4

Sharing my Spiritual Scrapbook

Today, at my Centering Prayer group, we tried out a different format. Instead of listening to some teaching on DVD we decided to bring a poem to share. We started with our usual 20 minute silent meditation then the four of us who were present read out poems or canticles that spoke to us in some way.

It was a moving time, and the most amazing range of poems and emotions were shared. Two that stood out for me were:

The Bright Field by R S Thomas
St Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell.

For myself, I shared a poem that my mother had once typed out and sent to me. It is called Under a Wilshire Apple Tree and is attributed to Anna Bunstone de Bary, date unknown. It begins with the following stanza:

Some folks as can afford,
So I’ve heard say,
Set up a sort of cross
Right in the garden way
To mind ‘em of the Lord.
But I, when I do see
Thik apple tree
An’ stoopin’ limb
All spread wi’ moss
I think of Him
And how He talks wi’ me.

Sharing this, I also shared with my friends the Spiritual Scrapbook that I have been keeping for 20 years. This is a very special hard-backed A5 book that my sister gave me when I had an adult baptism in 1997 (I had not discovered the Quakers then and was part of a vibrant Baptist church). My sister wrote an inscription at the front: ‘For your thoughts and special prayers’, and the book is very dear to me. I share some photographs of a few of the pages in this post.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Spiritual Scrapbook Page

Over the years I have written or stuck into the book sayings, prayers, postcards and poems that have had special meaning to me. There are parts of Celtic liturgies that we used when I studied Contextual Theology, postcards of crosses at monasteries and in mud huts, spoken ministry from Quaker meetings, and many cards with prayers and poems sent to me by my mother when she was still alive.

My mother was such a special support to me, and her faith saw me through some very dark times in my life. I treasure every single thing she sent when I was down and she wanted to help me through. My biggest sadness is that in the last few years of her own life she experienced a crisis of faith. But my mother was a gardener, and God was very close to her, and I’m sure that God spoke to her through that apple tree with stooping limb even when the light of faith was dim.

    

MAD MOMENT

New man, new distance relationship! Watch this space!

MARVEL MOMENT

As above!!!

© Anne de Gruchy

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0

Deafness and Dementia

Today, dear readers, I bring you the saga of dad and his rather wonky relationship with his hearing aids, and also the sad tale of going to a magnificent organ recital at Southwell Minster without being able to hear properly.

Dad is fairly deaf. Without his hearing aids he is unable to hear much, but even with them we often find he cannot tell what we are saying. Sometimes he will sit and fiddle and pull them out of his ears, and the hearing aids will squeak and whine and drive everybody nuts except dad who cannot make out what we are moaning about. In the past he used to take them apart and try to fix them and was then unable to put them back together again, but his Alzheimer’s is so bad now that it no longer even occurs to him to attempt this.

Now when dad can’t hear the first thing I do is to persuade him to hand over the goods so that I can check his hearing aids. This usually results in the discovery that:

a) He has not put a battery in, or it has fallen out and he didn’t notice.
b) The battery still has the sticky label on the back.
c) The tubes in the hearing aids are blocked with wax.

Sometimes it is simply a case of a dud battery, but dad no longer appears to hear or understand the diddly tune that the hearing aid plays to indicate that the battery is working.

Last week I visited dad to take him for a walk with the dog and then waffles and maple syrup at the local coffee shop afterwards. When I arrived a rather puzzled looking staff member was trying to clean and adjust his hearing aids. Together we tried to prize off tubes, clear out wax, and find some batteries that actually appeared to work. This task was not helped by the fact that the box of spare batteries had magically disappeared.

Meanwhile dad huffed and puffed around his room, unable to hear a word we said and unable to read the messages I tried to write down because he could not see. He looked for his ‘puffer’ – a rubber contraption that puffs air through the hearing aid tubes to clear them of wax and rubbish. I tried to indicate to him that I had already managed to clean the tubes but he was determined. The proverbial rock and the hard place would both disintegrate instantly if they encountered a dad-level of stubbornness.

