A recent week in North Devon introduced me to a few local writers I didn’t know had an association with the area.
Firstly there is the writer, Charles Kingsley born in Holne in Devon whose family later moved to the very popular town of Clovelly with its steep cobbled streets leading down to a sheltered harbour. His Father was the Rector of the town. Charles was later to enter the ministry himself.
You can view the small cottage where the family lived on your way down to the harbour. The place obviously held happy memories for the writer as there is a quote from him displayed on a plaque in the cottage, which demonstrates that Charles returned here time and time again as an adult to relive those happy memories.
“We got here all safe…I cannot believe my eyes: the same dear old smells, the dear old handsome loving faces again. It is as if I was a little boy again, or the place had stood still while all the world had been rushing and rumbling on past it…”
Kingsley even gave the name of one of his books, Westward Ho! to the name of a local town, including the exclamation mark! His other novels include, Hereward the Wake and his children’s book, the Water Babies.
Henry Williamson, although born in London, settled in Georgeham, Devon in 1921 just after the first world war. The cottage he lived in was called ‘Skirr Cottage’ and it was here that Williamson wrote his most acclaimed novel, Tarka the Otter.
The cottage acquired historical status as an English Heritage Grade II listed building in 2014 and a tarmacked track in the area built over a disused railway has been named the ‘Tarka Trail’ after the book as many of the locations on the track are mentioned in the story. The 21 mile track is a great traffic-free space for walkers or cyclists alike.
All this leads me to conclude that North Devon with its steep, stunning coastlines and wide sandy beaches, attracted and inspired many different kinds of writers.
We have just celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday with a big party, balloons and a cake
Well, she deserves it. Although her actual birthday isn’t until next month, the Bank Holiday weekend was the only time we could all come together with balloons, buntings and a special cake. It’s great celebrating these family occasions which, even with social distancing we were able to do in our garden with a gazebo and good spacing. The weather was kind to us all day too.
In my book, Waireka, one of the biggest celebrations, apart from the family weddings, is the official opening of the dairy farm and two-storey farm house. They also have good weather for the occasion.
“The day marked for the official opening of the dairy in May 1873 dawned fair, and a large crowd gathered. Alister had asked all the chief representatives of Frampton to the opening….Robert, as the minister of St Andrews, was to proclaim the place open for business at last. It looked splendid decked out with the bunting saved from Charlotte’s wedding a couple of years previously.
‘I declare the Waireka Butter Factory open’, announced Robert with a quick glance at Eliza as if to win her approval. He did. She returned his smile, her heart full of joy for the future that lay ahead for their family. She was proud of Alister’s hard work in building the factory and establishing the business.” (Waireka, Chapter 12, page 192)
This last week, my husband and myself have been enjoying the rolling rural landscape of Gloucestershire
We walked in the Slad Valley,
enjoying scenes of outstanding beauty and never seeing anyone. No wonder such scenes inspired the writer of ‘Cider with Rosie’ Slad author, Laurie Lee. We were even able to glimpse the cottage where he lived in the valley which is currently in private ownership.
Rolling countryside with deep valleys but not as dramatic as the mountains of the Remutaka Pass which Alister and Eliza, Robert and Mary cross with their respective families from Wellington to the Wairarapa.
Once there, Alister buys some land and eventually builds his two storey barn and house, much to Eliza’s relief.
“At last we are moved into the new place, which we have called, along with our land, Waireka (Maori for ‘sweet waters’), as a tributary from the Waihaha River flows through our land making it rich and sweet for our cows. (pg 165)
These two images are of more modern but similar properties. But built in wood because New Zealand is in an earthquake zone, they are rather different from our more familiar British farm buildings.
In the last few weeks I have been busy recording a video of me talking about my book, Waireka. In these strange times when movements are still restricted and going out to talk about your book not possible, the new way to give an illustrated talk about your book is via social media. This has been a rather steep learning curve for some of us but nevertheless a necessary one and one I’m really glad to have mastered. I have not only managed to do a Live Facebook event but to use Zoom as a instrument to ensure that I could also show my images on that talk.
