Writing Matters #8: from puppy dogs to angels

My fundraising book ‘Born to be a Life Changer’ is patiently waiting for the cover and the e-versions to be done, but this is no time to relax. As the title of this blog says, I need to move on from puppy dogs to angels!

My next novel is a new edition of my humorous fantasy ‘Orders From Above’, first published in 2012. It received terrific reviews, but the publisher wasn’t doing much with it so I took back the rights in 2018 to bring it under my own imprint, just as I’ve done with ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ and ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design, who designed the gorgeous covers for my previously mentioned books, has created yet another fabulous work of art.

Publication date is 1st June, by which time the paperbacks will be available to order from Amazon and all retail outlets, and e-versions will be available from Amazon and Smashwords to cover all e-readers. LiterallyPR, who did such wonderful things for the first edition of ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’, will once again be doing wonderful things with ‘Orders From Above’.

I spent most of the lockdown time last year editing and publishing the new editions of work already written, which is relatively easy because the hard work is done, but now it’s time to turn to a brand new work, the sequel to ‘Orders From Above’ which is called ‘Orders From Below’. I very much admire all the prolific authors out there, and wonder how they manage to write so many books, because at this stage, when I’m embarking on a new story, I always think I’ll never be able to do it. Write another 100,000 words with coherent plot lines that flow and weave together to their conclusion, believable characters who use realistic dialogue, then go through interminable revisions and edits, while throughout the process my mood flips between pleased-with-myself and doubting-myself. Impossible! But not impossible, of course.

So there will be another book about mischievous angels Gabe and Nick wreaking havoc by the end of this year, and there will be a third paranormal drama featuring psychic medium Alex Kelburn after that. But ‘Orders From Below’ is first in the queue, because having delved so deeply into the story lines and characters of ‘Orders From Above’ in the past few weeks, it’s all fresh in my mind. Added to that, the characters are furiously nagging me to carry on telling their stories in this sequel! As of today, I know the beginning, I know the end. I know bits of the filling in the middle. And I know that the rest will come to me over the coming weeks during long dog walks with my dog, frantic typing at my laptop, and frequent sleepless nights. The sleepless nights have already started, in fact, for last night I just could not shut my mind down and get to sleep – the characters were having a party in my head! Not only that, when I did eventually fall asleep around 4am, I dreamt they were partying on my driveway and I came wide awake again at 4.30am knowing I had to get up and fetch my notebook to scribble everything down. Deciphering my scrawl is going to be challenging.

I look forward to being able to tell you about the PR campaign for ‘Orders From Above’ as it rolls out, about how the fundraiser ‘Born to be a Life Changer’ is doing once it’s released for sale, and my progress with ‘Orders From Below’.

~~~~~~~~

Walk in the Afterlight: extract

“Your mum is a patient here?” asked Beth with sympathy. “Gosh, she must be young.”

Kallie smiled. “She’s not far off seventy. She was nearly forty when she had me. But dementia can strike at any age, even in children, so I understand. Mum’s in great health physically, so she could be here for a long time.”

Beth asked where Kallie’s mother was now and she explained again about the safe room.

“I won’t see her again today, because she’ll walk herself to exhaustion and they’ll put her straight to bed. She was only here a matter of weeks before her memory became severely affected and it wasn’t long before she didn’t recognise me any more.” Kallie looked rueful. “Sorry, you don’t want to hear all that when you’re probably going through the same thing. It was nice to meet you, though I’m sure we all wish it was under better circumstances.”

Kallie gathered up her coat and bag and left the lounge, giving Alex, Beth and Anna a small smile and a wave of her fingers. Alex followed her with his eyes.

“I know that look,” said Beth. “Does she have someone with her?”

“Two people,” he replied. “Her grandparents, I think. I could sense them when she and I were talking, but either they weren’t aware of me or just didn’t want to communicate. I think they’re just watching out for her.”

“Maybe Kallie’s mum is their daughter and that’s why they’re here, watching over both of them?” Beth squeezed his hand. “Why don’t you go outside for a bit, Alex?”

He set off to find his favourite bench, the one hidden from the lounge windows but with a good view of the striking water sculpture.

Once past the area that had been laid out as a giant checkerboard, Alex was pleased to find there was no-one else around. He sat down and contemplated what he’d just witnessed inside, allowing the gentle, musical sound of running water and the little tinkling bells to soothe him. He decided he didn’t know nearly enough about dementia in general and Simon’s condition in particular, and needed to do some research. If only he had the time! He shouldn’t even be here now, but he’d come for Beth’s sake and he was glad that he had.

“Would you mind if I sit here?” a friendly voice asked, bringing him out of his reverie. “It’s my favourite place as it can’t be seen from the house and I can get a precious few minutes uninterrupted.”

Alex looked up at the slender figure in front of him, delighted to see that it was Erin, and invited her to join him.

She sat down beside him, her knees audibly clicking. “Sorry about that.” She laughed. “My knees have always clicked and the years of bending and lifting takes a terrible toll on the joints, even when you’ve been trained to do it right. Shame Simon had to go into one of his strops just as you and Beth were walking in. Is Anna okay?”

“She’s fine and you were marvellous, as always. It amazes me how you stay so calm. Would you like to be alone? I’d say you deserve some peace and quiet after what you’ve just had to deal with, but I suppose it’s all part and parcel of the working day for you, isn’t it?”

He made to rise but Erin placed her hand on his arm and gently but firmly prevented him from leaving.

“Actually, Alex Kelburn, I’ve been stalking you!” She laughed, making her face look years younger. “I’ve seen every episode of your TV show, I’ve read your book, and whenever you’ve come to the hospice to give one of your inspirational talks I’ve been sure to be there. Everything about you is absolutely fascinating to me and since your wife’s grandfather came in I’ve been waiting for an opportunity just to talk to you! Can I ask you a question?”

She bit her bottom lip and a slow blush rose from her neck upwards as she waited for his response. He assumed she was going to ask if he could give her a message from a late member of her family or a friend, so he nodded, more than willing to help someone who worked as hard and as compassionately as she did.

Everyone noticed how kind, how gentle she always was with the residents, and the dementia lounge seemed a much duller place when she wasn’t on shift. She asked her question but it wasn’t at all what he expected.

“Where do they go, the patients who no longer seem to be aware of themselves or their surroundings? I mean, take Simon. One moment he’s angry and shouting, the next it’s as if he’s simply left his body behind and gone somewhere else. Some of the patients are like that all the time, never having lucid moments at all, and I’ve always wondered… where do they go?”

Alex smiled at the question, glad that it was one he could answer. It might even help her.

