In a new book, a North Yorkshire mother has published her memories of childhood family abuse

PERHAPS the worst part of the book comes almost right out of the blue. So far there have been threats of violence, a lot of swaggering bravado, and then quite shockingly one night there is the episode with the gun. In Christine Fieldhouse's new book, which charts the misery of her childhood, she gives the following description:

"As I open my eyes, I see the underside of machinery. All dark grey and metal with what looks like lighter brown wood at the end. A split second later I focus on my dad, eyes flashing with anger, swaying, dribbling as he curses, his arms bent to get the barrels square on my forehead. I can't believe it. He has the gun to my forehead."

It may be sickening and abhorrent, but Christine's father, an alcoholic, did carry out this cruel act. Although he didn't actually shoot, she didn't know that he was bluffing, and her blind terror on that night - and in the months and years that followed - was worse than anything he did.

What made her suffer even more was being told she couldn't tell - from being a child of four years old, from which her earliest memories stem, she had to keep her awful secret. This meant she lived under a pressure that only now can she acknowledge. "I told very few people over the years," admits Christine, who's 46 and lives in Pickhill, near Thirsk. "Maybe this is what happens when you have pyschotherapy. I'd locked it away for almost 20 years and I hadn't talked about it much but as soon as I started writing it down, I could remember everything in detail, so it must have had quite a profound effect on me."

The book was prompted by many things, not least her feelings as a mother. "I've always wanted to write a book - I suppose as a journalist, it's something you think you'll get round to doing - but whenever I started writing fiction it never seemed as real as my own story, so in the end I thought 'why not just write that?'" says Christine, a former reporter with The Northern Echo. "What I thought was 'I'm going to write something for my son Jack so he'll find it in a cupboard one day'.

"It was having Jack that made me rethink everything. When I became a mother, I started looking back, thinking 'how can someone treat a child like that?' I started then trying to understand what made my dad that way."

Brought up in Bradford, she never had a stable home life. Her father Harry drank every day, which meant the family went without, but when he went off to the pub, at least the house was left in peace. Yet when he came home steaming drunk his mood was anybody's guess.

"I think it was the fear that anything might happen at any time, especially when he'd had a few drinks, so you never knew if he was going to come in as a really wonderful, caring family man or absolutely plastered and completely out of control," says Christine. "It was all the threats that were the worst. It was living with the threats."

Apart from when he put a gun against his terrified daughter's head, her father often said he'd kill not only Christine but her mum. They trod on eggshells every day, with Christine's mum as scared as she was, and Harry's nightly fits of rage meant there was very little sleep.

"I was really tired," recalls Christine. "I can remember going to school - it was about half a mile's walk - and I virtually had to force one leg in front of the other. But even then it was a relief to be out of the house. I think the adrenaline must have kept me going."

Although for Christine and her mum, life was a tightrope walk of fear, for Christine's older brother Chris, their father didn't hold such dread. She thinks that being more mature meant he could shrug off the abuse. "My brother was less sensitive - I think he just accepted it - but he was nine years older," she says. "I believed for years all the things my dad told me. I think if you drum something into a child night after night like he did with me, you think you're ugly, you're stupid, you're fat."

If Christine found this hard to take, being forced to watch her mother suffer was almost more than she could bear. The most horrendous thing that happened was when her dad pulled out a knife. "The knife to my mum's throat was the worst," she says. "People always say it's worse to see something happening to someone you love than for it to happen to yourself, and there was nothing she could have ever done that would have merited the way dad treated her. But I think she'd had so many years of it, she was the queen of moving on. I also think she didn't want to show fear in front of us kids."

That Christine's sanity held firm she puts down solely to her mother, who tried in every way she could to counteract her dad's abuse. Now, as a wife and mum herself, as well as working as a journalist, she's pretty happy with her life and says she's laid the past to rest. Before her father's death, however, there was one thing she had to do.

"I'd just blanked him out of my life, but before he died, my brother put him on the phone to me and he was in a very bad way, so I couldn't make out what he was saying," she says. "I decided to go and see him and all he could say was something beginning with 's'. I said 'are you trying to say you're sorry?' and he nodded and was crying. My brother was there and he agreed that he thought he was saying sorry."

What Christine hopes the book will do is help give other people strength. The story isn't only hers but also that of her son Jack, and while there is a gulf between their two experiences of childhood, this does provide some light relief. She claims she didn't want to write what she would call a "misery book". "People who have read it so far have said 'oh my God, that's so sad', but I really want people to end on a happy note and think 'that was sad but look at her, she's happy'," says Christine. "I just wanted to show that mental abuse can affect you but I really want my story to be seen as a positive one in the end."

* Why Do Monsters Come Out at Night? by Christine Fieldhouse (Hay House, £10.99).