I’m very proud of these books and still very much in love with them.
But how did this love affair with talking animal stories begin?
Today I’m letting you into the ten hidden stages behind the Chronicles.
Stage 1: An Idea
Ideas comes from everywhere. I can’t stop them.
This one began with a dream in 2014. We were shut inside a gated compound while outside, crying babies were dying from exposure. We couldn’t get out, but my dog Dinny (an ancient and beloved German Shepherd) snuck out and carried the two babies into safety.
From small kernels of inspiration, a big story grew.
Dogs had to feature!
Stage 2: A Short Story
The story of the babies left to die Outside was too good to lose, especially during the height of the worldwide refugee crisis. The wise and compassionate canini Mashtuk and Zelie, the heartless humachines, and fully-human Hector appeared in my head. I wrote them into a story and submitted it to progressive journal Overland. My first ever short story acceptance!
If you’ve read The Pale, you might like to see where it started.
Stage 3: A Novel
After the story was published, an indie publisher contacted me because my Overland bio said that I was writing a novel about these characters.
I hadn’t started, but I immediately began. Ideas came too fast and the novel grew too long, but I submitted it within six months.
Stage 4: A Rejection
Sadly, The Pale Version 01 didn’t make the grade. The novel was BLOATED with too many characters and dozens of subplots, and falling over itself with over-complex world building.
While the feedback was positive, the novel needed severe editing.
Stage 5: An Acceptance
More time passed. I took a good hard look at my manuscript and pruned a few thousand words. Some of the off-cuts were old favourites: names for every (and I mean every) minor character, a newly invented calendar based on the many seasons recognised in indigenous cultures, and a subplot involving flashbacks to the time before the Great Cataclysm…
Then I sent the new manuscript to my dear, dear beta readers. Their ultra-valuable feedback (thank you – you know who you are!) resulted in more tidying…and THEN
Oh, my. Having a novel published was a lifelong dream come true.
I fell onto a steep learning curve. Working with fiction editors challenged me, but I could see that every discussion, every point, made my work better. A wonderful cover artist sent me concepts, and I jumped with delight on the one with the city and the canini – of course, it’s Mashtuk!
I’ve talked about launching here, and I can still remember the wonderful feeling. The Pale sold some copies. Readers contacted me and asked about the characters and what happened next? The characters gambolled around in my head.
And the publisher said: is there a sequel?
Next week, I’ll explain how I got from a single dream to a three-novel series … and perhaps a set of short stories in genesis.
Donna Bottomley is a psychotherapist and writer, based in Wales (ah, Wales! Will I ever see you again?). As part of her psychotherapy practice, Donna runs an online Expressive Writing group, which sounds just perfect. Expressive writing can be effective in reducing anxiety, apprehension, worry and insomnia.
Donna’s book, released in May, has the intriguing title Do I Need to See a Therapist? In these pandemical (yes, I just invented that word) times, I know most of us have been touched in one way or another by worry, sadness, uncertainty and doubt.
Add feelings of fear and isolation, and it’s no wonder we think about seeking help. Read on for Donna’s comments on why she wrote this book, plus a free excerpt.
I can *almost* guarantee (*because nothing is certain, right?) that you’ll find this chapter very helpful.
Welcome to last Word of the Week, Donna!
I’m so pleased to speak with you. Can you tell us about your book?
DONNA: The idea for this book was to pass on my insights from being a therapist and to also mention a particularly helpful technique for managing emotions that has been a game-changer in my practice over the past year.
Making connections and discoveries is what inspires me. I LOVE research and am on a constant quest to understand what makes us feel and behave as we do. Therapy as a field is increasingly looking beyond merely talking about thoughts and instead bringing more of our physical bodily sensations and events happening beneath the ‘hood’ of the brain into therapy. This includes our sensory worlds. These are an important part of our feeling states.
I recharge using the sensory stimulation of listening to music whilst moving; preferably in my car but walking in nature can have a similar effect. I also love the physical act of handwriting and use expressive writing both for myself and in my therapy practice.
Oh and I also have a habit of getting lost for hours playing around on Canva!
DO I NEED TO SEE A THERAPIST?
Free Book Extract: Chapter 5
Will Talking about My Feelings Make Them Worse?