My publisher, Ambassador International, https://ambassador-international.com realising these difficult times for authors also hosted an online book event entitled ‘Christmas in July’ encouraging readers to look ahead to Christmas and buy some great book gifts now. Thank you, Daphne Self for organising and running this event. Again I made a recording for this. Unfortunately, being in the UK rather than the US, giveaways weren’t an option for me but it was great to see the price of my kindle version of Waireka reduced to just 79p in the UK or 99c in the US. Please note that there is also a free giveaway of my first book, Alpha Male, on my website too if you follow me.
As well as a special price on the kindle edition of my book at the moment, I am offering a special price on the book for my UK followers of £9 including postage and packing for one book or £16 including postage and packing for two copies, direct from me.
Why not look ahead to Christmas and buy some copies of Waireka now?
In the early nineteenth century when most of the Europeans arrived in New Zealand, the Maoris were the indigenous people. They had been there since the thirteenth century when they had arrived in canoes from the Eastern Polynesian islands
War and unrest followed as the British authorities persuaded the Maori chiefs to sell their lands to the British Crown for some financial compensation as well as peace and prosperity. But when it became evident that this financial compensation wasn’t materialising as promised, the Maori tribes become restless. War broke out in various parts of New Zealand with the Maoris blaming the cheating Pakehas (foreigners). Eventually in 1840 an agreement known as the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British forces and over 500 Maori chiefs. But although this did largely quell the unrest, there were still minor skirmishes and wars across New Zealand as many of the Maori chiefs hadn’t signed the Treaty and those that had hadn’t always had the full implications of the Treaty explained to them in detail.
Fortunately the Wairarapa area where my forebears and my fictional characters settled was largely peaceful, although there was some unrest in the summer of 1862 in this area which Governor Grant managed to successfully quell. Many supported him in his stance on this including farmer Alister but local minister, Robert has a different and perhaps more modern view of what has taken place.
“I felt such a sympathy with the Hau-Haus and the Muapoko tribe,” he said. “I’m so glad we didn’t have to fight them. The Governor had cheated them and his message about loyalty to the Queen didn’t quite stick with me. No, I’m convinced that it wasn’t his presence or his message that caused them to withdraw but rather the sight of the soldiers’ colourful uniforms, badges and bayonets that cowed them into submission rather than anything else.”
A new Treaty was finally signed at Waitangi in 1975 to address some of the grieviances of the Maori community but over the years much damage has been done to the relations between them and the European settlers.
Novelist S.C Skillman had visited Australia several times and even lived there for a period, but in November 2019, she made her first trip to New Zealand.
As writer of paranormal mystery novels and a lover of JR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series she was keen to visit the sites used by Peter Jackson in his films of the books. She talks about her experiences.
When you visited New Zealand where much of the movie footage was filmed, were you excited or disappointed by what you saw?
When I visited the North Island, I thought Hobbiton represented a perfect recreation of that bucolic landscape in which the hobbits lived. Based upon Tolkien’s own idealistic view of pre-industrial rural England, it seemed to speak to all our childhood dreams.
I think Peter Jackson chose New Zealand for several good reasons and he was probably greatly influenced by the fact that he lives there! But New Zealand is an excellent choice. First of all, the sublime scenery of the South Island does parallel the grandeur of Tolkien’s vision, providing all the varied settings for Frodo and Sam’s epic journey.
The farmland around Matamata in the North Island is very appropriate as a location for Hobbiton. When I visited the North Island I was enchanted by miles upon miles of velvety green hills, uninterrupted by any of the signs of a modern society such as those you might see in England.
Ironically, Tolkien was indeed inspired by the countryside around Birmingham. But the changes that have taken place since those days are so radical, that region would now be utterly inappropriate as a film set in which to conjure up his vision. The place which he had in mind when he created Hobbiton, Sarehole Mill, is now in the middle of an urban community. When Tolkien played there as a little boy it was a rural village. He drew upon all his feelings as a small child when he created Hobbiton. To represent this on screen, the lovely landscape of New Zealand’s North Island was a brilliant choice.
Describe your reactions to the scenery between Paihia and Matamata.
