Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I was bought this book as a present. I don’t think I would have read it otherwise. Eleanor Oliphant is living a thin life in Glasgow. She goes to work in an office every day, drinks vodka in her flat at weekends and has no friends. Pretty grim reading. To makes matters worse she has weekly phone calls from the mother from hell who is a horrendous snob and needles Eleanor the whole time. For some reason our heroine decides to gradually change her life. She gets her hair done, buys new clothes and strikes up a friendship with the IT guy at work. She is a strange character who seems to know nothing about the modern world and to talk about others as if she is in a Regency novel of manners. Queen Victoria was probably more worldly. This was the bit that didn’t make sense to me. She had suffered terrible abuse as a child and was finally taken into foster care and managed to get to university and get her job. Her complete lack of knowledge of ordinary things like what death metal is does not fit with this background. She does not live in a bubble. She lives in the west end of Glasgow and has a TV. How is she this naive? The book just didn’t make enough sense for me to rate it higher and I didn’t really warm to Eleanor even at the end. Why is it so hyped?



How I Cleared My Depression with 12 steps – step 3

I used the steps from Alcoholics Anonymous to clear my depression. You can too.

Step 3 – I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.

This is about surrender. It was really hard for me. I thought I had to be strong; I had to defeat my own demons on my own. I had tried to do this and I hadn’t succeeded. I just seemed to be digging myself in deeper. I used to be pretty independent and self-reliant. It seemed like the only way. Then after my career disaster I became financially dependent on my husband. This still didn’t help me. I had got rid of one problem that depressed me (my work) but now I had other problems – poverty, lack of self-worth, lack of meaning and purpose…I still hadn’t made the shift. I was still looking for the wrong things to make me happy and medicating myself daily with red wine.

I had a blockage about surrendering to God. I kind of worried about being a Christian. I had met plenty of Christians I didn’t like – judgemental, obsessed with other people’s sex lives, joyless, cruel. I had met many Christian teachers like this and I did not want to be like them. Christianity has a strange history and a lot of skeletons in its closet. On the Alpha course I started thinking about the true message- the words of Jesus which really are astounding. Jesus is nothing like the sort of Christians I had met in the past. My favourite passage is the Sermon on the Mount, particularly ‘Consider the lilies…’ Go and check it out if you haven’t read it. It is about surrendering to God and letting go. It really is the hardest thing but the most worthwhile thing. God clothes even the wild flowers of the field with beauty. They don’t work for it, they don’t strive yet God looks after them. He will look after you too because you mean more to Him. Notice there is no Protestant work ethic here. Where did that come from because it didn’t come out of the mouth of Jesus? Surrendering to God causes a change in your consciousness. It doesn’t mean you won’t do things wrong (sin) and mess things up. You will but it’s ok.

The plan I had for my life didn’t work. It was a rubbish plan. I was working in the education system that I didn’t believe in. In the end it drove me to break down. Then I thought I would write books but that didn’t work out either. My plans were all wrong. I accepted help from God and at this point I realised change was possible. I am still not where I want to be. I have held back from total commitment. I am not a nun or a holy person on a mountain. I haven’t made it in to Mother Theresa territory – yet. I ask God for help every day. When I feel despair I pray. I remember that I am Divine – I am made in the image of God. That helps me. I still have some bad habits. I still drink wine but nothing like as much as I used to. I am trying to phase it out completely but I keep failing. I have a daily spiritual practice involving reading the Bible, praying, meditation and yoga. I am working on myself bit by bit. I am an ongoing project. If I mess up I ask for forgiveness and start again. I can observe my emotions and detach from them. I am training as a therapist so I can be of service to others.

Accept help from God as you understand Him. It does not have to be the Christian God. It could be Ganesha or Buddha or nature or Allah. It’s up to you.


How I Cleared My Depression with 12 steps – step 2


I used the 12 steps from Alcoholics Anonymous to overcome depression.

Step 2

I came to believe that a power greater than me could restore me to sanity.

This was a big shift for me. All my life I feel like I have been surrounded by atheists: my family, my friends. They know it all. They don’t need God. But I did. After years of vague belief I finally submitted. I became a Christian on the Alpha Course. This helped me a lot. Therapists often say you have to fix yourself; that it has to come from within. That’s good advice for many people but I had been trying to fix myself for years. There was something about surrendering myself to a loving God that worked for me.

I have suffered in the past from depression, low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness. This just leads to nihilism: there seems no point in doing anything in a meaningless universe. Christianity gave me a way out of this trap.When the Bible is explained to you as an unfolding story it all starts to make sense. There is order in the universe, there is purpose and intention. Most of all there is love. Love is the thing I have been lacking. God loves me just as I am with all my flaws and faults. I don’t have to be perfect. I am good enough just the way I am. This is a revelation to me. We are all sinners. God knows this but he forgives us and accepts us through the blood of Jesus.

