Hazel McHaffie

The Inheritance of Loss

Reflections on 2010

Ahah! My last blog for 2010. And inevitably one looks back over the year.

The most stressful event?
The decline and death of my mother. I’ve missed her very much over this Christmas period in countless little ways. But I’ve also been more acutely aware of what a wonderfully supportive family I have. Bless them all.

The most surprising?
Recognising the necessity to relinquish some commitments for the sake of my health – and DJ’s sanity! – and what’s more, actually finally doing so. Although one relinquishment in particular caused me considerable sadness: the Institute of Medical Ethics. A fantastic committee to work with, and an organisation that has been so nourishing and encouraging of me for many, many years.

The most challenging?
Two events jointly share the award: judging the Institute of Ideas debates; and being a member of a Data Monitoring Committee for a major international clinical trial. Both forced me well outside my comfort zone and underlined my limitations. These are places I won’t be going again – there, it’s written in stone!

The most unexpected?
Not finishing a book I started. That’s a first. The book was The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai and I just had to abandon it. OK, it won the Booker prize but I’m afraid life’s too short for a novel that’s that much of a struggle for me now. (Hmmm. Looks like my obsessions are starting to fray at the edges!)

The most encouraging?
Meeting new people in relation to my novels. Because I write about medical ethical dilemmas, I come into contact with families who’ve lived through similar experiences in real life. This year most notably, heroic folk caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, and those who have donated organs for transplantation – their own or those of their loved ones. And I am constantly awed and humbled by their generosity in sharing their stories. They remind me all over again why I took this turn in my career. And they encourage me to keep writing. I salute them all.

The most therapeutic?
The ongoing unconditional love of my four fabulous grandchildren.

And speaking of them, quite a number of you have written asking what I did for them in this year’s Christmas story. If you’re a new visitor, I should explain, every year I write a story for the children (currently aged 10 to 5), I make costumes and scenery, etc, and they act it out (totally unrehearsed). DJ takes photos throughout which we use to illustrate the book produced soon afterwards.

So, here’s ‘the stage’ for this year’s production …The scene is set And (with kind permission from parents) the principal characters: The Bag Lady ..The Bag Lady… and the supporting cast: three Shadow People (street children) …The Shadow PeopleInside The Bag Lady’s 40+ bags are all sorts of props and games and edibles. And, through playing and talking together they each discover the real person behind the stigma. And learn the importance of treating everyone kindly, and as you would like them to treat you. But it’s all sweetened with magic jelly babies … and talking dragonflies … and monitors that measure sportsmanlike qualities … and a little sleight of hand … and some rather scary Gurgling Gozers that sink their teeth into carotid arteries under provocation … and a crazy but lovable dog called Digby … the usual kinds of story-telling tricks. And of course, the now traditional banquet.The banquetAll good wholesome fun. So thanks for asking.

But before I get back to editing the book, The Bag Lady and the Shadow People, (don’t forget you heard about it first here on VelvetEthics!) it’s time to say a big thank you to YOU for reading my scribblings. The weekly blog can feel rather self-indulgent, I so much enjoy writing it. And then you tell me you’ve been moved or amused or challenged by something and I get a warm feeling knowing you’re sharing my musings and struggles.

I do sincerely wish you all peace and happiness in 2011. And a softening of the hurt if you are one of those for whom 2010 has been a tough year.

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Trawling for pearls

Time is not on my side this week (London on Friday; Edinburgh Saturday; Somerset Monday; Devon Tuesday …) so here’s a quick thought before I get back to other demands, domestic and professional.

In my former life I was a researcher in the world of medical ethics. I rather liked this definition of a researcher: someone who sees what everyone else sees, but thinks what no-one else has thought.

Now I’m a novelist, I’m struck by the number of times that authors too capture thoughts and ideas that I haven’t really stopped to analyse. At the moment I’m struggling rather with Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. (I try to tackle Booker winners every so often). But her descriptions sometimes stop me in my tracks. Here she’s describing the cook’s humble mud hut:

Two photographs hung on the wall – one of himself and his wife on their wedding day, one of Biju dressed to leave home. They were poor-people photographs, of those unable to risk wasting a picture, for while all over the world people were now posing with an abandon never experienced by the human race before, here they were still standing X-ray stiff.
Once, Sai had taken a picture of the cook with Uncle Potty’s camera, snuck up on him as he minced an onion, and she had been surprised to see that he felt deeply betrayed. He ran to change into his best clothes, a clean shirt and trousers, then positioned himself before the National Geographics bound in leather, a backdrop he found suitable

Now, you could just skim this on your way to finding out what happens to the cook and his son – if, that is, you have the grit and determination to persist with reading this rather odd story. (I keep hoping the pace will quicken – no luck yet). But pause a few moments, re-read this little passage, and … What a wealth of perspicacity. What fascinating conclusions. Apparently just tossed in casually.

So I guess I have salvaged something from this laborious read. Sigh. I know, I know. I could just give up on the book. I really must do something about this obsessive habit.

I’m (well, it’ll be DJ really) going to try to pre-set the posting of this blog, but if it doesn’t work, like last time, it might be a day late this week. Apologies.