Shocking family secrets revealed in West Sussex lawyer's new book

Fernhurst author Helen Garlick keeps a promise she made to herself nearly 40 years ago with her new book – to tell the true story behind her younger brother David’s death in 1981.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 5:00 pm
Helen Garlick credit Lucy Williams Photography

No Place to Lie (Whitefox, £9.99) is available from Amazon and bookshops, also available on Kindle and audio.

Helen, aged 62, explains: “I knew I couldn’t write it until after both my parents had died as confronting the truth would be too hard for them to bear. My dad died in 2014, then my mum in 2017 – then amazingly she left behind a secret she took to her grave, which was such a shock for the whole family so I decided to write about that too.”

Helen has specialised in talking solutions throughout her career as a lawyer but ironically, this was something that was not encouraged in her own family.

When her brother David shot himself in February 1981, Helen’s father Geoffrey fought to have the verdict of ‘suicide’ overturned.

For the rest of his life, he liked to believe that an intruder had killed his son or that there had been an accident. The word suicide was taboo.

Then, when Helen’s mother Monica died in December 2017, she found some scribblings on the back of an old envelope about her having been ‘afflicted’ (her choice of word). Married for 59 years and a doting grandmother, nobody would have suspected that in reality, she was a lesbian, too afraid to admit the truth about her sexuality. Helen later discovered that a long-time family friend had been her mother’s lover.

As Helen explains: “My focus was on meeting my promise to tell the story of my brother’s 20 years of life and how it ended. They say it takes you the rest of your life to figure out what happened in the first 20 years and then, because my mother made a confession on the back of an envelope that I read after her death, I had to write about that too.

“I was working as a family lawyer for Gordons Partnership LLP in Guildford and London. I’d spent 35 years being a family lawyer and mediator and trained other lawyers in talking solutions like mediation and collaborative law and I’d written various books on divorce, including the Which? Guide to Divorce, but I decided that the only way to get the memoir finished was to take a break from practice and knuckle down.

“My husband Tim and I are so lucky to live at the edge of the South Downs – we moved here in 2018 and we think it’s paradise - and walking every day with my dogs Pippin and Bentley helped to ground me and help me think about the book creatively. And having to be home all the time in lockdown finally got me over the line.

“This feels like the most important thing I’ve done in my life. I want to get other people talking about burdens they carry and secrets they’ve held within which have been toxic for them. I’ve found that whenever I talk about the secrets in the book with other people, it’s helped unlock things for them too. People who have read the book so far say it’s amazingly relatable and they couldn’t put the book down. It’s ultimately got a very uplifting message about how to find joy in your life even after trauma and grief. I really want to save lives by writing this book – suicide prevention is a key aim – and also help people find their joy and resilience in their world. I would love everyone to read this book – if they ever find life tough and they feel lost and isolated, please read the book! It was a very therapeutic process writing the book – and I found out so much I hadn’t known before. Some days were tough, some exhilarating – the important thing was just to keep on going, one step at a time.

“The book starts on the day of my mother’s funeral in Brill in Buckinghamshire when I am twisting an opal ring of my mother’s on my little finger, watching it flash pink, blue and turquoise. The ring is symbolic of my mother – hidden, beautiful, mysterious. We then get transported back to March 1 1981, to the day that my life changed forever.”

You can also catch me on my YouTube channel Hello! It’s Better to Talk with new episodes uploaded every Wednesday at noon.