Christoph Fischer Award for Outstanding Literary Fiction 2015

What an honour, Christoph, to be in such excellent company, and to have my work valued by a writer of exemplary literary fiction such as yourself. Thank you so much. A great end to 2015 for me.


922159_10151345337037132_1303709604_o (1)In Literary Fiction two writers have dominated my kindle this year so much that making a choice between them was impossible. So instead of a short list and one winner, here are two deserving winners and apologies to everyone else who’s written great literary fiction this year.

“Fatal Eclipse” by Dermot Davis 


A fascinating story that begins unassuming with a wedding scene. When Jonathan hesitates to say his ‘I do’ this starts an examination of his personal issues – by his wife and by a therapist. What follows is a well plotted story that gathers pace nicely and touches on more serious topics, such as mental health issues, thus taking psychological thriller to more than one meaning. B1B+rJ57VOS._UX250_
This is excellently written with a perfect blend of dialogue and narrative to give us insight into the well drawn characters.
There is a therapist in therapy that works very well in the…

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Max Power’s 100th Review on amazon – The Max Power Choice Award – a special book carefully chosen

I am humbled and delighted to receive this award – especially from such an accomplished author as Max Power – and deeply touched by the comments made here by fellow authors. These Indie authors have become my friends and my family over the past few years, and I couldn’t have received a finer tribute from them.

Maxpower's Blog

This award is given in this instance to the book for which I have posted my 100th review on amazon. However the selection of this particular book by this particular author is indeed a choice and no accident.   This very special award is given to an author who epitomises excellence in their craft. The winner of the Max Power Choice Award for 2015, can go to none other than the very wonderful Lesley Hayes.

It is called the Choice Award because as I approached my 100th review, I considered all the reasons why a writer should get prominence as my 100th review.  It is after all a milestone and I felt it should be marked by a genuine and talented writer. As it happens this writer inspired me to write my very first review for her wonderful The Drowned Phoenician Sailorand she has inspired me ever since.

There are few writers…

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Meet my character: blog tour


Are you perhaps wondering just what a blog tour is? So was I, until Lisa Devaney approached me and asked if I’d participate. I’m tempted to describe it as the blog equivalent of a chain letter, but since I have a never-with-a-barge-pole policy with them, I prefer to think of it as a game of tag, or even better, an author’s relay race – the idea being that you take the baton when it’s passed to you, run with it, then pass it on to other authors. So, to begin with, I extend my hand in gratitude to Lisa Devaney for holding the baton out to me.

Lisa has told me a little about herself, describing how she wrote and illustrated her own comic books as a child, created cartoon-inspired websites in the 90s, and took to the stage in New York City to perform in SLAM-poetry style. Even when spinning publicity campaigns for business clients, Lisa has always been enthralled by storytelling and the mediums that can be used to tell her stories. Her imagination finally led her to writing and self-publishing books, and her debut novel ‘In Ark: A Promise of Survival’ is earning 5* ratings and reviews. I’ll be reviewing it myself in due course. You can follow #InArk on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and read more about Lisa and her novel at her website

In Ark cover for web

The idea of this blog tour is to introduce one of our own invented characters, and tell you more about them. With several novels and three short story collections to choose from, I had a queue of them clamouring for my attention, as soon as I began to muse upon which of them I’d pick. I had them draw lots in the end (some just point blank refused to sink that low) and the one who emerged as the winner is Fynn, the narrator of my novel ‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’ – typical of her, I might say, to somehow push herself to the front of the queue like that. Of all my characters she certainly is the one with the gift of the gab. She even insisted on writing the novel with her own distinctive voice, rather than let me tell the story.

So now, to comply with the blog tour rules, here are the questions and answers:

What is the name of your character? Are they a fictional or historic person?

Fynn is my character’s name – or is it Kaya? This is a ‘soul name’ bestowed on her in childhood by her ageing hippie mother, Phoebe. Fynn is sceptical and pragmatic, disdaining all things fanciful, but uses the alternative identity of ‘Kaya’ to infiltrate her therapist’s funeral, and the name sticks. She’s a fictional character – she’d probably even say that of herself. One of the things she is well aware of is how much we invent and reinvent ourselves throughout our life – and you might consider, therefore, that there is significance in the fact that it’s in using her ‘soul name’ that she discovers more of who she really is throughout the course of the novel.

When and where is the story set?

