No Tree Can Grow to Heaven Unless Its Roots Reach Down to Hell

I’ve just finished writing a novel about Carl Gustav Jung. It took me at least two years (depends how you count), and much of that time was spent on research. There was a lot of ground to cover: Jung’s collected works run to 20 volumes and 9667 pages.

There are, of course, people who devote their entire careers to studying Jung. Compared to them, I’ve barely dipped my toe in the water. Even so, reading a more-than-average-amount of Jung changed my life. It changed the way I see the world, and the way I move through it. It also made me a bit of a Jung bore. In the great fever of my enthusiasm, there was hardly a topic of conversation that didn’t somehow lead back to Jung. Just ask my poor long-suffering family.

But what I noticed, bringing Jung up so often with pretty much everyone I met, was how few people had heard of him. Highly educated, graduate-degree people, who could handily rattle off an informal essay on Sigmund Freud, had never even heard of Carl Jung. And if they had heard of him, they knew next to nothing about his ideas, and if they knew something of his ideas, it was often wrong.

I wondered why that was. Jung and Freud birthed many of the concepts that shape our modern understanding of personality, purpose, and pain. Many of these they developed together, while others they developed separately. Freud is famous to the point of cliche, a trope in art, literature, and conversation. Jung is not. And yet, overall, Jung’s ideas seem more useful to me, more profound, and more empowering. I started to wonder, as I read, if Carl Jung and his family had lived in an English-speaking country, would his influence have come first? And if his influence had been been more pervasive than Freud’s, would we see the world differently?

A bit about Jung’s strange and interesting life: He was born in the 19th-century in Kesswil Switzerland. His native language was German. His father was a rural pastor, the thirteenth child of a distinguished Professor of Medicine. His mother was the thirteenth child of a renowned pastor, theologian, and Hebraist who believed in the occult and often spoke with the dead. 

As a young child, Jung didn’t respect his father, “I associated weakness with the word father” and felt “a most vehement pity” for him. This feeling only increased with time. “My father lost his faith early, but due to financial constraints was forced to continue a life in the church, which he abhorred”. Jung believed this hypocrisy to be the tragedy of his father’s life. 

Jung’s mother, on the other hand, lived a life “rooted deep in invisible ground”. She had psychic abilities and intuitive knowledge that Jung instinctively trusted. “My mother had two personalities, one in the day and another after dark”. When Jung was a child she complained of being harassed by spirits in the nighttime. 

One evening, Jung saw a spirit leaving her room, removing its ghostly head. He was curious about this, as he was curious about the dangerous river he and his parents lived beside. He was curious about the bodies of drowned victims in the river, floating down from the falls above. He wasn’t afraid of death or spirits from the other side of death; he was curious.

Jung noticed he wasn’t like the other boys at school and in the village. He understood things they didn’t, in part because he read widely and profoundly in German, Latin, and Greek, and in part because he was so deeply introspective he was unable to deceive himself. “My peers found my personality repulsive, but eventually I realised there was nothing I could do about it.” His fellows gave him the nickname Father Abraham.

This serious and introspective boy grew up to be one of the greatest systematic thinkers of the twentieth century. He developed the concepts of introvert and extrovert, mother complex and father complex, archetypes and the collective unconscious. He created the Meyers-Briggs personality test and was the first to insist his analysands sat opposite him in counselling rather than lying on a couch.

 A medical doctor, Jung worked for a decade treating the insane at the Burgholzil Sanatorium. In 1900, when he first joined the staff of the Burgholzil, medicine had little to offer people suffering from mental illness. Jung was determined to change this, and in the course of his career developed word association, complexes, dream analysis, and many other approaches that alleviated the suffering of the people he treated. He was fascinated by the minds of the mentally ill – for him their dreams, hallucinations, and gestures were not simply mad, but full of important meaning. His colleagues disagreed with him, tending to break things down so that everything was seen as working like a machine. This was thought to be the scientific way, but for Jung it wasn’t satisfactory.  

