Sunday, 21 December 2014

#SeriousWriters Interview with Daniel Parsons

It gives me great pleasure to profile a fellow alumni of the University College of Wales. I have a forgiving nature despite the fact that Cardiff kidnapped our Aberystwyth Student Union leader back in the late 1980's. I think the battle between the colleges rages on still but we all stick together anyway. So welcome to K T Bowes' Library Corner...and no hard feelings.

.  1. Hi, Dan! Could you start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about your work?

Hey, Kate. Thank you for having me on your blog. Daniel Parsons is not a pen name. I may live to regret that in the future, but I couldn’t settle on an alias. I’m twenty-one, live in the South Wales valleys, UK, and have written stories for fun since I was about nine. So I guess becoming a writer was inevitable. I did an English Literature degree at Cardiff University and published a Christmas novella called The Winter Freak Show while in my last year. I loved the experience so much I immediately began planning a full-size fantasy novel for Kindle. That developed into my new release, Blott, and brings my story up to date.

    2. What inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always loved it. My uncle has been a children’s author since I was small, so I guess he was a role model for me. And I found that a lot of my favourite teachers at school were artsy types. Gravitating towards them meant that their passions for fiction rubbed off on me. One of the earliest points at which I felt the thrill of having someone show an interest in my work was when I was eleven. Two English teachers were discussing their pupils’ short stories when I saw one gesture to my work.  That was when I overheard her whisper, ‘this one has potential.’ That comment must have made a lasting impression on me because I still remember it a decade later.

    3. When it comes to writing a book, do you plan the whole plot in advance or dive right in and hope the story develops?

It’s a mixture of both methods to be honest. I plan a little bit, but only the big plot points – betrayals, twists, character deaths – because I like to leave subtle clues throughout the story that hint to what might happen later. But I don’t plot too extensively as I find that, if a plan is too detailed, it tends to quash my enthusiasm when it comes to the writing. I like to have the freedom to include new ideas and go off on tangents if I need to, but I also like to know the general direction in which the story is heading. So it’s a balance between producing a good, clever story and keeping the process fun. Because what’s the point of doing your dream job if you’re not having any fun along the way?

   4. What kind of research do you do before writing? Do you travel, interview people, or just use Google?

It depends what I’m working on. As I write a lot of fantasy and science fiction, I don’t need to do as much research as, say, an author of medical thrillers. Although, I have to look up some things. Google Maps and Street View help me to research how locations look but the internet can’t tell me how things feel. For that, I travel a bit. My favourite form of research usually comes as a thrill-seeking activity. I remember doing the world’s highest commercial bungee jump in Macau, partly because I love that sort of thing, but also because I wanted to feel the sensation of free-fall. It turned out that the real thing was totally different to what I imagined and I had to rewrite an entire section of a story where a character jumped out of an exploding helicopter. Best research I ever did.

   5. What is your writing schedule like? Do you try to hit a certain word count every day?

When I’m in writing mode I aim to get down 1500 words every day until the first draft of a book is complete. That doesn’t mean that I actually write every day – sometimes life gets in the way – but I manage it most days and the momentum stops me losing enthusiasm for the story and scrapping it before it’s finished.

   6. Did writing your first book expose a lot of gaps in your knowledge?

Well my first successful attempt at a novel took four years. I started at fifteen and finished at nineteen, so my grammar and writing style changed continuously throughout that period. The story was never published but it taught me exactly what was required for my later books. In my opinion, the rules people teach you only provide you with a basic writing ability. You learn more by encountering problems in your own work and then learning how to overcome them by seeing what other people did in the same situation. Experience is the best teacher.

   7. Increasingly, writers are collaborating on novels to gain readers. Is this something you would consider?

I used to think that the idea of co-writing a story would be horrible. Two writers with two different styles and different ideas about where the story should go sounds like a recipe for disaster. But, on reflection, working on a project with someone else could be fun as long as the general plot is agreed upon before any actual writing starts. Having someone to share your enthusiasm for a project would make the whole experience a lot more fun.  Plus, if it gets you a few extra readers, I don’t see a downside. I just wouldn’t want to end up with a clunky book that is a compromise between two opposing idea that neither writer is happy to call their work.

