For those of you who are new to my blog, I should explain that I am no stranger to dementia. My mother developed the vascular form during the last year of her life; I’ve spent a fair amount of time over many years (as a volunteer) with people who are living with this and other variations of the illness; attended a number of conferences on the subject; read literally dozens of books about it; and even written one myself.
Even so, this week I learned several new facts about it when I attended a course on how to manage challenging behaviours. Did you know for example that changes occur in the brains of people with dementia that make them prefer sweet things? Some delegates on the course were salivating at the very thought of a cast iron reason for skipping the main course and diving straight into dessert … two desserts maybe!
Did you also know that memories are lost in the reverse order to that in which they are gained? Which is why the person might not know what they had for lunch but they vividly remember their mum.
The course tutor was really good, using both her academic knowledge and her practical experience (she was a manager of a residential home for people who presented with challenging behaviour) to excellent effect. All the delegates present are currently employed in caring for residents in care homes in their working lives, but don’t we all know someone with memory loss and confusion at some level? So the kernel of the course is probably relevant to anyone.
The secret to successfully being alongside them without getting distressed yourself, is to remember that challenging behaviours are a form of communicating something. If we’re uncomfortable or upset by these behaviours we are not ‘getting’ what the person is trying to convey. Remember Martin Luther King‘s comment: ‘Violence is the voice of the unheard‘? We have to ‘listen’ to what’s being ‘said’ by these reactions and try to think ourselves into the shoes of the person exhibiting the things which we find challenging; to work out what might be making them feel trapped or frustrated or afraid or embarrassed etc. And isn’t understanding how people tick, why they do what they do, the stock in trade of every novelist?
For me personally there was another very salutary lesson too: there is no shame in admitting ‘defeat’. There are days when I simply can’t make any headway with a person, I can’t ‘walk in their moccasins’, and I come away feeling guilty and dejected by my own inadequacy. Better to accept gracefully that today I am not the person to be with her/him, or to do that activity with her/him, I learned. Maybe indeed I am not the person best suited to this particular resident/patient/friend at all. It’s probably nobody’s fault; merely a feature of the disease.
I’m often asked if I’m a full time writer. No. But I’m sure I’m the better for spending time walking alongside these vulnerable people who can teach me such a lot, some of which in turn feeds into my writing life.
Well, this has been a week I certainly don’t wish to repeat. More like fiction than reality. So take warning, all you bloggers out there who use images to spice up your posts. All may not be as it seems.
There was I, on Monday morning, happily typesetting Over My Dead Body, when an emailed letter arrived from a certain distributor of images. No ordinary letter, but a request – no, more of a demand with a hint of menace – for £1,537.50. Why? What for? For the use of one photo used last year on my blog … without a licence, they claimed.
And no, it wasn’t a scam. Apparently I’m one of thousands being similarly intimidated.
Now, as a writer I do understand the importance of respecting others’ creativity, but the reality is that, eleven months later, I have no recollection of exactly where I found the image in question. And I wasn’t aware that even those pictures which seem OK to use can infringe other people’s copyright further back in the chain.
Happily DJ and my publisher (whose address appears on my website although he has nothing to do with my blog, so is wholly innocent of this heinous crime) remained calm in the crisis, and by the end of the day we had researched the matter and discovered that the company in question have been pursuing large numbers of individuals and small businesses with ferocity and disproportionate demands for some time; even sending in debt collectors where people have chosen to ignore the matter. All very nasty stuff.
Some legal eagles have been so incensed by their tactics that they’ve set up websites to offer advice to victims, and it was to one of them that I turned. Within 24 hours the case was in the hands of a solicitor; within 36 hours a robust lawyerly letter had been dispatched. I do not need to live in dread of another terrifying communication; all future correspondence (if any) goes to the solicitor. Phew.
Makes me doubly appreciative of the normally gentle ways of other photo distributors. Fotolia and 123rf spring to mind. Very reasonable costs too. Or Shutterstock from whom I recently bought the image for my forthcoming book cover. A licence for a book is understandably more pricey than when the image is for a blog, but they send me weekly pictures to download free of charge too.
Then, in all the stress, desperately trying to keep other work moving, I managed to delete important material from my computer … but I won’t bore you with the sorry saga of many many hours wasted.
Sufficient to say it’s been quite an experience, but my heart rate has now settled. Sleeping patterns aren’t back to normal yet but my mind is quiet enough to return to typesetting and writing and preparing presentations as usual.
