New Zealand and the Lord of the Rings

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.

Given that Tolkien was born and brought up in Birmingham and the countryside around about, do you think the New Zealand scenery does justice to the images Tolkien had in mind, especially as he was inspired so much by his local scenery? Or do you think it was filmed in New Zealand simply because Peter Jackson, the film-maker, was a native of that country?

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.

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New Zealand, The Land of the Long White Cloud

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.

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Ilness and Loss

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.

Available on Amazon UKAmazon US,

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Creativity through Loss

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.

suetrickeyart.com (Sue’s art website)

https://www.artgiftedbygod.co.uk/( Search in list of artists : Sue Trickey

suetrickeyart.redbubble.com( Sue’s art on a range of different products )

www.reverbnation.com/ suetrickey(music )

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3rd posting in my Writing with illness and disability series

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!

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Easter Greetings to all my followers

May the rainbow of His promise and love be with you always.

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Rosemary Smith

Here is my second blog in my series, ‘illness and disability. While we are all self-distancing and worried about the Coronavirus, it is worth still remembering those who suffer or have suffered from cancer. Here below is Rosy Smith’s story. A writer of Victorian novels and a member of the Romantic Novelists Association.

1) I have read from a very young age. My favourite book as a child was The Secret Island by Enid Blyton. It was pure escapism for me. An Aunt bought it for me in 1954, and I still have the book on my bookshelf.
The early influences for my writing were authors such as Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, Daphne Du Maurier, Winston Graham & Mary Stewart.
I always loved romantic suspense, and a story with a mystery & secrets.

2) My decision to write was taken at an early age. My sister & I were in a foster home during the 1950s, & although only about 10yrs old, I loved to write stories to read to the other girls in the foster home. As life progressed, I wrote a lot of poetry , some of which has been published in various anthologies. When my 2 daughters were young in the early 1970s, I wrote pantomimes and amusing plays, to be performed at our village hall.
Not once, at that time, did I think of writing a book.

3) My writing career began about 1971. I won a short story competition with the Woman magazine. That released me greatly as I realised that my writing was of some worth. It was quite surreal that so many people would be reading my story! Although only 2,000 words, it was a step in the right direction. Yet, I still I didn’t write anything else of any note. My 2 girls were young and kept me busy. I also did an apprenticeship in a hairdressers, and various housework for people, and cleaned for a bank. Writing was as far away from my mind as it ever could be!

4) After a wonderful holiday in Australia with my sister & her family, to see our brother I started to feel unwell. Awful headaches, a change of personality, and hearing & balance problems. And after an MRI scan in 1998 , I was told I had a large brain tumour at the back of my head, on the right side. Looking at the scans, it was indeed large. We live in Devon , and I was referred to the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol to a wonderful neurosurgeon there, who without doubt saved my life.
On the 23rd March 1998, 2 teams of surgeons performed a 13-hour operation to remove this tumour from my head. The operation was successful, but a small piece of the tumour had to be left on the brain stem. I was in hospital for 3 weeks, my face had dropped one side, and it looked as if I had suffered a bad stroke. People I had known for a long time hardly recognised me. I couldn’t close my right eye, and still can’t, nor do I have any sight in it.
For a long time I could barely walk. I didn’t want to go out because of the way I looked, and I hated depending on others. A friend eventually got me out in a wheelchair as I needed a birthday card for my husband. And she insisted I choose it myself. I shall always love her for this, and how she helped me, or I may never have gone out. My husband had to give up his small garage to look after me. We sold our house & our lives changed drastically.
It was a long, hard road to recovery. It is only in the past 2 years that my face has come back to some normality, although my smile is still crooked & I have no sight or hearing on my right side. But the good thing is, I am still here. I lived to see my grandchildren grow up and see my 6 great grandchildren.

5) It was during my recovery time, 2 years after the operation, when I was 54, that my neurosurgeon spoke the immortal words ‘you must try and keep your brain active’!
I don’t think it was what the Professor had in mind! But to amuse myself, I started to write my first book!! A friend typed it up for me, and one day she said, ‘You must send this somewhere, it is really good, and I can’t wait to see what happens ‘.
For a couple of months I took no notice of what my friend had said. But on finishing the novella, she urged me to submit it somewhere. So I borrowed the ‘Writers & Artists Year Book’ from the library, and eventually sent my story ‘The Amethyst Brooch’, to the publisher D C Thomson in Dundee, then sat back & waited, with little hope! The letter from the then Editor, Dorothy Hunter, arrived one Saturday morning, saying she had loved the story, and would I please forward page 81 for continuity!! And she would like to publish it as a My Weekly Pocket Novel!!I could never begin to tell you how I felt.
And my writing career, had begun in earnest!

6) My seven books are all set in Victorian times. They contain romance, mystery, secrets, handsome heroes, old mansions, keepsake & music boxes, weddings, beautiful gowns & feisty heroines. All seven were published as My Weekly Pocket Novels. Then Ulverscroft Large Print published them in their Linford  Romance Library. Followed by Endeavour Press (now Luma  Books) publishing them all as eBooks which are all available for kindles on Amazon. My large print titles are published under the name Rosemary A Smith.
My eBooks are published under the name Rosemary Smith.
I don’t have a website. But do have an author page on Amazon & Facebook.