And if So, What Can I Do to Make It Easier?
I often hear new clients say that they are worried they will feel worse if they talk about their feelings. This belief that emotions are made worse by talking about them keeps people silent. When we are silent, we cannot process our experiences. If we do not process our felt experiences, then we cannot truly learn enough about our own emotions in order to manage them. You wouldn’t manage a sports team by having no idea of the individual skills and abilities in your players. You’d have no control over how a game would play out if this was the case, and it would feel unpredictable and uncertain. It’s the same with our emotions. By suppressing them and pushing them away, we never get to learn enough about our own processes in order to manage them better. Because we don’t know enough about them, we find them unpredictable and we feel out of control if they become triggered. We don’t want to lose control, so we push them away. This avoidance keeps us fearing them, and the cycle continues.
As humans we have a natural ability to be able to suppress, repress or express. Sometimes we knowingly suppress, sometimes we unknowingly repress. An example of repression is not knowing that something has bothered you until you later talk about it and feel upset, perhaps saying something like ‘I had no idea that bothered me so much’. This is normal, but do we balance out our natural tendencies to suppress, with setting aside time to process? In day-to-day life I don’t believe we do, because we desperately do not want to get upset. But this emotional suppression has a cost. It can make us feel even less in control of our emotions, and it also has an impact on our physical health.
A study by Gross and Levenson, published in 1997 in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, found that when participants were asked to suppress either a positive (amusement) or negative (sadness) emotion, the act of suppressing the emotion produced increased activation in the ‘sympathetic nervous system’ (SNS). The SNS is the part of our nervous system that sets off the ‘fight or flight’ response and gets us ready for action. Along with the release of stress hormones, it increases our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing in order to tackle the task at hand. If this type of activity is prolonged it takes us into a state of chronic stress. So if we suppress either positive or negative emotions this has an effect on our body similar to that that occurs when we are dealing with something stressful.
Somehow, we have been given the message that it’s wrong, weak or crazy to notice and express our sensations and our feeling-states. But the research is clear that suppression as a strategy for managing our emotional health is not helpful. Peter Levine, in his book In an Unspoken Voice, discusses a study in which emotional suppression was correlated with higher rates of heart disease in men. James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth’s research into expressive writing and emotional disclosure found a link between poor immune system functioning and emotional suppression (Pennebaker & Smyth, 2019). All of this tells us that if we stop trying to avoid our feelings, we might feel better. But how do we actually do this?
THE ALTERNATIVE TO SUPPRESSION: PROCESSING EMOTIONS
This is the first step. It might sound obvious, but it is central to being able to gain mastery over what is happening for you. There is a part of the brain that is involved in ‘noticing’ and in becoming aware of what you experience. You can enhance it, and some scientists would say that you can increase the size of this area through long-term mindfulness practice.
The next thing I’m going to ask you to do is to set an intention to be curious about the sensations in your body that you notice. Maybe you are used to immediately doing something to distract yourself from the fluttery feeling of anxiety, or that quick whoosh of adrenalin. Whatever it is that you notice, how about seeing where the sensation goes if you let it be? Yes, you can distract yourself if you want to, but that isn’t your only option. Could you allow yourself to be like a scientist and be curious about what you notice? Could you try to embrace the uncertainty rather than push it away? The sensations in your body are not going to harm you. You do not need to fear them. If you let them be, they will come and they will go. Like waves on a beach.
When or if you feel angry or anxious, you might also notice lots of thoughts or maybe images flashing up, wanting attention. Your brain will be trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do. That’s OK. Notice what is happening in your body. You do not have to answer the thoughts right now, let them be there. They will come, and they will go.
Observe without judgement
Try it now. Check in with your body. What posture are you holding? What position is your spine in? Is it slumped, or twisting to the side? Imagine straightening it a little bit, and actually let your spine move to where it wants to. Then notice your stomach: are you holding it in? Let it go, let it flop out. Adjust yourself if you notice any twists or tenseness anywhere else. Notice with curiosity and without judgement.
Take a breath in and slowly breathe out, trying to make that out- breath last for a count of six. Do this again, then once more, and now take a big breath in and let it flop out like a big sigh.