We set off from Paihia early in the morning and drove south through a landscape of velvety green hills uninterrupted by hedges or fences, dotted with a wide variety of trees, and occasionally by pretty white bargeboard houses in gardens. It felt as if we were surrounded by Tolkien’s hobbit country all the time: The Shire, that pastoral idyll which the hobbits called home. No wonder Peter Jackson settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for Hobbiton. Further along in our journey we entered a region of verdant forest packed with trees so diverse and so attractively interspersed with giant tree ferns that they seemed planted by design. When we arrived in Matamata. we immediately saw the welcoming sign, and those of us who have loved Middle-earth at once felt a sense of high excitement. Even the local visitor centre has been turned into a nostalgic homestead
Upon entering the visitor information centre we found a sculpture of Tolkien’s most insightful creation: the tragic and chilling figure of Gollum, who had been known as Smeagol, one of the river folk, until he was enslaved and possessed by his lust for ‘the Precious’ – the One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
I can imagine Matamata itself was an unassuming little ‘one-horse settlement’ before Peter Jackson found his ideal location for the Hobbiton film set nearby. It is astonishing to reflect upon the power of an iconic fantasy epic to catch the imagination of millions and transform the fortunes of one small town.
Early the next morning we arrived at The Shires Rest, a short distance outside Matamata, to set off on our tour of Hobbiton, led by a young Englishman called James.
The tour bus took us through the rolling hills of the Alexander Farm, a vision of the undulating landscape of young children’s picture books, a perfect setting for the small, round, cheerful hobbits.
On the way James showed video clips of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and also gave us plenty of fascinating facts about the making of the films, how this area came to be chosen as the site for the Hobbiton film-set, and why indeed there now exists here a perfect, robust and well-built rendition of hobbit country, for the delight of many thousands of visitors each year.
And yet, as we were to discover again and again throughout our stay in Matamata and our visit to Hobbiton, you don’t even need to have read the books or have seen the films to be thrilled by what has been done here to recreate this romantic vision of pre-industrial England.
Describe the menu at The Redoubt restaurant in Matamata.
The night before we visited Hobbiton, we had dinner at a restaurant called The Redoubt which had, along with the town of Matamata, ‘fully embraced its Middle Earth credentials’! (a phrase borrowed from the Matamata section in the Lonely Planet guide for New Zealand).
The menu and decor were based around characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Gollum’s famous catchphrase “Sneaky little hobbitses” was emblazoned on the wall and all the dishes on the menu bore names such as “Bilbo’s Patch”, “Sauron’s Fury”, “Eowyn’s blessing”, “Theoden’s Last Wish” and “Frodo’s Secret”. Of course, it all represented the shameless commercialisation of Tolkien’s creation, but we accepted it as a fun experience on its own terms. It certainly built up our excitement at the prospect of visiting Hobbiton the next day.
Describe the scenery of Hobbiton.
The scenery of Hobbiton was pure delight. I found it beyond my expectations, so perfectly realised, with exquisite attention to every detail: all the hobbit holes with their different coloured doors and their gardens packed with bright flowers; Bilbo’s sign on the gate announcing ’No admittance except on party business’; the oak tree above his home, Bag End; the line of washing, the wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested vegetables, the mill and bridge, the party field, Bilbo’s ’eleventy first’ birthday cake, the Green Dragon Inn and the tankards of beer.
Being here was like being transported into Tolkien’s original vision. It is said that he believed the power of the imagination must determine how people see the world he created. Nevertheless, I feel he would have been awed by what has been achieved here. Hobbiton lacked only one thing: real life hobbits!
What were the objections of Tolkien’s family to the films and the way in which Peter Jackson depicted Tolkien’s story?
Tolkien’s son Christopher, the great novelist’s literary executor, sadly objected to Peter Jackson’s films. I think I can see where Christopher was coming from, though I do not agree with him. Tolkien originally sold the film rights to The Lord of the Rings in the 1960’s, and he did not place any conditions on that sale which would have allowed him or his literary executors to have artistic control over the content of the films.
Christopher felt that the commercialisation of the films had reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of his father’s work. I do understand the beauty and the seriousness of Tolkien’s creation, and do not agree that the films reduced this. In fact I believe that, overall, they respected it. My only caveat would be the extended battle scenes, which I thought unnecessary; and the use of crude horror elements, in for instance the depiction of the Orcs. Christopher made specific reference to the battle scenes as being one source of his unhappiness. He also criticised the over-literal presentation of the Eye of Sauron which he said was intended by his father on a much profounder, spiritual level.
