Alongside my humorous fantasy novel Orders From Above, due for publication 1st June, I’ve been working on a fundraising book to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. This is my 5th year as a volunteer for this charity, so it’s dear to my heart.
Back in November 2015 a Guide Dog Puppy aged 7 weeks was placed in my home for one year for socialisation training before going on to Early Stage and then Advanced Training to shape him into the excellent Guide Dog he is today. A Labrador/Golden Retriever cross he had a very expressive face, and I took hundreds of photographs throughout his time with me. Occasionally I added his “thoughts” in a speech bubble, and posted them on social media. When the puppy had completed his time with me I put a collection together just for my fellow local Puppy Raisers, so the bare bones of a book were there.
When he left me for Early Stage Training I decided not to take on another puppy full time as there was building work going on in the house and I was busy writing, but I became instead a Boarder. This means I have the joy of looking after puppies for lengths of time varying from a day visit to a three-month stay or more, and so far I’ve had more than twenty dogs of different ages and breeds in my home. I’ve looked after a working Guide Dog too. Bliss!
So now to the fundraising book. Being in this third lockdown has given me all the time needed so I contacted Guide Dogs for the Blind to make sure they were happy for me to do it and that I adhered to their own guidelines and HMRC rules and regulations so we didn’t run into any taxation snags. We agreed that the puppy would be given a pen name, so he became Buddy.
I spent a couple of weeks sorting through and selecting the best photographs and honing the text. That didn’t take long, but oh my goodness, once I started to format it so it was suitable for both paperback and e-books there were times I wondered if I’d ever get there! I’m glad I haven’t kept count of the hours I’ve spent hunched over my laptop cursing Word! I’ve had to learn how to insert the pictures so they were centred to the page margins and stayed put whenever I made an alteration. It’s not the ideal package for such a project, but as this is the only book of its kind that I shall do there’s no point in buying new software that I’d then have to spend time learning.
The only hitch in this little enterprise is that the paperback will have to be in black & white, as Print on Demand colour printing would pitch the book price very high, and with a low royalty. Fortunately there are no such issues with Kindle and other e-readers, and it has been sent to the States for formatting for those platforms.
But I’ve taken the work as far as I can go for now, as I wait for the e-formatter and for the cover designer to do their thing. The wonderful Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs, who designed my covers for Flight of the Kingfisher and Walk in the Afterlight, is donating her fee!
I hope to publish by the end of March and Guide Dogs for the Blind will receive 100% of the profits.
Last week I watched a Netflix documentary called ‘Surviving Death’, covering subjects that are extremely hard to believe unless they are experienced first-hand. There were five episodes: Near Death Experience (NDE); Mediumship; Signs From The Dead; Seeing Dead People; Reincarnation. It’s well worth seeing, because they illustrate reasons for belief and scepticism for each subject. I found every episode fascinating, especially as I’ve drawn on elements from all the subjects bar reincarnation in my novels ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ and ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. The hero of my books, Alex Kelburn, is a psychic medium who sees and hears dead people, and he has a Near Death Experience in ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’. I haven’t had a NDE, but I have had signs and I’ve seen and heard some people who have passed over.
For instance, I have heard the voices of my late brother and father. In each case it was very brief, but the few words were deeply meaningful. My brother, who passed in 1984, often communicated with me through mediums – in fact it was Stephen that started me on my quest for information and evidence of the afterlife – but he spoke to me directly just once, and that was about eight or nine years after his death. He said, “I have to go now, sis, but you will know me when you see me again.” I had no idea what that meant, but wondered if he was going to reincarnate, something I didn’t and still don’t understand. Whatever it was, I had no communication from him for many years after that, but then, not long after my father passed, he came back through a medium friend. Even before she’d spoken his name I had known he was there, so it was just as he’d said: he wouldn’t be around for quite a while, but I would recognise him once he returned. I never thought to ask what he’d been doing in the intervening years.
When my father died not long after Stephen’s reappearance, I assumed he had returned to help Dad cross over. (I was later to find out I was wrong about this, but that’s another story!)
Dad passed when his life support was switched off following a catastrophic heart attack. The decision had been mine, as his next of kin, and although most of my heart knew it was what he had wanted me to do, there was a small part that still wondered if I had done the right thing. Only thinking that he and my brother were together again gave me some cheer (I was later to find out this wasn’t true, but that’s another story). Not long after his funeral I was out walking in the fields with my dog, my thoughts churning about his death and desperately wanting to know if he was OK. Then I heard his voice. A man of very few words, I almost laughed out loud that he could impart such an important message to me in just one short statement: “I’m OK, kid”.