    8. Does marketing play a part in your work? If so, what do you do to promote yourself?

I enjoy my work regardless of sales figures, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without a degree of commercial success. Because of that, I’ve had to become a sort of writer-entrepreneur, particularly online. I usually spend a minimum of two hours per day on Twitter, growing my account and talking to other writers, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, and bloggers. On top of that, I pay for professional advertising whenever I offer a book giveaway. Luckily, I enjoy the business side of my work almost as much as the actual writing process.

     9. What is your best tip for new writers?

Simple writing is more impressive to a reader than pages of dense language. This seems to be something that a lot of people tend to get wrong when they start out, particularly when writing fantasy or science fiction. I know I did. Writers tend to have a vast vocabulary and they like to show it off. The odd decorative word can really make a sentence pop if it’s used in the right way, but packing phrases full of adjectives can make the reading experience challenging and, often, boring. Less is more, especially if your intention is to write a page-turner.

   10.  Do you have any big news or new projects you want to share with us?

My Christmas fantasy ebook, The Winter Freak Show, is free on Amazon until the 18th December. This is the second time I’ve offered a free giveaway for this book, but it seems to be quite popular with readers at this time of year. It got into the top 300 in the US free Kindle chart for the first time the other day, which I’m ecstatic about.

My newest title, Blott, was just released. It’s my first full-length novel I’ve published so I’m thrilled just to see it on Amazon. If people like it, I’m planning to expand it into an epic series called The Canvas Chronicles.

#indieauthors #bookreviewdepot #KTBowes

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Emigrating to New Zealand - Beware NZ's ailing healthcare system

Coming from the UK, we researched the NZ health system as best we could from a distance. We asked people, we went online, we spoke to health professionals and then we took the plunge, believing that as permanent residents, we would be entitled to full health care just like anyone else. I mean, for the last nine years we’ve paid the same tax as everyone else, so why would we assume it to be any different? And when a country prides itself on its health system and successive governments claim to annually pump millions of dollars into it, why would an immigrant think they would get anything less than stellar service? Really?

The emergency system hasn’t let us down - I must point that out. We’ve had two paediatric appendectomies in the nine years of living here and although we’ve fumbled through a system which is overloaded, underfunded and at best a tired bureaucratic, slow moving monster, we were glad of the care our children received. My problems personally have come with an average pain-that-won’t-go-away type complaint and three years on, I still have my pain and a hard won diagnosis, but am no nearer to getting rid of my problem.

In January 2012 I noticed a pain that wouldn’t seem to go away. In April that year, I went to see my GP with a pain under my right rib that had become increasingly problematic. He ran some bloods which all came back normal, put in a referral for urology and we waited. I received a reject letter from that department a few months later. ‘Too busy, can’t see you, sorry and all that.’

I went back to my doctor and he tried a different department and asked for another medical test up at the infamous Waikato Hospital. Another reject letter and on we went. Each time I visited my doctor I would pay my money and be greeted by the now familiar look of surprise. Who was I? How could he help?

I changed doctors. I was referred to Gastroenterology. I was rejected. Non urgent, unimportant, too busy for me. My doctor was going to ring them and speak to someone. He would get back to me. I heard nothing...and nothing... and nothing and my pain became worse. Eventually I switched to another doctor in the same practice, paying $45 every time I went to see her. Over two hours wages to be referred, rejected...oh yes, she would ring them for me...she’d been off sick...she’d been on holiday... ‘How about I try cutting out gluten...oh, you don’t eat about dairy...oh you don’t eat that either? Bit stuck then really. I’ll ring them' ...nothing.

In September 2013, surviving on liquid food supplements, I changed doctors again. He was lovely, sympathetic and disgusted on my behalf. He ordered a scan, an ultrasound and more bloods. Nothing. He wrote to the hospital and asked Gastroenterology to please see me urgently. My inability to eat proper food had made an old B12 deficiency rear its ugly head and he put me on fortnightly B12 injections.

In March 2014 I was at work and received a phone call on my mobile. It was Gastroenterology. Instead of sending me the faceless, cowardly letter, they were ringing round those selected to be bumped off the list. Again. Could I try a Fodmap diet, found to be quite successful with cases like mine? I read the ingredients list from my breakfast aloud, a tin of soy milk fortified by vitamins and minerals. ‘Does this contain any of those items she wished me to cut out? No?’

