Posted on July 29, 2017
“There are persons, who, without ever having any external signs of selfishness, are intensely selfish in their spiritual aspirations.” The Labours of Hercules by Alice A Bailey.
Those on the spiritual path may find the esoteric study of The Labours of Hercules by Alice Bailey interesting. It carries a lot of wisdom and my favourite Labour is Gathering the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.
Hercules is sent to find the Golden Apples from the sacred tree of wisdom, growing in a distant land and well-guarded by three maidens and a dragon. Naturally, Hercules wants to take the quickest route. He’s in a hurry. Having no clue as to the whereabouts of this wonderful but elusive tree, he searches far and wide and eventually becomes despondent.
He is sent help in the form of Nereus who drops subtle hints – signposts – but Hercules does not recognise them for what they are. He then meets Busiris – a teacher – who claims knowledge and wisdom will be attained through him and it takes Hercules a long time to realise he has been duped. Time wasted. The teacher is not getting him any closer to finding what he seeks.
Next he meets Prometheus chained to a rock, vultures eating his liver, slowly killing him. Hercules sees Prometheus suffering, helps to set him free and stays with him until he is well before continuing his search for the Golden Apples.
Just as he believes he is close to finding the sacred tree he comes across Atlas carrying the burden of the world on his shoulders. Seeing the intense suffering of Atlas he forgets his own ambitions and assists Atlas in releasing the burden of his load. Time is lost but because he has put Atlas before himself he is immediately handed the Golden Apples.
He has found what he is seeking; he has passed the tests.
There is so much in this Labour to think about. The first is that despondency on the spiritual path is common to almost every aspirant, if not all. Enlightenment is elusive but then it would be wouldn’t it? We all know we are not going to be handed such a precious pearl without a lot of hard work.
And this is where the signposts come in. They are everywhere apparently but so subtle that they are frequently missed – even by Hercules! The seeker must be ever vigilant in case an opportunity is missed.
Then we come to the teacher. The guru. Practically every serious seeker wants a guru. Someone to guide them along the path. Show them the shortest and quickest route. Who wouldn’t? But like Hercules, sometimes it distracts the seeker from finding his own way and the search becomes even more arduous; despondency ever greater.
It is only when Hercules encounters intense suffering, suffering he cannot ignore, that he puts aside his own ambitions and selfish desires and helps Prometheus and Atlas. This was all that was required of him. To put the needs of those suffering before his desire to find the tree.
Now back to the quote at the top of the page. We see many around us who give, apparently selflessly, to others in need. But do we know their motives? For many it will be pure and they will, hopefully, be handed the Golden Apples. The pearls.
According to this Labour help offered must come from the heart, not as a way of earning brownie points, thinking ‘Well, if I mow the lawn for the miserable old git next door who never says thank you then at least I’m helping myself into the good books of heaven.’
It is not enough to do good deeds with the view to self-enhancement.
Each time I read this particular Labour of Hercules I see more and more of what is required on the spiritual path and it is sometimes painful to reflect and uncover the motives for doing what I do. Am I annoyed when I do something for someone – even as simple as opening a door of a shop – and not get a thank you? Yes! All the time! I try not to be irritated but deep down I often am.
Some time ago we had an elderly, sick aunt staying with us and I remember the frustration I felt every time my meditation practise was interrupted by her calling out for something or other. I felt it so important that I completed the exercises if I wanted to achieve my spiritual goals and I got cross with her for preventing me. I didn’t see how I could progress on the path if I didn’t dedicate some of my time to spiritual practise.
I see now that I would probably have moved further along the path if I had put my aunt before my spiritual practice. Helping others – and I’m not talking about flying off to South Sudan or anything like that – is spiritual practice in itself. Spending the hour I would have meditated, reading instead to a crabby aunt, would have been better for both of us.
The three sisters guarding the tree, when they hand over the Golden Apples to Hercules tell him: “The way to us is always marked by service. Deeds of love are signposts on the way.”