And in fairness the week hasn’t been all bad. I’ve also received i) a lovely endorsement of the new book; ii) another invitation to speak about my writing, and iii) encouraging communications from three new-to-me readers of my novels. Thank you all; you’ve no idea how much I needed those positive reinforcements this week.
Did you guess what the exciting occasion was that I referred to last time?
Yes, the Chelsea Flower Show. This was both my first visit, and Chelsea’s centenary, so very thrilling and special on all levels.
I can’t possibly do justice to something so spectacular with a few homespun photos – even a week of extensive coverage on TV hasn’t been able to do that. Everything is on such a grand scale and has to be experienced to do it full justice.
But it will (at least hopefully) give you a sense of what I was up to strolling through the stunning show gardens, looking as if they’ve been matured for a hundred years instead of created in a matter of weeks …
The floral art exhibits just blew me away, although, as with books, likes and dislikes are partially subjective, and I didn’t always share the judges’ preferences …
I returned to the weekend of the Edinburgh Marathon – another first, as I was cheering on my son and son-in-law (their first time competing too.) Both finished the course, so hearty congratulations all round. I am so impressed by the sheer stamina and dedication of all the 29,000 people who trained quietly and painfully, pushing themselves to their limit on the day, and gave so much to good causes.
All this excellence puts my little world very much into perspective.
Well, here it is – the most exciting development of the week: my new book cover, designed by Tom Bee. Many many thanks, Tom. I love it.I wanted to end this week’s blog right there, but then thought you might feel mildly short-changed, as Over My Dead Body‘s cover won’t thrill you in the same way it does me. Which led me to think about the whole notion of brevity.
As writers we’re always encouraged to be succinct. My editor’s catchphrase was, ‘I want you to lose X thousand words’. So we spend weeks, months, years even, revising, paring, editing our precious manuscripts, looking at each phrase and sentence to see if it’s earning its keep.
A few literary journals actually invite readers to submit flash fiction; a brief passage which tells a whole story. Some indeed stick in the mind. One I read years ago touched a cord for me: For Sale: Baby bootees. Never worn.
And I heard recently of a Scottish woman in Peterhead, a Mrs Reid, who was newly widowed. She went in to put a short obituary in the local paper and was rather scandalised to find it cost £5 a word. There and then she made her decision: Reid. Deid. Peterheid. ‘That’ll be £35,’ she was told. She remonstrated: ‘You said £5 a word.’ ‘Ah, but there’s a minimum charge of £35.’ Back she went to the drawing board and soon emerged with her revised obituary: Reid. Deid. Peterheid. Volvo for Sale.
Have a fun week. I have great things planned, of which more next time.
It’s Christian Aid week so lots of extra fundraising activities to shoehorn into the daylight hours … time for a Blue Peter moment methinks. And the-one-I-made-earlier? A post about an easy-to-read book which includes heart-warming tales of good animal- and land-husbandry. Appropriate in this week when we’re all working to relieve the hunger of 870 million people around the world. (Sorry – I’ve just noticed the superfluity of hyphens!)
She has, of course, got plenty of tales to relate, having lived a colourful and exciting life: first as the youngest of the six famous and scandal-ridden Mitford sisters, and then as Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (since 2004, Dowager Duchess). I’ve heard her speak in the flesh at the Edinburgh International Book Festival too, and she’s most engaging, with highly irregular and forthright views, so I had high hopes for her written word too. She’s known great tragedy as well as huge celebrity, but what I didn’t know before I looked her up for this blog, was that she lost four of her seven children (as babies). What heartache.
She gets you on her side from the outset, admitting to struggling long and hard with her opening sentence. She consults others, listens to advice from writing tutors, but is still so exercised by it that she concludes: ‘As 50,000 books are published every year the first sentences must add hugely to the level of anxiety in an already anxious race.’ What author could resist?
Though enormously privileged herself, she clearly applauds humility and down-to-earth-ness within her class. I loved the story of her mother-in-law (the previous Duchess) and her friend, the Duchess of Rutland, who arrived at a Dior collection in Paris in ‘their tweed overcoats, which had done years of war service, and ditto shoes‘. They were refused entry. Although they were disappointed, they were not surprised, and calmly ‘sat on a bench eating their sandwiches to pass the time till they could decently return to the embassy where they were staying.’
