Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dealing with Pain

Back in those terrifyingly warm days in February, I asked for your advice regarding pain remedies and what you found to work in your own pain management.

I was cheating preparing for a talk on pain management from the ‘customer’ angle and suspected that there was a lot I didn’t know. The talk was to take place in March as part of the 2019 Yorkshire Cancer Research conference: Let’s Talk About Cancer.

I say, ‘was’. Alas, due – thankfully – to nothing to do with cancer, but the return of MΓ©niΓ¨res disease which I thought I’d booted into touch in those heady days of my thirties, I had to cancel my talk. The disease isn’t very pleasant but isn’t life threatening and I find the unpredictably of the attacks of vertigo and sickness it brings, as painful as the attacks themselves because I am forced to become unreliable. I can’t commit to public events knowing that I might be crawling along the floor, or sitting bolt upright staring at the wall with a bowl under my chin, when an audience is waiting for me to speak - or worse, as I'm speaking. Can you imagine!
The good news is that the very lovely, understanding people at Yorkshire Cancer Research (YCR) quickly managed to fill my slot and I have heard from many sources that the conference was a massive success.

Meanwhile, I thought the least I could do would be to cobble together the responses you kind people had bothered to send via the blog, FaceBook and Twitter and post them here. Some I’d forgotten about, and others were new to me, so I hope that this might serve as useful resource if you sadly find yourself in need of something bigger and more enduring than a paracetamol – not that I’m dissing the lonely paracetamol, you understand, paracetamol has saved the day for me on many occasions. I have to say this because I have this slightly disturbing imagination which throws my mind headlong into the family medical box and sees a box of paracetamol sombre, rejected and wondering why on earth it bothers.

I know, it’s a worry.

Before we really start, I’d like to add a note of positivity for anybody with the misfortune to have been recently diagnosed with Menieres disease. It isn’t curable (although does tend to peter out, hopefully never to return) but is often treatable. I am now on a fairly innocuous medication that hasn’t stopped the attacks but has made them much less severe and less frequent. I’m hoping that with continued tweaking I will have enough control over the disease going forward to return to normal life including full attendance at public and social gatherings 😊

And this means that I secretly hope that I will manage to attend the next YCR conference and be able to babble on about pain management without incident, not least because I’d already prepared the talk before I’d cancelled – typical!

Obviously the below isn’t an exhaustive list (and please do let me know your additions) but it is the word - summarised or as a direct quote - from the ground, from the coal face, of making pain slightly easier to bear. Even though there is a bias towards cancer in the responses, much will be relevant whatever the cause of discomfort.

Acupuncture: for mental well-being, aches and pains and hot sweats, and other complementary and alternative therapies.

Distractions: anything with friends and family; colouring, crafting, reading and writing (for mild pain – I knew it was bad when I couldn’t blot out the pain well enough to read or write) and oh, so many other hobbies.

Endorphins: warm, soapy baths (lots of people mentioned hot baths!); Epsom salt baths (with the added bonus of nice, soft skin afterwards) singing and playing instruments; walking, running, swimming and other (gentle) exercising; just being outside - preferably in the sun; dancing on the spot to alleviate restless legs (but it also made me laugh); being active.

Heat pads and hot compresses to soothe sore and tired limbs and muscles, can also help with restless legs.

Infrared sauna: ‘it’s like a sauna that you sit in, but there is no heat. You are baked in infrared light. It heats the blood rather than the skin and improves circulation.'

Mindfulness, meditation and other cognitive therapies.

Reflexology: for general aches and pains and mental well-being.

Reiki: ‘as a Reiki therapist, I’ve helped treat many people undergoing cancer treatments. On a superficial level, it helps to calm their minds from what is such an emotional part of their lives, but does also provide (on many occasions) pain relief as well.’

Soft Toothbrush (!): this had to go in as my pitifully sore mouth is a strong memory of my chemo days. For the ulcers there are stronger topical medicines available on prescription so do visit your doctor, and if the idea of navigating the sores as you clean your teeth is terrifying, try a really soft toothbrush soaked first in hot water. 

Stretching: particularly after Aqua Fit, a hot bath and general exercise.

Steroid cream: for pain in the veins. Also, please note: ‘…I went back to good old fashioned nature - pure aromatherapy lavender oil and hot compresses- working a treat- I'd say take the drugs for sure but don't forget about the healing powers of nature and a good old fashioned positive mental attitude.’

One last thought on pain management.
As a daughter of a nurse, I knew that I’d have to collapse in a heap on the floor and be unable to answer what day of the week it was before I’d be granted a day off school sick. I think this is why I spent my early adulthood with the box of paracetamol – there I go again – being out of date before I opened it, and drinking my body weight in water before I’d even approach the medical box.