So, if you have a difficult spouse, troublesome children, irascible relatives or neighbours – they are probably your tests.
There are opportunities all around, in the every day. See them for what they are!
Posted on June 29, 2017
When his brother Stuart dies, Ian Perkins returns to his childhood home with his wife Rachel and their small son Harry. Cobweb Cottage has been in the Perkins’ family for many generations and it has now been passed on to Ian.
Along with its curse.
Just outside the isolated cottage – which is more than four miles from its nearest neighbour – a huge Sycamore tree resides, watching over the cottage and its occupants with a sense of menace.
“The tree had frightened Ian ever since he was a young child…It had brought so much suffering, so much misery, on the family.”
In their childhood days, during long, hot summers, Ian and Stuart would swing from a rope tied to one of its branches. Now, well over a hundred years old, the tree seems possessed of a power which is beyond the natural.
“In all seasons, it remained withered and bare, stretching accusingly at the cottage like an arthritic finger.”
As his marriage collapses around him, Ian spends time researching his family history trying to convince Rachel of the family curse. Despite a pact, made on their first wedding anniversary, that they would always talk and work out any problems, the barriers have gone up.
Rachel mooches about the house, unwell, and sleeps in the box room – which she keeps locked. For her, each day “was a day much like yesterday and the same as tomorrow”. Meanwhile Ian’s mental state becomes ever more fragile.
As the plot unfolds, elements of the supernatural appear, leaving the reader to question whether a curse does truly exist or whether it is all in the mind of Ian Perkins.
Broken Branches is a tale of family tragedy resulting in immense pain and suffering and Ian’s mental decline is very realistically expressed. His character elicits a great deal of empathy as he struggles to understand the curse that he believes has blighted his family for generations.
Jonathan Lee has written a very thought provoking story building up to an unpredictable finale. He has used the old, broken branches of the Sycamore tree as an excellent metaphorical representation of the breakdown of the family over generations which invites the reader to consider the story at a deeper level.
An enjoyable read.
Thank you to Hideaway Fall for the review copy – the book is released on 27th July 2017
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @MJonathanLee
Posted on June 12, 2017
“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen”. Michael Jordan.
I went to a friend’s BBQ last Sunday – and, yes, it was pouring with rain just about lunch time but the host had a cheeky trick of cooking the meat in the oven and finishing it on the BBQ for the last five minutes. It worked a treat, the food was delicious.
While chomping away on a chicken leg one of the guests asked if I had made a bucket list. I wondered if I had aged rapidly since we last met or whether she was drunk.Thankfully it was the latter.
I do not have a bucket list, I told her, because I’m only 57 and I thought it a little premature. There’s no point in having a bucket list, she replied, when you’re too old to do any of the things on it.
I was not convinced.
However, after viewing the list she produced on her mobile phone, I thought it a great idea for clarifying what I wanted to achieve in the next twenty years or so. She was right. No point in hoping to climb Kilimanjaro when I was 86. (My father is 92 and I’m very optimistic… but even so!)
This prompted me, the following evening, to make a list. It wasn’t as easy as I first thought because I wanted the list to comprise of desires that were meaningful and ones I could begin acting upon straight away.
I like to spend time reflecting on the purpose of existence ( life can be so crappy sometimes I figure there must be some logic behind it all) so – now this may seem a little weird – the first thing on my list was to discover if reincarnation really exists.and if there is life after death? Back to this a bit later.
My second was to see my first novel in print (a little more down to earth I hear you sigh with relief).
After that came many others: to visit the capital cities of Europe; visit Machu Pichu in Peru etc. I won’t replicate the list as it would bore you to death. (Perhaps you should begin your own list!)
I realised that travelling the world, as nice as it would be, isn’t my main desire. I want to know if we continue in another realm when we die and I want to get my novel published.. Both things I can work on immediately. No waiting to win the lottery. No waiting for anyone else to make any decisions about anything. No waiting to hear I have a terminal illness.
