Monday, 25 September 2017

Losing a sister to cancer.

My sister and I used to laugh when we imagined ourselves as two little old ladies, putting the world to rights. It seems impossible to think that will never be.

In July my lovely sister died of cancer. She was 55-years-old, and an amazing, funny, strong and beautiful person. She was my best friend.

It was terminal cancer, so we’d known for over three years that the day would come when we would have to say goodbye. For me, most of that time was spent in denial. I would tell her I knew what the future held; she would insist I hadn’t really accepted it. She was right. But then I was hoping for a miracle.

Reality hit with an enormous thud earlier this year. Miracles melted away. A painful headache and a seizure found us in A & E. A scan followed, and after several torturous hours we were told the cancer had spread to her brain.

There was a 50% chance that radiation would shrink the tumours and give her longer. But while she was having the radiation, she also had her regular scan on her liver.

The results from that scan revealed there was nothing more they could do.

What followed was an ‘end of life’ talk. That’s when my sister finally crumbled. She’d been so, so brave throughout – but being told what to expect just before death was understandably too much for both of us. My heart seemed to tighten when the news came. I felt hopeless, helpless, angry, sad, desperate – there aren’t enough words to describe the emotions I felt.

But I still thought we had time. More time. Precious time.

We had no idea how soon it would be. We weren’t told. But the doctor was concerned that her skin had started to yellow. My sister began to feel so tired, but the medical staff thought it could be the radiation causing that. So we stayed ever hopeful that we had longer.

But it wasn’t the radiation causing her exhaustion. Her liver was failing.

She moved in with us, and we thought we would have months together, but everything happened so quickly. Six days later she passed away.

I try to tell myself that we shared three happy years after diagnosis. That we were lucky to have had so many happy times together where she did all the things she loved doing. And, of course, I have memories stretching back to when we were children.

But I felt far from lucky. I felt numb, my body ached, I didn’t know what to do with the feelings that made me feel so helpless. I’d never felt pain like it.

Before she died, she promised she would find a way of telling me she was OK. She told me exactly where she would leave a white feather. The day after she died there was a feather in the exact spot she said there would be one. I go from believing she put it there, to thinking I’m being silly, crazy, daft. 

Because when someone you love dies, you do question your own sanity. The whole make up of who you are seems to shift on its axis.

Lately I see white feathers absolutely everywhere. Maybe my sister is getting a bit miffed with me for not believing, and throwing feathers in my path. I can hear her playful voice saying ‘Here you go, have lots, if you don’t believe me.’ But it’s more likely white feathers have always littered the grass verges, and clung to trees, and I’m only noticing them now. But I know what I want to believe.

Grief is numbing, crippling, it made me feel ill, sick, knotted with pain. I didn’t feel like myself at all. Nothing I have ever felt comes close to the agony that consumed me after the loss of my sister, and life will never be the same because there’s a huge hole where she had been by my side for the whole of my life.

I keep hearing her upbeat voice in my head – telling me to carry on, but I have to tell her I’m so, so sorry, but it’s far too hard right now. ‘You’ll get there,’ she tells me. ‘You have to.’

And as the days became weeks, and now the weeks are turning into months, I try to be strong. I do as much as I can to keep busy, as I find it helps. But it’s the triggers that catch me and make me cry when I least expect it, like when I was in Tesco I spotted a jacket with a soft collar I knew she would have loved. I go days sometimes, where thoughts of her give me comfort, and then other times I can’t stop crying. I’m not sure if I will ever get over losing my sister, but I hope, in time, I will learn to live with it.

I debated for a while whether to put up this blog post. It’s very personal, and was written to help me process my thoughts. But I decided to post it today, because through the worst of the pain, I found similar posts from others comforting. My blog doesn’t get many visitors anymore, but if just one person stumbles upon my words, and it helps them a little, it was worth posting.



Friday, 7 April 2017

'The Cold' is going to be published.

Some of you may have noticed (or not :-)) that I've taken The Cold down from my charity-fundraising-novel-blogging-blog. Ooh, that was tongue-twister, if ever I heard one! The reason – which I’m extremely excited about - is it will be published by HarperCollins – HQ Digital, with all my royalties for digital downloads going to the cancer charity I'm raising money for.

