Tuesday, 11 August 2015


I'm on The Romaniacs blog today, in celebratory mood. 
It's taken four years and four re-write but my first novel, 'Living in the Past,' (Formerly known as, 'Mother's Love') is finally FINISHED and was posted off to the RNA NWS yesterday! Hurrah! I'm talking about how tough it has been. But no looking back now. Only forward.
I DID IT! Thank you everyone for all your support and encouragement.
Until another day 
Bye for now

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

My Battle with Black Crows

Sir Winston Churchill was plagued by the black dog. For me, it's black crows. I'm over on The Romaniacs blog with the next in our, 'Life Cycle of a Writer series,' talking about my continuing battle with getting in the 'write mood.'

Hope to see you there

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Heard of Behcets disease?

Not many people have. And so I thought, seeing as today is Behcets Disease Awareness Day, I would share my story in the hope that it might help others, especially anyone who's struggling health wise and looking for a diagnosis...

I was ten or eleven when I first started with growing pains. Or that was what they told my Nan it was. But when the pain in my knees and legs became so bad that Nan had to push me around in a wheelchair she fought to get me to see an Orthopaedic consultant. He accused Nan, who’d adopted me when I was three, of being neurotic and over protective. When she denied this, he suggested it might be my neurosis – perhaps I was just trying to get attention. Either way, he thought we were both wasting his time.

Undeterred, Nan didn’t give up and argued with every doctor who would listen, refusing to believe that a young child could suddenly go from being active, enjoying gym, dance and life to being reduced to shuffling up and down stairs on their bottom, screaming in pain when getting in and out of the bath and unable to dress themselves.

Her tenacity paid off. Another consultant, with a much improved bedside manner and convinced the problem was with my back, tried me on traction for four weeks. It didn’t help but he referred me to a Neurologist. After many tests, between them, they discovered a defect with a disc in my spine. They operated and it improved. At the time there was nothing to suggest there may be an underlying condition. It was thought the operation had been a success. I was discharged and didn’t have any further leg or back problems for many years. Oh, there were many other symptoms over the years but nothing to link them and it's only now as I write this I see the connection and realise those early problems were the beginning.

Many teenagers develop Glandular Fever. It’s debilitating and can take months to recover so when I got it and around the same time started with clusters of severe mouth ulcers, we thought it was connected. A few months later, a new problem developed. On first appearances it looked like flea bites on my shins but they felt hot to the touch and hurt like bruises. Some grew so big it felt as if a horse had kicked me. A couple of years on, I woke one morning with the most terrible pain in my right elbow. Because I’d dislocated it when I was eight we presumed it was rheumatism but the pain was excruciating, almost as if it was dislocated and didn’t sit correctly in the socket so when I could bear it no longer, I went to the doctors.

He did some blood tests but they came back normal. However, he started to link the joint pain and the erythema nodosum (the lumps on my legs) together and sent me for a chest X-Ray to eliminate Sarcoidosis. It was clear. The lumps and mouth ulcers continued, along with the joint pain which had moved from my elbow and started flitting to various parts of my body. After continuous tests the GP drew a blank and said he couldn’t find anything wrong with me.

By the age of nineteen I should have been having the time of my life. I lived for Friday nights, to go to Cinderella Rockerfellas and Madisons in Leeds with my friends but by then the joint pain was becoming more frequent and when it flared, I found the pain so unbearable, I would cry myself to sleep at night. Yet to look at me, nothing seemed wrong. No redness. No swelling or hot joints. Normal blood tests. By the time I was in my early twenties the GP's had done everything in the way of tests and I’d tried many of the standard anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) and painkillers. Nothing helped. Even I started to wonder if it was all in my head.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I met and married my ex-husband and developed a promising career with Lloyds Bank. Life was good for a couple of years. And something even better happened when I got pregnant; all my symptoms – the ulcers, joint pain, lumps on legs - everything disappeared.

