Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Springing Dad by Mary Smith

I’ve been feeling a bit of a fraud because I’ve hardly been doing any writing for ages and don’t even have a WIP which is anywhere near completion. For the last few months I have been more or less a full time carer for my dad who has dementia, which does not leave much time or emotional energy for writing a novel.

I’ve been saying for ages I will blog about this journey through dementia-land we have embarked on, so I thought I’d offer up a short extract – and you can tell me if you think people would be interested in reading such a blog (on another site, obviously).

Arrive at the hospital to find dad sitting in the chair beside his bed. He’s unshaven, hair all over the place, no dressing gown, no slippers. We are grateful he least has pyjamas on – even though they are not his own.

He has spilt his water on his bedside table and the post cards I sent from Arran, the pictures peeling from the backing card are floating about beside saturated tissues and an empty cardboard sample container. He has lifted his bare feet out of the puddle on the floor, resting them on the table leg. How long since anyone checked on him, I wonder?

Although pleased to see me, dad is agitated and fidgety. I ask if he needs to go to the toilet. He nods. “But I don’t know where it is,” he whispers. I take him to the toilet. He has an incontinence pad between his legs which causes a bit of a kerfuffle until I get him settled on the loo and leave to give him some privacy. Dad has never been incontinent, has always known when he needs to go to the loo and been capable of going so we suspect the pad is the nurses’ way of trying to make things easier for themselves.

While waiting I clean up around his bed, retrieving a sticky knife, a chip, more damp tissues. OH and I debate the orange blobby object under next door patient’s bed. “Is it an apricot?” he asks.
“Don’t be daft – they won’t get apricots in here. It’ll be jelly.” We look away.

Next Day
Orange blobby stuff still in place. Dad shaved but hair not brushed, no slippers. Specimen sample – empty – on his table. Patient next door tells me the nurse puts it there every morning, telling dad when he goes to spend a penny he should put some in the container. Does she not know he has severe dementia? She must do. She’s working on a ward for elderly patients, 90 per cent of whom have dementia. The other ten percent probably have by the time they leave.
The nurse (rank undetermined as I’m still trying to work out the colour coded uniforms) is ‘happy’ to discuss any concerns I have. That is, until she realises she can’t answer my questions and shuts down – telling me to ring the consultant’s secretary. Why do I do it? Why can’t I keep the edge of sarcasm out of my voice?

They thought it might have been a stroke which resulted in dad being unconscious on the floor one morning. His wife (the wicked step-monster) was at the garden gate waiting for Wee-sis to arrive, leaving dad out cold on the floor. At the hospital they said they would do a scan the next day – but they didn’t, still haven’t.

Doctors think it was a TIA (transient ischemic attack) – quite usual in patients with vascular dementia. There’s nothing to be done. So why not discharge him? He’s determined to come home – packs his belongings in his bag and sets off down the corridor. They usually catch him before he leaves through the swing doors. Take him back to his bed. He must walk miles!
To ‘solve’ the problem of a demented patient trying to escape, the nurses take away his belonging and his bag and hide them behind his locker – so now a confused, distraught old man is even more distraught because all his things have disappeared. This is a ward for people with dementia, staffed by people who have supposedly had some training in nursing elderly confused patients.

Nurse says he can’t go home until an assessment has been done and his care package increased. I ask her by how many hours the package would need to be increased to prevent a TIA occurring. She really hates me now.

Next day and still no assessment then it’s the weekend. Manage to speak to an OT who says she’ll call on Monday. She doesn’t and in the end I ring her – it’s a local holiday, not in today. Begin to think my dad will die in there.

Phone local social services, explain the situation to duty social worker and ask if she can’t get dad out and we can look at care package once he’s home. She agrees this sounds like a good plan, tells me she’ll call me back. Twenty minutes later, she phones – all sorted. We can collect him tomorrow and bring him home.

On a more positive note No More Mulberries received a lovely review  on April Wood’s A Well Read Woman blog which she followed with an interview.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Ironing out those verbal tics, by Jenny Harper

We all have them. One pal overuses 'Absolutely!'.  Another repeatedly describes things as 'poignant' instead of 'pertinent'. Our guide on a recent holiday used the phrase 'Ladies and Gentlemen' so often that it became teeth-grindingly irritating. (After he left the group, it became the biggest joke of the week, so there was a silver lining.)

I think we all have words and phrases we overuse when we write - the trick is to become aware of them, so that we can root them out. A former mentor pointed out that I used the word 'little' far too often. More recently, I was severely taken to task for continually inserting the word 'though' as a qualifier.

There's an amusing way of spotting such irritants. It's called Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) Simply copy your entire manuscript into the relevant dialogue box and press a button and - hey presto! - the most commonly occurring words are captured, in the exact proportion they are used, in a graphic word cloud form.

Then you can play with the result, changing the font, colour and patterns to suit yourself.

