Hazel McHaffie


Four outings and a wedding

Plenty happening this week although not a lot of serious writing sadly. After the dismal gloom and cold of April and early May, we’re revelling in this hike in the temperature, and it’s happily coincided with my being out and about.

Friday.  In Glasgow for a neonatal nurses conference where I was doing an ‘in-conversation-with’ slot. Just to prove I wasn’t actually taking a jolly to the beach, here I am (far right) with the chairman, Dr Ian Laing, and Monica Thompson who interviewed me – both long-term friends of mine and special people. Monica, Ian and meSaturday. In the Lake District for my nephew’s wedding. Getting snarled up in the holiday traffic and travel sick on those amazing winding roads, but then forgetting it all in a fabulous day amid spectacular views (the reception was in a marquee on the banks of Lake Windermere), and interesting people, and pervasive newly-married happiness. And a proliferation of absolutely beautiful flower arrangements.stunning floral arrangements

Sunday. FallingRecovering, and travelling back through some of my favourite places in the Borders, and catching up with family and emails and letters. Oh, and finishing Falling by Colin Thubron – a book about assisted dying which rates bottom of the list of novels on this subject for me. I’d swear things in the garden had grown visibly in those three days – flowers as well as weeds.

Monday. Reading Driving Sideways. Probably the funniest novel about organ transplant I’ve read so far. Leigh Fielding has spent five years on dialysis; life post-transplant is exhilarating and precious. But when she sets off for an excursion to find her long-lost mother, and the family of her donor, she hasn’t bargained for the effect of a teenage hitchhiker, a loaded gun, and some eccentric travellers. This is the penultimate organ-donation-novel in my pile and it’s certainly a refreshing change (although medically-speaking dubious in places, it must be admitted). It’s making me re-analyse what impact I want my own tale to have.

Tuesday. Visiting the Forestry Commission’s David Marshall Lodge, famous for its stunning views of the Campsie Hills, Ben Lomond and across Loch Ard Forest, with residents from a care home I support. Bluebells and gorse adding bright splashes of colour to the fresh greens.

Wednesday. Reading more of Driving Sideways, writing (not the novel), catching up on other relevant blogs, thinking, and cooking for guests. No sunshine today though.

Thursday. Just off to a Riding for the Disabled stables with a special friend. And tomorrow it’s the Gardening Scotland 2012 show (tickets were a gift). Hmmm, some kind of precipitation seems to be on the menu both days.

Reality will hit me next week when I have to knuckle down to some concentrated work. But right now I’m just glad the good weather worked hand-in-glove with my diary for most of the week. When you’re a self-employed novelist the notion of holiday is hard to pin down, but it feels as if I’ve just had a mini-one.



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I may be mistaken …

I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the response to my new blog. Many thanks to all of you who have so generously commented. Writing can be a lonely occupation and it’s reassuring to know there are real people out there who read and who care. I even had one email this week from someone in Canada who shares the same unusual surname – a rare affliction!


But special thanks go to Lindsay in Glasgow who challenged me in an unexpected way. The exchange went something like this:
L: ‘Would you say you’ve got strong views on ethical issues?’
H: ‘Well, I’ve got strong views on the importance of debate about ethical issues, but the longer I work in this area the more shades of grey I see.’
L: ‘That’s what I thought from everything you write. So why does your blog say you have strong views on the actual issues?’
H: ‘I didn’t think it did.’
L: ‘I think it does. At the end of that interview about “Who’s your favourite author?”’

Of course, I went hot foot to my blog and that link to the said interview (stories-of-my-life). After all, my reputation’s on the line here. Even-handed, that’s me. Leave-the-reader-to-form-their-own-conclusions: that’s my style. Had I really been careless enough to shoot myself in the foot here?

Whoops! There it was.

Q. Do you have strong opinions on the ethical questions facing your characters?
A. Having worked in the field of ethics for decades, the more I know about these complex issues the more I’m conscious of the grey areas. When I get inside the skin of my characters facing difficult choices I see different perspectives which may require different solutions, because our value systems, beliefs and experiences influence what we see as right or wrong. In Right To Die, Adam is an analytical journalist weighing up the value of his disintegrating life. His mother is rigidly religious, with hang-ups about suicide. His GP is influenced by a strong professional moral code. Who’s right? Who’s to say? So the answer is, yes (my italics).

My reaction evolved slowly.
Stage 1. Chagrin. Mortification. Annoyance (with myself I hasten to add).
Stage 2. Pause for reflection. I try to think myself back. Why did I say that?
Stage 3. Apology to Lindsay with promise to do better in future.
Stage 4. Good night’s sleep. Subconscious works on issue.
Stage 5. Revisit original interview.
For once I’m glad I haven’t had time to tidy up the files on my computer. Because there it is!

The answer

The set of questions I’d been asked during that interview had inexplicably changed when they reached the printed page. The original question was:
Q. As a medical ethicist, are there any issues you are still uncertain about?
A: As above.
And of course the answer to that question is emphatically yes!

So a big thank you to Lindsay for giving me the opportunity to right a great wrong. And for a timely reminder of that paragraph in the 17th Century Nun’s prayer:

‘I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.’

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