Oh, thank you so much for that, Donna.
Great advice there. I’m sure we all appreciate this. Now for the entire book – here are the links!
Today I’m excited to host Veronica Strachan and Darren Kasenkow as they tell us all about their inspiring project. Veronica and Darren are the co-founders of Australian Book Lovers and the co-hosts of the popular podcast of the same name. They’ve created a site that’s brilliant for readers and writers.
Love Australian books? Go straight to their site, sign up for the newsletter, subscribe to the fabulous chatty, engaging, informative podcast. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
What is Australian Book Lovers?
Australian Book Lovers is a platform for Australian and Indigenous authors to list their books, and for readers from across the globe to find them.
About the ABL team:
In between listing books, promoting authors, and recording podcasts, Veronica and Darren are editing their collaborative novel Family Secrets. Book 1 of a new series, ‘Beneath a Burning Heart’, Family Secrets features adventure, romance, and a supernatural twist.
Veronica spent most of her life in the health industry as a nurse, midwife, project manager, CEO, coach, and facilitator. Once she switched her attention to creative writing, she published six books in five years. A memoir, a workbook/journal, and two books in a children’s picture book series, illustrated by her daughter, Cassi. As V.E. Patton, she’s written Book 1 of a fantasy series and a novelette. Soul Staff: Book 2 of her ‘Opal Dreaming Chronicles’, and Chickabella Shapes Up: Book 3 of The Adventures of Chickabella are due for release later in 2021.
Darren appeared on Last Word of the Week earlier this month. He’s an author whose work dances across the boundaries of literary fiction, with thematic elements from dystopian horror, apocalyptic science fiction and existential suspense. His books include The Apocalypse Show, Dust and Devils, See the City Red and The Hallucigenia Project Book One. He’s currently working on the highly anticipated sequel titled Godless, with an expected release date of late 2021.
I’m very excited to talk to Veronica and Darren today about their work and their mission to promote Australian books.
Welcome to 2021 Inspirations
Veronica: Thank you for the chance to post our inspirations to your blog.
What inspired me to get Australian Book Lovers going? Well, if you chat with Darren Kasenkow for more than a few minutes, you are guaranteed to be inspired by his enthusiasm and imagination. We’re co-authoring a book and have chatted regularly over Zoom over the last couple of years. I was getting to know lots of Aussie writers through the Twitter #AusWrites hashtag started by Rebecca Langham (and now assisted by Kevin Klehr) and the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge (Reading more works by Australian women writers).
Both DK and I were doing everything we could as Indie authors to promote our books in the crowded marketplace, and in the midst of COVID-19!!! I can’t help coaching – looking for potential and nurturing it forth, it’s in the blood – and wanting to support other people in reaching for their dreams, in this case Aussie authors! The conversation got around to … wouldn’t it be good if all the Australian authors were in one place… and easy to find and promote. I’m pretty sure it was DK who said,
“We should start a website”
and he came up with the name Australian Book Lovers. As a serial small business entrepreneur, it was the green light to get started.
The continuing inspiration comes from the authors themselves. The podcast is my favourite. It is an absolute honour to chat with so many creative imaginative people and to hear about what inspires them. And then to spend time chatting with my friend Darren about anything and everything writing and reading that takes our fancy. If one of us is feeling a bit flat, it only takes a minute or two to be uplifted by the other person’s energy and enthusiasm.
Darren: Thanks so much for the opportunity to be a part of your amazing blog!! And an extra huge thank you for shining a light on great people and artists of all passions – in a world that’s continuously turning upside down it’s a beautiful thing to know beautiful conversations are happening 🙂
As for inspirations behind the Australian Book Lovers website and podcast, my writing, and of course my insatiable appetite for all things that ignite the imagination, I guess I have to say it probably has to do with those truly magical moments of discovery as a kid that held a recipe for transcending time.
The promise of wonder in a new book
is just the same today as it was when my bedtime was out of my hands and a new tale to read was a whole new world to discover and learn from. I love all art and forms of expression, yet books continue to be portals that I just don’t think other mediums can beat (and I say that as someone who loves to explore the technology of virtual reality!).