Here's the word cloud I made for my novel, Loving Susie. You'll see my three main characters there, nice and big, just as they should be. But wait a minute - there's one missing! What has happened to Jonathan, the fourth family member?

It's all right. I finally remembered that I call him, variously, Jonathan, Jon and Jonno, so each name will be a third of the size.

But the important point is that 'little' and 'though' are so insignificant that they barely feature. Phew! Then again, 'something' is worryingly large - I might have to take a look at that.

Here's a wordle of Pride and Prejudice. What was most important to Jane Austen? Well, interestingly, 'love' is small and so are 'marriage' and 'married'. And 'though' is quite prominent!

What words do you find you have to try to avoid when you're writing?

Sunday, 8 June 2014


I'm not talking the chair you're sitting in and if it's the right height and shape for you, or whether your screen is the correct distance away so as not to ruin your peepers, or that the room is warm or cool enough. Or that you have something red in one corner of the room and a leafy plant in the other for good karma and feng shui. I'm talking comfortable in what you are wearing. I find this is as important as all the above. Now, I know some writers work happily all day in their nightwear, but even the thought makes me shiver because I can hear my mother's voice in my head telling me it is slapdash to do so. She never even owned a dressing-gown because - in her opinion - it was only a short step to becoming slovenly and taking to slobbing around the house all day in it (her words). Hmmm. But if that works for you and you're comfortable then that's fine. But I can't get my mother's voice out of my head so although I don't dress as if for a wedding when I'm writing I do bear in mind someone might knock on the door unexpectedly and I wouldn't want to frighten the horses. These days I've embraced M&S jeggings as my working 'uniform'. They are stretch denim, with a deep elasticated waist, no zips or buttons to dig into your flesh as you sit. Depending on the weather I wear them (I have three pairs - faded denim, navy, and black)with a long or a short-sleeved T-shirt,or a tunic of some sort. And what's on my feet? Well, in winter it will be Ugg boots because there is no central heating in this house, and in summer I like to wear sandals.
Ah yes, summer ... and the writing of summery stories. If I'm writing a twenty-something female character then I have to think back quite some way these days to get into her head. A quicker way is to wear a strappy sundress (sans brassiere)because it makes me feel younger and more sassy and as I walk from desk to kitchen to make coffee and back again it can feel quite sexy to have the hem flapping against my calves.
And jewellery. I know some people find it irritating but I like to wear a bangle of some sort when I'm typing even though I rarely wear one when I'm out. A psychiatrist would probably have a field day with me over that one, but I find it's a confidence-boosting sort of thing to do. When I was writing RED IS FOR RUBIES (published recently by Choc Lit)I wore a ruby glass necklace my daughter made for me and a photograph of some very covetable ruby earrings pinned on the wall.
This all sounds very glamorous, does it not? Now then, I can suffer a bit with cold hands (even in summer, alas) so I always keep a pair of fingerless gloves in the top drawer of my desk. My dear sister-in-law knits them for me and because she knows I have a horror of wearing clashing colours I have them in shades to match just about everything! Prma donna? Moi?
So, I'm writing....I'm wearing the faded denim jeggings today and with it I'm wearing a peach and white spot floaty, bum length, tunic. Leather strappy sandals because - oh happy day - the sun is shining. What are you wearing to write in?

Monday, 2 June 2014

Decisions, Decisions by Gill Stewart

Christophe Dioux Wikimedia Commons

 The decisions character make are crucial to the story line.  I’ve heard creative writing tutors suggest (frequently) that getting a character to make the wrong decision is what drives the story forward.  And I agree, this can be the case.

But how many times does the character have to make a wrong decision before it is totally overdone?  I’ve started quite a few books recently and wanted to scream at them because the main character is just too stupid to be interesting.   It’s probably okay for a character to do something unwise 2 or 3 times – but endlessly?  Personally I give up, skip to near the end of the book and don’t read that author again (unless the end is stupendous, which it rarely is).

Complex girls and women with problems, yes, let’s write about those.  But ones who always choose the wrong guy, spend money they don’t have, and worry about the labels of their clothes and their figures more than their souls…  Well, personally I’ve had enough of them.  Decisions need to be made in keeping with the over-all character development, they need to be understandable and to add to the interest of the plot.  They should NOT be there as an obvious device to ‘keep things moving’ or to make sure there can be a sequel.  Above all they should not be endless repetitions of the same mistakes.

You can get great emotion, tension, interest into a book without having the characters being idiots!  A few new writers who do this successfully come to mind:  Imogen Howson (short-listed for the 2014 Young Adult Romantic Novel of the Year), Tammy Falkner’s books are great on emotion (with maybe too much sex, but obviously other people like that!). 

This is just my opinion, of course, but I think writers should try a little harder to avoid the easy route of a ‘wrong decision’ and find a more interesting (and believable) way to drive the story forward.  I wonder if you agree?