I can’t begin to describe how thrilled I was today when the signed contract dropped onto my doormat. It now feels so real.

Thanks again to EVERYONE who supported my novel-blogging by donating and sharing the news, making it possible for me to raise over £400.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Guest Post: The Beachside Sweet Shop by Karen Clarke

I’m not only thrilled to be inviting a brilliant writer to my blog today, but also a lovely friend.

The very talented Karen Clarke is here to answer a few questions about her shiny new book The Beachside Sweet Shop. And I’ve also been super-nosey and discovered her favourite books, sweets as a child, and other interesting snippets.

So without further waffle, I’m going to open a jar of Rhubarb and Custards for us to share, and welcome Karen to my blog.

What was the first book you read that made you cry?

I can’t remember the first, but Me Before You by JoJo Moyes had me blubbering recently. I don’t like a sad ending, but accept that sometimes it’s the only one that works.


What was the first book you read that made you laugh out loud?

The Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and three quarters, by Sue Townsend, and the rest of the series was funny too.

Which character in The Beachside Sweet Shop would you get on with best, and why?

Marnie’s best friend, Beth, who as well as being supportive and fun, is grounded and sure of herself, and knows what she wants from life.

If you could give your younger-writing-self advice, what would it be?

Start now! Life was always getting in the way, and I do wish I’d started my writing career earlier. But maybe I wasn’t ready.

What was your favourite sweet, growing up?

I loved toffee whirls. My gran used to bring a little sweet-shop paper bag of them whenever she visited.

How did you select the names of the characters in The Beachside Sweet Shop?

If nothing springs to mind right away, I look up names that were popular during the year my characters were born. Sometimes see a name I like in the credits of a film or TV programme, and I’ve been known to pluck names from Facebook J

What was your hardest scene to write in The Beachside Sweet Shop?

I struggle with sexy scenes, imagining my mum reading them, so it would be the encounter between Marnie and Josh in the stockroom!

What is your favourite childhood book?

I loved Enid Blyton, so probably The Magic Faraway Tree.

Which character in The Beachside Sweet Shop would you least get on with, and why?

I wouldn’t get on with Isabel, as she thinks she’s a cut above everyone in Shipley, and isn’t interested in getting along with her neighbours.

Have you ever met anyone famous, and, if so, were you in awe?

On holiday a few years ago, we were served at a farmer’s market by Elizabeth Hurley (she has her own brand of sausages) and I did feel a wee bit star-struck.

***
Thank you so much for visiting, Karen.

The Beachside Sweet Shop is available on Amazon  HERE for 99p, which is an absolute bargain.  I guarantee you’ll love it!


Friday, 3 March 2017

Short Stories and Novels

I’m thrilled to bits to have a story in the latest People’s Friend Special (number 136) called ‘They Also Serve’ that I mentioned in an earlier blog post. The story means a lot to me, as it was based on my father’s time as an evacuee, so I’m delighted The Friend published it. I’ve obviously used poetic licence, but the core of the story is what happened to my father.  He's almost 87 now, but he remembers that time as if it was yesterday.

I’ve also got a story in this week’s My Weekly,  called ‘Winter’s End’. My inspiration for that story came from walking on the beach in winter, always something I love to do.  So it does just show that inspiration for stories come from just about everywhere.  Although sometimes I must admit that inspiration packs its bags and takes a holiday - I hate those times.


I've also had pick-me-up-off-the-floor EXCITING news about my novel The Cold, which, as you know from my endless posts on the subject, I’ve been blogging for Cancer Research.  I’m not sure if I can say any more than that at the moment, so better not, but I can say the news will mean I will be able to raise so much more for Cancer Research – so YAY YAY YAY.   I'll be sharing more news as soon as I can, well that's if I don't burst before that!

I’m still blogging my novel HERE if anyone would like to read it. So far I’ve raised £381 for Cancer Research – which is unbelievably AMAZING. So thank you again to everyone who has donated or helped promote my venture or helped in any way at all - you're all fantastic!