The euphoria was short lived. Within three months of having my first son, the symptoms came back with a vengeance. At last, with a different GP, I saw a Rheumatologist. He found my symptoms baffling too. He had heard of many cases of symptoms going into remission when women got pregnant and started to wonder whether my problems were hormonally linked. Or whether it was some form of arthritis. Or maybe Lupus or some other auto-immune disease.
As my symptoms worsened and he resorted to drawing fluid off my knees and injecting my joints with steroids and cortisone, the only thing that kept me going, as well as my family, was the reassurance of that Rheumatologist, and knowing I wasn’t going mad. At last, I’d found someone who believed me.

The effects of the injections were remarkable. My Consultant and GP prescribed a mixture of NSAID’s and prednisolone (Steroids) and for the first time in years I could dance. We went on a couple of wonderful holidays. I progressed in my job and had three promotions in two years. Whatever had been wrong with me, I was cured!

That was, until my son became seriously ill. Whether it was the stress or co-incidence, I don’t know, but my condition deteriorated rapidly. For a couple of years thereafter, my symptoms were out of control. Higher and higher doses of prednisolone were needed to get on top of my symptoms. But as I developed painful nodules around my joints and my eye sockets, even 60mgs of steroids didn’t help. With every new flare up, it seemed the pain worsened until it became all-consuming. I had to change my car to an automatic as I could barely drive. My ex-husband had to lift me in and out of bed, fetch painkillers in the night and help bath me and wash my hair. He made me a makeshift frame for the bed as I couldn’t even bear the weight of the bedclothes on my legs and feet. Looking back, I remember one day - it was ridiculous – I had injections in both feet then went to work afterwards for some meeting or other. I remember him saying he couldn’t keep ‘patching me up’ like this. But I couldn’t give in. Desperation and sheer determination were all that kept me going.

In the midst of this misery, by chance one day my usual GP was on holiday and I saw a new one who had an interest in Rheumatology. She had worked with a leading authority in Rheumatology at the leading Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry and suggested he might help. I paid for a private consultation and met him two days later.

I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason. For the first time in my life I knew as soon as I met him that I had found someone who I could truly talk to and who understood my problems. He didn’t profess to have the answers. Whatever I had was complicated. My symptoms weren't typical of any of the obvious rheumatic ailments. He weighed up my symptoms and how I presented; the mouth ulcers, the erythema nodosum on my legs which was now attacking my joints and the severe joint pain but he was puzzled because other than an occasional bout of stomach ache, there didn’t appear to be any significant bowel problems and also, whilst I had mouth ulcers, I hadn’t had any vaginal ulcers. If I'd had these, he thought he could definitely say it was Behcets disease.

I was thirty-two years old and it was the first time, after twenty years of problems, anyone had mentioned the words, ‘Behcets Disease.’

It’s almost fifteen years ago that I found my lovely Consultant Rheumatologist. Since then, he’s seen the best and very worst of me. The toughest times were the year I spent ten weeks in the RJAH with Avascular Necrosis of my left hip and subsequent surgery. As a result, I had to retire from my job in the bank, aged only thirty-two. Then following a miscarriage and subsequent surgery, I stayed in for a week with acute diarrhoea stomach pain and profuse bleeding. At first they thought they had perforated my bowel in the procedure but I’ve had flare ups of ulcerative colitis ever since. And vaginal ulcers. I get regular crops of them now along with everything else.

For my Rheumatologist, this was the last piece of the jigsaw. The onset of colitis and genital ulcers convinced him this must be Behcets. Life continued with a weekly cocktail of Methotrexate, Sulphasalazine, Celecoxib and analgaesics, alongside intermittent injections in whatever joint flared and things were as good as they could be until 2009. That was when I started with jaw problems. A year later, following a first bout of surgery, I had bilateral Total Jaw replacement surgery in October 2010. It turned out to be Avascular Necrosis in both jaws.It was tough, really tough, but following the surgery, I felt I had my life back and the nine hours of surgery and months of rehabilitation had been worth it.