I write with the hope my story might inspire the same love of literary portals that I’ve been lucky enough to carry with me throughout life’s trials and tribulations, and I love working on Australian Book Lovers with Veronica because it represents the chance of sharing great works with readers who also hold the soul of an inner child filled with wonder and the desire to push their imaginations to the limit! Oh, and I love to peek behind the curtains in life, so interviewing authors and industry specialists is an absolute blast!!!!!
Tell us more about Australian Book Lovers, please!
Each listing allows a cover, blurb, bio, and author pic as well as a buy link of the author’s choice. We have hundreds of books from hundreds of authors listed under 12 separate genres/ages. Each page has its mascot – an Australian animal or bird, usually wearing a quirky piece of clothing or a prop instantly recognisable to lovers of those books. You can see two of our favourites in this blog. We’ve just commenced competitions to name all the mascots. The hundreds of people who subscribe to our newsletter get updates on the latest additions to the website, special features and access to author giveaways. Authors get their books shared with our subscribers and all the website visitors. The website changes almost daily, both in terms of books added and functionality. Very soon we’ll have to add multiple pages for our most popular genres. We’ll be offering listings for short fiction in the near future.
which currently has seventeen episodes and over 25 hours of writing news, reading news, author interviews, cameos, book readings, chats with industry experts and expert panels.
It is so inspiring to chat with authors and industry people about their love for writing and publishing. We were blown away by the support of authors for the podcast and amazed at having 1000+ downloads by our listeners in only three months.
There are times when it’s hard to keep up with demand, as we both have our own creative work and careers, but it is a gift to be connecting Australian and Indigenous authors to new readers, and we love it.
Thank you so much to Veronica and Darren for bringing together Australian Book Lovers through their energy and passion for reading, writing, readers and writers. If you are an Australian author yet to take advantage of the free listing service for your book, do it now! If you love reading books by Australian authors, wherever you happen to be in the world, go straight to ABL for a feast of books!
This statue, titled “Cobbers” by Melbourne artist Peter Corlett was was installed in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, France in 1998.
In the days after the battle rescuers recovered some 300 wounded from no-man’s land.
As one soldier carried a wounded companion from the field he heard a call for help.
Don’t forget me, cobber
The “Cobbers” statue in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles in France features Sergeant Simon Fraser from Western Victoria carrying a fallen comrade from the field.
Cobbers is a memorial to Australian service and sacrifice at the Battle of Fromelles. Fraser risked his life and a possible court martial when he returned to save a stricken soldier whose identity is unknown.
The fragile state of our planet prompted author Rod Taylor to collect stories about the impact of climate change in his book Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet. I asked Rod what inspired him to start writing.
Rod Taylor – inspired by nature
Rod: In late 2016 I was an IT consultant, not a bad job, paid well. By night I was a science columnist for Fairfax and doing radio, occasionally for the ABC.
So while things were pretty good for me personally, I was becoming increasingly concerned about the future of humanity. My scientist friends were telling me ever more alarming news about the state of the planet. Things are looking really grim and we’re running out of time.
Then Trump got elected, which is a pretty clear message that a lot of people have no idea of how serious our situation is, often viewing it as a green-left socialist conspiracy to attack our freedom. What to do? I am by nature a problem solver and it was clear to me that the only way forward is people. People are the solution.
While I am by nature optimistic, this is profoundly gloomy. I can’t live with that, so I decided to write a book.
This book would tell the stories of people who inspire me and, I hope, the reader.
We have a maggot farmer, a politician, a physicist and a guitar-playing part Maori. According to the title, the book charts ten journeys, but really it’s eleven because it’s partly mine too, as I navigated this path.
Rod’s book features contributions from:
The Activist: Simon Sheikh
The Solar Pioneer: Professor Andrew Blakers
The Maggot Farmer: Olympia Yarger
The Accidental Activist: Charlie Prell
The Thoughtful Salesman: Leonard Cohen
The Politician: Susan Jeanes
The Climate Game Changer: Inez Harker-Schuch
The Advocate: Professor Kate Auty
The Lady with a Laser: Monica Oliphant
A Question of Hope: Dr Siwan Lovett
Here’s an extract from the book. Thank you so much Rod for sharing this with us.
After the roller coaster that was 2020, it’s time for a change.
