Life, Death and the Bit Inbetween

Various mind meanderings here. Possibly a bit morbid, but I need to brain-dump it out the way.

First of all, my dad was on the phone earlier and told me this news. This won’t mean an awful lot to most of you, but Dr. Palmer was my GP pretty much from when I was born until he retired. There were two other doctors up at the surgery, but I always wanted to see Dr. Palmer. I have this vague recollection of a very kind, very down-to-earth doctor who always put me at my ease and was outstandingly thoughtful. He was ninety years old, which I admit surprised me because as you know, when you’re a kid, adults already seem ancient. He died peacefully and for that, I’m immensely grateful.

Life and death are things that crop up all the time in my job and which has been heavily featured in the news this week. For those of you who don’t know what I do in my ‘day job’, I work in Cancer Services for the local NHS trust. Now, I don’t have any direct contact with patients, but all the same… certain things happen with people during the course of their pathways through the hospital that means you remember them. Maybe they’ve missed an outpatients appointment for a slightly amusing reason… or perhaps you remember them for more tragic reasons. I was talking to one of the nurse specialists about how I could never do their job. How it must be the hardest thing in the world to sit down with a patient and give them the news that nobody wants to hear.

‘The patients are usually alright,’ said the nurses. ‘It’s the families. They’re the ones who struggle to accept it. Almost invariably the patient takes the news calmly.’ This is in part because they’re expecting it. Of course, some of them are shocked, but for the most part, they take the news with great and admirable dignity. Some of them choose no surgical intervention, some of them are too advanced for surgical intervention, so go for palliative treatments instead. Some, like the patient who came to my attention yesterday, write beautiful letters to the nurses saying (paraphrased): ‘thank you so much for your kindness and care. But I have had a happy life and whilst I have no pain, I will just go about my daily life. When the time comes, don’t be sad for me.’ I heard about this and I was welling up.

The other thing that’s made my heart break this week has been the awful, awful tragedy in Belgium that saw the loss of 28 lives, some 22 of them 12 year old children. Perhaps it just hits very close to the mark with Smallish being around that age, but for one of the very few times in my life, the phrase ‘my heart goes out…’ is true. Those parents… I can’t start to comprehend what they must be going through. On the day Smallish was born, at 32 weeks gestation, there was a strong chance he wasn’t going to make it to lunchtime. I was lucky.

It’s true what they say. Hold onto what you have, because you never know when it’s going to be taken from you. This has been acute for me this week with the annual run-up to Mother’s Day. I miss my mother very much and I always will. But I won’t forget her. I’m going to go and find a bunch of freesias somewhere tomorrow (her favourite flowers) and remember her in that way on Sunday.

Perhaps all this sadness is the natural balance to the quiet rage I had last week at my day job. Perhaps it’s karma’s way of reminding me how bloody lucky I am. I have a husband and son who I love dearly, my dad, my brother, a home of my own… my two jobs and some quite extraordinary friends. I have enough money to pay my bills and feed my family; with a little left over for luxuries. I am lucky.

Religion and culture notwithstanding, there is a very strong possibility that this life is all we have; this shot on Earth the only one we get. Why do we spend so much of it wishing for things we can’t have, or things we should have done? I am trying – although it’s hard at times – to adopt the ‘live life to the full’ attitude. This has been quite effective, although last week at work did induce Much Rage. But then you stop, you take a step back. You see 22 sets of grieving parents and you think ‘I have no problems’.

None at all.

Be well and be happy, Interwebs. Here, here is an amusing picture to help you be happy.

Well? How else do they get the curl right?

Rollering and Coastering

I’m tired. It’s been a week of ups and downs. This is therefore a bit… stream of consciousness.

It started on a down with the death of the hard drive, as immortalised in my previous ‘Hard Drive Lament’ entry. It dragged me back, kicking and screaming, from my previously easily attainable February target. Let me just digress for a moment or two on the subject of targets. I’ve discussed them before in depth, but just to recap.

I set myself ‘bite-sized’ targets. X number of words by the end of January, Y number of words by the end of February… and so on. I have these written on my white board and it acts as a motivator to look up at it and go ‘YEAH! Only Z number of words left to go to reach target!’ Usually at that point, I do something painfully cliched, like this:-

Take that, air, you sunnovvabitch.

I know, OK? I know. But anyway, I glance up at the whiteboard and go ‘oh yeah. My golden target is within reach.’

After the hard-drive death, that attainability became less likely and I’ve been totally putting myself through hell over it. And here’s the really weird thing: I have no idea why! It’s not like I’m not well within the overall target or anything. But I have this near OCD-like need to reach (and exceed) that February target. As a result, I may have been pushing myself a lot harder this past week than I would otherwise have done. Not that this is particularly bad, or anything. Well actually it is bad. I work full time. Coming home and writing until my eyeballs threaten to pack and leave due to being so tired hasn’t done me any favours this week. But I’ve caught up. At least, as much as is humanly possible. February’s target is now back in my grasp. I am off work Tuesday and Wednesday. Hopefully at some point in the next three days, I’ll achieve Target Nirvana. The air will suffer more punching.

So that’s a kind of up-down thing; both good, bad and frankly, bloody silly. But that’s what I do best.

Let’s look at the UP of this past week, because there’s been a damn sight more of it.

UP NUMBER ONE

Aaron and Katie’s baby showed up on 21st February. After countless months of referring to their unborn child as ‘she’, they were probably somewhat alarmed to discover that ‘she’ was in fact a ‘he’. Alexander is no less gorgeous for the fact and little boys are the stuff of legend. (I may have a certain bias in that direction; although I was convinced Smallish was going to be a girl as well). There are very few things in the world as uplifting as the joy of a friend becoming a parent. They have all the tough early days and nights ahead of them, but all of us Experienced Parents know that it doesn’t last. I wish them every joy and happiness in their new family unit. I predict Alexander will commence his efforts to take over the world in approximately five years.

I predict he will be successful in six.

UP NUMBER TWO

Warhammer 40,000 celebrated its 25th birthday on Saturday 26th February. To mark this occasion, the Black Library released a special anthology of short stories called ’25 for 25′. 25 short stories all collected together in one place. Works out at… whatever it is. Something like 56p per story, which is frankly a bloody bargain. I am thrilled that one of my own short stories, Bitter End featuring everyone’s favourite deranged villain Huron Blackheart is one of those stories. It’s an ebook download which you can get here – no worries if you don’t have an eReader, simply acquire yourself a bit of free software like Adobe Digital Editions (free) and you can still enjoy it. I heartily recommend At Gaius Point by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – that’s been one of my favourite short W40K stories so far.

The subject of eReaders and the attitude of folks towards them may be the subject of a future rant, incidentally.

UP NUMBER THREE

It’s Black Library Live! 2012 this coming weekend (March 3rd). Lots of people gathered up at Warhammer World and taking over the tables in Bugmans Bar to talk about All Things Warhammer. I’m taking part in no less than three of the discussion panels (Space Marines, Warhammer Fantasy and Hammer and Bolter) and am looking forward to it enormously. The last two years have been great fun; but this will be the first time I’m there on the ‘other side’ of the table. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there. Among the pre-release books available on the day is the four-book anthology Architect of Fate which contains my novella Accursed Eternity.

UP NUMBER FOUR

Despite being off work for a week, I got caught up again. Huzzah for that. Additionally, I am in tomorrow (Monday), but am then off for the rest of the week. Such a nice warm feeling. Mmmmmm.

So yes. This week has been a bit of a wild ride, but I always liked roller coasters. Occasionally though, it’d be nice to be cruising along on the flat for a while.

Mind, that’d mean life was boring, and mine’s been anything but that over the last three years.

Long may it continue.

Additionally, how much fun does this roller coaster look?

DIVE! DIVE!