Eventually dad located the ‘puffer’ on his washbasin and shared with us that he has been filling it with water and squirting this into his ears to clean them! (Dad, along with his dementia and poor eyesight, is finding some intriguing new uses for things – for instance smoothing the bumps on his nose using his electric razor or rubbing toothpaste into his leg instead of his ulcer-prevention cream).

Hearing aids sorted, dad was still unable to hear. We consulted one of the nursing team about checking his ears for wax and syringing them properly, but this had been done recently and was not safe to do on a frequent basis. We resigned ourselves to dad being completely deaf for the day and breathed a sigh of relief that the service appointment I had made at the hearing aid clinic happened to be the next day.

So how did things pan out? Why, you might ask, did dad have to go to the organ concert four days later without his hearing aids?

Well apparently the hearing aids work perfectly, but sadly dad was found to have a bad ear infection in both ears – no doubt exacerbated by using a ‘puffer’ as an impromptu syringe. He was still under treatment for the infection when we did our trip to Southwell Minster (Matthew Martin’s organ playing was amazing, with a very interesting repertoire of pieces) and his hearing aids were soaking in sterilizing solution. Despite going hearing aid-less, dad could hold a level of conversation if I spoke loudly as I faced him – it was the infection that had rendered him unable to hear at all.

What struck me most, though, was how absolutely helpless we were when dad found himself completely deaf. We could not communicate or reassure him at all because of his poor eyesight – he has recently been registered as Severely Sight Impaired – and because of his tendency to fixate on inappropriate things. It felt so sad seeing him flail around in distress seeking his own solutions and repeatedly asking ‘why can’t I have my hearing aids?’ It reminded me how important gentle reassurance and explanation can be for people like dad who are living with dementia.

Hopefully by the time I see him next he will be back to normal – whatever that is in his dazzlingly different dementia universe – complete with hearing aids and pristinely clean ear canals.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Dad and Southwell Minster

MAD MOMENT

It has been a while since I posted a ‘mad moment’ so I shall cheat and borrow one from a few weeks back when I was ill with a viral bug and simply couldn’t stand up without fainting. I was crawling round the house and going to the loo was a trial. One time I could feel myself losing consciousness as I tried to reach the loo and the next moment I woke up on the floor with a broken toilet seat cover lying on top of me. The pain from the fall and the damage to my pelvis has been excruciating. It felt so surreal, just coming to after blacking out and finding myself there with the toilet cover and bruises all up my right side. Am very nervous of any feelings of dizziness now.

MARVEL MOMENT

Wonderful walk round the heathland and woods of Woolbeding Common during a visit to Sussex for a friend’s wedding anniversary do. Just drinking in the peace and watching the butterflies. The joy of being able to stand upright and go for short walks again!

© Anne de Gruchy

4

Plotlines – Mysteries and Miracles!

A Round Robin Post

For the second time, my patient readers, I am participating in a Round Robin blog post. The topic we have been asked to address this time is:

When you are stumped on moving a plot line forward, what do you do to reinvigorate your imagination and get your characters moving?

Now those who also vaguely follow my Twitter rantings will know that I have been laid low for the last few weeks with a horrible (and I mean HORRIBLE) virus type thing. This has involved recurrent fevers, feeling constantly sick and dizzy, a wracking cough and blood pressure descended so low that I blacked out and injured my pelvis in the resultant fall. One result of all this is that I have felt too ill to stand up, yet alone manage any kind of computer work or writing, and the second result is that I got so despondent and sorry for myself that I stopped believing I could write at all.

Thus, I have had a proper mega-crisis about whether I can write the book I am currently in the middle of, which has included me getting all negative about things like my plot and characters.

If I’m honest, I actually quite like my plot and characters. I feel I have a reasonable storyline and some themes that will be fascinating to explore in more detail. My characters wake me at night demanding I write that next scene, but I simply feel too ill to do so. The question I am asking myself, though, is ‘am I playing to my strengths with this book?’.

