Many years ago, during one of those provoking training courses that punctuated my professional career, the presenter offered a quote that helped me to recognize a key of my moral compass:

Cristina Archer writes for Female First

Cristina Archer writes for Female First

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” (Carl W Buehner)

At the time, the quote emphasised that we should treat each other with care and respect. Yet it always reminded me of family. Not necessarily blood relatives – for family can also be those people in our lives we adopt to assume the role of surrogate siblings or parents – those whose shared purpose is centered on being supportive caregivers to each other. Fundamentally, nurture is at the heart of a functional family, what we build beyond the nature in our genes.

Both sorts of families – traditional and unconventional – have been important in my life and the concept of family has featured in much of my writing from when I began to put pen to paper.

My first short story, written just before my thirteenth birthday was a Lovecraft-inspired horror tale about a box of slime three siblings discovered in a remote abandoned mine. It coincided with my family’s move from the city to the country and how much more I needed to rely on them then, living in the middle of nowhere.

While I was too young to read horror fiction at the time, my father was anti-censorship so let me read as many books, including non-fiction, as I wanted to read. My childhood conversations with family around the dinner table, where I was encouraged to push the boundaries on discovering and discussing ideas and opinions, also encouraged my interest in philosophy and science, giving me a lifelong fascination with these disciplines that has intersected deeply with my literary pursuits.

To this day, I am not sure whether the freedom I was given by my parents as a teenager was a good or bad thing. The topics of discussion over those dog-eat-dog debate-filled dinner table conversations have been (mostly) long forgotten but I still remember how I felt afterwards. Why couldn’t a meal be just a meal?

I do appreciate the value those hard conversations had in shaping me – inspiring the inquisitiveness that has pervaded my entire life. But I also often wonder if I could have learned better life skills if empathy had featured more in my childhood landscape.

The little things matter. The unfair weight of expectations placed on me, by my father especially, pushing me to be more or different to what I wanted to be. Being afraid to bring home art made at school because it was frivolous and did not match the career choice he believed I was meant to pursue. Intelligent discourse encouraged, emotional revelations not, the behaviour I learned from this lethal combination was to forcefully and regularly suppress any healthy release of cathartic fluids.

So, I wrote to make sense of life, release those bottled up feelings onto a page in a created world and explore family dynamics – the ‘dys’ in dysfunctional (and dystopian).

My fifth novel, The Peithosian Gift, was born out of a conversation I had with a close friend on a road trip. This friend is my surrogate brother, with high emotional intelligence, and to whom the book is dedicated. We talked about how persuasive advertising can be and how some people seem to be more easily persuaded than others. In my usual tangent style, I speculated about a ‘what if?’ question around every living thing having a will that could ‘push’ ideas onto another living thing. From there, the seed grew into the idea of the push and pull of Nature, and a bunch of people who had a gift and, by the time we reached home, I had the shell of a story that turned into The Peithosian Gift.

The novel is the first in a planned speculative/fantasy series about two warring families who possess the power of mind control. It tackles a range of philosophical questions and moral dilemmas and, at its core, explores why it is important that we do not project an image onto a person of what we want or expect them to be. Setting unrealistic expectations will hold them back from discovering who they are meant to be.

Remember, think about (and feel) the impact you have on others – they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. If you push too hard, you may break them.

The Peithosian Gift by Cristina Archer is available now.

Tagged in