The story takes place in the here and now, although if I wanted to be fanciful and clever I’d remind you that the words now and here together make the word nowhere. I just love how words play with our mind (or is it the other way round?) The narrative also takes a bit of a detour into Fynn’s past, much as we all do when we reflect on our life right now and wonder how it was that we got to be exactly here. Our history is only as significant as what we learn from it, and we learn a great deal about Fynn from delving into hers – both childhood and more recent history. The novel is mostly set in Oxford, where she lives, and Cornwall, where her delightful mother, Phoebe, lives, and where she meets the mysterious Jack – another major player in the novel. He looked suitably enigmatic and just smiled when I asked if he wanted to take centre stage for this question and answer session. He knew I knew it was the last thing he’d want.

What should we know about her?

Fynn is strongly independent and a bit of a loner, although if you want to understand more of what she doesn’t reveal – often even to herself – pay particular attention to her relationship with her nefarious cat, Morpheus, which exposes an insecurity and vulnerability she wouldn’t want to own. At the start of the novel you’ll soon discover that she has been in therapy for two years – a last resort after twenty-five years of being haunted by her sister, Abby. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, which is a bit of setback for someone who manages within a few chapters to have two of them dogging her every move. She hasn’t been too successful in relationships, and she certainly isn’t looking for one now. But sometimes relationships – and fate – come looking for you.

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Fynn wants to know if her ghosts are real, or whether she is crazy. She is still grieving for her sister – but which of them truly is it who can’t let go? And it’s not just the loss of her sister Abby that haunts her, but everything that went before, and quite a lot since. Her therapist, Paul, had begun to guide her towards the heart of the matter, but then he went and died suddenly and created even more of a mess in her psyche. And what terrible timing – just when she needs him to help her sort out that mess more than ever. Her mother, with a long history of gullibility when it comes to lame dogs and lost souls, seems to have been entirely taken in by Jack, the oddball drifter she met on the beach in Cornwall. He is fast infiltrating himself into Phoebe’s life, and Fynn is suspicious of his motives and protective of her mother. And why is she so strangely drawn to Jack when she doesn’t even like him?

What is the personal goal of the character?

That’s an easy one for me to answer, although I don’t think Fynn herself would be able to articulate it – not at the start of the novel anyway. She sees herself as a free spirit who doesn’t want to be tied down – even though she’s beginning to realise she uncharacteristically tied herself down two years before by adopting a cat and embarking on therapy. What she longs for, couched in denial within her unconscious, is freedom from the pain of grief, and everything that lies behind it: guilt and regret, frozen in time. Isn’t something like that what we all long to be free from? We carry the grief for our own unlived life every day, whether or not we know it. We want to be loved for who we are, and to stand fearlessly in our truth, rather than hide behind an identity that doesn’t honestly reflect who we are. This is very much the underlying theme in the novel, and you will discover in reading it whether this is resolved for Fynn in the end.

What is the title of this novel, and can we read more about it?

‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’ is the title – it’s been published on kindle since January 2014. You can read more about it and what led to me writing it on my blog….. and on my website…. and on Goodreads …and of course on Amazon…. where you can also ‘look inside’ and decide whether Fynn’s voice and story is one that speaks to you. All those 5* reviews can’t be wrong!

You can find out more about this novel and all my other books at my Amazon Author’s page


Today I am nominating two talented authors whose work has excited, fascinated and delighted me in very different ways – they will in turn carry the baton forward and tell you more about their main characters:

Brett Hawkins

Brett lives with his angelic wife, 2 sons and 2 dogs in the Northwestern suburbs of Sydney. After 20 odd years of sailing the high seas of the corporate world plus another 5 running his own business Brett finally made his decision. That thing, the voice, you know, the one that’s been whispering in his ear ever since he was a teenager. Follow your passion the nagging voice kept saying until eventually in late 2013 he listened. Brett’s reunion with his lifelong passion has been an elated one that has spawned his first novel in the making. Entitled ‘The Stars of the Soul’ it is a provoking Science Fiction/Fantasy adventure spanning 1400 years of man’s eternal search for his soul. For sneak peeks and to discover more of Brett’s writing you can visit his blog: Brett’s Future You can also follow him on Twitter @BrettsFuture (be warned he’s a compulsive tweet poet).

