World Space Week

My topical article for October was about World Space Week. It was fun to research something that didn’t fall into a health or history category!

It was fascinating to learn about not just the work NASA is doing, but the work being undertaken by private companies determined to help humanity explore deep space, colonise other planets and benefit from the resources the universe has to offer.

In our lifetimes, we may see a team go into deep space on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that Lockheed Martin is building for NASA – opening up the universe and its secrets for us.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s Space X company is already shuttling cargo back and forth to the ISS, set to add crew members to its manifest as early as next year. The reusable rockets it’s working on could revolutionise the way we see space travel by making it much, much cheaper and convenient.

And if Planetary Resources have a say in the matter, we may also see the production of rocket fuel in space (from water-rich carbonaceous chondrites) and the mining of asteroids for precious metals.

NASA itself is not idle, of course, intending to investigate the Kuiper belt and deepen our understanding of ice dwarfs and how they evolve.

As for me, I’m torn between thinking these billions could be better spent here on Earth and acknowledging that many technologies developed for space eventually benefit people right here – and that, with the state of the Earth already, perhaps planning for safe boltholes is an entirely sensible option.

If you’d like to delve deeper, why not visit the World Space Week website yourself, which has links to the projects and companies at the forefront of space technology and exploration.

You, Your Bones and Osteoporosis

It was World Osteoporosis Day on 20th October, so not surprisingly, when I looked ahead for subjects to pitch for this month’s health column, osteoporosis was top of my list.

My health column discussed what osteoporosis is – a weakening of the bones and a loss of bone density – and also what causes it and what you can do to prevent and treat it. It’s appeared in various print magazines and on some websites too.

 

So, how likely is it to affect you?

Quite likely – particularly if you’re a woman. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men aged 50 and over will suffer an osteoporotic fracture. Us poor women are at greater risk after menopause because of our falling oestrogen levels. Hyperthyroidism, a BMI of 19 or less, smoking and heavy drinking are some of the other top risk factors.

Osteoporosis can affect any bone, but the wrists, hips and spine are the most commonly affected. You can help to prevent it by taking regular weight-bearing and resistance exercise and ensuring you have plenty of calcium, protein and Vitamin D in your diet, The exercise will not only help you maintain your bone health but also help you maintain your flexibility and balance – meaning you’re less likely to fall!

Go and eat a yoghurt immediately – and jog to that fridge, lifting weights as you go!

 

This Month’s Health Column Sept 17

Long time no see, little blog, yet I have a host of unfinished posts lurking… never mind. I’m back with some brief news about this month’s health column. That’s the one published this month, not the one I’ve written this month. I work three months ahead on these, so sometimes I need to check what’s out at the moment!

This month’s column is on organ donation because Organ Donation week started on Monday the 4th and because organ donation is so tremendously important.

Want to know a horrible fact that really proves how shallow a race we are?

96% of us would take an organ if needed. Yet only 29% of us are on the Organ Donor Register.

It’s a little hypocritical, don’t you think? And yes, before someone shouts at me, I do know that a (very) small proportion of people can’t be organ donors. But even so.

Imagine, for a moment, getting the call that tells you someone you love has been in an accident and that they need a transplant – or visualize the scene in a doctor’s office as you’re told that you or a loved one has some dreadful condition for which the only permanent cure is a transplant.

Now imagine spending months in a hospital because there aren’t any organs available, while around you, every day, people with usable, healthy organs that could save the life of your child, parent or partner die, destroying and wasting those organs – all because they couldn’t be bothered to register as an organ donor. But of course, unless you were a registered donor yourself, you wouldn’t be in a position to wail and rail against the injustice of it all. The wheel turns…

So, if you’re not an organ donor, I urge you to not just think about it, but take action. In June 2017, when I wrote the article, there were 6342 people on the UK national transplant waiting list. Three people die every day in the UK due to a shortage of donated organs. Signing up many more donors may not eradicate that problem, but it could help.

Here’s a pic of one version of the published article and underneath, some info you might need if this has made you consider registering as a donor. Don’t forget that you can become a live donor too; there’s more info on that on the websites I’ve listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Register as An Organ Donor

You can register online at www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-to-donate/. You can also join the Register at your GP surgery or when you apply for a driving licence, European Health Insurance card (EHIC) or a Boots Advantage card.

Wales adopted a soft opt-out policy in 2015, which means that if you do not opt out of organ donor registration, you are presumed to have no objection to being a donor.