Eventually, Jung developed analytical psychology. When he first met Freud, the famous founder of psychoanalysis, they fell into a conversation that lasted more than 13 hours. Jung was 32; Freud was 51. Freud called him “my successor”, “my son”, “the ablest helper who has joined me thus far”. It was 1907. In Europe and America, race theories proliferated. Freud, who was Jewish, worried that psychoanalysis was sometimes called “‘the Jewish cure”. Jung was undeniably gentile, six foot tall, handsome and athletic, with sandy brown hair and a venerable Swiss-German ancestry. Freud made much of Jung’s background, believing it critical to broadening the reputation of his “new science”. 

But in 1912 Freud broke with Jung. It was a bitter break with many causes, primarily Jung’s need to develop independently in line with his own beliefs. Jung couldn’t accept Freud’s view that the main drive of life is sexual. He defined libido more broadly, as a life force. Jung also worried that Freud valued his personal authority above the quest for truth. And indeed Freud was unwilling to accept any divergence from the canon of his theories. When Jung published a series of articles contradicting this canon, the break was complete. It was to last all of Freud’s life; he never forgave Jung. Jung found the rejection so distressing he fell into a psychotic breakdown that lasted three years (Jung was not alone in this; others also suffered psychotic breakdowns after falling out with Freud, and some even committed suicide.)

In 1938, Freud fled Nazi Vienna for London. He died soon after, but his daughter Anna remained in London, promoting and continuing his work in one of the major capitals of the English-speaking world. Jung stayed in German-speaking Switzerland through World War II. The Nazis despised Freud and approved of Jung. Against Jung’s wishes, they co-opted his ideas, some of his publications, and some of his affiliations, casting an undeserved shadow over Jung’s reputation that persists to this day. Jung remained in Switzerland for the rest of his life; during and after the war, his German accent and connections went against him. Over time, his ideas, his name, fell second to Freud’s.

Today, we’re aware of the countless ways Freud’s ideas influence us and less conscious of Jung. This means, among other things, we probably try to heal ourselves by looking into the past for repressed trauma. We have a vague sense we aren’t supposed to experience pain, that pain must be cured, and that the cure is talking about it. I’m talking about the zeitgeist here, not about clinical approaches, which are, of course, more nuanced and varied. Pop psychology, self-help literature, and mainstream and social media often seem to reinforce this “Freudian” perspective.

Jung’s view was entirely different. He wasn’t much interested in the past, but rather in how a person was living in the present.  He believed people are driven by a longing for fulfilment. He believed in a process he called “individuation” which he likened to a plant growing into the best, most flourishing, most fulfilled example of itself. The goal of a person’s life, therefore, was personal growth, and this could only come about through challenge, “Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health”, and, at times, pain, “There’s no coming to consciousness without pain”. He also believed in “wholeness”, which necessarily includes an exploration and eventual acceptance of our “shadow”, the darkness we all hold within our unconscious. Pain and darkness are necessary parts of life that need to be observed, accepted, integrated. “No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Jung believed the world is full of meaning. He revered myth, ritual, and symbol as expressions of the unconscious, both individual and collective. “Myth is created to carry meaning and relate humans to their environment and beyond, to the transcendent and infinite.” Even the natural world is full of meaning. “Trees in particular are mysterious and seem to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life.” He held a mystical outlook, rejected materialism, rationalism, and church religion. Instead, he worshipped in the temple of nature, among trees, stones, and water. “In the country, among rivers and woods, among men and animals in a small village bathed in sunlight, with the winds and the clouds moving over it, and encompassed by dark night in which uncertain things happened… This was no mere locality on the map, but ‘God’s world’, so ordered by Him and filled with secret meaning.” 

For me personally, the paradigm shift away from looking for “repressed childhood wounds” toward cleaving to my path of individuation has been enormous, encouraging resilience and movement rather than blame and victimhood. Meanwhile, Jung’s understanding that “man cannot stand a meaningless life” has given me a sense of freedom to look for meaning in the world: in nature and in my internal life. These are just a tiny sampling of the ideas, of Jung’s, that have changed the way I see the world. Why did I have to look so hard to find them?

