Hazel McHaffie

Book Week Scotland

Out of left field

Well, this was a first, and it taught me a useful lesson.

I’m a great believer in thorough preparation. Whatever the occasion. Could be a sign of insecurity … or obsessive tendencies … or whatever, I don’t know. But I need to feel in command of the situation, in order to relax into the actual event. When it comes to speaking appointments, I do my homework, try to be totally to grips with my material, have a clear structure and aim in my head, blend humour into serious material, and make sure I’m respecting the parameters of the commission. Even so, mishaps do happen. I remember once, years ago, being unable to use my slides at a big conference because the feet on their carousel had melted! Ever after I carried my own. And another occasion where a lady in the audience became unconscious and caused a major incident.  But this week a very different unexpected event came out of left field.

As part of Book Week Scotland, I’d been invited to our local library to talk about my writing life and latest publication. Our local librarians are lovely enthusiastic people, so thank you, I should enjoy doing that. I love the fact that libraries use my work in their bookclubs. And it should be a breeze – if I hadn’t got that information at my fingertips, I was in the wrong job! Well, it should have been …

First hiccup – a streaming cold out of the blue two days before it. I went into overdrive with medicaments and positive thinking, snatched sleep and distraction therapies. I’d protect my throat by keeping silent most of the day beforehand. I’d take the car to the library instead of irritating my fragile chest with cold air. So, when I stood up to speak, no one would have suspected the battle I’d had to reach that point.

Next hiccup – a mere five minutes in, the fire alarms started up. Speaking above that level of decibels would strain the hardiest of vocal chords! But the librarian indicated to continue, it’d just be a false alarm, and went out to investigate … only to return with the instruction the building was to be evacuated, the fire brigade were on their way. Freezing temperatures outside, chatting in the icy air … I could feel my raw throat and chest palpably tightening. It took a further twenty minutes for the fire crew to arrive, pin down the problem, and let us back in. Twenty minutes to outwardly respond to conversation with all those hardy souls prepared to wait and not abandon ship (all of them!), whilst inwardly revising the structure and content of my talk. Mercifully it was completely without notes or slides so there was no need to do anything physical, and since no one else knew what I’d planned to cover, they were quite unaware of the mental gymnastics to accommodate the changed time frame.

A salutary lesson for me: you can never be totally prepared for all eventualities; accept vicissitudes with good grace. And useful reinforcement of a piece of advice given to me very early on in my speaking career: ‘if you’re feeling out of your depth, at least look the part!’

 

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Spinning out of control …

Eebie jeebie! Life’s on a steep slope and gathering frightening momentum this week. Where are the brakes …? Anyone seen the safety nets?

Path to Straiton Pond

Outside, hard frosts have made works of incredible beauty out of ordinary spiders’ webs around here, and I couldn’t help but feel an affinity with them. Unbelievably strong, amazingly intricate, yet so fragile if touched carelessly. A bit like the ideas the brain conjures up in creative mode. So, why is the writing life more than usually frenetic at the moment?

Well, to begin with it’s Book Week Scotland; I’m doing a couple of author events locally for that. Lovely to go out there and meet real live people who read my books, and want to know about why and how I do what I do, and wonderful librarians who are so enthusiastic and dedicated to their task of encouraging reading, but space needs to be found to prepare mentally for each one.

Web wrapped around finialI’m also writing not one, not two, but three books simultaneously right now. Three, do I hear you shriek? Yep, three. Completely unprecedented, as regular followers will know. Madness, probably. So why break my own rules?

Well, Christmas is fast approaching, so I absolutely MUST complete the grandchildren’s annual story/play due to be enacted on 28 December to a full house. I need to order props and make costumes before then, and allow for postal hiatuses, so first I have to finalise the text to be sure about what I still need/want. In spare moments, and by way of light relief, I’m also making monster heads – details are top secret (suffice to say that hair and glitter and strange white particles linger stubbornly in the warp and weft of certain carpets). And one whole room is definitely off limits to all, no exceptions.

