1907-25 Childhood on Hayling Island
Joan was born on 12th April 1907 in London. According to family legend her mother, born Blanche Emily Hughes, was a society psychic known as Mme Voyer. She was the toast of a group of Cambridge graduates that included Joan’s father to be, John Frederick Marshall or Jack to his friends, bespectacled and clever with a triple first in Mechanical Sciences and Law and a passion for Real Tennis.
Shortly after Joan’s birth, the Marshalls, including Blanche’s two daughters Margery and Iris from previous relationships, went to live on Hayling Island near Portsmouth on the south coast of England. It is hard to know why they would have chosen windy Hayling, and when not windy invaded by mosquitoes from the salt marshes. Jack Marshall set about getting rid of them with a brilliant thoroughness that included setting up the British Mosquito Control Institute and galvanising the island to find and destroy their larvae. Awarded a CBE for his work, his book The British Mosquitoes remains the authority on the subject.
Joan spoke of her father, as a ‘materialist’, adamantly anti- religion and insistent that this world is the only existence we can expect. To her, who remembered her babyhood and before, who saw ghosts as clearly as she saw the parlourmaids of her Edwardian childhood – both ghosts and parlourmaids oddly unacknowledged by the grown-ups, his attitude seemed stubbornly blinkered. Yet it is quite clear that she loved and admired him and emulated the rigour with which he examined any received opinion or casual observation. And Jack had ambitions for his clearly clever daughter to go to Cambridge and become the first woman to get a first in Mechanical Sciences as he had.
One feels she could well have done just that had her favourite governess not been sacked, causing Joan to declare she was having nothing more to do with formal education. So she worked in her father’s laboratory while her mother cast around for a suitor who would take her unusual child off her hands.
Blanche need not have worried for Joan skiing in Austria fell deeply in love. The engagement was approved by both families, but her fiancé had to go back to his job in Paris. Joan got the news of his accidental death while she was in hospital in London recovering from having her tonsils removed. She was helped through her grief by her friends including a young law student called Arthur Leslie Grant, an Argentinian Scot always known by his second name, whom Joan eventually agreed to marry. Their daughter Gillian was born three years later in 1930.
Joan shot to unexpected fame when her first ‘novel’ Winged Pharaoh was published in 1937. What her readers did not officially know for almost another twenty years, was that Winged Pharaoh was recalled by Joan in a trance like state, dictating piecemeal the lifetime that she then jigsawed together to become the story of Sekeeta set in pre-dynastic Egypt. The transcriptions still exist: a stack of small notebooks written in Leslie’s neat italic version of speedwriting.
Unfortunately, while Leslie had been quite willing for Joan to parade her abilities within the privacy of their own circle, he was appalled by having a publicly famous wife, feted for the precocious wisdom of her writing and – it was whispered – her psychic gifts. Joan met her second husband Charles Beatty, author and esoteric philosopher, in 1938 and it was to him that her second book Life as Carola was dedicated.
During the Second World War they created a haven for displaced friends and their children at Trelydan, a large black and white timbered house deep in the hills of the Welsh borders, financed by the income from their writing. Here Joan discovered she had the capacity to tune in at will to other people’s past lives as well as her own and many meticulous transcripts of sessions exist, where she is recounting the previous lifetime of one of the people in the room. She and Charles came to recognise it was a process that often acted as a release or guide for current problems faced by their visitors.
This was the precursor of the therapeutic work that Joan was later to undertake in partnership with her third husband, the psychiatrist Dr Denys Kelsey, whose work with hypnotherapy had already convinced him that reincarnation was a reality before he came across Joan’s books and determined to meet her, eventually finding her only a few miles away from his own home.
In the 1960s the Kelseys left London for a small cottage with adjoining barn near Collonges-la-Rouge, close to the Dordogne region of France, where they set up practice. Their clients were mainly from the UK, but also from other countries in Europe and beyond: the idea was that people would receive more benefit from two weeks working intensively in a beautiful place away from their worries than making a weekly trek to the Kelseys’ London consulting rooms. At this period they would often work together, K, as Joan always called Denys, conducting the session and Joan helping with insights into past life traumas or ethical misdirections that could be at the root of what was troubling the patient.
1970-1989 The USA and England
As their work became better known in the USA, they began to spend part of each year there, mostly in New York. When the house in France had to be sold in the early 1970s, they reverted to spending some of the year in England, first in flats in London, and then back in the English countryside they both loved.
Joan, who for many years suffered from irregular heart beats, which she referred to as the ‘bumps’ and spent increasingly long periods in bed, died on 3rd February 1989.
Extracts from ‘Introducing Joan Grant’ – Speaking from the Heart.