Doctor January by Rhoda Baxter

Image description: The cover of Doctor January by Rhoda Baxter. A couple in silouette standing in the middle of some trees. The title is bright pink.
Image description: The cover of Doctor January by Rhoda Baxter. A couple in silouette standing in the middle of some trees. The title is bright pink, the background very light blue..

Earlier this year Rhoda Baxter kindly sent me a copy of her first book Patently in Love (since republished as Girl on The Run) to review and I really enjoyed it – my review is here.  She also answered some questions for me and was my first ever author interview on my blog – read that here.  A few months later I read her second book Having a Ball, flew threw it in one day on the trains to and from London and found it loads of fun (no review on this blog but I did post a few thoughts on goodreads).  So when she e-mailed to tell me her third book had been published and ask if I wanted to review it I was really keen.

That book is Doctor January by Rhoda Baxter.  It’s published by Choc Lit and I’d like to thank them and Rhoda for sending me an e-copy to review.

If you keep looking back, you might miss what’s standing right in front of you…

Six months after a painful break-up from Gordon, Beth’s finally getting her life back on track. She has faith in her own scientific theories and is willing to work hard to prove them. She’s even beginning to see Hibs, her dedicated lab partner, as more than just a lousy lothario in a lab-coat and goggles.

So when Gordon arrives back from America without warning and expects to be welcomed back into Beth’s arms, she’s totally thrown. She also quickly begins to see that Gordon isn’t the man she thought he was – Hibs has always held a candle for Beth, but he can only wait so long for her to realise there’s more to life than being patronised and bullied by the one who’s meant to love and protect her.

Will Beth forsee the explosive nature beneath Gordon’s placid surface before he destroys everything she’s worked for, both inside and outside the lab?

I usually share some idea of how long it took me to read a book when I write a review. Well, I have a confession to make.  I’ve been busy and stressed and not reading very much other than crappy articles on the net.  So it took me a week to read this book.  But only because I didn’t read it for most of those days.  Because it’s a quick, fun book and I read big sections each time. I think it took me two days and a brief bit on a third. Certainly I read over half of it in sitting because I was keen to know what happened.  I think it’s fair to say I didn’t find it “unputdownable” but when I was reading it I’d suddenly realise I’d read way more than I meant to. If I’d read it at any other time I may well have read the lot in one day like I did with Having a Ball.

I liked Beth a lot.  She’s been bullied most of her life by a lot of different people.  And she is a bit worn down but she was a really real character (yes that is a horrible description, I can’t think of a better one). Her flaws made me like her and didn’t make her seem pathetic and annoying like they so often can in other books.  I think that’s a sign of how good the writing is.

Bullying is obviously a tricky subject to tackle and there are parts what happens to Beth in the book which some readers may find distressing to read about.  These are taken seriously, well written and not used for shock value, excitement or simply to move things on.  They add to the plot, make sense and never once did I think they were gratuitous or unnecessary   The only thing I didn’t like is she’s seen dealing with two of her bullies but not the third (her dad – although to be fair he’s only mentioned not shown in the book). I think I’d have liked to see her stand up to him at one point.  Then again that is realistic because I think most of us have got the one person we’ve just never stood up too and told how they’ve made us feel.

Hibs is a really great character I’d love to see more of.  Several of the other characters made me smile and laugh.  I hated Gordon and I think he was deliberately written that way but he wasn’t a parody.

Definitely a good read and if Rhoda Baxter writes more books I’ll look out for them.



Random Bullet Points of Life

Random Bullet Points of Life: for those bits of life that I want to record but which probably don’t merit their own blog entry. And/or are too long for tweets!

+ Novel writing continues.  I’ve almost definitely set myself too much of a goal in too short a period and it’s not going as fast as I’d like.  But I’ve got stuff I like done and I’m pleased with that.

+ The sailing season is nearly over.  I’ve had a couple of really long sails in the past couple of weeks which were good.  Both longer than I expected because I’d been convinced it’d be a case of on the water and here comes the rain stright back in again so it’s extra good to have avoided that twice.  However the will it be on or won’t it be on questionable status of the end of season seems to have hit much sooner than in previous years. I’ve never liked that.

