I mean, just look at it!

Leros. Today. A place we’re not going this year.

Probably just as well because I’m becoming very antsy about air travel. Before all the current disasters with beloved’s leg and my hip, I was looking at possible rail travel to Greece. Train to Athens then ferry from Piraeus, but it seems almost impossible to get to Athens by train – or, at the very least, a Herculean task. I found some ideas on a website called ‘The Man in Seat 61’  but it seems like an awful lot of faffing plus a lo-o-o-ong ferry journey from Italy to Greece. You could, I suppose, regard it as part of the holiday. There is always the option of going somewhere else… heavens forfend. But yes, we do have to look at the rest of the world.

My news today is that, finally, I’ve completed my profile on the Society of Authors website. Pin back your disbelief and prepare to be impressed: Author Lynne McVernon. As if you didn’t know all this anyway.

OK. Now JIGSAW ISLAND. After 7 weeks’ enforced idleness caring for significant other and his destroyed tibia, I am back crowdfunding for the next brainchild – still gestating until delivered by editor Rachael Kerr at Unbound.

If you’re feeling like supporting the arts, please take a look at the page – excerpt and access on the menu at the top of the webpage. Pledging means, at the very least, you receive an ebook of the JIGSAW ISLAND and a complimentary copy of TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS (see, also, top menu webpage) plus your name in the book – for a tenner. If you want to go upmarket you can have a paperback copy thrown in – and the list of ever more exciting treats goes on.

Efharisto, filoi mou – thank you, my friends.

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NHS Hooray! Boo… But stay with us.

I have had a very mixed relationship with the NHS. Almost exclusively, I have unbounded admiration for staff at the sharp end – nurses, doctors, paramedics, healthcare assistants, porters… Where it all falls down is communication and, unfortunately, that is largely due to administration – with some exceptions. I have, however, met the occasional impossibly arrogant consultant (real Sir Lancelot Sprat characters – as played by James Robertson Justice – if you remember who he was – in the 1970s ‘Doctor in Distress’ series of films). Similarly, there are NHS Directors, Associate Directors and Managers unworthy of their inflated salaries (given that they wouldn’t last five minutes in the private sector) and who retire on magnificent pensions. I have seen it from both sides, as a patient and carer, and as an employee.

Last month, when Martyn broke his leg, we received unstinting care from the paramedics who transported him from Port Isaac to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, the medical practitioners who triaged, X-rayed, diagnosed, prescribed treatment and carried it out (this meant a seven hour operation). Thereafter, Martyn and I were subjected to an alarming degree of apathy that elided into contempt regarding the problem of getting him home to Devon. A Deputy Manger advised us that Cornish ambulances would not cross the Cornish border because they were needed in Cornwall. Several members of staff, ranging from nurse to ward clerk, suggested we should have had travel insurance. “No,” we replied, repeatedly, “we shouldn’t need medical travel insurance. Britain has a National Health Service”. They were resolute in their opinion that we should have thought of it.

36 hours following his operation, an Occupational Therapist insisted that we experimented with loading Martyn into a Mini – with a full leg brace. Of course, it wasn’t possible. “But I was nearly right,” she chirruped. Eventually, we were told we would have to pay for a private ambulance. Apparently, the transport department in the RCH has been privatised. Say no more. I resorted to enlisting the aid of his surgeon, who must have said the right words.

Thank heavens for the Torbay Hospital long distance ambulance team who came to our rescue after 24 hours of angst – during which time I had to go to the car on many occasions to take deep breaths and remind myself not to lose my temper – and Martyn grew steadily more depressed.

Back in dear old Devon, we now face a situation where lack of communication means that he has slipped through the appointments system and we have to ring, ring again and ring again, each time waiting up to 30 minutes holding for a reply, to make these essential appointments happen. This is balanced by an extraordinary level of care by the Dawlish District Nurse Service and the Intermediate Care Team. Thank you, my friends, you have been valiant.

In 2006, I lost my mother in circumstances that bore an alarming similarity to this administrative distancing from patient need. Thanks to the Patients Association, I told the story on BBC News 24 – interviewed by Huw Edwards, also to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and to a committee at the House of Lords. It didn’t bring my mother back and, quite clearly, the situation has become worse.

Some time after my mother’s death, I actually worked for the NHS – as a Healing Arts Manager. I was appalled by the degree of complacency and disconnectedness of many staff in a service designed to care. I was also, as an ‘outsider’, subjected to an astonishing level of bullying. It was never resolved and the perpetrators never addressed. Then, once I had fulfilled my remit, I was made redundant.