So that was hearing dead people. What about seeing them as well?
When I was a very small child I used to see and hear an elderly gentlemen. I only ever saw his head and shoulders, which seemed very high above me as I lay in my cot. He was bearded, had a sparse covering of hair on his head, and he spoke with a deep voice with a distinctive timbre. If I ever knew his name I’ve forgotten it, nor can I remember what he said, but I’m sure I’d recognise that voice if I heard it today, some sixty years later!
I was at a mediumship demonstration in a town about ten miles away from my home. I went alone and, not recognising anyone else in the audience, I took a seat at the front. Within a few minutes two women, who looked like sisters, took the chairs to my right, and the rest of the row soon filled up with excited and expectant people. As you do in these circumstances, we smiled at each other, but there was no time for introductions or chit-chat as the medium came onto the stage as soon as everyone had settled.
From the reactions of those to whom she gave readings she seemed to be doing very well with her accuracy and evidence. She was entertaining too, managing to keep the atmosphere light and happy even when people cried when they got messages. During the interval we all gathered at the back of the hall for some refreshments and I spotted someone I knew. She said she had a spare seat next to her near the back, but as I’d left my coat on the chair at the front and we were being asked to sit down again so the medium could continue, I said I would go back there.
When the medium came to the end of her demonstration she invited questions from the audience. There were many! As I’ve researched mediumship for a few decades I was content to listen, but then I became distracted by a little girl to my left. She was softly humming a tune, skipping and dancing in in front of the two women sitting next to me. She was about eight years old. Her blond hair was long and braided into plaits. She wore a pretty blue dress with ribbons on the sleeves and black patent shoes, the kind of outfit a girl of her age would wear to a party. Because she was in front of the two woman nearest me I assumed that one of them was her mother, and as I hadn’t seen her until then, I thought she had probably been brought along by her dad to collect her mum at the end of the evening.
But something about this little girl didn’t seem right to me. If I looked at her head-on she seemed to fade a little, it was only by looking at her through the corner of my eye that I could make out the detail of what she looked like. I went hot and cold. I felt my skin tighten and tingle. And I knew, I can’t explain how or why, but I absolutely knew that neither the two women nor anyone else in the hall were even aware of her.
I put my hand up to attract the attention of the medium, and when she came to me I nervously said, “I want to tell you that there’s a fair-haired little girl in a party dress dancing around just to my right here. I’m not a medium, but I think perhaps she has a message for one of these two women?”
The woman furthest from me from gasped as the medium turned her gaze to where I was indicating and confirmed that she could see the girl too. The hall went absolutely silent as medium and child had a short conversation that no-one else could hear, then the medium said the little girl’s name and gave many details, including her age, how and when she’d died, that she was wearing her party dress because her birthday had been just two days before. By now the woman was crying, both with sadness and with joy, because this was her daughter and all the details given by the medium were correct. The little girl had come that evening to let her mum know that she was happy, she didn’t feel ill any more and she was being taken care of. It clearly gave the mother great relief, which is what these messages are all about.
I was stunned by the whole event, and it wasn’t until I was back home that I realised how fortunate (or fated) it was that I did not change seats, otherwise that lovely reunion of mother and daughter might not have happened.
In Writing Matters #3 I talked about an experience that inspired me to feature a character with dementia in my novel ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. I wanted to write about something that several psychic mediums had assured me of: that the mind/spirit/soul of someone in the depths of dementia has crossed into the Afterlife, even though physically they are still on this side. I thought it a wonderful way to look at what is a devastating illness and I hope this is conveyed in the story.
In this blog I’d like to tell you about another experience that both inspired and informed me when I was writing this novel. A character is on life support following a heart attack, and when complications arise that show there is no hope of recovery, her family elect to have life support withdrawn. This is the situation I found myself in with my father.
Dad had had several bouts of heart problems, the first happening when he was only in his fifties. In his seventies he had to have a triple bypass, but sadly the wounds caused by the removal of veins from his leg to create one of the bypasses refused to heal. It seemed that he couldn’t recover from the surgery, and a couple of months later I got the dreaded phone call that he had been rushed to hospital with heart failure and was in Intensive Care.
I had a two-hour drive to get there, and as I drove along the motorway I pleaded with the powers that be not to take my dad. Suddenly, like a film running inside my mind, that incredibly I could see and yet still be able to drive safely, I saw Dad sitting in an armchair, connected to oxygen, looking very ill, diminished and defeated. A soft voice asked, “Is this what you want for him?”
