Tag Archives: childhood

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Philippa East

OK, so COVID-19 is a thing and the UK is enforcing social distancing – thank goodness. With that in mind, lots of bloggers are trying to help people get through the partial ‘lockdown’ with book recommendations as well as introducing you to some new authors.

As part of that, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’ series.

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today it’s the turn of Philippa East to tell us about how her work as a clinical psychologist helped her writer ‘Little White Lies‘. My thanks to Philippa for sharing her experience with us.

Stay safe, everyone.

Vic x

Philippa East headshot

I first got the idea for Little White Lies when I caught a snippet of a news story on TV – a teenage girl in Spain had disappeared then re-appeared a few weeks later, all under mysterious circumstances. There were many question marks over the case: had she been abducted, or was something else going on? The TV showed the family in a courtroom and I found myself thinking – what on earth are these people feeling now? Do they trust each other at all?

I knew I wanted to write a book about a missing child, I also knew there was a solid precedent of popular books on the shelves exploring this topic. But as a psychologist and therapist, I have always cared most about the pieces of the story that never usually get told. Tragically, children go missing all the time; I was fascinated by what might happen once a missing child came home. 

But what did I really know about this topic? Heartbreakingly, cases of children being found alive months or years after their disappearance are incredibly rare. My story started where most other ‘missing person’ books ended. So how on earth was I going to write about that?

The question really quite stumped me until I realised that, while I had never been involved in a real-life case like Abigail’s in Little White Lies, maybe I did have expertise that could help me, via my work with adult survivors of childhood trauma. In Little White Lies, against all odds, Abigail has escaped and survived her abduction. In the same way, the clients who I was seeing in my work had (physically) survived their childhood experiences. For both Abigail and my clients, a whole new journey would now begin. 

Little White Lies is about a family trying to heal after the very worst of traumas. The book focuses on the relationship between Abigail and her family – her mother Anne especially – both before and after her abduction. The more I wrote, the more I found myself delving into issues of responsibility and guilt, the instinctive desire to avoid what is most painful, and the healing power of acknowledging what went wrong – all themes I had encountered many times in my therapy work. Little White Lies went through many, many drafts as I wrote it, but it was when these themes came together as the heart of the novel that I was able to shape the story into the book you’ll read today.

These days, I am struck time and again by how much being a writer and being a psychologist have in common. Both therapy and writing are all about words and narratives; these truly are the “tools of our trade”. In both fiction writing and in the process of therapy, we share and absorb stories in order to make sense of the world, and try to understand our own complicated human natures. And both characters in stories and the clients in my practice go on profound journeys of change. 

Looking back now, I wonder whether I would ever have had the confidence to write Little White Lies without my background in psychology. To be honest, I am not sure that I would! 

LITTLE WHITE LIES JPEG copy

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The photographer who sees a car crash……

This afternoon, I had an interesting encounter. I had arranged to meet a writer friend who I used to go to university with. We decided we’d meet at a local coffee shop off the beaten track for a catch-up. I was so looking forward to the meeting, and not just for coffee and cake! This friend of mine is a prolific script writer and poet and I love hearing her ideas and how she’s progressing. Not to mention she is a jolly good human being to boot.

As I picked a table for two, I noticed an elderly gentleman on the next table, occupying a six seater so I assumed he was waiting for someone. We were literally about three minutes into our catch up when the gentleman turned around and apologised to my companion for coughing as we spoke. My friend, as friendly as always, told him not to worry and that it couldn’t be helped. That was the last time I heard my friend talk for another 57 minutes.

This lovely, sad old gentleman regaled us with tales of his childhood, his marriage and his life as it gained years. He told us about the fascists at the golf club who had told him he was no longer welcome in the communal dining room, about his sailing trips and his inability to stand up to his bully of a father.

He sat and tore strips of toilet paper until he had finished the roll (nerves, perhaps?) whilst telling us about his life and his dreams to be involved in literature. At the grand old age of 92, with all of his faculties still in tact, this man was a marvel. I could have sat and cried as he got choked up telling us about wife and his mother.

Every so often, he would apologise for talking so much but say “I’m so lonely” and I would feel guilty for wishing to have time to talk to my friend. How long was it since he’d had a conversation with someone? We forget how lucky we are.

My friend and I kept catching each other’s eyes and smiling sympathetically until the man asked us what we did. I say we, he was mainly directing the conversation to my friend, and she told him we were writers. To this he responded by asking if we’d be prepared to send him some of our work and so addresses ended up being swapped.

We bid him goodbye and walked to our cars and I felt so relieved as my friend said “It’s like that story of the photographer who sees a car crash and, instead of helping, takes photos. I was listening to him the whole time and thinking ‘This is great material’.” She looked sheepish until I began to laugh and said “Me too!” I guess it’s what was drummed into us during our course – look around, inspiration is everywhere.

I’ve thought about it since I arrived home, how easy it is to take one’s life for granted. In the blink of an eye any one of us could be that old man sitting at the table wondering where his life went.

His final words to us: “I may not write back immediately as I like to go out and have fun. It’s no good if you don’t enjoy life.”

Vic x