An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘self-help’

Book Review: High Tide, Low Tide by Martin Baker and Fran Houston

Hi guys! I know it’s a rare occurrence to get a blog post from me nowadays, but the truth is I’m trying hard to get more of a work/life balance, which means less time in front of screens outside of work, so recently I’ve really been trying to just enjoy my reading for the sake of enjoying it, rather than blogging. (Also, my time management still seems to be lacking … )

Having said that, Martin was kind enough to notice me as a publisher in the mental health publishing industry and wanted to know my thoughts on his book High Tide, Low Tide, and so here they are!



How Can You Be a Good Friend, When Your Friend Lives with Mental Illness?

We all want to be there for our friends, but when your friend lives with mental illness it can be hard to know what to do, especially if you live far apart. Transatlantic best friends Martin Baker and Fran Houston share what they’ve learned about growing a supportive, mutually rewarding friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.”

“High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder” offers no-nonsense advice from the caring friend’s point of view, original approaches and practical tips, illustrated with real-life conversations and examples.


Perceptive, informative, interesting, educational, touching, and valuable, this book stresses the importance of a support system for those who struggle with mental health difficulties. I can’t stress enough, having my own lived experience with mental ill health in the family, how important and effective it can be to have a strong support system around you. What’s interesting is that Martin was able to provide this for his friend, despite the fact that he lives a long way away from her.

I was genuinely impressed – and I admit, a little bit surprised – by this book. I’m always really wary of self-help type books that aren’t written by industry experts in case the author accidentally gets something wrong. But everything I read was right on the mark. The book is insightful and very emotionally intelligent, without patronising the reader or the people the reader is looking to support. It gives brilliant advice, and not just tangible step-by-step goals, but emotional, mental and friendship advice too.

High Tide, Low Tide is so unique in that it caters towards friends, rather than just partners or family. It also comes from a unique angle in that Marty provides support for Fran despite living in the UK, whereas she’s in the US. It’s a nice proof that anyone has the capacity to be as helpful a friend as their own life allows or has space for. In that way I think it fills a gap in the market.

The book is very insightful. It makes you come to realisations about the human psyche and the dynamics of friendship that you never knew you always knew – until you read it in Marty’s words. For example, he talks about how setting certain boundaries is vital, how not to fall into co-dependency, and that just because a friend really wants your help or asks for your help, doesn’t mean you have any obligation to do it. I was relieved to read this, because Marty admits himself that he and Fran talk twice daily, that he has a very, very big part in her life despite their living oceans apart. He knows her friends, medical professionals, and knows about her daily routine and wellness plan. I like the fact that Marty doesn’t expect you to have such an intense involvement in your own friends’ lives, because I know I certainly found it to be quite full-on.

I will say that if you read this book, don’t be put off if you can’t do as much as Marty is able to do for Fran. Even at one point he is able to put her thought and behaviour patterns into quite elaborate analogies. He refers to the variables in Fran’s life as ‘sine waves’ and is able to help her understand herself and her life using this analogy. While it’s so useful for readers to be given this analogy so that they can use it in their own lives, I would advise readers not to feel out of their depth if they can’t give this level of insight to their own friends. It’s quite in-depth and I think this is where Marty goes above and beyond, probably above and beyond what some people can manage.

I did wonder from time to time about Marty’s role in Fran’s life. At one point he puts it upon himself to remind her, during a manic phase, that she shouldn’t be driving recklessly or smoking in a wooden house. I found this to be such a fascinating dynamic because, in my own therapy sessions with my sisters, I’ve been told over and over again not to ‘parent’ my sisters. Our relationship should be adult > adult not parent > child. And I gave it some thought and wondered whether mental illness changes this concept at all. Is it okay for Marty to sometimes become the ‘parent’ figure (in my own perception – he doesn’t use this terminology himself. He might not even see it the same way I do.) I think in this case, yes, and here’s why: because Fran tells him to ‘care, not to worry’. And I think that’s what stops him being the ‘parent’ figure. He just cares about her safety, as her friend. Is he not worrying about her or bossing her about, he’s just looking out for her as a friend.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the book didn’t leave any stone unturned and yet it’s not unbearably long or dense. It’s easy to read, accessible, and very well written and edited. It covers some important points that I knew I wanted to see going into it – especially the concept of self-care for the person providing the support. It’s absolutely vital for people who support others with mental health difficulties to look after themselves too. I speak from experience: unless you look after yourself too, you burn out and actually risk your own mental wellbeing.