But here’s the rub. You see the thing with Behcets; just when you think you’ve turned a corner, or believe things are looking up, something else happens, and BANG! - it smack's you round the chops – and before you know it, there’s something new to deal with. Some other battle to fight. Over the last year my condition has deteriorated again. Last October I did a swim challenge for Arthritis Care with my son and raised £730. Yet now, I wouldn't be able to get in and out of the pool, let alone swim, the pain is so severe in both shoulders, my chest and neck. Hip and feet pain means I presently need a stick to help mobilise. Oh, yes, and my jaws are failing. The pain is back – not quite as severe as it was before my replacements but it's worsening and my mouth opening is down to just over a centimetre. The worry is, the Avascular Necrosis may be spreading further in my jaw/skull.

There’s no such thing as a good day. There are no long periods of remission as there used to be thirty-five years ago. Since last July the flare-ups of ulcerative colitis and the vaginal ulcers have been much worse. Sorry, we British don’t like to mention the word, 'bowel,' do we? Or think about vaginal ulcers. But please imagine the scenario I faced a few weeks ago when everything was flaring and I couldn’t dash upstairs to the toilet quickly enough. How, with the pain in my shoulders and hands, I struggled to pull my trousers down and couldn’t clean myself and found it difficult to even get into the bath to shower. Sorry to be so graphic. But people don’t see that. No-one can truly understand unless they have Behcets disease or some other chronic auto-immune condition and live with the range of symptoms day in, day out.

But I'm lucky. Following these recent problems my Consultant referred me to the new Behcets Centre of Excellence in Birmingham. Wow, what a set up. Anyone with even the slightest mention of the diagnosis, Behcets Disease, please insist on obtaining a referral from your GP or Rheumatologist. There are only three in the country. It’s a wonderful facility. I saw four different Consultants in one day along with two specialist nurses. And I'm pleased to say, thirty-five years on I have (she says, almost crying at the emotion of it all) a definite diagnosis of Bechets Disease. My Rheumatologist was right. And I wasn’t neurotic after all.
The plan is to start a clinical trial of anti-TNF medication - probably intravenous Infliximab - every six weeks for a year to try and 'dampen’ the Behcets and reduce the need for more joint replacements. However we can’t go ahead with that until I find out if it’s Avascular Necrosis in my shoulders and whether they need replacing or if my jaws require more surgery. The MRI is booked for a couple of weeks so hopefully, I’ll soon know.

I’m forty-seven years old now. Some days I feel like an eighty-seven year old. When you live with a chronic condition the future is always uncertain so I’ve learnt it’s no good looking too far into the future or trying to plan too far ahead. Tomorrow I should have been going on holiday to Italy but had to cancel due to my health. Hey, remember what I said about hindsight? If I’m honest, it was always a little ambitious.

Perhaps for the first time in many years I’ve learned to ‘embrace’ my condition. I have a lodger – Behcets disease – I can’t change it. I can only accept it and try to manage the best I can. Oh yes, and stop being so proud and accept my limitations! People don’t see pain. You look alright. You try to smile through the pain. What’s the good in moaning? No-one likes a moaner. So you get on with it. What else can you do?

One thing for sure, anyone out there with Behcets disease or any other similar chronic auto-immune condition, don’t give in. And if you're looking for diagnosis, don't take no for an answer. Take it from one who knows. Stay strong if you're suffering. Be kind to yourself and try to find others in the same situation. There are plenty of on-line forums and support groups for various ailments and diseases. And for those of you with Behcets, Arthritis or suffering from chronic pain, I'm always here. You are not alone...

Until another day

ps - I've given as much information here and detailed as many links as I could but if you need any further info or contacts, feel free to ask.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Woohoo, welcome, Catherine Miller!

Shhh… while her twin baby girls are having a nap, new mummy,
Catherine Miller, AKA Katy Little Lady and one eighth of my lovely Romaniacs Group is making the most of a few moments to herself. She's going to have a little well-deserved time out and some tea and cake so why don’t you join us?

Catherine, thank you for not joining the twins and catching up on your own sleep! (I knew the lemon drizzle cake would work) It’s good to see you here. We’ve met in quite a few places and chat most days in cyber space but never interviewed each other. Let’s start at the beginning with how you started writing …

Where did your interest in writing come from and what inspired you to start writing?
I've loved it since my teen years. I was an avid reader and started my first novel attempt at about age 14. I also wrote terrible poems at that age.