I burst into tears and cried for about five minutes making little sense. My stomach hurt and I felt completely hopeless. I had something terrible, I was going to die and nobody cared, least of all the New Zealand health system. I was clearly a closet hypochondriac and needed a psychologist, not a stomach doctor. I made an appointment and went back to my nice GP. I asked for mental health intervention as obviously it was all in my head. There was no other conclusion. I couldn’t go out for dinner with my family, viewed every plate of food as a possible threat and was putting on weight from the junk in the food supplement. I made sure I kept all the hospital documentation for my poor husband to sue them all after I died. ‘So please can I see a mental health worker, better still, could I spend some time in the mental unit, by myself with a library book and no meal breaks?’

No,’ he reassured me. ‘It isn’t in your head. This is very real. I’ll try again.’

Then it came. The wonderful letter giving me an appointment at the Waikato Hospital. Sorry for me, the nurse ringing to bump me off the list had actually made me an appointment to see a real live gastro doctor who knew all about these things. So important was this visit, my husband and I delayed a trip south to see our daughter at university. This was the event of the year. I could hardly miss it, could I?

Husband and I sat on the plastic chairs in the office of this very important lady feeling as though we had finally won an audience with the queen. She read my notes on the screen, turned to me with a lovely smile and said, ‘Tell me about how all this is affecting you?’

I wasn’t expecting that! 
Cue tears, leaving husband to explain.

Hence began a relationship with the second person truly interested in my condition and willing to go into bat for me. More bloods and referrals for tests, including the dreaded colonoscopy and endoscopy. When I saw her a few months later, little had happened. She was surprised. ‘Well, I don’t understand. You’re on the list,’ she said. ‘It should have happened by now.’ I left, disappointed and went on my way to return again at the next call.

Eventually around July, a scan occurred as my lovely gastroenterologist went on a wild goose chase for something she thought it could possibly be. And the bad news. ‘Your gall bladder isn’t working. We gave you morphine during the scan started working and filled up with bile...and stopped again. Yep, that’s gonna hurt. Sorry and all that.’

And the big whammy. ‘Stop drinking that meal supplement stuff. It’s full of crap.
Ok then. Supplement stopped and losing weight like an advert for Jenny Craig. 4kg’s in one week. Incredible. But at least I wasn’t masking the problem for them anymore. Surely now they would have to do something? Wouldn’t they?

Another appointment with the gastroenterologist, who scratched her head at my dramatic weight loss and flapping clothes. ‘I just don’t understand why you haven’t been given a date for the colonoscopy and endoscopy. It’s been months and months.’ The kind woman marched down to the booking office and wrote my name on the list herself in biro and then returned with an astounding piece of information. My permanent residency status was working against me.

What? Rerun that.

Yes, apparently, due to my residency status, my name was stuck in another list, going round and round fruitlessly waiting for someone to contact me to prove that I was eligible for treatment under the New Zealand health system. This was the first I had heard of this. Nobody had ever contacted me. I asked for clarification four times, feeling vaguely stupid with each reply. ‘But it’s ok,’ she said kindly. ‘It’s quite common. You come out of that list and then they bump you off the surgical list.’ So like an anteroom for immigrants then to keep the waiting lists looking all shiny and clean? ‘I’ve taken you out and put you on my list. And it is my list and nobody is going to take you off. I won’t let them.’

Colonoscopy and endoscopy duly booked. The date and time were written on a scrappy piece of paper which I clutched in my hand. I spent the next few weeks waiting for that phone call to tell me not to bother showing up. I drank the awful goop with the full expectation that I would arrive at the hospital and be turned away. Never mind, wasn't that kind of irrigation every now and then meant to be good for you?

I arrived at the hospital on the allotted day and underwent probably the most humiliating and at the same time, entertaining of medical procedures. A colonoscopy and endoscopy, on the same day. The result - an ulcer, a polyp and a five centimetre hole in the top of my stomach.

Apparently yes. A hiatus hernia gone wrong. So that’s why I couldn’t eat after midday without feeling nauseous and coughing sporadically all night long.

So after two and a half years of pain, I finally knew what was wrong. Well, quite a few things really, including a funny little pancreas that God gave me and which came from left field. But hey, apart from that, all fixable right? 


It’s a five month waiting list to see the surgeon and if he assesses you as appropriate for surgery, then you go on another five month waiting list to get it done.’

When after a few more months I didn’t even have an appointment to see a surgeon on the state system, I committed the ultimate sin. I raided my husband’s wallet and paid to see the same man privately - on the credit card. ‘That will be $183 for those ten minutes
please?’ And guess what, I had an appointment the same week. Same surgeon, private clinic.