I figured if I meditated, seriously, every day for at least half an hour I might get an inkling. Many others claim to achieve great things using this method – according to the plethora of books I read on the subject.! And now that I’ve finished the novel, rather than procrastinate, I could bombard literary agents in the hope of getting it published.. Amazing! And very achievable even for me. If I get a few trips to Europe in the mix and plan on a world cruise when I’m too old to travel by any other means so much the better.
And so I begin…
Posted on May 23, 2017
“Dumbledore says people find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right” – J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
I mentioned in a previous blog ‘Obstacle to enlightenment’ that the biggest obstacle to personal growth is the ego. It is the ego that seeks approval, the ego that drives us to achieve great things and the ego that gives us our individuality. All okay so far. However, the ego’s desire to appear clever or important often produces unpleasant characteristics which make us rude, difficult and offensive.
Take for example the need to be right. Arguments snowball at the dinner table or other social gatherings when a contentious subject arises. Voices get louder and faces redder in an effort to convey opinions. I’m sure Google has prevented many a fist fight, as any issue which has a definitive answer can now be instantly Googled.
There! I was right, I knew it! (or wrong and your phone appears to have suddenly run out of battery)
I try now, particularly when I know I am 100% right about something, to stay out of the argument. Does it really matter, after all, who is right? Well, yes it does actually , especially if the person accusing you of being wrong is an obnoxious, loud mouthed know-all.
I arrived at a social event some months ago and bumped into a man I hadn’t seen for perhaps twenty years. The moment I saw him those twenty years condensed into seconds. He was unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons. He was the archetypal obnoxious, loud mouthed know-all and I’d had a run-in with him before.
He had insisted that Montevideo was the capital of Paraguay when I knew with absolute certainty it was the capital of Uruguay. Back then I knew nothing of the psychology of ‘the need to be right’ otherwise I would have said ‘whatever’ and spoken to someone else. Instead I went to battle. In the absence of Google, all those years ago, I searched the host’s house for an atlas. Sadly there wasn’t one (who doesn’t own an atlas for goodness sake!). I conducted a poll of the other guests but the results were inconclusive. I even phoned a friend – yes, the idea originated from me! – but the friend also thought it might be in Paraguay. I was furious I couldn’t prove him wrong.
I wondered whether he had mellowed over the years but decided to avoid him just in case. I was doing well until he cornered me enquiring as to whether we had met before.
‘I don’t think so,’ I lied.
‘Yes we have! Of course. I remember now. It was at Paul and Mary’s.’
Who on earth were Paul and Mary?
‘No,’ I replied, ‘I don’t know Paul and Mary.’
‘Yes you do. They’re friends of Jim and Sue.’
‘I know Jim and Sue but I really don’t know Paul and Mary.’
‘It was definitely there that I met you, I’m always right, dear!.’
There is no evidence…
I took a few deep breaths and wondered if it was possible to Google Paul and Mary and a list of their acquaintances.
‘Whatever,’ I said and went to pour myself a large glass of wine.
So why do we have this burning desire to be right; to go to great lengths to prove our knowledge? Because it makes us feel superior to the other person and when that person is an offensive bore, winning the argument is very sweet. With reference to the quote from Dumbledore, it is easy to be gracious to those who are wrong because that makes us right and our ego is very happy.
Posted on May 12, 2017
“It is always sensible to have a credit in the karmic bank to draw on in time of need.” – A Little Light on the Spiritual Laws by Diana Cooper
Sitting in Costa last week on the pretext of working on my novel I was distracted by a conversation nearby between two women. Well, only one was talking – the other listening – and it was clear that she was going through emotional turmoil. Although slightly ashamed of myself for eavesdropping I felt compelled to listen.. So many traumatic events had occurred in the woman’s life over the past year that it was amazing she could still get out of bed in the morning.