The trouble I am finding is that I have a wider plot and list of settings than I normally work with, some of which are not that familiar to me and will require a lot of research (which is very interesting so far) or some active visits. I’ve just got to that ‘loss of self-belief’ place about whether I can do this. I look at the book I am trying to find a home for currently (with the help of my wonderful agent) and it seems so simple by comparison – on mainly safe home ground, although clearly I do not have personal experience of being a serial killer!

So what do you do when you get stuck like this?

Well, firstly experience tells me to sit it out. I have written three novels so far and there have always been periods of diminishing self-belief to contend with, and when I simply persevered and put the time in I eventually wrote through the periods and came out feeling all fired up about my book and characters again. The other lesson I learned was that my writing did not differ hugely in quality depending on whether I was simply ‘plodding on’ or feeling all positive and engaged.

Secondly, experience tells me never to make decisions or big changes when you don’t feel well!

I think that my history of learning to deal with plotlines and characters is interesting, though. My first novel had a strongly linear theme (woman coming to terms with the loss of a baby by travelling round Scotland with a complete stranger) which seemed to appeal to the agents I sent it to, but they didn’t ‘engage’ enough with my characters to pick this up. I think this book was very much my learning piece. I plotted it out in such detail in advance that I didn’t give it, or the characters, enough room to breathe. When I started my second novel I probably over-compensated by giving my characters so many experiences and traumas that I lost some of the intensity and descriptive qualities that were good in the first book. Writing this in the first person didn’t help, although it was immensely enjoyable to do. In book three, the one that is being offered out at the moment, I feel that all my learning curves came together and at last I got it right.

So what made it work? Well, I had such a strong idea of the two main characters and what connected them that writing them and their story seemed to almost dictate the plotline and pace, even though I had quite a detailed plotline and overview drawn up in advance. I let the characters breathe.

When I got stuck with the storyline for the book I’m currently working on I went to one of the ‘Summer Taster’ workshops that Nottingham Writers’ Studio was running. The workshop looked at Plot. It seemed an odd thing to do when I already had a lot of ideas down, I just wasn’t sure how to structure them and drive them forward. Although the workshop used a very simple ‘tentpole’ method to look at plotting, it made me really see my story with fresh eyes. In the end I realized that to make it work I had to add a couple of extra ‘flashpoints’ in relation to one of my themes, and also that the character whose story I was most interested in was not the one I expected!

So: perseverance, being willing to revisit the plot and characters you have with fresh eyes, never being afraid to change focus if the characters seem to be demanding it.

Now I just have the less than simple task of finding that elusive ‘self-belief’…

Photograph: One of my many methods of working out a plotline! Flipchart, coloured pens, stick-on events/scenes that can be juggled, strands for each character. This plotline never actually made it into being, but maybe one day…

annedegruchy.co.uk image: flipchart with plot outline

Check here for other people’s takes on how to deal with getting stumped in the middle of your plot:

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-137
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

© Anne de Gruchy

14

Talking about Genre (or: Trying to avoid the ‘L’ Word!)

A Round Robin Post

Hello dear friends and brave blog-readers.

Today I am going on a new adventure – I am trying out a blog-post for a writing-related ‘Round Robin’ that I discovered through a fellow member of the Book Connectors Facebook page. Here’s how it works:

Each month I will receive a new topic that I can choose to write about if it appeals to me. There is a specific date for publication, with other bloggers who are interested also posting on that subject on the same day. At the bottom of our posts we will all provide links to the other blogs that have participated. Thus you can dip into a whole series of alternative views on that topic should you feel like a marathon read.

www.annedegruchy.co.uk image: a shelf of books

Here is the topic I was asked to address today:

Whatever genre you write, do you have a different one that you love to read? What do you think attracts readers to certain genres?

Well, my first thought was: don’t get me started!

Genre is one of those things that people often ask about if you tell them that you’re a writer. ‘What kind of books do you write,’ they ask. ‘Literary fiction,’ I reply. Here there is usually a long pause and then, inevitably, the killer question: ‘What’s “literary fiction”?’

