Sad News About Lily

I write this post with a heavy heart.

My gorgeous Lily-Cat is sick. She has CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease). She’s only eight years’ old. I did think I would have had a good few years yet before I had to worry about this kind of thing.

Lily1

Luckily, it was picked up early during an appointment for dental surgery.
The vet was concerned about her losing weight so decided to take blood while she was under the anaesthetic.  The results were conclusive. Creatine levels were well above normal.

The vet noted that she was dehydrated and kept her in overnight to administer intravenous fluids and stabilise her so she could undergo the arranged dental work.

I toddled into the surgery to see her on my way home from work that evening. It was a funny sight.

She was lying on a blanket with her paw in a cast to prevent her from trying to remove the fluid line. As soon as she spotted me, she was over the moon. She almost sprang up on her feet and started meowing and purring.

The veterinary nurses told me they hadn’t got a stroke of work done all day because she had learned how to attract their attention.
Whenever a nurse walked past the cage, she thrust out a well-placed paw to swipe them on the arm! Inevitably, this would lead to a stroke of her head, some fuss and a friendly voice.

Despite my sadness, I could see she was in both good spirits and good hands. Everyone loved her. They said she was the most beautiful cat they had ever seen, and I have to agree.

Lily has been such a constant in my life. She has been with me through a divorce, and my other ups and downs. She’s there with me when I’m feeling under the weather – she sits on the bed and watches to make sure I’m not too bad. She licks my tears when I cry and she provides companionship when I’m lonely. There have been times in my life when I have felt she is my closest friend.

When I arrived home from the vets that evening, I held my head in my hands and sobbed.

Regular followers of this blog will know how I saved her life when she was a tiny kitten, suffering hypothermia. I remember holding her in one hand while I held a small bottle of warm milk to her mouth, willing her to regain consciousness.

Well, she was a fighter then, and she’s a fighter now. According to the vet, she’s unlikely to be feeling at all ill at this point. Other than a little weight loss, she’s not yet symptomatic.

She is still hunting a little and still playful in the right mood.
Despite a change to the special renal diet, she seems to be eating well too.

So, the prognosis is good, and as long as she keeps eating well and her charming personality continues to shine, then it’s likely we shall have a few more years together before I have to say goodbye.

This experience has driven home the message that we should cherish our nearest and dearest while they are still with us.
I am lucky that I have been given a warning so I can spend more time with her while she still has a good quality of life.

I’m sure the family of the late Robin Williams wish they had had this opportunity.

Lily1

http://felinecrf.org/

Magical Writing Retreat: Kerivoa

I can’t believe it’s only three weeks since I returned from The Write Retreat. It feels like such a long time ago now.

It was the first time I’d ever driven abroad, having previously always been on city break holidays where you walk around everywhere, or beach holidays which involve far too much alcohol to even consider driving. So, a new adventure awaited me as soon as I trundled off the ferry at Roscoff.

The journey to Katherine’s was very straightforward. I knew in advance that the French tend not to label their signs with road numbers as we do, so instead I chose to navigate by towns. The journey from Roscoff therefore, involved following signs first to Morlaix, then Guingamp, then Bourbriac, where Katherine met me and we drove up to the farmhouse.

Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!
Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!

The site of the farmhouse is an old Bronze Age settlement (the old bread oven still stands a little way off the main track) and I got a sense of something very special about the place as soon as I arrived. The tranquility is almost palpable.

As regular followers of this blog will be only too aware, I adore animals, so I was overjoyed when Katherine’s Westie, Kerrig, put in an appearance, closely followed by Merlin, the gorgeous black Labrador and finally, the wonderful cat, Fifi, who took a particular shine to me for the entire week. I fancy he sensed I was missing Lily so made it his mission to fulfil surrogate pet duty!

Easter Saturday meant a trip to Guingamp to sample a little shopping and practice my very rusty French. Luckily, I got by rather well and purchased gifts for family and friends before setting off back to the farmhouse for Katherine’s delicious cooking and my writing. (Well, that was the reason I was there, after all!)

Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!
Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!

Sadly, that was the last we saw of sunshine for a good few days. However, I was there to write so it didn’t matter a jot. And, write I did. Lots. Over the course of the week, I wrote no less than seven chapters of my new book.

When I arrived at Kerivoa, I had three chapters completed for what I thought was going to be a short erotic novella. This has now morphed into a larger work, incorporating more characters and venturing off into a paranormal romance direction with just a couple of erotic scenes. Funny how that happens!