While in 2019, at management level, patient care seems to have regressed, younger GPs really seem to have returned to the concept of care in a holistic sense, something to applaud and celebrate. At the same time, nurses and other frontline staff work beyond their hours to keep the system going for no overtime, worthy of praise and great thanks – but they shouldn’t have to do it.

There are many reasons for the huge organisation that is the NHS being unwieldy, but we are still envied it by the world. Unfortunately, it remains the target of pharmaceutical and private healthcare companies that would like to undermine and profit from it. The Tories (Andrew Lansley & Jeremy Hunt particularly), have been eroding it for some years. Beware.

This ends on a pragmatic note: patients are now expected to project manage their own cases. If you think you are not receiving proper care, you must highlight it, politely but assertively; it is your right to receive treatment at the point of need. Lastly, always, always, keep a written record of everything that happens.

 

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Guest Writer Loreley Amiti

Please welcome to the Guest Writer spot today, Loreley Amiti, another Facebook/writer friend. I must admit to being a bit overwhelmed by all her linguistic abilities – think she’s far too modest.

Loreley – time to speak for yourself…   I was born in Germany and lived many years in Italy, Austria and Slovenia before I settled down in England’s South West in 2011. Officially, I speak 5 languages fluently but after most nightshifts, I’d say it’s only 2: “English and bad English” (Bruce Willis). I love sewing and vintage.

What first inspired you to write?   I had been kicked out of the dormitory for telling horror stories during my first class trip in year 3. Many of my classmates were crying and my very tired teacher suggested I’d rather write my stories down instead of scaring everyone. I did.

What was your first piece of creative writing? How old were you?   I was probably around 9 or 10 when I wrote letters to my brave, invisible friend who lived hidden in a tree where I deposited the letters. He was like a Marvel Comic Super Hero.

Which writers do you particularly admire?   See attached file … So many for various reasons. I admire J. K. Rowling not only for her beautiful books but equally for her strength to cope with the emotional roller coaster and constant criticism before and even after her success.

What do you love about writing?   My brain never seems to wind down, day or night, and it’s exhausting to have so many tabs open. When I’m writing, it’s like sorting my thoughts into their appropriate files and I can breathe again. I also love getting inspired by places or people. This could literally happen anywhere: on the bus, hearing a voice that stands out, smelling something that triggers a memory, historical places that “speak” to me or simply a memory that feels important enough to be altered into a fiction story.

What do you hate about writing?   Re-reading my books (either when writing a sequel or at public readings). I’m always worried I’ll find horrible mistakes or a badly written paragraph.

Describe your ‘portfolio’ of writing   I’m a former journalist and started my professional writing career after I was longlisted by Tracy Chevalier (“Girl With A Pearl Earring”) and an agent got in touch with me. Since then, I have published 3 children’s books which have been translated into various languages and reached #1 in Italy. I have also completed a time travel trilogy about the former East of Germany which made it into the top 3 in the German bestseller Charts on Amazon.

BOOKS (ADULT FICTION)

TIME TRAVEL TRILOGY “DIE UNVERGESSENEN” (German language, currently being translated into English)

  • Die Spuren der Fremden
  • Matroschkas
  • Explosive Begegnung

CHILDRENS’ BOOKS (with Italian illustrator Simone Stanghini, also available in German, Italian and Spanish)

  • The Moon Lantern
  • The Solstice Fairy
  • Halloween Holler

What is your proudest achievement?   As a writer: seeing my books on bookshelves. They are probably every writer’s biggest reward for not giving up. I’m also very proud of my team at Littwitz Press. I founded the publishing label in 2016 and we started with only a few people. Now, we are over 20 freelance team members and the mutual support as well as my fellow authors’ achievements are a joy to watch.

What is your current project?   Translating my German time travel trilogy into English and a fiction book about a young time traveller in Edinburgh.

Anything you’d like to add?  As so often in life, when one door closes it often opens another. In my case, it was the beginning of something I had always wanted to do, writing. Finances aside, it’s so rewarding and I’m very grateful to live in such a beautiful part of the world where people are incredibly supportive and positive.

Thanks for having me, Lynne. x

Loreley’s Links

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Break a leg…

Break a leg. As most of us know, it’s a theatrical term wishing a performer good luck. But where did that phrase come from? One theory is that it relates to John Wilkes Booth, the actor who played his most villainous rôle when he assassinated President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, Washington DC in 1865. As he jumped to the stage to escape, he broke his leg. So maybe the saying grew out of some fairly dark humour, a favourite retreat of actors. It could also originate from much earlier. Actors would bow or curtsey at each curtain call; the more the calls, the greater the likelihood of breaking a leg – meaning ‘hope the show’s a storming success’.