Yes he would do the operation to remove my gall bladder but no, he didn’t want to have anything to do with the hole in my stomach. I’d have to learn to live with that bit. I broached the issue of the permanent residency. ‘Absolutely not. You’re entitled to healthcare just like anyone else. That NEVER happens.’

How could he account for all the other immigrants I had come across whilst telling this story in wider circles? He couldn’t. ‘It just doesn’t happen. It’s not true.’

Back to my lovely gastroenterologist. ‘Well, you definitely need the hernia dealing with. You can’t live like that. I’ll send you for a PH test. Unfortunately there’s only one doctor in this (massive-teaching-world-class?) hospital who does that and he’s just gone on sabbatical for 6 months.’ The visit ended with her now familiar mantra. ‘Get your citizenship as quickly as you can! Then scan your new passport and send the hospital a copy.’

Miracle of miracles, a few months later I was sent an appointment to see a surgeon prepared to see me regarding the hernia - fairly common, not life threatening but problematic for me. The one day of the year I couldn’t attend because of work and that’s the day of this appointment. With only two days’ notice of it, I didn’t even have time to talk to my boss and explain why I possibly couldn’t leave town for a very important course that I’d been booked on for months. She’d already let me have countless time off for doctors’ appointments and days off sick when I was crawling round the floor in agony. I rang the hospital. Oh well, can’t help you sorry. Next appointment available is in two months’ time. January 2015.’

I went to my work engagement, tearful and upset. It’s wasn’t their fault. With two days’ notice, it was nobody’s fault except the hospital. As usual.

Another cardinal sin occurred and my understanding husband let me have the credit card again. I saw the surgeon I would have to wait two months on the state system to see, within two days at the cost of another $182. By this time I’d given up adding up how many hours I would have to work to pay that back, in addition to the $17.50 once a fortnight for the B12 jabs and the doctor’s fee every time I needed to check in with him. No matter. I saw the surgeon. I’ll provisionally do the surgery, based on the results of the PH test next February. Let’s meet again once I’ve got the results of that.’ 

I sat in his office and knew that the promised appointment with this surgeon wouldn’t be until the middle of next year, if I was lucky. I also knew that I would have to pay privately to see him in his rooms again, because I couldn’t take any more of this. Kerching. For him. More of my hard earned dollars to pay for something the tax man had already netted out of my wages.

The surgical booking clerk for the first surgeon rang me and told me she was sorry for the problems I’d had and no, my residency status definitely should not impact on my level of priority. She’d try and fit me in early January for a gall bladder removal...

It’s nearly Christmas. I know what’s wrong with me, but I’m no further on. I’m hopelessly out of pocket and have no date for my surgery. I’m stuck in the system. At a cost of over $500 I have been prompted to get my citizenship. I will be submitting a copy of my passport to the hospital to add to my records. Amazingly there is a process in existence for this. If it didn’t matter, it begs the question of why there is a process at all but hey. There is and I’m certainly going to use it.

I guess the point of my story is this. My conditions aren’t life threatening but I didn’t know that. I’ve had almost three years of thinking that I was going to die, starving to death while nobody cared. In an entire system, I’ve met two people willing to stick their necks out for me and go a little further to get me the help I need, but they too are now stuck in an unwieldy and fallible system - and as frustrated as I am.

We took out health insurance for my husband recently. He’s the captain of our ship and I couldn’t bear to see him go through this kind of thing, being pushed around an unworkable system looking for relief. It's expensive, but he's our breadwinner. What else can we do?

I’ve had to cut my hours at work, at the same time as paying to see surgeons. I go out for dinner with my family but eat little or nothing. I have psychological problems with food now, seeing it as a threat and a causer of pain so when this is all over, I will need counselling. I’ve already started on that front, but because my problems are real and not psychological, she can’t really help me until the problem is fixed. How can she overwrite wrong thoughts about food that are currently right?

I wish that this was an isolated story in our antiquated system of shame. But it isn’t. I know of a friend’s son who waited four months for removal of his prostate and any kind of treatment, after having been told that he had cancer. My own daughter, a student in the south, paid $80 for an ambulance with chronic stomach pains only to be forced to sign a discharge form and sent out into the winter night at 3am, a female on foot, in pain, because the emergency room ‘wasn’t likely to get to her’ within the acceptable time for seeing patients. What a great way of fudging the figures. 

