It’s all about observation and empathy – sort of…

I won a course on marketing my book (in this case TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS) and the tutor commented on my first assignment that some of its appeal might be to single mothers. I hadn’t thought of that, even though the main protagonist is a single mother. Going forward, JIGSAW ISLAND, too, features a single mother. Hmmm – is this a case for personal therapy? For, you see, I don’t have children. I have two wonderful stepchildren and a lovely ‘sortadorta’, as we joke that she is, who now has two little charmers of her own. Then there are these three little beauties – whose Dad I’ve known for some forty years.

I have known single mothers, of course, witnessed their personal, emotional, logistical and financial juggling, have been a friend, colleague and sometime employer. Some mothers have coped better than others, some have been practical, tolerant, generous, celebrated their children, and others, well, least said… I don’t judge, merely observe.

As to why I don’t have children – well, I just don’t. But what I can do is empathise, have always been interested in imagining another person’s situation, which is why I write. Also, some 30 years working in theatre taught me a lot about creating and exploring character. Added to which, I have trawled back into my personal career as a nightmare daughter (with occasional lapses into humanity) and been as honest as I can.

This section from TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS was lifted from memory, partly when a single mother friend faced a crisis and summoned me to care for her little girl (yes, the ‘sortadorta’) who was very poorly. I cradled this beautiful child for an afternoon. Later, I watched as she grew, added a dash of my own rebelliousness and came up with this observation made by Clair about her daughter, Jess:

“I watched the incredibly beautiful young problem I’d brought into the world and tried to stave off my habitual wave of guilt. As ever, fear seeped into the vacuum. Jess was growing up too fast. Blossoming too soon. Where was that tiny body with pale blue veins tracing delicate ribs? Abandoned to relentless adolescence, that was where. Heading fast into womanhood.”

The ‘problem’, by the way, was not Jess herself but the circumstances of her birth. I remembered also the fun mother and daughter can have. This is an excerpt from Clair and Jess’ arrival on Symi:

“We hauled our grips up several uneven treads to a small terrace shaded by a large mulberry tree. A plaque over the door read ‘Aphrodite One’. The key was in the lock.

– Look, JJ, no need for Neighbourhood Watch on Symi!

– Mmm. Cool.

Inside, it was – cool – wonderfully cool. I flipped the light switch, illuminating white walls, marble floor, simple furniture. We dropped everything, savouring the chill. Jess, though, was still gripped by iPhone fever. How to buck her out of it? By this time, I was hyper on nicotine withdrawal. The opportunities for a sneaky drag since leaving Guildford had been nil. I didn’t need a scene on the first night. Inspired by desperation, I started a hectic, clumsy strip, heading for the shower.

– Beat you to it!

Jess finally set down her newborn to hop and struggle out of her jeans, shrieking.

– Not fair! I need the loo!

– Tough!

– No-ho-o!

She laugh-howled, pushing past – and won. Or thought she did.

Half an hour later, dried and well sprayed with insect repellent, we sat on plastic chairs under the mulberry tree sipping overpriced whisky, late of Gatwick. Far opposite, a plantation of sapling white masts rose over rippling black water that flickered firefly reflections of taverna lights. Jess’s face, though, was uplit by her phone. I prodded her.

– No telling Maggie I’m weaning you on whisky.”

Readers who didn’t know me have been surprised that I don’t have children and those who did, appreciative of the insight. I’d be interested to hear other opinions.

There is an excerpt of TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS on the menu, above. Better still, go to Amazon and buy the paperback – or pledge  for a paperback of  JIGSAW ISLAND on Unbound and receive free copies of both ebooks.

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Crowdfunding, Greek Islands, new writing, Personal, Single mother, Single mothers, Theatre, Unbound publishing, Writers, Writing, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Ego on the way up

Personal friends will know I’ve had a catastrophic couple of months – so much so that it may be worth a fiction if the plot is less chaotic than mine. The good news is that my new novel, JIGSAW ISLAND, is now 33% funded on the Unbound website. Support from friends and family has been terrific. Further to this, two of my pledgers are esteemed book reviewers, a huge compliment. And as it’s my birthday tomorrow, I’m having the day off. Happy rest of July, everyone!

My beloved Leros, the Jigsaw Island of the book.

