By Maggie James
One of the themes for the book I'm currently writing, 'Blackwater Lake', is compulsive hoarding, otherwise known as hoarding disorder. I became interested after watching a documentary on the subject; unusual psychological conditions fascinate me. Not that I'm a hoarder myself. Anyone who's ever visited my flat will confirm I'm more of a minimalist! After giving away most of my possessions when I went travelling in 2010, I don't own a lot of things. I like it that way, so I'll be staying clutter-free.
So what is hoarding disorder? The condition arises when someone acquires a large amount of items over time and stores them in a chaotic manner. The items are often of little or no monetary value and usually result in unmanageable amounts of clutter. Common items to hoard include newspapers and magazines, books, clothes, letters (including junk mail), containers such as cardboard boxes, and household supplies.
The resultant hoard can interfere with everyday living and pose a health hazard – some people are unable to use their kitchen or bathroom, and piles of junk can topple over and cause injuries. Sufferers can become agitated if someone tries to clear the mess and will insist the items have value. Often the clutter has a negative impact on the person's quality of life or their family's. Visitors to the house are discouraged and children of hoarders can be badly affected by not being able to invite friends home.
Hoarding disorders are difficult to treat, because many hoarders don't see it as a problem. Others feel ashamed, humiliated or guilty about it. The reasons for hoarding are complex. Sufferers may have had a deprived childhood, with either a lack of material objects or a poor relationship with close relatives. Sometimes there is a family history of hoarding or they've grown up in a cluttered home and see it as normal. Mental health problems associated with hoarding include depression, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. Hoarding can also be a condition in itself, often linked to self-neglect.
How hoarding fits into 'Blackwater Lake'
After learning more about hoarding disorder, I decided to examine it in a future novel. I didn't want to base an entire book around it (although other authors have done so - see below) so I wove it into 'Blackwater Lake' as a subplot. Here's the synopsis:
Matthew Stanyer fears the worst when he reports his parents missing. Beset with worries about his wife, Evie, whose dementia is rapidly worsening, Joseph Stanyer has been struggling to cope. When the bodies of Matthew's parents are found at Blackwater Lake, a local beauty spot, the inquest rules the deaths as a murder-suicide. A conclusion that's supported by the note Joseph leaves for his son.
Grief-stricken, Matthew begins to clear his parents' house of decades of compulsive hoarding. And discovers the dark enigmas hidden within the clutter. Ones that lead Matthew to ask: why did his father choose Blackwater Lake to end his life? What other secrets do its waters conceal?
Hoarding is something I struggle to understand
I love to examine psychological issues in my books. 'Guilty Innocence' features obsessive-compulsive disorder, with Mark Slater finding comfort in counting rituals to relieve his anxiety. 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' examines cognitive dissonance, with Laura Bateman refusing to acknowledge that kidnapping Daniel Cordwell was a crime. I don't have OCD myself, but I understand how it provides comfort to sufferers. As for cognitive dissonance, I suspect we're all guilty of that to some extent at times!
Hoarding disorder is more difficult for me to comprehend. I remember being baffled as I watched the TV programme when a man refused to throw away an old piece of foam. It was so ancient that it was crumbling to pieces yet to him it had value. For a non-hoarder like me, his resistance was hard to fathom.
I'm hoping that once I've completed my book I'll have a better understanding of the issue. In 'Blackwater Lake' both Joseph and Evie Stanyer are hoarders although the problem is worse for Evie. I can't reveal more without giving plot spoilers, though!
'Blackwater Lake' is currently undergoing revision and editing. Unlike my previous fiction titles, this one's a novella, and I estimate its length will be c.35,ooo words. (The average novel is 80,000 words long).
I'll be making 'Blackwater Lake' free across all sales platforms and from my website. You'll be able to download it without charge, whether via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple or any of the other outlets I use. I don't have an exact publication date yet, but I hope to release 'Blackwater Lake' during August or September 2015.
Other novels that have featured hoarding disorder
It seems I'm not alone in finding hoarding disorder a source of inspiration. Here are three other novels that feature it:
Any comments about hoarding disorder?
Have you read any good novels that feature hoarding? Has hoarding been an issue for you or anyone you know? Is there any aspect of the condition you think I should incorporate into 'Blackwater Lake'? Leave a comment and let me know. There is still a lot of work to do on the book so I'm open to suggestions!
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