Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Open wide!

"If suffering brought wisdom, the dentist’s office would be full of luminous ideas"
Mason Cooley

I have always prided myself in having really good teeth. I kid you not, the Osmond's would be quite jealous. It's not all been just good fortune, I have looked after them well. I floss and swirl with Listerine every morning and night ( the family name for this is a "noddy". Don't ask, it's just a tradition that both my sister and I have continued with our own children). Even during my heady and often erratic youth I never once went to bed without cleaning my teeth. Not very rock 'n roll but there we go. My mum did a good job on brainwashing me about “the little men who came with their pick axes during the night” which absolutely terrified me as a child. But I thank my mum for it now because that story saved me from a heap of pain and expense. So imagine my horror when last Friday my bottom right molar started to crumble right before my eyes. I have that dream all the time - you know the one where all your teeth are falling out. It’s a classic anxiety dream apparently. But here it was actually happening and I was wide awake! I phoned the dentist immediately and they gave me an emergency appointment for today and a number to phone if the pain got unbearable. Fortunately it didn't come to that.
When I arrived at the dentist I was already in agony with a pulled muscle in my back. I was so doped up on painkillers that I reckoned I’d get away without having the shot of Lidocaine from the dentist. I paced around the waiting room because it hurt too much to sit down. The dentist was running late so I had plenty of time to watch the images of sadistic oral surgery on the massive plasma television that hung from the wall. The graphic computer animation depicting the latest advances in dental treatment did little to calm my nerves. Why not just put the torture scene from 'Marathon Man' on loop and be done with it, I thought. Is it safe? I had managed to build myself up into a right old frenzy by the time it was my turn to sit in Mr Chisolm's chair. I say 'Mr Chisolm' but really he was about 12.
First I got some x-rays taken (not very reassuring when everyone left me on my own with big metal plates sticking out of my mouth) but the picture clearly showed that the decay had reached all the way down to the root of the crumbling molar. According to Mr Chisolm it was a miracle that I hadn’t been writhing around in agony for the last four days. I guess I should feel grateful for that small mercy. There was nothing else he could do but drill all the way down to the nerve and fill the hole. He proceeded to try and explain what was going to happen but I could only concentrate on the 10" injection that he was waving around in front of my face. As he punctured my gum with the tip of the needle and started moving it around I desperately tried to distract myself.
"Mmm, that lamp is filthy, I would use some Windolene on that"
"Why do dentists always have the worst halitosis?"
"River City is on tonight"
"I've had a baby for goodness sake, this should be a walk in the park!!!"
Looking back the jag was probably the worst part of the whole experience. Relax and take deep breaths. Why do members of the medical profession always say that at times when it is impossible to do either???
We’re running a bit late today..” Mr Chisolm informed me “ ..so if you could just take a seat in the waiting room for 10 minutes, we’ll call you back when the anaesthetic takes effect
Now that, I was not expecting. I had only just managed to get a comfortable position for my back for goodness sake and now I was going to have to get up again!
Now, I have never had a filling before so this was all new territory for me. I had imagined just a mild loss of sensation in the affected tooth. That's what all my friends and family had told me would happen. I realise now they were just being kind! Next time guys, just give me the truth, however awful it is! Forewarned is forearmed. Very quickly I started to realise that my tongue did not belong to me and my bottom lip was four times its normal size. I had terrible pins and needles in my cheek and a hot, burning sensation in my lower jaw. The entire right hand side of my face felt numb. I started panicking that I was having some kind of terrible anaphylactic reaction to the Lidocaine and I would be the one in a million people who had some horrendous side effect to the drug. Suddenly I couldn’t breath or swallow. A really nice looking guy sat opposite to me folded his copy of Heat magazine and very kindly asked me if I was okay. I must have looked a bit odd tugging on my earlobe (which by now felt like it belonged to someone else) and doing Maori warrior facial expressions.
Yes, it’s just the first time I’ve ever had this done” I replied, although it came out more like,“Yeth, itch juss da firth ‘ime aff ad thish un
He nodded sympathetically. Embarrassed, I tried to smile demurely and I think a wee bit of dribble came out the side of my mouth. Oh God, beam me up! It felt like ages before the dental assistant came back to get me.
I didn’t feel a thing during the actual process of getting the filling, just lots of pushing, prodding and scraping. When the drill went on I just closed my eyes and drifted off to my safe place. It has taken years of practice to be able to do this but it's been well worth it for situations like this. The suction and air was a bit weird and I hated not being able to swallow when I wanted. But before I knew it the whole terrible ordeal was over. Apart from the numbness down the entire right hand side of my face - which lasted all afternoon. My bottom lip is still tingling now.
You have the best teeth I’ve seen in someone of 40” smiled my dentist.
I think he was trying to reassure me but I had to gently remind him that I was only 38! Talk about adding insult to injury. He nearly got a punch on the nose! The nice man from the waiting room was in front of me in the queue on the way out and I willed him not to ask me anything as I waited to make my next appointment. He must have read my mind because he just nodded his goodbye as I fumbled around for my purse. What are the chances of meeting the love of your life at the dentist, I pondered. I was never so glad to walk out of a place in my life. Well, hobble actually. Between my bad back and my dribble I really did feel old!
What was the first thing I did when I got home? No, not a cup of tea (although I was dying for one but I couldn’t risk getting second degree burns) Nope, no hot beverages. But I did tip the last remaining Kola Cubes from the sweetie jar into the bin. I think I’ve learned my lesson, don't you?

