More than ten years ago I began to formulate the concept of what would eventually become Sins of the Son. The idea was to follow the downward spiral of a person from regular member of society to cold-blooded murderer, and the subsequent psychological deterioration that would drive someone to commit such an act. The story explores how trauma flows on through generations, how the abused become the abusers, and who is truly responsible for the resulting actions. It also asks the questions posed about nature-versus-nurture: are some people simply born evil, are they made evil, or is it a mix of both?
Over the past decade, this story has changed dramatically. First set in my hometown of Brisbane, Australia, in 2012 I was inspired to shift the setting to Galway, on the West Coast of Ireland after I visited for the first time. In 2017 I traveled back to Ireland to conduct more book research.
The change in the setting allowed for a flood of new themes to be woven into the story, including religion, women’s rights, ethnic minorities, institutional sexual abuse and more. The genre of the story has transformed from a straightforward crime novel into a psychological suspense story. I’ve also decided to divide the novel up into smaller, more manageable bite-size pieces, thus creating three, possibly four novellas.
Due to some rather significant life shifts over the past six months, I have not done much writing or blogging. Not that long ago I would become irritable if I hadn’t done any writing for more than a day, however over the past few months I have gone days, weeks and even months without writing a word.
In April of this year, I decided to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, in an effort to ere-establish a daily writing habit. I injected 7,838 words injected into the beginning of my Irish novella over the month of April, amidst starting a new job, moving house for the second time in two months, and just general life chaos.
I used Camp NaNoWriMo to add more detail to the beginning of my story, the first novella in the series, of how many I’m not yet sure. The story follows Leona, a teenage girl living on her family’s farm on the outskirts of Kinvara, a small fishing village in County Galway. In the wake of her mother’s death, Leona is forced to step up as the woman of the house. This newfound responsibility, along with her adolescent urges, become entangled in her father’s grief, leading to a shocking sequence of events with devastating consequences.
I’ve decided to share the first part of my Irish psychological suspense novella- Sins of the Son: Nature, Nurture, Torture- right here on my blog. I will publish this excerpt over seven posts so as to break up the read into shorter, more manageable bite-sized pieces.
These posts are kind of a big deal: this is the first time any part of my Irish novel has been read by anyone but myself. This is my baby, my life’s work. I am more passionate about this project than any of my previous stories, and I think any I will ever write after this one. I’ve been hesitant to share any of it until I knew it was perfect. It still isn’t perfect, and needs much more editing. But I’ve reached a point where I want to share it, as is, a work-in-progress. Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback.
TRIGGER WARNING: This excerpt contains strong themes involving sexual abuse, and may distress some readers.
Sins of the Son: Nature, Nurture, Torture
Copyright © Kate Kelsen 2019. All Rights Reserved
Kinvara, County Galway, Ireland
Aisling Moss’ body had been washed and dressed in white. Her hands were positioned atop one another on her chest, and a rosary wrapped around them. A cross had been placed around her neck. Candles flickered at the foot and head of her coffin. At the time of death, every clock in the house had been stopped and every mirror covered. The curtains had been drawn. There was someone in attendance of her body at all times, Leona took it in turns with her father and brothers.
Colm Moss and Father Braden, the parish priest, were sitting in the dining room next door. They were speaking softly, but she could still hear their conversation.
“Her sadness started the day Frank was born. It was incurable The loss of the baby girls between Liam and Leona only made it worse.”
“She named them all Leona. All five. I thought the name was cursed; I couldn’t understand why she insisted on the same name every time.”
“If only she had more faith in God,” Father Braden sighed. “She wouldn’t have suffered from such ongoing grief if she did. Its been sixteen years, after all.”
The priest paused.
“Colm, I’m afraid that because of the nature of Aisling’s death, I am not at liberty to give her the funeral rites or a church burial.”
“Father, please! She was not in her right mind when she did this!”
|“We are stewards, Colm, not the owners of the life God has entrusted us. Life is not ours to dispose of.”
“But, the girls! The girls are buried at the church!”
“To take one’s own life violates God’s sovereignty over life. It violates a genuine love for oneself, and one’s family, friends, neighbours and even acquaintances.”
The evening came, and Leona found her father still sunken in defeat in his chair, as numb as his wife was dead.
“Daddy, I’m serving up Mrs. Fitzgerald’s casserole,” she said softly.
