Hazel McHaffie

Blackwell’s Bookshop Edinburgh

We’re all in this together

Portobello Book Festival It’s Saturday. It’s raining. Where am I? Yep, at the Portobello Book Festival. Why? Cos I’ve been invited to take part in an event about dementia. (Hardened visitors to this blog will know about my novel on the subject: Remember Remember.)

Today I’m sharing the spotlight with a poet, a doctoral student, and a campaigner. Could be interesting. In the chair is Alison Summers who, as part of a PhD in Creative Writing, has recently written a novel about a young person with dementia (she’s currently on the hunt for an agent). She has the job of firing the questions and keeping us all to time – not easy as it transpires!

On the panel? Tommy Whitelaw who went from being part of a global merchandising operation for the Spice Girls, Kylie and U2 (yep, really!), to being a full-time carer for his mother when she developed vascular dementia. He’s currently touring the country campaigning for better care and understanding of the condition. He’s here to talk about his personal experience, not his brush with fame. Next to him is John Killick, who’s spent decades helping people with dementia express their creativity, the results of which are captured in his recent book, Positive Dementia. He’s one of life’s natural listeners and he’s still kept busy promoting improved ways of caring in all sorts of places. And then there’s me.

Ahah. The introductions establish a common thread: all three panel members have been working actively in the dementia world, using the spoken word, as well as the written – fact as well as fiction – to help raise awareness of the condition and the issues around it.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that, though we all come from different backgrounds and different disciplines, and we weren’t in cohoots beforehand, a concerted message comes across:  the importance of properly listening to people with dementia and their carers; listening to what they say and what they can only express through their body language or music or even silence. Care based on that kind of compassionate listening will be truly person-centred, respectful and sensitive. The kind of care we would all want for our loved ones.

Cross inside churchThis cross just inside the Old Parish Church (the venue for the session) seems entirely apposite.  Sensitive, responsive care is a form of love for our fellow man.

Blackwell's van








Good to see friends from Blackwell’s Bookshop there too with piles of my novels. It still gives me a thrill to see those 3-for-2 stickers on them.

As I walk away from Portobello I’m reminded of Sigmund Freud: One must not be mean with the affections; what is spent of the fund is renewed in the spending itself.

PS. Remember this?

Iron railings

Well, voilà!

Black railings

In spite of the rain and the professional engagements and the time spent with lovely ladies with dementia and all the sundries of everyday life, after four coats of paint, those endless endless railings and gates are now finally FINISHED! Hurrah!! And the tedium of the job gave me oodles of time to plot my talk – this time about Over my Dead Body. Another tick on the to-do list.


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An atypical day

Hmmm. Tuesday was such an atypical day I think I’ll tell you about it – the highlights anyway, not the humdrum bits.

5am. Awake soon after 5 (habitual these days).

7am. Still dark as I plough through the streets on my pre-breakfast power-walk, making it all the more surprising to be hailed from across the road by a man walking a beautiful white dog resembling a ghostly wolf. We’ll call him (the man, not the hound), Mr A, since I didn’t get his permission to mention him. Over my Dead BodyApparently he’d attended a talk I’d given before Christmas in the local library, with his friend, K, and they’d both since then read Over My Dead Body and given copies to friends as gifts. Mr A gives me an update on K’s progress since his second kidney transplant; not too encouraging sadly.

It’s so good to get feedback from real people like this who are living through the experiences I write about in my fiction: knowing they endorse my work means a lot. I’m frozen by the time we stop chatting, but move on with a positive spring in my step.

9am onwards throughout the working day. Catch up on writerly reading – back copies of The Author principally, revelling in the realistic opinions of my colleagues who see beyond superficial excitement of a published book to the daily challenges and struggles and disappointments. Such shared experiences are immensely reassuring. 

11.30 am. Receive bouquet of flowers for forthcoming evening from my publisher. Wow! Totally unexpected but much appreciated.Flowers

1pm. Send off a card to William in Northern Ireland who’s been staying in touch and vigorously promoting my book over there. His mum contacted me a few days ago to say he’s finally had a kidney transplant after waiting 16 years. I’ve never met him but I’m sharing the excitement. Get well soon, William.

5.45pm. Off to Blackwell’s Bookshop in the city centre for a 6.30pm author event. Window sign at Blackwell's

Events coordinator, Ann Landmann, has everything ready in good time and sets a lovely relaxed tone. As does the chairperson, Dr Patricia Jackson, who is very professional and enthusiastic.

The bookish setting


The audience are fully engaged and ask good questions. Plenty of buzz around the books and wine afterwards and I’m not stranded at the signing table! Plus I get several invitations/suggestions for future events.Books and wine

This day reminds me why I do what I do on all the unsung solitary days.


Better yet, the following day I receive several calls and emails from folk saying the event and book have made them think again about donation. Now, that’s what I call a result!

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