Being a Christian gives me meaning and purpose. I am still early on in my journey and I haven’t figured everything out yet but I read the Bible every day and pray and I attend the local abbey and sometimes my village church which has intermittent services. When somebody at Alpha prayed over me I felt like some evil thing left my body and something else came in its place. My depression began to lift there and then. I didn’t get rid of it overnight but it was the start of my journey to recovery. A lot of people have trouble with the word God. If you prefer you can use Higher Power or Nature or whatever you like. For me God works best though. I feel better when I think of something external to me helping me: a great spirit. I can’t make it on my own but I can make it with God. And so can you. Surrender to Him and you can heal yourself of all kinds of issues. Just one step at a time each day.

Personal Therapy Philosophy

In this essay, I will outline my own ideas about hypnotherapy which will form the foundation of my private practice. Firstly, I will explain my background, values, and beliefs which will affect my practice. Then, I will describe the integrative approach to therapy I will take incorporating elements from humanistic therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and psychodynamic approaches which I will combine with transformational hypnotherapy. I will explain my reasons and give evidence for my stance. It will be argued that integrative practice is the approach most likely to help the majority of clients with varying issues. I will then explore the argument taken by the NHS that cognitive-behavioural therapy is all that is necessary for modern psychotherapeutic treatment and find reasons to reject this argument.

Firstly, it is necessary for me to explain my own background as it is important for a therapist to work in a way which is comfortable for them and in line with their belief systems (Corey, 2001). This gives the therapist authenticity. I have a fairly academic background. My first degree was an MA in Philosophy which gave me a life long interest in ideas and the ‘big questions’ about the meaning of life and the nature of reality. I have a second degree which is a BSc in Psychology which was very science based and concerned with evidence. It was not particularly relevant to therapy. I am currently undertaking an MSc in Psychology which is concentrating on research methods and again is not particularly focused on therapy. This educational experience has given me the tendency to look for evidence to support the claims of different modalities but at the same time to be aware of the flawed nature of much evidence in psychology. I have had a long career in teaching which has given me a practical insight into human nature. I ended my career prematurely due to inability to cope with prolonged stress which also led to bouts of depression. This experience gave me an interest in mental health and I have received CBT, counselling and transformational hypnotherapy which have all helped me to manage my mental health. I sought training in hypnotherapy as I wished to help others who were undergoing similar issues to me. I have a particular interest in anxiety and depression. Recently, I became a Christian and before that I was a practising Buddhist. I now blend these two belief systems and think of myself as a Christian Buddhist. I have a daily spiritual practice and spirituality is an important part of my life and gives me meaning. My education, spiritual life, and life experience have informed my values. I believe that the purpose of life is to develop yourself as much as possible, to self-actualise, and then to help others by sharing your skills and knowledge. I am motivated by the values of kindness and compassion and I would like to see a more spiritual, caring society. I see therapy as a way of helping people with their life problems so enabling them to live more fulfilling lives and reach their personal potential. I would not wish to impose my spiritual beliefs on anyone but if it was wished by the client, he or she could find a safe space to explore these issues.

Contemplating my life story has led me to embrace some of the humanistic tradition in psychotherapy, particularly the ideas of Maslow (1993, cited in Joseph, 2010) and Rogers (1959, cited in Joseph 2010). I feel that the transpersonal approach to psychology, emphasising spiritual experience, is the one to which I feel most attracted. Rogers (1980, cited in Joseph, 2010) wrote that he felt he was most effective as a therapist when his inner spirit reached out and touched the inner spirit of another. The relationship transcends itself and becomes part of a larger phenomenon enabling deep growth and healing. Maslow (1968, cited in Joseph 2010) developed the idea of a hierarchy of needs beginning with physiological needs such as food and water and ending with self-actualization where individuals are self-directed, creative, and independent and are willing to try to understand other people’s point of view and are open to new experiences. Such experiences could be what Maslow calls ‘peak experiences’ which transcend ordinary human consciousness and can be spiritual in nature: beyond the person. The transpersonal approach also draws on the work of Jung (1957, cited in Joseph, 2010) who developed the idea of a collective unconscious that exists beyond the boundaries of space and time and reflects a cosmic intelligence. The collective unconscious provides an inner wisdom for healing. Some transpersonal notions have much in common with Buddhism as individuals come to an understanding that there is no real self. Clients can undergo a transformation where their current way of seeing the world is shattered and they realise the unity of all things (Wilber, 1998, cited in Joseph, 2010). Meditation techniques can form part of transpersonal approaches. The therapist is co-operating with the client to allow inner healing to take place. Transpersonal therapists are not much concerned with scientific evidence and it can be argued that their approach is difficult to research effectively. However, there is some research that suggests that humanistic approaches are just as effective as other forms of therapy (Grof, 2007). In spite of my enthusiasm for the transpersonal approach I am aware it will not be appropriate for all clients which is why I intend to practice therapy in an integrative way with the transpersonal approach underlying my broader range of techniques.