Incensed, my husband and I made the five hour journey down to see her, marched her into the university doctor and refused to leave without an ultrasound referral. We drove her to the radiology department, out came the increasingly busy credit card and hey presto, they could fit us in. She had emergency surgery a week later due to what the credit card’s timely intervention found.

Or should we talk about my other daughter, called for facial surgery and left sitting in a waiting room for five hours without anyone coming near us? Or the poor old man who sat in there with us until his surgeon called his mobile and asked where he was. ‘But I’ve been sitting her since 7am,’ the poor chap stated, accidentally on speakerphone. This was at 1pm. ‘Nobody told me,’ said the surgeon. ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’

And on and on it goes. I watched my desperate colleague be told in July that she had three areas of aggressive skin cancer on her face and cope with no sign of a surgery date for more than three months.

I wish we had known this as immigrants when we first arrived. We would have made significantly different choices and definitely should have engaged healthcare. But when you’re struggling to make ends meet and there are six in your family, it seems like an irrational cost. And many of the private health insurance policies have loop holes and caveats and other jargon designed to ensure that you don't get the help you need, but they still get the premiums.

I won’t be eating Christmas dinner again this year. One of the surgeons I paid thought I could possibly eat it next year. But I’m reluctant to get my hopes up. I mean, I’m a few days off 2015 and it no longer feels like a realistic goal. I know that I’m kidding myself.

I’m not just bleating about my own problems, which compared to many others are minor. But if this helps just one other person fighting a losing battle with New Zealand’s abysmal healthcare system, then so be it. You are not alone.

Or if you’re thinking of emigrating here and believe that permanent residency and a regular donation to Inland Revenue via your income will ensure that you get fair and decent treatment, think again. It won’t. But then again, you'll never know the truth about that little detail.

I’ve met people, often breast cancer sufferers who speak well of the NZ Healthcare system, although for every one of them, there are twenty of me. But nobody is listening and nobody cares. Choose well for yourself and your family and don’t make the same mistake we did. The system is NOT to be trusted.

This morning, I submitted mine and my husband’s passports to the Waikato Hospital so they can update our status to citizen. Again I was met with disbelief - ‘but you don’t need to do that...’

Evidently I do and now I have. But I did check with my husband by text that I wasn’t a total fruit loop and that he was actually present when the reason for the delays in my healthcare were blamed on my permanent residency status more than once. ‘Definitely!’ he concurred, so if I’m not mad, maybe somebody else is...

#health #pain #emigration #KTBowes #immigration 

...Just as an addition to this, it's now nearing the end of January. I suspect I've fallen off the list again - or sunk to the bottom of the pile of, 'neurotic people needing surgery so let's make them wait longer to see if they die first.'

Friday, 12 December 2014

15 Things I Wish I'd Done Differently

I seem to have spent the week having ‘those’ conversations.

What do I mean by that?

Well, sometimes we find ourselves in a situation that makes us dig more deeply into our past than we would like and it throws up regrets, mistakes and lost dreams. I call them ‘those’ conversations.

An interview I did for Daniel Parsons’ blog caused me to stand still and take stock and then when I was already vulnerable, I found myself face down on the physio’s table talking about marriage. I chatted to someone at work having trouble with their teenager and then shot the breeze with a total stranger, ruminating on Christianity and the Church. 

‘Those’ conversations.

So as a well-worn-woman of forty-five with stretch marks and the odd billy-goat hair on my chin, I will attempt to list a few of the things I wish I had done sooner in my life, or completely differently.

1. I wish I smiled more at my husband and children - even if sometimes it looked like a grimace.

2. I wish I understood earlier that life hangs by a fragile thread and when I said, ‘See ya soon,’ I had known that I wouldn't. I would definitely have gone back for that extra hug.

3. I wish I had my nose pierced earlier to enjoy it longer before it became unacceptable and had my belly button done at the same time before my stomach turned into an old sofa cushion.

4. I wish I had run away to get married. My wedding day was lovely, but Gretna Green would have been exciting. I would have loved telling that story to my children because they've never been interested in my wedding photos.

5. I wish I spent more time leaning into the pain of grief and insurmountable emotions instead of investing in a pointless escape plan. Some things you just can’t run from and I could have used the energy more wisely.

6. I wish I had held every moment in my life up to the light and given it perspective, instead of allowing the bad times to bowl me over like a tsunami every single time.

7. I wish I worried less and dumped more on God and didn't spend wasted hours having fake arguments in my head, in which I said such clever things that fortunately never saw the light of day.

