Hazel McHaffie

Joanna Jepson

Countdown

What a week. The brutal murder of MP Jo Cox; Tim Peake‘s return to earth after six months in space; an historic referendum on the UK’s position in Europe; … I’ve counted down to my own author-event at Blackwell’s Bookshop this evening, not just in days-to-the-referendum, but in significant news flashes. And I want to pay my own small tribute to Jo Cox and her family who have epitomised dignity, humanity, unity and compassion. If only her legacy could continue to overrule the vitriol and power-struggling and falsehoods which have characterised this campaign.

So, tonight we launch my latest novel, Inside of Me, into the bigger world, courtesy of Blackwell’s Bookshop in Edinburgh.

Stash of Inside of Me

I always knew it would be hard to do justice to this one without giving away a surprise but significant element which is only revealed at the end. So I had to explore various angles which might ‘sell’ the book to a live audience without containing spoilers. On this occasion I decided to concentrate on two points: body image and disappearance.

I suspect that only a tiny minority of people go through life perfectly content with their own body image; I’m certainly not among their number. All manner of hang-ups, me. All my life. And sobering statistics for suicide, mental health, eating disorders, self-harm, obsessions and addictions, cosmetic procedures, gender changes, all bear testament to a wider societal dissatisfaction. Small wonder, fueled as we are by the messages, overt and subliminal, from magazines and the internet; from social media; peer pressures; completely unrealistic expectations and cultural ideals. My book fits into this context, exploring what it means to live with unhappiness and troubled thoughts and unachievable goals.

One example will suffice: 15-year-old India Grayson looks in the mirror and perceives a size 3 body as grossly overweight. She aspires to have the courage to binge eat and deliberately vomit. Her mother can only stand on the sidelines, powerless to prevent her beloved daughter, on the very cusp of adulthood, starving herself to the point of collapse, forced to wait for medical intervention until the teenager is at death’s door or at imminent risk of significant deterioration. But India’s not seeking death; she’s seeking control. So how far should she be allowed to go along the path to self-destruction? What right has her mother to intervene?

Disappearance is the second recurring theme I chose to speak about. Three teenage girls vanish one after another. So does India’s beloved dad, leaving a neatly folded pile of clothes on a windy beach. Are these events connected? India’s mother has her niggling suspicions, doubts and fears but she’s suppressed them and certainly hasn’t shared them with a single soul. But now, eight years after his supposed suicide, India is convinced she heard her father’s voice on a crowded London station. She has to find him. The truth when it emerges is not what anyone expected; it challenges their notions of family and relationships, of image and identity. It makes us wonder, to what extent is it right to pursue our own goals and ambitions, when they conflict with the interests of others?

A-Lot-Like-EveAs part of my thinking about body image, I’ve been reading A Lot like Eve by Joanna Jepson. A newly ordained curate, Jepson came to fame in the early 2000s when she challenged the courts over cases of abortion for nothing more disabling than a hare lip and cleft palate. I remember her well – and her arguments. She was uniquely qualified to adopt this cause having herself been the victim of bullying and humiliation because of a facial disfigurement, and having also witnessed reaction to her brother who has Down’s Syndrome. What I didn’t know is how she has struggled with her faith and calling. This book is a moving exploration of her own battle to find acceptance and peace in her personal as well as her religious life.  And who else would see their calling to be chaplain to the fashion industry?

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Books books and more books

Book tokenI’ve had a very generous book token burning a hole in my pocket for too long now. Holding me back was a real conscience about acquiring any more books when my shelves are already groaning, and I couldn’t get to the bottom of my my tbr pile if I did nothing else but read for the rest of the year.

But hey, everybody who knows anything says that writers must read … and read … and read. Voraciously. Comprehensively. Widely. Constantly.

Besides which, it would be churlish not to appreciate this wonderful gift, so I’ve succumbed and been spending it over the last few weeks. What fun. I delved into my file marked BOOKS I MUST READ, re-read the reviews, ordered my choices, and hey presto! here they are.

Books acquired - first pile(I didn’t realise this first batch were colour coordinated until I put them together to photograph!)

Books acquired - second pile

And …

Books acquired - third pile

And finally …

Books acquired - fourth pile

I might be gone some time!

Speaking of treasured books brings me to the lady in a village in Cambridgeshire who bought an old phone box for her husband as a birthday present in 2011. He restored it and installed it on the forecourt of their garage (on land they owned) and they filled it with over 800 books, opening it to their friends and neighbours. It became a free and much valued part of community life. Brilliant. Four years later though, the district council suddenly decided the phone box needed planning permission for a change of use, a process that would cost the owners £400. The poor lady emptied the shelves, bagged up the books and bundled them into a skip (I think for storage not disposal). Mercifully the council eventually saw sense and the phone box was reprieved, but not before the said stock were damaged by the wet weather. Nothing daunted she has now rebuilt her supplies and the phone box library is back in operation this month. Three cheers for her indomitable spirit and stunning services to reading.

The thought of 800 books going to waste like this makes me value my own collection even more.

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