And Deborah (Debo to her friends) Devonshire has no truck with humbug or pretentiousness herself. ‘I buy most of my clothes at agricultural shows, and good stout things they are. Much better than the strange looking garments in desperate colours at £1,000 each in the Knightsbridge shops.‘
After a mild lament about the uselessness of knocking old ladies to the ground and snatching their handbags, she writes: ‘I pity the thief when it’s my turn. My bag is positively septic inside,so if he’s got any sense he will wear one of those things that dustmen and dentists cover their noses with when delving into unpleasantness. He will find handfuls of tiresome credit cads sliding about in their meaningless way, heaps of copper coins which don’t even buy a newspaper, unanswered letters of top priority, combs in variety, scissors, rubber bands, an Old Age Pensioner’s railway card and Biros without tops which all help to make it filthy.’
She never went to school or sat an exam; nevertheless she takes a keen interest in everything from dry stone walling, wild edible fungi, floral art, fine wine, architectural fashions, gardening, chickens, courtesy, through to bread making, and writes engagingly about them all. Indeed, she’d be high on my list of people-I’d-most-like-to be-sat-next-to-at-a-banquet.
Though she was born ‘The Honourable Deborah’, to a minor aristocratic English family, in a large property with many servants, she was taught from an early age the value of work. ‘My sisters and I were brought up close to the land. We knew it from the sharp end – trying to augment our meagre pocket money by keeping hens and goats and selling their produce to our long-suffering mother. She had a real chicken farm whose slender profit paid our governess.‘ And it’s clear from her writing (and from Chatsworth) that she has a keen understanding of animal husbandry. Indeed she was so appalled that children today know so little of where their food comes from, that it inspired her to create the famous farmyard at Chatsworth, the forestry demonstrations, and the gamekeepers’ plot. But having been raised herself on milk, cream and butter from Guernsey cows that failed the tuberculin test, she has continued to lament the rigorous rules that prohibit sharing the natural products of the farm without certificates and testing and outside scrutiny and sterilisation and pasteurisation and all the other ‘isations’. And as Duchess, she has taken great delight in defying regulations, using what her mother called ‘unmurdered foods‘ for her own household.
Not only impatient with the petty rules and regulations imposed for ‘health and safety reasons’, she also has a great sense of the ridiculous. The written criticism levelled at floral art exhibitors leaves her cringing: ‘I would give up after spending hours trying to shove a lily and a fern into yards of velvet, bits of glass or a straw teddy bear, only to find the judge’s note saying: “A good attempt but you should try to be flatter in front”, or “a pity there is a crease in your base”. Difficult for some lady competitors to obey the first directive and impossible for anyone to comply with the second.‘
And speaking of the beautiful old churches she knows and has frequented, she slips in a lovely parenthesis: ‘The feel, smell and taste of the oak pews at Swinbrook (I suppose that all children lick pews under cover of praying for their guinea-pigs) are not the same as those at Edensor.‘
Lamenting the habit weekend guests have of appropriating one’s books, she tells with some relish of her sister whose books carried a message on their plates: ‘This book was stolen from Bryan and Diane Guinness.’
The least enjoyable part of this short but thoroughly entertaining book is her penultimate section on Books and Company. As she says herself: ‘I have read very few books and I have minded finishing them so much that I have often vowed not to start another.‘ And it shows. But even here she redeems herself by happily linking her limited reading to her own experiences as an unusual home-taught child, a duchess running a stately home, a ‘shopkeeper’ attracting customers, a chatelaine overseeing innumerable priceless artefacts.
A must-read for anyone who visits Chatsworth House.
St Oswald’s is a select private school for boys in the north of England. An air of privilege and mystery surrounds and protects this august establishment with its giant sign:
NO UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY BEYOND THIS POINT
It forms a wonderful setting for Joanne Harris‘ book, Gentlemen and Players, which I’ve had on my shelves for ages and only just got around to reading. We had one beautiful hot and sunny day on Tuesday this week and I simply couldn’t bear to waste it indoors (after all this might just turnout to be our summer), so I indulged myself with a long read in the garden.
The book is divided like a chess game with the teacher as a white king and the adversary as a black pawn, each moving cautiously across the chequered board, the events of fifteen years earlier colouring the experience of the present, and driving them both towards a fearful and tense chapter of consequences.
The white king
Ex-Head of Classics, Roy Straitley, ‘once in charge of a thriving section of respectful menials’, now a department in himself, ‘relegated to a dusty corner of the new Languages section, like a rather dull first edition no one quite dares to throw away’, is approaching his sixty-fifth birthday and his hundredth term teaching there.