8. I wish I had shouted less and my family and close neighbours probably wish I had too.

9. I wish I had been less prideful and asked for help more when my children were young or when I was depressed. It would have saved countless bouts of painful, isolating insanity.

10. I wish I had realised I would never achieve perfection and that imperfection is so much more fun and heaps more entertaining.

11. I wish I judged others less harshly and showed more compassion, because I’ve often reaped what I sowed.

12. I wish I worried less about what others thought of me and did what I knew to be right. Second guessing other people is a pointless hobby - like a million to one lottery in which the prize is a worm farm.

13. I wish I spent less time looking for the manual that came with each of my children. Where do those helpful booklets go and would the Troubleshooting Section have ever covered my particular problem?

14. I wish I learned earlier to count to ten before I opened my Dartford Tunnel sized mouth.

15. I wish I had carried a small notebook and written down every piece of wisdom that someone else imparted to me. And published it entitled, A Handbook for Screw-Ups. It could go on the bookshelf next to, Helpful Things to do with Vinegar.

Feel free to add your own ‘I wish’ in the comments.

For those of us with a few more miles on the clock, it’s ok to realise these things, but it’s also time to change the ones you can.

#KTBowes, #author, #noregrets,

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Meet The Character Blog Hop

Author Demelza Carlton has asked me to join her in this Meet The Character blog hop and she’s a tough act to follow with her interview of Caitlin Lockyer. I first started reading Demelza's books last year and have so far read all of her Ocean's Gift and her Mel Goes to Hell series, both of which I can thoroughly recommend.

You can read her post here, 

and buy her book here, 

Meet The Character Blog Hop - K T Bowes, writer of Artifact ...introducing Lara.

Buy Artifact here:

What is Artifact about?

“The harsh English winter battered Market Harborough, grid locking roads and railways. But the sun-dial on the side of St. Dionysius Church spire still did its best despite the lack of sun that made its job harder. The position of the sun-dial gave away the location of the secret priest hole, not that many knew of its existence still. It was a silent beacon that nobody understood.”

The ancient church in a sleepy English town releases its secrets to historian, Lara, whispering tales of depraved humanity and the murder of innocent men.

But Lara has troubles of her own, arriving in the town emotionally bruised from a devastating experience in New Zealand, which caused her to flee with two precious Maori artifacts stolen from her employer.

Struggling to deal with the spectre of guilt that haunts her, Lara tries to begin again, finding work at the local museum and friendship with her new neighbours, Kerry, an eccentric primary school teacher and Arama, a handsome but hostile businessman. As Lara’s painstaking work, restoring the recently discovered treasures, causes her to reflect on the tragic lives of others she finds redemption and hope.

But life has some lessons for Lara in seeking to honour the past. Not everyone wants their history laid bare for all to see and some have good reason to wish it kept hidden. As Lara faces the owner of her stolen artifacts her secret is brought full circle and with his presence comes unexpected love.

Is Lara a fictional or historic character?

Lara is purely fictional although she represents parts of women I have met across the course of my life who have a tragic story in their past which invariably shapes their present and future.

When and where is the story set?

The storyline is deliberately timeless and could be anywhere between the year 2000 and now. I didn’t want the story to be dated because I feel there’s a tendency to disregard things as obsolete far too quickly nowadays. The places have and will exist for a very long time to come and I kept technology out of the book because I didn’t want markers. I wanted a sense of continuation from the old manuscripts that Lara handles to her present day.

The story is set in a beautiful little market town on the Leicestershire/Northamptonshire border of England. I lived there for six years and know it well. It will always share a place in my heart because it’s where I met some of my best friends and had some of my most life changing moments. The church in the centre of town and the old schoolhouse are worth a detour off the beaten track just to admire. The wording around the sundial on the side of St Dionysius Church has always captivated me as it’s high up and often unseen or ignored.

What should we know about Lara?

Lara is stunningly beautiful - a real head turner who has no idea how attractive she is. She’s the daughter of a New Zealand Maori raised in England and has a strong sense of heritage, which has been passed down from her father. She’s someone who treads a fine line between the past and the present because of her role as an archivist. But her chosen career is a deliberate choice because apart from her aunt, there’s nobody left in her life who has any attachment to her. Walking that fine line allows her to dip into a past where she was loved and cherished and a present in which only her aunt knows or cares about her.