What (or who) brought you to the RNA and the NWS?
I joined a local writing group - Southampton Writing Buddies - and the founder of the group, Penny Legg, told me about the RNA NWS and encouraged me to join. I'm very glad she did.

I never have enough time in the day and I don’t have twin baby girls. How on earth do you manage to brush your hair and teeth in a day, let alone manage any writing?
I've become the queen of multi-tasking! I don't think there are many times in the day when I'm doing only one thing. I've found returning to pen and paper a great way to write. When I find myself with a spare few minutes I scribble and type up in the evenings when I have the energy.

In the Romaniacs anthology, ‘Shorts,’ I really enjoyed, ’Flights of Fancy.’ Where did you get the idea?
It's based on a real shop nearby. The shop is vacant and one day I noticed there were only pigeons on that one roof, none of the other shops. I instantly thought there was a story in it.

How do you find writing shorts as opposed to a novel?
Some ideas don't have the legs to be a novel so I try and turn them into short stories. I think I'm stronger at novels, although have less of them published at the moment!

The Romaniacs are donating half the money raised from their, 'Shorts Anthology' to go to the Dyslexia Institute. I know it’s a cause close to your heart as I understand you have Dyslexia. When did you discover you were dyslexic?
I was diagnosed when I was young. It was classed as brain damage associated dyslexia caused by a complicated breech delivery when I was born. Thankfully there were no other problems.

Can you give us an insight into the kind of difficulties writing poses to you?
I had excellent one on one teaching when I was young which helped me overcome most of my problems. I was taught everything by sound so these days words that are similar in sound cause the most difficulty. Things like brought/bought, except/accept. The more I write, the more aware I've become of the things that trip me up.

Well, there are several famous writers with dyslexia such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie and Lynda La Plante so you’re in good company. It didn’t stop them and I’m sure it won’t affect you in achieving your writing goals. What advice do you have for a wannabe writer who may have dyslexia or another learning difficulty?
I'd say go with my motto: Nothing is easy, everything is possible. I think the things that are most worthwhile are the things you work hardest for.

Since Baby Number Two was shortlisted for the Festival of Romance New Talent Award in 2013, what have you done with it?
Not as much as I'd like given the amount of time the twins need but I think cuddles are more important for now. I hope to complete the full first draft this year and have started making headway.

Aside from a good night’s sleep, what would you most desire/want at this moment in time?
My life is pretty complete at the moment. The only thing that would really be the icing in the cake would be to get an agent/publishing contract by the end of the year. Any year. I'm not specifying which one ;)

Well, somehow I see that happening sooner rather than later. It's been lovely to spend a few moments with you, my lovely friend. I wish you well with all your writing, and that you might get a good nights sleep before too long.

You can follow Catherine on her blog HERE and read her stories in the Romaniacs Anthology, 'Romaniac Shorts,' available to download as an e-book from Amazon HERE for just £1.00!

Until another day

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Bluestocking Mum - Published Author!

No, you’re not seeing things. I’ve dusted off the knick-knacks, removed the dust sheet from my sofa and desk and shaken the cobwebs off this poor neglected blog. And what’s brought about this phenomenon I hear you ask? Well, in case you haven’t heard, I’m celebrating becoming a published author! Yes, you heard right. To mark the two year anniversary of our blog, those splendiferous Romaniac girls and I have put together an anthology of short stories and flash fictions, aptly named,‘Romaniac Shorts.’

For anyone who hasn’t heard of The Romaniacs we are a … errm … how do I describe us? … a once seen, never forgotten bunch of writers and members of the Romantic Novelist's Association New Writers Scheme We met at the Festival of Romance and RNA Winter party in 2011 and instantly clicked. As individually different as a tin of Quality Street, common values and goals have united us and helped create our tight bond and unit. We laugh together, we cry together, but most of all we support one another and are even known to kick each others butts if the need arises!
Several of our group are now published authors in their own right and have found agent representation so it shows the ‘power of eight,’ and that anything can happen if you believe, work hard and never give in. Dreams can come true.