If Jung had lived in an English-speaking country, would his influence have come first above others? And if his influence had been been more pervasive than Freud’s, would we see the world differently? Would we live in a world full of meaning? Would we be rapt with reverence for nature and her mysteries? Would Jung’s influence have made us braver, more resilient, more whole?

All you have to do is cross out the wrong words

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” – Mark Twain

Friday afternoon, mid-December, London. I’m walking to the tube on my way to meet a friend in Shoreditch. Most of the city has pretty much given up working and is sliding into merry, if Covid-muted, Christmas celebrations. Knots of people stand outside my London local, in dark wool work coats and silly paper hats, chatting awkwardly to colleagues while nursing a pint or a glass of steaming mulled wine. On the tube, girls in flesh-coloured stockings and short skirts giggle over canned cocktails, then totter arm-in-arm out of the station and down Shoreditch High Street. 

I cross the High Street and swing the heavy door into Shoreditch House. I’m late and my friend is waiting by the fire in the lobby. I grovel an apology, she waves it away, and we head upstairs, where we find seats on a sofa in the sitting room. There’s an air of semi-dligent decadence around the room: glasses of champagne twinkle beside silver laptops while lanky people in baseball hats and shiny sportswear talk Christmas plans, Covid-travel rules, airport lounges. I’m not a natural urbanite; these glamorous people strike me as exotic birds.

It’s an exciting day for me and my writer friend because we’ve agreed to swap novels, read each other’s pages over Christmas, and give each other feedback in the new year. We’ve both worked furiously to this deadline to be sure we’d finish before the holiday fog descends, and to give each other ample time to read through each other’s entire manuscript over the break.

It’s also a terrifying day, at least for me. When my children were born, I felt like I was suddenly walking around with my heart on the outside. Now that my novel is being read – even by an amiable fellow writer – I feel as if I’ve lost an outer layer of skin. For the past year, I’ve mostly been living in an imaginary world with imaginary friends – and I have no idea if the result is an entertaining novel or a stumble into madness or – worse – boredom. There’s also a niggling worry about this friendship. I like to think my friend and I are both workmanlike about our writing – and yet – giving feedback can be a prickly, treacherous business. 

But it has to be done. The thing is, when a person finishes their novel, it’s not the end. For a moment it feels like the end, yes, but in fact it’s only the beginning of the critical feedback and revision process. Very little happens quickly or easily in novel-writing, and the revision process can go on for years, sometimes longer – much longer – than it took to compose the first draft. It’s an exacting process requiring patience, humility, and precision.

When I was very young, I attended Breadloaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont. I’d won a scholarship to the conference, which meant I was to take part in a reading to the many accomplished writers there. The reading was held over two days. I was to read on the second. At the first reading, the wood-walled room was packed, warm and fuggy against the broad black Vermont night. The writers listened with piercing attention. 

After it was over, I went to my room and looked in heart-stammering panic at the material I’d planned to read. It wasn’t good enough. Not by a long shot. I spent a mostly sleepless night trying to fix it and finally fell into a restless sleep. 

The next morning, Tim O’Brien offered to help me. Tim is a National Book Award winner, best known for The Things They Carried. He’s a master. He writes like Michelangelo sculpted, with absolute accuracy and illumination. We found a quiet place, and he read my little piece aloud, very quietly and intently. He read every sentence many times over, sometimes shifting the emphasis, sometimes lingering over a sound. Then he scratched words out with his pencil. Occasionally he added something, but mostly he took things out. And – truly – he shaped my awkward juvenile piece into something elegant, touching, beautiful. I read the pages to the audience that night with confidence, and as I did a deep silence fell over the crowd. At the end there was applause, and after that, many people congratulated me, while others made sly comments (“I heard the rest of the piece gets very weird”), which seemed almost more congratulatory.

