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Talking with Arthur Conan Doyle

Posted on 20 April 2010, 19:34

With reference to my last blog, I’ve been talking with Conan Doyle about his parents; or trying to. As a therapist, I’m well aware how rarely people are able to speak truthfully about their parents, and this was certainly my experience of Conan Doyle, who struggled with this.

The reality was that his father was an alcoholic who spent the last 15 years of his life in various institutions in Scotland. The cause of his death was given as ‘epilepsy of many years standing’. In his memoirs, however, Doyle makes no mention of this, speaking only of his father’s painting gifts and his sensitivity.

What were his true feelings? His fictional work points to deep shame and anger. His story called ‘The Sealed Room’ involves a father who, unable to pay his debts, locks himself in a sealed room, takes poison and dies there, not wishing to place yet more stress on his wife who has a heart condition. While ‘The Japanned Box’, another of his tales, features a man who lived a life of drinking and gambling, sitting by a phonograph several times a day, playing back his dead wife’s pleadings not to indulge in the drinking which had ruined him as a young man.

In his fiction at least we find a world of locked rooms, thick walls and dark secrets; a world where the dead wield power over the living; where advice is tragically unheeded, where alcohol destroys and where pain lives on.

The pain Doyle couldn’t acknowledge was buried in his fiction. Van Gogh’s approach was a little different: more next time.


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It’s good to be in touch with the living

Posted on 15 April 2010, 22:18

Welcome to my first blog for Whitecrow books, and it’s good to be in touch with the living, after so much time spent with the dead. Yes, I’ve recently finished five conversations with the deceased, four of which are up on this site – Leo Tolstoy, Vincent Van Gogh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Meister Eckhart. (If you’ve heard of them all, and can place them in history, consider yourself a true renaissance figure.) Mozart, the eternal child, is my fifth conversation and he’ll be available shortly.

Though, of course, the dead are living too. As you may or may not know, I work only with their authentic words, and so for me, there is a very strong sense of meeting with them as I work with them. They might as well be sitting across from me, and this is exhausting. Jesus said that power went out of him when he healed someone, and I find it’s the same in any meeting – power goes out of me, I am drained by the encounter and whether they are living or dead makes little difference. They are someone other, and demand the energy of empathy and listening.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be reflecting on these conversations, because in many ways, I know these figures better than I know myself. It’s not that I know everything about them; it’s a different sort of knowledge, in that I know the spirit that drove them, and the wounds that hurt them and the walls they erected to protect themselves. It’s a different quality of knowing. I suspect the next blog might be about their parents, because in a way, Vincent Van Gogh was the only one not to lie about how he experienced his parents.

We’ll see. But mainly, welcome to this blog. The adventure has begun. Good, eh?!


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“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
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