Hazel McHaffie

train travel

‘A time to rejoice …’

Hey … time methinks for a completely undemanding, totally positive, uncomplicated post. I’ve given you some pretty heavy duty stuff lately, I know.

But … give your brain a rest, and let’s just celebrate this week. My latest book is now PUBLISHED!!

Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s what it’s about:
Professor Jocelyn Grammaticus is travelling on the 8.20 CrossCountry train from Aberdeen to Penzance. (If you’ve never tried it, think twice before you do! – it takes almost thirteen and a half hours.) But for Jocelyn it’s more than a long sit – she’s facing the hardest ethical dilemma of her life when she arrives in Cornwall. To distract herself, she sets about writing a keynote speech due for a conference the following week, and all unwittingly the assorted passengers who flit in and out of Coach C give her food for thought. But four hours before she arrives a phonecall stops her in her tracks. Will she be in time? Will she have the moral courage to fulfil her promise?

Loads of people have asked me about the underlying theme, so if that aspect intrigues you too, it’s about informed consent. But don’t let that put you off if you’re just looking for a diverting read. Listen out for the manager who joins the train from Newcastle to York; I’d love him to accompany me! Listen to the chatter … listen to your own heart and conscience …

Oh and I should warn those of you who are familiar with my work, this book is different from my previous ones:
– it’s much shorter – classifies as a novella really.
– it’s only available in electronic form.
– we’re offering it as a FREE download. Just click here to start the process.

Do let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you – no flannel, only honest feedback, please.

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Real life ethical challenges – alive and well

Wow! The year has begun with a bang as far as medical ethics is concerned. Lots to challenge us.

Just in one day this week we had the news that …

Every secondary school in England is to be offered training to help them identify and support children who are suffering from mental illness – a government-led initiative. Mrs May describes it as a first step in a plan to transform the way we deal with mental health in this country. There’s a long way to go but this is at least a concrete measure. Is it the right one, d’you think?

A terminally ill man with Motor Neurone Disease who fears becoming entombed in his own body has asked judges to allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs for him without fear of prosecution. Sound familiar? Well, actually it’s the first case of its kind for 3 years would you believe – surprised me to learn that too. Should he be allowed this option? Is the UK ready for change? Where would it lead?

There’s been a rise in demand for live-in au pairs for elderly folk. It’s an attractive alternative for some to going into residential care. OK, I’m listening! And it comes amidst the controversies over standards in care homes and the soaring costs involved. But of course it comes at a price. And it inevitably excludes some people. Will it take off? Should it?

Viscount and Lady Weymouth have become the first members of the British aristocracy to have a baby carried and delivered by a surrogate mother. Apparently Emma Weymouth has a rare condition which puts her at high risk of having a stroke during labour; she suffered a brain haemorrhage and an endocrine disorder during her first pregnancy. This was deemed the safest way for them to ‘complete’ their family. But of course it has higher significance to an ancient lineage like the Longleat Bath family than to the average couple. Any thoughts?

After lengthy wrangling, judges have decided that a Gulf War veteran, policeman, and father of one, aged just 43, should be taken off life support and allowed to die, in line with his expressed wishes. His wife sees it as a final act of love. Others decry it as the thin end of the wedge to denying the sacredness of life. Where do you stand?

As I’ve said before, I shall never run out of material for my writing. And this ongoing interest in my subject spurs me on.

NEWSFLASH: Yesterday I completed the first draft of novel number 10. Wahey! Drum roll, please. It’s about a professor of Medical Ethics going on a train journey from Aberdeen to Penzance to deal with a crisis in her own family, but encountering all sorts of challenges along the way. The most fun of all my books to write so far, but I still cried at one point!



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Spinning out of control …

Eebie jeebie! Life’s on a steep slope and gathering frightening momentum this week. Where are the brakes …? Anyone seen the safety nets?

Path to Straiton Pond

Outside, hard frosts have made works of incredible beauty out of ordinary spiders’ webs around here, and I couldn’t help but feel an affinity with them. Unbelievably strong, amazingly intricate, yet so fragile if touched carelessly. A bit like the ideas the brain conjures up in creative mode. So, why is the writing life more than usually frenetic at the moment?

Well, to begin with it’s Book Week Scotland; I’m doing a couple of author events locally for that. Lovely to go out there and meet real live people who read my books, and want to know about why and how I do what I do, and wonderful librarians who are so enthusiastic and dedicated to their task of encouraging reading, but space needs to be found to prepare mentally for each one.