Out and About

I don’t get out much. So to actually look ahead to Things I Am Doing This Year is quite startling. As an aside, whilst Google-searching for appropriate images to use for ‘Out and About’, I found this one. It worries me enormously.

Bury People First? BEFORE you push them in front of the bus? WHAT? Oh, English language, you are funny.

 

In a week’s time, we’re taking a short trip Down South to see friends. It will be Smallish’s thirteenth birthday whilst we’re away and I have it on good authority that he wouldn’t dare to turn into Kevin the Teenager at midnight in someone else’s house.

Just a little over three weeks to this year’s Black Library Live event! Really looking forward to it. This will be our third year of going and we’ve had a blast both times previously. The difference this year is that I’ll actually be on the ‘other side’, sitting on seminar panels and what have you. I enjoy that kind of thing, I’ve invariably found it a lot of fun. Add to that the fact that I’ll be seeing many awesome people and meeting new ones and all in all, I can’t wait.

I’ve also signed up to this year’s alt.fiction event as well. I definitely enjoyed last year’s and found it to be incredibly interesting and useful. I picked up quite a lot of good hints ‘n’ tips on writing in general and met a bunch of very nice people. Looking forward to that as well.

A week after getting over alt.fiction, I’ll be heading down to London in April for the Salute wargaming event. I’ve never been to this one, but looking at some of the photographs from last year’s event, I’m VERY much looking forward to seeing some of the miniatures there. There’s a whole swathe of insanely talented people out there who can paint the most incredible models and I’m filled up with complete respect for them. My Silver Skulls army is largely being painted by Dearly Beloved, who has the patience and ability that I don’t have. I’ve been doing the ‘necessary evil’ element of basecoating and black washes for the most part, but I’m trying.

Later on in the year, depending on a few factors, we will be taking a trip to the US to see friends in Texas. Now that I’m looking forward to for the fact that it’s seeing friends and involves a trip to a part of the US I’ve never been anywhere near.

All these things make the nasty work element that fills in the time inbetween a little more bearable.

The day job continues without ever improving, but conversely doesn’t really get much worse. Mustn’t grumble and all that.  Project: Loophole is now more than half-done and I’m looking forward to that fun ‘bit just after the middle’ I experienced with both TGR and Valkia when the writing mojo gets a proper lick on. I had a couple of good writing days over the weekend (in terms of actual output volume), but then proceeded to delete a whole bunch of it after shouting a lot at the computer.

Oh well, back to it! Not long until the Out and About starts. Until then, I’m In and Here.

To wrap up, a picture about confidence.

Chop, Chop, Busy, Busy…

WARNING! STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS FOLLOWS.

For all you young people, the title of this post comes from an ancient BT TV commercial featuring the world’s most amazing penguins. Stay tuned at the end of it for some Women Taking Their Clothes Off.

Right, I hear you say. I can hear you shuffling slightly backwards as well. Don’t do that. Come back. Please? Aww, thanks!

So today was the first day back at work after two weeks off and I was indeed sounding just like those penguins. Chop, chop, busy, busy, work, work, bang, bang. One ten hour day later and I’m ALMOST caught up again. The nature of my job is that it doesn’t stop when you’re not there. Patients are still on the 62 day pathway whether you take 14 of those days off work or not. And believe me, 14 days is a long time in the NHS…

But something fundamental changed at work today, because I was able to take in my copy of The Gildar Rift that the Editor-beast gave me last week. ‘Look,’ I said, proudly. ‘I told you I’d written a book!’ And they were genuinely impressed. Chances are, none of them will ever buy or read a copy, not being sci-fi nerds like I am, but they were all ‘wow! How long did that take? What’s the process? Etc., etc., etc.’ And I felt massively bashful and thrilled about it all over again. I am now a properly published author with a novel of my own. I got a buzz when I saw Primary Instinct in Victories of the Space Marines, but this is something else. S’got my name on the front an’ EVERYTHIN’!

Exciting stuff.

