Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The grey-haired muse

A much-loved grandmother leaves behind a precious legacy. My own one passed away a few years ago, but every so often I honour her memory by rehearsing stories in my head. I run through some of her own anecdotes as well as odd recollections from when I was growing up, like her sitting on the terrace in her Ibiza home, chatting to my uni friends about Brad Pitt, with her legs hanging over the arm of a chair. Such rituals keep her close.

Emma Clark Lam and author Joy Rhoades
Me and Joy Rhoades at her book launch in London
"We sense the dead have a vital force still," said novelist Hilary Mantel yesterday, as she delivered a Reith Lecture on Radio 4. "They have something we need to understand. Using fiction and drama, we try to gain that understanding."

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Chemo stories

Three years ago writer Ali S was due a mammogram. "I almost didn't go," she says. "At the time, I thought I really haven't got time for this."

Alison Stodolnic, survivor of breast cancer
Ali: 'Talking and sharing makes people feel better'
Fortunately a friend talked her into going. It turned out she had a tumour in her breast and a potentially aggressive form of cancer. Six treatments of chemotherapy followed, three weeks apart, in the autumn of 2014. 

"I was unlucky to be diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46 and unlucky that I had to go through the gruelling process of chemotherapy," she says. "I was lucky that my cancer was discovered very early, I had access to the medical treatment I needed, and I had love and support coming at me from all corners of my world."

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

School reunion

Nothing quite prepares you for a journey into your own past. Last weekend I caught the 08:42 train to Cheltenham and travelled back in time to an all-girls boarding school that was my home from the age of 11 to 18. It was my first visit back in 25 years - a great deal had changed and yet so much remained the same.

Shauna and I outside our old boarding house in 2017...
After leaving school in 1992, I spent most of my early twenties feeling a vague sense of emancipation, having escaped the rules and regulations of institutional life. Ever since, I have cast my school days in a slightly negative light, partly to entertain new friends but also because boarding took its emotional toll. So when a school reunion was mooted earlier this year, my eagerness to go back took me by surprise. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Writing in bloom

Life has overtaken the blog recently. Which is a good thing, I suppose! Anyway, lots has happened over the last month or so. My main piece of news is that I have signed up to do a creative writing course with the literary agent, Curtis Brown.

Flowers and books: two of my favourite things!
I a hit a blip with my novel-in-progress back in January and decided that I needed help (or possibly a new job). Assistance came in the form of an email advertising a six-month online course. I decided this was make-or-break for my writing career (like to raise the stakes for myself) and applied for a place.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Becoming Jane-ites in Bath

As a family, we have hit that magical sweet spot where the kids are becoming interested in the same kind of stuff as the grown-ups. In other words, we have managed to successfully mould them in our own image, which makes holiday excursions a tad more scintillating. No more soft-play areas for us!

Roman Baths, Bath
The original Roman Baths
Over half term, we booked a few days in the elegant city of Bath, staying in Jane Austen's former home at 4 Sydney Place. The author lived there with her parents from 1801-1805, before the death of her father forced them into cheaper accommodation. 

I should explain that the house has since been turned into holiday flats by Bath Boutique Stays and that we occupied 'Mr Darcy's Apartment' on the second floor. The prospect of treading the same flagstones as one of my literary heroines proved oddly thrilling! Each morning, I enjoyed imagining her journeying forth with her parasol and her bonnet, and a little Austen sass.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Scared? Moi?

Something about the dreary weather at this time of year makes me feel more anxious than usual about life. When it rains for days on end, I want to batten down the hatches and stay safely at home. Despite this seasonal bout of cowardice, however, I have managed to conquer a few fears lately. It took a bit of effort, but I feel better for being on the other side of the tunnel.
© Lineartestpilot | Dreamstime.com

Last Friday, I found myself talking about the weather as I lay on a bed, knicker-less, waiting for a complete stranger to torment me with a weird plastic tool and a spatula. Yup, it was time for the dreaded smear test. Even the very words 'smear' and 'test' are enough to make me feel queasy. Better to think of it as a cervical screening test.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Time for pain

Christmas with all its excesses becomes the last stop on the route to self-improvement. This seasonal splurge seems designed to usher in a period of self-disgust, exacerbated by too many puddings / presents / cheese / glasses of Irish cream. As the decorations come down, you long to emerge like a butterfly from the Christmas-chrysalis with a cleaner body and a purer purpose. January inevitably becomes the anointed month to slough off the extra pounds, change your ways and build a brighter, better future.

Orange butterfly on a paving stone
Emerging from the excesses of Christmas...
As human beings, it seems we need structure, if only to keep the messy amorality of life in check. With the start of a new year, resolutions provide a roadmap to a new, improved self. Often such resolutions require discipline and self-denial, but all of us know a little bit of pain is the price you pay for a higher pleasure. Structure equals control over laziness, small addictions (in my case, chocolate) and other character defects.