My husband Martyn is neither theatrical nor an assassin but somehow, without my even suggesting it, ended up like this during a brief jaunt to Cornwall:


That’s the summer ‘Gone for a Burton’ – a phrase from WW2 when Burton’s Ales (UK) ran an advertisement of a football team with one player missing – he’d ‘Gone for a Burton’. Following this, the RAF adopted it as slang for a missing pilot who had crashed into the sea (known as ‘the drink’) – hence he would no longer be in a team photo – he’d ‘gone for a Burton’. I acknowledge here Albert Jack’s fascinating ‘Red Herrings and White Elephants’ (Metro Publishing Ltd, 2004) from which I elicited this and, frequently, various other quirks of idiomatic English. How very sad, though, that a remark I heard often while growing up came from such a tragic source.

Oh well, time for me to ‘put a sock in it’, a phrase from the days before sound mixing desks. When the horn section drowned out the strings or wind sections they softened the sound by, literally, putting a sock into the mouth of their instruments. So here’s me, making less noise. And putting socks on Martyn’s poorly feet.

Nighty night.

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Spring silliness…

In my other life, I began working in stage management in the theatre. Got my Equity card for doing a season at Butlin’s Rep. Clacton – of which more another time. This particular gem comes from the Connaught Theatre, Worthing where I started as Deputy Stage Manager and rose to the dizzy heights of Stage Manager.

As a joke, in a 1973 production of Rookery Nook, the director decided that the offstage dog and cat would be played by members of the stage management team. Andy Wilkinson was the Conrad the Dog, and Tiddles the Cat – who was trodden upon regularly – was…

       

Me, in case you can’t read it. Sorry, the lettering’s rather blurry. It wasn’t all glamour – but it was a very jolly repertory company down by the seaside. Sadly, at least two of the company are no longer with us, Christopher Scoular and David Beale. Everyone was in love with Christopher, who was a very handsome young man, a great comic actor and a lovely company member. David Beale was a very special friend – I still have the beautiful crystal goblets he gave me for my 21st birthday. Later, he nursed me through my first main house production as a director in 1975, Absurd Person Singular at The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, in which he appeared. I loved him dearly and miss his gentle spirit, his wisdom and his dry sense of humour. Wish he’d known I went on to be a writer.

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Four stars over five?

Welsh Annie
TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE

26 August 2016

There was a lot I really liked about this book. I took to Clair immediately – much of the book’s story is told from her perspective, and in her voice, so it’s really quite important that you’re in her corner. She’s very real – faults and all, but they’re failings that any woman of a similar age will immediately recognise. Some of her internal dialogue really made me laugh, out of recognition and identification.

The first part of the book is all about the holiday in Symi to escape the dreaded birthday – the setting vividly described and its quirks and detail immediately recognisable to any fan of the Greek islands (I particularly liked The Shop of the Sullen Adolescents, and I swear I’ve met the boat driver with the monobrow and bad breath…and who hasn’t searched for a single pack of Silk Cut amid a sea of Marlboro?). It’s a great romp (Clair’s cabaret performance and the octopus incident will long linger in the memory), but also something rather more than that – there’s a real poignancy in Clair’s efforts to move on and excellent handling of her relationship with her teenage daughter, but the smile is never far away. I thought hearing the voices of Fraser and Howard worked really well too – sometimes telling the same story from their own very different perspectives. Was I convinced by Clair’s love interest? Yes, very much so – and hearing his internal dialogue really helped with that.

Returning home, the story changes quite considerably as Clair faces up to the realities of life – and there’s a lot there to handle. Her mother is a real piece of work, and having met her I could immediately understand why Clair found keeping in contact such a chore – the action moves to Florida for a while with a lovely mix of slapstick farce and a very touching examination of the fraught mother-daughter relationship. The developments with her daughter, however, didn’t entirely convince me – I think it might just have been one story line too many. Friend Sonn, though, was a great character – a bit Ab Fab Patsy, and a wonderful source for humour.

And talking about characters, I have to pay tribute to Old Gluefeatures Howard – he was simply wonderful, and reminded me so much of men I’ve (rather sadly) also known. I loved his take on things, and his distinctive pontificating voice – from the viewpoint of desperate old fart and Education Authority administrator – and, quite absurdly, grew to really like him and to wish him well with whatever life may bring.

