It’s been a while since I last posted a blog and that is because the past six weeks have been a sad and traumatic time for our family.
After a long hard battle with Vascular Dementia, and more recently, the devastating effects of a stroke, my mum Rita passed away on October 7th. Her quality of life hadn’t been good for some time and although we are all devasted by her passing, there is an element of relief that her suffering is over.
Inevitably the death of a parent causes you to re-evaluate your own life, to look back to your childhood and beyond, to examine your relationship with your parents, and to face the stark reality that you are now the older generation within your immediate family.
So here’s my personal tribute to mum, the feisty Irish woman who kept that fighting spirit right up until the end.
Like a lot of her generation, mum devoted most of her life to bringing up her four children, while my dad worked as a carpenter. They were private, modest people who came to Birmingham in the mid 1950s to find work. Mum was born in Belfast and dad in Dublin and for them family was everything.
After dad died at a relatively young age, mum’s life revolved around her five grand children and every so often she would make the journey ‘back home’ as she still called Belfast, to see her northern Irish family.
Like many daughters, I had a complicated relationship with mum and when my all consuming career in journalism and TV production took off, I have to admit that family priorities were given a back seat. While working long hours, travelling across the country and on a number of occasions to the USA, visits to see mum had to be squeezed in around these commitments. For a number of years work became the main priority and although loving what I did, at times it felt like living to work rather than the other way around.
I also (wrongly) assumed that mum took no great interest in the stuff of careers, not really understanding why anyone would put so much time and effort into the world of work. Then, just before I headed off to Bermuda in 2011 to join my husband who had been offered a forensic post on the island, mum handed me a large package. Inside she had collected a mass of magazine and newspaper cuttings, going right back to the start of my career. I was taken aback and extremely touched by this – although she never really said much, she had read all of the features and had hung on to them. I must admit to shedding a few tears that day, realising not for the first time how I’d misinterpreted her views.
Looking back, there were signs that mum was becoming ill a few years before her diagnosis. Little things that in hindsight all add up. She would often ask the same question over and over, would forget what food she’d bought, stocking up on stuff she already had in, calling at odd times of the day and then forgetting why she had rung in the first place. Without knowing the cause, this behaviour seemed bizarre and sometimes annoying. Once it became clear that her illness was causing this, the shutters came off and perversely my own relationship with mum improved. What I’d seen as a failure to listen, someone who was calling at the times I’d asked her to avoid, suddenly had an explanation. Mum wasn’t being difficult or awkward, she was simply showing the signs of the cruellest of illnesses. Yet another misunderstanding.
Despite everything mum kept the essence of her personality up until the end. Well into her illness, she could still remember her Irish dancing steps and the lyrics of songs. She would point to the map of Northern Ireland on her nursing home room door and until recently, could still recognise us when we made our visits from Cornwall. She was surrounded by photos of her family and had a regular stream of visitors from my siblings and her grand children.
Today, we all are trying to remember the happier times before the illness took hold. Her love of sweet foods, probably caused by rationing during the war. Her constant quest for bargain deals at the Bull Ring market – often turning out to be anything but. Her turns at Irish dancing at family parties, the Catholic icons dotted around her house, (some of which frightened her grand children when they were growing up!), and the feistiness which never left her.
So RIP mum Rita. It took a few years, but I now realise just how strong you were and that you did your best for all of your family. Thanks to you, I still have those early cuttings too – a part of my own history that you saved up specially. You will live on in your children and grand children, all of us the keepers of your memories.
One little postscript. Animals, especially dogs, can be incredibly attuned to emotions and moods. In the past few weeks our dog, Bonnie, has realised that something was amiss and that we were feeling sad. She followed us around the house, constantly checking that we were OK and cosying up to us at every opportunity. She knew we needed some extra affection and like all dogs, gave it unconditionally. However sad we felt, we had to take her out for walks and exercise is a great mood enhancer. So thanks Bonnie dog, you’re a little star.
If we thought last year was busy in west Cornwall, well that was nothing compared to the sizzling summer of 2018.
Not only record temperatures but soaring visitor numbers too – our town of Marazion has seen thousands of people arrive to enjoy the beach, watersports, St Michael’s Mount, and some great eateries.
Yes the road traffic has increased and you have to factor in a lot more time to get to places. But heh – it’s fun to people watch and do some celebrity spotting. On that note, former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, (now Horner) and her family have been holidaying in the area and even popped into our local, the Godolphin Arms.