Beautiful Fifi - just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!
Beautiful Fifi – just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!

I achieved so much during that week, that I am now afflicted with trying to recreate that atmosphere here at home, which is easier said than done. I have the cat, yes, but I also have a full-time job, laundry, cleaning, tidying and other procrastinating, which is driving me mad.

On top of those things, I also have some wonderful friends who are writing and publishing new books which I want to read, so I do feel as though I’m spinning lots of plates right now. Having said that, it’s a fantastic feeling to have, as I know I shall never suffer from boredom ever again!

Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.
Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.

The best single thing about my week was Katherine’s support and encouragement to follow the story and her gift for creating a truly magical and inspiring setting, even when the heavens opened and I was mooching around in my PJs and slippers!

So, back to the retreat I shall have to go. Probably not this year, what with Swanwick looming and not being able to take any more time off work than I already have planned. I believe I shall make it a priority for 2015 though.

Watch this space!

 

 

Writers with Pets: Heather Cook

Some of our favourite authors, past and present, are famous for their love of animals.

Ernest Hemingway is renowned for keeping polydactyl felines and his home in Key West, Florida, is inhabited by their descendants to this day.

Mark Twain, Doris Lessing, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac and George Bernard Shaw all had cats too. Stephen King has both cats and dogs in his Maine home, and the French novelist Colette has been famously described as the original Mad Cat Woman.

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Mark Twain

 

In a new series of articles, I am talking to writers with pets and asking them about their beloved companions and how they inspire their creativity.

Heather Cook used to write a regular column in Your Cat magazine to which I subscribed during my petsitting days. She was a Homing Officer for the Woking and District Branch of Cats Protection before she retired a couple of years ago and continues to write books about cats.

Heather Cook, author and cat-lover
Heather Cook, author and cat-lover

Which came first, the writing or the cats?

I’ve always loved all animals and remember writing about dogs and ponies, lions and elephants as a small child. I didn’t have pets as a child because we lived in a flat in London, but I used to love my grandmother’s cats. As soon as I was able to, I had cats and because I always worked full-time it wasn’t sensible to have animals that needed constant company. Cats were the perfect companions and were I think slightly irritated to have me around more when I retired!

How many cats do you have at present?

I have 12 cats at present. 3 of them are feral cats that live outside, but they have deluxe cat cabins in the garden and at least 3 meals a day, so they’re about as feral as a suet pudding. The other 9 spend a lot of time indoors as they are mainly Special Needs cats. One was born without hind paws, two have brain damage and the others have various problems like heart trouble, missing limbs and dementia.

The aptly-named Stumpy Malone, who was born without his hind paws
The aptly-named Stumpy Malone, who was born without his hind paws

Describe your writing day.

Most mornings I sit down at the laptop as soon as I’ve sorted all the cats out with feeding, room service and medication. I deal with emails first, then look over the previous day’s writing. I do two quite different sorts of writing: the light-hearted cat stuff and poetry of all varieties, so mood comes into the equation as to what I will spend my time on that day. Depending on other commitments, I will usually spend at least 2 hours in the morning writing and a further 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon. Occasionally, I’ll have a sudden inspiration – particularly with a poem that’s been in my head for a while – and work on it very late at night.

How do the cats help or hinder the writing process?

My cats are my main source of inspiration, so they are an enormous help to me! The cat rescue work has also brought me so many lovely friends. Although sad things inevitably happen, I think that cats are very amusing animals and they insist on being written about.
On a practical level, one of my cats – Miss Tiny Trixie-Tribble – is obsessed with the laptop and loves to leap about on the keyboard. I have to save my work constantly because she is always deleting things or pinging off emails before I’ve finished. She also likes to add her own little flourishes: the word ‘ehwk’ is a particular favourite and I dread to think what it means in catspeak!

Heather Cook is the author of Evie’s Diary: A Bad Cat’s View of Life which can be purchased here.

The Cat Who Writes: Lily’s Story

It occurred to me the other day that it’s almost a whole year since I started writing this blog and I have not yet shared with you much about Lily, my cat. This, despite the fact that the blog is entitled A Girl and her Cat Write. It seemed strange so please allow me to introduce her to you.

This is my favourite photo of Lily. I think it captures her playful nature and her beauty, all in one beautiful shot.