This is not something I find easy to answer. I think it’s obvious; other people clearly do not.

I looked up ‘literary’ in the online Oxford Dictionary which came up with the following: ‘Concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form’.

Great, I thought – although it can sound a bit arrogant if you use the ‘quality’ word as it seems to imply that other forms of literature are less than acceptable in this department. Further, the dictionary suggested that, in relation to language, ‘literary’ is associated with writing that has ‘a marked style intended to create a particular emotional effect’.

I’m not sure about that, and it does all seem a little vague. I am definitely a sucker for emotion though, and for anything that moves me or makes me think deeply about things. If I look honestly at my own novels it’s possibly only the most recently finished one that would fully qualify as ‘literary’. The one before might be ‘commercial women’s fiction with a literary bent’, whatever that is – but thereby hangs another tale.

I do have a get-out clause to explain what ‘literary fiction’ is when people ask me: anything that is likely to be entered for the Booker Prize. And, to be honest, this is also my favourite type of thing to read. Give me John Banville or Jon McGregor any day over romance or crime or steampunk (although that is rather fun). My favourite books of all time would include The Bone People by Keri Hulme (yes, it won the Booker) and Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton-Walsh (full of amazing ideas, and yes, a Booker shortlistee).

I find it interesting that I have attracted an agent who does not fully share my overly literary tastes. Her background, workwise, is slightly more commercial and also crime-orientated. When I described my reading tastes to her they included authors that she simply doesn’t get on with – I was reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child at the time. I do find it comforting that when I heard Alan Hollinghurst speak about his writing process it was remarkably similar to my own. Maybe this is an omen that there is hope for me yet in getting that publishing deal!

But I am a wide reader and I always have some non-fiction on the go, too. I am very into philosophy and spiritual writing, and am currently enjoying a brilliant translation of Rilke’s Book of Hours, subtitled Love Poems to God. I love poetry. And I’m not averse to the occasional foray across the fiction genres – for instance I enjoyed Stieg Larssons’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the rest of the Millennium Trilogy (it helped that I also have a dragon tattoo so there was an inbuilt affinity from page one).

So what do I think attracts readers to certain genres?

Well it’s so personal that I find it hard to say. I’m told that, however literary your work, you still need a good plot with a hook and direction and engaging characters, but I could give you examples of books that break that rule and still work. It helps though, whatever the genre, to be carried along with the characters and what they want to achieve; to feel that you are in good hands and will arrive at your destination without disappointment.

Personally, I love language. I love rhythm and metre and the way writing can make you sense and feel the things that the author is describing. I like an emotional journey as well as a practical one. I like ambiguous endings that don’t wrong-foot you at the last minute.

I do find it interesting that many of the writers that I like are men. I think that there can be a divide between the sexes in tastes, and where authors want to appeal across the gender divide they sometimes resort to de-sexing themselves by using initials. Think P D James or J K Rowling. I have not checked this statistically, but I suspect that men are much less likely to buy a book that they know is written by a woman. Women, however, seem to be more willing to cross the divide. (I have just done a little online search on this and discovered a Goodreads survey from a couple of years ago that showed an overwhelming proportion of books read – by both the sexes – were written by authors of the same gender, however the authors had branded themselves. I am always happy to be proved wrong!)

So… Perhaps readers make assumptions about what a book will be like depending on who has written it, and perhaps they have a better chance of liking it if they do! They also make assumptions based on the cover. Look at how standardized the styling of different genres has become, and at the repackaging of books aimed at young people with alternative covers to also appeal to an adult audience. We are a gullible lot, and well led by the media and the publishing industry.

But this cover ‘uniformity’ and branding by genre (dark pictures with big author names in silver letters equals ‘thriller’, etc) reflects what is probably a wider truth – people love the reassurance of what is familiar. They like to dip into a new book knowing that it will ‘fit’ like a comfy pair of old slippers. They stick with what they know. How they decide which genre constitutes a comfy pair of old slippers for them is another story.