I am aware that Tolkien himself preferred his readers to use their own imagination with his books, and of course the re-telling of a story on screen can to an extent “spoon-feed” people with images of the characters, forever linked in our minds with the actors who play them. It is a complex issue and many writers have had widely varying experiences of their books being turned into films. It is also very probably true, as Christopher pointed out, that many of those who love The Lord of the Rings think first of the films rather than the original books.
Tolkien had a strong Christian faith. How do you think this is depicted in his novels and has Peter Jackson done justice to this faith in the films?
The question of whether readers see the Christian faith shining out of Tolkien’s creation again depends on the background and presumptions with which they come to it. The grand themes are there; spiritual warfare; the fatal lust of humankind for self-determination and power; the paradox of weakness and power spoken of by St Paul ‘for my power is made perfect in weakness’), the vital importance of persistent faith.
More specifically, the events of the Resurrection are paralleled by Gandalf’s self-sacrifice in the Mines of Moria; he confronts the evil force of the Balrog, submitting himself to this most deadly enemy, and falls down into the chasm to his death (we all believe). Thus Gandalf the Grey dies. Later on, Gandalf the White appears; he has fought and conquered the power of evil, and has been reborn. There are also other specific elements in the story which also reflect Tolkien’s Christian faith and worldview.
As to the question of whether Peter Jackson did justice to Tolkien’s Christian faith in the films, I believe all the moral and spiritual parallels are there, within the characters and events and context of the story telling. They will be seen and heard by those who have both eyes and ears to see and hear them.
To introduce my series about New Zealand past and present, I want to share some pictures of the place I have visited and enjoyed three times.
New Zealand, or ‘Aoteroa’, as the Maoris call it, ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, is a land of variety with its beautiful coastlines, rare wildlife species and thermal valleys.
Auckland, with a head count of 1.5 million people sits north of the North Island. Known as the ‘city of sails’ there is plenty to do here but not unsurprisingly much of it involves boats. For the adventurous there is the Americas Cup sailboat experience where around a dozen people, including a crew of four, are encouraged to have a go at steering the boat and navigating the sails. A trip out on a larger Tall ship is more sedentary but there is still opportunity to help steer and navigate the sails and even a chance for the bravest to climb the ship’s rigging! After all this excitement you can while away the evening hours at the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The cuisine here is first class and with its rotating restaurant you can enjoy ever changing views over the city as you eat.
If you like a lively worship programme, the City Impact Church, North Shore might be to your liking. It is part of a large group of churches which includes another in Auckland at Mount Wellington and several in the South Island at Queenstown, Invercargill and Balcutha. More information about the churches can be found on the website at www.cityimpactchurch.com
The Wairarapa is a largely unspoilt area of New Zealand surrounding Lake Wairarapa south of Wellington. One of the homes of the New Zealand’s Paua – a type of large black sea mollusc whose iconic shell with its beautiful blue rainbow interior can be fashioned into anything from jewellery to dishes, it makes wonderful souvenirs. It is also becoming a ‘hide out’ for some of America’s rich and famous with film maker, James Cameron being the latest to purchase land in the neighbourhood. But you can still head off over the mountains on some 4×4 tracks unknown even to many New Zealanders.
Wellington with a population of around half a million people is New Zealand’s capital city and home of its parliament, the Beehive, so named because of its beehive appearance. The city’s main museum, Te Papa is well worth a visit to learn about early and current Maori life and to step inside a Marae or Maori meeting house.
However, the full Maori experience can be enjoyed in Roturua, a town north of the North Island, a major centre for Maori arts and culture where you can even take part in a traditional Maori meal or ‘Hāngi’ where food is steamed in hot stones under the ground.
On 22 February 2011, Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city suffered a major earthquake but it is still worth a visit to see the famous Antarctic centre, the Aircraft museum or to simply to enjoy rowing, canoeing or punting on the river. I am sure something even better will arise from the ruins as in the case of Napier after its 1931 earthquake when the city was rebuilt in Art Deco style and is now a ‘must see’ place to visit.
Dunedin’s architecture has a Scottish feel with features to be explored being the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street -not for the fainthearted – the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university and the Cadbury factory. All Saints Anglican church is Dunedin’s oldest church (1865) where you can enjoy a contemplative Taizé service on Sunday evenings with incense, and chants.
Dunedin is also renowned for its wildlife just off the Otago peninsula. Here you can view a colony of Albatrosses, rare Yellow-eyed Penguins, Blue Penguins, Sea Lions and Fur Seals.