+  My manual chair is broken. It’s frustrating because it’s a specialist bit so getting it fixed is more complicated than my usual call the NHS repair contractor and try and coordinate our schedules easy job. But it’s a work in progress and my chair is still useable so it’s not a huge catastrophe.  I wish people would understand that and not overreact and make it a drama. There was a suggestion that I need a miracle to get my chair fixed. Um, no.

+ Next week will mark 10 years since I started volunteering at CAB.  I said I would commit to six months. As I’ve said to several people since this has been the longest six months ever. I might blog more about that.

+ Having been at a workshop today where listicles were discussed I’m writing this and wondering if this counts.  I think the lack of numbers means it probably doesn’t.

+ I fear it might soon be time to retire my three quarter lengths and return to jeans for the rest of the year.  I am fundamentally opposed to this on the grounds it’s August. This should be a mid to end September decision.

Polite Small Talk

I meet usually at least two new people each week through CAB.  If I see them as clients I can often find out a lot about them.  They rarely learn much about me.  I do tell them my  name but often that and the fact I’m sat there in a powerchair is all they learn about me.

I also do resident involvement stuff with the housing association I rent from.  I’ve made one really good friend through that and I’m friendly with several others.  But I’ve met loads of people there.  And also because I’ve done disability awareness talks there for staff and tenants there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to stop people and say “sorry I don’t know your name.” and it’s been a case of “oh I forgot we hadn’t be introduced, I was at the such and such talk you did.”

The thing about both situations is that they lead to a lot of polite small talk.  I’ve never been a massive fan of Polite Small Talk.  And it came to me recently that most of the Polite Small Talk I experience is actually quite ableist.  Well, actually it came to me this evening when I was thinking about writing a ranty blog called “it’s ableism when…”

Today I was chatting with a taxi driver on the way somewhere. Started off he was saying how much easier my chair is to secure into the taxi than a lot he gets and then he was telling me about going somewhere with a disabled friend of his and the venue not knowing how to cope.  What was I planning to do when I got to my destination? That sort of thing.  But then his next gambit in the Polite Small Talk that filled my journey (and which until that point sounded interesting because I’d been hearing about the friend incident and thinking “I must look into this group.”) was “so how long have you been in a wheelchair?”

Ableism disguised as Polite Small Talk has also recently taken the form of “so what do you do?” perfectly reasonable and the follow up “how do you get there?” was also acceptable. But then it was third time’s the charm for the apparently necessary ableism component when they then expressed obvious surprise at the news I go in my powerchair with “oh you can do that by yourself can you?”

In years past there’s also been a rare gathering with my family and another.. Work, and “I hear you’ve a new place” and such like were used for the rest of my family.  I got the all time Polite Small Talk gem of “so have you been affected by any of the disability cuts?”  implied in that was not only “I don’t care enough about you to want to know anything personal about you.” but maybe even “I hope so you lazy scrounger”

And finally, another throwback.  It’s gotta be the always annoying “oh but I was really hoping you could come.” and/or “but it’s only 2/4/15/245 steps we can help you up them, I’ll be really disappointed not to see you.” whenever I decline an invitation because the venue isn’t accessible.  If you really wanted meant that and were really hoping I’d come you’d have found an accessible venue.

(I’m wondering now if I’ve ever blogged the story of how the words “oh don’t let that stop you.” basically changed my life but not in the way the idiot who said that expected)

Apparently people with mental health problems just need to “tell someone”

So Robin Williams has died.  Suicide.  And that’s sad as any death is.

Facebook is full of posts with his picture sharing phone numbers and websites of helplines.  Ones telling people that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  And declarations that if you’re feeling down, if you have depression to make sure you tell someone.  Friend’s saying that they hope their friends feel capable of telling them.  And similar on twitter and other places.

Here’s the thing: I have a depression diagnosis and I have a lot of anxiety at times which has been recognised by medics although it’s never been given a label like GAD (generalised anxiety disorder).  It’s more than 11 years since one of my friends finally convinced me to go and see a GP about the way I felt.

I’d told someone.  I’d told her.  But she couldn’t physically make me go to the doctors and get help. She kept telling me I needed to and encouraging me to for at least six months.  I’d probably been depressed to a certain extent I had to do that myself (and unfortunately that meant things deteriorated because I didn’t go until I got scared about what might happen unless I did).

