National Reading Group Day 2017! Why I LOVE my Book Club


Reading and writing are my two most favourite things to do. Ever since I can remember I’ve been at my happiest, curled up with a good book, and when the cries of my mum to ‘go outside and get some fresh air’ got too much, I’d take whatever story I was currently reading. Often I could be found sitting in the tree at the bottom of our garden, sunlight dappling the pages of whatever adventure I’d borrowed from the library.

When I was older, with a family of my own, I moved to a new area. Wanting to make some local friends, joining a reading group seemed the obvious choice. That month’s book was a dystopian novel, not a genre I’d ever choose but a few days before the meeting I eventually, reluctantly started to read and was immediately hooked. I enjoy dystopian novels – who knew?

Now I love my monthly reading group, not only for the social aspect and the fascinating and often lively discussion we have, but because it has also introduced me to new genres and authors I’d never have tried. 

I always include book group questions in the back of my books, and also on my website and there’s nothing I love more than being invited along to local groups to sit in on the discussions.

The Sister was a favourite with many book groups. Lots of secrets and moral dilemmas to talk about as well as some heartfelt expeiences on moving forward through grief.

The Gift was hugely popular with reading groups. Dealing with the unusual topic of cellular memory – the belief a transplanted organ can retain the memories of the donor – led to some interesting discussions and also raised the important topic of organ donation.

I’d love to hear what books your reading group have enjoyed.

Authors for Grenfell – Signed & dedicated copies of The Sister & The Gift

 

I don’t have to describe my distress as I watched the horror unfold at Grenfell Tower. I don’t have to describe the desperate feeling of wanting to help and not quite knowing how to. You probably felt the same.

If you haven’t already heard about Authors for Grenfell Tower it’s an online auction raising money for the British Red Cross London Fire Relief Fund, for residents affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Around 1:00 a.m. on 14 June 2017, a fire in this residential tower block in west London spread to engulf the entire building. Despite the heroic efforts of the fire service, all 120 flats in the building have been destroyed. The death toll stands at 58 and is expected to rise. Survivors have lost their homes, lost everything, and gone through unimaginable trauma.

There’s lots of incredible donations on this site already. I’ve bid on numerous books as well as donating copies of The Sister and The Gift which I will dedicate and sign to the winning bidder (you can bid for those here). Along with books there are numerous agents and editors offering manuscript and submission package critiques and offers of Skype mentoring sessions. You can check out the full list of items for auction here.

Winning auction bids will be paid directly to the British Red Cross’s relief fund for Grenfell Tower residents and neighbours:

“The charity has been asked by Kensington and Chelsea council to help co-ordinate fundraising in an appeal to support the residents and neighbours of the Grenfell Tower.

Money will be given to people affected by the fire, including those who have lost everything, to buy the things they need to give themselves and their families as much normality as they can get at this extraordinarily difficult time. 

By donating to the London Fire Relief Fund people will be able to help those who have been injured, bereaved, left destitute or traumatised by this tragedy.”

NHS Cuts, Disability Benefits & Me

 

A drastic change in my health around ten years ago sent me spiralling along a path of limited mobility and chronic pain. Raw and reeling, my mental health plummeted and subsequently I plunged into clinical depression. It was a dark time which left me feeling unable to care for myself, or my three children.

My local hospital didn’t know how best to help me and so came a frustrating and emotionally draining year of researching treatments that might help me (I found one) and then trying to get my local authority to fund it as it was outside of my local town (eventually they did).

For around the past eight years, every now and then,  I’ve undergone this quick, simple but life-changing procedure and I am so thankful for the NHS for the time and care I have been privileged enough to receive so far. Alongside this I have paid for my own physio (I didn’t get long on the NHS lists) and I’ve done everything I can possibly do to take responsibility for, and improve my health. Today, I can potter around the house, drive, nip into shops, go for short walks, my pain levels have drastically reduced and my quality of life has greatly improved. I feel like a real hands-on mum again. I no longer need to take daily medication which had been causing me horrendous side effects. Although I still use crutches sometimes and my wheelchair for days out, when I think back to ten years ago when I was unable to stand unaided or get myself in and out of the bath, my life is unrecognisable. For that I am very grateful.

Returning to the hospital last Thursday I was shocked and dismayed to be told, through no fault of the team, that due to NHS funding cuts the hospital would no longer be offering this treatment.

This post isn’t a self-pitying one – government cuts have affected most of us in one shape or form- but rather a way to unpick the tangle of emotions I am feeling right now.

Today, thanks to the improvements to my health I can work full-time. I don’t claim disability benefits, there isn’t enough to go around and there are people worse off than me, that I know. I am in the fortunate position where I work from home, make my own hours. I can change positions if my pain gets overwhelming, I can go for a lie-down when I’m feeling exhausted, I can even skip the odd day and stay in bed during bad flare ups. This I could not do in an office but I worry now, that without this relatively simple treatment, my mobility will likely decline again, my pain increase, my mental health suffer and the thought of losing my financial independence if I am no longer capable of working is a frightening thought indeed.