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Robin Chambers

Once upon a time Robin was born in Bootle, Liverpool. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis but instead was plunged into the maelstrom of inner city education. Even so, he found time to write children’s stories, published by Penguin in the 1970s. He returned to his northern roots after 14 years of headship in Hackney and in 1993 met his wonderful wife Amy. In 2008 they left for a life by the western shores of the Caribbean. Surviving a murder attempt by local thugs in November 2010, Robin realised he could have died without accomplishing a cherished ambition. They returned to the UK and he began work on ‘Myrddin’s Heir’: the epic story that will be his legacy. It took three years to write the first four books and Book 5 was published in April 2014. They are all on kindle at Amazon for just 99p. This magical story is ideal for bright children from 10–110 years of age – longer than ‘The Lord of the Rings’, longer even than the entire ‘Harry Potter’. To complete it Robin reckons he needs to live another 15 years. He has to finish it, because only he knows how it ends… You can find his website at and follow him on Twitter @myrddinsheir

A Wizard of Dreams-cover

The conundrum of invisibility

Invisibility - blog

I never wanted to be famous. I’m an introvert who learned early on to habitually fake extroversion convincingly enough to fool some of the people some of the time. I sank with relief into my more natural introverted intuitive self when I embarked on my career as a therapist. It was a role that allowed me to express my authentic self and connect with clients from that place. One-on-one is a comfortable relationship for me. Triangles are also possible. I was the only child of parents who clung to one another on a life raft of unsociability, so three-way relationships, despite carrying their own perilous dynamics, are familiar territory. Although I’ve managed to hold my own in groups of anything up to ten people (and have even run therapy groups) that really is about my limit. I realise, on the far shore of my mid-life career as a therapist, that mine is a perfect psychological mind-set for a writer. I’ve always written with ‘you, the reader’ in mind – that’s you, the single you, raptly hanging on my every word, delighted with each turn of phrase, each nuance, each skilful metaphor, just as I have delighted in putting them on the page. I work my socks off for you, to keep you entertained and to do so in a lyrical style that will entrance you with language as much as I myself am entranced. I don’t imagine a roomful of you, an audience enthusiastically clapping and whistling, shouting for an encore. No, it’s just you and me, snugly curled up together wherever it is that you read me – once it would have been in a book; these days it’s more likely to be on a kindle or tablet. And the beauty of it is I’m completely invisible.

 I relish invisibility. It’s something of a paradox that as an integrative psychotherapist I eschewed the blank screen persona of the traditional psychoanalytical therapist. I believe in genuine engagement requiring the therapist to be as much a part of the process as the client, not simply a witness and stubbornly speechless observer. And yet there is also no requirement to spill your own beans when listening to a client. In fact, it’s one of the cardinal rules that you don’t. It’s bad enough for most people having their own stuff out there in the room without adding yours into the equation. So in that sense the therapist remains unknown, almost but not quite anonymous. Visible but also invisible, able to hide behind the role while at the same time giving the most important part of who they are prominence – authentic self rather than crazy mixed up ego. Yes, however sorted we are, or aim to be, we therapists still have our issues, and don’t let anyone pretend to you otherwise. It’s not that we lie about it – it’s just that it isn’t relevant. Or at least, we hope it isn’t relevant, and if it looks as though it might be in danger of becoming so we take it to our supervisor or our own therapist.

 But so much for the invisibility factor in therapy. Let me fast-track you now (‘you, the reader’) to my return to the magical inner world of the writer… that mysterious realm somewhere between imagination and what we might loosely term ‘reality’. As a writer, the idea for the novel either bursts or sidles its way into your consciousness and kicks aside all other considerations. The muse grabs you and shakes you into submission, so that you daily kneel at her altar, a mere acolyte to the process until the work is finally completed. It’s like being in love. You never doubt that this is the best thing you’ve ever written, or that ‘you, the reader’ are going to agree. You lose yourself in the welcoming arms of your muse for however long it takes until the madness eventually subsides. Your invisibility factor increases exponentially as your identity merges with and shifts between your characters. You forget where the edge of ‘you’ is, and come out drunken and giddy with bewilderment each time you escape temporarily from your writing bubble. Yes, it is entirely like being in love. You even go through a grieving process when it ends – as end it must. And all the way through you have lived inside the world inside your imagination without ever having to emerge fully into the cruel, cold, starkly-shadowed realm of ordinary reality. 

