Hazel McHaffie

Northern Ireland

Rights and wrongs

What a week! And still the debate about the rights and wrongs of Brexit agreements and arrangements grinds on … and on … and on. Conflict. Tension. Lies. Threats. Who do we believe? Who can we trust? Whose interests and rights should take precedence? Who/what are these politicians really acting for – themselves, their constituents, their party, their consciences, or what? How much is Joe Public entitled to know? What will history make of these unprecedented shenanigans?

I sigh for the simple philosophies of a McCall Smith character … Todd the surveyor in 44 Scotland Street, perhaps, reprimanding his dishonest employee caught out in a lie: ‘All of our life is based on acts of trust. We trust other people to do what they say they’re going to do.’ Hmmmmm. If only.

No one is immune to doubt and uncertainty. Those much feted and privileged royals, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, revealed in an interview this week that they’re both struggling with the conflict between their privacy and media coverage in their lives. Taxpayers contribute towards the upkeep of the monarchy, but does that entitle us to put them under the microscope? What should be considered legitimately in the public interest? Where do the limits lie? What if their mental health is less than robust? Is the loss of a parent in childhood an ‘excuse’ for the rest of one’s life? Should they have broken with royal tradition and confessed to human frailty? Is it different when a child is involved? And so on … and on.

Then there’s the Northern Ireland abortion laws, decriminalised this week, although implementation of the change is still hedged about with caveats and fraught with peril. Was it ever fair that a woman was legally prevented from having an abortion, even for a lethal fetal abnormality or when her pregnancy was the result of rape or incest? Is it right for Westminster to legislate for Northern Ireland coming into line with the United Nations rules on human rights? Should religious belief influence laws? Should someone else’s scruples limit my choices? If you’re pro-choice, this is a momentous victory for women’s human and reproductive rights; if you’re pro-life in all circumstances, it’s a sad day for Northern Ireland … Where do you stand?

Speaking of women’s rights … the jolly old debate around gender continues to blow my mind. Not only must provision be made for gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms; not only must transgender women be permitted to win the awards in female sport; but now a rapist must be recorded as female if that’s how they self-identify. What about the rights and feelings of the victims in all this? A quintessential female symbol has even been removed from sanitary towels – yes, you heard right, sanitary towels – by Proctor & Gamble, apparently because not everyone who has periods identifies as a woman. Hello?!! As a leading feminist campaigner put it: ‘We’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology’ . The rights and wrongs, the questions arising, are too numerous to enumerate on this blog.

Welcome to my world – constantly asking what’s permissible, what’s morally right, what’s fair, what’s expedient? And nowhere do I probe more deeply than in my fictional characters’ lives. I have to be totally immersed in their emotions and thoughts and beliefs and experiences in order to make them authentic and believable. Their dilemmas haunt me day and night. Especially when the novel is at an early stage and I have no idea how, or ever whether, they’re going to survive or resolve or surrender to the pressures. Their pain and anguish swallow me whole.

Ideas for my twelfth novel are at an embryonic stage at the moment, so tender and fragile indeed that they might even miscarry altogether. I have several characters lurking around disturbing my peace, and eventually one group of them will send down roots and cling on with more persistence than the rest. Once they’ve claimed my full attention, and I know they’re here to stay, that’s when I’ll start to sink below the horizon of their stresses. All those what-ifs and rights and wrongs scrambling for answers. I might be gone some time!

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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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Warrington travesty

When our railings and gates were stolen eighteen months ago I found it hard to understand the mentality of people who would capitalise on others’ misfortune. Ruined railings Since then I’ve listened and watched with a growing sense of incredulity, a catalogue of sorry tales involving similar opportunistic or planned crimes, some involving personal injury as well as loss to the innocent victims. Apparently, according to this week’s figures, there are now 1000 metal thefts a week, costing the economy £770 million a year. Birmingham alone had 950 drain covers stolen in just six months last year. One church elsewhere has had its lead stolen seven times! Staggering statistics.

But surely revulsion plumbed new depths with the incident in Warrington earlier this month. It involved a plaque worth a mere £30 to scrap dealers. But this was not just any old strip of bronze; it commemorated the life and death of two young boys – 12 year old Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, who was only 3 – innocent victims caught up in an IRA bomb blast in 1993. What kind of a mentality sinks this low?

The names of children killed in brutal circumstances remain in the memory, don’t they? Damilola Taylor, Stephen Lawrence, Sarah Payne, Baby P, James Bulger, to name but a few. And where the parents respond to the event with selflessness and generosity, devoting their lives to bringing some good out of their tragedy, these memories are kept fresh and vital.

Instead of spending the rest of their days railing against the perpetrators of a crime that robbed them of their beloved son,Tim’s parents, Colin and Wendy Parry, became active in the peace process in Northern Ireland, vigorously campaigning for an end to the hostilities and divisions that had torn that community apart for so long.The community too, reacted positively by setting up The Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace which works nationally with people affected by conflict and violence.

Now it feels as if the thugs who desecrated this memorial are thumbing their noses at the Parry’s altruism. Not surprisingly there has been a national outpouring of sympathy and outrage which Warrington describes as ‘overwhelming’. The plaque will be replaced. Donations are still flooding in to the Foundation.

What’s more, the chief executive has appealed for everyone to follow the Parry’s example in ‘taking a positive approach to managing conflict, rather than engaging in any negative actions as a result of this incident.’

What a fine example of forgiveness and generosity of spirit. One can only hope that at least some metal thieves somewhere will be chastened and shamed into reforming their ways.

 

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