Slashing funding and impacting upon people’s health will surely cost more in long run; potentially driving people out of work, onto benefits, increasing the need for medication, pain killers, anti-depressants, the already flooded waiting lists for counselling will creak under the strain, and then of course there is the need to treat the often horrific side-effects these drugs can cause.

And this is what I am struggling to make sense of. The logic behind it all.

I really don’t know what the answer is. I don’t feel I am more entitled than anyone else. All I do know is at the moment, my world, the world, seems a scary and uncertain place.

Flash Fiction – We stand together

Image © J Hardy Carroll

 

My feet crunch on broken glass, tears rising quickly.

‘Why…’ I begin, but the choke in my throat holds back the rest of my words.

Afternoon sunshine streams through the window, the upended tables and chairs brushed bronze, shards of glass glint gold.

The air is heavy with dust. With loss. But underneath there is something else. Love. We fall silently into our roles, a human chain, stronger together, clearing out the rubble. At first I think nothing is salvageable but then I realise there is. Amongst the splinters of wood, the twisted metal, it is there. A tiny kernel of hope.

We stand together.

 

‘We stand together’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. This week’s prompt is topical as we all try to make sense of the senseless. My heartfelt condolences for everyone affected by the atrocities in Manchester.

Join in with the challenge over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

Flash Fiction – Broken

Image © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

I’m broken. Exhausted. Afraid. The stench of my fear is cloying, catching in my throat. The ties binding my wrists slicing deep into my flesh.

Pain. So much pain.

The shutter rattles. He’s back. I curl into a ball as though I can fold myself away.

‘It’s time.’ He drags me outside. The brightness of the sun burns my eyes.

‘Please, Sir.’ A little girl holds out a coin to the man. ‘Can I have a photo with your monkey?’

I plead with her with my eyes – save me. She doesn’t listen. No-one ever does.

She strokes my matted fur so gently I want to weep.

 

Huge apologies for not getting around to everyone’s story last week – I usually do try. Finishing the draft of book 3 took longer than expected (doesn’t it always!) but it’s off with my agent now so I get a few days rest – hurrah!

‘Broken’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A 100 word story inspired by a photo prompt. You can join in over at host, Rochelle’s blog, here.

Flash Fiction – One day…

Image courtesy of Sandra Crook

‘Writing’s a dead end job.’ The careers advisor had said. Even now, I remember the heavy feeling in my stomach as my hopes sank.

I straighten the stack of paperbacks on the table. Check there’s a spare pen.

‘There’s no money in books.’ She had said and I wish she could see me now, sitting under the ‘Bestsellers’ sign.

Outside, the queue snakes around the corner. It’s nearly time.

‘Lisa, have you finished?’ My manager snaps. ‘The author will be here in a minute.’

I scuttle back to my place behind the till, wishing again I hadn’t given up so easily.

 

My careers advisor told me writing wasn’t a viable career and sadly I listened to her and for 25 years I pushed my dreams to one side. Thankfully, in my 40’s I decided to try and write a novel and am still stunned that my first two books, The Sister and The Gift, have both been International No.1 Bestsellers, selling over 750,000 copies. It’s never too late!

‘One Day’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge, inspired by a photo prompt. You can join in over at Rochelle’s blog, here

 

 

Standing where other writers stood

 

Yesterday was my birthday and my husband wrenched me kicking and screaming away from my manuscript to visit Stoneywell, a quaint National Trust property in Leicestershire.

 

The grounds were stunning and the five bedroomed cottage was quirky and cosy. Each misshaped room had a window seat and was crammed with books. I fell in love with it the second I stepped over the threshold, even more so when I learned of the history.

Edward Phillips Oppenheim, a writer born in 1866 was a friend of the family, and wrote several of his 100 published (yes 100!!) novels at Stoneywell. I was in awe to think I was standing where he stood. Perhaps touching the very typewriter he used. (I Googled when I got home and typewriters were patented in 1829 & developed properly in 1867, so you never know).

There’s something utterly captivating about the thought of a writer, of times past, focused on their manuscript. None of the distractions of social media and marketing. It’s easy to romanticize, imagine perhaps they wrote for a morning and then went for a stroll through the gorgeous countryside before returning for tea and cake.

 

The reality was probably starkly different. This cottage was freezing and that was with the addition of central heating. Oppenheim’s fingers were probably numb, and progress perhaps slow, but that didn’t stop me begging my husband to fetch my old typewriter from the loft as soon as we got home.

 

‘I’m going to write book 4 on it.’ I declared.

‘Perhaps wait and see how you feel in the morning?’ He wisely suggested, reluctant to disappear into our roof space crammed with all the things ‘I-absolutely-might-need-one-day-but-never-have-yet.’

Today I am revelling in the luxury of my PC where I can cut and paste and listen to music at the same time, glad I don’t have to tell my publishers my next book could take years to write as I am shying away from technology. But still, I think of that cottage and it tugs at my heart strings. I shall visit again soon. The scones were too good not to!