Welcome back to Last Word of the Week. In the 2021 series, I’m looking for inspiration.
Each week, a different author will tell us what inspires them. Then they will share an extract from one of their books!
I’m looking forward to their encouraging words and their stories.
I’m going to launch the series
My inspiration for stories comes from family, from culture, and from nature. Our precarious planet provides us a flimsy shield from the vastness of the universe. I love to look out and in, to our own species and the precious flora and fauna around us, for insights into what it means to be alive.
The worldwide refugee crisis and Australia’s punitive response is the inspiration behind my sci-fi fantasy series, The Chronicles of the Pale. Writing these three books helped me work through my despair to find a way to hope for the future.
Here’s an extract from Book 3: The Ruined Land. In this scene, Feather of the Storm tribe arrives at the den of the canini (yep, taking wolf-dogs) of the Ravine. Oh, you can see a list of characters here if you wish.
The Ruined Land
‘I never thought to belong to such a pack,’ said Callan, one paw scratching busily behind his ear.
‘Nor I,’ commented Feather, cross-legged on the hard floor of the pack’s main den. He shifted a little as Callan leant back against him. On his other side, the half-grown canini cubs Niccolò and Rhosyn were tangled in slumber, their paws occasionally flapping against his leg in a dream run. Feather watched as Callan rose to all four feet, shook himself vigorously, and then settled again by his side with a long, soft exhalation. In the hours since they had rediscovered each other, the big white canine and the tribal envoy had been almost inseparable.
Freeing one hand to stroke a bit of comfort over Callan’s back, Feather looked around the den. From where they sat against the far wall, they had an excellent view of the astonishing company they shared. By the entrance, Hippolyta the leader of the ravine canini was engaged in serious conversation with Marin, huntmaster of the Storm tribe, and his partner Willow. Beside Willow, Jarli sat quiet and frowning, listening much more than he spoke. From the way that he leant close every time Willow spoke, Feather guessed that the Storm’s foremost couple had recognised the outclansman as the father of the twins, a man whose claim to raise them was greater than Marin and Willow’s plan to adopt. The older pair were probably trying to convince Jarli to stay with the tribe rather than taking his infants back to the less safe life of the outclan Owl. Feather was glad to be out of that conversation. The decision was Jarli’s, and it would not be easy.
For himself, his only thought was to return as quickly as possible to the new settlement of Newkeep Port, where Jana, and little Rasti, would be waiting. His father Helm, too. The easy, joyful reunion he had with his own daughter Freya, here in the ravine, had made him think again that he should make more of an effort to connect with his father. He was uncomfortably aware that he had not only failed to mention Helm’s return to Freya or to anyone else in the tribe, but also that he had avoided serious discussion with Helm during the weeks that they had laboured at the Newkeep site. He swallowed his worries. Problems for another day. It was enough to enjoy the nearness of Callan and the sense of happy community that pervaded the ravine.
In the space between the elders and the den, a handful of tribal children slept among the rest of the canini, human and canini young mingled in attitudes of casual trust while their parents guarded the ravine. He had not seen such a thing since the days when the packs of Callan and Waleen had shared their lives with the Storm. It was a pleasant sight. Lifting his gaze, Feather could see the shadows of equii – Pinto and Violeta, whom he had met within minutes of reaching the ravine. He had been told that the senior equii liked to visit the canini every few days, taking it into their round of the territory as they led the rest of the herd from pasture to pasture. It had given him much joy to find that quite a large herd of equii had found shelter here in the ravine. On their journey, he and Jarli had seem more bones than they cared to study, but Feather was sure that some of them were equii. He had feared that all of them, all who had run from their confined life in the Settlement, had perished on the unforgiving stretches of Broad Plain. That many had found safety, and that some at least of them had once more opened their minds to speech, was an unexpected but joyful discovery.
‘That was a good thought of yours, Callan,’ he commented, indicating the visitors.
Callan looked away, hiding some emotion. ‘For them, I daresay. There was no future for them out on Broad Plain. I don’t know that they’ve added much to our comfort, though.’
Feather smiled at the back of Callan’s head. ‘They have rediscovered their language, and they are safe. Knowing that must be counted as a benefit to all of us as well. Their lives are precious, and worth saving.’