Queenstown has a spectacular location beside Lake Wakatipu against the backdrop of the Remarkable Mountains. This makes the town a perfect setting for its aerial Gondolas, woodland walking trails, small ‘Luge’ go-karts and for the bravest, the bungy jump. It is also a good place from which to explore the breathtaking scenery around Milford Sound just a day’s trip from here.
New Zealand maybe a long way to travel but if you make the effort you will enjoy spectacular scenery and a very warm welcome.
As a follow-on from my series on writing with illness, disability and loss, I would like to finish the series by drawing some parallels on these topics by referring to my book, Waireka.
Eliza, the heroine of my book, is a very young girl of just seventeen years old when she sets off on a ship to New Zealand as a nursemaid to her local minister and his family. Little does Eliza realise that before she even reaches her destination, she will experience not only disease and death aboard the ship….
“They heard …reports of dysentery and scarlet fever being rife on the ship, especially amongst the steerage passengers, Eliza had seen bodies dispatched over the edge already, particularly those of young children and she feared for the health of the young Reids.” (Waireka pg 47)
but also storms at sea which will cause her to fear that they will never even reach their destination….
“The storms began first thing in the morning just before Christmas day and didn’t let up for nearly a week. Eliza had never spent such a miserable Christmas before. She had heard from various people that the Tasman Sea was particularly treachourous ordinarily but with the added pressure of a recent earthquake, nothing could have prepared her for the violent onslaught of these storms….
‘Will the storm stop soon, Lizzie?’ complained Maria on the third day.
‘I’m sure it will, dearie,’ said Eliza with much more conviction than she felt. It was hard to comfort the children when she herself felt comfortless. She kept her thoughts to herself however and dared not tell the children that she feared for their very lives and could not now imagine ever seeing the coast of New Zealand.” (Waireka pg 47)
What will happen to Eliza? Do they arrive unscathed in Wellington, New Zealand? If so, how does she adapt to life in the new country?
To find out more about her journey and what happens to Eliza and the Reid family please take a look at my book.
During these times of dealing with a major pandemic, illness followed by loss is a large part of our national and personal experience. Following on from my series dealing with creativity in sickness and disability, I would now like to share Sue Trickey’s story of creativity during loss and its therapeutic benefits. Sue has just been accepted as a full member of the Gloucestershire Society of Artists. A real achievement!
Can you tell me a bit about how your creative career began?
I have always loved the arts and have always been creative. I loved art and music at school, though for most of my life it has all been “On hold”. It was during this time of bringing up a family that I composed several albums of instrumental music, and started song writing ( guitar/ piano/vocals ) Music is still very much part of my life Unfortunately I am losing my hearing and also have developed a problem with my voice, so at the moment it is impossible to sing. I have vocal chord damage and have been referred for a course of speech therapy. I do miss singing and if my voice comes back I am sure I will be writing ,recording and singing more songs in public.
How did you make the progression to art and why?
I think after all the years of bringing up children and helping my husband with his business, I wanted to do something for myself again! I loved art at school, it was always my favourite subject. I had wanted to take an art “A” level but was dissuaded from pursuing art at that time although I have always felt there was an “inner artist” in me. It has only been the past six years that I have been able to find the time again for art. It has developed into a real passion. I trust my imagination and love seeing an artwork develop over time. Some of my larger artworks have taken over 6 months to complete, as they are so detailed but it is really only the past six years that I have found time to paint and create using mixed media..
I had been suffering depression at the time and I was prescribed a course of “Art Lift “ sessions through my GP. These were led by an art therapist in Cheltenham. I really enjoyed this course ,I found that when I was creating art I forget about my worries and cares, and lose myself in the art. I have never been to art collage and am self-taught apart from a few evening classes. I had an inner feeling that I wanted to create using my imagination and not copy anyone else. My first artworks were a series of imaginative themed tree designs using pen and ink and watercolours. These proved popular and I started getting asked for copies, thus I started developing a range of greetings cards and prints.
Art has also been very therapeutic to me, it can speak sometimes when words cannot.
