Thursday, May 30, 2019

Writing retreats

Writers' retreats are one of the best things in life

 Even if you don't actually write a lot the talk is always about writing/publishing/romance novels/heroines/ heroes - definitely heroes! We spent a wonderful weekend retreat in a fabulous old Rectory in Worcestershire and covered so much ground (writing-wise!) that we needed a little wine to keep us going. I didn't want to home - but I had  another writers' convention to look forward to.

 Now I'm planning and organising the trip to visit - and discuss writing plans - with the wonderful Anne McAllister - there will be yet more book talk, writing, publishing discussions etc . . can't wait!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Spring Birdwatching

This happens every year.

 I heard recently that there is supposed to be a shortage of starlings. with numbers very much reduced. Not in our garden. We have had regular visits from a gang of adult birds for months and this last week or so they have been joined by an equally large number of nestlings, newly emerged from the home nest. These youngsters are often as big as - if not bigger - than the poor mother bird and perfectly capable of getting their own food, specially when I put out seeds, fat cakes and mealworms for them all to enjoy. 

But they still appear to think they are little babies and need mum's help to get the food. Every morning there is a loud ruckus of 'little' ones - who are standing on a lawn scattered with
mealworms - shrieking 'feed me ! Feed me!' They stand there with their beaks wide open while the poor mother bird picks the food up from round their feet and stuffs it into their gaping mouths

. This morning I watched one poor mother bird working so hard to feed 3 demanding youngsters - all bigger than her - while if the 'little ones' only looked down, they would have seen the feast that was scattered around their feet. The noise of their demands was deafening.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

More TV connections

Last week DH went 'back home' when he was filmed as a contribution to a TV programme about a crime 
set there. He enjoyed visiting his past home town as well, as being involved in the programme.

 This week it's my turn to be reminded of the place I grew up as the BBC shows Gentleman Jack - the story of the unconventional Anne Lister of Shibden Hall just outside Halifax. As girls, my sisters and I often went to Shibden Park in which the hall was set - for picnics or walks or rowing a boat on the lake. Later, a friend of mine from school became the curator of the Hall for a time.

 We thought we knew a lot about the history of the Hall - but back then the amazing diaries Anne Lister wrote in code telling the story of her life as well as her 
lesbian life and many affairs had not yet been published.

For the next few weeks I shall be able to go back to my childhood days and memories as I watch the TV drama and spot places I knew and often visited in my past. I always loved Shibden Hall and it's wonderful to see it again - even if only on TV

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Living with a TV star!

So today is a big day for the Babe Magnet. He set off at silly o'clock to go to Leeds where he is filming in his role of consultant on a TV investigation of a murder (maybe murders?) in Leeds early last century. Can't reveal details as yet but when it's all sorted I can share.

It's interesting though, the way that your 'birthplace/home town' can reach out and involve one even when you've moved away and haven't lived in the city for -eek! Half a century!!   

This has all come about following the publication of his book Murder in Mind in which - as the blurb says - "he looks at his favourite investigations in his home county of Yorkshire, rich with villainous acts, painstaking investigations and outright injustices." One particular case has always intrigued him and he's had a chance to investigate it further - and now contribute to this programme. Should be a fascinating day - and the sun's even shining!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

ME Awareness

As well as being Mother’s Day, May 12th is also the anniversary of the birth of a famous and admirable woman – Florence Nightingale.  I’m sure you know the story of the way that she went out to help with nursing the wounded injured in the Crimean War.  In 1860, Nightingale laid the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas' Hospital in London,  the world’s first School of Nursing.

Nightingale became chronically ill in her mid-thirties with a Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)-like illness. She was often bedridden for the last 50 years of her life. Despite suffering from a debilitating illness, she managed to found the world’s first School of Nursing.   Because of this, May 12th has been designated as International Awareness Day for Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases (CIND) since 1992. The CIND illnesses include Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia (FM), Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).

I don’t talk about this much – in fact, I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned it before, but ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is something I’ve lived with for years. I can recall almost exactly the time it started to affect my life.  I had glandular fever and I was really struggling.  You need to rest, the doctor said – lots of rest.  Inset hollow laughter here. I had  a two and a half year old son – active, intelligent – demanding.  A husband who was dealing with a new job, often working teaching evening classes, we’d just moved house  so my chances of ‘rest’ were limited.  I didn’t know then that this sort of situation was the perfect seeding ground for ME/CFS.