Straitley is an eccentric bachelor who’s devoted his life to this school. He is under no illusions, describing himself as ‘about as unsightly … as you’re likely to find out of captivity‘, aware of the boys’ nickname for him: ‘Quaz‘ – short for Quasimodo in his Bell Tower. But he knows too, that ‘his boys‘ respect and admire him, and hold him in real affection. He’s finding the prospect of imminent retirement daunting, but is beginning to accept that the new world of paperwork and Information Technology is leaving him too far behind. Boys though, he understands, and his skill with maintaining order and extending pastoral care is legendary.
The black pawn
Aged nine, the adversary, then an under-privileged child, gazed with curiosity and longing at the huge sign which put St Oswald’s out of bounds for all except the chosen ones whose parents could afford its advantages.
Nevertheless the desire to be part of this elite society was strong enough to drive the pawn child to extraordinary lengths to be accepted and noticed.
AlI I wanted, you see, was to belong. Abbey Road Juniors had been shabby and rundown, a failing tribute to sixties liberalism. But Sunnybank Park was infinitely worse. I took regular beatings for my leather briefcase (everyone that year was carrying Adidas bags); for my contempt of sports; for my smart mouth; for my love of books; for my clothes; and for the fact that my father worked at that posh school (it didn’t seem to matter that he was only the caretaker).
The young Julian Pinchbeck, in his stolen or appropriated uniform, was astonished at how easily this coveted world could be infiltrated, wandering the corridors unchallenged, unearthing secrets, learning hiding places, befriending loners, and hoodwinking teachers, all with a ‘feeling of delicious trespass‘. As he grew bolder so he came to realise that amongst 1,000 boys all dressed alike, ‘my face was nondescript to the point of invisibility.’ He dared more and the air of ‘genteel decrepitude‘ which ‘whispers tradition to the fee-paying parents‘ offered a highly respectable backdrop for an increasingly bizarre masquerade.
From the outset we know that the black pawn – whether nine or twenty-four – is testing boundaries and has little respect for authority and rules:
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past fifteen years, it’s this; that murder is really no big deal. It’s just a boundary, meaningless and arbitrary as all others – a line drawn in the dirt. Like the giant NO TRESPASSERS sign on the drive to St Oswald’s, straddling the air like a sentinel.
When the student becomes a teacher in the same school fifteen years later, the past sets a scene for an even more macabre and fiendish series of events, driven by revenge, which lead to tragedy and threaten to bring the school to its knees.
This book is most cleverly plotted and structured. The author has a mastery of language – I loved ‘Mrs Knight swept out in a fusillade of heels‘, and ‘the November wind snickering and sobbing along the broad boulevard‘. She also conveys an understanding of the world of teaching (she taught modern languages in a boys’ independent school for 15 years herself) which lends a satisfying sense of authenticity. One feels safe in her hands. She beautifully captures the petty rivalries and disputes, the power struggles and crises of school life – both amongst the boys and in the staff Common Room. She gently mocks the language of tradition – the Refectory, the Honours Board, Old Centurions, the Third Master. She doesn’t bother to translate her Latin phrases; Mr Straitley, ‘Sir‘, wouldn’t have done so. She alludes to classic events and characters without explanation: at St Oswald’s such references would be part of the inheritance of all its properly educated boys.
It’s hard to review this book without inadvertently giving away too much, so I won’t do much more than say it’s well worth reading for yourself. It’s a psychological thriller but it doesn’t drag the soul down into dark depressing places. It’s a tale of obsession and revenge, but it carries the reader along on an entertaining and often humorous journey. It keeps a twist in the tale secret till the end, so cunningly devised indeed that I didn’t guess it until a few pages before Straitley. But once I knew it, I wanted to go back to the beginning and revel in the skill which had allowed Harris to write so clearly and engagingly without revealing such a fundamental truth.
Masterly, rich in character, and thoroughly engaging. And much better than her foody books, in my opinion.
My current novel, Over My Dead Body, centres around a family traumatised by the sudden death in a car crash of a young mum of only 35 and her toddler daughter, so I’ve been much preoccupied with grief this past year – or rather how to write effectively about it without sending my readers into a morbid depression. So I was in the mood for The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler.