Then I went and told a GP.  It wasn’t my GP because my mine was a male and I thought a female doctor would be easier. It was a first step but it wasn’t the solution facebook seems to be suggesting it was.  Telling her wasn’t enough.  I needed her support but I also needed meds and I needed time.

That first type of antidepressants made me ill so I ended up telling most of my carers although I’d not meant to.  Several of them said “me too.” and I was shocked.  Telling people might have been easier if I’d known how common it was. I felt less alone.

I went back a few weeks later for review and I did tell my then GP because really I loved my uni GP because he also had CP and he got a lot of what I went through.  Over the years he’s been one of the few medics I’ve never had to convince that my depression isn’t caused by my CP. He’d seen me a lot in the months before for UTI and chest infections and I don’t know what else routine stuff.  And he apologised to me for missing my mental health problems.  It meant a lot to me but I wasn’t surprised and I didn’t blame him.  I’d hidden it.

And since then over the last 11 years I’ve been on and off of antidepressants.  I’ve told a lot of people about my mental health.

I’ve told friends.  Family. Doctors, counsellors, social workers. Carers and some other people too.

Sometimes it helps a lot.  Sometimes it helps a little.  Sometimes it doesn’t help.  And unfortunately sometimes it makes it worse.

I’ve had the response:

That I’m being silly

That I just need to stop taking antidepressants because they “are addictive and bad for you.”

That of course I’m depressed because I’ve got CP, what do I expect?

That things that have triggered bad times are in the past and I need to move on.

That I’m worrying about nothing

This too will pass

“you think you’ve got it bad I’ve blah blah blah” from a friend who kept telling me to tell her when things were bad.  She still does that now and she gets annoyed if she ever finds out I’ve not told her stuff.  But I’ve never, in more than 11 years since diagnosis been able to have a conversation with her about my mental health problems without it immediately being turned into something all about her.

Offering to listen and encouraging me to tell you about my problems is huge.  But I need you to actually listen.

How could you help someone in a mental health crisis:

Don’t use cliches like this too shall pass or the one I keep seeing today “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”.  Robin Williams had been undergoing treatment for various mental health conditions for over twenty years.  He had a real, serious illness not a temporary problem.  Calling it that belittles his suffering.

If someone tells you don’t try and make them tell you exactly what it is they have to be depressed or anxious about.  Mental health conditions can and do defy explanation.

Also, don’t make assumptions about causes.  I’m sure some of the counselling I’ve had would have been more effective if I’d not spent so much time trying to get it though the counsellor’s head that the fact I can’t walk had nothing to do with my mental health. The assumptions of a supposed link between my physical disability and my mental health condition make it harder in fact.

Only make offers of support that you genuinely mean.  If someone offers me the chance to talk but then tells me all of their problems rather than listening when I try to take them up on it I usually end up feeling worse because I feel alone and I’m worried about my friend.

Support takes different forms for different people.  I have issues with medication compliance.  Someone demanding to know everyday if I’d taken my meds (something one of my carers tried) didn;t help me.  But when I had a friend who was also struggling with med compliance we would tweet each other and check in every day or two sort of “I’ve managed my meds today, how’re you doing?” that really helped.

Don’t try to force a particular therapy or drug on someone.  Fluoxetine might be really great for people who have depression that worsens around their period.  I was on fluoxetine when I first started raising that issue and it didn’t help.  Sertraline did but all I kept being told from medics was “fluoxetine is good for that, perserve” until finally one switched me to sertraline for another reason.  Friends told me fluoxetine was good too.  It was good for me but it wasn’t the answer.

Just because you recovered doesn’t mean I will.  I care about how you’re doing but when I’m really struggling telling me that I only need six months of antidepressants doesn’t help.  And actually, the standard treatment isn’t six months of antidepressants.  it’s treatment until condition improves and then for another six months to ensure no relapse.

If the person in question is able to lead you in what support they need try to follow them.

But don’t, ever just tell someone to “tell me” if you have a problem and expect that to be the answer.  It’s a first step that you can take to helping them.  Telling you is a brilliant first step for the person with mental health condition.  But living with/treating/recovering from/whatever a mental health condition is a long, long journey.  And it needs more than that first step of talking about it.