The revision process can make a book, make a writer. The legendary Maxwell Perkins, agent and editor to F Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, was famous for this. In 1922, Wolfe delivered a million-word manuscript to Perkins (the ‘average’ novel is 80-100,000 words). For a year, Perkins and Wolfe worked almost every single day on the manuscript. “I’m engaged in a kind of life and death struggled with Mr Thomas Wolfe”, Perkins wrote to Hemingway. Perkins read through each page, red pencil in hand, slashing many from corner to corner. Eventually, Of Time and the River was published to commercial and critical success.

My friend and I order wine. We raise a toast. Then I begin a stream of excuses. I’d already shown a few pages to another friend, a surgically intelligent reader and writer. She’d replied with, among other things, “I do hate an adjective before the word silence”, and, “How do you feel about the word ‘that?”. Gulp.  “This is only a first draft”, I say now, over the pinot noir. “It gets pretty rough toward the end. Just tell me if you find it confusing. Or boring. Or weird… “ 

Who wants to write a novel

My friend Dylan always wanted to write a novel. He savoured puns, told off-colour jokes, and spun stories peopled with characters you can’t get out of your mind. He also read widely and knew about all kinds of obsessive, shadowy communities and strange, unsettling wrinkles in history. He would have been a wonderful novelist. But then a few years ago he died, suddenly, of brain cancer, before he got round to that novel. 

A lot of people have always wanted to write a novel, and I was one of them. Not so long after Dylan’s funeral, when the first lockdown came in early 2020, my PR work slowed right down, and I thought, well, if not now, when. 

I’d tried writing a novel before and it hadn’t gone so well. When I was in my twenties and thirties, at home with young children (and, yes, horses), life seemed always to be interrupting writing, so that when I did sit down to write, I couldn’t sustain anything longer than a short article or longish poem. Unfortunately, I’m not a very good poet, so the poems never came to much more than practice scales on a piano. And maybe I was lazy, or scared. There were no deadlines. I didn’t have to finish anything, not really, and as long as I hadn’t finished, I hadn’t failed. 

Then, when I was in my forties, a brutal divorce suddenly left me needing to build a career – fast – and the pressure of catching up on the decades I’d missed in the world of work left me no time for novels. I went to graduate school, wrangled part-time editing work and social media internships and finally, to my great relief, landed a decent job in public relations. As it happened, my PR work involved a lot of ghost writing for high profile clients, and this and the editing work taught me to write precisely, to deadline and word count, as well as in different voices.

But I was still a long way from a novel. I’d had an idea for a novel about Carl Jung, but set in Ireland, and had made several painful starts. I had maybe twenty pages, and they were dreadful. I needed help. So, locked down in a flat in London, with the great good fortune of a furlough payment and a hugely patient and supportive husband, I gathered my notes and applied to the Faber Writing a Novel Course

The course, for all you writers planning to someday write a novel, was the turning point for me, and I don’t believe I ever would have finished a novel without it. There was the support of a writing group, yes, but that can be found elsewhere. There was the supervision of a successful published novelist, but I’ve known a number of successful novelists who’d always been happy to look at my work. There were the weekly deadlines of 1000 words that couldn’t be missed without shame. Which was worth a lot. But most of all, there was a laser-like focus on the craft of novel writing. 

Like almost every occupation, novel writing is a craft. This is obvious, but I was slow to learn it. The time I spent in the Faber course learning about structure, dialogue, voice, etc brought it home. Each week there were readings and exercises focused on a single aspect of craft. We began with limbering up, getting-to-know-each-other exercises, then went quickly into pitching drills, which uncovered any flaws in our basic premise. As the weeks went on, we might, for example read some Sally Rooney and then write a scene in which a character is arguing with someone from behind a closed door. Or we might read a bit of Emily Fridlund and then write about a character’s secret, something crumpled and hidden away under the bed. The course ran for six months, and at the end of it I and everyone on the course had a manuscript of at least 15,000 words, as well as a pretty strong idea of where we were going. I wouldn’t say it was exactly downhill from there, but the skills I learned on the Faber course, and the momentum generated by those 15,000 words was enough to get me and many of my classmates through to the end. 