Lily

I often write while sitting up in bed, last thing at night. Lily likes to come and sit with me, checking my spelling. If she spots something she’s not happy about, she takes a swipe at my pen to interrupt me. Needless to say, this can prove detrimental to productivity!

This led me to think about how different my writing might be, if at all, if she weren’t there.

The benefits of owning pets are well-documented. Companionship for the lonely and reducing depression and high blood pressure for the afflicted are just some reasons why millions of us in the UK keep cats, dogs and other animals around us. For most of us, they are irreplaceable members of the family.

I used to be a petsitter in a previous life. It was hard work and extremely challenging at times, but it taught me much about the nature of people and how they interact with their pets.

In August 2006, I spent an fascinating week in the home of a lady who breeds Burmese and Egyptian Mau cats. She was away on her first holiday in fourteen years, leaving me in charge of her brood – seven females and four males altogether, including her Grand Champion stud who lived in an outhouse.

It was as I popped out to feed him one particularly gloomy British summer morning that I saw a little black and white bundle under a tree in the garden. It had been raining all night and this poor kitten was in the latter stages of hypothermia. I took her into the house and tried to give her some warm milk. Her tiny eyes remained closed and there was a half-hearted attempted to open her mouth but that was all. Without a second thought, I rushed her to the nearest vet.

The vet’s brow furrowed. He took her temperature then quickly passed her to the nurse, instructin her to set up an intravenous drip and get the patient warm. He then turned back to me. “Look, you’ve done your best but it doesn’t look good. She’s barely four weeks old and too young to be so far from mum. Just to warn you.”

The mood with which I left the surgery that day matched the dark gloomy skies. For the next few hours, I could concentrate on nothing else. I had never had the opportunity to save an animal’s life until that moment. I didn’t want my desperate efforts to be in vain.

Back at the house, the brood took my mind off her a little until the call came from the surgery.

“Good news!” the nurse cried. “Your kitten’s going to be okay!”

She was still weak when I took her home and couldn’t eat solids for a few days but she was tiny, gorgeous and mine. I was completely smitten.

These days, her life is less dramatic. She’s approaching middle age much more gracefully than I am, for sure! However, after every meal, she still comes to my lap, rubs her head against my chin and gazes up at me as if to say “Thanks for everything, Mum”.

The ABC Award

This was great fun to write. Many thanks to the lovely Robert Fanshaw for this, and for my award!

Here’s what you do…
Display the logo and link back to the person who gave you the award. Nominate some other blogs. Work through the alphabet writing one word or phrase about yourself or things you like or associate with yourself that begin, A… B… C… All 26 of them.

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A: Asparagus. Currently my favourite vegetable. I love May/June time when it comes in season and the village shop has bundles and bundles stacked up.
B: Books. Hundreds. Lovingly stored on the countless bookshelves and windowsills throughout my house. I love them all.
C: Cats. I adore them and spoil them. Lily eats better than I do, despite what she would have you believe.
D: Day job. That thing that gets in the way of my writing and the rest of my life but pays the bills.  Seriously though, I do love it. I wouldn’t get up at 5.30 in the morning if I didn’t!
E: Eccentricity. Who’d be normal?
F: Friends. I have a selection of close friends who have become an unofficial beta readers group for my stories.
G: Gastro pub. There’s a fantastic one about ten minutes’ walk from my house. I am a regular customer, naturally.
H: Home. Whether up north with my parents, or in my house in Warwickshire, it’s where I feel at peace.
I: Iggulden, Conn. Superb author. I’ve just started the Emperor series about Julius Caesar. Fascinating stuff.
J: Jobling, Curtis. Author of the Wereworld series, creator of Bob the Builder, featured in a previous blog post here, and all round terribly decent chap.
K: Kitty. My alter ego. She’s my naughty erotic side!
L: Love. It really does make the world go round. Oh, and Lily. She’d never forgive me if I missed her out!
M: Mythology. A fascination of mine ever since high school when we sat through an afternoon’s crash course in Who’s Who on Mount Olympus.
N: Norwegian Forest Cat. The most beautiful cats in the world, in my opinion. I have my heart set on one of these as a companion for Lily when she gets older.
O: Opthalmic Opticians. These guys used to be the bane of my life. Blighted with severe astigmatism, I finally went for laser eye surgery for my fortieth birthday. Without doubt, The Best Thing I Have Ever Done In My Life!
P: People Per Hour. I’ve used them for lots of bits and bobs. Some fantastic people on there.
Q: Quiet. Something I appreciate more than ever since my move from a city to a village.
R: Running. Something I do reluctantly at the gym from time to time.
S: Self-publishing. Hopefully, what I’ll be doing in just a few short weeks.
T: Tattoos. I’m currently deciding on a design for my fifth tat. It’s been WIP for about a year so far.
U: Unwinding. With friends, with the cat, or just with myself. Essential for living.
V: Van Buuren, Armin. Dutch DJ & music producer. Love his stuff!
W: Wine. Essential ingredient when writing at the weekends.
X: XXX-Rated. Erotic literature. I have a separate bookshelf at home which is bursting at the seams.
Y: Z: Zzzz… Since childhood, I have always been someone who needs an inordinate amount of sleep!