Worlds Apart by Ber Carroll

I received a free review copy of Worlds Apart by Ber Carroll.  My review isn’t in any way influenced by the fact I was asked to write it.  It may however by somewhat influenced by the fact that I’m hurting a lot right now and have take a whack of painkillers.  Writing this review is distracting me while I wait for them to kick in but I’m worried I might not do Worlds Apart justice. If you could imagine that my enthusiasm for this book is much more than it’s coming across as, that would be excellent.

Here’s the blurb from the back:

Two women worlds apart …
one secret that changes everything.

Erin and Laura are cousins and best friends who share a love of languages and travel.

Erin, a French teacher in Dublin, reaches crisis point and drops everything to move to Australia. In Sydney, not only does she land the perfect job, but she meets the perfect man. Finally, her life is falling into place. Except Sydney isn’t home, and never can be.

Back in Ireland, Laura is struggling. Her husband appears distant, her work life is spinning out of control and her daughter’s strange new nanny is undermining her at every turn. She longs to travel in Erin’s footsteps, to drop everything and run far away. But these are dangerous thoughts for a mother and wife.

As Erin and Laura desperately try to find their place in the world, a shocking family secret comes to light, and nothing will ever be the same again.

‘Ber Carroll has given us a cast of warm, engaging characters in a sparkling story that crosses the globe between Ireland and Australia. I enjoyed every page of this touching, authentic novel.’ – Liane Moriarty.

‘This novel is a wonderful full-bodied read. Ber Carroll has a clever eye for characterisation and story.’ – Cathy Kelly

‘With all the humour and empathy of Binchy … Carroll captures the conflicts and compromises women make.’ – Daily Telegraph

I finished the last book I read before reading Worlds Apart and I was stuck.  I’ve been feeling like I should read more physical books because I have what feels like hundreds of unread ones and I’ve been reading mostly ebooks. But I was looking at my bookcases and there was nothing I felt like reading.  I picked one up and threw it down again within 15 pages (unusual for me, I always try to give things 50 pages) So back to my trusty Kindle it was.  And within five minutes of starting to read Worlds Apart I knew that this was gonna be a good book and would get me out of my reading slump.  I was glad when my plans got changed so I could read for as long as I wanted rather than the 15 minutes before someone came round.

I love books set in Ireland (and I’d love to go on a proper visit there).  I love books with secrets.  And I really loved my time in Austrailia when I was a teenager and would love to go back again so this was a win all round for me.  I’ve visited some of the places Erin goes to in Sydney so it was cool to read about them and brought back some treasured memories. Especially as I’d completely forgotten about one of the places until it was mentioned in the book.

World’s Apart is really well written.  I’d never heard of Ber Carroll before joining her blog tour.  But I’m very keen to read more of her books and I feel at least one more will be finding it’s way onto my Kindle very, very soon.

(and as a side note: my painkillers seem to finally be doing their job)

The Way You Look Tonight by Richard Madeley

Simon and Schuster kindly sent me a free copy of The Way You Look Tonight by Richard Madeley (in fact they very kindly sent me two copies because the first got lost in the post) so I could read it and then review it on my blog.  This is Richard Madeley’s second novel, I reviewed the first, Someday I’ll Find You last year.

The Way You Look Tonight is a sort of sequel to Someday I’ll Find You in that Stella, the main character appears in both books.  She’s a child in  Someday I’ll Find You and The Way You Look Tonight is set ten ish years later when she’s in her early twenties.  I for some reason managed to miss the fact and suddenly realised about three or four chapters into this book having been wondering why it seemed familiar.  It’s not necessary to have read the first before reading the second because it’s not a direct sequel.

