What leaves you with the fewest wounds?
Making peace with the past?
Or making war with it?
– Healer Of My Heart
I am delighted to welcome Irish author Sheila Turner Johnston to my blog today. Sheila is here to tell us a little about her latest novel, Healer of My Heart, one that is described as ‘lyrical, thought-provoking, unforgettable, this remarkable novel will stay with you long after you have closed the last page.‘ Sheila also has shared an extract with us all so I do hope you enjoy.
Introduction to Healer of My Heart
by Sheila Turner Johnston
Thank you, Mairéad, for this opportunity to guest on your fabulous book blog!
I’m so thrilled to be able to share an extract from Healer of My Heart with you. I have struggled to find words to express my huge attachment to this story. The initial spark came to me a few years ago and simmered in my head for a long time before I was able to write a first draft. But that first draft was enough to make me fall in love with David and Robyn, whose story this is, and determined to do justice to their challenging journey. In the course of working on rewrites and revisions, I took time out to write another novel, Maker of Footprints, which was published in 2019. The success of that novel gave me the confidence and the impetus to finish Healer of My Heart.
I don’t think I can say anything more pertinent than the following words, which I include in the Author’s Note in the novel:
“Telling the story of David and Robyn has been a labour of love for me. I hope I have done justice to their rocky passage towards a future that could be better than the past. They struggled with so much that cast a blight on their lives from their earliest years. Perhaps … there is a message here that vicious circles can be broken, that the past need not define us forever. As David says at one point: ‘When you get blown off course, you can choose to stay lost — or you can reach for heaven and steer by the stars.”
Sadly, there are also those, as in David and Robyn’s story, who do not make it out of the vicious circle, those whom society lets down or even worse, just simply doesn’t notice. There must be many who, from their conception, have life’s odds stacked against them.
As in this story, there are too many bad people alive today. We hear about them, their deeds and ideologies every day. But I reflect on the undeniable truth that there are many good people too, celebrated and uncelebrated, famous and anonymous.
And I take hope from that, hope in all the people who, like David, are persistent and patient, with an inextinguishable spirit of goodness and kindness.”
Healer of My Heart is available in paperback and e-book format. I do hope you’ll read it, and if you do, that you enjoy it.
Purchase Link – AmazonUK
[ Extract ]
There are some memories that scar the soul so brutally that they can – must – be buried deep, deep, deep in everlasting ice. That ice must never melt, never run cold through the canyons of daily life, never jab the present or the future with a single frosted tentacle. Never even lie liquid and still in a cool dark pool.
Life goes on. Sometimes, against all expectation, all hope, it’s good. Sometimes events go with the grain, smooth and unhindered. Sometimes there is even laughter and a way to see the next day, the next week. Month even.
But it’s there. Down, down, down deep in the ice, the ice that must never melt. Else we drown.
But it’s there.
But if a flame comes near, warm and dangerous and loyal and persistent and patient and inextinguishable?
Well then. That’s trouble.
If Robyn Daniels could let herself go back even for a second, which of course she couldn’t, she would recognise that the rime began to crust across her spirit when she was fourteen years old. She was sitting on the edge of her bed when the first icicle grasped and grew.
She was home. She had survived.
No, that wasn’t right. She hadn’t survived. She’d been dragged back, kicking, scratching, fighting every inch.
Depression was a terrible thing, they had said in the hospital as they checked the graphs, felt her pulse. Especially when it hit someone just on the verge of her whole life. Of course, she’s at that awkward time. Fourteen years old. Hormones kicking in. They shook their heads. Fussed about.
Still, everything to look forward to, they said. How could you do this to your Mum and Dad? Look how upset they are.
Her father was upset all right. He was so upset his eyes bored into her, dared her, threatened her, scorned her – all in one gimlet gaze. But it would stop now. It wouldn’t happen again. Not ever again.
She just knew it. She rubbed the bandages that still patched her forearms. At least she had achieved that. It was over. Not ever again. With anybody.
She hit the mattress with her fist. Anger was taking root, growing, spewing into her very soul.
Not ever again. Ever.
She crawled into bed and curled into a tight ball.
Her mother knocked on her door. Mummy didn’t know. Did she? Anyway.
The chair was wedged under the door handle. Neither of them would get past that.
Let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Take it from here. See what happens.
See how we get by.
Eight years later, almost to the day and the minute, Robyn Daniels was laughing.
Newly qualified as an English teacher, she was ironically thankful for the process of procreation for she was relieved to have at last secured a temporary post – her first – covering a maternity leave. The school was prestigious and large. Still rather nervous, she would get lost if she had to cover, as now, in an unfamiliar classroom. But if she didn’t totally mess up, these few months were going to look good on her fledgling CV.
She pulled another exam paper towards her. She was taking a relaxed approach to this class to catch up on some marking. These were the most senior students, mature, intelligent and no trouble to supervise for a colleague called away to help with preparations for the end of term sports day.
One, who she thought was called David, was perched on a desk in his shirt sleeves, large feet on a chair. Five of his classmates surrounded him. Four of them were girls. He was telling a joke, which he was illustrating with hand gestures and funny voices. He told good jokes. They were genuinely funny. At the punchline, as Robyn’s sudden laughter danced across the desks, David glanced round and smiled at her, a flick of complicity, there and gone like a breath smothered.
She always remembered that.
She snagged one heavy curtain of brown hair behind her ear and checked the glass pane in the door. Yes. Chloe, David’s girlfriend, was already outside, waiting. Keeping an eye on her territory.
What is it like to feel that way about someone? What is it like to want somebody, to be jealous, to lose sleep over someone? She had no idea, but it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t happen. Ever. Unconsciously, she rubbed her wrist.
As David put his feet to the floor and stood, one of his audience, a pale, thin girl with a baggy jumper and creased tie, put a hand out to touch his arm. He took a quick pace to the side and avoided the contact. Turning, his eyes caught Robyn’s again. He looked away. Sombre now, apart. A chameleon, she thought.
[ About the Book ]
“Why are we so angry with each other?”
“Because there is nothing else left to be.”
Intense and riveting, this is the powerful story of two lives that collide on a relentless path from an unforgiving past to a future to be grasped … or lost.
Rookie teacher Robyn Daniels drives away everyone who tries to come close to her. Her emotions are locked in impenetrable ice until a flawed, charismatic and headstrong young man attacks the frozen layers of this woman who entrances him.
From despair to delight, from trust to betrayal, will he be the healer of her heart? Or will even he walk away before his own is broken?
[ Bio ]
Sheila Turner Johnston was born in west Cork, Ireland and spent her childhood in different counties the length and breadth of the country, as the family moved wherever her father’s job took him. She attended Queen’s University, Belfast, and apart from managing to graduate against all her expectations, one of her best experiences was reading her poetry to an audience that included Seamus Heaney, who was also one of her lecturers.
She has lived in Northern Ireland for all her adult life and has been influenced by her experience of the Troubles. She doesn’t write explicitly about the Troubles, but nevertheless the emotional resonance of those years permeates all her writing. As she says herself, “Such experience forces you to evaluate the human psyche, the judgements people make and how they justify, and often regret, their choices.” She is an author who dives deeply into human emotions and relationships, exploring the grey areas between right and wrong and presenting her readers with moral and ethical dilemmas to navigate. Sheila has won prizes for both fiction and non-fiction, and has written many articles for both local and national publications.
Website – www.sheilaturnerjohnston.com
Twitter – @SperrinGold