As the conversation came to an end and they picked up their bags to leave, the woman told her friend in a tearful voice that she must have been very wicked in a past life to deserve such terrible things. And this got me thinking…
Such sayings as ‘you reap what you sow’, ‘good seed produces good fruit’ and ‘what goes around comes around’ indicate we are responsible for our good or bad fortune. It’s our karma. But what exactly is karma and how does it work?
I understand that karma is the law of cause and effect. Every action and thought is recorded on our akashic record. It’s a balance sheet of good deeds/bad deeds. I can see the logic that every action must have an effect and I can clarify this concept in my mind with the following analogy:
Consider standing at the top of a cliff and, in anger or just for fun, you push a boulder off the top. The boulder will continue rolling down the cliff until something stops it: an object in its way, friction or it reaches the bottom. Once that boulder has left your hands, however, you are powerless to control its destiny.
Many perceive karma as punishment because often the effect takes place in a different lifetime to the action and that’s where the logic seems to disappear. How fair is it that you have no idea why you’ve received bad fortune? And what is the point? What can be achieved if you see no correlation between the cause and the effect?
Back to the boulder analogy. If you’ve been silly enough to push a lump of rock off the top of the cliff in the first place and then unfortunate enough to see one of your children suddenly appear at the bottom of the cliff with the boulder headed straight for them this would be a very serious lesson – one you would no doubt never repeat – whether the boulder hit your child or by some miracle it missed..
But to set the ball rolling, so to speak, in one lifetime and it ploughs into your beloved child in another lifetime takes some understanding and it’s no wonder karma has such a bad press. It’s almost always perceived as negative. When people receive good things in their life they say they are ‘lucky’ and don’t link this good fortune with their own kind or gracious actions from the past.
There are people who plan for the future and I have to admit I’m not one of them. Private pension? I might not reach 65 so why think that far ahead! So it seems a bit of a slog to plan in this lifetime for the next – especially as most of us have no evidence that we will return again.
However…I’m thinking that a little investment might we worthwhile… a small deposit in the karmic bank every day could be managed…and I will definitely stop chucking rocks off the side of cliffs!
Posted on May 4, 2017
‘They’ve all got someone else to hate now, haven’t they?’ she (Lily) spoke to Frances softly – The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.
Up to this point in The Paying Guests (page 490) my feelings towards Lily were somewhat ambivalent but when I read this line I felt I understood her actions a little better. If you haven’t read the book – and I won’t give anything away – Lily doesn’t behave honourably and I desperately wanted her to ‘do the right thing’. Then it struck me how difficult it is to do what is right. It is instinctive to protect the image of ourselves that we wish to project to the outside world. Lily was in deep trouble and had a lot to lose but was consumed with the desire to be liked.
In order to preserve this self-image we often lie to avoid looking stupid or ignorant and frequently blame others to save face. Even trivial things, such as when the doctor asks how many units of alcohol is consumed each week, there is a brazen ‘Ohh..I don’t know…about..mmm….4 units on average.’ Yeah right! Why lie? Because we don’t want the doctor to think we are alcoholics. Why does it matter what the doctor thinks? It just does.
I was in a similar situation just last week. My husband always blames me for losing his paper work. That he is so messy and leaves things all around the house, which I am then obliged to tidy away, is irrelevant. Says he. Usually I can retrieve it from some pile or other on his desk but sometimes…well quite often…I can’t.
This particular folder which he was looking for I had no recollection of. I hadn’t seen it. Hadn’t touched it. Hadn’t cleared it away. Otherwise, I say with absolute confidence, I would remember. So the search begins. An hour later after trawling through mountains of jumbled sheets and other detritus on his desk the folder is nowhere in sight. My husband by this time is visibly irritated and I am offended that he believes me to be the culprit when he is so disorganised.
Then I go upstairs to the room I use as an office and spot a bundle of my folders that I had taken up a few days before. My heart starts to thud. Surely not! But somehow I know that the disappearing folder will be there. And of course it is. I now have to decide what to do. I can conjure up a plan to sneak it amongst some other folders on his desk and make a big display of a more thorough search and Hey Presto! it was there all along. NOT MY FAULT; YOUR FAULT! Or do I risk looking stupid, enduring the mutters and the shaking of the head and go for the truth? My instinct, if I am truly honest, is to lie but I decide to tell the truth and, in my husband’s defence, he gives me a ‘look’ but refrains from any comment.