But since cancer and a few operations over the years, I've had to retrain my psyche on this. I've had it explained that pain stresses the body with the result that it doesn't function and thus recover as quickly as it might if it were in less pain. I’ve decided that alongside natural boosts of our endorphins, medicines can be our friend and some of the medications to combat the side effects of cancer treatments can be the best buddy ever. Whatever your strategy: medicine, holistic, alternative or a combination, be kind to yourself and use it! Life is too short to stoically suffer in silence...

I wish you a happy and pain-free or pain-eased week πŸ˜™

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Deaf for a Day

You know those moments in life where you have a chance exchange with someone which is not particularly remarkable in isolation, but nonetheless makes you smile and brightens your day? I have a lot of these when I manage to walk away from my pc and jump back into the real world.

However, this telephone exchange with a booking agent the other day was not one of those moments. No, this one left a mark in my brain for all the wrong reasons. And had it not given me an idea of how to change the world – hey, reach for the stars and you might land on the moon - it would be unremarkable; something that happens all too frequently I’m afraid, and requires nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and a brisk brush off so that it doesn’t lend a dark shadow to the day.   

I *may* have mentioned previously that I am the one in six in this country who struggles with poor hearing. I’ve written about it specifically here and here. Sometimes my mishears are amusing and sometimes they pass with nobody, least of all me, registering. I am fortunate to be surrounded by sensitive friends and family who do their best to make things easier for me and I am also incredibly lucky to be the owner of the very latest in hearing aid technology which is the difference between me working and, to be frank, leaving the house or not. But I would be lying if I said that hearing loss is easy, disingenuous if I pretended it didn’t pervade all aspects of spoken communication with the outside world. 

When people aren’t impatient with my ‘pardons?’ and when they don’t jump from a gentle comment to a megaphone shout which I can hear, boy can I hear, but still can’t make sense of the sounds (because a shout, I’ve learnt, distorts the sound even more) that makes me very happy.

In this phone call the person on the other end of the line broke all the rules of communication with the one in six who is hard of hearing. She was irritated. I may not be able to hear every word but even without the eye rolling and screwed up face, I can hear irritation. She had no time in her busy day to repeat everything three times. Couldn’t I just concentrate a little harder because then I’d be able to hear, surely? Simple.

If only.

I do try to be a grown-up about this. I realise I should go-out-and-get-myself-a-real-problem if I’m going to allow a phone call with a stranger to ruin my day. I try to pull up my big girl pants and sweat the big stuff instead, but when this kind of exchange happens once too often, in a moment when you’re struggling to remain upbeat about the weight you carry when you struggle to hear and thus communicate, sometimes those big girl pants feel very heavy indeed.

I ranted to my friends. That helped. Then I had an idea and it won’t leave me alone. I’d like to share it with you. And maybe you’re a teacher or a parent, you work in education or are simply interested in making people’s days a little brighter, and might join me in pushing this idea as far as I can.

I have some sympathy for people who don’t know how to sensitively communicate with people who can’t hear. Some sympathy. There is a part of me which thinks that if people have respect for others, and are happy to hop into their shoes when necessary, they would endeavour to hide their irritation for this disability. That seems the human thing to do. Indeed, I remember a relative constantly shouting at my terrifically sweet grandma who had developed age-related hearing loss and I ached for her.  Even as a child I understood that it wasn’t her fault and, particularly as a child, I could imagine how unpleasant it was to be shouted at, so I don’t think the concept is a particularly tricky one.

However, the nuances of improved communication with the hard of hearing do tend to come as a result of experience. My family know not to attempt to communicate with me from another room. They don’t cover their mouths with their hands as they speak. They try to rephrase a sentence rather than repeat it verbatim because they’ve learnt that a different word may be easier to hear, and they discretely help me when they can ‘just tell’ that I’ve lost the thread of a big conversation. They have learnt this from experience.

I know to speak more slowly as opposed to loudly to give people that split second longer to match the lip shapes to the sound they’ve heard. And I know that there are homophene groups, (sounds which do not sound the same but look the same on the lips) and so signing the first letter of the troublesome word might help a lipreader make sense of it. I know that context is everything so if somebody really isn’t managing the conversation, it’s probably best to stop, explain the context and start again. Life and attendance at lipreading classes has taught me this, so it isn’t fair to expect people with normal hearing who aren’t in regular contact with those with hearing loss, to know this.

But they could.

Were you lucky enough to attend one of those primary schools where pupils spent the day blindfolded to experience a quick snapshot of life for people who can’t see well? People talk about the experience way beyond their school days, referring to how effective it was in raising awareness of disability at a wonderfully impressionable age. I don’t know if this is still practised, but I do hope it is. It’s true isn’t it that some of our most vivid memories, our deepest beliefs and ethics come from innovative teaching, fun activities and unusual initiatives experienced when we were under ten years of age.

So, how about a ‘Deaf for a Day’ initiative in schools? No expensive technology would be necessary, I’m sure simple headphones could be used to block out or distort sound for a few hours. If we wanted to make it truly authentic, we could even pipe some tinnitus sounds, screeches and whooshes into ears at random moments, just to upset the train of thought, right when the pupils thought they were managing pretty well using mannerisms and context to stay in the moment. Cruel, I know 😜.