‘Hmm.’ Callan sent a look back over his shoulder, his face creased in the semblance of a grin. ‘Trust you to find some good in that. As long as they don’t completely strip the ravine, I suppose there will still be food for all.’
They stayed silent for a while, enjoying the contentment of their reunion. The afternoon was fading, and Feather noticed a ripple of movement as the next detail of lookouts left to take up position at the pinch point of the trail. A good sentry post, but also a death trap, by everything Callan had told him. He returned Freya’s wave as she returned from her turn on guard, glad that he had seen no sign of the ravening horde of giant vulpini as he and Jarli had crossed Broad Plain. They had encountered only carcasses. In fact, it looked as if the vulpini had grown to excessive size and then suddenly died, all their life force sucked out of them by the freakish growth spurt. Interesting.
Just as the thought stuck him, he saw the humachine Hector join the group by Hippolyta. The big silvery creature sat at the leader’s feet, accepting a bowl of stew which one of the Storm youngsters handed him. Feather stilled his hand on Callan’s back. ‘And that one,’ he said softly. ‘What is he? Who is he? Can we trust him, Callan?’
‘Ah!’ answered Callan. ‘That is Hector of the Ravine. Mashtuk adopted him. He is to be trusted, yes.’
‘He’s from the Pale,’ murmured Feather, frowning, although he heard the faith and affection in his friend’s voice.
This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.
I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.
We all have different amounts of power.
Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.
I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.
But buying books costs money
Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!
Books to Buy
There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as
You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!
You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.
My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.
Free bookish gifts for authors
Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.
Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers. If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.
Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.
When Luce became incontinent at the age of 30, after the birth of her first son, she felt her life had ended. She also felt scared, upset, embarrassed and shocked. How the hell had she ended up there, the youngest woman in the waiting room at the incontinence clinic?
Over ten year period, Luce faced plenty of difficulties, a lot of hurt, and a world of pain as well as downright craziness. She also started the very useful blog When You Are That Woman.
In opening an honest discussion about the normally taboo world of being a leaky lady, Luce reassures us that just because a problem is difficult to talk about, it shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. Post natal care, birth trauma and incontinence tend to be overlooked in research and treatment, maybe regarded as something that shouldn’t be talked about or that only happens elsewhere. For centuries, women have been expected to suffer in silence, and not to scare others with their stories of embarrassing conditions.
As a long-time sufferer and I guess “survivor” of endometriosis and cystic hyperplasia, I know a little bit about invisible lady illness that nobody wants to discuss. It’s wonderful that Luce is able to combine her writing skills to address the important topic.
Welcome, Luce, great to speak with you. Why is writing this book important to you?
Luce: Writing PMSLwas incredibly important to me. I was sure there were leaky people out there who needed to hear they were not alone. I dedicated the book to them.
Incontinence is an everyday taboo, a commonplace story that never gets the attention it deserves and the ramifications of that aren’t just personal. Yes, women – and men – with these intimate problems don’t always get help or suffer in silence, but worse, that taboo trickles down and incontinence treatments aren’t researched well enough, there isn’t the innovation or focus there could be, it isn’t part of policy.
The picture is changing but it needs to be a new and open conversation.
I really hope PMSL helps get people talking about both the condition and how to help and cure it – which for many, many sufferers is totally possible, cheap and quick.
So do I! That sounds really important. I’m so glad What would readers never guess about you?
I am actually quite shy about my body, very squeamish and really embarrassed about all my parts. It is weird that my first book is about my most private parts, and is very frank and straightforward about exactly what eg birth was like, how my injuries and complications looked and felt. I went all-in because I felt I owed that to readers. If I was asking them to stick with me in such a strange and stigmatised world, I just couldn’t lie to them. That’s why I get pretty down and dirty with the details, even about the biggest taboos like poo incontinence, wetting myself in public, getting depressed, and the effect on my relationships.
That cultural imposition of embarrassment is so hard to overcome, even when we’re talking health conditions that are so important and not all that uncommon. Good on you for getting stuck in! Writing is hard enough without having to face your fears as well. What was your favourite book as a child?
