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,