I’m very busy with Valkia the Bloody at the moment, but that hasn’t stopped me breaking out to do a couple of additional projects (known as Project: Lonestar and Project: Hoodwink at the moment) and that’s been a welcome break from the WHF-verse. I do miss my Space Marines when I’m not writing about them. At the moment, I’m particularly missing Gileas, he’s not had a look-in for ages.

LOOK IN! See how I show my age? My brother used to get that magazine when I was about four years old. I remember the TV ad and jingle and everything. You may gather from this that the old-style TV jingles work well on me given that I remember them… what, *cough* years down the line?

LA LA LA LA LA LOOK IN!

Er… yes.

(Sorry for the delay, I immediately got distracted by watching old late 70’s/early 80’s TV commercials on YouTube).

So yes. Back to work and my poor head is all over the place. I had planned on doing some writing tonight, but am so tired from being back that I just can’t muster the enthusiasm. Tomorrow I don’t have to work ridiculous hours though, so I will get caught up. I WILL get caught up. I’m at the beginning of the month, so my progress chart (YES, I AM THAT NERDY) is looking distressing below the target line. I finished August about 2.5k up on target, which gave me a boost to be getting on with.

Have finished reading The Outcast Dead and the lovely Mr. McNeill will be signing copies of this at Warhammer World this coming Saturday. Rumour tells me that there will be someone else signing Something Else, too, but I might be wrong there. If he reads this and would like to confirm it, that would be splendid. If I misheard him, then JUST IGNORE ME. Anyway. The Outcast Dead was thoroughly enjoyable and I hope you lovely folk out there enjoy it.

I’ve forgotten what I even meant to actually blog about. My head is a scrambled mess.

I think I should go watch some more old TV commercials. So to finish, here’s one that was recently resurrected, because the advertising world FINALLY REALISED that adverts used to be a lot better…

Beyond Busy, Into Hectic

But first, some music for no reason other than I’m really liking these guys at the moment.

Catchy little number; nice bass, nice drums, good singer. Can’t ask for more than that. I think I’ve said before that I have a really eclectic playlist with everything from classics right up to heavy metal. I just like what I like.

What I haven’t liked has been this week. It’s had some Very Good bits – such as sending in the first draft of Accursed Eternity and having minimal edits to do on it. Synopsis is away for Project: Handbags at Dawn and Project: Podshot is ramping up to start. I hope to enlighten you on what both of these projects are in due course. For now, they’re Project [Codename]. Don’t know why I do that. It amuses me.

Anyway. So the writing part is all fine and hunky dory. Incidentally, Hammer & Bolter Issue 8 is out tomorrow and features another Silver Skulls short story called Cause and Effect – a follow-on from Action and Consequence that was published back in H&B 5. Just so you know.

Work has been hellish; very busy but our computer systems are far, far, far away from what you might call robust. I half-suspect they’re actually running everything from a ZX Spectrum some days it’s that bad. When our systems or slow or – as has been the case this week – dead, then we can’t do anything even remotely practical except sit there and glare at the computers and somehow hope the database pixies will skip along and fix them.

Took a decadent day off in the middle of the week; have plenty of flexi-time owing and Dearly Beloved had his day off, so we spent it together. With him working weekends, this is actually a rarity, so that was quite pleasant. We had all these amazing plans to go to Flamingo Land, but in the end we went into Durham and spent money on books, DVDs and, in Ben’s case, Yet Another Tank for his Imperial Guard Army. (My Space Marine army now consists of a total of three painted figures. Go, me!) The day off certainly made the week easier to bear and I’m reminding myself that a) it’s payday next week and b) there’s another bank holiday coming up. Woo for that. Then I just have to get through June, to my week off and trip to Ireland for wedding shenanigans in July. I’m wishing my life away. I think it’s the NHS that does that to you.

In a minute, I’m going to go run a very hot bath and pour myself a glass of rum and coke and just lie there with a book for a bit. It’s one of the most relaxing things I know, even if we have the world’s tiniest bath that is roughly the right length for a twelve year old. I can cope, somehow. Have a pile of new books to read, none of which are Warhammer related, and I think I’m going to start with Raven: Blood Eye. Nothing like viking violence to relax to.