Lies and cover-ups abound when inquiries into serious incidents occur, often to avoid a custodial sentence but frequently just to ‘save face’. I think, despite cries of ‘disgraceful’ it is instinctive to protect oneself as far as possible. After some reflection I have decided that the only reason I have not behaved like Lily is because I have never been in such a precarious position as she. I suspect, judging by the missing folder episode I would be very tempted. It takes a very brave person to open themselves voluntarily to ridicule, insult and hatred and I am usually a coward!
Posted on April 19, 2017
How true! But it’s hard to be compassionate when someone is so difficult.
An ageing aunt of whom I was very fond, called me at five o’clock in the morning distressed because she was having difficulty breathing. As this wasn’t the first time, I told her to breathe slowly and deeply for five minutes and I would call her back to see how she was.
Two minutes later she called, wailing and screaming. She couldn’t breathe. She was going to die. I quickly pulled on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a jumper, grabbed the car keys and made my way to her home. Fifteen minutes later I arrived and rung on the door bell, my heart racing, wondering if this would be the time she didn’t answer.
She answered.Thankfully! With a huge smile and a kiss she welcomed me in and asked if I would like some tea and toast. She was breathing just fine. I dragged my weary feet into the kitchen to find an elderly friend of hers and the next door neighbour, both looking tired and fed up, sipping from steaming cups of tea. I felt so angry at her inconsiderate behaviour. I had a full day’s work ahead and would undoubtedly be tired and grumpy. How could she not see how selfish she was behaving?
As the months passed she became increasingly difficult and, trust me, compassion didn’t get a look in. She was coherent and managed to wash, dress and cook for herself – in other words, OK! – but she would call late at night or early morning with some problem or other.
Then she began to fall on a regular basis but not really hurt herself. She would fall next to her chair or by her bed and say she was unable to get up. This, like the breathing episodes, usually occurred in the early hours of the morning. I knew that she felt lonely so I tried to spend more time with her during the day when I could, but I found it so hard to forgive her for the early morning and late night calls.
It wasn’t until she was admitted to hospital with a fractured wrist sustained during one of her falls that we discovered she had suffered a series of mini strokes. Lots of them over many months. These strokes were causing her to pass out and fall but then recover quite rapidly giving the impression she was well. They were also likely to be the cause of the irrational behaviour she displayed prior to admission to hospital.
Unfortunately she deteriorated rapidly and passed away within a few months. Looking back over that time I wish I had been more patient and compassionate. I am sorry I was not more understanding.
When there is no apparent reason for a person displaying difficult behaviour we can sometimes be unforgiving. I wish I had thought more about her and less about me. When adults and children are demanding and difficult there is almost always a reason. We just have to look for it.
Posted on March 24, 2017
Marie Johnson is head chef at The Smugglers, a pub in Dorset she owns and runs with her estranged husband Stephen and their son Jude . The breakdown of their marriage – caused by Stephen having a number of affairs – and their constant bickering has left Marie with little self-confidence and susceptible to migraines.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the D Day landings the local area is putting on a re-enactment of the exercise and this brings new people into Marie’s life. Walking along the cliff top she meets Corbin, a charming American soldier who asks her if she has lost her necklace. She looks at what he is showing her. It is “a tiny silver seahorse, just half an inch long, with a loop attached to its head. I can almost see the chain breaking, the charm sliding off.” She tells him it is not hers but she will try to discover its owner.
She hears tales of the D Day landings from George, an English veteran who fought in the war and now comes to dine at the pub. Through George, Marie becomes acquainted with George’s son Mark. Then there is Paxton, another American soldier posted in nearby Bovington, who has seen service in Afghanistan and bears a striking resemblance to Corbin. Initially a wonderful diversion for Marie – “It’s too long since I’ve tasted the sweetness of another tongue and its magic floods my body with warmth” – their relationship is far from straightforward as she gets to know Paxton better.