I must confess I wasn’t much taken by Digging to America by the same author, but a friend who knows my tastes pretty well gave me The Beginner’s Goodbye to read, so I was intrigued enough to give her a second go.
The hero and narrator, Aaron Woolcott, is six feet four and a rather flawed but endearingly self-mocking character. He also drags his right leg, has a folded right hand, and walks with a noticeable list. Oh, and he stutters. In his head his words flow smoothly, but in reality ‘I sounded like a breaking-up cell-phone call.’ I’m on his side immediately!
His wife, Dorothy, is eight years older, Hispanically dark, plump, dowdy, with few social graces and no domestic skills. Great stuff, a totally atypical heroine too. She’s only five feet one, so ‘when Dorothy and I hugged, all the wrong parts of us met.’ But Aaron loves her and was drawn to her precisely because she won’t fuss over him. So when an old oak tree falls on their house just when they’ve each gone away to sulk after a ‘stupid argument’ about tea and biscuits, and she dies, aged only 43, he is devastated.
‘I felt as if I’d been erased, as if I’d been ripped in two.’
Tyler’s ability to capture the effect of such a loss is brilliant. Using masterly understatement, she homes in on the little things that irritate – people over-using Aaron’s name, insisting on checking up on him, inundating him with food for which he must write thank you notes, their preoccupation with trivial things.
She doesn’t shirk the propensity to look back with regret, at all the what ifs – especially, what if Aaron had gone to find the biscuits Dorothy had wanted and sat with her in the kitchen while she ate them? That way she wouldn’t have been in the sun porch on her own when the tree came down.
Ideas as well as words seem stripped of sentiment and yet somehow in their very ordinariness they convey the pain and sadness. Listen for example to Aaron finding out his wife is dead:
‘The shoes arrived in front of me on a Wednesday afternoon. I knew it was Wednesday because the paper on the chair beside mine had a color photo of a disgusting seafood lasagna. (Wednesday always seems to be food day, for newspapers.) The shoes were clogs. Black leather clogs. That’s what the hospital staff tended to wear, I’d observed. Very unprofessional-looking. I raised my eyes. It was a male nurse; I knew him. Or recognised him, I mean. From other occasions. He’d been one of the kind ones. He said, “Mr. Woolcott?”
“Why don’t you come with me.”
I stood up and reached for my cane. I followed him through the door and into the ICU. It wasn’t time for a visit yet. I had just had my visit, not half an hour before. I felt singled out and privileged, but then also a little, I don’t know, apprehensive.
The cords and hoses had been removed and she lay uncannily still. I had thought she was still before, but I had had no idea. I had been so ignorant.’
There is now no one with whom he can share his deepest emotions.
‘That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with.’
But gradually Aaron starts to pick up the threads of life again, although he feels a sort of heartlessness about going for his annual dental check up, or buying new socks, or sitting in team meetings at work, and it doesn’t take much to plunge him back into the abyss.
‘… it’s like the grief has been covered over with some kind of blanket. It’s still there, but the sharpest edges are … muffled, sort of. Then, every now and then, I lift a corner of the blanket, just to check, and – whoa! Like a knife! I’m not sure that will ever change.’
After the initial shock has passed he starts to detect Dorothy’s presence – her warmth behind him in the checkout line, her distinctive scent of isopropyl alcohol (she’s a doctor) and Ivory soap; the sweat on her top lip, her clumsiness.
We stroll along beside them matching Aaron’s uneven gait as he sneaks glances at his untidy wife with her ubiquitous uncoordinated satchel, listens to her talking about the way she felt about him, or stands perfectly still, afraid any movement would make her disappear. Annoyed when everyone else seems to ignore her? We hover alongside him near the edges of a kind of insanity, the kind that can indeed characterise profound grief.
Initially Dorothy’s return makes his soul sing again, and he develops the knack of ‘learning to see her’, but he’s torn between the imagined and the old reality.
‘With Dorothy’s visits, though, it had been different. I had glided through my sentences effortlessly, because I had spoken just in my thoughts. And she had understood my thoughts. It had all been so easy.
Except now I wanted the jolts and jags of ordinary life. I wanted my consonants interrupting my vowels as I spoke, my feet stubbing hers as we hugged, my nose bumping hers as we kissed. I wanted realness, even if it was flawed and pockmarked.’