I lost my eldest son James, in a road traffic accident on 23rd December 2014. He was killed by a dangerous driver, while he was taking an early morning cycle ride for pleasure before work, he was 22 years old. The shock and loss have been overwhelming but as a way of coping I have created many works in memory of him. One of my most popular works “Tree of Life, I had started just before the tragic accident. After my loss, I continued working on this piece of art in my son’s memory, adding meaningful bible verses, song lyrics, angels, I even cut out small hearts using a piece of marbled paper my son had made at primary school. Later in the year I created an artwork “Across the Miles” using James’ large collection of random stamps as the medium. I could forget about the grief while I worked on these detailed pieces and it really helped me to get through this terrible time, These works, who are works from the heart created in love. I often give away small artworks, or a handmade dragonfly, to people I know have suffered loss. I love the way that art can reach out to others. I have also started running small workshops, We create simple items using wire and beads. ( Dragonflies, hearts, angels etc ) Sometimes I work with bereaved parents and create something in memory of their child.
What do you hope to achieve through your music and your art?
I have never really had particular aims, I Just love having the time to be creative now. I am always experimenting and wanting to learn how to be a better artist. It has been a surprise that gradually my art has now developed into a small business and I now have many shops in Gloucestershire selling my cards and posters. I have a range of around 15 different art cards all produced from my original artworks. I want to continue to find more outlets for my work. In all the retail outlets I am finding I get a good number of sales and re-orders. I think of my art over the past 5 years as expressing my “Journey through Grief “. I would love someday, to put on a solo exhibition of all my original works. 6 What ambitions do you have? I want to continue learning how to be a better artist, I would like to think I can inspire others to create in some way. I have a full set of oil paints given as a gift to me. I hope to progress to learn how to use these. I would like to continue working with small groups to teach my wire and bead work ( Dragonflies, Angels, Hearts, Butterflies, Stars ) words cannot.
I am currently enjoying learning acrylic painting and often take my paints and create a spontaneous artwork during a Sunday morning Church service. I am enjoying the freedom of creating quicker artworks, often I will often give these away. I hope to continue to do this and become better at it as my art skills improve! As a mixed media artist i do not want to limit myself and always love experimenting with new things and to improve my computer skills. I would like to learn to be a better photographer and to learn how to use photoshop! I would like to explore expanding the number of shops retailing my art, but do not want the business side to take me away from creating the art. At the moment I do everything myself, Getting my work photographed, visits to my printer, Packing and packaging my cards and posters, delivering to all the shops, invoices etc. If there was a greater demand for my work I would need to help with everything else!
What are your future goals and desires?
My main role is to look after my family and my husband ( Who is disabled ) I will continue to be his carer and to create art when time allows. I am really quite happy with things as they are right now, thankfully I can pursue and enjoy my art without the pressures of having to earn a lot of money through it. If I can help the family finances a bit more then this is a bonus. If I can reach out and help others through my art then this is a joy to me. I am hopeful that speech therapy will help me re-gain my voice and that I might be able to record one last album! including the many songs composed during the past five years, expressing my grief and loss and love.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I hope that this interview might inspire others to try something new. it is never too late to take up a creative hobby, whether art or music. I taught myself guitar in my late 20’s, I had singing lessons in my late 40’s and have taken up art in my 50’s! There is always time to learn and there are therapeutic benefits. You never need to compare your work with others, there is always something you can do and enjoy. If you wish to view my artwork or listen to my music I will add a few links where you can find me.
If you wish to view my artwork or listen to my music I will add a few links where you can find me.
Hello, Kathryn at this time of medical crisis in the UK, I am interested to see that you have been both a hospice nurse and a patient of cancer yourself.
1) Can you talk me through your nurse training and how you got into hospice nursing?
Nursing was something I fell into. On leaving school, unsure what to do and after a brief foray into other things – best drawn a veil over – an opportunity presented to train as an SRN. The appeal was a training course with a recognised qualification at the end. So, three years after taking up a student placement at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, I was launched into the world as a fully-fledged State Registered Nurse. Even then, despite enjoying the patient contact, I did not picture a career in nursing. My plan was to qualify and review options.