Local village mediaeval fayre on Saturday: that’s usually worth a giggle and there’s invariably the opportunity to drink some very nice beer, so I shall try to get through tomorrow, when I believe our systems are going down AGAIN as they put fresh hamsters into the wheel and look forward to the weekend.

Onwards. Onwards and upwards!

(But at least Accursed Eternity is written…)

All Good Things…

I have to go back to work tomorrow. This sucks majorly, but I can’t really complain too much. I’ve had a wonderful eleven days free of stress and worry. No anxieties over patients slipping through the net, no worries about how fecking big the Meeting of Doom will be… of course, I effectively have two weeks worth of work to catch up on so that won’t be fun. Have to keep grinning and bearing it though; for now at least it pays the bills. Eyes are well and truly peeled for an alternative though – that’s for sure.

We got back home from Ireland on Friday night – arrived in Stranraer at 10.15pm and were home by 1.30am. Nothing on the roads, just a straight-through run that was kept lively by a game of Word Association. We started with Aardvark and by the time over an hour had passed, we had ended up somewhere in the Worlds of Warhammer. Got home and pretty much crashed.

Went to the pictures on Saturday to see ‘Thor’, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Dearly Beloved was grumpy largely because they didn’t use the Ultimates outfit (he hates the original one, I liked the blend of the two). But the Asgard visuals were lovely and for my money, Chris Hemsworth made a fabulous Thor. He was quite easy on the eyes as well. Sounded just like Heath Ledger though, which was odd.

So the pictures and the following meal out marked the end of what was probably our first proper family few days away in quite some time. Whenever we’ve taken Small Son anywhere, it’s inevitably been to a LRP event and whilst he has always had fun, he really seemed to enjoy himself in Ireland. He went back to his dad’s yesterday full of stories. The house is very, very quiet without him.

Today saw me properly get back to Accursed Eternity. Have eked out around 1,500 words so far today and honestly don’t think I’ll push it. There may be another writing spree in a while, but what came this morning flowed nicely which is always satisfying. The story itself is still holding its shape well enough although I can see where I’m going to be doing some editing when I’ve finished. I have found the 30,000 word thing to be… well, I’ve used the word weird to describe it but that doesn’t really convey what I’m feeling. Short stories of around 10k are easy to write. They’re self-contained and the pacing is easy to maintain. Whilst writing The Gildar Rift, I had no problem with that either, despite the initial terror of the word count.

Still, nearly there. Stay on target… stay on target… Plus, I’m loving my Star Dragons. The Inquisitor less so.

Gone back to reading Robin Hobb’s Liveship trilogy on a whim and I’m really glad I did. I had forgotten completely how wonderfully that woman writes. The characters in the Liveship books are so vivid and sympathetic – even the less pleasant ones – that you feel there with them. Lovely escapism in those stories. Am glad I pulled them off the shelf again.

So as of tomorrow, I’m back to normal. I feel relaxed from my time off, certainly, but for the first time I can remember since being in this job, have a creeping sense of dread about going back. That’s usually my cue to find something new…

Sharp Relief

‘I need to talk to you, girls.’

That’s what my boss said last Tuesday when she came into the office. Myself and my colleague both looked up at her and knew immediately what was coming. We knew for several reasons; not least of all because she’d been open and honest with us from the start. It probaby didn’t help that because of the way things happen where I work, we knew before she did.

‘I’ve got breast cancer.’

A stunned silence followed. Strange how, despite the fact we already knew this to be the case, it still came as a shock to hear it leave her mouth. She was in tears. Not, I suspect, over the diagnosis – but over the fact her husband was breaking his heart when she told him.

So what do you say to someone you not only respect, but care about when they give you this devastating bit of news? What’s the correct, socially acceptable response to this? How bizarre, your mind is saying, that you deal with hundreds of diagnosed cancer patients every year and you still have absolutely no idea what to say.