A combination of a weak pound, sunny weather, an increase in foreign visitors and more ‘staycations’, has given a big boost to the local economy and just when you think Cornwall can’t get any busier in the summer months – well think again. This trend is here to stay and with it comes those traffic niggles and queues, the good with the bad. Yes really!
Recently, I’ve taken part in a couple of live interviews for our local radio station, Coast FM. The first was about Bonnie dog’s ‘Pets As Therapy’ role and afterwards the presenter, Pat Quayle, asked if I could do another live chat with her about writing and working in television.
The thing about live interviews, is they are seat of the pants stuff. Once you’ve said something that’s it, there is no going back. As someone who is more used to asking the questions rather than answering them, it’s been a fascinating but strange experience.
Pat Quayle has an acting background and has worked for the BBC, so knows her writing and production stuff. Her late brother, Eric, had one of the country’s largest book collections and was also an author. Before we knew it, half an hour had flown by and I’ve been promised a copy to share on social media – but only when it’s been listened to and vetted by yours truly!
Meantime, I’m looking to make contact with the real Debbie McKay – the one who used to live in our house – and who happens to have a namesake character in my ‘Dilemma Novella’ series. I knew nothing about this until I gave a talk to a local group earlier this year and someone came up afterwards to ask me if the main ‘Debbie’ character in my books was named after someone who once resided at our home.
Given that the character’s name was chosen well before we moved here – and is actually a combination of the names of two friends – it’s a spooky coincidence. So watch this space and I’ll report on how it goes.
Now for Bonnie dog’s news…
Notice how I’ve been shunted to the tail end of the blog again? This had better be a short term thing, or I’ll be stamping those paws and causing mayhem. Come on, this is no place for a doggy star in the making and well I know it.
Rant over – for now.
Talking of spotlight, guess who got all the attention at the Leonard Cheshire home summer fete the other day? Yes, I know when that yellow coat thingy goes on – and the PAT collar tag – that I need to be on my best behaviour. No jumping up or grabbing treats. (Not that this gal would ever grab food unlike some greedy mutts I know).
Still, it’s summer and everyone was chilled out at the fete. A bit different then from my usual visit and we hung around for a tad longer, while little ol’ me enjoyed the extra pats and yes, the odd doggy treat.
So here’s a piccy of me below with the rent Paul wearing matching mellow yellow.
Two cool dudes eh? (Lol – as the rents would say).
Now that I’ve made my radio debut, there’s a rumour that there could be more. I don’t get to say much but who cares? Those studio bods sure know how to make a fuss and I can just lounge around, while the two legged lot do all the work.
What’s not to like?
Woof and out..’
There has been a lot going on recently, so just easing back into the writing business with Bonnie the ‘dog blogger’ taking a back seat again. Not her favourite spot!
A few weeks ago I got a request to do an interview with a journalism student as part of a final university degree assignment. It’s not easy choosing where to focus when your job spans several decades working across print, television production, and more recently, novel writing.
Then the more tricky question. What is your career highlight?
Awards are the thing that many people measure success by, and of course receiving a Royal Television Society Award from television peers was fantastic. So too was making the shortlist for the best UK Medical Journalism Awards for an ITV ‘Tonight’ programme on the difficult subject of early onset puberty in children.
But hand on heart, the real highlight has to be a campaign some years ago to get a change in the law on Unfitness to Plead, with a TV documentary involving a number of legal and mental health professionals. These included solicitor Paul Bacon who became a good friend, and eventually we set up an independent TV production business.
The documentary was based on the sad case of a young woman who ‘confessed’ to murdering her grand father. As she was mentally unfit to stand trial – she had a learning disability – she was packed off to a long stay secure unit indefinitely. Eventually, the real killer, (another family member), stood trial but her case showed up shortcomings in the law where people were found incapable of giving evidence.
When making the programme we found other examples of people with learning disabilities being sent away to long stay institutions for much more trivial offences, effectively being sentenced to indefinite incarceration without trial. Not long after the programme aired, the law was changed to give better protection to people who had been found unfit to plead.
Sitting in parliament and listening to the debates which led to a law change, shows just what a privilege it is to work in a profession which can be a force for reform. Of course there is bad journalism – there are rotten apples in every profession – but day in and out, there are campaigning journalists who take on great causes, allowing marginalised people to be heard who would otherwise be left without a voice.