And as you crawl your way out of your cocoon into the harsh light of day, you realise that in order to actually find ‘you, the reader’ there is yet another process to be endured – the agonising process of becoming visible. It isn’t enough these days to toss your completed manuscript into the waiting arms of the midwife agent who along with a supportive publisher will bring your book to birth. This was my own personal wake-up call. I observed how the wind had radically altered course in the years since I was last published, and made the brave decision to embrace change and leap into the unknown via kindle self-publishing on Amazon. That was challenging, but also interesting. It’s good to have a project. But the next stage was unexpectedly problematic. It required me to take my ego down from the shelf and dust it off – even polish it up a little bit. I had been through ‘somebody training’ in my youth and had since found a happier me through ‘nobody training’ during my years of practicing therapy and mindfulness, and now I needed to become a ‘somebody’ again. A person with a face, and a ‘voice’ – a person who proclaims themselves as the author behind their books, strutting their stuff on facebook and twitter, and here in my blog (although of course it’s still just me and ‘you the reader’ really.)

 It feels like an awesome responsibility. Now that I have a product to sell (that’s the way I have been told to look at it now) I need to learn how to market it. But it seems that in the years since I was last writing books the product has become very much the author. The cult of personality has gathered momentum and in the self-publishing world I am but a miniscule drop in a vast ocean of voices and faces that in my nightmares seem like a sea of baby birds screaming to be fed. Am I one of them? Surely not? That doesn’t sit well with me at all. And here’s the conundrum: I want my books to be read, which means I have to be visible. ‘Becoming visible’ is the advertising strategy that is pushed by everyone involved with internet marketing. But I resist. I am not that person. I want ‘you the reader’ to find me and feel richer for the experience, but I’m reluctant to shout in your face and demand that you buy my books. On the other hand, if I lurk coyly in the shadows hoping to be found, I’ll be a long time waiting. It’s still work in progress finding out how to be visible to ‘you, the public’ in a way that employs no bullshit, whilst remaining securely invisible, like a ghost flitting between the pages of my books. Will I get there? It remains to be seen.

This, by the way, was absolutely not the blog I intended to write. I’ll have to return to other issues related to invisibility another time. That wretched muse – see what I mean? She made me write it. It’s all her fault.




My novel The Drowned Phoenician Sailor takes its title from a passage in ‘The Burial of the Dead’ in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland.’ It’s a reference to the Tarot card the Ten of Swords, signifying the darkest hour before the dawn, which shows up in a Tarot reading made for Fynn early on in the novel by her mother. But the title came much later, and it wasn’t what inspired me to begin writing the novel.

I had that itchy feeling writers get, like a place somewhere you can’t reach that nags away at you. I could hear my muse calling – well to be honest it was more of a shriek. The kind of shriek that wakes you up at night, wondering what on earth is happening. Is it a fox hungry for love? Or one of those werewolves other writers write about? Oh no, it’s just a dream – something really important although you can’t remember a word of it. Adrenalin starts pumping, and your heart beats faster, and then your mind begins racing. It’s not the most comfortable of states to be in, but it’s familiar enough now that I know what it means. Some alchemy has been at work in my psyche, and is desperately trying to push the results into my conscious mind.

What this means in practice is that I start noticing things in a different way, and making inspired connections – not necessarily where they are meant to be. I find myself getting excited by certain concepts, playing the “What if…?” game with myself. And it was exactly this process that brought into being the first rough draft of The Drowned Phoenician Sailor. I remember seeing two unrelated newspaper reports from two entirely different sources, each of which fired my imagination. Neither of them had anything remotely to do with the story that evolved and ultimately became the finished novel. But they set me thinking about assumed identities, deceit, the aftermath of grief, and what it might be like to have died with unfinished business. Out of this grew my list of ‘what ifs’. I am intrigued by cause and effect, both short and long term, and the way that ripples spread out from seemingly random events, and I have been asking questions about what happens after we die since I had my first attack of existential death anxiety at the age of four. These two elements combined to create the first creative glimmerings of my story.