It could be fun! It is staggering how much we can pick up from the unconscious clues people give off when they speak: the music and the dance, the ‘unsaid’ and I think that alone could be informative and entertaining. Like broken feet (and knees, and a smashed up forearm) and losing our voice however, I’m sure the novelty would quickly wear off. I’d give it, oh, thirty minutes of not knowing what everyone else was laughing at, not knowing what page the teacher was talking about, not understanding the next instruction so having to watch to see what somebody else did first and hope they were doing it right before attempting to copy.

And who’s to say that this discomfort, this frustration, this feeling of melancholy about a world that was going on without us, wouldn’t stay with these children into adulthood? So when the pupil became the assistant behind the counter, the waiter taking the order, the chair of a meeting, they would instinctively keep their hands away from their mouth and look their customer or colleague straight in the eye. With this experience in their formative years, they would hopefully refrain from grimacing, answering in clipped (unintelligible) tones, or talking to you as if English wasn’t your first language and boy, were you struggling to learn. On the end of the phone they might rephrase if the conversation was clearly not going well and spell difficult words using the phonetic alphabet. But most of all, most importantly of all, they would sympathise and do everything in their power to help you communicate, to avoid making you feel stupid and that you were an irritant, in fact, they’d treat you with the same respect they’d treat any other person whose faculties were all intact.

What do you think? Can we make it happen? Shall we try?

I’d like to add that there are many people who instinctively carry out my communication wish list already. To those, I say thank you, this is such a big deal to those of us with hearing loss. Please help me spread the word that people who can’t hear have feelings too. In fact, we rather rely on them.      

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Ah, that's better!

Or it will be, if you help me J

So, I am honoured to have been asked to speak at the Let's Talk About Cancer conference, taking place on 14th March at the Magna Centre in Rotherham. My 15 minute slot is about coping with pain, the patient's perspective.

Now, whilst I know that bowlfuls of sweet white sauce and dancing on the spot worked wonderfully for me when my mouth was full of ulcers and my limbs felt like I'd been picked up and deposited in Luther, where the baddies didn't believe me and used their special vice-like contraption to squeeze and squeeze until I admitted defeat, I realise that my experience may be different from others. I also recognise that we all have our own ways of dealing with these things and that there are probably hundreds of different methods out there for getting through the bad days of cancer pain and the side effects of treatment.

I'd therefore like to ask if you would tell me about them. And I will steal them and pass them off as my own during my talk. Seriously now, dealing with pain is a big deal and in my fifteen minutes, I'd like to mention as many ways and means of dealing with it as possible. Here's hoping this will be useful to at least some of the audience.

If you, or someone you know, found anything from a medication to a holistic treatment or simply a regime that worked as effective pain relief for you, please would you let me know so I can add it to the list? I promise I will credit my blog readers on the day!

Meanwhile if you, or anyone you know, have been touched by cancer and happen to live in the Yorkshire region, places are still available at the Let's Talk About Cancer event. Tickets are free but limited so you will need to register. For more information and to secure your place, click here.
And if you do attend, please come and say hello! Most of the day I'll be in the exhibition area with a pile of books, otherwise you'll find me facilitating a group session, or fretting about my imminent arrival on stage…  

Thursday, 7 February 2019


I’ve just had flu. I knew it was flu because I'd had it in my twenties and it was characterised by the same lead being poured into all my limbs, even my fingers, and particularly my head, over a matter of minutes only to realise that if the house was burning down, I’d have to pray the hubbie was up to a fireman’s lift because I couldn’t move my body, not an inch.

The first time it happened I remember my mum peering at me through the living room window as I sat stock still on the sofa on a fiery hot summer’s day in the long university holidays, sporting the entire home’s stock of blankets. She was wondering why I hadn’t answered the door, used her key instead, took one look at me, asked me to put my chin on my chest and when I could, said, in her indomitable matter-of-fact nurse’s voice: 

Oh, that’s ok, I thought it might be meningitis. It’s just flu.

Just flu? I said, goodness! This was worse than flu!

Flu’s bad, she said, people call a bad cold, flu. But flu is flu, a bad cold is a bad cold.

I remember thinking they needed a better name for a bad cold. Because a bad cold can feel really, really horrible can’t it? But a cold can be anything from a sniffle to confining you to your bed and preventing you from work, so when it’s a bad cold we feel the need to call it something else so that we at least get some sympathy - AKA hot water bottle, Lemsip and a pass out on the dishes – and our manager doesn’t think we’re being pathetic, worse, skiving. For what it’s worth, I do believe the RIGHT thing to do is to stay away from work when you have a bad cold because nobody, but nobody wants to catch your cold so it’s kinder to the rest of us, and you’ll get better quicker, if you give yourself some TLC. Ok? You’re allowed.

