Hazel McHaffie

expertise

Hot off the Press!

First batch of Inside of MeWell, here they are, still warm. My first batch of Inside of Me. They arrived yesterday, bang on target.

And as I hold the finished product in my hands, I’m enormously grateful to all those people who made this moment possible. To those who gave me the benefit of their wisdom and expertise, checking facts were correct and scenarios authentic. To those who provided their technical know-how and capabilities to ensure the final product looked so good. To those who encouraged and supported me through the entire process. To those who continue to believe in me, even – no, most especially – when I start to doubt myself.

I salute you all. And I hope you can feel a sense of ownership too. You’ve earned it.

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The right tool for the job

We’ve just had the first of three phases of plaster restoration carried out on a ceiling of our very old house. Not being partial to grit in my food, lime clogging up my computer, ancient dust settling on my library of books, I spent many hours sealing doorways, radiators, cupboards, alarms and fixtures, to prevent the murk penetrating the entire building. But the expert restorers were just that: expert. The task was completed in just seven hours, minimal mess, superb result.

Watching them at work (yes, I did sneak occasional breaks) was awe-inspiring. I mean – have you ever tried getting plaster to stick upside down? But any plasterer or plumber or electrician or tree surgeon or human surgeon will tell you that an essential first requirement for any tricky job is to have the right tools. A real expert can probably improvise if necessary but any skilled procedure is effected more efficiently and successfully with exactly the right implements.

Which leads me effortlessly to writers. Certain established and famous authors trumpet their absolute need for a certain brand of pen or pencil (always expensive, you’ll notice); others simply cannot function without a luxury Italian paper or a specific make of book to write in (top of the range, unpronounceable name, of course). But not me. Dare I confess? I write straight onto a humble desktop computer. Bog standard Apple Mac; not even made to my specifications. I think that slots me into a group just a whisker above the bottom of the evolutionary scale.

BUT … a new world has now opened up. I’ve been given a brand new laptop. I’ve tried them before but quickly slunk back to the comfort of my tried and tested Apple. This is in fact the first such keyboard that’s the perfect design for my style of typing (idiosyncratic) and my size of hand (lanky) and my level of technical know-how (allergic) and my kind of travel (spasmodic). I don’t have to think about the mechanics; all my concentration can go on getting what’s in my brain and imagination into written form. No distraction, no time-lag. Brilliant. Thanks, Jo! Absolutely the right tool for the job.

Actually I’m newly grateful for the use of my very fingers too, these days. I managed to sever the top of the middle one, left hand, with secateurs when I was pruning a copper-beech hedge without due care and attention last autumn – the day before I had the bottom tier of a wedding cake to ice too! The sensation is only now starting to return. Maybe it was all that nifty juggling with plastic sheeting and masking tape last week. Whatever. But I can confirm that, as with any other tool, it’s only when you lose a faculty that you really fully appreciate it.

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A wee-small-hours whinge

It’s 3.41am. And I can’t sleep. So here I am drafting my weekly blog. Sad, I hear you mutter. So perhaps you’ll forgive me if I indulge in a mini-rant this week – actually it’s hard to be vitriolic when your ears are assailed by a fantastic chorus of birdsong.

Last week saw the final of the Great British Menu competition. I watched amazed – the disasters as well as the triumphs, the self-doubt as well as the ambition, eight grown men with a plethora of top restaurants among them, and not a few Michelin stars, all slaving over a hot stove (and in one case a counter-top barbeque!) competing for the honour of cooking a banquet for homecoming troops. And I saw many similarities with writing.

A few to give you a flavour:
• there is a multiplicity of ways to create a gourmet dish/a riveting book
• success requires endless practice and persistence as well as aptitude and talent
• there may be a set of basic components for a given recipe/genre of writing but it’s the magical touches and expert handling that transform a rustic favourite into a gastronomic delight/ a homely story into an engrossing read

But the one that strikes a painful cord with me is:
• Just because you cook for friends and family doesn’t make you a top chef, any more than dashing off emails on a regular basis equates to being a best-selling novelist

Now, as published authors go, I lurk somewhere in the hinterland just north of total obscurity, but I do struggle with the assumption that what I do anyone could do, probably better. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve as good as told me they would/could be writers if they weren’t too busy saving the world, or doing something much more worthwhile (oh, things like keeping in touch with friends; doing very occasional bursts of part-time activity for a charity; keeping the lawn edged; staying abreast of developments in The Archers). Cue suppressed grinding of teeth. Hello? Do they know how friendly and welcoming a native Emperor Publisher really is? Have they ever actually poked their noses into the lair of a Lesser Crested Agent? Happily for them (sadly for me) I’ve never actually voiced my irritation or disbelief – well, not so far anyway. No, my liver is evidently two shades paler than a Casablanca lily.

But hang it all, when someone says to me, ‘I’m an accountant/lawyer/mechanic/plumber/teacher/landscape architect/unicycle rider (delete as appropriate) I don’t reply, ‘Ah yes, I’m going to be one when I’ve finished the family shopping, read War and Peace and had my nails done.’ And in my earlier lives when I said I was a nurse/midwife/university researcher no-one ever said, ‘Oh, I’m thinking of doing that as soon as I’ve finished my tax return, hosted our neighbourhood Scrabble competition and built a pottery yurt in my back garden.’ So can anyone tell me why writing is so undervalued?

Even the birds are suddenly silent. And at 4.01am it’s broad daylight.

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