Hazel McHaffie

Lucy Caldwell

Humanity and magic

Quite a responsibility on our shoulders then. And of course, my own eye goes straight to ‘writers’; my brain inserting ‘fiction writers’.

‘Fiction is the most humane and magical of acts – it’s healing, restorative, exactly because it shows us a way across those chasms. We can never know what it’s like to be someone else, ever, except through fiction. People always talk of fiction as if it’s an escape from the world, but it’s not that, or not just that. It’s an escape out of ourselves and into the world, too.’  (in All the Beggars Riding by Lucy Caldwell)

We all know what it’s like to be immersed in a good book; in a totally different place; feeling the emotions and thoughts of someone else. If we let it, this absorption can offer us insights which in turn help us to empathise with other people, understand another point of view, maybe be more tolerant, more afronted, readjust our moral compass, be better equipped to support and help. To be more specific, my own novels take the reader inside the skin of characters grappling with some of life’s big questions and issues. Fiction allows us to do that in an enjoyable form, and I do believe that if we all allowed ourselves to truly walk in other people’s shoes before judging them, the real world would be a kinder, gentler and more peaceable place. The kind of world I want my grandchildren to inherit.

In my academic life, I always said I wanted to go out on a high, not fizzle and fail, and now I’m a novelist, I have to ask myself periodically, when will it be time to quit? Every end of year I take stock. OK. And this year? Well, I’ve decided I should continue writing fiction for now, the compulsion is still there. I have two books on the go at the moment; I’m keen to finish them. I’d be bereft without this driving force in my life. So watch this space …

But for the moment, in this the first blog of a new year, I want to say a very big thank you to all of you who follow my posts, and especially those who get back to me with comments and reactions – by any route. The discipline of writing something every week does me good: it keeps my writing and editing muscles toned; concentrates the mind; makes me think through issues/arguments; allows me to share writerly and occasionally personal experiences. Knowing you too gain something from it is a real thrill. So, it only remains for me to wish you all an excellent year 2017, joyful, peaceful, healthy. And if life is tough for you at the moment, I hope you’ll find the strength, courage and determination to overcome.

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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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