How about colflu, flucol, flueyold or, flold. Yes! If you have a ‘flold’ then you are allowed to go to bed without putting on the washing before you go, your team will understand that you didn’t respond to that email and your boss will absolutely insist you don’t set foot anywhere near the office. Sorted.

This post isn’t a veiled appeal for sympathy by the way. I am currently in that post poorly-ness wave of euphoria, where it was almost worth feeling so bad, to feel so good in comparison. Almost. No, it reminded me of one of my questions I have running around my brain that never gets answered: where do these words start? You know, words like ‘peng’ and ‘sick’, or,‘dordy’ (threw in a Newark one there – I’m happy to say that my memory of being 14, and my diary corroborates, was that most things in life were, ‘dordy’) and even, ‘cool’ – that came from someone, somewhere, sometime. 

It’s the words that already have a meaning which bears no resemblance to what the speaker would like them to mean, that I wonder about. Who is the first person to say them and how do they end up being global? I mean, I understand it in the practical sense, a la internet et al, but how does one teen say something’s ‘peng’ in a little country village in deepest darkest Sussex for example, only for it to end up on the lips of a rapper in America? How did one person decide that using a word which described something pretty gross such as ‘sick’ would be a great way to describe something being ‘great’, and then manage to convince everyone else to feel the same?

I realise some of this is generated through the influence of idolised celebrity, but celebs aren’t getting up in the morning and thinking: Hmmm. What new word could I come up with today that, within weeks, will be universally understood by everyone under twenty?

Are they?

Well, maybe it’s our turn to make a mark on the Oxford English Dictionary. What word do you think should exist, but doesn’t…yet? Maybe it's a word only your family knows, or one you misspoke as a child but that makes so much more sense your way...

Meanwhile, my sympathies if you have had the misfortune to develop a cold, flold or flu this winter, and I hope that we all manage to beat off the gremlins going forward.

Stay well, folks!

Monday, 26 November 2018

Ask Me Anything (but I'm not an expert)

I am being described as a Cancer Expert which is a little embarrassing as I'm not sure I'm really anything close to an expert in anything, bar perhaps optimum washing machine temperatures for non-biological powders or coming up with the most compelling excuses to go out for a run when really I should be 'cracking on regardless' (the brain is so much more effective after exercise, I can plan a new writing exercise as I run, I'm nicer to everyone when I get some fresh air so it's a win-win - do you see what I mean?) 

However, I would admit that as 
my Five Year Cancerversary approaches in December, I have picked up quite a lot from the real coalface of living with cancer - not only from my own experience, but also from the extra research for Tea & Chemo and simply meeting so many wonderful people who have also had the misfortune to frequent Cancerville. Indeed, it's one of the many silver linings of cancer which I have spoken of before both here, in a post from the 'early days' and more recently, here: Tour de Friends 

And so it is that I find myself hugely honoured to be hosting the Live Better With's first Ask Me Anything (AMA) online Q and A event @ 7pm on Tuesday 4 December. 

A taste of Tea & Chemo at the launch of the
Live Better With store at Guys Hospital
And whilst Cancer Expert may be a bit of a stretch, what I have learnt since I first stepped into this new world is much more comforting than I ever could have envisaged in those terrifying first days after diagnosis. If I can lend a little of that to the discussion, then I'll be happy.

Questions can be posted now, right up to and during the event. Just click this link or enter via the website using the Forums & Info tab and then the drop down option of Community Forums.

You will have to register first with the site to take part and you can do this, here.

Please let me know if you've signed up and I'll look out for you 😊

A little about Live Better With:

With fellow writer, Lucy O'Donnell
Live Better With started life as an online retail company in 2015, focusing on useful and original gifts that might help and comfort people living with cancer, as well as their carers and loved ones. Following on from their online success, their physical shop, the Live Better With Boutique at Browns, was launched in November 2017, taking pride of place in Guy's Hospital Cancer Centre in London.

Through their FaceBook site and their own online community forums, Live Better With also provide a safe place for people to discuss anything and everything to do with dealing with cancer and its treatments. From there, the first AMA events have been launched and they can be found here in Discussions along with other cancer related topics.  

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Tour de Friends!

Deeply embedded in the world of Cancerville can be a whole heap of beautiful experiences, sprinkled with oodles of silver linings and unexpected relationships. Surprising, I know. But maybe that is good to know if you, or a loved one, have recently been diagnosed with what is also a horrible, spiteful, nasty little b**ger.

Why so? You may ask. What can possibly be good about having your mortality thrust so very cruelly and dramatically in front of your eyes? Love, that's what. I hear time and time again of people who've navigated the thorny path with the love of those close to them and have met great friends through the shared experience of having cancer, or caring for someone who has cancer. And I am a firm believer that positive relationships and our health are the only two things we really need in life to be happy. Yes, we need money as well to survive, but survival is a slightly different thing to what I'm talking about today, so please forgive me for parking that one just for now.