Saturday, 17 October 2009



A lovely review of Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket by the Book Owl - aka McKenzie (all the way from America!).
Thanks so much for this! x

Friday, 16 October 2009

I bumped into a neighbour yesterday...

..and she was asking me about my “latest venture”. When I told her I was writing the sequel to “..Half Heart Locket” she said (with a patronising tilt of the head),
Well, it’s good to have a hobby, isn’t it
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (or just drop my shopping bags and throttle her on her doorstep). I know she didn't mean any harm and she most certainly didn’t realise how much of a raw nerve she had touched but my blood did not stop boiling about this comment until well after the closing drum beats of Eastenders.
It’s taken me a while to accept myself as a writer. Even with a published book in my hand I still find it impossible to award myself that title. Probably because I’m frightened that people will laugh or raise their eyebrows cynically or mutter,
who does she think she is?” under their breaths.
Let’s face it, 'writer' is up there with 'actress', 'pop star' and 'model' when it comes to realistic choice of profession. We are conditioned from birth to think that there are only a few jobs worthy of turning into occupations. I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning the word ‘writer’ in those career workshops at school. I do remember plenty of encouragement for secretarial and shop work though. Funny that?
Those of us who do want to make a living from writing often come up against opposition.
How will you make ends meet?” shriek your parents when you first announce your intentions.
You’re up against it..” people say grimly “..no-one ever makes a living from that
When you are struggling to make ends meet and doubting your chosen career path all of this can be extremely demotivating. And yet there has always been that little voice inside my head that springs into action when someone tells me I can’t or shouldn’t do something. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember although the voice does seem to be rather loud these days. What you have to remember is when people offer their opinion it is so often coming from a deeply ingrained (and quite often destructive) belief system. Some people think it is only possible to earn a living working in a steady 9-5 office job with a regular income and a decent pension deal. However, they are giving advice based on their own beliefs and experiences and too often we listen to that advice without challenging their assumptions, without considering that there is an alternative to their opinion. Sometimes the people who care about us try to dissuade us from doing something because they think it will make our lives difficult. It is understandable that they don’t want to see us in pain. I try to imagine what I would say if Junior announces at the age of 15 that he wants to be a dancer or play the drums in a rock band! We must be allowed to take risks because if we don’t we are prevented from growing and learning about the world in our own way. Sometimes people can accidentally crush our ambitions under the guise of caring about us.
Ten years ago I was locked into the idea that working in a miserable, dead end job was the only way I was going to be able to live. I knew what I wanted to do but I also knew that you can’t pay the rent with dreams. I decided the only way to escape the dead end job was to go to university, which is exactly what I did. I don’t regret my choice but with the benefit of hindsight and a few thousand pounds of debt to consider I now realise that this option was second best to what I really wanted to do. Which was to be a writer. However, at that point in my life I wasn’t in an emotional or financial position to take that risk. I’m still not in that place but it kind of feels like ‘now or never’ and I’ve been given this once in a lifetime opportunity that would be crazy not to grab with both hands and cling to. Even if I am not reaping the benefits of my hard work I am living my dream. And I do have a plan B because a) I’m practical and b) I’m realistic. I am profoundly aware that anything other than what I’m doing right now could only ever be second best but I might have to accept that, difficult as it may be. It might be that I have to work a 'regular' job and write in my ‘spare’ time. However I do it, one thing is for sure. Writing will never be just a "hobby" to me. It’s who I am, it’s what I’m about and it’s the second most important thing in my life (Junior being first, obviously). It’s too much a part of me to ever just be a hobby.