Marie feels trapped – by the pub, her lack of financial security and the increasing intensity of her migraine’s due to stress – but begins to take her life into her own hands instead of relying on Stephen. Her relationship with Paxton and new found friendship with Mark gives her the confidence to tackle her problems.
Another You is a lovely story with all the elements of a good romance plus a twist of mystery. What is the significance of the silver seahorse and the enigmatic Corbin? Why is the pub busier than ever but their financial situation under strain? Does Marie have a future with Paxton?
Jane Cable has succeeded in blending the difficult topics of personal relationships and the anguish caused by post- traumatic stress disorder with some wonderful history from the war period to produce this charming novel. Descriptions of the lovely Dorset scenery brings the story alive, allowing the reader to vividly imagine the place where past and present meet.
The complexities of relationships – old and new – give the characters depth. Marie, with her tendency to drink more than is good for her considering she is prone to migraines; Paxton, with a painful past to come to terms with and Jude – young and on the cusp of adulthood – involved in his first serious relationship.
Another You is at times a light-hearted, romantic read and at others more intense and serious. The combination works well.
Thank you Jane for the review copy.
Posted on March 11, 2017
As Within, so Without – Is your life a reflection of the way you think, feel and behave?
If, like me, you are striving to make sense of life here on Earth then this spiritual law – As Within, so Without – is a bit of an eye opener. Discovering that your outer reality is a reflection of your inner world can be a bit of a shock.
If life is perfect and you’re swimming along in a bubble of joy and contentment then, of course, you can lounge in the satisfaction that you, alone, are responsible for creating such a glorious existence. If however life is a constant maelstrom of challenges (they used to be called problems) leaving you exhausted and disillusioned it is no comfort to know you have participated in this testing and arduous existence.
There may be little we can do about life’s big issues that come knocking on our door when we least expect them, turning our cosy – if occasionally difficult – world into a frenzy of pain and suffering. But what about the everyday? The bickering with family members; the reoccurring headaches; colleagues who make our life a misery; the things that wear us down on a day to day basis. Are these a reflection of our inner emotions or are they everyone else’s fault?
When I wake up in a bad mood – yes it does happen from time to time! – I struggle to smile or act with kindness; I’m more critical of those around me; I’m argumentative. I know I’m behaving badly but am unable to control it – usually don’t wish to control it. In response to this, I’m treated the same by whoever I’ve taken my bad mood out on. The arguments and irritations bounce back and forth until someone relents and responds with love and kindness. It is human nature. Smile at someone, they smile back. Snarl at someone, they snarl back. Give someone a cuddle and the niggles of the day dissipate.
It has been well documented that our inner emotions also reflect in our physical well-being. If we are angry, worried or stressed our bodies produce hormones to compensate and deal with this. Over time this leads to long term health issues. Again…As Within, so Without.
I do believe it is human instinct to be kind. Whenever tragedy strikes, either globally or within families, there is an innate desire to comfort and help. This is clearly seen when there is an earthquake or some other disaster and everyone rallies round from all parts of the world to send aid, either in the form of blankets and food, financial help or even offering to assist in the rescue of those trapped or to rebuild homes. The same occurs when a family member or good friend is sick. So why do we find it so difficult to make an effort to be nice to those close to us unless something serious has occurred?
If it is instinctive to be kind – and it is in our own interests to be so because, according to the spiritual laws, it is reflected back to us – why do we not all live in harmony? It is easy to come back with the rebuttal that people take advantage or that your help is not appreciated (or he/she started it!!) But is this always the case? Even if it is, it takes a courageous person, not a weak one, to control their response to any given situation.
