Romantic Novelists' Association

Liam Livings On Old Traumas Returning

6 November 2019

A photo of Liam. He has short blond hair and a top with roses on it.Liam Livings, the RNA’s diversity and inclusion officer, offers some thoughts on a few topics that have been on his mind, and how they affect why and what he writes.

Old traumas returning

My boyfriend, Himself, listens to The Archers. He was explaining to me there is a character Jim, who experienced trauma of some kind many years ago. He went on to explain that at a party the individual who traumatised Jim many years ago reappeared, out of the blue. This resulted in Jim having something of a breakdown.

Understandably, even though we may have suppressed these feelings, when we see the perpetrator of events which traumatised us this many years ago, it is unsurprising that all the pain we felt before comes back to the surface.

Many years ago, while I was travelling in London on the tube late one Sunday night, I was sitting alone on a bench seat. I noticed another man sitting opposite me, and he began to lean forward. Soon he was putting his legs either side of mine, and leaning forward and starting to say things to me.

I froze with terror, worried that he was going to assault me, and yet also unable to move away. By this point, his knees were touching my thighs, and he was leaning forward so I could feel his breath and distinctly hear what he was saying to me. I won’t go into the exact words that he said to me, as it’s actually quite disgusting, but basically the gist of it is that he was propositioning me, telling me what he thought I would want to do with him, in a sexual way, explaining that was because I was a dirty, disgusting person.

For some reason, I didn’t simply stand up and walk away. I don’t know why. I was genuinely frozen with fear. By this point, he was leaning over me, and put his hands on my thighs, and they were creeping up towards my body. He continued with his quietly spoken words of threat.

The doors on the train opened and for some reason at that point I found I had the strength I didn’t think I possessed before, and I stood up without saying a single word and walked far away into a different carriage and was shortly sitting next to someone else.

When the train arrived at my stop, I made sure that this man hadn’t seen I had got off. I then waited at the station, until I was sure he was nowhere to be seen, then walked briskly back to my house.

On a dark December Sunday, a few years ago, I parked my car next to the park in West London adjacent to my flat. Carrying my weekend bag, as well as two large wrapped presents I’d been given, I walked towards my flat, taking the shortcut away from the high Street, along a small street flanked by tall mansion blocks. Ahead of me, a group of teenage boys was approaching.

The group walked past me without any incident, and I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued walking briskly towards my flat. Very quickly, I was surrounded by them, and one punched the side of my head, and I fell to the ground.

“Is that a 360?” one of them asked me.

I was on the ground, having been punched hard to the side of my face. I knew that the box did not contain an Xbox 360 games console, it was actually a chocolate fountain, so I simply let them take it off me.

My head really hurt, as they crowded around me, and one of them tried to take my weekend bag off me. I almost let them do this, until I realised that since it was December, and contained my diary, it would have an entire almost 12 months worth of my daily journal writings. They also tried to get my mobile phone and wallet from my pockets and somehow, while holding onto the strap of my weekend bag, laying on the ground, I used my elbows to prevent them from taking anything from my pockets.

Obviously content with what they’d got from me, the boys soon disappeared, leaving just one standing nearby as I stood up. I ran to the front door of my flat, and while there he stood and shouted for me to give him my phone. I refused and scrabbled for my keys, and was soon inside the entrance hall of my block of flats, where I phoned my boyfriend, and told him what had happened.

He immediately asked why I was calling him, and told me to ring the police. Long story short, the police drove me around the area and we found the group of young boys, and the case went to court. I was given what is known as “special measures” where there was a screen between myself and the defendants while in court, because I didn’t want them to see me. Even though these young lads were probably no more than 17 years old, it took me a very long time to be able to walk along that street again, even during the day. Immediately afterwards I wanted to leave the flat, leave London completely because I didn’t feel safe at all. And even now, I still choose carefully where I walk alone at night.

At the time I blamed myself for walking in the shortcut and carrying so many things that late at night. The policeman dealing with my case explained it wasn’t my fault and I should be able to walk where and when I wanted. It was the muggers’ faults not mine. It took me a long time to come to this conclusion myself.

Both of these incidents, although traumatic, could have been much worse. And even writing this now, it has brought back the memories of them very strongly. So is it any wonder that when somebody is subject to much more serious trauma, and over a longer period of time than the two incidents I’ve just described, that when they are faced with the person who did it to them, they react so strongly?

And also is it any wonder that somebody may want to discuss these traumas with a view to healing themselves?

Our pasts affect who we are now. And although it’s good to keep calm and carry on, it’s also sometimes healthy and right to heal old wounds we’ve been carrying for a long time.

As an author I’m interested in backstory, emotional wounds, past traumas, previous incidents and how they shape characters. Because just like people in real life, characters are much more than what we see of them today.