However, life happens – on sitting my Finals, I was pregnant with my first child. Fast forward several months: money was tight (to say the least) and I needed a job. Night nursing was the obvious solution, leaving hubby in charge of child-care while I worked. Initially, I approached the RD&E, my training hospital – who were happy to take me, but unable to offer ‘set nights,’ having moved to a flexible staff rota. Unfortunately, set nights were a must. So, I explored other options and applied for what sounded ideal – a staff nurse post, weekend night duty, at the Exeter Nuffield Hospital. Pleased to be offered the position, I accepted, initially a little nervous (the private sector was, after all, unknown territory, not where I’d expected to be at all) – and later valued the insights gained into both the NHS and private sector. I have fond memories of a supportive, close knit team of night staff, plus the benefit of a wealth of experience. Twelve years and two more children later, I was still there.
Around that time, my mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Her disease was aggressive and treatment palliative, not curative. My focus on her, I left work for a period. Later, picking up the threads of life, a stint of agency nursing followed. Not for me, I found, as I disliked the lack of continuity. Feeling I’d been out of acute nursing too long to slot back into a hospital setting, I took a post as Night Sister in a local Nursing Home, again staying several years longer than first intended. During this period, the venue for one of the up-date courses qualified staff attend was the – still relatively new – Day Care Unit of Hospice care, the local hospice. This was my first time over the threshold, my first real clue as to what a referral to hospice could offer. All that I can say is it was a revelation, such a feeling of calm and peacefulness in the building! I felt sad because my Mum would have benefitted greatly from the input of hospice, especially the day care arm of the service, had this been available to her. I left wanting to return and find out more in the future.
Along the way, I also trained as a Humanistic Counsellor – and loved it. Human interactions are fascinating. On reaching practitioner level, for several years I volunteered one day a week for a local charity that offered high quality counselling at affordable prices. One day, scanning the local newspaper, a job advert jumped out. Hospice care was looking for a staff nurse with a counselling background, the post based in their Day Care Unit. I felt like I’d found my dream job!
2) Did it feel strange when you were diagnosed with cancer to find yourself in the position of your patients?
I’ve never felt it was ‘us and them.’ I’ve always been aware how easily the boundary between nurse and patient could be crossed. So, in that sense, no, it didn’t feel strange. However, it did feel scary – very! The world tilts on its axis when you’re sitting in front of a doctor and hear the word cancer – and, in my case, told to prepare for major surgery. (In 2009 I had a radical nephrectomy to remove a renal tumour). Being on the receiving end of care, even the best of care, is not a pleasant place to find oneself. Likewise, not knowing which way the dice is going to fall.
Five months later, lucky enough to have had a ‘good surgical outcome,’ as they say, I returned to hospice nursing. Hopefully, I have always cared for people empathically – though only those on the receiving on of me would be able to answer that! The difference now was that I knew exactly what waiting for the latest scan report or blood test result felt like. I’ve known the shiver of fear that never quite leaves. So, I would say that my lived experience gave me a greater depth of understanding from the patient’s perspective.
3) Why did you make the switch from nurse to writer of medical romances?
Really, there was no switch to make. From as far back as I remember, I’ve been a scribbler of stories. Though I stumbled on the medical romance genre years ago – one of the night sisters I worked with used to read them and I took a peep – it was a while before the idea dawned to try and write one myself. Then it was a case of let’s see if I can. Happily, it seems yes! I completed my first published novel, ‘Making the Difference’ a year before retirement.
Primarily, I am a romantic novelist, crafting stories with a medical backdrop. To date, both my published novels have a hospice setting. My hope is that this will help promote better understanding of palliative care, a specialty I am passionate about. Good palliative care really does make the difference.
4) How do you think your nursing experience feeds into your writing?
My nursing experience has been invaluable. Treatments change, of course. What was standard procedure yesterday is not necessarily so today. I still need to check out facts, ensure details are correct at the time of writing. Hats off here to friends and colleagues who are still practising and let me quiz them! However, human anatomy doesn’t change; signs and symptoms remain the same.
5) Are you a member of the RNA like Rosy Smith? If so, how has the organisation helped you?
Delighted to say that yes, I am a member of the RNA, albeit a very new member. I love the connection with other writers and the sense of community.
6) Describe your favourite books and how you were led into writing i.e. your influences
As a child my favourite author was Enid Blyton. I loved the ‘Famous Five’ series. I used to hanker after a dog like Timmy – and pen my own adventure stories to while away the hours on rainy afternoons! At school, the only thing I excelled at was English, regularly coming top for essay writing. Plus, I recall winning a few inter-school short story competitions. My parents were both avid readers; books were always around the house. It felt natural to pick one up and turn the pages.
