Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Lit Ward 10 Expands Owing to Government Incompetence.

Dr Read was jubilant that his ward had the best outcomes in the out-patient department but as a result he was under increasing pressure to find space for all the referrals to Lit ward 10. The room adjoining the old office of the Chief Exec’s now departed Bright Ideas Manager was now a second day-room and a smaller office next to it that once homed the BIM’s largely redundant secretary now housed two much needed beds for the more serious cases. The patients didn’t mind that it was cramped, so long as the reading light was good and the book supply constant.

In the past few months referrals to Lit Ward 10 had soared with people all over the country suffering from a new condition diagnosed as Solliciti Esse in Exitus, known as S.E. Cases affected people of all ages and from all demographics. There was not yet a cure, but Dr Read’s lit therapy kept the worse symptoms at bay be they poor sleep and depression or anxiety and anger issues, with all the physical symptoms that tend to accompany these disturbances including appetite and digestive disorders, hypertension, headaches, to name but a few. 

To ensure everybody's need could be met, books in a variety of languages, as well as a number of auditory materials had been added to the ward’s library for the benefit of those for whom reading was difficult. A few of the most popular books were now being presented on video in sign-language. They were so stretched with referrals they had also set up a helpline and a web page, with instructions on how to make Letta’s Jamaican hot chocolate and how to mix a perfect G&T as well as a selection of reading material. 

It was notable that a high number of referrals came from within NHS staff members, and even the Chief Exec had agreed that Occupational Health department should have a Lit Ward outreach suite where staff could have some down time with a good book, even though he'd limited it to half an hour at a time. You couldn't have nurses and therapists lolling about all day reading. But to show he was committed he'd even donated a comfortable chair in the hope that it would to stop staff from having to take sick leave. 

If only the Chief Exec would allocate more funding, thought Dr Read, as he submitted the week’s outcomes. Dr Read found himself using the forbidden word when he muttered that the Chief Exec with his inept management skills, was a complete Br***t. He wondered if the term would become common parlance on day. 

On the day ward, Nurse Gorgeous, (now Mrs De Licious but she was keeping her own name for professional use,) was doing the blood pressure checks and keeping an eye on the reading matter. Occasionally patients sneaked in unsuitable books. When she gently removed one such item from a young man wearing an earnest expression and a man-bun, he accused her of censorship and that she had no right to interfere with his freedom of reading material. She explained that on this ward reading was medication and that she was quite sure that if he had been self-medicating with the wrong pills, he wouldn’t object to his doctor prescribing the correct ones. He agreed and let go of the inflammatory tome. She gave him a selection of books to choose from that would soothe his soul and the other item, which had the name Aaron on the cover, was deposited in the incinerator. Half an hour later he was smiling at the antics of Don Tillman PhD and his approach to romance.  

Dr Read’s article in The Lancet on Reading to Alleviate the Symptoms of S.E was well received and all over the country people were finding some relief through turning the pages of their books, swiping their e-readers or their headphones. Everyone undertaking the therapy agreed it helped although it could not entirely prevent S.E. 

This article recommends that you too read if you are suffering from S.E.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

This Year's Reading.

As in most years I've read around 56 books this year. But I'm finding it hard to come up with my top ten. Not because of too many contenders, as is usually the case, but too few. I don't wish to promote books that I haven't felt worthy, even if they were better than others. I read two books that have been praised on twitter and other social media among writers as well as readers and both proved very popular. Several people, whose opinions I find worthy, joined in with praise but I found them irritating and their main characters unconvincing. Clearly I am in a minority.

As always my reading has been a mixture of current books and older ones. Many of my choices this year have been books that have been sitting on my TBR bookshelf for ages and as part of my general de-clutter I got on with reading them rather than buying yet more new books. They have been a mixed bag. Some have now been donated to the local charity shops or our local community bookshelf which is thriving, but one or two have been retained. You can't de-clutter everything!

The following novels, however, do stand out.

VOX by Christina Dalcher - I had read many of Christina's flash fiction pieces and guessed this debut novel would be worth a read. I was right! A dysptopian vision which, while seemingly unreal, recent politics makes less unlikely!

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore. One of the books on my TBR shelf, I'd not read any of Helen  Dunmore although two of her books were waiting for me. I read one earlier this year and was disappointed as I knew her to be a well loved and respected author. This book made me see why. I have The Siege awaiting!

Strangers On a Bridge by Louise Mangos. Another flash fictioneer whose work I have admired, this is Louise's debut. Much as I wanted to slap her main character at times, I was drawn into the story and kept turning the pages. Except I had to swipe the pages on my e-reader.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.  Another that had been on my TBR shelf for ages. Both gripping and delightful. I've lent it to a friend and am interested to see the recent film, which I learned about just after I read it.

Dirt Music by Tim Winton. A Christmas present from last year to celebrate my stay in Australia. I loved this and look forward to reading the two more books by Tim on my shelves, although one is on my shelf in Australia next to Dirt Music!

Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary. One of my Kindle reads, it is the fourth of the D.I Marnie Rome series. Sarah never disappoints.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller. I confess to hating most of the characters but this was a beautifully written book. I look forward to reading Bitter Orange.

My top non-fiction, although I'm hoping there might be a bit of fiction in there, is This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. I'm a sucker for books by staff or former staff of the NHS, because whatever is said about the NHS, the fact is that most of these writers did their jobs because they loved working with their patients - as did I!

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Family Stories That Make History but not History Books.

Family stories.
I am beginning preparations for a different Christmas this year - it will be the first that I've spend without my daughter since she was born! Last year I celebrated at her new home in Melbourne and I hoped to be there for this year too, but events have transpired to make it otherwise. It's particularly hard as this is my grand-daughter's first Christmas, although at three months old she won't be too worried. I will, however, be able to Skype to see her and her parents and wish them a very happy Christmas and for that I'm very grateful. Not everyone who is separated from family or friends has that luxury.

This time a hundred year ago my grandfather, who served during The Great War in the Army Service Corps, was still in the army and he and his unit were gradually making their way back in their lorries from the Middle East. Unfortunately my siblings and I know very little about his army life, although one sister recently found diaries online written in 1915 by our great-uncle by marriage, Captain Comley Hawkes, who also served in the Army Service Corps which gives us an inkling, although they worked in different locations. One story I recall my mother telling us is that Grandpa and his companions were given the opportunity of spending Christmas 1918 in Bethlehem. Much as he wished too, and I think partly regretted his decision later, he declined because he wanted to get back to England as soon as he could. He had a daughter of two and a half  years old waiting at home who he had yet to meet. I don't know exactly when he reached home but I know it was already 1919. He wouldn't get to spend a Christmas with her until her fourth.

As my sisters and I look more into our family history - we now have the names of  22 of our 32 great, great, great grandparents (made easier by the ancestry tracing websites) the information that we already knew was because of family stories, some passed from generation to generation and the fact that our parents and grandparents kept in touch with friends and family even though they they hadn't the benefit of instant communication as we do now.

Another family story is when my grandmother wrote to her friend, Gwen, who was then in Australia telling her that she had been jilted. The letter and its reply would have taken at least 12 weeks to travel across the world and back. I can message my daughter and receive a reply within as many seconds.

When she first went to Australia in 1913, at Gwen's suggestion, my grandmother worked for Gwen's  second cousins, that branch of the family having emigrated to Australia in 1851 (June 29th to be precise) during the Australian Goldrush. She later became good friends with their daughter Floss, who was a similar age to her, and when she married (Gwen's brother) her daughters were close friends with Floss's. When my grandparents returned to England letters and cards were exchanged between Australia and England. The next generation took over the correspondence which continued for over 80 years. Visits were also made and the connection continues hence I got to meet up again with my fourth cousin once removed on my visit to Australia last Christmas. My Australian born grand-daughter has dozens of distant cousins in Victoria, Australia because two of my mother's aunts also have numerous descendants there, several of whom are still in touch.

Family stories rarely make headlines but they are what makes history real. And I think they're important. I'm now of an age where I see toys that I played with in museums and the country childhood I experienced and wrote about here is now mostly history. I've mentioned previously my mother's notebooks (pictured above) of her jottings about that time and they have been a delight to read. I just wish we had more. Lets get our stories written for future generations, because history books won't tell them the stories that we can.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

So far this year...

The topic on a recent weekly Twitter #writingchat was this year's 9 month update. I wasn't able to join in as for the last few weeks I've been in Australia and I'm afraid waking up at 5.00am to tweet has been a bit beyond me. Perhaps if I'd had something exciting to report I'd have set my alarm but unfortunately my report would have been rather negative.

However I have achieved my highest number of submissions so far this year from 75 word stories to Paragraph Planet, to slightly longer flash fiction pieces to various sites and competitions. I've submitted a handful of short stories to competitions and my novel to four agents/publishers, but with no success. I've had a few flash fictions published and a non-fiction piece but only one prize placement in a small competition and a long-listing in Flash 500.

I'm still researching suitable sites for my work. I had one flash fiction piece that didn't seem to belong anywhere. I considered sending to it Reflex Fiction as I had been long-listed previously but decided against it as it didn't seem to 'fit' the stories they tend to publish but then I thought why not? It wasn't long-listed but I have received an email saying it will be included in the published 'near-misses' list and should be on their website later this month.

There are still a few subs out there in the big void so fingers crossed.

It has been a good year though because in September, after an extra week of waiting, I became a grandma. And she's gorgeous! I wish my mother had been able to know about her Australian great-granddaughter who, like her, was born in Victoria and shares her name.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Writing Community.

I love being part of the writing community. It's vast group comprising writers from all over the world, all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, and whatever else may make us different. When we write we all share something amazing. The Internet enables us to partake in online groups, exchange ideas with others writers and most importantly, I think, give and receive support. There are best selling writers who tweet helpful advice and suggestions, those who tweet about great books and stories they've read, and those who encourage writers who've not yet been brave enough to submit anything anywhere! There's a vast support network out there.

