In May 2011, Martin Baker posted what he hoped was an encouraging comment on the social media page of someone who was clearly struggling. A response came almost immediately from Fran Houston that challenged his thinking on how to support someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts. That was the beginning of a remarkable friendship: remarkable in its intensity; remarkable in its focus; remarkable in that these best friends live three thousand miles apart. High Tide, Low Tide is the story of that friendship, told in the hope of inspiring others to try something remarkable too.
For the first fortnight of the Sugar and Snails blog tour, I’ve been mostly confined to the UK. Apart from a visit to The Oak Wheel in California, I stayed, like the homebird I am, in my own country until pitching up at the end of last week in Australia. While Norah Colvin might live as far away from me as it’s possible to get, I knew I’d have a warm reception on her blog. Now she’s injected me with the travelling bug, I’m spending this whole week with blogging friends beyond my country’s borders, and greatly looking forward to the trip.
I’m starting today in Poland in the Monday Inspirations slot courtesy of former art therapist, writer and fellow broccoli addict, Urszula Humienik, to talk about the books that have inspired me. Tuesday finds me in Pune, India (one of the two calling-off points in this week’s tour I’ve visited in real life) to explore fictional research with Gargi Mehra, software engineer by day, prolific short-story writer by night. On Wednesday I’m off to Ras Al Kaimah (Arabic for Top of the Tent) in the United Arab Emirates to talk attachment with Safia Moore. Recent winner of the Bath Short Story Award, Safia posted a beautiful review of Sugar and Snails on her blog last week AND flew over from her native Belfast on Friday to join the launch party at Jesmond library. On Thursday, I’m visiting another expatriate Irishwoman, journalist turned fictioneer, Clare O’Dea, now a Swiss national, resident in Fribourg, to discuss not knowing what my novel’s about, a follow-up to her own popular post on the topic. Friday takes me back to California with writer of serious prose and humorous erotica, Lori Schafer, where I’m pondering the autobiographical element of fiction with the author of the prize-winning memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. If all that doesn’t show that the blogging community is truly international, I don’t know what would!
Dr Mary Charlton is “a fully qualified Jungian therapist, with a doctorate in neuropsychology and over twenty-five years’ experience in the NHS and private practice” (p39) who also claims to have worked as a clinical psychologist (p246), an unlikely combination to my mind but, knowing little about either Jung or neuropsychology, I’d better leave her to it. But she does highlight two areas not much addressed in this series on fictional therapists that merit a closer look.
While previous fictional therapists, such as Gabrielle Fox, Max Fisher and Tom Seymour, have worked with children, Mary Charlton is the first I’ve encountered doing so outside a team setting. Twelve-year-old Ben Dixon finds his way to her on the recommendation of a friend, who is also a former client (I know, boundary violation alert). Although Mary knows that she can’t work with Ben without parental consent, her willingness to take him into her office and let him talk about his difficulties before this is forthcoming and, later, to spend time with him outside her consulting room when the boy’s father has expressly forbidden it puts her on ethical dodgy ground.
When his parents die in a house fire, Jonathan Maguire decides to give up his studies at Newcastle University and move back to London to live with his brother. Six years older but with the mind of an eight-year-old, Roger has little understanding of the workings of the social world, but is an expert on the community of insects he breeds in glass-fronted cages in a garden shed. Despite their age difference, the boys were extremely close as children and Jonathan is determined to do the right thing by his brother, but his loyalty comes at a cost. Not only does he give up his degree, but it means separation from his girlfriend, Harriet, a talented flautist much admired by young men. Their marriage, just before Harriet returns to university after the summer break, does little to assuage Jonathan’s suspiciousness and jealousy, especially when she is the only woman in a classical quartet that includes his nemesis, Brendan Harcourt, who has never attempted to hide his attraction to Harriet. With Harriet’s support, and the occasional fiery confrontation, Jonathan seems to be learning to manage his emotions, when Roger reveals witnessing an illicit kiss after a performance by the quartet.
Imagine you’re out for a walk one weekend and see a young man swallow handful of pills and jump into the river. Without thinking – or perhaps even as a distraction from the torment of your failing marriage – you strip off your heavy coat and plunge into the river to save him. Much later, after the ambulance has driven him away and you’ve sloughed off the river’s mud in a hot bath, you realise you’ve got the young man’s coat and, more to the point, he’s got yours, with a set of spare house keys in the pocket, along with a bunch of letters bearing your name and address. So you hot-foot it to the hospital to do a swap.
On March 25th, Greek Independence Day, John Petrakis, distinguished professor of ancient history, is booked to give a lecture to the Aegina Historical Society. He never makes it: shot through with the bathroom window of the house of one of his dearest friends while taking a shower. His brother, Constantine, despite his lack of filial sentiment and despairing of the police’s tardiness, recruits George Zafiris, private detective based in Athens, to investigate the murder. As George tries to unravel the mystery, another of his cases is becoming increasingly murky, with the unexplained death of a politician engaged in an extramarital affair.
I’m delighted to bring you reviews of two novels published in the UK today which feature couple and family relationships within a wider sociopolitical context.
The Winter War* follows a liberal, middle-class professional Scandinavian couple and their two adult daughters over the course of one winter. While this is a period of change for the family, the pleasure of this novel is less in its plot than in its beautifully drawn characters* and searing sardonic wit*.
Max Paul is a Finland-Swede*, a sociologist approaching sixty, living off his reputation as a public intellectual, given an ego-boost when a former student turned journalist requests an interview:
One important criteria for all research was that it had to be possible to explain the basic ideas in a simple manner. A good doctoral dissertation could be comprehensively summarised over lunch. Taking this to extremes: a good researcher should, in principle, be able to speak with such enthusiasm that his words could function as a series of pick-up lines. (p74)
His wife feels ground down by his emotional neglect and burnt out at work in the human resources department of the Helsinki health service:
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional with mutterings about reading and writing seasoned with psychology.
Annecdotist is the persona through whom I navigate that in-between space. When not roaming the blogosphere, I'm reading or writing, tramping the moors, battling the slugs in my vegetable plot or struggling to sing.
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Sugar and Snails on 2016 shortlist
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