I am drawn to the integrative approach as much of the research into the effectiveness of psychotherapy has emphasised the importance of common factors between therapies. Ablon and Jones (2010) have shown that in practice skilled, experienced therapists integrate techniques belonging to several approaches, adapting to the individual needs of their patients. A positive relationship between the therapist and patient is of paramount importance in the success of the treatment. This is known as the therapeutic alliance (Grencavage and Norcross, 1990). It has also been suggested that successful treatment may depend on various non-specific therapeutic factors: the confidence of the therapist in the treatment, the patient’s perception of the therapist as skilled and confident, a patient’s expectation that the treatment will be successful, characteristics of the patient such as commitment to therapy, being able to formulate problems and a willingness to challenge themselves (Wampold, 2015), (Cuijpers, 2013), (Ablon and Marci, 2004). The genuine interest of the counsellor in improving another person’s quality of life is vital (Schneider and Langle, 2012). It is likely that it is these mechanisms of change that predict the success of psychotherapeutic treatment, rather than the type of therapy that is utilised. As a result of these findings, I intend to work on creating a strong therapeutic alliance where I collaborate with the client to find solutions to their issues. I also intend to incorporate Rogers’ core conditions from person centred therapy: congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1959, cited in Joseph, 2010). Congruence means the therapist is being his or her real self which is also close to his or her idealised self and he or she is integrated into the relationship with the client. Empathy means the therapist understands the client’s feelings. Unconditional positive regard means that the therapist will accept and support the client whatever he or she does or says. There is a real warmth and respect in the relationship.

Some clients’ issues may not be suitable for humanistic therapy so I will also make use of cognitive-behavioural techniques (CBT). The therapy focuses on the present rather than the past, and on changing negative patterns of thinking and behaviour (Joseph, 2010). Theoretically, CBT is rooted in behaviourism. Behaviourists believed that only observable, measurable, outward behaviour was worthy of scientific inquiry (Skinner, 1974, cited in Joseph, 2010). This theory was further developed by Beck (1976, cited in House and Loewenthal, 2008), who added a cognitive element. My reason for choosing CBT is that it has an impressive evidence base in research which suggests it is as good as or superior to other psychotherapies (Barth, Munder, Gerger, Nuesch, Trelle, Znoj and Cuiijpers, 2013), (Cuijpers, van Straten, Andersson, and van Oppen, 2008), (King, 2007), (Elkin, Shea, Watkins, Imber, Sotsky, Collins and Parloff, 1989). The approach is appropriate for clients who want fast solutions to their presenting issues and don’t wish for greater self-knowledge, spiritual development or to revisit the past.

The third approach I will integrate into my psychotherapy practice is psychodynamic therapy. There is great emphasis placed on the relationship between the patient and the therapist (Joseph, 2010). This has the advantage of giving primacy to the interactions between the two, which can be analysed in the course of the dialogue, thus finding solutions. However, this emphasis has raised criticisms. Unethical practitioners have abused the therapeutic relationship with its inherent power imbalance and there have been cases of sexual abuse of patients and other humiliating experiences (Masson, 1992). There is a focus on defence mechanisms and transference of issues from the past onto the counsellor. The emphasis is on the unconscious mind and early childhood experiences. At its best, the patient and therapist form an equal partnership, where the patient makes a breakthrough by working through issues from the past, bringing the unconscious causes of behaviour into conscious awareness and thus relieving current symptoms and empowering the patient (Joseph, 2010). This emphasis on the past has been criticised, as some therapists have been accused of unwittingly planting false memories in patients, particularly of sexual abuse, which can seriously harm people (Masson, 1992). Psychodynamic therapy is grounded in the work of Freud, (1901, cited in Joseph 2010) which gives it a firm theoretical basis and long history (Milton 2008, cited in House and Loewenthal, 2008). Freud developed psychoanalysis from a small series of case studies of his patients in Vienna. He believed that human behaviour has its origins in the unconscious mind, which is full of irrational, conflicting needs. In recent times, Freud’s ideas have been heavily criticised as they are based on studies of a limited number of people and they lack empirical evidence (Eysenck and Wilson, 1973, cited in Joseph, 2010). The cultural values of Edwardian Austria may not apply across the world. In spite of these criticisms, psychodynamic therapy has a strong evidence base, particularly for depression (Shedler, 2010). I choose to integrate elements of this approach in my practice as it will be suitable for clients who wish to revisit the past due to traumatic experiences. Modern psychodynamic therapy can be delivered in relatively short time frames such as 10-16 sessions. I am drawn to this approach more than CBT as I have found revisiting the past has been helpful to me in my own personal therapy so I believe it will help others.

Finally, the fourth approach which will be an important part of my practice is transformative hypnotherapy. I was very impressed on the course with the work of Boyne (2018) as he could produce real change in a short period of time by revisiting traumatic events in the past and giving new more helpful ways of regarding them and new ways of living after the release of emotion from dealing with the past. I have had personal transformative therapy recently from Peer (2018) who has developed her own version and I found it very helpful to me. I would like to incorporate this into my own practice as well as using techniques from Milton Erickson (Rosen, 1982) such as hypnotic language and the use of stories and metaphor. I also wish to use the technique of guided imagery which has its roots in the work of Jung (1957, cited in Joseph, 2010) as I have seen the powerful, transforming effect of this method and I find Jung to have spiritual values which are similar to my own. There is a growing body of research which finds hypnotherapy is useful for a great many issues, even physical medical issues such as IBS especially when it is combined with psychotherapy (Kraft and Kraft, 2007).