~~~~~

Want to know more? ‘Walk in the Afterlight’ is available in paperback and kindle formats from Amazon, for all e-readers from Smashwords.com, and to order from all bookshops.

(This is a revised and re-edited version of ‘The Waiting Gate’, published 2017)

Flight of the Kingfisher: extract

the full cover

1951, Chapter 1

“Come on, sweetheart, up you come.”

Though she weighs next to nothing, and he is as gentle as can be as he gathers her into his arms, she gasps in pain as he eases her up from the pillows. Gently, oh so gently, he persists, moving her little by little until she is sitting on the edge of the bed.

“I’m sorry, love, so sorry.” He brushes away the beads of perspiration on her forehead and upper lip with his fingertips. “I’m trying not to hurt you, but you know I have to get you dressed and downstairs.”

Her clothes are already laid out: underwear, petticoat, tights, her smartest, warmest dress, cardigan, her favourite low-heeled shoes that she’s always worn for going out somewhere a bit special. Tenderly he places each garment on her tiny frame, hiding his distress at how nothing fits her any more. Even the shoes are too big. He brushes her hair, so fine now her scalp shows through the strands of white in narrow lines of shiny pink.

“I think we can do without make up, eh, love? I don’t think I’d do a good job. Smear your lipstick and get more powder over me than on you, most likely. Anyway, you’re beautiful as you are.”

He steps back so she can see him. “And look at me, in my best suit and tie. I’ve even pinned on my medal and my shoes are so shiny you can see your face in them.” He lifts up his right foot, but her gaze doesn’t leave his face. She starts to slip sideways and he has to dash forward to catch her.

“OK, my darling girl, we’re ready as we’ll ever be. Let’s do this.”

Carefully, slowly, acutely aware of the sharpness of her bones and the sweet-sour scent of her skin, he raises her to her feet and wraps the thick quilt from the bed around her. She manages a few shuffling steps and it’s obvious she cannot make it on her own.

Can he carry her? He has to, despite being old and weak, with probably less than half the strength of his youth.

“Well, my love, we’re going to have to do this the hard way. Remember how I carried you over the threshold on our wedding night? I nearly took a tumble and you grabbed hold so tight you almost wrenched my neck. Remember that? I’m sure you do.”

He can’t risk the extra weight of the quilt or the possibility of tripping over a trailing piece of it, so he removes it from her body and tosses it on the bed, still talking all the while to distract her.

“It’s like yesterday to me, our wedding day. You looked like an angel in your white dress, you know. Fair took my breath away. And that little suit you wore afterwards, showing off your tiny waist. A hat, too, I remember, perched on your shining hair, which was all pinned up at the back so fancy. I thought I was a lucky, lucky man that day, and I’ve thought it every day since. Can you put your arms round my neck, love?”

He pauses, making sure the weight of her, slight as it is, is securely balanced against his body. Her head rests on his shoulder, and her feet dangle so that both her shoes slip off and land on the floor with a dull thud, thud.

“I’ll come back up for your shoes, don’t you worry. And the quilt. We must keep you warm, now, mustn’t we.”

He’s at the top of the stairs now, already nervous about how he’s going to make the descent safely.