Here’s the blurb:
Not until she was 16 did Stella Arnold learn the full truth about her father, how handsome, charming James turned out to be a cold-blooded, psychotic extortionist, racketeer and killer. Knowing now what her father was capable of, she decides to study psychology and the criminal mind, and to further her education in America. In the spring of 1962 she flies to Boston where, being beautiful, bright and fashionably English, she becomes someone of huge fascination and on every invitation list. Then comes an invitation one summer weekend to the home of the Kennedys. Stella quickly becomes part of the inner Kennedy circle as they party through the hot summer nights. Both brothers, JFK and Bobby, make their moves on her but she firmly, charmingly, repels them. Further south, on the Florida Keys, a killer is on the loose. The case, unsolved, begins to rock America, and with her specialist knowledge of psychopaths, Stella is co-opted by the police investigation and prepares to fly south…

I liked Somday I’ll Find You as I think my review of that showed.  I liked The Way You Look Tonight a lot more.  And I’d like to read a third book with Stella in if one was written, this one ends on a very intriguing note that manages to tie up all the loose ends but still leave you wondering what comes next.

You might think that a book about a killer on the loose and a character with a special interest in psychopaths would be gruesome but it really wasn’t.  The way in which the subject matter was handled without the details being completely ignored or really comfortable impressed me.  It simply brought a somewhat gritty aspect to a book that was well written, had likeable characters and a little humour.  I think this made for a better book.

The Way You Look Tonight is quite a fast paced book, something that I think worked well with the plot.  But that said there were a few scenes where I thought it went too fast.  Particularly the scenes with JFK and his family.  Not so much because they didn’t work but because I’d have liked to have seen more of them.

I don’t give star ratings when I review books but I think if I did I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Social Justice Can Be Exhausting

I believe, truly and passionately, in the concept of social justice.  Social justice is defined (by wikipedia) as a political philosophy that values equality and solidarity.

Rather than being a specifically disability thing it’s about equality for whatever reason be that sexuality, gender, race, health, disability or whatever other group I’ve not mentioned.  It’s the same as believing in disability rights but different in that it takes it further.

But there’s the thing.  I’ve in the last few days had inappropriate comments (and in one case actions) made to me because of my disability.  I tweeted a bit about one of the incidents earlier.  I’ve also had well meaning but really inappropriate stuff said to me about my weight.  And in the past several weeks I’ve had really sexist comments made to me too.

Some of it I blog about.  Some of it I don’t.  Maybe because by the time I get home and to a point I could blog my anger has dissipated.  Or perhaps as is one case a week or two ago I’ve blogged about run ins with that person before and I know if I make them idenitifiable on my blog it’ll make things worse.

Sometimes I’ve tried to resolve the issue before and no matter how many times I’ve told someone that it’s called a hoist and not a crane and saying “we need to hoist Emma” is ok but the phrase “we need to use the crane to get Emma out of her wheelchair” is completely fucking inappropriate (only without the swearing) and makes me feel bad they are just never gonna get it. [side note: I do wonder if I was a regular hoist user rather than an occasional one for tricky transfers related to sailing and swimming whether that would still bother me].

Sometimes I don’t share about the incidents or write letter of complaints because I can do more by just not using that company.  And it benefits me.

Then there are the times when  I let things go because I’m tired.  And I’m fed up.  And I’m pissed off that I can’t even go and get my fucking eyebrows done without it turning into some fucked up social justice disability issue.

I piss myself off when that happens because I’m too hard on myself and I think I need to stop others having the same bad experience I do.

And sometimes when I do blog about it or raise issues or challenge organisations, companies and individuals on their social justice failings it goes well.  But other times it becomes this big straw that broke the camels back thing and it goes wrong or even I get it wrong because all the times I can’t get joined into the one time I can.

Like a guy I dealt with recently.  All of the feedback I gave him (feedback I’d been asked for) seemed to have been met with a default “no”.  And I don’t think he was the right person to be taking it. He also seemed somewhat lacking in necessary information.

I came away from that and was telling mum that I didn’t think it’d been that great. I was annoyed and might have let it show with that guy. But as I was telling her I realised that many of his “no” answers had been followed by other members of staff at that meeting saying things that did happen and things that could happen and things they would make sure they did happen.

So actually now I think of it I’m reminded how worthwhile fighting and advocacy and being heard can be.

But the fact of the matter remains that no matter how important social justice is, it’s also really exhausting.  And I can’t do it all.

Chasing a dream

I’ve always wanted to write.  It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to have a book published.  It’s not one I’ve worked on very consistantly over the years but I love to write and I’ve dreamt of author moments.