There is a school of thought that only one therapeutic modality should be used, particularly by beginning practitioners, as the therapist needs a firm grounding in one technique and cannot hope to be expert in all therapies (Corey, 2001). Following this line, the NHS has decided that CBT is now virtually the only therapy it offers due to its strong evidence base and its value for money and speed (NICE, 2018). While I have some sympathy for this view I do not believe that CBT is appropriate for every person and every issue. It is far too reductive in reducing complex human states to merely thoughts and behaviour while ignoring emotions, the social context, the past and the unconscious mind. One argument against CBT is that it is telling people how to think and reprogramming them in line with the expectations of society. ‘Faulty’ individuals are to be made to fit in with the current culture rather than attempting to change the culture. Thus, CBT is not counselling, but just a series of tools to ‘fix’ symptoms. As a result, this treatment does not address the underlying issues of the client (Woolfolk and Richardson, 2008, cited in House and Loewenthal, 2008). As a consequence, CBT therapy becomes a political act, aligning with governmental needs for a healthy workforce. CBT is offering a kind of sticking plaster to control the emotional and behavioural impact of a lack of meaning and spirituality, rather than addressing such existential concerns. Furthermore, it is possibly unethical, as it is imposing solutions, rather than being patient-led. There is a power imbalance between the counsellor and patient (Brazier 2008, cited in House and Loewenthal, 2008).

Effective, integrative therapy has been summed up by Paul (1967, cited in Corey, 2001) as: ‘What treatment by whom, is the most effective for this individual with that specific problem, and under which set of circumstances?’However, there is a problem theoretically that the approaches are incompatible. For example, the humanistic approach believes people are basically good while the psychodynamic approach points to darker, irrational drives suggesting people have evil within them. My own belief is that people are neither good or bad but a mixture of both so I don’t fully subscribe to either theory though I lean to the humanistic. I am taking a pragmatic approach and using what works from each therapeutic modality in order to maximise my ability to help clients.

In this essay I have revealed that I intend to take an integrative approach to therapy using techniques from humanistic traditions, CBT, psychodynamic therapy and transformative hypnotherapy. This approach is underpinned by my belief in the value of transpersonal therapy as an overarching concept which will guide my practice. This is in line with my beliefs and values and enables me to help a great many people in the most effective way for them. I have supported my philosophy with research evidence.


Ablon, J. and Jones, E. (2010) ‘How expert clinicians’ prototypes of an ideal treatment correlate with outcome in psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioural therapy’ Psychotherapy Research vol. 8, no.1, pp. 71-83 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1080/10503309812331332207 (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Ablon, J. and Marci, C. (2004) ‘Psychotherapy process: the missing link: comment on Westen, Novotny, and Thompson-Brenner’ Psychological Bulletin vol. 130, no. 4, pp. 664-668 (Online). Available at doi: (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Barth, J., Munder, T., Gerger, H., Nuesch, E., Trelle, S., Znoj, H. and Cuijpers, P. (2013) ‘Comparative efficacy of seven psychotherapeutic interventions for depressed patients: a network of meta-analysis’ PLoS Medicine, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 1-17 (Online). Available at (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Boyne, G. (2018) (Online) Available at (Accessed on 13th June, 2018)

Corey, G. (2001) Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Stamford, Wadsworth

Cuijpers, P., van Straten, A., Andersson, G. and van Oppen, P. (2008) ‘Psychotherapy for depression in adults: a meta-analysis of comparative outcome studies’ Journal of Consultant Clinical Psychology vol. 76, no. 6, pp. 909-22 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1037/a0013075 (Accessed on 1st April, 2018)

Cuijpers, P. (2013) ‘Effective therapies or effective mechanisms in treatment guidelines for depression?’ in Depression and Anxiety vol. 30, no. 11, pp. 1055-1057 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1002/da.22205 (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Elkin, I., Shea, M., Watkins, J., Imber, S., Sotsky, S., Collins, J. and Parloff, M. (1989) ‘National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program General Effectiveness of Treatments’ Arch Gen Psychiatry vol. 46, no. 11, pp. 971–982 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.1989.01810110013002 (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Grencavage, L., and Norcross, J., (1990) ‘Where Are the Commonalities Among the Therapeutic Common Factors?’ in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice vol. 21, no. 5, pp. 372-378 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1037/0735-7028.21.5.372 (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Grof, S. (2007) ‘Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Transpersonal Psychology’ (Online) Available at (Accessed on 13th June, 2018)

House, R. and Loewenthal, D. (eds.) (2008) Against and For CBT: Towards a Constructive Dialogue, Monmouth, PCCS Books.

Joseph, S. (2010) Theories of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.