In other exciting news (as if that wasn't enough) my lovely friend Karen Clarke’s book 1 in her Beachside series is now available to buy HERE.

The Beachside Sweet Shop is a feel good rom-com, that I can vouch is a wonderful read.





Monday, 23 January 2017

Finding your voice as a writer

I admit, this old chestnut has flummoxed me since I began writing fiction nine years ago. 

I was told by my super Open University tutor, that I would need to find my voice in writing, but, even now, I don’t think I have.

Maybe it’s partly because I write short stories for magazines, and like to vary my style, depending on the magazine I’m writing for.  I’ve certainly developed a few voices for my short stories, four at last count. No, that doesn’t mean I have multiple personalities. Well I don’t think it does.

My problem with voice has extended to novels. The suspense thriller I’m editing now has a very different voice to Phototime, and in turn earlier novels I attempted had a different voice again.

Maybe with novels, it’s because I haven’t been published. I’m still trying to find a voice that captures the interest of the reader.

So it seems I’m still on a voice-discovering journey – even after all this time. It’s as though ‘the voice’ (no not the TV programme) is a bit like buried treasure I can’t find. And even if I did find it, would I recognise it?

I know I need to find a voice that makes my work unique and stand out. It needs to make the reader sit up, mute the TV, and say ‘Hang on, this is a jolly good voice, by jove.’ And not only that; they’ll recognise it next time. I need the voice to speak to the reader. I need a voice that’s individual.

No pressure there then.

Oh, and HERE’s a blog post with five steps to finding your writing voice.  

And another HERE about knowing your voice. 

Right, I'm off to have a look in the bottom of the wardrobe. I mean that’s got to be where C. S. Lewis found his voice, yes?





Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Short story inspiration

Happy 2017 everyone.

So, it’s another brand new year.  And, like many of you, I always feel it’s a time for new beginnings. So here I am, AGAIN, attempting to be a good blogger, but this time I feel more determined than ever. 

Oh yes, I do!

Sadly, I haven’t written much since then end of October. The well of inspiration dried up on me, as the ill-health of loved ones took over all my thoughts. 

But I’m determined to get those creative juices flowing again.

But how do you do that?  How do you become inspired?  What triggers a story? How, when our heads are empty of ideas, do we create a short story?

Answers on a postcard please.

In the past, I’ve found inspiration from stories based on real-life. Like a story I have coming up in The People’s Friend that was based on an incident that happened to my father when he was an evacuee in World War II.  I took that incident, and created a fictional world around it, but all the time imagined my dad as a cheeky little boy of nine, as the main character. 

Other times, I’ve heard someone, often a child, say something very funny, and used that to kick-start a story.

Pictures are great triggers. 
This smashing illustration by Ruth Blair was sent to me by The People’s Friend, and I was asked to write a story to fit it.  The story didn’t come instantly, but I kept looking at the picture, and eventually it started to fall into place. It appeared in a December 2016 issue of The Friend.

So, the thing is, I should be able to do it again. But I’ve been struggling.

But then, as I was sorting through some old postcards to scan for my local history blog, one postcard, dated June  29th 1929, caught my attention.

It was of a local river, and I turned it over to see a message addressed to a Miss Parrot.

Dear Poll,
I am having a grand time here, hope you are the same...
This place is very pretty.  I went here the other day. The weather is nice, but very windy. I am writing postcards with no hat on. Simply lovely.
With love,
Bill Brightman.



My mind started whizzing.  Was Poll her real name, or a nickname because of her surname?  Was Bill a friend?  Did he love her?  Did she love him?  Why wasn’t she with him?  Had he got dark hair? Twinkly blue eyes?  Why had he sat by the river? Was he an artist? A successful one? Who else was he sending postcards to?  Did Polly Parrot wonder that too?  Did they end up together, and live happily ever after, or was Bill a bit of a cad?

So I now have my inspiration, and a story itching to be written. I just hope I can get it down.

And I think I just need to try to remember that when that well dries up, inspiration is everywhere.