Yes, of course there are the nasty trolls and people who are overly critical, many of whom hide behind anonymous social media profiles, but they are far outweighed by the positive supporters. I've seen tweets from writers who've been understandably upset by some awful comments or vitriolic reviews but the positive support always follows.

Writers comment on each others' tweets and links. I've received some lovely comments about the odd piece of mine which really does boost my writing esteem, which it needs!

I had a story published in Stories for Homes 2 last year and the online network of the contributors and editors feels like being part of a lovely family. The flash flood organised by Calum Kerr and his colleagues in June produced not only a flood of fabulous flash fiction but also numerous positive comments on each other's posts. I felt proud to have a piece in among so many superb writers but, again, I felt I was part of a community which can be important when many writers work on their own.

So is there a downside to the writing community? When my writing is getting nowhere and the rejections are stacking up and I log on to Twitter and see tweets and posts about successes in competition wins, short story collections and first or subsequent novels published, while I'm truly pleased for their authors, many of whom I've met online or in real life, it makes my own lack of success feel all the more acute. Their talent is shining while mine is non-existent and I'm thinking my writing is rubbish and I don't try hard enough. It's easy to get disheartened.

Then I remember that many of these writers who are now doing well and receiving well-deserved acclaim, almost certainly once felt like I do! But they kept going. And they did so in spite of other jobs - often demanding ones - and raising their families, or while going through periods of illness. They kept going by honing their writing skills and submitting their work. I'm sure there are plenty of others who gave up so, not surprisingly, I haven't heard much about about those writers.

So I can choose to give up or keep going. There are no guarantees that my writing will ever result in success but giving up will definitely result in none. I choose to see those other writers' successes as  the result of their hard work and persistence and choose to be encouraged by it.

So thanks for sharing all your wins and publication success because while a little luck may be in the mix, I know that hard work makes Lady Luck get a move on.

PS: Just as I published this post, I spotted on Twitter #ShareYourRejections on which most responses are saying keep going!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

How do You Choose Which Books to Read?

How do you choose which books to read?

My last post was about giving away books but of course I've had to acquire some new ones too. My choices come from a number of sources. I love browsing in bookshops where I might see an interesting title or cover and take a further look, perhaps at the back cover blurb or just the first page or two. A lot gets decided on looking at the writing style. I don't have particular styles that I like but there are definitely some I don't enjoy.

I used to attend a book group at my local library where members chose books, which certainly made me read more widely. One member tended to choose books that were listed in intellectual recommended lists and included some books that I thought were absolute horrors but I did learn from reading them. I learned to avoid those particular authors or follow those recommendations (the ones that keep listing the same established names over and over.) I really don't care if people think my reading doesn't measure up to Booker prize standard. I much prefer the Not the Booker Prize. I've always had a taste for Literary Pudding!

A great many of my choices come from recommendations from book friends and, of course, from book blogs and other social media. I'm a bit limited in my social media using only Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook but I've bought a number of books because I saw something on Twitter and  followed an author I found interesting. As many have said, it's usually the authors who engage with others on their Twitter feeds who I find are the more interesting writers. I've come across some gems this way. I don't go for those who bombard their followers with ads for their books. I did once as the book looked promising but it was something of a let down with the author perhaps better suited to a career in sales than writing.

Some books receive a huge amount of media attention with lots of people listing them in their Top Tens and so on, but I've been disappointed by a large number of these so now prefer to borrow these popular titles, if I read them at all, from the library although I usually have to wait ages because they're in high demand as the publicity machine is doing a great job.

I've bought a number of books after having read short stories or flash fiction by the author. If their short work spoke to me, then the chances are that their novel will too. 

I admit I'm not one for doing many book reviews, for a reason I've mentioned in a previous post, but when I love a book or a short story, I will tweet the author telling them so. It's lovely to receive an acknowledgement and most writers do so, even though they are busy with lots of other messages because their writing is so good!  Guess what, I'm more likely to read their next book too!

How do you choose a new book?

Friday, 8 June 2018

Clearing my Shelves

Angi and me with the new
Woodside Park Community Book Swap.
I have been decluttering. Clothes, ornaments, cooking gadgets I've barely used, CDs and DVDs and, alas, books.

Books are the hardest to part with but it has to be done. I had thousands. I've always had an ongoing book clear as my flat isn't huge but this has been by far the biggest cull. Lots of my old text books have been sold and local charity shops have done very well out of my donations. Some have gone to family and friends and now some, I'm pleased to say, along with one of my bookcases are a community library/book swap at Woodside Park, my local underground station, which I set up with the help of another local resident, Angi.

Within a couple of minutes of putting the books on the shelves we had our first browser, who thanked us and said he had long wished there was such a facility here. The first book he selected was a copy of a Greenacre Writers anthology! He borrowed three books and said he'd return or swap them in due course!

This latest addition joins dozens of other little libraries on the Transport for London network, including Bounds Green, High Barnet, and East Finchley.

Those of you who use Woodside Park station, please do bring and borrow books to keep it going. The bookcase is in the main foyer so you don't even need your Oyster card!