‘You are dead to us.’
Tegan’s expulsion from the destructive cult is brutal. Free to Be Tegan tells the story of Tegan’s struggle to heal from past trauma and live a full life in the modern world.
On March 1st 2006, Tegan, aged twenty seven, is cast out from the London-based ‘Last Week Community.’ The cult leader, Daniel, uses fear and isolation to control his followers. Tegan is unprepared for the world into which she is thrown and which she has been taught is evil.
Tegan journeys to the wild Cambrian Mountains and meets her aunt, Hannah, married to Ellis, and their daughter Cerys. She stays in their cottage, ’Hafan’, which is cosy but disturbingly familiar.
Gradually Tegan becomes aware of the disparity between her past and present lives. Her dowdy clothes and headscarf, her fear of the pub, TV, and unfamiliarity with the complexity of modern relationships set her apart.
Fortunately Tegan is befriended by Cerys and some people in the village.She is also attracted to local vet Sam, who shares her newly-discovered love of the hills. However he is engaged to glamorous Angharad and the relationship is fraught with difficulties.
Tegan has hidden scars, and secretly battles with harrowing nightmares, panic attacks, and flashbacks. She reluctantly sees a psychotherapist and starts to understand the trauma from her past. However, bottled-up resentment and anger surface in a short but eventful rebellion.
Tegan has the courage and will to survive, and slowly starts to build a new life.
The wild beauty of the hills, the people she meets and the secrets slowly revealed by the cottage all provide an intriguing backdrop to Tegan’s drama.
The novel is set in spring, a story of hope, new growth, of the discovery of self and the joy of living.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was originally inspired to write Free to Be Tegan by my upbringing in a psychologically abusive High Control Group. I wanted to write about how damaging such groups are and about a path of recovery , I chose to use a fictitious cult and setting partly in order to make the novel as accessable and reach as wide an audience as possible . I visited the stunning Cambrian Mountains and knew I had found the perfect setting. It is a wild,beautiful and healing place.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The central character Tegan is based on some personal attributes, a number of young women I knew growing up in the sect and is also affected by PTSD . Her mother, Sarah, has characteristics of a number of older women I met. The charater of Daniel, the cult leader, was based on a lot of research into the characteristics commonly found in cult leaders and then developed, I hope, into a rounded, ‘real’ person. Ellis has great charm as well as weaknesses and reminded me of so many men I knew in Wales. One of my favourite characters is Cerys. She is one of those kind, giving people, we all know and can be underestimated and undervalued. It was important to me that she had a fully developed story line.
‘You have chosen the path of darkness.’
Tegan stood on the wooden stage in front of the Community, determinedly staring at the digital clock at the back of the room. 0730. She waited for the dull click. The numbers flipped. 0731.
In the cold, bare meeting room, a shaft of light from the London spring morning crept in through one of the high windows.
‘You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting’ continued Daniel. He stood to her right, at the other end of the stage, his hard voice echoing off the peeling cream emulsion walls. She didn’t dare look at him. The room was silent. Tegan, unblinking, waited. 0732.
‘You have chosen the sinful pleasures of the Domain of the Beast. You have grievously sinned against The High One and this Community. You refuse to repent, to curse and reject all that is of the world.’ She heard him pause. Even now he was waiting, seeing if she would break. Tegan stood expressionless, very still, apart from the slight rise and fall of her shallow breaths and the secret grinding of her right thumb into the palm of her left hand. Her shapeless clothes hung off her: a calf length dark brown skirt; plain beige blouse; bulky blue acrylic cardigan and large black headscarf, tied at the nape of her neck. The community uniform. Silence. Her eyes crept down from the clock to the tops of the bowed heads of the women at the back of the room. Along the row she saw her mother, Sarah, her hands clasped tight on her lap. She glanced forward and accidentally met her father’s gaze, a look that said that this failure was inevitable. She slowly turned her head to her right. Daniel stood, neat white hair and beard, and long loose white shirt intricately embroidered with gold thread, the earthly personification of the High One. She heard his voice, louder, more passionate.
‘Tegan Williams, you are commanded to leave this Community. From this time forth you are dead to us, to your earthly parents and the elect. You will be judged with all those in the Domain of the Beast. On the day of judgment the High One will show you no mercy and you, Tegan Williams, will be thrown into the lake of fire, there to suffer for all eternity.’
Her breathing quickened, the grinding into the palm of her hand grew harder. She felt him willing her to look at him. She could not resist. Slowly, she turned her head and met the gaze of the man whose teachings she had followed, the man she had revered and worshipped. His eyes were narrow, eyebrows down and his mouth was tight. His anger was like a volcano waiting to erupt, waiting to burn and consume her.
Then, clenching his fists, he turned, descended the steps and stood with his back to her. The elders in the front row stood and turned their backs to her also, and then the rest of the Community silently stood up and started to turn away. Tegan’s eyes darted to her mother, who was turning slowly, stiffly, around. A sharp lightning pain shot through her. This was really happening. This was their final judgment, the end.
Tegan staggered down the steps and left the room alone. The dark hallway was deathly quiet. She climbed the hard wooden steps, brushing past the cold, white, sterile walls. She had been five years old when the Community had moved into this derelict Victorian hospital. She remembered how enormous, empty and dark it had seemed and how she had excitedly run thought the huge echoing rooms. It remained sparsely furnished throughout her early years, but the severity of their lives had taken a new turn with the arrival of Daniel. So much had changed then.