Another memory surfaces: of having my hair washed, hating it, and only agreeing to co-operate if my Mum would make up a story whilst she did it! I can still recall snatches of her serial about a little girl called Peggy. My pen name, Kathryn Haydon, is a nod to my Mum – the Haydon part, at least. How thrilled she would have been to see me in print!
As a shy teenager, I retreated into books, often something by Victoria Holt, or her alter ego, Jean Plaidy. I still love historical fiction. ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ by Philippa Gregory is among my favourites; I’m fascinated by the Tudor period, although the thought of being ill in those days does make me shudder!
I was introduced to the time-slip genre by a friend, who leant me ‘Midnight is a Lonely Place’ by Barbara Erskine. Now I devour Barbara’s books and can’t wait for her next one. In a different vein, I enjoy family sagas, especially the gentle, wonderfully descriptive writing of Marcia Willett and the skilful way she draws character.
Do I read medical romance, too? You bet – after all, I write it! Also, I am a great fan of Dr Max Pemberton: ‘Trust Me, I’m a (Junior) Doctor’ and Adam Kay: ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor.’ Medics at the sharp end, who write from the heart and tell it like it is – sometimes funny, often gritty, always emotive.
Ditto, Jennifer Worth’s excellent ‘Call the Midwife’ series. In many ways, birth and death mirror each other. Entries and exits; we come in on a breath and go out on a breath. These days, no one questions the striving for a good birth experience. The seminal work of people like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Dame Cicely Saunders led the way for equal attention to be paid to the dying process – pioneers for good palliative care and the hospice movement. Perhaps fitting for a romantic novelist, I hold dear a quote of Dame Cicely’s: ‘Love is really the only thing we can possess, keep with us and take with us.’
7) How did you get published? What helped you? An agent or direct publisher contact?
For me, it was direct publisher contact. On completing my first novel, ‘Making the Difference’ I was debating the next step while thumbing through the latest issue of my Writing Magazine. Coming across a piece by another subscriber, charting her journey to publication and mentioning Mezzanotte, I decided to find out more. Having done that, I wrote a cover letter, forwarded three chapters and a synopsis, and waited. Then came the joyful moment when a request came back for the complete manuscript! A further wait until – – – oh, the dizzy excitement – – – I heard that my publisher liked it!! Some months and several edits later, I received a publishing contract. Thank you, Bettina!
8) Have you got any writing tips to share?
Don’t procrastinate. If you want to write – write!
Discipline is key: write every day if you can. Don’t wait for the muse to strike.
Writing is a solitary pursuit: seek support from other writers. Find your tribe.
Don’t forget to have regular breaks: take a walk, change the energies.
Above all, believe in yourself.
9) Where do you see your writing going in the future?
I am close to finishing my third romance, ‘Home for Keeps’ – again with a medical backdrop, though this time the setting is a GP Practice – and have ideas aplenty for more. I thoroughly enjoy writing these novels, and it’s wonderful when I hear from readers who have enjoyed them, too. My storylines are emotive, set in the West Country, with characters that will tug at your heart strings – but always, always happy endings. In this uncertain world, I want my readers to feel that my books wrap around them like a warm embrace.
‘Prognosis Guarded’ is the title of my latest novel. Like ‘Making the Difference,’ it is available via Amazon in both print & eBook format. Link below if you would like a sneaky peep.
10) Is there anything else you’d like to add e.g. your writing day, where you write etc?
10) Is there anything else you’d like to add e.g. your writing day, where you write etc?
I am a lark, not an owl. Early morning is my best time, a mug of tea at my elbow, sitting at the table with my laptop, listening to birdsong. Radio Devon might be playing softly in the background. This is where I start off, though I am lucky enough to have a garden writing room. I tend to gravitate there in the latter part of the day once the sun has warmed it – and feel very Roald Dhal-ish! The benefit of a designated writing space is that there are less distractions, fewer opportunities to be side tracked. If I don’t see the ironing piling up, I don’t feel compelled to tackle it. However, writing fits around my life, rather than my life around writing. These days, though I live in glorious Devon, I travel regularly to London or Kent on grandparent duty. The beauty of writing is that it is portable, laptops, too.
Thank you Kathryn for sharing your writing and health journey with us. Your medical romances look very enticing!