...with apologies to Steve, I'm not great at selfies
Louise Brownley is one of those people I never would have met if it wasn't for our cancer diagnosis. I am so sad to say that she has recently discovered she has secondary cancer and, well, it's not easy. Not that it's stopped Louise in her tracks, you understand, despite struggling with new treatments and the constant barrage of hospital appointments, not to mention holding down her full-time job, she is throwing herself into an enormous fundraising campaign. She, her equally adorable hubbie, and their team of firefighters and police officers will be cycling the 146 mile, rather hilly coast to coast from Whitehaven to Sunderland next year and they'd like to raise £5000 for Cancer Research.

You can read more about the Tour de Friends, their training and their trials and tribulations, here.

I have a post on the site too, with some questions I've never been asked before on everything from defining moments, to trainers and kettles (and a grass ring) to my new strategy of 'denial'.

I have only previously asked for sponsorship once via a blog post: Put on the Spot. It was fantastically successful and I was enormously grateful for, and touched by, all the donations. That said, I recognise there are so many demands on our funds and it's not fair to be constantly asking for people's support. But I hope you'll forgive me for asking you this time, and on behalf of this very special lady, whether you could spare a few pennies here.  

If you do feel able to sponsor Louise and the Tour de Friends riders, please let me know in the comments (or privately here if you prefer) I'll put your name in the hat and one winner will receive a signed copy of their choice of Tea & Chemo or Glass Houses. And if you're sick to death of those, I'll give you a big hug insteadπŸ˜‰

Monday, 5 November 2018

Stuck in a Book

I'm not really here. 
I'm really here... 

...and much as I lament the distinct lack of blogging over the past few weeks, my stiff word with myself has been somewhat successful. The latest draft of the novel had an enormously out of shape middle and only two hours of strict writing a day - that isn't all I do, by the way, although, imagine, she says, drifting away for a few moments to the top of a fluffy cloud, the number nine fluffy cloud, with pen, paper, and tea on tap and not even a hint of a spreadsheet or PowerPoint and especially no slightly grimy bathroom as distraction - has managed to shrink and tighten it to a more acceptable shape for its first appearance in public. But there's still work to be done. We're not talking six-pack yet, more of a slight bulge where you could imagine there might be a six-pack lurking underneath. Meanwhile, my ever patient first beta readers await their copy of This Remarkable of Days and I feel the least I can do is get it to them before the first Christmas cards are dolefully staring upwards, expecting to be written.

And thus, I'm even more grateful to be appearing on the Greenacres Writers' 'A Conversation ...' this week. This fabulously successful and busy reader and writers' site was set up in 2009 by a group of writers based in Finchley and features book reviews and interviews with a whole host of fabulous writers, a whole heap more interesting than me. The questions were intriguing, thought-provoking and made me smile and I just hope I've done them justice. You can read the interview here.

Meanwhile, any ideas of what you'd take up to your Cloud Nine? I'd love to know! 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Day Job

I haven’t written about cancer for a while. There are many reasons for this, none more so than the fact that I don’t have a lot to say, because I am *Stable Mable. I am a, ‘Strange Phenomenon’. I am an ‘Unusual Body,’ which, in this instance, is a good thing. I am, in short, insanely lucky.

And yet no one needs me to tell them that cancer is a heinous, unpredictable disease and there are many people who aren’t so lucky. Never have I been more acutely aware of this than this week, with the news that Radio Five Live journalist, Rachael Bland, has died of her cancer. Co-creator of the chart topping, hilarious, thoughtful, poignant, fantastically direct and gutsy podcast, You, Me and the Big C, Rachael, and her equally fabulous colleagues, Lauren Mahon and Deborah James, encouraged everybody to be upbeat and positive about her death.

But although I recognise that she has left behind the most powerful of legacies, I admit, the news has rocked me.

It's a reminder that we are so fallible, that cancer, in fact many diseases, are random and indiscriminate and that a treatment that's worked for one person, can be totally ineffectual for another. Cancer is not a 'battle' that can be won simply if we have the right ammunition. However, I do believe that there is nothing wrong with keeping that ammunition in a clean and nurtured environment, shined and polished so that if cancer comes calling or a rogue cell gets cocky, it's ready for it, ready to give its best shot at kicking it into touch.

We might miss, but I'd like to feel we tried. The ammunition I am most likely to pack in a corner, not pay it its due attention, is my immune system. Or rather, I'm forever tempted to deprive my immune system of sleep.

I’d been beavering away, life returning so very definitely back to a cracking paced normality after the knee buckling curve ball of April 2017, which I wrote about here

So cracking has been the pace that I admit to having taken my eye off the sleep monitor just a little.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am still a whole stratosphere away from my pre-December 2013 delinquency. Back then I prided myself - oh yes - on my ability to stay awake when all around were slumbering. It meant I could crack on in my study: just me the pc screen and a flood of ticks on the to-do list.  I’d finish with an indulgent hour of writing stories, followed by a languorous soak in the bath and the current book in favour, before dragging myself into a fulfilled and light-headed, 3am bedtime.