She slipped her arm around his, gently guiding him to his feet and walking with him to the kitchen. Frank and Liam were sitting at the table, silently watching their father as he and Leona appeared in the doorway. His skin was washed out, with dark circles embedded under his eyes. Leona helped him sit down at his place at the table, taking her own seat at the other end.
“Frank, perhaps you’ll say grace tonight?” she suggested, pressing her hands together ready for prayer.
They ate in silence. Colm pushed the lumps of meat and potatoes around in its sauce, and a few spoonfuls made it to his mouth before he pushed the plate away. Leona and her brothers watched on silently as Colm stood up and shuffled heavily on his feet out of the room.
At dawn the sun rose somewhere behind the clouds, its light filtering through the grey. Leona rose from her bed and descended from her loft bedroom to the kitchen and made a start on the porridge. Her brothers soon appeared, followed by Colm shortly after. His skin was washed out, with dark circles embedded under his eyes. Leona served the porridge up into four bowls. She sat down at the table with her family, pressing her hands together ready for prayer. Colm breathed in deeply, fathoming for the strength to give thanks.
“Dear Heavenly Father,” he began, his voice quivering. “We thank You for Your goodness, and your kindness, and for this food we thank you, Amen.”
Colm picked up his cutlery in his hands, shoveling porridge onto his spoon. He slipped the food into his mouth and chewed slowly, forcing himself to swallow it down. At the end he promptly stood up.
Leona sat by her bedroom window, looking out into the yard behind the house. Her father’s body popped in and out of sight from the hole in the ground in which he was furiously shoveling. He was a man possessed; the ground was frozen, yet still he drove the spade into the dirt with force over and over.
Colm, Frank and Liam gripped the ropes as they slowly and awkwardly lowered the coffin into the burial plot. Colm drove a wooden cross into the ground at the head of the plot, then stood up, dusting his hands off and stepping back to stand with his children. His voice was exacerbated by the exertion.
“I remember when you used to laugh, my darling. Showing off that smile of yours. Your absence is like a gaping hole in each and every day. I would give anything to have you back.”
Colm looked at his children.
“She’s gone to heaven to be with God,” he insisted. “She’s with God, you hear?”
That evening, the family gathered at the table for tea, and Leona served up plates of meat and vegetables. Her father sat at the head of the table, and she sat adjacent to him. He took her hand, she took Frank’s, and he took Liam’s. Together they bowed their heads in prayer, and after saying grace proceeded to eat in silence.
“Dad, why did Mam killed herself?”
Colm looked up at Frank, the mournful droop of his face tightening with fury.
“What did you say, boy?”
“Why did she do it?”
“Go to your room.”
“But Dad, I ain’t finished eating…”
“Go to your room now! There’ll be no tea for you tonight! Now go before I flog you!”
Frank stood up and stormed out of the kitchen. Colm looked at Leona, whose eyes were welling up with tears.
“I’m sorry, love.”
“Why did she do it, Daddy?” she begged desperately. “Why wouldn’t she want to be here with us?”
Colm took her hands in his.
“She was sick, love.” His voice wavered. “She was very sick in her head. She didn’t know what she was doing, okay?”
Colm looked up at Liam, raising his eyebrows.
With their mother gone, there was much to be done. On Mondays Leona hand washed the family’s clothes. The milkman stopped by each day, a portion of which Leona churned into butter. The greengrocer, baker and butcher delivered once a week in their trucks. And once a week, Leona made the short trip on her bicycle into the village to buy non-perishable items.
She propped the bicycle against the wall outside the combination store. Inside, she gathered canned goods and bread. She approached the counter where Artie Higgins sat in attendance. He was her age; they had been in class together at St. Joseph’s. She placed her shillings on the counter, and their fingers briefly brushed as he reached over to drag them towards him. He smiled at her as she quickly withdrew her hand.
“How are ye this mornin’, Leona?”
“Fine, t’anks,” she softly replied.
“How’s your dad?”
“He’s doin’ okay.”
Artie nodded. His eyes were clear blue. Leona looked away coyly and she slipped her
mother’s purse back into her pocket.
Colm stood before Aisling’s side of the wardrobe, the doors open. He traced his fingers along the row of hung dresses. The lump in his throat was swelling so large it ached. He reached in and lifted a dress from the rod, and then another, and another, examining them as he laid them carefully on the bed behind him.
The loft door was closed, the daylight shining under the crack as Colm climbed the stairs.