7) My favourite genre of books, is mainly Historical & time slip.
Some of my favourite books are:
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
Katherine by Anya Seton
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
Mariana by Susanna Kearsley
The Secret of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore
Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
Movies are also a passion of mine:
The Bridges of Madison County
Somersby
My Cousin Rachel
Wuthering Heights
to name but a few.
I love the theatre, and get to go all over the place with my sister. I have 3 favourites which I have been to see more than once:
The Woman in Black
Evita
Mamma Mia

8) I write at my computer in the small bedroom, which also serves as my writing space. But I get a lot of my inspiration sitting in the car overlooking the sea and visiting National Trust Properties.

9) After losing my eldest daughter, it has been a long while since I could get back to writing. But I am now writing another Pocket Novel for People’s Friend. Set in a Castle in Scotland overlooking Lake Jared. Which is nearly completed.
I also have the inspiration for a time slip. Which will be my first full length novel. The future beckons ….

10) Many thanks to Sheila for inviting me on her blog ….

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Writing with illness and disabilities 1

Contentment in the challenges? By Liz Carter

It’s such a delight for me to be engaging with Sheila’s questions today. Sheila asked me to share a little about some of the challenges I’ve faced with my long-term lung diseases, especially when it comes to writing, which is my passion.

Liz Carter

1. What were your early influences, and when did you decide you wanted to write?

As a young child I couldn’t get enough of reading, and regularly escaped into the worlds of the Magic Faraway Tree and Narnia. As I was a sickly child, often off school, reading was my refuge. I soon began to start writing my own stories – in fact, I wrote my first book when I was eight years old, about a girl called Jane who encountered a gang of goblins who lived under the River Dove. I loved to let my imagination fly. Later on, as a teenager, I became despondent about writing because I missed so much school and my teachers weren’t understanding or helpful. I felt that my writing was something I should hide away because I wasn’t good enough. So for many years I only wrote sporadically, but the passion never went away and I finally started blogging around ten years ago, and everything else has grown from that.

2. How has living with lung disease both impacted your writing and at the same time influenced and inspired it?

Living with a long-term health condition has been woven in with and impacted my writing greatly, in all areas – including my fiction writing. In many ways, my experience of disability in a world that values the strong has shaped my worldview, in terms of how I see myself and others, and so what I write has very much been born in that view. For instance, I’ve written a dystopian thriller about a world where productivity is all that counts, and where sick and disabled people are found wanting and hidden away because they are not able to contribute to the economy. My experience of living in a society where the ill are so often seen as scroungers and skivers has contributed to this narrative greatly. It’s as yet unpublished, but watch this space!

My experience of weakness and pain has also very much shaped my blogging and my first non-fiction book, Catching Contentment (more on that in a minute). I’ve been on a journey of discovery about how God understands the pain and is with us in the pain, and how treasures are to be found in the darkness – and also about how important it is to be honest about our struggles, and not to don masks of pretence that all is well. My writing gets raw and deep at times, especially in those times I am most in pain.

3. Talk about your latest book, Catching Contentment. What is the message and what do you hope to achieve by it?

I used to think that Christians should be happy people, never showing any kind of worry or anxiety or pain or shame, because of some of the teaching I’d heard. I struggled with the idea of contentment, thinking it could only be for those who were fixed, whose lives were wonderful, who were not in pain. Contentment did not seem to be a word that could apply to someone like me, so often housebound, in pain, in hospital. But as I delved deeper into Paul’s words about contentment in the book of Philippians, I caught a glimpse of something more profound. Paul said he’d learned the secret to being content in all circumstances – and I realised that he knew what he was talking about, because he was writing from prison amidst a life of great hardship. As I explored the subject I discovered a wealth of treasure, finding that contentment as Paul talked of it is not based on our wholeness, but purely on who God is and who we are in God – that only God can fill the great void in us, and satisfy our wildest places with a love so great it can lift us even in our agonies. I wanted to communicate something about this holy kind of contentment, and especially to hopefully offer some help and hope to those whose lives don’t look like the perfect Instagram feed.

4. What challenges face you in your writing, particularly when living with long term health issues?

Every writer has many challenges, and I experience the highs and lows in the same way as so many. There are the challenges of comparison, of feeling like I am not good enough, of time and energy, of a very difficult market in all areas, of marketing my work. But my illness does lead to some further challenges, too. One of the main difficulties for me, particularly with my writing for the Christian market, is that I am largely unable to go and share about it. Authors are encouraged all the time to develop a speaker platform, to visit churches and groups and conferences to speak about their books, and sell their books. But I am very limited in what I am actually able to do. I managed a few radio interviews and a couple of speaking events which wore me out too much. So my challenge is to market my work when I cannot market myself, when I cannot be out there very much, because I am too sick. Even when I am ‘well’ this kind of thing proves a huge challenge to me because my energy levels are too low.