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Whilst working in New Zealand, Lara suffers a huge emotional blow and feels like her life’s work has been wasted. It forces her to question everything she knows about herself. She does something completely out of character and runs back to England bearing a secret that will continue to eat away at her.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Lara’s goal is to preserve and protect history for the enjoyment of future generations. She constantly battles against a throwaway society that doesn’t care about the past and will happily bulldoze or trash the traces of other people’s lives - which they could have learned from. A good archivist will operate under the mantra ‘leave no harm’ when they work on an artifact. They should leave no visible trace of having touched it, unless it is a restoration. Lara’s frustrations are my own as a working archivist and she shares my personal need to preserve the past against a tide of wastefulness.

When was Artifact published?

Artifact went on sale in January 2014 at 99c. It’s sold really well so I might raise the price in the near future.

EXCERPT from Artifact:

The school building was magnificent and sent the historian in Lara into raptures. It was over a hundred years old and steeped in memories. The original part of the building was Victorian, red brick built with a sharply angled roof and the characteristic gable ends reached forward, perpendicular to the main structure. The windows were long and thin, slightly rounded on the top without bowing to the severe arches of previous eras, individual panes of glass set into complicated wooden frames. It gave Lara a feeling of security, creating a timeless solidity just by being there. It was a sensation she craved and the reason she was an archivist. She hunted for things to ground herself, historical facts and realities that gave her life a security that it had once had, but lost.

Inside, the solid wooden floors were dark wood, possibly oak and shone with the love and care put into their maintenance. Thousands of feet had passed over their surface, running, skipping, slouching, feet driven by childish elation or misery and bearing away future politicians, doctors, cleaners and astrologists. Each one as essential to somebody as the next set of small, twinkling toes.

Lara spent most of the morning in tears. Not out of sadness but out of pure mirth and the sheer effort of keeping it in. The room of four and five-year-olds were both clueless and hilarious and they had no idea how funny they were. In their little world, everything was deadly serious and every minor accident a full blown crisis. Lara didn’t know how Kerry coped with it every day of her working life. Kerry viciously allowed the art session to run into the next lesson with a glare at Lara. “We haven’t finished our works of art,” she declared, ignoring the fact that the archivist had a pounding headache and a bizarre urge for a large, unadulterated gin.

“You laugh a lot,” one little boy commented to Lara, as she poured glitter on his horrific picture of his grandma and he spread the deliciously creamy glue around his face like shaving cream. Lara didn’t know if the comment was appraisal or criticism, but she was alarmed when she turned around and saw him trying to shave with a plastic ruler. She couldn’t ask for clarification because he had glued his lips shut.”

links to me:
Twitter: @hanadurose

coming up next week Lorrie Farrelly:

My first introduction to Lorrie’s work was reading Dangerous, which I absolutely couldn’t put down. I would strongly recommend her work as books that will suck the reader in and keep them there. She'll be introducing her character on her blog:

Buy Lorrie's book here:

eNovel Authors at Work:

#meetthecharacterbloghop #KTBowes #NZauthor #romance

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Children's Surgery - How to make it exciting

Surgical operations for children are a parent’s worst nightmare. There are so many factors to consider outside of the obvious logistics of date and time. With the odd exception, most children’s wards are extremely well versed in the art of getting children into surgery, but that doesn’t account for the weeks leading up to the event, where mum and dad have the insurmountable task of persuading Little Johnny, that they know best and this thing is definitely going to happen.

All of my children at some point have had a surgical procedure which required them to have a general anaesthetic. Some of them were older and needed emergency help, but two of my girls underwent surgery before the age of three and one of them, more than once.

I’m an author now, but back then, I was a mother with a love of books and stories and I used that to my advantage. Meal times were sacred in our house and we tried most nights to eat as a family. I’m not quite sure how it started, but while everyone else ate dessert, I would read to the family, not just children’s stories but the classics too. I read to them on long car journeys, boring waits in the car and once in the emergency waiting room while my husband listened avidly with a broken hand propped on his knee. Wet holidays, appointments and any time that we could all be potentially bored, out would come the book from my bag and the story would continue.