I also adored Roald Dahl’s Boy and then Going Solo, which I read with my Grandpa. He shared my love of Dahl’s vicious humour and Blake’s illustrations. I can still remember the thrill of dead mice in sweetie jars, but also the melancholy of Going Solo: the expanse of Dahl’s airborne views, the strangeness of war stories from his POV.
In one story, Dahl’s eating olives and watching a ship burn on the horizon. I was entranced by what he captured in a simple scene with limited action. Until you asked, I’d never made the connection that Boy and Going Solo are memoirs.
All books about people and their connections, I see. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
I’ve had extraordinary responses from people to my blogs and articles, telling me they’ve had a problem, sometimes for years and years, and never once told anyone, or that thanking me for being open. That includes from doctors, patients, other mums, men with incontinence issues, physiotherapists, journalists. Some are ashamed, some aren’t, many feel voiceless, like they have all these thoughts and feelings about it and nowhere to put them, no-one to speak to, no opportunity for anyone to provide the space to talk. It is so gratifying and if it doesn’t sound too weird, it’s a real honour to know that what I’ve written has allowed someone to do that, even if only briefly.
How do you feel about reviews?
Haha! I know that feeling! How much research is involved in your writing?
Lots. Alongside trawling my letters/emails/diaries/photos, I spoke to practitioners, campaigners, physios, nurses, surgeons, midwives and charities, including ones that help women in other countries with poor obstetric care who end up with terrible injuries. I did some historical research into the appalling, racist history of some gynaecological operations and procedures, surgical techniques, and medical and social research. I also took a deep dive into the cultural impact of incontinence – where it crops up in literature, pop culture, myths, poems, and why we have such a perfect storm of shame around it.
That’s a very good phrase for it – a perfect storm of shame. What five words would best describe your style?
Frank. Witty. Honest. Self-deprecating. Open (also, probably worth mentioning sweary).
Love it! Did you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
My writing is a combination of personal memoir and wider musings on a theme. I’m introducing a difficult topic that people really find hard to talk about, and telling the reader my experiences – some hilarious, some nice, some ghastly, some gory, some empowering, some sad – frankly and with no coyness, in the hope they feel less alone.
Obviously, one huge audience is leaky people (an often ignored group), especially anyone who felt they were the only one reacting in a certain way (finding it sad, funny, depressing, terrifying, shocking, disturbing or whatever). But I hope it is more than a patient memoir, and it definitely isn’t a blame game or a rant. It looks at social issues, medical history, misogyny but it’s about resilience, and how you react to, and grow from, trauma and all our attitudes to broken bodies.
I want it to be immediate and engaging, and very up close, as if we’re sitting in a pub having one of those oddly deep and meaningful conversations you sometimes have with relative strangers. The illustrations are designed to look like sketches on a napkin giving you an idea, rather than using complicated or intimidating medical diagrams.
Excellent concept. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Read the audiobook for PMSL: three days straight talking about my broken fanny, and my darkest moments, knowing some other people might hear it. I cried a lot reading it back. Also, having a second child, though he’s beyond worth it. Surgeries and tests. And reading a eulogy. All of them felt exposing but important.
So we can get your book as an audio book?
Yes, read by me. Cursing myself for my long sentences and alliteration.
Perfect. What do you read yourself – what’s your favourite genre?
Memoir and murder mystery/crime.
If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would you say?
If you have similar problems I’m so sorry. It sucks. And though we (everybody) need to be more kind and open about embarrassing medical problems, and stop shaming leaky people, you don’t have to be pressured to shout about your problem. I’ve done that already. Just try and get help. It is available in so many different places. And you aren’t alone. I promise.
Fantastic words. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I’ll be sprucing this book far and wide!
Today I’m excited to share in celebrating the release of a new historical novel, set in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary QoS is one of the most intriguing women of the 16th century, inspiring a large body of fiction and drama, the latest being the movie Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan. Her story has so many facets to explore. I sometimes wonder how her experiences would look in a modern-day context, but am more than happy to read more about her in historical fiction.
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown is being released today and is going directly to my TBR list. I’m also looking forward to interviewing Tonya later this year for Last Word of the Week, and discovering more about her historical fiction.
In the meantime….Look at the blurb! Look at the cover! Enjoy!
The Queen’s Almoner
Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.
Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.
When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.