One of the Amazon reviewers of the novel asks whether the cat was really necessary to the plot. This was a question I asked myself as I began writing it, but it soon became obvious to me that Morpheus was an essential ingredient. That’s something you either get or don’t as a reader, and without peeling back the layers (I always feel it’s a mistake to analyse a book to the extent of taking away the mystery) I promise you that the cat is as important a character as the rest. I enjoyed describing his personality – in its own way as complex and revealing as Fynn’s. I had no data about any of them when I began it, and the characters arrived on the page and wove their complicated dance of interaction with a logic that defied much intervention from me. I had an idea of where we were going, but wasn’t entirely sure what form the journey would take. But then it became clear to me that although I hadn’t set out to write anything remotely resembling a romance, the two main protagonists – Fynn and Jack – were destined to develop a relationship, despite Fynn’s reluctance and Jack’s denials. The concept of destiny occurs in a number of my stories. Is life utterly meaningless, apart from the meaning we attach to it, or is there some larger and grander plot behind the scenes? I know I’m not the first writer to wrestle with this notion. An existential interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is a great example.

There was something immensely freeing for me as a psychotherapist to begin the novel with the death of one. It was no coincidence that I began writing The Drowned Phoenician Sailor at the same time I made the decision to retire from practice. Paul became in some ways my alter ego, released from the constraints of the role, no longer confined by boundaries and able to bring more of himself into his relationship with Fynn. He remains to some extent something of a mystery, and yet some might say he is as much a main player in the novel as either Fynn or Jack. You as the reader will come to your own conclusions about whether or not he is objectively real in his ghostly form. The same applies to Fynn’s sister, whose regular visitations were the cause of Fynn seeking out a psychotherapist in the first place. If you believe there is a continuation of life after death then the ghosts in the novel will be satisfyingly plausible in their remarks and actions. If you take a more psychological viewpoint, there is an equally satisfying explanation about the powerful effect of grief. Does it matter? Perhaps it matters to you. But you won’t be disappointed, either way.

I romped my way through writing The Drowned Phoenician Sailor. I had enormous fun with the characters, and fell in love with Phoebe – Fynn’s mother – as soon as I started writing about her. Someone has suggested that I write a prequel to the novel that sets out to tell Phoebe’s story, and I’m tempted. But then again, someone else has said they want to know what happens next, and can’t I write more about Fynn and Jack – especially Jack, whose story seems in some respects to be just beginning at the end of the novel. But that’s part of the point of a novel, I believe. You don’t see the edges of the picture, only the piece that exists within the frame. You are left to join up the dots with your own imagination and make the experience of reading the story your very own. It has touched you uniquely, in whatever way it has managed to do that. It speaks to you, in the end, with your own voice.

If you haven’t already read The Drowned Phoenician Sailor then perhaps this all seems rather incoherent to you. The best advice I can offer is that you try it for yourself. (Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?) I am interested in your opinion, dear reader, and will welcome any reviews.

The Drowned Phoenician Sailor is on kindle at Amazon

More details can be found on my website:



I took the title of my new novel from one of my favourite quotations from the poet Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” When you’ve reached the end of the book, I think you’ll understand just why I chose it.

This novel has been a long time in gestation. It began for me with Daniel’s story, his account of his time in India when he was in his early twenties. In the book this is revealed piece by piece in his journal entries, but for me it came with all the hurricane energy of a tormented soul desperate to be heard. When I began to write for Daniel it seemed to come from somewhere else: a voice that demanded to speak, to tell every last detail of the truth he needed to share. It took me over, and wouldn’t let me rest until he had said all he needed to. And after I’d finished telling his tale I was left still wondering just who this Daniel was. I needed to write the rest of the novel to find out.

I hadn’t entirely shed my own role as a psychotherapist when I embarked on writing it. It’s a moot point whether it’s a role that can ever be entirely shed, as it’s so much more than the work, and an intrinsic part of my personality. It seemed inevitable that Daniel would be a psychotherapist, and not just because I know what it’s like to sit in a room with someone else and care more for their suffering than my own. He is a wounded man, and has used his understanding of his own tragedies to find the way in to helping others to heal. It was important for me when I wrote about Daniel in the present that however much he was haunted by his past, he would be freed ultimately by facing it. What this turns out to mean for him you will need to read the book to discover. No spoilers here!

When I am writing there is a curious process that occurs, much as there has been for me when working as a therapist. I fall in love with the characters, the more real they become. And the more I fall in love with them, the more of themselves they reveal to me. When my characters first walk through the door of my mind to join me on the page they have yet to give away their deeper motivations for coming. By the time I’ve got to the second or third draft we are old friends, and I’ve reached the stage of never wanting to say goodbye. Although, much as it has been with clients, the time comes when the rest of their lives will continue elsewhere, no longer between the pages of my book. Hopefully, with clients, we have both been changed by the experience of our meeting. I always hope that this will also be the case for you, as a reader.

