Her Last Holiday by C. L. Taylor delves into the wellness industry. They are supposed to be helpful but one of their participants, Jenna, ends up disappearing, under suspicious circumstances. Her sister Fran returns to the retreat under cover to try to find out what happened.
Elise Cooper: Where did the Idea for the story come from?
C. L. Taylor: The inspiration for Her Last Holiday came from an interest in the wellness industry and people who call themselves ‘self-help gurus’. I did a lot of research into the subject and when I discovered a real-life case about a man who ran a wellness retreat that ended with several people dying after a sweat lodge experience went wrong, I realized how dangerous an environment like that could be, and how ripe it is for a crime to be committed.
EC: Please describe Fran?
CLT: Fran is a fifty-something IT teacher who lives alone, is tactless and socially awkward but has a strong sense of justice. She’s an older sister, twelve years older than Jenna (who disappeared at a wellness retreat two years earlier) but she’s never felt much of a connection with her sister.
They were treated differently as children by their parents and Fran still has a very difficult relationship with their bullying mother. She feels guilty that so much was left unsaid before Jenna disappeared and reluctantly joins a wellness retreat lead by Tom Wade, the last person to see her sister alive.
EC: Did you do any research in talking with someone who lost a loved one or was it personal?
CLT: No, I didn’t talk to anyone who has a missing relative, but Jenna is assumed to have taken her own life and I have lost a friend to suicide. I was able to tap into my own feelings of guilt and loss when I was writing about Fran’s reaction.
EC: Do people have too much faith in psychologists and healers?
CLT: I don’t have an issue with psychologists, partly because I have a degree in psychology myself! I’ve also visited a fair number of therapists and hypnotherapists myself and I think the good ones do a very important job. I’ve also had acupuncture, reflexology, reiki and shiatsu, with varying results. I am open to alternative therapies, but I do think that people visit therapists and healers when they’re vulnerable: either mentally, emotionally, or physically, and there’s an opportunity for an abusive of power from duplicitous and manipulative practitioners.
EC: Please describe Tom?
CLT: Tom is an accidental self-help guru. As a younger man he suffered from a psychosomatic illness and set up a support group to find comfort from others in the same situation. He inadvertently became the leader of the group and was coerced and flattered into creating a wellness empire by Kate, another member of the group who went on to become his wife.
Tom is as unhappy, trapped, and unfulfilled as the people who travel to his wellness retreat on the island of Gozo and, when he meets Jenna, he sees an opportunity to escape from Kate’s clutches.
EC: Do you think his sentence was fair?
CLT: In the book two people died during a sweat lodge experience that Tom runs in Gozo and he is sentenced to two years in jail. Typically, in the UK, a corporation is fined for a gross negligence and manslaughter charge, so I used the basis of the real-life American case that resulted in a two-year prison term for Tom’s sentencing. Personally, I don’t think two years in jail (or a fine) is nearly enough of a punishment for the loss of life.
EC: Is Fran’s family dysfunctional?
CLT: Fran’s family is absolutely dysfunctional. In the book I explore the impact that parents labelling their children (‘the good one’ or ‘the naughty one’ etc) has have on those individuals as they become adults, and how siblings can be treated very differently from each other. There was a distinct lack of communication in Fran’s family, and they were all closed off emotionally. Over the course of the book, she must learn how to open to people and learn to trust them, and to come to terms with her estrangement from Jenna.
EC: Do you think people should rely on motivational speakers who only seem to have the bottom line as their concern?
CLT: Absolutely not, but these types of people can be very coercive – they draw people to them when they are at their most vulnerable and essentially brainwash them into handing over more and more cash in order to attend more workshops and seminars to ‘heal themselves’. One of my friends found herself drawn into one of these schemes and spent a small fortune travelling around the world to attend workshops before she finally saw the light and left.
EC: Please describe the relationship between Kate and Tom, Jenna and Fran?
CLT: Kate is basically a Lady Macbeth character, the power behind Tom’s throne. She wants success and to be rich, but the wellness industry is very much a man’s game, so she needs Tom to be the figurehead of the SoulShrink retreats. He’s very much her puppet and she’s the puppeteer. When Jenna arrives at the Gozo retreat, Kate senses the growing attraction between Tom and Jenna, an attraction that threatens to destroy the empire that she has created, and she’s determined to stop that from happening.
Likewise, two years later, when Tom is freed from prison and Kate coerces him into running a new retreat in Wales, she’s determined to make a success of it and make up for lost time. She becomes obsessed with the idea that one of the guests is an undercover journalist (who wants to get the scoop on the Gozo deaths) and her prime suspect is Fran.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
CLT: I want readers to enjoy the mystery that drives the book – what happened to Jenna two years earlier? – and to get to know, and love, Fran and her many foibles as she navigates her way through all the uncomfortable therapy sessions she has to attend, and the trust exercises she has to partake in, as she tries to find out what happened to her sister. I hope it makes readers think about how their own childhood shaped the adults they’ve become, and mostly importantly, I want them to be thrilled, shocked, and entertained.
EC: Next book?
CLT: My next book is called ‘The Guilty Couple’ and it’s published in the UK and Ireland on 23rd June 2022 and in the rest of the world on 28th June. It’s about a woman called Olivia who is framed by her husband for a crime she didn’t commit and how, with the help of her thief cellmate, she tries to prove her innocence when she leaves prison and get revenge on her husband.