There was no such diagnosis possible back then.  ‘ME’ was not recognised – and of course was known as ‘Yuppie Flu’.   Some doctors refused to recognise it as an illness at all. I remember one doctor who told me that I either admitted I  ‘just’ had depression  - or he would refuse to see me again. Guess what, I left that practice and turned my back on him. I was depressed because I was ill. Not ‘pretending’ to be ill because I was depressed. The hardest thing in those days was the  seemingly endless shuttling  from one doctor to another, the tests  for this, that and the other in the hope that someone could tell me what was wrong. And being told it was all in my mind.

These days there is a blood test that shows problems that create ME/CFS   which is a great help. The condition can also  often lead to the added complication of fibromyalgia. Another illness that some people refuse to admit exists. I have acute fibromyalgia as well as the ME  and at times it can be very unpleasant indeed.

The main symptom of CFS/ME is feeling overwhelmingly tired and generally unwell. Symptoms vary from person to person, and the severity of symptoms can vary from day to day, or even within a day.  This fatigue  doesn't go away with rest or sleep. This can make it difficult to carry out everyday tasks and activities.

Other symptoms of CFS/ME include: sleep problems, such as insomnia, muscle or joint pain, headache, a sore throat or sore glands that aren't swollen , problems thinking, remembering or concentrating , flu-like symptoms, feeling dizzy or sick , fast or irregular heartbeats (heart palpitations)

But  - people say when I  tell them I have ME  - you write books, you teach, you travel. Yes I do, because I refuse to give in to this thing. I do things that matter to me – even though sometimes after a journey I’ve made, a course I’ve taught or  a book I’ve written, I need time out to recover.

Why mention this now? Well, really because I’ve seen the posters and the messages, how people are talking about International  ME Awareness Day and  I think it’s important to ‘come out’ – and acknowledge this problem. Because ME is an invisible disease. You can’t tell from someone’s appearance whether they have it. You can’t see if it’s a ‘good’ day or a day when the symptoms have spiked and someone is feeling very ill indeed.

 Personally, this last year has not been a good one.  So writing has not been good either. People have started to ask questions about the lack of new books from me – so I thought International Awareness Day seemed like a good day to talk about one of the reasons for that.

I know there are so many others who are dealing with this illness. They have good days and bad days.  Some end up in wheelchairs.  Some are housebound. I know I couldn’t do as much as I do without the loving support of my husband.

So I just thought I’d do my bit to raise awareness of this problem. It’s one that so many people live with as ‘normal’ but because  it’s an invisible disease so you might never be aware that someone has it.

Mother's Day

I've never been quite sure why the UK's Mother's Day is on a different date to - well, the rest of the world, it seems. But I want to wish a Happy Mothers' Day to everyone who is celebrating it today. (Well - to any mother anywhere!)

A  couple of years ago, Mother’s Day weekend had a special impact for me as it fell on the date when we would have celebrated my mother’s 100th birthday. We still celebrated it actually. My sisters and I met up to share a dinner and to raise a toast to her memory.  That way we could follow the advice she left us in her final message to us – a note she wrote to all of us in what she knew were her last days. ‘You have been my joy all your lives,’ she wrote.  ‘I love you. Love one another.’ 

My greatest delight and my greatest sadness came together on the day that I received the letter (there wasn’t ‘the call’ back then!) to say that Mills & Boon were accepting my first novel, The Chalk Line, which was the same day as she was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer.   We had hoped that she would live long enough to read my first novel in print – she refused to read the typescript because she was holding on in order to be able to  hold the book in her hands. Sadly, she didn’t quite manage it, but the doctors said that she lived much longer than they had ever anticipated. I like to think the thought of seeing my book was one of the things that kept her going.

My mother taught me to read. She instilled in me a love of books and reading. Because of her there were always books available at home to feed the reading hunger she created. She also dreamed of being a writer herself and had several poems published in her early twenties. I have one hazy memory of her sitting at a writing desk we had in our Yorkshire home, writing away on what I thought were letters, but later, discovered that in fact she was working on some children’s stories. I don’t know what happened to those tales – which is such a pity as I think she would have been a magical story teller herself.

She also read aloud to us – often by a real coal fire so that we could curl up beside her,  close our eyes, and see the pictures in the story inside our heads… Listening to those stories, concentrating solely  on what I was  hearing, focusing on the way characters behaved, the dialogue they spoke was the best possible training ground for learning how a novel worked on an instinctive and gut level. 

I have no doubt that listening to those stories and then drifting off to sleep with them in my head, I took the first steps on the road to becoming the writer I am today, with a storytelling skill learned, literally, at my mother’s knee! I made up stories to myself, finished off the tales she hadn’t yet  brought to an end, imagined how the characters she had created or read about would have behaved. And I learned the basics of simple, straightforward story-telling , building up excitement, using dialogue as a result.

Happy  Mother's Day to all mothers  today.  I hope it is a lovely day for you.

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