A number of elements came together that inspired me to write this particular novel, otherwise it might simply have remained as Daniel’s story: a narrative that had no context in which to place it. Events in my own life made me think deeply about the effects of childhood trauma, and the identity that evolved as a result. Some people believe that our identity is fixed from the moment of birth – before birth, in fact – and dictated partly by our genes and partly by some mysterious element that we might call ‘soul’ or even ‘karma’. Another view is that whatever the blank canvas is that we start out with, life experience, environment, parental and societal influences, all contribute to painting the unique portrait of the person we become. Perhaps there is something of both in forming our identity. We seem to develop a script about what life means for us very early on. We absorb the messages we receive from those around us and from the universe that presents us with our experience, kindly or unkindly, and we soak them up like the eager little emotional sponges that we are. What we learn intellectually is nothing compared to the life lessons we receive, good and bad, that make us decide where we stand in the greater scheme of things and whether we ourselves are good or bad.

There are underlying themes in the book which touch all of us at some point in our lives. Betrayal is one of them. There are some betrayals that are obvious, but how subtly and sometimes unconsciously do we otherwise betray one another – and can those betrayals be forgiven? We first meet the main characters in this novel as sudden turmoil begins to turn their safe, known world inside out. In different ways both Daniel and Mira are trying to make sense of who they are, and heading for possible destruction. Daniel and his wife Callie are faced with choices about whether to trust, and whether to hold on to secrets that if uncovered could risk their relationship. They are all three complex, confused human beings, confronting truths about themselves.

The truth is a theme that arises frequently in my stories. Its slippery, shape-shifting, often perplexing nature taunts me as I examine my own life and that of other people. Is what we believe to be the truth all there is to know? Doesn’t our perspective change as we draw back from close up and see the bigger picture? And yet discovering and claiming the truth is often what fires us into action and forces us to make judgements. Mira is a valiant and determined torch-bearer of a truth she holds as the fulcrum of her identity. I wanted to explore with her, as with Daniel, just what had shaped her into being the person she has become, and to question how possible it might be to bring about a change of heart.

I was discussing the themes in ‘A Field Beyond Time’ with a friend who had just finished it. He said he had sat up till 2 a.m. reading because he couldn’t put it down until he had found out what happened at the end. What was it that had kept him gripped? “I had to know if Daniel would find the resolution he needed,” he said. “From the point in the novel when I started reading his journal entries I was hooked. His story was so compelling.” Well, obviously I’m not going to give the game away here, but it was interesting to see that it wasn’t just me who felt in some way possessed by Daniel and his plight.

I hope you will be as touched by the characters in this novel as I was while writing about them. I came to love them in their flawed, imperfect human beingness. Did they all find the resolution they needed? Whether or not the novel keeps you up till the early hours, I hope you too are spurred to find the answer.