Thanks to the girls I’m still plugging away with the novel and my non-fiction book proposals and until such time as I secure myself an agent and publication, I’m thrilled to be able to see two of my stories published in Romaniac Shorts. So, why not grab yourself a cuppa and a couple of digestive biscuits? Or cake(We Romaniacs are rather partial to cake)Take an hour or two out to pick and mix your way through the range of different styles, viewpoints and moods that reflect our inimitable characters. Laugh and cry with us. And help us raise money for two good causes close to our hearts. We're pleased to tell you that ALL money raised will be shared between Dyslexia Action and the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme fund. If you'd like to support us and download our E-book for just £1.00, click HERE for the Amazon link.

In the meantime, I’ll be back again in a few days when one of my lovely Romaniac friends,
Catherine Miller, AKA Katy Little Lady will be joining me here on the sofa.

Until another day

Thursday, 13 February 2014

I'm Celebrating!

See why over on the Romaniacs blog.

I'll be back here tomorrow with more details.

Until then


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

Yes, I have blogged!

And we can thank lovely Irish writer, Johanna Leahy for this auspicious occurrence as she’s nominated me for ‘The Next Big Thing,’ a blogosphere initiative where bloggers reach out to new readers, introduce you to some of their favourite writers and reveal a bit about their own writing before passing on the baton again… You get the gist?

In her own words, Johanna describes herself as a "Serial-expat, ambitious writer, living in Kuala Lumpur with 3 kids, 4 guinea pigs, and a Danish husband. Obviously not in order of importance." She's currently working on her second novel, “The Stolen Child”, a story set in two time periods – the 1960s and contemporary Ireland. It's about a young woman forced into a Mother & Baby Home to have her baby, the child ultimately taken against her will to be adopted in the US. Forty years later, her son, whom she has kept a secret, turns up on her doorstep. His appearance has far-reaching consequences for the two sisters who didn't know he existed and for their mother who has never recovered from losing him. It sounds just my cup of tea!

Johanna also invited our mutual friend, Sharon Naylor (talented writer and very funny blog alert) whom we met on an Arvon course a few years ago so we're blogging alongside each other today. Sharon is working on her debut novel, Legal Ade, the story of Adrian Pritchard, a hapless man who has long suspected that life as he knows it might well be over. He is overweight and hypertensive, the family business is teetering towards bankruptcy and his wife has run off with a biker. After a disastrous break at a French spa he forms an uneasy alliance with two women. Carol and Angie are temporary exiles from a tough London estate. They have many secrets, not least those large men with violent tendencies on their tail. After being mistaken for their accomplice Adrian is forced into events he doesn’t understand, and it all seems to hinge on exactly who and where is the mysterious “Frank”. As the differences and similarities between he and his companions emerge, Adrian realises with dread that it might be up to him to save the day. But he`s not sure he`s up to it…

And so now on to my questions:

What is the working title of your book?
Ahh, straight away I’m smiling. This novel started off as ‘Living in the Past’ but following a couple of adverse comments about the title I changed it to ‘Mothers Love.’ However, this year I sent it on the Romantic Novelist's Association New Writers Scheme and my wonderful reader said it wasn’t strong enough. It needed to convey the long-held family secrets and maybe have the word, ‘past’ in it. So guess what? Yep. ‘Living in the Past’ is back. It just shows you should trust your gut instincts, although don’t be too surprised if an agent or publisher changes the title anyway ;-)

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Can you believe, Nicky Campbell! I’ve always been fascinated by people and their lives; where they’ve come from, what shaped them, and the paths they have taken. Having a very complicated family set up and past myself.(For more see THIS blog.)I’ve enjoyed watching the series ‘Long Lost Families,’ hearing the tales of how families are torn apart and how sometimes people keep secrets from even those close to them to protect them, and themselves. And I’ve always wanted to write a ‘gritty’ novel. I adore the writing of the ‘Angry Young Men’ – the likes of Stan Barstow, Allan Sillitoe, Nell Dunn etc and anything that resembles kitchen sink dramas, and so the two aspects gelled together well.