I felt lucky then, as well. My life was the next best thing to having magical 27 hour days and it meant I could have a lot of every bit of what I fancied because I had that extra tail end of the day that was denied to so many.

Post my primary cancer diagnosis on that fateful day at the end of 2013, my 27 hours had been concertinaed back into 24 and the extra hours of inertia the body's essential rehabilitation, came at a price.

I struggle to fit my own writing around the little cracks of time in the day that are left. Indeed, I struggle to fit the day job (oh, the irony)  into the cracks, and I do wonder if the added stress of never quite managing to achieve as much as I need to do to keep on top of everything, negates the benefit of the extra sleep.

Ridiculous, scoffs the hubbie. But he is a lark, a well-meaning, nothing is more important than keeping me alive, lark. Of course he doesn’t understand. Physically, he couldn’t do it. He is genetically programmed to stop work at 8pm at the latest and to fall into a deep and impenetrable sleep not long afterwards. To-do list or otherwise, larks sleep at night. That’s just how it is. If you want the lark in your family to catch a wild boar, you'll have to ask them to do it in the morning.

Ridiculous of course, but it’s not that easy is it? And it really isn't easy if you know you physically could stay up and answer the emails glowering from the inbox. None of us operate in a vacuum. One man’s, Sod It I’m Tired I’m Going To Bed, is someone else drumming their fingers, waiting for their reply, cursing the lack of response whilst muttering, 'Did they get it?' and 'Don’t they care?'. Or at least, that’s what I suppose.  

But Rachael Bland has given me a wake-up call, a kick up the bum, a reminder of my resolve. And so I have vowed that I will cover my ears and ignore the chimes to 'catch up'. I will shake away the image of steam puffing from people's ears as they spit and curse at my lack of response, and I will switch off, snuggle up, and get my sleep. After all, I owe it to those who aren't so lucky, to at least try my best.

Rest in peace, Rachael Bland, another brilliant person taken too soon.

*I stole that term from another fabulous Rachel, Rachel Ferry, currently NED, and she won't mind me saying, against all odds. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

You Called It!

The results are in. A winner has been chosen and my next novel, until submission at least, has a title.

Thank you! I never envisaged I’d receive so many entries to my What Would You Call It? competition, nor that it would be so illuminating. Those little asides you sent explaining why you chose one title and not another? They were gold dust.

One title won by a fair few votes, one was 'Marmite', my original working title was more popular than I’d have thought it might be and none of the titles heralded no votes at all.

I suspect that, Her Place, which gained the fewest votes, was a little too vague, even obscure. Note to self: intriguing, perhaps; nebulous, no. I had a titter about my wild card: Meatballs. You certainly felt strongly for, or against, that one. I agree that it could be misleading, dangerously so, because no, this story isn’t a farce and I wouldn't want people thinking it was. Whilst there may be some farcical elements, laugh a minute it isn’t - I’m not that clever.

So, who won?

All the votes for the most popular title were put into a hat. Actually, strictly speaking, it isn’t a hat, it’s a laundry basket. It’s one of my household’s not infrequent, ‘internet fails’. We have a fair few of these. Next time I’ll post a pic of the ‘minute yellow trug’ and there’s also the doll’s house sized – it seemed such a bargain – bottle of Shiraz.  

So, the winner! My hubbie, to ensure absolute transparency, pulled out one name from the hat/laundry basket, and that name was: Liz Carr. Congratulations, Liz! If you could email me your contact details and choice of either Glass Houses or Tea and Chemo, I’ll get a signed copy to you forthwith. And please don’t forget to let me know to whom I should sign the book.

The winning title? This Remarkable of Days and I am absolutely thrilled with it. 

Although, as with many titles in my experience, it does have a question mark hanging over it: it’s knowingly grammatically incorrect. I would hope that people would assume this was deliberate (surely a mistake wouldn’t get all the way through to the title of a novel? But then, stranger things have happened...) and there is certainly a strong reason for this wording. However, some potential readers might be put off right there and then by the suspect grammar. Can I risk this? If not, I’d have to consider changing it to: This Most Remarkable of Days and whilst I’ve been spinning this around in my head, the more I think about it, the more I like the quirkiness of the winning title of this competition. For now, it stays and I’ll keep you posted on that. By the way, if you have a view on this dilemma, please do share!

Meanwhile, here’s to a version of This Remarkable of Days making it to a book shop near you some time before too very long and that, aided by a stellar cover, not only will you feel compelled to read the blurb and later the book, you’ll stick with it (almost) to the end, when you’ll see where I was coming from when I slipped Meatballs into the list 😊

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

What Would You Call It?