Web wrapped around finialI’m also writing not one, not two, but three books simultaneously right now. Three, do I hear you shriek? Yep, three. Completely unprecedented, as regular followers will know. Madness, probably. So why break my own rules?

Well, Christmas is fast approaching, so I absolutely MUST complete the grandchildren’s annual story/play due to be enacted on 28 December to a full house. I need to order props and make costumes before then, and allow for postal hiatuses, so first I have to finalise the text to be sure about what I still need/want. In spare moments, and by way of light relief, I’m also making monster heads – details are top secret (suffice to say that hair and glitter and strange white particles linger stubbornly in the warp and weft of certain carpets). And one whole room is definitely off limits to all, no exceptions.

Frosted cobwebThen my ongoing novel, Killing me Gently, mustn’t be allowed to lose momentum. Pleased to say I’m still with the thriller genre on that one. However, as a safety valve, I’m letting the back burner dictate the pace of this book at the moment, only sitting down to actually commit words to the document when they’re too insistent to ignore, or jotting down thoughts that wake me in the night.

Web tailored to fence postAnd the third book? It’s brand spanking new, jostling for attention at crazy o’clock, keeping me at the desk long past the witching hour. It’s got a working title of Listen and is designed as a shorter story in my usual vein (contemporary fiction set in the world of medical ethics) which can be offered as a free download to give potential new readers a window into my books. I’m having a ball writing this! It’s about a Professor of Medical Ethics who goes on a train journey from Aberdeen to Penzance where a crisis awaits her … I now know some amazing statistics about high speed trains! And about atrocious experiments performed on black people in the 50s in America. Intrigued? Watch this space.

I keep reminding myself … this is all entirely self inflicted!


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Screaming on the inside

Please indulge me for a few minutes. I need to vent my spleen somewhere.

As you know, I do a fair amount of travelling by train. I usually book my tickets well in advance and make sure I get a seat in the Quiet Zone. Quiet? You have to be joking. Excited hen parties, rowdy football supporters, high decibel families, school parties, even a garrulous bag lady who travels for the company … I’ve encountered them all. None of them seemed to think it at all incongruous to park themselves alongside silent others and totally disrupt their peace. Indeed more than once, when anyone has suggested they hush-up a bit, I’ve actually heard them defend their absolute right to take over the carriage: ‘It only means no mobile phones.’ The subtext: ‘Get a life’.

But this week my travelling experience reached new heights of absurdity. In eleven hours of travelling – all of it in the so-called Quiet Zone: shrieked exchanges, raucous laughter, blaring music, computer games sound effects, excitable stream-of-consciousness conversation in assorted foreign languages … need I go on? All-in-all the cacophony of a rebellious teenagers’ unsupervised party.

Thank goodness I had something fascinating and undemanding to read. The Girl with the Dragon TatooDuring the week I’d started Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with a view to taking it as my diversion. There’s been such a lot of hype about this trilogy, and Larsson’s posthumous fame, that I wanted to see if it really was worth all the fuss (Sceptic being my middle name). Well, it has its faults (and there were far too many characters to hold in my shrinking mind) but after the dull start I got involved with the weirdo female protagonist and devious plotting sufficiently to have to read on. Result? I finished it long before I got anywhere near the train.

But after that I needed something completely different. Ahah! Time for Self-Made Man. Self Made ManThe story of Norah Vincent’s experiment: a year disguised as a man. Otherwise called ‘field reporting from Planet Guy’. Wow! Hat’s off to her sheer bravery and brass neck. This is social research of a different order. She was ‘a mirror and a window and a prism all at the same time.’ As Ned, she infiltrated a men’s bowling club as well as a monastery and encouraged the men to share private thoughts and intimate experiences, (can you imagine how they reacted when she disclosed her true identity?); she visited strip bars (actively participating!); and she even infiltrated an exclusively male therapy group (very nearly her personal undoing). The ethics of such deceit aside, this account of her experiences is extremely readable and thought-provoking: a sharp eye for detail combined with bracingly honest self-evaluation, alongside a penetratingly frank analysis. And at the end of it all she debunks the notion of men’s privilege and power, and concludes that she is ‘fortunate, proud, free and glad in every way to be a woman.’

Well maybe, but I confess I wished I’d had a more male attitude to saying – shouting even – exactly what I thought, without apology or qualification, during those horrendously noisy journeys on Saturday. Instead I uttered not so much as a squeak of protest. The self-made man would have disowned me!

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