Maybe there’s a case for simply going into a bookshop or an online store and choosing the fourth book along, on the third row down, and seeing whether, without prejudice, you might just happen to like it after all…

© Anne de Gruchy

Now check out what some other authors think about the subject of genre…

Skye Taylor http://www.askyetaylor.com/blogging_by_the_sea/view/542
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-11v
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog
Rachel Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/

3

In Praise of Eggs

Over the past couple of weeks my father and I have made several trips out to some of his favourite watery places – though, to be honest, any place with water is a favourite with dad. And, it being the time of year it is, we had some wonderful encounters with birds and their offspring.

During a visit to Attenborough Nature Reserve Dad managed a long slow walk along the lake edge. He was rewarded for his efforts while we rested on a bench and watched a family of mallards with no less that eleven ducklings meandering and re-grouping in eddies behind their parents. ‘It’s nice here,’ he said, and indeed it was.

Another day we drove out to Trent Lock. Here you will find the blessed confluence of many of Dad’s favourite things. Firstly there is water in several forms: the River Trent, the Erewash Canal and the Cranfleet Cut, and, disappearing off towards the power station, the River Soar. In addition to these joys there are also trains! The main line from London splits here with arms disappearing towards both Derby and Nottingham. Not only that, but the trains travel on bridges over the water.

Here, though, is the sad part. My father’s eyesight is getting so poor that even when a train went over the bridge ahead of us he could hear it but not see it at all.

We took ourselves off for consolation at the teashop where they were serving the most delicious home-made ice cream. It was one of those 30 degrees plus days and I had even managed to persuade Dad to come out without his full vest and jacket regalia. Further, I’d managed to do an application of sun-cream without so much as a grumpy word in response! Clearly the omens of the day were good. Dad, to my surprise, chose pineapple and coconut flavour – even after a taste test – and I had lemon cheesecake (ice cream that is, with the biscuit bits mixed in. Yum!).

We sat there, licking happily. The elderly couple at the next table started up a conversation and Dad was able to compare careers with another man who was an engineer who had worked in the civil service. They had both also worked for the Ministry of Defence. I’m afraid I couldn’t resist revealing my Quakerly and pacifist tendencies at the end of our companion’s proud assertions about his work with Trident. I once experienced a very profound Meeting for Worship outside the Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde – the home of the submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles. ‘We used to have a lot of problems with you lot,’ our companion told me. I’m sad to say that I simply thought: Yes!!!

Once we’d said our goodbyes, Dad and I wandered on down the canal where we encounted a family of swans. It must have been a productive and predator-light year because there were no less that eight already well-grown cygnets. My father was interested and tried to phrase his ideas but was clearly stuck for the relevant words.

‘The swans and their’ – big pause – ‘babies,’ he said. ‘When they give birth…’ he said. His mind was moving almost visibly. ‘When the babies come out.’

He stopped, flummoxed.

‘The cygnets hatch from eggs,’ I offered. ‘The mother bird sits on a nest with the eggs in to keep them warm until they crack open and the baby birds come out.’

‘Eggs!!’ said my father, happily, as he listened to my explanation. Then: ‘They’re very clever things.’

It occurred to me once again as we had this conversation, how the most effective and reassuring way to deal with someone with dementia is often the same way you might deal with a young child: by offering clarity and simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ choices, one at a time; by explaining about things that they are curious about; by never reacting in a way that implies they are stupid.

But there was a difference between Dad forgetting that eggs were the way birds hatched their young and the way a young child might learn about them. He clearly required the explanation of how eggs worked in addition to a reminder of the actual word, but once he had grasped what I was describing his face lit up and there was this huge joy at realizing what an interesting and wonderful thing eggs are.

If we are ever tempted to worry about what dementia might mean if it ever happened to us (something I am regularly guilty of), it is perhaps worth remembering that there are a million things about nature and this wonderful world just ready for us to rediscover all over again.