The book is into easy-to-read sections, giving an insight into Fran’s life, Marty’s life, and their relationship. It also talks more broadly about bipolar disorder (the different types, with explanations of depression and mania) and other, more universal topics that relate to everyone in terms of mental health.

The book is not prescriptive, which is so valuable. It advises, rather than instructs. Marty often uses the words ‘I recommend’ rather than ‘you should’, and always reminds you that it’s up to you and your friend how you navigate your relationship in unsteady waters and uncharted territory. He’s just giving you some advice that might help for you.

The only thing I think I would change about the book – and it was very hard to think of anything, to be honest – is that I would take out the list of the names of bipolar disorder medications and the long descriptions of what they are. I think there’s always a risk of people reading this sort of thing from anyone other than a medical professional and deciding for themselves what medications they should or shouldn’t have. I’ve even heard of people reading up on medications and then going to the doctor and demanding medicines that really wouldn’t actually work for them personally. I think discussions of medications should be confined to conversations between a psychiatrist and the patient, and if they’re given certain medications, the psychiatrist should be providing them with all this info anyway. I don’t really see any benefit to that section, but that’s genuinely just my opinion.

I was honestly very impressed by this book – and I know what I’m talking about, as a mental health publisher. If you’re supporting someone in your life with bipolar disorder, this book would be invaluable for you. Don’t hesitate to give it a try. It’s a gem of a book.


You can hear more from Martin on Twitter at GumOnMyShoeBook 

You can buy a copy of the book here.

This info on the authors is from their publishers’ website:

About the Authors

A successful electrical engineer until illness struck, author and photographer Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Fran lives in Portland, Maine, and is passionate about making invisible illness visible. Three thousand miles away in the north-east of England, Martin Baker is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider and Time to Change Champion. A member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mind, and Bipolar UK, Martin is also Fran’s primary support and lifeline.


Toni Cox Talks Non-Fiction and Self-Help Books!

Today’s reader interview is with one of my triplet sisters, Toni. Toni and I are identical sisters, and we were brought up living very closely with each other – same bedroom, same family, all of the same school classes, same college, same university, and mostly the same groups of friends. We even worked in the same shop together for almost two years. In terms of the nature/nurture argument, theoretically we should have identical tastes! But the below interview proves that genes and environment do not necessarily dictate likes and dislikes, and also belief and faith. As you’ll see, Toni is now devoutly religious whereas I am about as atheist as it gets. Toni loves to read self-help books and travel writing, whereas I mainly read fiction. Read on to find out her reasons and motivations behind her book and reading choices.

My beautiful sister - I'm not biased because we're identical. Honest. *looks sheepish.*

My beautiful sister – I’m not biased because we’re identical. Honest. *looks sheepish.*

Please introduce yourself and tell the readers a little bit about you.

My name is Toni and I am 24. I have always loved reading. My parents would comment that my sisters and I would have to take a book everywhere with us, even in the kitchen to make a sandwich! Since a young age I have been interested in science. It grew as I got older to encompass subjects involving the mind and universe, and 3 years ago I became a Christian, specifically, a Latter-Day Saint (commonly known as a Mormon). This dramatically changed how I viewed the world and influenced my reading tastes – not only do I love reading books that educate and entertain me but I am also fascinated to learn about other belief systems, and of course, my own. 

What kind of literature/books do you read?

I have read books ranging from Sophie Kinsella- style (for relaxed entertainment) to books like Bill Bryson’s, still very entertaining but also educational. I have read several self-help books from Paul McKenna (the man is a genius). More recently in my life I have included books that strengthen my faith, including scriptures such as the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon. 

Why do these genres speak to you and appeal to you more than others? What is it you love about them?