This happened today. Two days ahead of schedule (oh yes) I scribbled the last note on the last page of the hard copy print out of the first draft of ‘In The Taxi’. This is the working title of my second novel but more on that in a moment. The fact that the pile of 260+ pages of typed copy has doubled in size under the weight of all those scribbled notes and tea cup stains, is an indication of how much work there still is to do – not least copying up this little lot. But that’s ok, because I can’t wait. I love every minute I get to spend on my own writing and I’m all-consumed with it at the moment. Ahem. Hence the reason I’ve been a little quiet of late...

But there’s a problem. My novel has a story now, but it doesn’t have a title.

I read of other writers’ euphoria at finding their title, and know of some who can’t write a word of the novel until they know what it will be called. And I understand that, because I can’t get going until I have an idea of my beginning and end. A title for some, the beginning and end for me, helps to guide the story in the right direction, to give it a focus, a string, to join up the words as they tumble from mind to paper. But the title is another thing altogether for me. I think I’ve got it, retitle every document, every note, every draft, with the new title amidst much excitement, announce it to the family, muse about it as I stuff washing frantically into the machine (so I can get back to writing) only to find that it doesn’t feel quite so perfect next time I switch on my pc.

So, can I tempt you *with a prize* to help me choose? I’ve listed, below, every title which has flown to mind over the past six months. They’re in alphabetical order so that I don’t subconsciously show a bias. I need you to choose a title which jumps out at you, which intrigues perhaps, and certainly would have you grabbing the book from the shelf, turning it over to read the blurb.

Because the title needs to stand on its own, I’m going to be really tight with the clues. I’ll simply say that I hope the story fits squarely in contemporary fiction with a ripple of humour and a smattering of tears. Four strangers, plus Paresh, the long-suffering driver who must be wondering if he’s ever going to see his home again, find themselves thrown together in a taxi only for the journey to take on a significance none of them ever envisaged. I’d better stop there.

A few provisos here. All the titles listed are ones I’d entertain so I will happily snap up the one the majority choose. However, I thought my original working title for Tea & Chemo of, ‘It Wasn’t All Bad’ was stellar: curiously inviting, not to mention doing exactly what it said on the tin. And oh, what a genius! I’d thought of it within five minutes of deciding I was going to try to write this book. Then my publisher saw it. And he laughed, very politely, and in a hugely empathetic fashion, but nonetheless telling me point blank that my book was not going to be called, ‘It Wasn’t All Bad’. Imagine googling it, he said. Ahhh. And I used to work in PR. Shame on Me! So, I’m afraid I can’t guarantee this will be the final title and, alas, I can’t even guarantee it will be accepted for publication, but here’s hoping. What I can promise is that I will log the most popular title, pick a name out of the hat from those people who chose it and one of them will get their choice of a signed copy of Glass Houses or Tea & Chemo for themselves or as a gift. To ensure no conferring, no cheating or influencing, and also because I know people have trouble commenting on here, I’m going to ask you to email me your choice via this link. The deadline is midnight on Bank Holiday Monday, 7th May.

Good luck! And thank you 😊

  • Her Place
  • In The Taxi
  • Marriage of Inconvenience
  • Meatballs
  • No Such Lonely Place
  • This Remarkable of Days

Friday, 2 March 2018

Almost as Difficult as Football

I was checking my blog stats – AKA engaging in a most unbecoming form of Google Navel Gazing – and noticed that some kind soul had fallen upon a blog post from March 2015: Number One Career. I couldn’t remember anything about it so had a click myself. It's about being a writer and as I come across so many tweets and posts about competition wins, near misses and 'good' (loads of promise but I just don’t love it enough) and 'not so good' (please don't be disheartened, we receive three billion submissions a week and only take on two to three new writers a year) rejections, I thought I'd post this again here

It was written just before I announced my
two book deal
with Urbane Publications and hope it might serve as motivation to hang on in there if you're in that stage of high emotional swings, spending your days between clicking send/receive and trying not to. 

Or indeed, you're stuck in a gargantuan plot hole.

Keep going! If it was easy, they'd call it football πŸ˜‰*

*This is my daughter's quote from when she was ten. It always amused me because having played hockey and netball for my whole childhood and beyond, I played football once at school when I inadvertently broke my friend, captain, and absolute star of our hockey team's leg and a second time in the Women's Puma Four, when our team of four were forced to add football to three other disciplines we knew better and let's just say, our friend's husband, dragged in to give us a crash course of training, found it rather amusing that after five minutes, I mean, really, five minutes, of sprinting after a ball and generally not connecting with our feet - side of our feet, I learnt that bit - we were exhausted, I was reminded that football is actually, really extremely hard. But I hope you know what I mean…

Monday, 19 February 2018

The Enormous Hearing Aid Dome

To understand my tale of unbridled joy achieved in the surgery of an ENT consultant, you should know that my hearing, or lack of it, is the bane of my life, and I suspect of the lives of many of those close to me, even though they're too nice to admit it. There's more about this in A Deaf Character.

It was January 2014 and a week after I'd been diagnosed with cancer, a week after that day on 27th December when I'd done a pretty comprehensive job of persuading myself I wasn't going to be told that news. No, I was going to be told that it was nothing more than a scare.