Posted in catasrophe, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Lesbian interest, new writing, Single mother, Single mothers, Writers, Writing | 9 Comments

Reviews still appearing for the predecessor to JIGSAW ISLAND

I’ll admit I was a shade disappointed when my first novel, TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS, didn’t crash into the best sellers – yeah, well, I write fiction. But one reader said he suspected it would be a ‘slow burn’. And, indeed, TWR is still attracting interest. While JIGSAW ISLAND can be read as a ‘stand alone’ novel, many of the same characters appear. Just as other people loved them, I found it hard to let them go. I’m attaching two reviews of TWR, one recent, another from a 2 years ago (and yes, there have been reviews in between – if you don’t believe me, go to Amazon). Very slow burn but not yet fizzled out – in fact, it may be about to flare up…
(Click on reviews to enlarge)


With every pledge for JIGSAW ISLAND on Unbound you will receive a free ebook of TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS – which is currently available nowhere else. What’s to lose?
Read an excerpt from each book by clicking on the links in the menu above.

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

Response to rejection of parking fine appeal

Mr Martyn Baker
Parking Manager, West Berkshire District Council
Parking Services, Council Offices,
Market Street, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 5LD
24 July 2019

Dear Mr Baker

Re: Traffic Management Act 2004
Penalty Charge Notice № : KK01325775
Date of Contravention : 12 July 2019
Location of Contravention : Kingsland Centre Car Park, Thatcham
Vehicle Registration № : SV66SBX

Clearly, you take pride in your employment and exercising the powers vested in you by West Berkshire District Council by exacting stringent admonition to those you deem offenders. Please note your statement below:

“Although I am sympathetic to your husband’s circumstances, he does not hold a valid disabled badge and therefore was not entitled to park in a bay reserved for individuals, who do hold a valid disabled blue badge. Having a temporary disability, does not make motorists or passengers exempt from the parking restrictions which are in place.

You could have dropped your husband off at the entrance to the Waitrose store, without obstructing the road within the car park, then you could have parked your vehicle in a bay.”

I explained that he was temporarily disabled (it is not possible to apply for a Blue Badge under these circumstances, despite the severity of the disability), that we were unfamiliar with the area and that branch of Waitrose, nor did we know that it was sited in a council car park (those we know, Wokingham, Guildford and the recently closed Teignmouth, all have their own carparks). Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Had I known that it was a council carpark and not a Waitrose one, I might well have dropped my husband off at the doors. Since it was, however, his first public outing on crutches following a catastrophic break to his leg some 2 months earlier (as you saw from the Hospital Discharge note I attached to the Appeal), I was anxious to accompany him as he negotiated kerbs, shoppers, shopping trolleys and other hazards. Consequently, I would not have ‘dropped him off’.

Since you describe yourself as being ‘sympathetic’, you can understand, I hope, how welcome a parking fine was as we set off to attend the funeral of an old friend.

You may have heard, Mr Baker, of karma, the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). So, just as I, with your assistance, was dealt punishment for some past misdeed, so you too will receive retribution as the effect of your bureaucracy overruling any compassion. When that event happens – and it will – maybe the fact that you spell your first name the same way as my husband’s will help you call to mind the meanness of spirit you exercised on the 23 July 2019.

Fine paid, by the way.

Yours sincerely

Lynne McVernon

Posted in Desperation, Humour, Life on the edge, non-fiction, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Back online

It’s been a long period of enforced silence. The good news is that Martyn is hopping about on crutches now, and I’m not! On his first outing to our local pub, The Ship, Teignmouth, we got a lift from the brilliant Dawlish Community Transport with the saintly Rob, who wheeled him to an outside table while I went on crutches into the bar to order. Ellie, our brilliant hostess, said “What have you been up to?” to which I replied, “You should see Martyn”. She laughed – I laughed. Then she saw him in the wheelchair – a true OMG moment.

Many of you will know that looking after an invalid eats your life, but with Martyn now able to wash and dress himself and make a cup of tea, some of the responsibility has lifted from my shoulders – which will now be applied to the crowdfunding wheel. Speaking of which, The Ship’s crew, Mike, Ellie and Co., along with my 42 wonderful pledgers (which, naturally, includes Martyn), have been a great support, displaying two posters for Jigsaw Island in the bar. I have yet to lurk in the immediate area to see whether anyone recognises me from the photo…

The Ship Inn, Teignmouth

At the moment, funding with Unbound for Jigsaw Island stands at 30% – expect that figure to go up pretty soon!

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in NHS, Personal, Social Care, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment