Greg Fleming talks to novelist Kelly Lyndon about the heart-breaking journey of loving a P addict and the novel it inspired

You might not know the name but Auckland's Kelly Lyndon is a seasoned writer — one who was happily turning out romantic fiction under a pseudonym for a publishing house in New York until real life got in the way.

In 2015, Lyndon went from racy romances to trawling Auckland's meth underworld for her searing Crystal Reign, a Once Were Warriors-style novel, which opens with an Antonie Dixon-like, meth-fuelled machete attack.

Lyndon didn't become addicted, or even dabble in the drug, but two people whom she loved and cared for did. The novel was initially inspired by a friend, a successful businessman in his 40s with a family, who got hooked on the drug.

" ... And after that, I hooked up with an ex-addict, who relapsed while we were together," says Lyndon.

Advertisement

"Not a smart idea. Both experiences were bloody traumatic and pretty much everything that happens in the book — except that opening scene — is based on my friend or ex-boyfriend."

While her ex seems to be on the road to recovery, her friend remains addicted and is now in and out of jail.

"The way he lived was just disgusting — and this used to be a really clean guy in his hygiene and his environment. Now you can't even walk through the kitchen into the lounge because there's crap everywhere, rats running through ... I describe it in the book," she says. "I went there to try to rescue my friend and I couldn't believe what I found ... I mean, yes, he was there but really he was gone; the drug had taken him."

The main protagonists of Crystal Reign, Dave and Chrissie, meet in the halcyon mid-90s while in the Navy. Chrissie's a half Indian/half British beauty; Dave's a good Kiwi bloke and martial arts expert.

They fall in love, marry and, for a while, things go well: nice house, trips to Disneyland with the three kids, and Chrissie, also a crack martial arts fighter, opens a gym.

Then, at a New Year's Eve Party, Chrissie is given methamphetamine and everything starts to unravel.

I think loving an addict is worse than being an addict. I probably stuck round with both of them longer than I should have ... because I needed to know for myself that I had tried — and I tried everything

Lyndon completed the first draft in nine months while working at her day job as an executive assistant: "Every time I tried to walk away from the book or felt that it was too hard, I'd go back," she says.

Although Lyndon read a lot of drug memoirs as research for the novel, she was adamant this wasn't going to be another addict's story. Instead, it focuses on the damage addiction does to those who are close to the addict.

Advertisement

Indeed, we learn little about Chrissie, who disappears for much of the book, leaving her husband to pick up the pieces, run the family and deal with the consequences of her behaviour — debt, traumatised children, arrests — while dealing with his own alcohol addiction.

Lyndon estimates there are 10-15 people directly affected by each person's addiction.

"The worst thing is to see the impact on young kids," she says.

"They don't know why their mum or dad is suddenly behaving this way; they just see these people who used to love them turn into a monster.

"You feel this sense of helplessness that's quite hard to describe; you're basically watching someone kill themselves. It's like they're decaying before your eyes. In fact, I think loving an addict is worse than being an addict. I probably stuck round with both of them longer than I should have ... because I needed to know for myself that I had tried — and I tried everything.

"It's been really interesting the people who have reached out to me in the course of writing this and since it has come out. Some are ex-addicts, some have bragged they are current users and think they can handle this stuff. That's what my friend and my ex thought, and you can handle it for a time, but there's this invisible wall and when you cross it, the drug's got you."

Asked if the meth problem is starting to abate, Lyndon says no. "There's still a perception that meth only happens to poor people or people with gang connections or meth just won't happen to me," she says.

"That's just middle-class smugness. Most people don't know what's going on with this part of society and don't want to know. I noticed this as I was writing the book. Publishers weren't interested ... A lot of them said, 'Kelly, there's no audience for this', but the fact is this can happen to anybody and I've lost count of the number of people, some very prominent people, who have contacted me and told me someone in their family has been affected. There's a lot of shame around this issue."

Lyndon self-published the book after fundraising through a Kickstarter campaign. Despite finishing the book and relishing a calmer home life — her next project is a kids' book about a naughty cat and an expanding scone — she is forever alert to meth's reach.

A few nights before our conversation, she pulled into a service station and noticed the petrol station attendant had sallow, yellow skin, and his arms were covered in sticking plasters.

"It's funny — men scratch their arms — whereas women addicts tend to scratch their faces. I don't know if anyone else would have picked up on it, but I'm pretty sure it was meth."