I arrived at the hospital, ran full pelt to ICU where a couple of family members who lived nearby were already waiting. I was allowed to see Dad and then asked to go with the others to the family room, where a consultant would come and talk to us.
It was bleak. Without a transplant they could see no hope for Dad, and because of all his health issues, it was unlikely he would even be considered for one. But if he was, finding a suitable donor could take years. Years of being kept alive by machines. I knew how much Dad would hate that. And the decision about what to do for him was solely mine, because I was his next of kin.
My aunt, Dad’s sister, said she could hear Dad saying that he wanted to go, and I knew that he wished it too. So I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and hope never to have to repeat. We were warned it could take hours for Dad to pass away once life support had been removed, but my aunt and I believed he had already crossed over and he was just waiting for us – waiting for me – to allow his physical body to die and so set him free. A nurse came back into the family room just minutes later and told us that Dad had died the instant the ventilator had been switched off.
I knew with every fibre of my being that I had made the right decision, yet I still had moments of doubt and longed for a sign that I had done the right thing. It took four years before Dad came through to a psychic medium to give me that sign! I did not know this medium, but when I saw she was coming from London to give readings at a spiritual centre that I knew well, I didn’t hesitate to make an appointment. She described that day in the hospital so clearly – who was there, what had happened – she could only have been hearing it from Dad. She even said that while we’d been in the family room he’d been shouting at us to let him go! He told me that he deeply regretted that I’d had to make the final decision, and he knew there’d been some argument about it with a third family member, but he was so very grateful that I’d held firm.
That was fourteen years ago. I think about Dad every single day, knowing that he’s close and watching over me and, more importantly, he’s very happy where he is.
PS: Just after I’d written this and scheduled the date for it to be automatically published from my website, my dad’s sister died. We know she is with Dad, their mum, my brother, and other loved ones who greeted her when she crossed over. No RIP for my dearest aunt, she’ll be kicking up her heels and showing everyone how to party, just as she did when she was here!
In my first Writing Matters blog I wrote about how I had taken back the rights to my novel ‘The Waiting Gate’, thoroughly revised it and published under my own imprint with a gorgeous new cover and a new title: ‘Walk in the Afterlight’.
Although I felt I had done the right thing, there was always a little niggle at the back of my mind that maybe I hadn’t. I belong to a fantastic support group, Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and when I posted on the forum about changing the title of a published book I had mixed responses. Some said go for it, some had actually done it and considered it the right thing to do, others said it was a risk. As you know, I decided to go ahead and I’m very proud of the result. But still… that niggle wouldn’t go away. Until I got a little message that convinced me I had done the right thing.
At the beginning of this month I was fortunate enough to visit our Greek home for two weeks, a place of tranquility and beauty where I always find it easy to write. Every morning I set my laptop up on the marble-topped table on the patio, work on and off throughout the day, then pack up for the evening and watch the sun go down (yes, lucky, lucky me!).
On this particular morning, I’d gone into the house to make coffee, and when I came out I noticed a leaf. It is a large patio, but there was just the one leaf. A couple of feet from my chair.
It’s a hard decision to rebrand a novel and republish it under a different ISBN, perhaps even rename it, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do for both author and reader. I have so far written and published two novels featuring psychic medium Alex Kelburn, covering life, death, afterlife and in-between: Flight of the Kingfisher and its sequel The Waiting Gate. The first was self-published, the second was not, and the paperbacks were a different size and printed with different fonts. I hadn’t thought about this before signing up with the publisher (yes, I know I should have!), and I just wasn’t happy every time I saw images of the books side by side on social media. I also wasn’t satisfied with one of the plot lines in The Waiting Gate, feeling I could truly improve it and, in fact, refine the whole story if given the chance. As the third novel in the series is now underway, I decided I had to bite the bullet, and get to work making the Alex Kelburn books the best that they could be.
Firstly I took back the rights to The Waiting Gate and engaged talented cover artist Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs to create two themed covers immediately, and a third in due course, and also a new logo for my imprint, The Moon Tiger. I gave Flight of the Kingfisher a thorough edit, then I rewrote that troublesome plot line of The Waiting Gate, thoroughly revised the whole story and retitled it Walk in the Afterlight.
At the time of writing, Flight of the Kingfisher is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon and will be on wider release from 10th October. Walk in theAfterlight is available on kindle and will also be on wider release around mid-October. The third novel, as yet untitled, is in the initial writing stages and I hope to have it ready for publication by January 2021.