So here’s to campaigning, investigative reporting and its impact for good.
Now for a strange coincidence.
When attending the Dublin Writers Conference last year, I was paired with another author whose own life experience mirrored a central part of the plot in my three part novella series. We were pretty much randomly selected, so the odds of that happening were long.
More recently, after being invited to give a talk to a local women’s group, I came across yet another jaw dropping coincidence.
The main character in my novella series is a middle aged woman called Debbie McKay. The name was concocted as a mix of a schoolfriend’s first name and another friend’s second name. (Though the spelling is slightly different).
After the talk, I was approached by a neighbour, and asked if I’d named my key character after someone with the same name ‘who used to live in your house’.
Seeing my bemused expression, she explained that the first owners of our house were the McKay family and their daughter was called – wait for it – Debbie.
Looking back through the paperwork she was right – a Mr and Mrs McKay were the first couple to own our property – but, this is the strangest bit, I’d begun to write the story well before I even knew that. Apparently, the namesake daughter is now living elsewhere and I’ll certainly try to make contact.
Isn’t that bizarre? Quite spooky but thrilling.
On the subject of books, there have been occasional comments on writer forums about the level of support (or lack of it) given to authors by friends and family. Some say they get a lot of great support, while others complain – and goodness knows why – that those close to them seem to resent or even harbour envy at what they’ve achieved.
While it’s cheering to get good reviews and feedback, the answer is simple really. Don’t expect or require validation from others, whoever they are. Anyone who has the discipline, commitment and ability to produce one or several books has already achieved what most people never will and should pat themselves on the back for that. If I could have a pound or dollar for everyone who has said ‘I’d love to write a book but…’ (insert excuse) I’d be a wealthy woman.
So to all my writer friends out there, congratulations for walking the walk, getting on with it, and achieving those writing goals.
Now over to Bonnie dog, stuck at the tail end of the blog…
Short and sweet from me this time, as (sniff) most of the blog space has been gobbled up.
Well, it looks like I’ll soon be heading into a radio studio with the rents, to talk about my ‘Pets As Therapy’ dog work. I’ve been told I’ve got to be on my best behaviour and not to put a paw wrong.
As if I would? (Tee hee).
Then I’ll be off to the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity dog show, strutting my stuff and hopefully making off with a rosette or two.
After that we’ve got visitors coming at the end of June, so no doubt the rents will be tidying up, shoving all my stuff out of the way so I can’t find a thing, and – yikes – giving me a bath. (I put up with the bath but it’s not my favourite thing). Still, it’s good to see some new faces and we’ll be taking them out and about which I love – especially if there’s a decent walk and a pub involved.
There’s more TV filming going on in Cornwall, so I expect rent Maggie will be writing about it and that I’ll get a visit to the set. Last time that happened, I was spoiled rotten with treats and pats – one of the film crew even described little ol’ me as a ‘real distraction’.
Not a bad compliment, eh?
Promise to post a few photos when it happens and meantime, here’s one to be getting on with…me trying to blend in nicely with the stair carpet’
Bonnie is back in pole position as the doggy blogger!
There’s been lots going on here and I’ve just celebrated my – ahem – 4th birthday in style. Home made cake and something called Prosecco for the two legged lot and some yummy mutt treats for little ol’ me. (Hmm, perhaps I should re-word that to to take out the ol’ bit? Afterall, 4 is the new 2 in the world of mutts).
Guests of honour were my pal Russ, neighbour Mary, and the rents of course. We hung out in Bonnie’s Crib, (aka the Conservatory), and as usual I did all the hard work of meeting and greeting. It’s what this gal is good at, trotting about and getting loads of attention.
Shame this birthday stuff only happens once a year. I mean, why can’t we have six monthly birthdays or even one every month? Just saying…
Rent Maggie recently did a radio interview for Coast FM, talking about the West Cornwall Media Club thingy which she set up a couple of years ago with pal Graham Buckley. No mention of me in it but I reckon I’d make a cracking subject. I could always woof on about my favourite dog friendly pub calendar, my role as a Pets As Therapy Dog, my visit to a film set, the best beaches around – the list is endless.