‘A Field Beyond Time’ is published on kindle at Amazon



I didn’t really understand the true value of friendship until I got into my thirties. I was an only child and for various reasons always felt like an outsider when I was at school. The friends I made there were similarly not part of the in-crowd. For mysterious reasons that ultimately served me well as a writer I was always drawn to the offbeat, the dispossessed, the possibly slightly unhinged, the ones that looked as though society shunned or misunderstood them. My mother despaired when, having been sent to a private school at age four, my best friend of choice was Sally Sullivan, the girl whose cardigans never had any buttons on and whose hair looked like a bird’s nest in a hurricane. What her story was, I have no idea, but I do remember admiring her wild and devil-may-care attitude. There have been many Sally Sullivans in my life in the years since. At secondary school I was, if anything, part of the out-crowd, if there is such a thing. It was a small select group. In fact, I don’t think the word ‘group’ could realistically be applied. I wasn’t unpopular, and I wasn’t bullied, but I was a bit too clever for my own good. I wanted to talk about philosophy, preferably in French. Well, that was just a passing phase, of course, and unbearably pretentious. But you get the picture. I used to ask witty questions of the teachers, which raised a laugh but didn’t endear me to anyone. I was never teacher’s pet. More like teacher’s thorn in the side. When I left school at seventeen, flying in the face of all the hopes, dreams and intentions of my parents and my teachers, my headmistress said: “I wonder what will become of you?” I lost touch with my chums from school and moved into what seemed much more colourfully to be The Real World.The stuff of which my autobiography, if and when I get around to it, will be filled. But for now, let’s skip quite a few years during which an awful lot happened but none of it particularly relevant to the theme of friendship. I suddenly discovered what I now think of as real friendship in my early to mid-thirties, as my second marriage began crashing melodramatically into a heap of predictable rubble. Plenty of grist for the writer’s mill there, for which I have been glad. It’s always good to observe the silver lining and make the most of it. Prior to that friends had been ‘our friends’ or increasingly ‘those weird women you hang out with’ (his definition, never mine.) I discovered how supportive women could be of one another, how brave, how bawdy, how honest. I found how important it was to share feelings, however shameful and irrational they seemed, (especially the murderous ones,) and how good my women friends were at listening without judgement or without doing that very manly thing of ‘fixing’ the problem that you already know is tragically unfixable. For the first time since the days of Sally Sullivan I risked getting closer to other women. Having never had sisters I really didn’t know the rules. These friendships were not social ones, where we went out and partied (I’d had a number of those) but deeply intimate exchanges of our thoughts and desires and sorrows. We understood one another’s disappointments and weren’t afraid to laugh at ourselves. Women are particularly good at that. By the time I had swept the last of the rubble into a corner of my mind I rarely noticed any more, I had embarked on a very different chapter of my life. As I entered my forties I really got the hang of friendship. By the time I’d completed my psychotherapy training my inner world had been transformed, and my outer life reflected that. I didn’t give up being witty entirely (wordsmiths mostly just can’t help themselves) but I valued increasingly the importance of kindness over cleverness. The friendships I made during this period of my life proved to be enduring and supportive and life-changing in ways I never could have imagined. I guess that’s the nature of experiences that change your life. Most of the friends that I made then were also psychotherapists, or therapists of other kinds. People intent on healing – which meant they were inevitably wounded themselves. The obvious fact is that we are all wounded. It’s what you choose to do with the wound that makes the difference: flaunt it, wear it like a badge of identity, make it worse, blame the world for it, seek revenge for it, invite more of it, deny it, cover it with layers of disguise… there are plenty of ways to not do anything to heal it. But then, if you face up to the fact that the wound is there, and begin to understand how it happened, you are one step towards the process that ultimately heals. The people who came into my life as friends in my forties and fifties have all been all on that pilgrimage towards healing, one way or another. We speak the same language, have the same priorities, struggle with many of the same issues, and breathe in the same life-giving air of truth. The best friends I’ve known, and still know, are the ones who never duck from careful self-examination, and recognize that blame is futile. When you stumble into the potential minefield of disagreement it’s a waste of energy to point the finger either towards the other person or yourself. However much we all love to be right (and don’t we just!) friendship thrives on the willingness to make that less of a priority than understanding one another. To be understood is one of the greatest blessings, and to offer that understanding to another person is such a gift. As you get older your perspective shifts so radically. It really isn’t something you can comprehend in your youth, the way that the equation shrinks in terms of percentage of life expectancy yet to come. You start making statements like: “Life’s too short…” about an increasing number of things. Life’s too short to spend time doing this or that… where will it end, I sometimes wonder? Will I eventually think life is too short to get up in the morning? I suppose it could happen. You do begin to value the things you have, the more you see slipping away. And friendship is top of that list. It gets harder to make new friends as you get older, even in this age of facebook and twitter where ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ take on a whole new meaning for those of us not born into this age of instant and often unstable hellos and goodbyes. Sadly, the older you get, the more likely it is that some friends will leave before you, and partners are more likely to be lost through death than divorce. Which gives “Life’s too short…” a completely other spin. Life is too short not to enjoy every moment of connection you can, to imbue it with meaning and authenticity, even if it’s a tweet or a facebook post. I’ve had a number of relationships in my life (in case you were thinking it all ended with the rubble of my second marriage… oh no, dear reader, that was but the start of a whole new set of adventures…) and some have not been possible to sustain beyond the breakup drama. Sometimes the kindest thing is to exit stage left from someone’s life, or to wish them well on their onward journey. But in a few cases a deepening friendship has been the outcome, and for that I’ve been grateful. In my own experience, true friendship has been what has nourished me, enlivened me, healed me, and inspired me. When I think of my friends, as I am doing now, I feel humbled with gratitude for all that they’ve meant, over the years, and all that they’ve given me, freely and without expectation of any return. These days I include four lovely men among my dearest friends. I think of them as brothers, although none of them know each other and they each come from very different backgrounds. And my much loved women friends – you know who you are. Some have been in my life for longer than others. All are beautiful, strong, courageous women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. The picture at the top of this post is of me with my friend Sheelagh. We met almost twenty-five years ago, and have been alongside each other ever since through so many changes in both our lives. She is the closest I will ever have to a sister, and our experiences and challenges have so often run on parallel tracks. There is such a profound sense of being held in a friendship where you know and accept each other not just for the positive stuff but for the shadow that lurks beneath. Friends forgive. They don’t judge, although they give you sound advice when they think you need it, even if it’s something thy suspect you won’t want to hear. They do it in such a way that you know they love you anyway. Tears come to their eyes when they feel your pain, and they don’t hold back from sharing their own, so that the friendship always feels grounded in equality. They feel joy at your successes, and do everything they can to help you make them happen. And when life’s inevitable disappointments come, they give words of comfort that come straight from the heart. On days when you feel that nothing is possible, after half an hour with them they can make you feel that anything is possible. They aren’t combative or competitive – except perhaps at Scrabble or Uno. And they really enjoy sharing a good moan or a rant about what’s wrong with the world. Plenty to choose from there. It’s a conversation that can run and run. So, anyway, today these are my random thoughts about friendship. As I said in a previous post, I have been told I have a friendly face. But there’s a lot more to being a friend than that.