It is definitely true that it is more difficult to make a living as a writer than it is to go into an office every day (unless you are JK Rowling of course!). You are your own boss which might sound great but it can be challenging. You must devote yourself unrelentingly to your craft. That requires lots of discipline and drive. Some people might not like what you write and getting a bad review is always a possibility. You discover a lot about yourself during the process of writing - what you’re good at, what needs attention. You become familiar with writer’s slump (kind of like writer's block except you have all the ideas it just feel like an effort to get them down onto paper) I’ve learned a few things about myself which I didn’t know before. Firstly, I am okay with rejection. I don’t like it but I’ve realised that as a writer you have to put yourself out there and that is always going to involve rejection. The one great thing about having a drawer full of rejection letters is that it reminds me how many knock backs I have had and how I managed to pick myself up from them all and keep going regardless of the constant criticism. So I am prepared (albeit nervously) for negative comments. Secondly, I like my own company. A lot. Writers often complain that it gets lonely and mind-numbing being on your own all day. But I never feel lonely. I have all these brilliant characters keeping me company, vying for my attention. Bree, Sandy and Honey came to life the minute I started writing about them and they haven’t been able to shut up since! How could I ever be lonely with them around?
And I’m used to being very skint and living on a tiny budget so I am prepared for the small dribbles of money that may or may not appear at the most inconvenient times.
There is so much more to being a writer than people appreciate - risks, rejection, financial hardship, toil and tears. To label it as a "hobby" just demeans it beyond belief. Without writing I would just shrivel up, like someone had turned off my life support machine. Words are my oxygen.
So, sometimes risks have to be taken. We can choose to live a life that’s a bit uncertain and frightening or we can choose to allow someone else’s (narrow minded) view of the world to inhibit and control us. Living life on your own terms is the best revenge! Dare to live your life they way you want, go against the grain, shock the people who thought you would never do it. Going to work in a steady 9-5 job is probably easier than the challenges of following an artistic dream. But you have to ask yourself, are you happy? If your passion and your heart is somewhere else my advice would be to follow that dream however risky it might feel. It is much harder to stay true to yourself than it is to take the well-travelled path but trust me it is miles more enjoyable!

Friday, 9 October 2009


I lift the lid from a box filled with memories,
home to a clutter of paper mementos and ghostly remnants of a lost love -
A faded train ticket, a pressed flower, a dog-eared photograph.
These are the remains of you.
Your fingerprints must linger along with the fading smell of sadness.

When you left, a door slammed shut and extinguished a dying fire forever.
You abandoned me on the quietest road where no-one could hear my cries.
I walked for miles.
You set me adrift in the loneliest ocean
and for a while I thought I might drown in a sea of desolate souls.
I existed in a half-lit world where everything felt like engravings through tissue paper.
Only shades of pain.

I close the lid just as I closed my heart
and the echoes of the past are locked away for another time.

Suddenly I am caught up in a whirlwind of carefree laughter, unruly hair and jam stains.
In him I see the best of me but he also has your eyebrows and lopsided smile.
Such undiluted light shines from within, and I force myself to bask in his warmth for this borrowed time.
He is my antidote to pain, anaesthetic in human form.
A solitary flower poking up through the foliage of regret
he is absolute proof that beauty can be found in even the darkest of places.
It was our son who reminded me to breathe
and who helped to glue back together the remains of me.

Lunging at me with untamed love he challenges me to smell his feet -
which, of course I do willingly -
relishing a brief snapshot in time where only this moment matters.
We are separate and yet connected by an invisible, unbreakable thread.
I kiss his sticky forehead and my lips seek out the untrained down that decorates his brow -
Soft and strong
The remains of you.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Part of the reason...