Talking of beaches, I joined the rents the other day for something called ‘Big Spring Beach Clean’ where we picked up loads plastic, bits of glass and other stuff that has no right to be there. Lots of two and four legged sorts were out doing their bit to make the beach better. It was organised by Surfers Against Sewage, a brilliant charity that has just been chosen by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to benefit from their wedding – they want people to donate to seven charities instead of giving them gifts.
I mean people keep moaning about us mutts on the beach – and just so you know, my rents always pick up after me unlike some others – but it’s the two legged lot we really need to worry about from what I’ve seen.
Still, a little help goes a long way and the beach looked even more beautiful after we’d finished. Everyone is talking about cutting back on plastic waste and this Cornish patch of the world is leading the way. Yeah!
The rents have been raving on about the ‘Man Engine’ show they went to see over the Easter weekend. From what I can remember – after seeing it first time around a couple of years ago – it’s a giant mechanical man puppet wearing a thing called a miner’s helmet and it rises up to about 40 feet high. Think sparks, steam, loads of clanking noises and you get the picture. He even moves his eyes and I swear he winked at me. I kid you not.
It was built to honour the memory of 31 miners who lost their lives at Levant in Cornwall way back in 1919, when the Man Engine transporting them back up from deep underground, broke down and sent them to their deaths. Although there’s a sad story behind it, thousands have turned out to see this huge metal puppet and though yours truly didn’t go this time around, (once was enough for me), the rents say that the latest show is even better than before.
It’s travelling around the country, so folks outside the South West can now get a look.
A word to the wise though. It’s only for those hardy mutts who aren’t too bothered about fireworks and lots of sparks.
Anyway, that’s it from me and just off now to try a new dog friendly pub. Watch this space for my verdict.
When asked a few months ago if I’d give a talk to a local group about writing and working in the world of television, of course I said yes.
At the time February seemed a long way off and then – after the rainiest winter anyone can remember – the date for the talk loomed large.
Rather than spout on for thirty or so minutes, I decided that a better option would be for someone to interview me and then we’d open up a question and answer session. That way it would feel more like a casual chat and hopefully create a more relaxed discussion afterwards.
Enter Julia, (the person who first suggested the talk), and she turned out to be good interviewer with yours truly providing her with the questions/prompts.
Given the lousy weather, there was a decent turn out with the opportunity to show potential readers copies of the books and to hear all about their reading habits.
Lots of them told me that they still preferred a physical book to a Kindle copy and they mixed and matched genres – everything from crime, to family sagas, romances and biographies. As this was a Cornish based group, they also liked the idea of stories set in the Cornwall and we know that visitors do too.
Which brings me to my latest idea to get out some ‘old school’ book leaflets to shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels and other venues where tourists will flock over the coming months. Of course social media is important but there is still a place for information leaflets to target potential readers while they are out and about.
Meantime, copies of the books are going into a few local stores and beyond. It gives people the chance to flick through before they buy and to get a better feel for the product.
So lots of dropping off book flyers and I’ll be carrying a stash around wherever we go. If nothing else, a good excuse for a bigger and better tote bag!
Before handing over to Bonnie dog, a quick word about the new glass panelled stairway. After a couple of months, it is still looking great and no sign yet of Bonnie’s nose art – probably too cold to touch during the chilly winter time but will be a cool delight in the spring and summer. Let the battle commence.
Now for that quick update from madam herself…
‘Hey folks, why am I being squeezed into the tail end of the blog again – wasn’t this supposed to be MY very own dog spot? (Grrr).
It’ll have to do for now but trust me, I’ll be grabbing back the main stage again soon.
I’ve just had another big hair cut, so feeling the chill. The rents keep saying that I look like a sheared sheep, whatever that is. I’ve even heard the expression ‘lollipop head’ and don’t have a clue what that means either. Still, it’s already starting to grow back and I’m rocking my smart red outdoors jacket – it’s waterproof which is just as well in this yuk wet weather.
This gal doesn’t do rain. I mean, what’s the point of living by the beach if it’s too wet and windy to run about? Nah, I need some sun, dry sand and a lovely bit of heat.
Is anyone listening out there? Here’s my cosmic order – come on, let’s be having some S-U-N-S-H-I-N-E matey.
Enough to lounge on the balcony, demand crushed ice and press the nose against that new glass on the stairs.
Yes, in the battle of the nose art, you just know who’ll win the day and it ain’t those rents of mine.
Woof and out…’