When I was younger I discovered what people meant when they said you could get lost in a book – it can distract your mind and take you into someone else’s life, make you forget your own trials and tribulations for a while. I loved reading Sophie Kinsella because her books were very easy reading, and therefore relaxing, and also very very funny. Particularly during high school these books helped me keep my mind off my difficulties, and when my mind was whirring, it calmed me down.

Perhaps because of my own desire to improve myself, I began reading some self help books. Some were better than others but the end result was an interest in how people’s minds work, what motivates us, drives us, and helps us. It still continues now, while I read Paul McKenna, I also discovered Dale Carnegie, author of ‘How To Make Friends and Influence People’. Aside from this classic he has written others. When you read them it is like you have put on new glasses – your eyes are opened so much to the behaviour of yourself and others in your everyday life.

Books regarding my religion, and faith as a whole, appeal to me because they are so relevant to my life. Just as it is possible to feel weak emotionally, mentally or physically, it is possible to feel weak spiritually. We believe that just as your body grows weaker when it isn’t fed, so the spirit can grow weaker if not spiritually fed. This is why I read scripture and other books. They uplift me and strengthen my faith. As it is, there are some very funny authors within this genre who are also fantastic spiritual giants, making the genre both uplifting and entertaining at the same time.

When you read self-help books it is like you have put on new glasses – your eyes are opened so much to the behaviour of yourself and others in your everyday life.

Talk to me about some specific titles that are special or mean more to you and why. Is there a story behind why you value it? Did it make you feel a certain way when you read it?

It seems like an obvious answer, but the books that are most special to me are the Book of Mormon and the Bible. These I try to read every day even if it it just one verse. This is essential for my spirituality and I try to study them rather than simply reading. Sometimes I will read them like a novel- front to back, to get enjoyment out of them. This is how it started, and after I fell in love with the books, a desire to really study them grew. I wasn’t always great at this, and sometimes it slips. At these times I can really tell the difference in my life.

 I first started when I was issued a challenge from a couple in my church to read the Book of Mormon in 3 months. There was a quote from one of the Presidents (Prophets) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. This was the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statement. He testified that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon). A keystone is the central stone in an arch. It holds all the other stones in place, and if removed, the arch crumbles.” I realised that no matter how many times I read this amazing book, I will learn something new every single time. There is such a depth to it, it is never ending. It gives me peace, hope and happiness as I read it. The people in it inspire me, It is a learning tool but also a protection and a guide through life. Its teachings are always applicable to me, and for that reason, it will be the book that I read over and over my whole life.

There are two titles that I have read within the last few weeks that have had a profound impact in my life. They are small, but life changing. Stephen E Robinson is the author of ‘Believing Christ’ and ‘Following Christ’. To any member of our church, they are incredibly educating, reassuring and uplifting. They clarify so much that can be confusing or sound complicated in our doctrine, and give you that ‘aha!’ moment. They make people have hope and feel good about themselves. The subject of the former inspired me to give a talk on the same topic at a recent conference, and many people commented that it really helped them. I would recommend them to anyone.

One non-religious book in particular that is special to me is Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’. It was recommended to me in high school by a science teacher. I read it and it utterly fascinated me – Bill Bryson is fantastic at that. He is incredibly funny and makes whatever his subject is gripping to the reader. I went on to study Biology at university, and there I found the book again at a book sale for a very cheap price. I have owned it ever since and have read it several times. This book led me to buy almost every book Bill Bryson has written. 

I read it and it utterly fascinated me – Bill Bryson is fantastic at that. He is incredibly funny and makes whatever his subject is gripping to the reader.

Me on the left and Toni on the right, a couple of years ago.

Me on the left and Toni on the right, a couple of years ago.

Who are your favourite authors and why? 