So I’m not one of those people who wants to write my first novel someday. I’ve done it, and I’m a more or less a writer. Turns out I don’t feel particularly different, except that I spend a lot more time in my bathrobe. I rarely see or even speak to another human being between 8 am and 6 pm, and it’s not unusual for me to look up after a particularly intense day and realise it’s five o’clock and I’m still in my pyjamas and haven’t had anything to eat or drink except coffee and a bowl of breakfast cereal, and that bowl and that coffee cup are still crusting away beside my keyboard. It’s a glamourous life.

It’s much, much harder to write a novel than I expected, and I’m a lot nicer about other people’s novels these days, now I understand the years it takes to even begin to learn the craft of novel writing, and the hours and hours of fiddly, lonely agonies that go into each one.

Across the Pond: Local Hunts on Hand at Badminton Horse Trials


“Badminton Horse Trials ran May 5-10 in Gloucestershire, England, attracting over 250,000 spectators, the second-largest number for any paid-entry sporting event in the world. The lanky William Fox-Pitt won against his old rival Andrew Nicholson, also known as the ‘Silver Fox’, who was leading until the Sunday show jumping. Thrilling…”

Go to E-Coverstide to read more…



An Inside Look at Mike Etherington-Smith’s New Millstreet Design


“The great baseball player, Rogers “The Rajah” Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Winter is a woeful season here on the west coast of Ireland. Storms tear off the dark North Atlantic, yanking down trees, stripping away roads. Any attempt to school a horse regularly is futile, and even the minor chore of walking to the stables leaves me rain-whipped, ice-cold, discouraged.

I tend to mope. I mourn. I see the dark side of things. I lose perspective. As the tragedy of another Irish winter unfolds, with its resonance of famine and plague, I forget that I am, in fact, just waiting for spring.

Practically the only thing that keeps me from leaping off one of the sea-bashed cliffs in front of my house is plotting my summer competition schedule. I slink round the internet, ogling the sites of summer horse trials… and the whole world brightens.

What goes into building these pleasure grounds? Who are the heroes whose dedication to natural obstacles and smooth turf makes my life worth living? I decided to find out.

Here in County Cork, we have a new cross-country course designed by the great Michael Etherington-Smith, designer for the Sydney and Hong Kong Olympics, the 2010 World Equestrian Games, the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* for the past 20 years, and many others.

After salivating over sunny photos on the website of the Millstreet Equestrian Centre, where the course has been built, I rang up Mike Etherington-Smith in a grateful mood.”

Then I published what I learned in Eventing Nation. 


High on Horses at the Traditionally Bred Irish Horse Sale, Scarteen House, County Limerick

In 1673, Sir William Temple traveled round a grassy green Ireland of fields and forests that would still be recognisable today. There was hunting on the hills, horse racing on the strand, and farming done by native working horses, the embodiment of patience. Beside himself with excitement, Sir William wrote home to King Charles II, “Horses in Ireland are a drug”.

He wasn’t the only one talking to his monarch about Irish horses. In the 17th-century Irish horses – and in particular the Irish Hobby Horse, an ancestor of the modern Irish Sport Horse – were imported by most of the crown heads of Europe, becoming foundation bloodstock for many European breeds. Even the modern Thoroughbred is most closely related to the Irish Draught and Connemara Pony (foundation breeds for the Irish Sport Horse), according to DNA testing.

These precious bloodlines are now under threat. I spent the day at the Traditionally Bred Irish Horse Society’s Sale at the historic Scarteen House to find out more… and published the tale in Eventing Nation.



Badminton 2.0 – An Eventful Day at Haras du Pin


I know a lot of people who were looking forward to the World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy. They booked their tickets for the cross-country at Haras du Pin months in advance and flew thousands of miles to be there. Many of them were disappointed. Some were much more than that; they were raging. The logistical nightmare that some people experienced overshadowed the pleasure of seeing the best horses and riders in the world tackle a universally admired cross-country course. I was there, and it WAS a tough day – even though I was among the lucky ones – and an eventful one. I wrote about it for Eventing Nation.