After each downward step, shaking with effort, he has to pause and steady himself before taking the next one. He almost smiles at the bitter irony of not wanting to trip;

What if she were to survive the fall and he didn’t? It didn’t bear thinking about. He had a huge responsibility here, and he couldn’t afford to mess up.

“I have to be very careful, my love. I know this is uncomfortable for you, but you need to hold tight. Now, then, let’s take it really slow and steady.”

The narrow stairway means he has to turn slightly sideways to get them both down. He can’t hold onto her as well as the banister rail, so must take it one step at a time.

Right foot down.

Shift her weight a little to keep his centre of balance.

Left foot down onto the same tread.

Steady.

Steady.

Pause and breathe.

Down and down, step by step, until he is at last standing on the hall floor. His breathing is laboured and his arms tremble with the effort he’s made, but he has to carry her just a few more steps to the kitchen.

Once there, he lays her down on the thin mattress he’d placed on the floor earlier. Her skin gleams with sweat and has a ghastly yellow hue. He knows bruises are already forming on her arms and thighs where his hands have so firmly held her.

“I’m going back up for the quilt and your shoes, love. I’ll be very quick.”

When he returns, she is shivering and weeping, mewling like a newborn kitten. Quickly he covers her with the quilt and with a clean handkerchief wipes the tears from her sunken cheeks and kisses her forehead. His own face is wet, his throat tight, but he must not waver now. This is something he must do, a promise he must keep.

A promise he wants to keep, with all his heart.

His voice just above a whisper, he tries to reassure her as he once more puts on her shoes and covers her with the thick pink and white quilt. “It’s alright, sweetheart, it’s alright, my love. Very soon now you won’t be suffering, I promise, and everything will be wonderful again. For both of us. Just wonderful.”

Her huge, once-beautiful eyes fasten on his face and his throat catches to see the tears well up again and tremble on her sparse lashes. She has no voice now, hasn’t been able to speak for quite a time, but everything she is thinking shines from those eyes.

“Now, now, don’t you be worrying about me. My mind’s made up, and there’s no changing it. Since the day we met, you’ve meant the whole world to me, and I couldn’t go on without you. You know that, love, I’ve told you often enough. And this way I won’t have to.”

Satisfied that she is warm and as comfortable as he can make her, he bustles round the tiny kitchen, checking for the hundredth time that the sash window is securely taped up. It is so cold, ferny fronds of frost pattern the glass on the inside.

“Just got to do the door now.” His words plume in the freezing air.

From the wooden draining board, he grabs the roll of duct tape and the large knife he’s had since his army days.

In minutes, the door is sealed to his satisfaction, and he puts the tape and knife away in a drawer, wanting the kitchen to be tidy. He has spent the past few days cleaning every nook and cranny of this house to be sure that it is immaculate.

There’s a warning note taped to the outside of the front door and the letter to his sister-in-law, their only living relative, is propped against the clock on the mantelpiece. There’s hardly any money for her, but Mavis can have any of their possessions she wants, including a pearl brooch that he knows she admires. He’s sorry, though, that she will have to deal with the fallout on her own, and that plays on his mind constantly.

She’s been so good, helping out, has Mavis. Many times he’s wanted to confide in her as they sat drinking cups of milky tea after she’d changed the bed linen and done some

baking so he’d have something wholesome to eat. But feeling sure she wouldn’t understand, would certainly try and talk him out of it, he’s kept silent and, he is sure, has put on a good act so she has no suspicions.

Besides, what possible alternative is there to the plan he is determined to carry out this day? He would be nothing without his wife. Nothing. Only war has ever separated them, and on either side of those terrible times they haven’t spent a single night apart. He has no intention now or ever of sleeping without her by his side.

So this is the way it has to be.

He kneels beside her, croons softly, “Just one more job, my darling, and I’ll be right beside you. It’ll be just like we talked about; we’ll simply drift off to sleep. Yes, we’ll go to sleep and then we’ll wake up on the other side, and everything will be wonderful.”

Grabbing two corners of the mattress and trying not jolt her fragile body any more than he has already, he positions her so that her head is a little closer to the open oven door.

He turns all the gas jets full on and quickly burrows under the thick quilt, stretching himself out beside her, his beloved, his dearest friend, his soul mate.

Wraps his arms around her and tries to still her shivering body, even though his own hands are numb with cold.

Plants a gentle kiss on her dry lips.

Puts his lips close to her ear, and whispers. “Breathe deep, my love, and if you get there first, wait for me.”

~~~~~

Want to know more? ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ is available in paperback and kindle formats from Amazon, for all e-readers from Smashwords.com, and to order from all bookshops.

(This is a revised version, the ISBN number is 9780956795410)

Writing Matters #4: turning off life support

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!

Writing Matters #2: the leaf

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.

Study that for moment and then look at the cover:

It literally sent shivers up and down my spine.

Jane, 19 October 2020