I must say though that the storyline that enchanted me the most was that of Maggie – Clair’s aunt – in her Scottish croft. Her voice was crystal clear throughout, her story beautifully moving, and her interactions with local characters and family perfectly drawn. She moves into the forefront a little more later in the book, and I was delighted to see it and to learn more about her fascinating life story. The displaying of hidden pictures telling of a long-hidden past brought a little tear to my eye.

Do I have any criticisms? Yes, just a few. I thought the book was maybe a tad too long, with slightly more themes and back stories than were strictly necessary. The writing is strong, and the dialogue excellent – but the absence of attribution and quotation marks does sometimes make it difficult for the reader, with the need to flip back to see who’s talking. But overall I really did enjoy this one – and look forward to seeing what the author does next.

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Gay interest, Greek Islands, Humour, Lesbian interest, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Putting out The Ritz

When I was writing an early draft of JIGSAW ISLAND, I wanted Annie to meet her friend Shona in a setting that highlighted the difference between them. Annie had just come off the bus from Glasgow so looked a wreck – Shona was just departing The Ritz to go to the theatre. I have had tea at The Ritz (my Grandma’s 80th birthday treat) and the staff were charming.  I wasn’t going to write anything unpleasant but decided to run it past them. This is what I sent them:-

ANNIE London. Late June 2002

If I were to say I first met Shona when I was thrown out of The Ritz Hotel, it would make quite an eye-opener of an introduction, wouldn’t it?

If only it were true. That I met Shona at The Ritz Hotel is a fact. That I was thrown out is not. I deserved to be, and a lesser hotel would have done so. But The Ritz has class, it has style. Hence ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. And, consequently, when I turned up at The Ritz Hotel’s Reception desk, wearing scruffy jeans, a slept-in shirt and hefting a backpack and a guitar, the receptionist was absolute charm. The only hiccup was, initially, being called ‘sir’; understandable as I was five foot one and fairly skinny, with cropped hair. At sixteen, I must have looked like a boy of twelve. When I put her straight and explained what I wanted, she was extremely apologetic and keen to help me. Yes, they did have availability and, while it was helpful to know I that wouldn’t mind sharing with a stranger, the hotel didn’t operate that policy. She handed me a sheet of rates, invited me to scan it and let her know whether I thought the hotel could fulfill my requirements.

I wandered to the middle of the hotel lobby, looked at the price list and felt a right eejit. Sure I wanted a room for the night, but I didn’t want to buy the hotel. I stood there for a while, not knowing whether to brazen it out and tell her that the hotel did not cater for my needs – or run away. Then a man in hotel uniform came up to me and handed me another sheet of paper, a map on one side, handwritten on the other:

‘You may find the Central London YHA useful. It’s marked on the map. Hope you enjoy your stay in London. Kind regards.’

Trying to maintain face, I mumbled my thanks to the man and wandered towards the front door. Then someone else stopped me, a woman in evening dress, smelling like she’d just broken out of a perfume shop.

“You’re looking a bit lost. If you get stuck, give me a call.”
And she wrote a phone number on my piece of paper, and her name – Shona. Then she hurried away. I turned to see her join a man standing with some other people. They were all dressed up. The man looked pretty peeved with her. I thought I’d better go. There wouldn’t be much point ringing her if he answered the phone. I folded both sheets of paper and put them in my back pocket. On my way out, another man in hotel uniform opened the door for me and said:

“Goodnight, sir, have a pleasant evening”.

Ach, well.

Outside it was still a warm evening. I walked back down to Piccadilly Circus.

END OF EXCERPT

Fairly innocuous, wouldn’t you think? This is the reply I got from The Ritz:

Dear Lynne

Thank you for your email to Jackie, which she has passed onto me.

Your novel sounds like it is going to be very interesting but unfortunately The Ritz will not be able to participate it in.  We do not want our brand to be presented as snotty or turning people away, no matter how politely.

We do wish you the best of luck in your endeavours and we are sorry we cannot assist you with this.

Kind regards

Joi

Joi Izilein  l Head of Marketing

SO I REWROTE IT. Changed it to The Langham Hotel. On the pavement outside.

No argument.

Did you notice anything in the excerpt that suggested that The Ritz ‘turned people away’ or were ‘snotty’? (Not the word I would expect an employee of The Ritz to use, BTW.)

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, new writing, Personal, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment