‘A voice inspired my first book’
Author Milly Johnson tells Samantha Giles how her belief in fate and the spirit world helped her write 13 bestselling novels
Author Milly Johnson on how her spiritual beliefs help her pen her bestselling novels
‘I have a strong belief that what goes around, comes
Where do you get your inspiration for the spiritual themes and events in your books?
The spiritual element is often based on something or someone I’ve read about in stories in the newspapers, or from my life.
For example, in The Teashop on the
Corner (2014), there’s a matron who sees people who’ve passed. She has to give up nursing because she knew when someone was close to death because she would see the spirits who had come to take them away.
I knew a nurse who had to give up nursing, because she kept seeing people sitting next to the patients who were about to die. She was quite high up in her profession and fought against her psychic ability, but in the end, she embraced it and became a professional psychic – a very good one at that, helping people in a different way. I went to see her myself, and she told me things that came true.
What sort of things did the psychic tell you?
Well, my Auntie Bella had just passed and the old lady who lived next door to her, and her niece, asked me if I wanted anything from the house. I said that she had always promised me the big book of postcards that she and her sister had sent to each other over the years.
Then I saw the psychic a couple of weeks after Auntie Bella had died, and she said ‘I’ve got a name coming through who’s giving you a lot of love. Nelly is it? She’s very faint, has she just passed?’ I did have an Aunt Nelly, but she was still alive… Then the psychic said, ‘It’s Nell, Nelly, Nella, something like that, and she’s connected with a big book of postcards.’ Amazing!
She also told me I’d get together with a guy who is ‘quite gypsy looking, thick, curly black hair,’ and that I would have two sons, but only one ‘proper birth’. I did go on to marry a guy (now my ex-husband) with thick, curly black hair and I did have my two sons, both now teenagers, one a natural birth and the other a Caesarean. I wonder if that was what she meant by only one ‘proper birth’.
I understand you’ve been to an animal psychic too?
Yes, I have. After my beloved dog Teddy, and another dog I had, died. I wanted to know that they were there, in heaven, so I visited an animal psychic who said, ‘Of course they’re there. They visit, they walk around you, sometimes it'll feel like a waft of warm air.’ She also told me Teddy had slipped into one of my dreams to tell me he was okay.
The psychic told me that she felt Teddy had been ill around his stomach and lower abdomen – he died from cancer of the bladder. She also said that she could see him ‘standing and weeing but he’s not weeing’. That was Teddy! He’d stand there for ages, but not wee! It’s like when you have cystitis and you feel you want to wee, and your bladder’s full, but you can’t.
I’ve draped my hand over the bed and thought ‘just brush past me once…’ but you know it can’t be as easy as that because often when people really miss their loved one, they don’t appear.
But you firmly believe in the afterlife?
I do. I think there are too many people who have experienced something… been revisited by loved ones who’ve passed on.
I read about a scientist who’d been a sceptic all his life, then had a near death experience and is now a huge advocate for the idea of life on the other side. It was a huge switch for him, and it’s stories like this that make me think if I had experienced something similar and someone
told me that it couldn’t possibly have happened, and must have been just a dream, nothing would convince me that it had been ‘just a dream’.
Do you believe that sometimes people know when it’s their time to go?
I believe Teddy knew it was his time. Three days before he died, my other half, Pete, and I took him to the park and, although Teddy was ill, you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong with that dog at all. He was jumping around, running after the ball – which he never did – and we both thought ‘this is so weird because he looks so full of life’. He was eating biscuits, something else he didn’t normally do, and then he stood at the top of the hill in the park, turned his head in one slow arc, just looking, and I thought, ‘he’s saying goodbye to the park.’
I didn’t say anything to Pete, because he’s a very broad Barnsley lad, tough as nails, and not into this kind of thing at all. When we got back to the car, Pete said, ‘Did you see him on top of that hill? It was just like he was saying goodbye, wasn’t it?’ And I said, ‘yep, that’s exactly what I was thinking!’ We took Teddy to the park the day after, but he couldn’t manage it. He died a few days later.
You wrote The Queen of Wishful Thinking when Teddy was ill?
I poured everything into the book, emotionally, because of everything I was going through with Teddy. It was like therapy. I hope this book has the breath of Teddy behind it. He’s on the back cover, and the main character in it has a dog.
Talking of death and whatever, I wrote The Teashop On The Corner for Pete’s mum, because she was such a lovely woman and her world was her house and family. She never really went anywhere or did anything. I called my heroine Molly after her, and my hero Harvey after Pete’s dad. Sadly, Molly died before I finished it. The Teashop on the Corner changed my fortunes, it just sold and sold. Pete said to me, ‘that’s got the breath of me mum behind it that book,’ and I’ve always thought Molly is very much in it.
Have you ever had a psychic experience yourself, or seen a ghost?
I haven’t seen a ghost but I'd love to. I had a strange experience when my Nana died though. She’d been in a coma for a year and we were very close. One night I was in bed asleep when it felt like I’d been pushed awake. My first thought was ‘Nana’s gone,’ and then the phone rang, with the news that Nana had died. I’ve had a few instances like that…
There’s been a couple of times when I’ve thought I’ve got a letter and I’ve gone downstairs and the letter’s been there. Then when I was pregnant, two of my friends were pregnant at the same time. I couldn’t find my way with my writing, and had kind of given up on it. One day, we were in my front room chatting when it was like there was a whispering in my head. ‘Why don’t you write about this?’ It was as if someone had said it into my brain and that was my first book, The Yorkshire Pudding Club, about three women who are pregnant at the same time.
You were 40 before you wrote your first novel, did it feel like destiny?
Yes, I do believe that fate played a hand in me becoming a writer. It was a long and winding road to get where I am, and every time I gave up, feeling like I was chasing smoke, something would happen to nudge me back on the path.
One time I gave up, believing that people who wrote books didn’t come from working-class towns like me. I’m from Barnsley, and still live there. Then, I came across the writer Catherine Cookson, and it was the first time I grasped that a working-class woman could become a writer. She’d had her first book rejected at, I think, 25, and was about 40 when her first book came out. I know I’m in the right place, writing is what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember.
And what about karma? This idea crops up in your books.
I’ve seen karma in action quite a few times. For example, I worked at a place that was a hellhole, the worst place I’ve worked in my life. The boss sacked everyone and humiliated people. That boss ended up losing his job. But the group of us who had been sacked by him, we stood together and we’ve still got a good friendship. We’ve all gone on to better things.
I certainly have a strong belief that what goes around, comes around.
It took a long time to realise my dream of becoming a writer
the psychic told me my beautiful dog teddy was fine in heaven