Yep, would you believe it? I heard it clear as a bell. Never for a moment did I think they'd said, 'You're a grade three dancer'. My second question – and every body's second question I suspect (after every body's first question: is it terminal?)  –  Do you know if it's spread? was met with one of the most difficult answers that those brilliant medical people have to give:

We Don't Know.

There was nothing to say that it had spread, but nobody could be sure at this stage. And then came the biggy: had I had any persistent pain anywhere else? We talked about my neck. Like every second person, it seems, I never learnt to sleep correctly as I have an ongoing, but pretty bearable, sore neck. But I'd had that forever, it couldn’t be related to cancer, surely?

He asked if it had been around for over a few months and I responded with a whoosh of relief that it been there for, oh, probably my entire adult life.

'But what about your earache?' Hubbie said.

You know, for the first time in three months, I hadn't noticed my earache. It took a cancer diagnosis to trump it, but for those glorious few moments, it had subsided.

Thankfully, very quickly, the consultant assured me as best he could that it would be extremely unusual for breast cancer to have travelled to my ear. 'However,' he said, as we hung in the air, waiting for the 'but', 'I really think we need to get to the bottom of this.' 

You see, I'd already had three separate lots of antibiotics as whenever anyone looked down my ear, they winced and said that there was a horrible infection in there. He didn’t want me fighting an infection when I was about to undergo an operation and then onto chemo. Thus I was referred to ENT.
I took solace in the breast cancer surgeon's optimism but the earache was unsolved and not reacting to antibiotics and it's hard when you're in bed at night, with only your tinnitus and the darkness, for your thoughts not to fly to secondary cancer in the brain.

The ENT specialist was lovely. I specifically remember him saying to me that he was going to do everything in his power to ensure I left his surgery with an answer because I had enough to worry about. I am a sucker for anybody taking responsibility away from me. I am the archetypal non-control freak. I like nothing better than somebody telling me I'm going to be alright. If they say that, I believe them.
He looked down my ear with a much more technical piece of apparatus than found at the GP surgery.

'Right,' he said. 'This might hurt.'

No problem. As far as I was concerned, nothing could hurt more than the current pain in my ears. Bring it on!

I can only describe the next few minutes as playing my own special role in the Enormous Turnip. The instrument inserted into my ear produced a sort of 'sucking' feeling. But as quickly as it started, this not entirely unpleasant sensation stopped.

'I'm changing to a smaller instrument,' he said. 'Are you aware you have very narrow ear canals?' I laughed. If I had a pound for every time anyone in the medical profession has told me about the diminutive nature of my ear canals, well, I wouldn't be an impoverished writer any more.

By the time we'd moved to the third reduced sized implement, the consultant had his foot wedged on my chair as the small but oh, so powerful instrument pulled and sucked at the inside of my very narrow ear canal. My head swayed. This was no longer pleasant. I thought I was going to be sick but every time he asked if I needed a break, I told him to carry on. There was clearly something in my ear and we needed to get it out. I started counting to ten and got to 73.

Just like the Enormous Turnip, it sprang out with a pop which literally – yep, literally - sent the consultant reeling backwards. 'Phew!' he said, in a delightfully understated fashion, 'That was a stubborn one.' He held up the offending item, a mixture of pride and mirth covering his perspiring face.

'Do you recognise this?' he asked, bearing the tip of my hearing aid, the 'dome' in the trade, the removable bit which covers the receptor and goes directly into the ear. I say, 'removable', but must clarify that it is only to be removed for cleaning once outside of the ear canal. 'It happens more often than you think,' he said, in a kind attempt to placate my embarrassed shame – I told you he was lovely – 'You don't remember it coming away in your ear, then?'

The thing is, I do remember the moment he was referring to. I remember sitting in front of my mirror looking at the dome-less hearing aid, convinced I'd already replaced the tip. I asked the hubbie to have a look down my ear using the torch on his iPhone (Love is…) But when he couldn't see anything, I put it down to the advancement of my years, replaced it with another from the box, and never gave it another thought.

Instantly, the hearing pain was gone. I had to do everything in my power not to jump up and hug and squeeze the audiologist with every ounce of my being, for removing the pain, but also the fear that my stage two and hopefully curable grade three, caught early, breast cancer could actually be the treatable, but currently not curable stage four.

The hubbie and I shared a bottle of champagne that night, and it will always make me smile that only seven days after diagnosis, waiting for my operation, waiting for chemo, we were celebrating with champagne. Such is the strange world of Cancerville. I also remember running out into the waiting room and throwing myself on my husband in the way I'd stopped myself doing to the fortunate consultant, as I told him as well as I could through hysterical laughter, that he'd never guess what it was but it wasn’t a brain tumour.

Thankfully, he has pretty goddamn perfect hearing so he knew what I meant. 

If you're interested in hearing loss, you may like to read: Run That By Me Again and The Bottom of the Swimming Pool.