I’m trying at the moment to use the daily writing mojo I built up doing the book a day prompts to make a big dent into the novel I’ve been planning to write all year.

I set a goal at the beginning of the year to have a complete draft by the end of the year and unless I get my act into gear that goal isn’t going to happen. I’ve written bits here and there.  And I’ve written the same couple of scenes more than once.  But I’ve not got anything of substance to show for it. So making that happen is my August goal.  Maybe not a finished draft but enough of something down on the page to see the bare bones and have something that could be said to be an attempt at a book.

In some ways it’s going well.  In others it’s not.  The biggest problem is that I keep reading back bits of what I’ve written and liking them.  The smaller bits.  The majority of what I’ve written has felt like pulling teeth when I do it and then when I look back I spot things I could change or that are wrong.

So I get worked up and convince myself that actually, I can’t write.  I’m never going to be able to write.  This is a stupid goal and all the time and money I’ve spent writing and on classes and books about writing has been wasted and just generally what’s the point?

Then somehow I manage to get it together and I write a tiny bit more.  And you know it’s no where near as many words I think I need to have written or should have written but it’s words and they’re ok in my opinion and I start to think maybe I can do this.

For a little while.

But then it’s lather, rinse, repeat.

Back to the stressed out I can’t do this.

Who knew chasing your dream could be so stressful?

On knowing other wheelchair users

Recently I was in a coffee shop waiting for a friend.  I’d gone a bit early to do some writing (which didn’t happen in the end) and as I was queuing for a drink a very vague acquaintance was in the queue in front of me.  They turned and said Hi.

I said hello and asked how they were and we chatted a bit.  Briefly but friendly, but not really involved.  I don’t know this person and I don’t think we have much in common so I guess that’s how that’s going to stay.

They then mentioned having seen someone we both know recently who for the purposes of this blog I’ll call Dan.  Dan had recently been in an a bit of an accident from what they were saying.

My acquaintance and I first met at a workshop that was facilitated by a guy called Dan.  So I was sure that was who they were talking about.  I haven’t seen Dan in maybe two months but some of what they were saying about wasn’t adding up.

Until I realised that the Dan they were talking about was obviously a wheelchair user.  And the Dan I thought they were talking about (mutual friend) isn’t a wheelchair user.

I don’t know this Dan who uses a wheelchair.  I know there is a guy called Dan who lives near me who uses a chair.  Because of a very vague connection like his mum lives near a good friend of mine and my friend has done the “nod smile and wave” thing a few times when we’ve been out and he’s wheeled past then turned to me and said “that’s Dan…”

Maybe it’s him and maybe it’s not but if it is I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken to him beyond saying hi if he does when I’m with my friends.  I don’t know anything about him.  He’s not my friend and really I don’t think I could call him an acquaintance either.  I don’t think he’d know me if you said “Emma” to him, or even if you said “Emma in the wheelchair.”

I’m sorry but it really winds me up that just because I’m in a wheelchair people assume I know someone else who is in a wheelchair let alone that I’m friends with them.

I have lots of friends.

Some have disabilities and use wheelchairs

Some have disabilities and don’t use wheelchairs

Some are nondisabled.

In pretty much all the cases of friends who are also disabled I have much more in common with them than the fact we both have a disability even if we originally met through a disability group or sailability or something else disability related.

I don’t automatically have to be best friends forever with someone else who spends their life on wheels.  And don’t fucking other me by assuming that I do.

In fact earlier this week I had a dealing with another wheelie and I thought “sooner I don’t have to deal with you any more the better” because they were horrible to someone I really care about.

All my acquaintance had to do was start this conversation with “so do you know Dan?” and it would have been completely different.  Because not only would they have known from the word go that I don’t know Dan (something I never mentioned because I didn’t want to prolong the conversation when it got to the nature both got our drinks stopping point) but I wouldn’t have been confused.

And hopefully I wouldn’t have been told the (luckily not very personal) details of the very bizarre sounding accident of this wheelchair user called Dan who I don’t know but may or may not be the one whose mum lives near my friend.  And who might not have wanted a complete stranger told about his wheelchair breaking accident.

I wouldn’t have done.