King, R. (2007) ‘Evidence-based practice: Where is the evidence? The case of cognitive behaviour therapy and depression’ Australian Psychologist vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 83-88 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1080/00050069808257386 (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Kraft, T. and Kraft, D. (2007) ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptomatic Treatment Versus Integrative Psychotherapy’ in Contemp. Hypnosis vol. 24 no. 4 pp. 161-177 (Online) Available at DOI: 10.1002/ch.339 (Accessed on 13th June, 2018)

Masson, J. (1992) Against Therapy, London, Flamingo

NICE (2018) Depression in Adults, London, (Online). Available at (Accessed on 4th April, 2018)

O’Neal, P., Jackson, A. and McDermott, F. (2014) ‘A review of the efficacy and effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy and short-term psychodynamic therapy in the treatment of major depression’ Australian Social Work vol. 67, no. 2, pp. 197-213 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1080/0312407X.2013.778307 (Accessed on 4th April, 2018)

Peer, M. (2018) Marisa Peer (Online) Available at (Accessed on 13th June, 2018)

Rosen, S. (1982) My Voice Will Go With You, London, Norton and Co.

Schneider, A. and Langle, K. (2012) ‘The Renewal of Humanism in Psychotherapy: Summary and Conclusion’ Psychotherapy Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 480–481 (Online). Available at doi: 10.1037/a0028026 (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Shedler, J. (2010) ‘The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy’ American Psychologist vol. 65, no.22, pp. 98-109 (Online). Available at (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

Wampold, B. (2015) ‘How important are the common factors in psychotherapy? An update’ in World Psychiatry vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 270–277 (Online). Available at (Accessed on 5th April, 2018)

How I Cleared My Depression with 12 Steps – and you can too. Step 1

We’ve all heard of Alcoholics Anonymous and their 12 step programme right? Did you know it can work for other problems too? In fact, it can work for just about everything. I re-discovered the 12 steps while reading Russell Brand’s book about addiction. It got me thinking I could try it for my depression – so I did.

I have had on and off depression for most of my life. Even as a child I used to cry myself to sleep at night. It sometimes went into remission, sometimes even for years and I felt fine, but never great. At the moment, I feel better than I have felt in years. I actually feel hopeful and optimistic. I am singing and humming throughout the day. So I’m going to share with you exactly what I did.

I started with the 12 steps idea but applied it to depression instead of alcohol or drugs.

Step 1

I admitted I was powerless over my depression, that my life had become unmanageable.

It took me a long time to even get to this point but I did eventually. I was in denial that I had depression. I kidded myself that everyone felt like this. I hid it through busyness, alcohol and comfort food. At times, I would have a traumatic experience and go to the doctor to seek help. The same thing would always happen. They would tell me I was just reacting to a life event and I would get better. I didn’t even get pills. I got nothing. I went to see a hypnotherapist (not a very good one, and more about this in a later blog) and she said, ‘You don’t look like you have depression.’ So here was the key. I looked ok to other people so I must have been ok. Er, no. I went to CBT group therapy. It had a tiny effect but not enough. I tried a super healthy diet. I did yoga. I did exercise. I lifted weights.I improved but I wasn’t where I needed to be. I needed more.

So I said Step 1 out loud. I had tried to cure myself. I was powerless. I couldn’t do it on my own and doctors and therapists hadn’t helped me enough. I didn’t have a proper job. I had a failed business. I had written books that nobody read. My relationships were dysfunctional. Yes I think it was fair to say that my life was unmanageable. I finally admitted it.

That’s step 1 done and dusted!

Book Reviews for Gateway into the Dark

5.0 out of 5 starsRiveting read, I really enjoyed it!
21 March 2018
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The story had a great pace and storyline, well thought out with unexpected twists and turns. Definitely a modern romance.
One person found this helpful

5.0 out of 5 starsVery Enjoyable.
27 March 2018
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not a usual love story. An interesting twist at then end. I read the whole book in one day, could not put it down.
One person found this helpful

Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsGood read.
15 April 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
As a male was unsure what to expect. It was a good read though with an unexpected ending. Very well researched and topical for the current climate. My only criticism of a bit harsh was I prefer a longer read. I was fully engrossed then it was all over.
One person found this helpful

First memories – first house

I remember a terraced house with a back yard. I used to sweep the yard with a blue brush. I wanted to help my mother. She was always cleaning. The outside got black with dirt from the steelworks. The air was polluted. I coughed all the time. I think I was happy. I can’t remember emotions. There were two golden retriever dogs up the back alley. I was frightened of them. I didn’t want to go along the alley near the dogs. The house was brick. I remember it as darkness, nearly black. There was a green gate at the back. I can’t remember the front. I think I was alone a lot. I don’t remember my sister being there though she must have been. I don’t remember my father being there either. I think he used to go away for work a lot. I remember I used to sing all the time. I remember singing on the bus on the way to the shops with my mum. That was our life. Shopping and cleaning. You had to rub the blackness off the steps to show you were respectable. It was the old industrial north. The sky lit up orange at night. Red dust. It was some kind of pollution. Sometimes we went on trips to the countryside on holidays and day trips. I remember Staithes and the sound of the gulls screeching when you woke up in the holiday cottage in the morning. Yorkshire was like Paradise after Middlesbrough. Everything green. I loved the sea – the sound of the waves crashing. They cut my hair short and I didn’t like it.