I am awarding ABC awards to the following blogs:

1. Xanthe Wells
2. Tarja Moles
3. Elizabeth Ducie
4. Alexa Radcliffe-Hart
5. Peter Jones

Elizabeth Gilbert: A Signature of All Things

Some months ago, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Bloomsbury Publishing, London, for the London leg of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book tour to promote her wonderful new novel, A Signature of All Things.

Ar 201uthor Elizabeth Gilbert (l) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013
Author Liz Gilbert (left) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013

Over the Christmas break I finished reading the book and, I have to say, what a wonderful read it is.

Liz has created such a great character in Alma Whittaker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who excels in her chosen field of botany. She is not, however, an attractive heroine who meets the love of her life and lives happily ever after. Instead, her story is one of immense personal strength, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and, ultimately, heartbreak.

I am a huge fan of Liz’s work and it was a pleasure to meet her at the event. A friend pointed me in the direction of Eat, Pray Love a couple of years ago and I have never looked back. She writes with a rare eloquence which reads as though she herself is speaking from the page. It makes her stories sound deeply personal and all the more believable. I have since gone on to purchase more of her books and shall read them with great pleasure!

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

So, here we are. I’ve arrived in West Cumbria, chez Mama and Papa, amid severe gales and showers of both sleet and hail. To make matters worse,  the distraught feline on the back seat made her displeasure all too obvious by howling for most of the journey.

So tempers were frayed to start with, before I learned that my father’s broadband connection has been reset and so the network and password data on the back of his router is useless. Cue a phone call to TALKTALK to get it all sorted.

Now, I am not the most patient person in the world as it is. So, I consider today to have been a triumph, since I have not lost my temper with anyone yet. However, it’s only just gone dark. There’s plenty of time before bed!

So, as I settle into a Christmas with my family, as I’m sure many of you will be doing, it’s time to reflect on a year of success for my fledgling writing career. And also to look forward to how it will likely leap forward in 2014.

By far, one of the most wonderful experiences was my first week at Swanwick which I shall treasure forever. Meeting so many talented writers and being immersed in a literary world was such an inspiration. Certainly, it gave me confidence and courage to write more than before and with a more determined purpose.

Visiting authors at book tours has also become an inspirational pastime which I look forward to doing much more of in 2014. Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Mark Forsyth have given me food for thought about my next steps into the world of authoring.

I have been writing my short stories which, as many of you know, will be published under my pseudonym sometime in January. One of my tasks over the holidays is to browse through thousands of book covers to choose just the right ones for my stories.

All very exciting stuff for someone who, less than twelve months ago, didn’t know whether this was just a passing phase that I would get bored of eventually. Although I do still get moments of self-doubt, as I believe most writers do from time to time, I believe I’ve made great progress this year.

So, if you’re a dedicated follower of this blog, first of all I’d like to say a huge “Thank you!” and also give you a taster of what’s to come in the next few months.

Short stories published for the kindle and available through Amazon only to start with. Watch this space or check my Facebook page () for details.

I’m off to Brittany in France for a writing retreat at Easter, another in Rome in June and then Swanwick again in August to top up on inspiration and meet up with my writing friends.

I also plan to be developing a website for my alter ego to help promote my kindle stories so look out for more on that. So, with that and continuing this blog, I shall be a very busy lady.

Finally, I have this novel which has been swimming around in my head for a while and really needs to get onto the page. So, there’ll be more work on that from to time.

So, all that remains is for me to wish you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2014!

Triskaidekaphobia, friggatriskaidekaphobia and an Etymologist comes to Warwickshire!