MAD MOMENT

Finally finishing the final final edit of my novel with the support and guidance of a real life – and very excellent – agent. And, to top it all, the manuscript being sent out this week to a round of editors/publishers. I feel like a proper novelist at last! (Please, please give me a publishing deal…)

MARVEL MOMENT

How my front garden has blossomed into this…

www.annedegruchy.co.uk image:  front garden full of flowers

© Anne de Gruchy

1

Making your Mark – Dementia and the Mental Capacity to Vote

Yesterday, I took my dad to vote.

So what, you say. But my dad has Alzheimers and, had I not told him about it, he would not have even registered that there was an election let alone that he could choose to vote in it. In fact, had I not made the effort when he first moved into a residential nursing home near me, he would not even appear on the electoral register here.

Me and my family are used to doing things for my dad. I receive and act on most of his mail and my sisters manage his finances and the rental of the house he used to live in. Someone else buys and prepares his food, puts out clean clothes, and shows him how to use the CD player. Someone else does his washing and makes his bed. Someone else gives him any medication he needs and takes him to appointments.

As one of dad’s Lasting Power of Attorneys I am also used to being involved in decision-making in dad’s best interests. He still has plenty of gumption and is well able to make his voice heard, he simply does not always understand the consequences of a particular course of action or have the awareness of what is possible in the first place.

So, dad has choices that we present to him and help him to put into practice, but those choices are totally dependent on us deciding to offer them to him in the first place. This is a big responsibility. It is especially a big responsibility when dad’s level of understanding and mental capacity is in question. It is an even bigger responsibility when, if I offer him the chance to vote, I know he will select the completely opposite political colour to myself in a potentially marginal seat!

I think you will have gathered by now that I am someone who takes my responsibilities seriously. I know that dad is a proud man who likes to do his civic duty. When I told him there was an election and asked if he’d like me to take him to vote his response was an immediate ‘yes’. He may not remember that I had telephoned him 20 minutes before when he said he would like to join me for my trip to the garden centre coffee shop and that he would be ready to go – he was sat in the lounge with a newly brewed pot of coffee when I arrived and insisted on drinking the whole pot before we set off – but he absolutely remembers which political party he has always voted for.

I thought about how much I should take into account dad’s understanding – or lack of it – of politics and the consequences of voting. So, for both this election and the local council elections before, I spent some time talking to him about his choices and what the different parties offered. We talked about the very different party politics in the area of South West London where I grew up, and his memories of voting in the past. He couldn’t remember the names of all the parties, but he knew the one he wanted to give his vote to.

So, with a slightly guilty conscience, I set off with dad for the polling station. My conscience was guilty for two reasons: firstly for the party I supported who were in a close two-horse race with the party dad wanted to vote for, and secondly because I even considered my own views at all when helping dad to exercise his right as a citizen. Why, just because he has dementia, should we write off every aspect of his life and understanding? How easy it would be to abuse the power I had and not to take him to vote at all. If I had wanted to, how easy it would have been to put the ‘X’ in the wrong box (dad is partially-sighted and cannot read the ballot paper or see to fill it in).

So, there I am, dad on my arm, completing forms to show that I have helped someone to vote, reading out to dad the list of candidates and who they represent, and carefully marking his choice on his behalf. I give him the folded ballot paper and guide his hand to the slot to post it in the box. We walk out into the sunshine and he says: ‘Thank you for helping me to vote.’ I feel like a million dollars.

Last night, half-asleep on the sofa in the wee small hours as the results came in, I held my breath as Broxtowe was declared. Dad’s candidate won, with a much reduced majority. I was gutted because I felt that we had a real chance of change here. My only consolation was that we were not the constituency that was returned with a 2 vote majority. That, and helping dad to exercise our hard-won democratic right to determine the kind of government we have.

MAD MOMENT

Nine nutty hours of gardening on behalf of my tenant – scratches, mud, and melting muscles!