1) JK Rowling – Isn’t she on everyone’s list? It goes without saying.
2) Paul McKenna – The man is a genius and has made a difference in several areas of my life.
3) Bill Bryson – No one has ever made me laugh so much while attempting to educate me. His books are fascinating and incredibly well researched. To anyone new to his work, read ‘Notes on a Big Country’. You’ll be giggling for ages.
4) John Bytheway- He makes the gospel appealing and accessible to all ages, particularly youth and young adults. He is also a great speaker, very motivational, his talks get a lot of views on youtube. He has written ‘Righteous Warriors’, a book that helped many people understand some of the more tricky chapters of the Book of Mormon, and ‘Of Pigs, Pearls and Prodigals’, a commentary on the parables that Jesus taught in the Bible. 

Is there a good fan base and/or community behind this work or this kind of book?

Sophie Kinsella books have a huge following. I have never been involved in the fan community, but I can believe a large one exists! Those kind of books will always be immensely popular.

As for Paul Mckenna, there are many community boards and Facebook groups, where people discuss their progress and give advice to each other on the work they are doing in that particular area of their lives with the help of his books. He is very successful, the books are very successful. He has a passion for helping his readers and his fan base recognise that.They are passionate about helping each other. The self help genre is huge, absolutely huge. It is a reflection on the way the world is and the way it is progressing. People are wanting to take control of their lives and create their own meaning and happiness. As everyone is different, I believe this genre will just continue to boom.

If you count church membership as a ‘fan base’ for scripture, then I will say that the Church has a membership of 15 million today, and many more people have read and studied the Book Of Mormon. The Bible, in it’s different forms, is said to be the most read book in the world. The specific titles I have mentioned- particularly ‘Believing Christ’ and ‘Following Christ’ have devoted readers, I am one of them!

The self help genre is huge, absolutely huge.

What do you think makes a good book in this genre? 

I won’t pretend to know much about what makes a good author in a genre, but I know what I look out for in a book for myself. If I am entertained while being taught, being presented with something fascinating in a way that I can easily understand, then I will love it. Even better if I can apply these things into my own life, or share them with others. That is what makes a good book for me.

Where do you most like to buy your books?

I am most likely to buy my books from Amazon – they are cheap and I am happy to own second-hand books. If I can read the words and it doesn’t fall apart, it is good enough for me! I have had several books from charity shops, several of my Paul McKenna’s and Bill Bryson’s. Occasionally I will buy from Waterstone’s if I want to treat myself –  I love the atmosphere and layout in there, their displays are lovely. The Works is also a good place for books, particularly when not looking for anything in particular!

If I am entertained while being taught, being presented with something fascinating in a way that I can easily understand, then I will love it.

Me and my triplet sisters. L-R: Terri, Toni, and me.

Me and my triplet sisters. L-R: Terri, Toni, and me.

How do you find out about new titles in this genre?

Paul McKenna’s books are very well publicized because of his huge commercial success. I will usually only buy the book if it seems applicable or helpful to me at the time, but many of them have been. They are often advertised when you go onto websites such as Amazon, and on billboards and shop windows.

Bill Bryson is a travel writer, and actually the only travel writer I have read. His books are usually advertised in Waterstones, as there is an anticipation for his books.  The same applies for Sophie Kinsella – she is a bestselling author.

Books in my religious genre are sometimes quoted in talks given by our leaders, mentioned within other books within the genre and become quite popular in the church and are therefore shared by word of mouth. A couple of my books I have bought after seeing copies that belong to my friends, and a couple of them came from swaps at church. Amazon is very good at recommending similar books to the one you just bought, several have come from there. When I visited Utah 2 years ago, I visited the church’s book store, it is huge, and wonderful, I was in heaven! They also have 2 small LDS bookstores in England nearby our temples in Preston and London. 

What are you reading at the moment/looking to read next?

My next book will be a kind of long-term project so to speak. It is called Jesus the Christ by James E Talmage. It is a very famous book in our church, and a great way to get to know our Saviour. It is quite a heavy read- lot’s of big words!- but one that is very, very much worth it. 

I am hoping to have more time to read soon, and so I am looking for suggestions from the owner of this blog! I have already been recommended a book called ‘A Man Called Ove’, and so I hope to read that soon.

Toni (far left) is one of my four sisters. I am in the centre.

Toni (far left) is one of my four sisters. I am in the centre.

Coming soon: an interview with the third Cox triplet, Terri Cox. Look out for it!

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