Sneak peak of my third novel: The Mountain Hotel

Chapter 1

Laura concentrated hard on the road in front of her. The light was beginning to fade as she drove along the single-track thoroughfare bending through the West Highlands of Scotland.
‘Can’t be far now,’ she said out loud.
She expertly guided the black Range Rover through the twists and turns of the mountain highway. She enjoyed the challenge of the unfamiliar journey. Laura drove just at the right speed for the conditions, changing up and down the gears with precision. There had been nobody coming in the opposite direction for miles now. The road took her attention away from the scenery; she passed green fields full of scraggy sheep, grassy hills, conifer plantations, bare, dark mountains in the distance threaded in mist, occasional glimpses of grey sea. The satnav had seemed to lose her position at the last settlement so now she was relying on instinct to get to her destination. She travelled by a grand house set back a short distance from the road, almost hidden behind thick trees, and then a village sign came into view: Cragganford. This was it. Laura’s pulse began to throb faster with excitement. She whizzed by a small development of modern houses on the left hand side. They were white with newness but built in the traditional Highland style with two windows poking out of the roof. Then there was a little shop and café with a bright green sign on the right bearing the legend: The Quiach. Laura knew from her research into the traditions of the area that this meant ‘drinking cup’ in Gaelic.
‘How quaint!’ she said to herself.
Laura had been talking to herself throughout the trip to stave off the loneliness of her long journey. She drove on a few hundred yards and found what she was looking for on the left. She had arrived at last at the Cragganford Hotel. It was a large, straggling, stone-built Victorian building set straight on to the road.
Laura guided the 4 by 4 into the empty car park at the back and got out. She opened the boot and retrieved her pull along suitcase and dragged it along the tarmac and then back round to the front. She appraised the hotel façade critically. It didn’t look like the photos. In the images she had viewed online it had been high summer and the building had been covered in the rich red of Virginia Creeper. Now it was late October and there were no leaves on the branches stretching over the stonework. Laura suddenly became aware of the chill in the air and she hurried inside the imposing front door.
There was a little lobby where several people had left walking boots to dry off and then another door led to the bar. Laura strode purposefully through. There were no customers whatsoever and no sign of anyone working there. The room had an air of gloom. The bar stools in front of her looked like they were upholstered with actual offcuts of patterned carpet. Laura perched on one of these precariously and waited. Nobody came. Laura noticed a bell on the bar and she dinged it twice. A gaunt man appeared from the back and shuffled unsteadily towards her. He was middle aged with light brown wispy hair starting to bald on the top. Laura had the distinct impression he was slightly drunk from his wandering gait.
‘Hello. I’m Laura, the new owner. Pleased to meet you,’ she said and put out her hand towards him.
He eyed her hand with its perfectly manicured fingernails as if he wasn’t quite sure what it was for some moments and then shook it surprisingly firmly. Then he lowered his hand and stood surveying the room with an air of someone who was surprised to find himself there.
‘And you are?’ Laura enquired feeling shocked at his odd behaviour.
‘I’m Angus. Barman. At your service madam,’ he said in a singsong soft accent that Laura had never heard the like of before.
He continued just to stare, not smiling, not scowling and he didn’t offer her anything more. Laura could feel frustration rising within her but she pushed it down, determined to remain professional.
‘Look, I’ve been driving for a long time. Would it be possible to have some coffee?’
Without a word he disappeared into the back. Laura took the opportunity to appraise the bar. The gantry was filled with all kinds of whisky, too many to count. There were a couple of hand pumps for beers she hadn’t heard of and then an assortment of wine bottles on the back shelf. Multitudes of glass and metal beer tankards were hanging over the bar. The room was divided into two with a dining area at one end furthest away from the bar with little wooden tables and chairs and then the odd stools in a row on this side. The walls were decorated with old prints of grouse moorland scenes and portraits of spaniels. The paint was starting to peel away in the corners and cobwebs were lurking in the hard to reach places. There was a huge stone fireplace at one end but no fire was lit in it even though there was a pile of split logs at the side in a woven willow basket. Laura hadn’t realised that pubs like this still existed. Her heart began to sink but she told herself sternly that she wasn’t in London now. This was a lesson in how not to buy property. Laura had purchased the hotel on a whim without seeing it. This was risky but it had looked so perfect in the estate agent details and it had certainly been cheap. She hadn’t really been thinking straight at the time of the sale. Her thoughts had only been of escape. Things were going to be different up here from what she was accustomed to. She would just have to get used to it. Anyway, there was plenty of room for improvement.
She started making plans in her head for all the changes she could make. Laura was thinking rustic but modern. She imagined wooden benches at long oak tables with the kitchen on view from the dining area. The bar could be remodelled and offer a range of reasonably priced wines from all over the world and carefully chosen craft beers. She would keep the wide selection of whiskies, as this was Scotland after all. The fireplace looked historic so that could stay as well but with a welcoming fire roaring at all times of the winter months. The walls could be repainted with a simple classic off-white paint with oil paintings of seascapes to break up the expanse. Laura was roused from her thoughts by a young woman heading towards her from the kitchen area. The girl plonked the coffee rather too heavily on the bar in front of Laura and smiled widely.
‘Hi. I’m Amy. I’m kind of the chef and barmaid. Really I do a bit of everything,’ she said in an Australian accent.
Amy had long blonde hair she wore loose and a smile that radiated sunshine out of her young, pretty face.
‘Laura,’ said Laura and put out her hand towards Amy.
Amy looked surprised at the offer of a handshake as if people didn’t normally do this to her but she took Laura’s hand and shook it firmly, rather too firmly as if she were in a cartoon.
‘I’m the new owner. I’m glad you’re here. I’m sure you’ll be a great help to me in finding my feet. Angus seems a little bemused,’ said Laura.
‘Er, yeah, you could say that. He’s all right really. You’ll get used to us all I’m sure,’ said Amy. Then, she laughed nervously.
Laura drank her coffee with relief. It was just what she needed to perk herself up.
‘Is it possible to have any food?’ she asked Amy.
‘Sure thing. I’ll get you a menu,’ Amy said and disappeared again.
While waiting for her return Laura became aware of footsteps behind her. She turned around to see a tall, bulky man heading towards the bar. He was dressed head to foot in navy waterproofs and had a leather cowboy hat on his head that was dripping raindrops onto the floor. He was wearing black wellington boots that were caked in mud. He removed his hat as he approached to reveal blonde curly hair that was starting to thin and grey. His face was tanned brown and his eyes were watery blue. He had a wide nose that looked like it may have been broken at some time in the past. He was craggy, not quite good looking, and his face showed he was running to more fat than was good for him. He ignored Laura completely and banged his hand down heavily on the bar several times.
‘What do you need to do to get a drink round here? Amy!’ he shouted.