This leads me to struggles with my own marketing – I spend far too much time worrying that I am not doing enough. On social media I share and I write articles and I promote my book, but in the end it is still difficult to get things beyond a certain audience, and it does prove frustrating. But people have been incredibly generous to me in their sharing of my work with others and I am very grateful.

I also struggle with the writing process itself due to my illness, because my battery gets worn down very easily, so I cannot work for hours at a stretch, and need at least one nap per day. When I am in an active exacerbation – which is often – I sometimes cannot write at all. Medication dulls my mind, and the pain dulls my senses and my capacity for work, so the writing stays unfinished. Again, this can be frustrating – and I have had to learn much about acceptance in these times, about reaching for the peace of God even when things do not go as I would wish. Contentment can be difficult when I am not achieving what I want to achieve in any given day – but I have learned that contentment is a choice, rather than something that just washes over me.

5. Where do you write?

This is an interesting question which feeds back into the previous one, because where I write varies depending on how I am. I have a lovely office upstairs in my house, painted in my favourite colour with all my favourite pictures on the wall, and my books around me, which is for good days. I love to sit at my desk when I am able. But on bad days my office is my sofa, wrapped up in a blanket, or in my bed – where writing rarely gets done. Sometimes my office is my hospital bed.

6. What are your future aims and goals for your writing?

I am working on another book for the non-fiction Christian market, on identity and use, in terms of how we see ourselves – useful or useless – and how these terms are not particularly… ahem…. useful, in themselves. It’s an exciting project but I have a load of work to do! I’m also working on the fiction book I mentioned which is part of a trilogy, so I have a whole load of writing to do there too. I’ve recently written an accompanying bible study course for Catching Contentment, and would love to write more in this vein too. I have a million ideas but an unwilling body and not enough time…

Liz Carter is an author and blogger who likes to write about life in all its messy, painful, joyous reality. She’s never known life without pain and sickness. She likes Cadbury’s and turquoise, in equal measure, and lives in Shropshire, UK with her husband, a church leader, and two teens.

Liz is the author of Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied, which was published by IVP in November 2018. This book digs into the lived experience of a life in pain, and what contentment could possibly mean in difficult circumstances. She’s also recently brought out a six week bible study course based around the book.

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Book Review: ‘Waireka’ by Sheila Donald, set in nineteenth century New Zealand – a story which makes you see your own life in a new perspective

Thanks for a great blog, Sheila and for wetting the interest of potential readers to my book.

SC Skillman Author

Before I start my series on New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019, I am delighted to review a book set in the very place I visited – New Zealand’s North Island.

Map of New Zealand

But the times are very different in ‘Waireka’ by Sheila Donald. The genre is historical fiction. We are in the nineteenth century, and the main protagonist Eliza finds herself among the pioneers, and having a very different experience of that beautiful, green and richly-forested country.

New Zealand – a richly forested, green and beautiful country

The landscape of New Zealand’s South Island

For Eliza, there is no chance of flying from the UK to New Zealand in twenty six hours, as we can do today. No, Eliza must travel by sea, in cramped conditions, on a voyage which is dangerous and will last at least three months. And the lifestyle which…

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My talk on New Zealand and my book Waireka

I would like to share with you my slides of New Zealand which I have put together for my talks. I will also share some of the content with you too. I want you to feel that you were there!

I begin my talk by introducing myself writing under my maiden name. Then I introduce the name of my book, Waireka – Wai being Maori for water, Reka for sweet. I explain that my book is set on a dairy farm in New Zealand in the mid nineteenth century. This farm has a river that runs through the land and makes the grass sweet and the grazing good. It is based on the story of my great uncle who travelled out there at that time as the youngest son of a large family.

Like many others he faced a treachorous journey of 4-6 months. No fresh food after the start of the voyage and even worse, no fresh water after a while. Drinking water being sweetened with lime juice and sugar to make it more palatable! Disease was rife on these ships and many bodies were thrown over the side during the voyage. Storms and bad weather might also be encountered.

Fortunately, both Eliza and her suitor, Alister, arrive safely in New Zealand where the Reverend Reid, his family and Eliza take up a living in a church similar to the wooden one in my picture – wooden because of being an earthquake zone.

Eventually they travel over the Rimutuka hills to the Wairarapa – see the region in my image, North of Wellington – where Alister sets up the dairy farm. He is was a real entreprenuer, the first to introduce new machinery into the milk and butter making industry and one of the first to transport butter between the two islands of New Zealand. The images above show both the farm in the late nineteenth century and the hotel/wedding venue and restaurant that it has now become.

You will see in my pictures above, New Zealand’s famous flightless birds both of the past – Huia – and present – Kiwi. The Kiwi has been preserved and New Zealanders now take their identity from the species.

You will also see pictures of the Maoris who first came to New Zealand from the Eastern Polynesian Islands in the Medieval times on a canoe similar to the one in the picture. No wonder they often fought the settlers! The Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 gave them the right to become British citizens but at the expense of relinquishing their lands.

I wrote the book after a distant relative wrote the real story of my great-uncle. Now it gives me real pleasure to share the story with others either by them reading my book or by me sharing it with people in a talk.

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