Oh no, it’s spring!


Oh no, it’s the first day of spring. I am not a spring person. I have barely got over it being winter. In fact, if I’m honest, I have barely come to terms with it being winter. I am not ready to extract myself from hibernation. So don’t try and drag me outside to enjoy it. I like having the heating turned up high and the blinds down, keeping out the miserable sight of the grey oppressive sky hanging there like a reminder of something half-done. I like getting into my fleecy jammies at 4 o’clock when it starts to get dark, hunkering down in my candle-lit cave to greet the night. I don’t like all this flagrant early sunlight which promises but rarely delivers warmth outdoors. It’s all a bit too bright, too soon. My grandmother was a wise woman who taught me certain irrefutable truths, like for example it being bad luck to reverse a garment you’d inadvertently put on inside out or back to front. Every year at the first sign of bulbs pushing their snouts above the soil she used to say: “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out,” and I’ve taken her at her word ever since. Whether or not we understand ‘May’ to refer to the month or the Hawthorn blossom of the same name, it comes to the same thing. March is not the time to be stripping off your many layers of clouts. Maybe one layer, or even two on a particularly unseasonably warm day (and with the whole climate change thing there have been a few of those lately to fool us into false hope) but please – leave it there. There is nothing so demoralising for someone who feels the cold even in the middle of summer as the sight of young foolhardy fashion aficionados strutting their skimpy vests and bare legs along the street, while I’m still debating whether I need a sweater and a coat. And possibly a woolly hat and gloves. You can’t be too careful. When I was at nursery school we used to have a big poster on the wall, telling you exactly what to expect throughout the year in terms of weather. “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers” it proclaimed. And beneath that the chilling verse: “The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow, and what will poor robin do then, poor thing?” So don’t talk to me about cute little lambs and daffodils. It’s bloody freezing out there on the hills and in the fields, and I’m glad I didn’t incarnate as a sheep. Or a daffodil. Or indeed a robin. By the time Easter arrives towards the end of April, I might feel more grudgingly accepting of the fact that summer is bound to happen. Round about the end of May I start to get the hang of it. By then I’ve got stuck in with the hay fever that inevitably gets kicked off by the combination of all that pollen from the Hawthorn blossom and the reckless shedding of clouts. I am not an outdoorsy sort of person. I was one of those unfortunate babies under the dubious regime of Dr Spock. We had no option about being bundled up and stuck outside in our prams in all weathers to “get the benefit” of the bracing air. As soon as I was old enough to exercise some choice in the matter I decided I’d had enough of all that, thank you. So Vernal Equinox or not I won’t be fired up with enthusiasm about reclaiming my garden from the deathly arms of winter (and please stop sending me seed catalogues and cheery emails reminding me when I should be planting things.) The trees are still bare, the March wind doth blow quite aggressively down my chimney as I write, and my cat is still spending most of his 18 hour sleeping day either snuggled in his own duvet or mine (I don’t know why I still bother to make a distinction.) I will decide when spring has sprung, and it hasn’t happened yet.

Random thoughts in a wobbly world