Amy returned looking unconcerned and gave Laura the menu. Then she poured the man a large whisky and a half beer and placed them on the bar in front of him.
‘Calm down Alban,’ she said, ‘you mad dog you.’
He grunted and took a swig of the whisky. He turned slightly and looked sideways at Laura with an expression of complete disgust and then headed off to the furthest part of the room where he sat down with his drinks and a newspaper he had fished from somewhere inside his coat. It was The Guardian, which seemed out of place with the rural ambience.
Laura was unsure if she should introduce herself to him or not. She decided against it and perused the menu. It was as basic as she had feared. You could have fish and chips, pie and chips, gammon and chips, steak and chips or a sandwich and chips. Laura sighed.
‘I’ll have steak and chips please, Amy. Medium rare,’ she said.
‘Coming right up,’ Amy said flashing her smile and then waggling off into the back.
Laura sipped her coffee and deliberately did not look at Alban in the corner. She bristled with irritation that he was so rude. People said Londoners were rude but this place was something else.
Thank goodness for Amy, the only human being in the place, she thought.
Laura placed changing the menu on her mental to do list. She had heard the west coast of Scotland had some amazing seafood: langoustines, lobster, crab and mussels. That should all be on offer here.
Angus appeared once again and stood dolefully in front of her, swaying back and forwards on his toes and heels. Laura ordered a glass of red wine from him. He didn’t give her a choice but brought back a large glass of what she guessed was Rioja. Actually, it wasn’t half bad and she felt relieved that at least this was something they had got right. She enjoyed the warm feeling it gave her as it slipped down her throat and started to relax a little.
The food arrived and looked better than Laura had expected. She picked up her plate and took it to one of the tables. Unfortunately, this was nearer to the glowering Alban but she didn’t want to eat at the bar. The tables had cutlery wrapped in red serviettes, red plastic place mats and little wooden crates with condiments in. The steak was cooked just how Laura liked it and the chips were thick and crispy. This was simple but good. Amy could cook at least. Laura felt sure she could persuade her into more adventurous dishes. While she was eating another customer appeared. He was another lone man but with a more amenable expression than Alban. In spite of his youth he was dressed in traditional tweedy country clothes and he had a collie dog with him. He nodded briefly towards Laura and Alban and then stood at the bar and nursing a pint. A little while later a group of tourists walked in and sat down to eat. They spoke to each other in German and smiled kindly at Laura. They drank beer and joked with each other, laughing loudly. Laura surmised they were the owners of the walking boots in the lobby. They were two couples approaching retirement. Laura envied them their easy friendship. After she had finished her meal she walked up to the bar and asked Amy to show her to her living quarters.
‘One minute,’ said Amy and disappeared into the back. She returned with a large bunch of keys and walked back out to the lobby, beckoning Laura to follow. They went out of another door and up some narrow stairs covered in threadbare tartan carpet. They walked down a long corridor lined with unremarkable country prints and then up a short flight of stairs. Amy struggled with the key in the lock of a cream coloured door and then managed to open it.
‘Here we go,’ she said, ‘This is yours. I’m just downstairs, the first door. Nobody else lives in. We only have four guests at the moment and they are downstairs as well, just along from me. You have this floor all to yourself.’
‘Thanks Amy. For everything,’ Laura said and squeezed Amy’s shoulder in friendship.
‘No worries. I’ll leave you to it. We shut the bar at eleven so I’ll lock up then. Just get some rest,’ she said and vanished.
Laura wandered around her new living space. She was right up in the eaves of the hotel in the attic rooms. They had sloping roofs and little windows looking out onto the road at the front. Opposite there was a field of sheep. Laura had never had a view of sheep before. It was strangely uplifting. There was a small sitting room and then a bedroom with an en-suite shower room and a tiny kitchen. The furnishings were ancient and couldn’t have been expensive even when they were new. Laura was determined to remain optimistic. She had some money over from the sale of her terrace in Dulwich which, in spite of its modest proportions, had shot up in value in recent years due to its location. She could buy a few things to brighten up her apartment. Everything would be fine. She managed to make herself a cup of tea in the kitchen. Everything had been just left as if somebody had walked out one day and not given a backward glance. Laura sat on the lumpy sofa and hugged her knees. In spite of the disappointment of the dilapidated surroundings she was still excited. There was potential here and Amy looked capable and might even be a potential friend and ally. There was an age difference between them but they could probably get on well together. She noticed it was pitch dark outside and drew the thin curtains together. It was eerily silent. She needed to distract herself from thoughts of the past so she unpacked and hung her few clothes in the post war utility wardrobe. More of her things were arriving by van probably tomorrow but she had left most of her possessions in London as this place had come fully furnished. Then she showered and rubbed herself vigorously. Laura found her laptop in the suitcase and fired it into life. There was no Wi-Fi signal. Damn. Another thing to sort out. She still needed to keep her mind of things so she flipped on the TV. The news came on. It was the very news programme she had worked on herself. She had been a highflying television journalist, top of her profession until her disgrace. There they all were, carrying on without her. She imagined the activity behind the scenes, the after work drinks, the friendships, the laughs. No, she refused to think about that time. She refused to think about Jacob. She switched over to a chat show. It was cosy and entertaining. She paused the show to ring Harry on her mobile. He answered quickly for once.
‘Hi mum, how’s it all going up there?’
‘Great. I’ve not been here long. The hotel’s a bit old-fashioned but there’s so much potential,’ said Laura.
‘Brilliant. I’m so pleased for you mum,’ said Harry.
‘You must come and visit soon. Promise you will,’ said Laura.
‘Of course. I’ll bring all my mates. We can surf. Do they do surfing in Scotland?’
‘I assume there’s surfing. There’s plenty of sea anyway. I think this hotel’s only ten minutes walk to a beach.’
‘Really. Wow. We’ll definitely come then. Can’t wait,’ said Harry.
‘Oh, I’m missing you such a lot. Remember to come soon,’ said Laura.
Anyway, I’ve got to go. There’s a party,’ said Jacob.
‘Oh that sounds fun. I’m glad you’re settled in so well. Speak soon. Love you,’ said Laura, trying to keep her disappointment at the cut short conversation out of her voice.
‘Love you mum,’ said Harry.
At least she still had Harry to love. Their relationship was still strong. It had become stronger during the supposed difficult teenage years rather than weaker. He was a good kid. Laura hoped they would be able to keep their bond now she was so far away up here.
She went back to watching TV. As time went on Laura felt her lids getting heavy. It was time for bed. She crawled under the duvet in the little bedroom. The bed was a small double and surprisingly soft. Grateful for this small mercy she nestled down for the night. She could hear owls hooting and then a strange sound in the distance almost like crying. It made her slightly nervous but she told herself firmly it was probably just animals or the wind. There was no sound of cars and Laura realised how much she had become used to the continual hum of traffic back in London.
Laura had arrived in Scotland.
Things could only get better.