Colm wrapped his hand around the doorknob, turning it and pushing it open slightly. Leona spun around, gasped, standing awkwardly in her petticoat, wrapping her arms across herself in an effort to cover herself. Colm stepped into the room, laid the dresses on her bed.
“They were your mother’s. You can have them.”
Leona approached them, picking up one of the dresses, holding it in front of her.
“Put it on.”
Leona lowered it and stepped into it. Colm approached her.
She obliged, and he buttoned the dress up the middle of her back. She turned back to him, and he regarded her, a sad smile pricking the corner of his mouth.
“You look so much like her. I see her every time I look at you. It’s agony;
I wish it were her I was looking at.” Colm shook his head.
“Why would she torment me in such a way,” he said almost to himself. “Remove herself but leaving you in her place to be a constant, torturous reminder?
“I don’t dare confess this to Father Braden, but if I could have her without you or the boys, I would take it any day.”
He stepped back toward the door, closing it slowly behind himself.
At the solemn call of the bells, the parishioners emerged from their homes and made their way to St John’s for Sunday morning mass. Sitting in the pews prior to the commencement of the service, Leona overheard a couple sitting behind him.
“Isn’t it lovely how much Leona is looking after her father?”
“Oh yes. The girl has certainly stepped up. She’s doing so well, considering her mother gave up on them.”
“Yes. I feel for her father. Her death must have been so embarrassing for him. You know Father Braden wouldn’t give her the burial rights, or bury her on the church grounds. If only she had more faith in God. She wouldn’t have suffered so much after the girls died.”
“That’s right. The Bible says, ‘Cast all your cares upon Him for He will take care of you’. We tell her that, but she never seems to listen.”
Leona felt a lump tightening in her throat, and tears burning behind her eyes.
How could they talk about her like that? she thought.
After mass, Leona felt a finger tap her on the shoulder. She turned around to the young man standing before her
“Aidan,” she greeted.
“How are you, Leona?”
Luke smiled down at her.
“It’s great to see you again.”
“You, too. You’re home now from medical school?”
“Yes, I’m going to be working here in town, actually.”
“So, what have you been up to?”
“Oh, still looking after my father and brothers on the farm. You’ll have to excuse me, Aidan. They’re ready to go.”
The household had retreated silently to bed. The door to the main bedroom was open slightly, and Leona hovered outside, peering through the crack. Her father stood by the bed. He shrugged his suit jacket off, lying it on the bed. He unlooped his necktie from its knot, and then unbuttoned his shirt, sliding it off to reveal solid, hardworking arms that seemed to have no fat, only muscle.
She felt the sensation below her belly button and inward from her thighs. It was like nothing she’d ever felt before, not when her fingers had brushed with Artie Higgins’ over shillings, or when Aidan Kelly had spoken to kindly to her after mass. It made her feel grown up, like the woman she had so suddenly become after her mother had died.
Colm lay on his side in the bed he had shared with Aisling. He heard the door creak, and moments later felt a warm body lie down behind him, a soft hand rest on his arm. He didn’t move.
Colm longed Aisling with every fibre of his being. His body ached for hers; the memory of her body was so vivid; he could feel her lying next to him, her arm around him, her small body fitting like a jigsaw piece behind him into all the angles which his joints were bent.
Aisling lay on her back underneath him, looking up at him with that sweet, enchanting smile. He unbuttoned his trousers, and she playfully helped him pull them down. He reached up and under her dress and guided her underwear down along her legs. He entered her, and she gasped, her eyes fluttering. His thrusting quickly intensified, and he drove his head into the pillow, tears dripping down his cheeks into the fabric. He cried out; the euphoria was short-lived, quickly swallowed by sadness as it swooped back in. He flopped onto the mattress, lying on his back, sobbing.
“Don’t cry, Daddy,” Leona whispered, touching his arm. “Please don’t cry.”
Frank lay awake long after the house had fallen silent. His stomach was churning, his heart beating firmly. He wanted to get up, go see for himself. But he held back, just that little bit longer. He was sure Liam would be sound asleep by now.
Treading with caution so as not to disturb the floorboards, Frank stepped into the hallway. Leona’s door was closed. He held his breath, and the handle creaked as he turned it. He pushed it open, peering through the dark room. It was just as he’d thought; she wasn’t there. His stomach sank to the bottom of his body, and fury burned in his cheeks. He withdrew from the room, returning to the one he shared with Liam. He crawled back under the covers, where he lay for hours awake, his imagination darkly piecing the puzzle together.
Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback about this excerpt.