Frosted cobwebThen my ongoing novel, Killing me Gently, mustn’t be allowed to lose momentum. Pleased to say I’m still with the thriller genre on that one. However, as a safety valve, I’m letting the back burner dictate the pace of this book at the moment, only sitting down to actually commit words to the document when they’re too insistent to ignore, or jotting down thoughts that wake me in the night.

Web tailored to fence postAnd the third book? It’s brand spanking new, jostling for attention at crazy o’clock, keeping me at the desk long past the witching hour. It’s got a working title of Listen and is designed as a shorter story in my usual vein (contemporary fiction set in the world of medical ethics) which can be offered as a free download to give potential new readers a window into my books. I’m having a ball writing this! It’s about a Professor of Medical Ethics who goes on a train journey from Aberdeen to Penzance where a crisis awaits her … I now know some amazing statistics about high speed trains! And about atrocious experiments performed on black people in the 50s in America. Intrigued? Watch this space.

I keep reminding myself … this is all entirely self inflicted!

 

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Book Week Scotland

Well, that’s Book Week Scotland over for another year, and my own part in it was great fun.

Poster in the libraryThe library was looking very colourful with rainbow posters and plenty of displays and the librarian somehow managed to offer everyone who came a hot drink as they arrived – a lovely touch on a cold dark November evening. I was talking about Over My Dead Body and organ donation, and the audience were brilliant – very engaged with the practical and moral issues as well as the literary ones. I threw out a few challenges during my introductory talk and the responses came thick and fast in the open session. It always gives me a real buzz having folk talking about the topics in my books. – in this case, about the difficulty of giving eyes … about the difference between donating one’s own organs compared with those of your child … about cellular memory (where people believe characteristics of the donor are passed on through the tissues) … about who should or should not get organs …

I learned afterwards that there were several nurses in the audience but they kept a very low profile. However, one man who’d had an organ transplant himself, bravely shared some of his thinking and experience in open debate. Fantastic. And one-to-one discussion continued over the book signings which always pleases me. It’s lovely to actually meet the people who read my books.Signing booksThanks everyone.

As I post this blog there’s a ferocious storm raging across Scotland so stay safe out there.

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A little bit of this, a little bit of that

It’s been a funny old week. Muddly and dotty with lots of different balls in the air. All totally eclipsed by the devastation in the Philippines, of course, but life here has to go on, so a quick resume for those who asked me to give glimpses into the life of a writer.

Biggest achievement? Finishing writing the annual Christmas story/play for the grandchildren (which they act out as I narrate). I can’t divulge any details or give you any sneaky peeks lest I incur the wrath of my family who like it to be a complete surprise on the day. But I’ve had a load of fun assembling/ordering the props, and the various costumes it requires are cut out ready for a bonanza whirl with the sewing machine. One bedroom is now strictly off limits to all.

Our local libraryBiggest effort? It’s Book Week Scotland at the end of the month – a week long celebration of reading; and I’ve been invited to put in an appearance (and speak!) at our local library on 28th as part of that. So we’ve done a concentrated blast of publicity for BWS and for Over My Dead Body in our area. The last time I spoke in a public library there were less than ten people there, so any advance on that has to be good.

Most warming? Contact from a lovely man in Northern Ireland, William, who’s been waiting years for a kidney transplant. He’s just read OMDB and now he’s promoting it – with such energy and enthusiasm too. It’s a particular thrill to get endorsements like this from someone who really understands the dilemmas. William’s a bit of a campaigner by all accounts, and hopefully we can work together to raise awareness of the importance of having that ‘after-my-death’ conversation. As you know, I don’t see my role as coming down on one side or the other; just encouraging people to think for themselves. If OMDB does that, it’s fulfilled its aim. Thanks, William, for your encouragement.

Most routine? Sorting and filing a stack of articles about medical ethics for possible future books. Yawn, yawn. Has to be done, though. No fairies in this establishment … or are there? Well … My lips are sealed.

But the biggest preoccupation is undoubtedly Asia and our responsibility to our fellow man. Hard to get those pictures out of your mind, isn’t it? The more we see, the greater the horror. Indescribable.

 

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