Interview about Gateway into the Dark

Q: Why did you write Gateway into the Dark?

A: I became very interested in and of course appalled by the Syrian War. I wanted to write a novel that featured it somewhere. I was also interested in how Islam is perceived. I wanted to show the good side, how it can help someone on a personal level to live a good life but also the extremist side with the behaviour of ISIS.


Q: Tell me about the main character.

The story is seen through the eyes of Molly. She is a working class girl from Manchester who gets into university and then marries a Muslim man. I wanted to tell a story about someone who starts out poor. Marginalised people are almost never written about and I wanted to tell a story through one of them. I lived in Manchester for years when I was a teacher so I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the centre of the city.

Q: How did you research the novel?

The Manchester scenes were easy because I could write them from memory and mix in my own imagination. Syria was much harder as I’ve never been there. I did a lot of research on the internet and looked at videos and pictures to get a sense of the place. It is a very restricted view as Molly is a Muslim woman in a very controlled society so she does not see everything that happens.

Q: What genre is your novel?

I always find genre difficult as I don’t really write in genre. I just write about life and things that interest me. I have called it a romance as love does feature but then so does war and loss and religion. It has a lot of themes just like life itself. It’s definitely not a thriller. There is no daring do and not much action. I don’t write books like that. It is quite contemplative, particularly about spirituality and what it is to be a woman in modern society.  I wanted to make people think about the different facets of Islam and the experience of faith itself.945265338