She entered her bedroom, the room she had slept in for twenty two years. The room now had white, bare walls apart from a lurid picture called “The four beasts”. She knew every detail: the lion with eagle wings; the bear with ribs between its teeth; the four-headed leopard with wings, and the beast with iron teeth and ten horns. They were set in a blood red sky above a stormy sea: all seemed to snarl out of the picture at her. Above it a digital clock showed the time, a constant reminder of the approach of the end of the world.
There were two beds in the room. For years she had shared the room with Esther, who had been her only close friend. Four years ago Daniel had declared Esther was to marry and now Esther’s role was to support her husband and their two children. Martha, a critical, pious girl had been given Esther’s bed. Tegan had little in common with her but at least someone was there if she woke at night: anything was better than waking up alone. She wondered idly who her bed would be given to next. Tegan turned around quickly, stood on tip toes, and pulled down a battered suitcase from on top of the wardrobe. It should have been empty, but when she undid the catches she found a large brown envelope inside. She recognised her mother’s handwriting, and frowned. Her mother had obviously put this in here secretly. They had not been allowed to communicate for weeks. Maybe these were her final words of dismissal. She couldn’t bear to read them, not now. She quickly stuffed the envelope into her plastic shoulder bag. Then she started to take her clothes off the wire coat hangers and fold them carefully: more plain skirts, blouses, acrylic cardigans and black headscarves were placed in the suitcase. Next, her spare pair of brown lace up shoes, grey underwear, light tan tights and two cotton nightdresses. From her bedside table she took her alarm clock. It was a yellow, old-fashioned wind-up clock with a loud tick. Next to this lay a well thumbed copy of “The Revelations of Daniel, The Omniscient.” She stroked it, kissed it, and placed it gently in her case. With it she placed the framed verse “He Shall Come like a Thief in the Night”. She opened the drawer. She carefully took out a small piece of embroidered material, touched it lightly and packed it. Finally, she reached to the back of the drawer and found a small rectangular silver box with engraving in the top. She took it out, checked the contents, clutched it, and then wrapped it carefully in one of the skirts in her case. She took a deep breath, left her room and walked down the hall to the bathroom. It was a large white tiled room, a row of basins one side, cubicles the other, no mirrors. She found her toothbrush and returned to her room.
Tegan was just doing up the catches of her case when the door burst open. She saw Daniel and, behind him, her parents. ‘Tegan, you have filled your parents with shame. They have the right to have the final word.’
Tegan was breathing fast. She dug her fingers deep into the palm of her hand. Daniel gestured to Philip. He shuffled forward with hunched shoulders. He pushed back the round metal glasses with his forefinger and then pointed at her.
‘Tegan, you have always been a proud, rebellious child.’ His voice was flat, but underlying was the tone of perpetual disappointment he used when speaking to her. ’Your mother and I have spent many hours in vigil for your soul but to no avail. To think we have come to this, for you to blaspheme against our leader Daniel, to doubt and question him in that most proud and sinful way. From this moment we, your parents, with the whole community, disown you.’
Tegan turned to her mother for some drop of mercy. But the look of cold dismissal she saw was even harder to bear than any words.
Philip continued, ‘On the Day of Judgment you will be judged more harshly than the world for you were shown the light and have rejected it.’ Philip spat out the cruel words. He could have gone on like this for hours but somehow the words from him seemed hollow. She heard an ambulance screaming outside: any minute now she would be cast out into the world to join the damned.
Philip sneered, his finger jabbing in her face. ‘You have chosen a wicked, dark place. The animals of the world will tear you apart and feed you to the dogs and in that we rejoice.’ He stopped.
Daniel stepped forward and, as if comforting a grieving relative, put his hand on Philip’s shoulder. He bent his head, mumbled a prayer in a different language, and they all turned and left the room.
The room was silent. Tegan looked down at the palm of her left hand, dry, cracked, red raw, bleeding, but she felt nothing. She found an old piece of tissue in her bag and with a shaking hand tried to wipe it clean.
Finally, from out of the wardrobe she took a shapeless beige rain coat, put it on and buttoned it up. She picked up her shabby plastic shoulder bag and suitcase, opened the door, and, without glancing back, left the room.
She walked down the stairs and glanced at the clock that hung over the front door. 0750. Next to this was a huge white board. Every day Daniel wrote the date and a verse for them to meditate on, and the date. Today it read March 1st 2006 and underneath that the verse for the day:
“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Beast and all those in his domain.” She guessed Daniel had chosen that for her. She could hear familiar quiet droning prayers of vigil being said in the meeting room. ‘Come Quickly Oh High One’. The whole Community including the children would repeat it over and over again for an hour. Every day had started like that for her for twenty two years, but not today. For the first time in her life she was an outsider.
Tegan opened the front door out into the cold drizzly rain and descended the flight of concrete steps. She was hit by a wall of noise: the early morning rush hour. Alone she walked across the concrete forecourt and opened the iron gates. She saw a taxi driver swearing at another driver, a parent shouting to their children to hurry up. The rain added to the sense of urgency as the world rushed about its business. She glanced down at the bins on the pavement and, blinking hard, realised she had been put out with the rubbish.
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