Do you believe that we may have led previous existences?
I’ll admit, when I started writing The Forgetting Time, I was merely curious; I was fascinated by the cases Dr Stevenson and Dr Tucker were researching and thought they might make an interesting novel. But gradually my thoughts began to shift, as I steeped myself in these cases and got to know Dr Tucker a bit – one of the most rational, thoughtful and conscientious people I’ve ever met. I began to think to myself: wait a minute, this might be true. And as I began to talk to people about the book, they told me stories of their own, things their children had said. Young kids who said they had died in fires or lived in China or had five children and served in World War II. So many stories. And so, at a certain point, I asked the question of myself: do I think this is true? And the answer was yes. It seems to me like the most logical explanation for Stevenson and Tucker’s cases, and all the stories I’ve been told, and for why we are the way we are. But you don’t have to believe in reincarnation to enjoy the book; at some level, it’s also just a metaphor for how we are all connected.
What triggered the decision to base a novel about past lives?
When my children were small, I volunteered for a while at a hospice. I’d shift in the course of my day from caring for babies in diapers to spending time with people who were dying, and the process really woke me up. I thought to myself that there must be more to life and more to death – why don’t I know more? And I began to read everything I could get my hands on. My stepmom was cleaning out her garage around this time and handed me a book she thought I might find interesting. It was called Old Souls, and was about Dr Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, who investigated cases of very young children who seemed to remember details from another life and have strong attachments to people from that life. The children made numerous specific statements about these other lives, and in many cases Stevenson was able to locate the ‘previous personality’ and verify the statements. These cases blew my mind. I began to think about my own children, who were so different from each other, who had such specific attractions and fears, and wonder: is this why they are who they are? Did these aspects of their personalities come to them from other experiences in previous lifetimes? And the story of The Forgetting Time began to take shape in my mind.
This is your first novel. Do you think the next one will have a strong psychological element, too?
I’m working on the next book now; it is also about people in extreme circumstances, moments in which the ordinary brushes up against the extraordinary. So it’s similar in that way. There are a number of characters, though I’m still in the early phases, and you never know who might decide to show up (and who might just have to go). Stay tuned.
This story would make a wonderful film. Any possibility of that happening?
Oh, I hope so. Some people in the industry are working on it, and I’d love to see that happen; it would be wonderful for this story to have another life.