life for me— and I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t want to change a thing, because ultimately, if I’d never begun penning those dark stories in my youth, perhaps I would never have found the characters I’ve come to love as an adult.

About the Author:

Michelle is a British ex-pat, now living in British Columbia, Canada. She is the author of a 10-book series of post-apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction books, all centering on the lead character of Ella 'Silver' Cross. The first book (a novella) in this series, Acheron, was released Nov 2011. The next book, A New Age dawns (the fourth book in the series), is due to be released later this September.

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