As 2013 draws to a close and we look forward to a brand new year, we begin to think about resolutions we may or may not stick to and changes we will make to improve our lives. It may also be a time when we choose to overcome certain fears, which brings me onto this marvellous word: triskaidekaphobia.

It’s a word that comes from the Greek tris meaning “three”, kai meaning “and”, deka meaning “ten” and phobos meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”. So, it means “a fear of the number thirteen”. I’ve stayed in hotels myself where there is no room thirteen. They tend to be smaller, private hotels rather than the big chains, but nonetheless, it’s a very real fear for some.

There is also a related word: friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is the fear of, specifically, Friday the 13th.

For some, just hearing the phrase “Friday the 13th” brings them out in a cold sweat. Presumably, these are the same folks who make a habit of avoiding walking underneath ladders, throw salt over their shoulders and make themselves a recluse on that fateful day.

If that’s you, I have some advice. When you wake up on Friday, think of something positive and keep it in your mind all day. Maybe it’s a holiday you’ve planned for 2014. or maybe you’re going somewhere for Christmas, visiting family and friends. Get excited about it (if you’re not already) and hold that feeling of excitement. Before you know it, the day will have passed, for the most part, without incident. Then, it’s all over until the next one (my calendar reliably informs me this will be next June).

I am not especially superstitious myself. Life is unfair enough at times without adding the inevitable problems of an unseen force over which we can have no control. Still, I will no doubt buy a lottery ticket over Christmas, and cross my fingers at some point in the hopes that it makes a difference to whether or not I win. Touch wood, and all that…

 ~~~

Speaking of etymology, I went to a book signing this week.

Mark Forsyth (aka The Inky Fool) visited Warwick to promote his new book The Elements of Eloquence so I managed to bag myself a seat. I also managed to be first in the queue for him to sign all three of his books for me which was a real treat. He wished me well with my writing journey too.

I found him to be a most engaging speaker. He is just as eloquent and articulate as you would expect if you’ve read his books. He recited all sorts of long-forgotten yet wonderful words in the English language with a distinguished wit and charm.

Etymology is a fascinating topic for writers and in The EtymologiconMark writes about it most beautifully. It is wordsmithery in its finest form, creating powerful images for each word and a small lesson in history in every paragraph.

I’ve not yet read The Horologicon, though it promises to be just as entertaining as the previous book. It goes without saying that I expect The Elements of Eloquence to be no different. Stay tuned for reviews of all three books in the new year!

Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go

This critically acclaimed novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2005, is yet another tome which has sat on my bookshelf for some time waiting for me to pick it up. I’m so glad I did; it’s one of the best stories I’ve read in some time.

I was about two chapters in when I realised that, as the narrator reminisces about her childhood, there is never any mention of parents or siblings. From then on, I was gripped with the feeling that something wasn’t quite about right about her and her friends. I simply had to read on to find out what it was.

This is finally answered when the author allows Kathy’s character to pose these questions herself to her former guardians who answer them in a quite poignant fashion. I was genuinely moved by some moments at this point.

Highly recommended for those of you who enjoy something which will challenge your perceptions of what it means to be human and how we judge others.

 

William Golding: Lord of the Flies

Following on from my post regarding books I read as a child here, I have recently re-read this award-winning novel.

At the age of 12 when I first read it, I remember that I didn’t particularly enjoy it. However, I couldn’t quite remember why. Now, I do.

A group of school boys, some quite young, become stranded on a desert island. The book takes the reader on a journey into the psyche of Ralph, one of the older boys. He assumes the role of leader and goes about creating a crudely democratic society in which decisions are taken by voting. He even adopts a method of ensuring everyone has a turn to speak their minds by using a conch shell found on the beach.

Ralph is homesick and longs for his quintessentailly English life. In order to try and secure a rescue as soon as possible, he builds a fire on top of the mountain top and assigns boys to take it in turns to keep the fire alight to produce smoke.

The antagonist and, by the end of the book, Ralph’s sworn enemy, is Jack. He has no time for this peaceful existence and becomes obsessed with hunting the wild boar which inhabit the island. He and his followers gradually descend into a tribal existence, painting their faces with the blood of the creatures they hunt.

There are some gruesome moments when one of the boys is killed in an accident by the beach and a second loses his life towards his end. For that reason, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book for younger children.

Having said that, it’s a thought-provoking story which explores political themes in a graphic fashion, along with giving us a well-deserved reminder that without our creature comforts of modern life, we may not be so different ourselves.