MARVEL MOMENT

That Hung Parliament. Just not quite hung enough…

www.annedegruchy.co.uk image: dad and dog on a walk

Isla the dog voted to go for a walk instead…

© Anne de Gruchy

5

Edifying Editing Experiences

Well! It has been a while, hasn’t it, since I last ventured a blog post. Is working very very hard a good enough excuse?

By working I don’t just mean my new paid employment. This takes up the first part of my week and involves a job back in the field of mental health. This is my ‘real’ work – the thing that isn’t writing, the thing that actually pays the bills. It also makes me feel like a bona fide member of society again after two years out of paid work caring for my dad and making progress with my books.

But, why shouldn’t being a writer and a carer also make me feel like a bona fide member of society? This is a question I often ask myself, and I suppose it comes down to what I’m actually paid to do. Maybe if (oops, I mean ‘when’!) we sell my book I will actually feel that my writing counts.

When I typed that last sentence I originally put ‘if I sell my book’, then I had to delete the ‘I’ in favour of a ‘we’. This highlights rather well the difference that having an agent has made. (Did you know I now have an agent? Did you know it took me 17 years on-and-off to get there? I know – I’m beginning to be a bore on the subject!). Anyway, I now have the lovely Julia Silk from MBA Literary & Script Agents on my side. And that’s what it feels like – that there is genuinely someone there for me, who believes in my writing and is working alongside me to make the book the best it can be with the aim of finding a publishing home for it.

The whole process of actually signing up with an agency has been pretty nerve-wracking as well as exciting. Firstly there was the trip to London to meet with Julia, and the relief of getting on as well as I thought we would from our telephone conversations and email correspondence. We see eye to eye on my writing and the things that need to be done, and I respect her professional expertise. I knew we could build a relationship of trust. Then there was the scary nature of contracts and all things legal – it was with great relief that I joined the Society of Authors as an Associate Member and received advice from them. A lot of hand-holding was needed. Finally there was the scary nature of handing over the whole manuscript for in depth perusal and editing suggestions from someone else.

For me my books are, cliché that it is, a bit like children. I’ve moulded and refined them, had critiques and feedback, edited and refined again, then sent them out into the world in what I felt was the best shape I could muster. The characters can get stroppy and determined to have their way, but you love them nonetheless. When you get an agent, or indeed a publisher, you are suddenly in deeper waters – trusting your book to the close scrutiny of people who have expertise in the industry but who may not necessarily agree with you about what’s needed. They also have invaluable insights into what will actually sell.

And so it was that I awaited Julia’s suggestions with trepidation. She painstakingly went through the whole manuscript and not only lightened it by 4,000 words, but recommended that I took out a further 5,000. Descriptions that interrupted the flow of the story or messed up the tension were gone, gone, gone. I opened the document nervously and started reading.

What a relief it was to find that, on the whole, I agreed with her suggestions! Even where she had excised passages I felt a little precious about, I could still see why they needed to go. In the whole manuscript there was only one suggested deletion that I have asked to remain in!

Furthermore, the process of my own edit and cull of words felt positive and liberating, and I do feel we have a better book for it. Working one particular character into the plot earlier and enhancing her role also worked well. The manuscript has now winged its way back to Julia and yet again the ball is in her court.

So editing has proved an edifying experience. Now there is just the task of refining and agreeing changes and Julia developing and delivering her pitch to her selected publishers. That, and beginning the process all over again on a whole new book!

And, as for my dad, he is settled and happy at a care home close to me. Although his cancer is proving a little troublesome and his memory remains largely non-existent, we are going out together at least twice a week enjoying strolls with his dog (who is homed with a staff member), concerts, and plenty of meals out. Today we went out and bought him a sunhat. Of course he chose a classic and elegant design just like him!

MAD MOMENT

Setting off for a 10 mile walk over Beeley Moor with a forecast of rain, rain, rain! That, and the fact that there were 15 of us who risked it…

Image:  annedegruchy.co.uk - Beeley Moor

MARVEL MOMENT

Just being back in a job and enjoying it!

© Anne de Gruchy