What genre does your book fall under?
Commercial Women’s Fiction. A section of the book is a war-time romance but it definitely isn’t romantic fiction. It has the theme of love running throughout but it’s about many kinds of love; the love between mother, daughter, father, lover and the nature of truth and the fierce drive to love. I’d like to position it as a Book Club read.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m afraid I don’t see Hollywood actors in any of the roles. My main character would be easy to cast if the wonderful Dame Thora Hurd were still alive. I can hear her voice narrating the story of the old lady as she lies in a hospital bed looking back over her life but Maureen Lipman would be my second choice. The ‘young' Maggie just wouldn’t work with Anne Hathaway’s version of a Yorkshire accent (sorry – I loved her in ‘One Day’ but the Yorkshire accent was none existent) so I’d want authentic, spirited, feisty Yorkshire characters like Helen Baxendale for the lead and seeing as her husband, 'Bertie,’ is from Sheffield I reckon Sean Bean would be perfect. Well, any excuse for a photo.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Living in the Past is a love story but it’s also a human story about how families can sometimes hide the biggest secrets from each other; the lies they tell to protect others and themselves and how secrets, however well intentioned, bring only pain but how forgiveness transcends all hurts.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Three months. Trouble is that was three years ago and since then it’s had three further re-writes and I’ve ground to a halt over the last eighteen months since I’ve been crippled by writer’s block.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hmm. I’m not sure. I would like to think if you like Louise Voss or Elizabeth Bucan, you’d like this but in all honesty, I think the reason this novel is different is because I’ve found my writer’s ‘voice’ and simply written the kind of book I enjoy to read. So I’d probably best let the reader decide.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Easy. My Nan - the most formidable, difficult, but kindest, biggest-hearted lady you could imagine. Oh yes, and a very complicated past. Also I spent my formative years in Pudsey, Leeds, so everything about the novel lends itself to a Yorkshire setting – wartime, life in a small town, textile mills, back to back terracing, and Yorkshire people and how they call a spade a spade.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Nostalgia. Life in the Second World War. Growing up in the sixties and seventies. Yorkshire folk. And making you think about people and what makes them do some of the things they do.

When and how will it be published?
One day. I hope. I’m fortunate to be over the first big hurdle and already have an agent waiting to see the finished MS. How lucky am I? I met Jane Judd when I came second at the Festival of Romance Convention New Talent Award in 2011 but as I mentioned earlier, since around that time, writer’s block has hindered progress due to personal circumstances.

Well, I think that completes my questions. Sincere thanks again to Johanna for enabling me to talk about Living in the Past. It’s a rather special novel and I still get a huge buzz writing about it so the hunger isn’t lost to see it through to fruition once my head has cleared. And to Sharon for keeping me company today (and sometimes in the wee small hours on Facebook!)

In the meantime I’ll keep working on my other novels and non-fiction ideas but for now, pass the baton to my chosen writers who all have the potential to be 'The Next Big Thing. We are all sisters in words. And so it goes...

Check out their blogs and watch out for their ‘Next Big Thing posts:’

Where to start with fellow Romaniac, Laura E James? Rock. Kindred Spirit. Dear friend(even when she gives me a kick up the butt!) Laura is knocking on the door of publication and I don't think she'll be long until it opens.

Next is the gorgeous Nikki Goodman, a fellow member of the Romantic Novelist's Association New Writer's Scheme who I've become friends with and is an extremely talented writer. Oh yes, and we share a mutual love of wine too!

And last but by no means least is a cyber friend who I haven't yet had the pleasure to meet - Sue Jackson. Sue's a writer and journalist and has written several novels which she is seeking representation of. However her latest novel, FOUR LEFT FEET was awarded Highly Commended in the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance in November 2012 and is currently being read by a literary agent so she really could be The Next Big Thing!

Until another day
Bye for now