More than that, the author and narrator gradually allow us to glimpse the tensions and subtleties and emotions within a strangely ill-suited marriage, without the respectful gloss that conventionally follows death. Aaron is staggered to find that even now he gets mad with Dorothy. And it takes time for him to acknowledge that being married to her was difficult: they were always ‘out of sync’, and to allow himself to remember ‘that familiar, weary, helpless feeling, the feeling that we were confined in some kind of rodent cage, wrestling together doggedly, neither one of us ever winning.’
What’s the secret of Tyler’s success in this book? It’s partly her deceptive simplicity. She manages to gather together the everyday threads of human communication and emotion, and unravel what it is that makes relationships the flawed and complex things they are. Impressive skill. And could it also help that she’s experienced loss herself – she’s a widow in her 70s?
In spite of my admiration for her obvious writing talent, I do have mixed reactions to the happy ending. OK, it will cheer those who find unresolved issues troubling. And granted it does serve to convey the gradual progression of moving through grief: Aaron starts to see other people in three dimensions again and appreciate them more fully than he ever did before. So I’ll allow her that. But for me personally it’s too neat, too predictable.
It’s five years now since my novel Right to Die was published. In the run up to publication day I fretted when news stories related to this issue appeared. Would they steal my thunder and make it look as if I was jumping on someone else’s bandwagon?
How absurd. Here we are in 2013 and the subject continues to grab the attention of reporters and the public. Only this week the case of Paul Lamb, a 57-year-old man who’s been paralysed for the past 23 years after a road accident, hit the headlines. He’s taken up the campaign (initiated by Tony Nicklinson and discussed here) to legalise assisted death. He too is unable to do the act himself but wants any doctor who helps him to be immune from prosecution.This issue isn’t going away any time soon and Right to Die is as relevant today as it was in 2008.
Whenever and wherever one contemplates slow deterioration and indignity, pain and suffering, the prospect is horrific. It doesn’t take much imagination to see why a swift end to it all might seem preferable. How to live through the process and achieve a good death is the question.
But speaking of death, I was hugely impressed by best selling novelist Iain Banks‘ recent wry announcement about his own impending demise. As he stated on his website: ‘I am officially Very Poorly.’ He is. He has inoperable gall bladder cancer with numerous secondaries and doesn’t expect to live beyond a few months. His current novel will be his last and his publishers are rushing it through to give him a sporting chance of seeing it hit the shelves. He adds with the sort of ghoulish humour which is helping him deal with this tough situation, ‘I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow.’ The style and language of a brave man and a truly accomplished writer.
My own mark will be infinitessimal compared with his but I still worry about the impact of my books and the timing of their publication: the subjects I deal with do have their moment in the headlights. I couldn’t believe it when last week the press picked up on the fact that organ donation rates had risen significantly. and splashed it everywhere in capital letters. And blow me, the topic even came up in fiction in BBC1′s medical drama Holby City, with the death of a young doctor during brain surgery. She’d requested her organs be used and there was a dispute in the family. Hey, that should all have come after Over My Dead Body was published, not while it’s in the starting blocks!
But supply is still falling way below demand when it comes to human organs so all is not lost yet. Indeed, I doubt it will ever be too late to publish a book about transplantation in my life time.
‘What does not kill you, makes you stronger.‘ We’ve all heard it. You might even have had it fired at you, or worse still, directed it at someone else in an effort to bolster their resilience in the face of trouble. As you’ll also probably know, it was the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who originally penned it.
But just over a year ago a bunch of US scientists from Buffalo university reckoned they could supply scientific evidence that there was more than a grain of truth in this aphorism. Not surprisingly they found that major traumatic experiences – bereavement, assault and cataclysmic natural disasters – were more damaging than beneficial. However, a certain amount of adversity was more healthy than a stress-free life. Their theory was that negative experiences encourage the development of coping mechanisms for life and strengthen the bonds of social networks.
What d’you reckon? True for you?
Me, I’m hanging onto that thought as I grapple with various stresses in my own life at the moment. They, and competing demands on my time and energies, have been getting in the way of work this week, so it’s something of a miracle that I have any progress to report. But yes, things are moving. The manuscript of my current novel, Over my Dead Body, is now finished (wahey!), I’ve agreed terms with the cover designer, and I’ve started to approach reviewers – time now to finalise those last big decisions about publication.
Life certainly has a habit of surprising us. I mean, who’d have thought bombs would disrupt a harmless marathon, whereas Baroness Thatcher’s funeral would pass off without obvious disruptive incident, in the same week. Lessons to be learned there, I’m sure.