Hazel McHaffie

Pruning time

I love acers – or maple trees. We have quite a number in our garden, including until this year a whopper at the front of the house.Established maple tree

So it was troubling when this one started to show signs of unhappiness about three years ago. It energetically sprouted lovely fresh growth in the spring, but then leaves shrivelled prematurely, whole branches eventually gave up the unequal struggle.

We treated it lovingly with judicious pruning, extra nourishment. Diagnosis? Apparently it’s acquired a fungus. Something to do with blue rings …?

Anyway, this spring (well, what appeared to be spring at the time) it went bananas, new shoots appearing in abundance everywhere … except along the latest branches to die off. It was sending out such a powerful message of hope that we decided to give it one last chance. It had the pruning of its life!

And at the moment it’s looking fabulous. Fingers crossed …

Why am I talking about trees in a blog predominantly about ethics and writing? Answer: because I’m also pruning drastically at the computer. With the recent advice of my editor for Remember RememberCut! Cut! Cut! – still reverberating in my ears I’m now ruthlessly shortening the next book too. This one’s about saviour siblings – currently called Saving Sebastian. (I always need a working title.) It’s been written for ages and had several edits before now but this time … it’s like the maple, time for radical treatment.

But I’m attached to this text, as I am to the maple. If I stick at it too long I just go along with the storyline and forget the red pen. Short brutal stints are the order of the day. In between, Dr Harold Klawans’ book, Newton’s Madness, is providing therapy with its fantastic accounts of patients with neurological disorders; short self-contained chapters which fit in nicely. Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton suffered from bouts of madness caused by mercury poisoning? Or that there’s a big question mark over Creutzfeldt’s role in the identification of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease? Or that bubonic plague ravaged Italy sixteen times during the 12th to the 14th Centuries? You do now! A fascinating read.

And by way of very light relief … ahah! I found a copy of Jodi Picoult’s book, Handle with CareHandle with Care, in the Christian Aid Book Sale I told you about last week. It’s about a family suing for the wrongful birth of a child suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). So I’m reading that to remind me of how successful some people can be with writing books about ethical dilemmas.

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