Coming up to my daughter’s first surgery, I decided how I would handle it. Our family code was ‘no surprises’ and we tried hard to stick to that, wherever possible. Big changes would always be talked through, even with the littlies and everyone would know where they sat within the grand plan. It meant that even emergencies were less frightening because someone would be around to think on their feet and there would be a plan, even if it took a little while coming. Weeks before the operation, I started to read an Enid Blyton book called, The Magic Faraway Tree. The story deals with the inhabitants of a magic tree and a family of children who find it and become friends with the characters. At the top of the tree is a world in which the ‘Land’ changes every day. The children visit the different Lands and have exciting adventures and that is primarily what the book is about. They never know which land will be at the top, but they must be back down into the tree before the land changes, or they’ll be stuck there.

My children loved the story and really bought into it. It wasn’t a great leap of faith for them to believe that when my daughter went into surgery, she was actually visiting the Faraway Tree and would be able to go into the Land at the top and bring back gifts for her siblings. The instructions for that child would occupy everyone’s mind in the lead up to the operation.

“Moonface and Silky will be waiting for you at the bottom of the tree and they’ll help you climb the branches.”

“Don’t look in the Angry Pixie’s window. He gets cross. He’ll tip his teapot over you.”

“Watch out for the Washer Woman on the top branch who throws her laundry water down the tree. You don’t want to get wet.”

“The Saucepan Man will help you if you get lost or scared.”

“The Sandman will help you to sleep and then find Moonface and Silky with you.”

My husband and I would put our heads together and decide which Land would be at the top. We had the Land of Sweets and Chocolate, the Land of Surprises, the Land of Toys, the Land of Gifts and very recently as residents of New Zealand, the Land Called England.

Once the Land was declared, via a fake letter which would arrive through the post from Moonface and Silky, the child would excitedly go round everyone asking what they wanted to have brought back from the Land at the top of the Faraway Tree. Someone who could write would follow behind with a pen and paper, writing it down for Mummy or Daddy, who would then have to buy the stuff. None of my children ever called it ‘going into hospital,’ it was always “I’m going up the Faraway Tree.”

Thankfully my parents brought into the tale and my mother would always help by reinforcing the illusion. “I want to know what it’s like when you come back from the Faraway Tree. Make sure you phone me and tell me all about it.”

On the day, it was last minute helpful instructions from everyone and off to surgery they were wheeled, a special cloth bag that my mother made with a draw string to keep the goodies in, firmly clutched in their fingers. The hardest part was getting that cloth bag back off the nursing staff so that we could secretly fill it and get it put back before the child came round. It also had to be done sleight of hand so that the other children didn’t see.  

That’s the stuff that nightmares are made of, not the fact that the poor child was having a general anaesthetic and surgery. We were too busy stuffing things in a cloth bag like bank robbers and wishing it was a bigger, wider, more oddly shaped bag.

Once when something went awry at Lincoln County Hospital and we weren’t allowed into Recovery to be there when my daughter woke up, she was so afraid that she wet herself and came back up to the ward distraught. Most of that wing of the hospital heard her howling along the corridor and it was a dreadful moment for everyone. Until her three-year-old brother pointed at the puddle she sat in and said, “Oh no! You looked in the Angry Pixie’s window didn’t you?”

"Yes!” she wailed and that was it. Over. No trauma, no embarrassment. Finished.

The bag was opened, always by the patient and the list examined to make sure everything was correct. Thank goodness we never stuffed up. Things were handed out, admired, the patient thanked and life returned to normal, until next time.

There are a number of books in the series of The Magic Faraway Tree and I think we went through all of them, some of them twice. It took the fear and the sting out of something that could be quite traumatic, especially for a two-year-old. I know there are families who deal with things clinically. The child knows the absolute truth and that’s fine. We all parent differently and find ways that work for us. For my family - this worked.

I was reminded of The Magic Faraway Tree recently when my seventeen-year-old daughter needed surgery. We sat in a packed waiting room, corralled like cattle when she turned to me and sighed. “I wish I still thought I was going up the Magic Faraway Tree; it was so much more exciting and it took the fear away.”

A quick text to my husband saw him nipping to The Best of British shop in Rototuna and grabbing some English delights, things we can’t routinely get here. The special bag is long gone, perhaps in my parents’ loft back in England, but this time, a carrier bag did just fine. My daughter smiled after her surgery when she saw what the Land Called England had supplied. Polos, Snowballs, Curly-Wurly and other things once taken for granted in a very different life.

The items from the Land had to be posted to siblings who no longer share the same house, to Hamilton, Palmerston North, to adults living lives in other places. But they still smiled, enjoyed their treats and remembered. 

Parents remember - everything can be got through, with a little imagination. 

#positivethinking #readtokids #bebravelittleone