Most people desire happiness and if someone is in a perpetually foul mood it is reasonable to assume they are not happy. When this happens, at the work place or at home, their misery affects all those around them. Surely it is in our own interest to help everyone, whenever possible, to feel good inside. Better for them and better for us.The following quote from the Dalai Lama summarises it nicely:
It is a very simplistic view but I truly believe that kindness, which is free to give, goes a long way to making the world a better place and our daily lives more tolerable. If each person could express a little more of it every day towards their own circle of family, friends and colleagues this must surely increase exponentially – to the benefit of all. Yes, there will be a few that take advantage but there may be reasons for this that we don’t understand and this should not distract us from spreading goodwill, love and kindness whenever possible.
It is said that the spiritual laws are exact. So if you feel calm, happy and at peace this should soon be reflected in your daily reality.
Posted on February 27, 2017
Nuala Ellwood received recognition on the list of The Guardian’s ‘new faces of fiction 2017′ with her debut novel My Sister’s Bones, published by Penguin on 9th February.
The story begins with Kate Rafter, a war correspondent, undergoing psychological analysis at a police station in Herne Bay, Kent. She has recently returned to her childhood home, from a very traumatic period in Syria, to deal with the estate of her deceased mother.
The first few pages give a clear indication of Kate’s mental fragility due to the horrendous events she has experienced while reporting from various war zones. During the interview with the doctor she knows that she “mustn’t tell her about the voices” but has difficulty focusing and responding to the questions due to their intrusion.
“as I speak, they’re back, fading in and out like a radio between frequencies. The old woman wailing; the young father running through the streets holding the blasted body of his baby girl in his arms. My old faithfuls, the ones that return to me whenever I am under stress”
While the doctor is writing, determining whether Kate should be held under the Mental Health Act, Kate knows that “every word I say here can be used against me”.
The story then moves to one week earlier with the narration flitting back and forth between Kate’s assessment at Herne Bay Police Station and the events leading up to her arrest.
The family home in Herne Bay where Kate spent her childhood with her parents and sister Sally holds its own painful memories of an abusive and alcoholic father and the death of her younger brother. Kate was the stronger of the two girls and always stood up to their father in an attempt to protect their mother from the beatings, while Sally would try to please her father. This led to a rift between Kate and Sally, causing a fractured relationship in adult life.
Kate became a journalist, reporting from some of the most dangerous war-torn countries because she wanted the world to know of the intense suffering endured by the people – no doubt, to some extent, influenced by her own disturbing childhood – whereas her sister Sally sought consolation in alcohol, like her father had after the death of his young son.
My Sister’s Bones is a superb psychological thriller which deals with the tough subjects of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and the long term effects of growing up in an abusive environment. Nuala Ellwood has sensitively combined these difficult topics with excellent plotting to produce a brilliant and exciting novel. Very well written, it conveys the issues surrounding mental illness without trivialising it to enhance the story. It incorporates the heart of suffering without slowing down the fast pace required for a good psychological thriller.
As well as having almost as many twists and turns as a DNA double helix there are some subtle messages conveyed in My Sister’s Bones. One is that someone suffering with mental illness should not be casually dismissed as a ‘mad person’ when they voice opinions that may seem illogical or odd, such as when Kate claims to see a little boy sitting in a flower bed in the garden. Another is to resist making judgements as it is not always possible to fully understand what a person has experienced to make them what they are today. Kate was known as the intrepid journalist, brave and strong, standing up for victims whereas Sally commanded less respect due to her decline into alcoholism and is seen as weak. Both were exposed to violence in their childhood and both saw these experiences differently.
The story also highlights the regrets that often accompany tragedy: Wishing you had listened more carefully; wishing you had not judged so quickly; wishing you had made more effort instead of harbouring resentment.
Nuala Ellwood definitely deserves to be on The Guardian’s list of authors to look out for in the future. My Sister’s Bones is a well crafted, compelling thriller with a fast moving plot and authentic characterisation.
A highly recommended five star read.
You can follow Nuala Ellwood on Twiiter: @NualaWrites