...I wanted to be a children's writer was to inspire young people to put pen to paper themselves. Sometimes it just takes a 'connection' with a certain character or an ability to relate to a situation in a story to motivate a child to have a bash at story writing. Encouraging literacy skills in children is crucial since reading and writing provides the tools that might help them cope with the more difficult aspects of their lives - to broaden their horizons and to make them aware that there is more out there for them. It's nice to think that it might be possible for them to make their own escapes with the sweep of a pen. I asked Junior recently what it felt like to be able to read and he said it felt "fizzy". I loved that description! I am forever encouraging children to read for fun. Not because they have to but because they want to. Just read for reading sake.

When I was writing "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" I was determined not to ‘dumb down’ my writing purely because of my target audience (9+). I strongly believe that as adults we so often make the huge mistake of underestimating young people. Children should be treated as clever, intuitive beings and in my opinion the use of complicated, expressive language will not only encourage an extended vocabulary but it will also inspire a thirst for knowledge. So considering all of this, imagine my delight when I received this email last night from "a happy mum".

"Hi Hazel, i went along to parents night tonight and came home a very proud mum. I was reading one of (my little girl's) most recent stories and was convinced she must have copied it out a book. On asking the teacher he informed me it was all her own work! you have most definitely inspired her and when i get a copy of this story home i will send you a copy. thank you for giving (my daughter) a new found confidence in writing"

Amazing! This makes me so happy because it's exactly what I strive to do when writing about Bree, Sandy and Honey and their adventures. Just knowing it's possible to make a small difference makes all the blood, sweat, tears and grey hairs seem worth it! I can't wait to see a copy of the story. Thanks 'happy mum' for the fantastic feedback. : )

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Lack of light, lack of hope

OK. A bit of a depressing one today, I’m afraid. I can’t help it. There’s something that’s been bothering me for a while and it came to a head yesterday when I heard the tragic news about the two teenage girls who jumped off the Erskine bridge together in a suicide pact. Scotland has the highest suicide rate in the UK, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
I’ve had my own theories for some time about why this might be. It is well known that a deficiency of daylight can cause depression and let’s face it we are not renowned for having much of that in sunny, old Scotland. But there is more to it than that. We know that social inequality is closely linked to suicide. Then there are changing gender role expectations, increasing unemployment, drugs and alcohol misuse. We now know that both Neve Lafferty and Georgia Rowe came from troubled backgrounds. It saddens me beyond description to think that there are so many young people out there who think there is no hope. A life without dreams or prospects. How heartbreaking to think those two girls, at just 14 and 15 years old thought there was nothing ahead for them, that they had no alternative but to take their own lives. How terrible to think that they never realised their full potential. What a sad reflection of our society today.

I remember doing research for an essay when I was at University and I came across an article that outlined statistics showing that Scottish children have the lowest self esteem in the world. As a mother of a Scottish child I find that deeply troubling. I happen to think that kids get a rough ride. That might make me unpopular, but I don’t care. I know there are some children out there that do terrible things. I’ve seen it first hand and I’ve been on the receiving end of it more than once. But I’ve never stopped believing that there is so much that can be done to make a difference. I believe in the good side of people and when I struggle to see that I try at least to understand why they are ‘bad’. I think it’s just a cop out to label them as rotten to the core. Children are so often used as scapegoats, demonised when there is no-one else to blame for our “Broken Britain”. Yet I meet so many wonderful children during my travels - inspiring and funny and polite and clever. Why do we never hear about them? It must be so difficult growing up under this shadow of negativity.

On this sad day I find myself wondering what made two young, beautiful girls think that their future was so bleak that they had no other option but to link hands and jump? I know it sounds cheesy but I’m with Whitney Houston on this one. The children are our future. Maybe it’s time we started investing in them a bit more.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A busy day!

Many thanks to everyone involved with my sessions at Stepps and Moodiesburn Libraries today. I had a lovely time and you all made me feel very welcome and treated me like a true star.
Well done to all the children who came (and there were LOTS of you!). You listened really well and had some terrific questions to ask me at the end of my presentation. Very thought provoking and interesting. And your behaviour was impeccable. Give yourselves a pat on the back!
I hope to see you all again very soon. Thanks to everyone who bought a copy of "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket", I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Teacher's Resource Pack - Out NOW!


The FREE Teacher's resource pack to accompany "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" has arrived!

Thursday, 1 October 2009


For the month of October "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" is Scottish Book Trust's Book of the Month!
I am delighted : )