‘So I’m going to be off for a while. I don’t know how long.’

Neither do we. None of us will know that until the histology from the operation comes back. Will it be a case of hormone therapy or will she need radio/chemotherapy? We hope the former. God, do we hope the former.

‘I know you’ve got a huge support network, but you know where we are. For anything.’

It seemed to be the right thing to say. She squeezed my hand, gave a smile and headed off to tell the next person. My colleague and I stared at each other for a few moments and then we got on with our work. What else could we do? Gnash our teeth? Wail like mad Highlands widows?

Working in cancer services, the non-clinical side, desensitizes you to the harsh reality of the disease. We use the word ‘cancer’ several times an hour and as a consequence, I’ve found it easier to talk about it outside the confines of work. But it’s still a taboo word in society. The word ‘cancer’ still paints a terrifying picture of the grim reaper standing behind you, periodically looking at his watch. It’s not the case. Treatments have come along in leaps, bounds and occasionally skips to give even the most aggressive cancer a hard time keeping its hold on a victim. True, some are incurable. But for many cancer patients, the prognosis is much brighter than it was, even as recently as five years ago.

I work with cancer teams who surgically, oncologically and psychologically keep people alive for years after they would otherwise have been no more than memories of their nearest and dearest. I have massive respect for what they do. I know that I could never be a patient-facing worker. I would spend my entire life in tears. They all say that the word ‘cancer’ needs to be used more. It’s the fear of the unknown that makes it so difficult for people, they say.

I’ve been in this job for nearly three years and I can honestly say it’s been one of the best things ever for putting my own life into perspective. Throws my pathetic little whines into sharp relief. I can’t afford to buy that DVD I want? Tough. Wait until I can. I feel a bit sick this morning? Tough. Go to work. I am lucky in my life. I sit and read case notes and sometimes I cry. Because people deal with the most awful things and still come out the other side.

My boss had her operation last Thursday. Now we’re all in that grey place where we don’t know what will happen next. None of us want the worst case scenario. Not just because we can’t bear the thought of having to do even more work than we already do… but because we love her and care about what happens to her. She’s on our database, she’s one of our statistics, but she’s also someone we know – and that puts a whole new slant on it.

I’m sorry if this is a grim little entry. It’s been sitting in my head for a week and I wanted to eke it out.

I’m lucky. You probably are, too. Remember that.

Sobering Moments

As I’m still very much going through the process of setting up this blogspace, I thought I’d root around in my old favourites folder for links to add and came across my link to Piers Anthony’s page.

Some necessary background.  Piers Anthony was the first author who actively acknowledged my existence.  Somewhere, I have a series of letters from him that we exchanged in the 90’s, where I confided a number of things to him.  His Xanth series was one of the books that did a lot for me at a time in my life when I needed it most.  It made me laugh when I didn’t think I could any more.  No need to go into gory detail, but here was this man, this author, communicating with me in such an easy way and reminding me not to linger on all that was bad in the past but to be grateful for the present and to look to the future.  In later years, we exchanged an occasional email and without prompting, he remembered me.

I have a credit for one of his puns (it’s in the back of Faun and Games: if I remember rightly, my name is first!) and I’ve always made a point of keeping up with his life.

I just read his latest newsletter and am sitting here with tears running down my face.

Nobody deserves that.

In my job, I realise on a daily basis how lucky I am to have my health.  It’s a difficult job at times: some of the stories you hear about how cancer not only destroys the life of the person unfortunate enough to be diagnosed but how it affects those people around them really makes you put your life into perspective.  Stories for example of the brave young woman, younger than me, who after several cycles of IVF finally became pregnant.  Four months into the pregnancy she was diagnosed with aggressive, terminal rectal cancer.

She went on to have the baby and got to spend six months with him before she died.  But where’s the justice in that?  How hard it must be for her husband, her son and her family to keep going on after something like that.

I have no problems.  Neither do most other people.  So next time you’re feeling a bit whingey or you’re grumbling about how something isn’t fair, get a sense of proportion.  Really.