How to Donate Organs or Tissues as A Living Donor:

To donate organs,  contact the transplant centres. Numbers are available here https://nhsbtdbe.blob.core.windows.net/umbraco-assets/1059/transplant_centre_contacts_liver.pdf

To donate tissues, Contact the National Referral Centre on 0800 432 0559 (Freephone) or Email: national.referral.centre@nhsbt.nhs.uk

For more information, visit:

www.organdonation.nhs.uk

www.nhsbt.nhs.uk

www.organdonationscotland.org (Scotland)

http://organdonationwales.org (Wales)

My Valentines 2017: Eight Books I Love

It’s February 14th and love is in the air! Chocolates have been lavished on Mr R and a very large lunch, which will have done nothing at all for my weight loss plans, has been lavished upon me, Mrs R, by Mr R.

But of course, he’s not the only love of my life. There are also books.

I love many books, but I thought I’d share eight that have stood out for me in the last eighteen months. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The Humans by Matt Haig

How do we look, as a race, from the outside? This great book by Matt Haig proposes some answers to this question and is alternately, and sometimes simultaneously, hilarious and profound. It tells the story of Professor Andrew Martin, found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge with a newly acquired repulsion for all things human and, well, humans.

The tale of how and why he changes his mind is guaranteed to lift your spirits and focus you on what is really important in life. A book everyone should read!

2. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Intricate, twisty and emotionally compelling. Think CL Taylor meets Jodi Picoult. The story of how far parents will go to protect their child and the lies they will tell to do so – even to their other child. You can read my review, but  here’s a snippet:

‘The characterisation is excellent – to the extent that, a little unusually for a book that definitely borders on a thriller, I wanted to stay with these characters and find out what happened to them next… The ongoing tension and mystery are well-maintained and just when you think you’ve hit the twist too early, another comes along. Gripping, believable, well-written and impossible to put down.’

3. The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

This book by one of my top three favourite authors was at the top of my 2015 Christmas list, and I fangirled about it here: ‘A great story… using beautiful and well-crafted language.’ ‘An atmospheric and compelling gothic thriller – and a perfect example of a book where plot, characterisation, theme and setting are perfectly balanced and beautifully blended.’

Hopefully, my blurb will make you want to read it too: ‘Connie had an accident that nobody will talk about. Connie has no idea why she calls her father by his surname. Connie doesn’t know why she remembers a yellow ribbon she doesn’t own, tied around hair that is not hers – or why she has a vague impression that she was once loved and cared for by someone who was not her mother but is, like her mother, no longer present in her life.’

4, I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

This novel, like Cally Taylor’s below, featured in my Six Stories to Send a Shiver up your Spine, so I’ve cheekily stolen my comments from that post:

‘How does it feel for a mother to watch her 5-year-old son run into the path of a car when she’s let her attention slip for the tiniest of moments? In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. She tries to move on, believing that her home, her town and those traumatic memories are the only things she must leave behind to disappear and start afresh. But she’s wrong…

Grief, paranoia… and then discovering that you’re not paranoid, they really are out to get you […] it’s a tense and sometimes terrifying story that’s impossible to describe without revealing spoilers. In between the ‘aaargh!’ moments, it’s also a great story about a fresh start.’

5. The Lie by CL Taylor

A thriller about a seemingly harmless and peaceful retreat and a group of seemingly harmless, peaceful friends who visit the retreat for a holiday. What could go wrong? Quite a lot – and that’s why the novel was another included in my Six Stories to Send a Shiver up your Spine  post:

‘This is a psychological thriller, but it conveys the characters’ terror and confusion so well that it becomes a borderline horror tale. It makes us ponder how well any of us can really distinguish between good and evil; how easily we can be persuaded that acting out of character and against our instincts is somehow liberating us; and how hard we find it to believe that someone we trust can do the unthinkable.

Unpredictable, twisty and satisfying – a tale about control and the inability to ever put the past behind us completely. Don’t start reading it without a few hours to put aside!’

6. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Another story about a fresh start, this also features another beloved theme of mine – spontaneous acts that change a character’s life. Although this translation felt a little stilted at the beginning, the story of Jean Perdu, the Paris bookseller whose bookshop is not on a street but on a barge on the Seine, was soon drawing me in. As I explained in my review. ‘…it’s a bookshop with a difference, too. It’s a ‘literary apothecary’, where Jean ‘prescribes’ his customers the books they need to soothe their soul. Yet Jean can’t cure himself of his heartbreak. It takes the arrival of a new neighbour and a new friend to shake things up, setting him and his bookshop free from their moorings. Jean leaves Paris behind and sets off on a quest to Provence, where he hopes to find answers to questions that have haunted him for years.’

And why did I love it? ”The sense of escape – of leaving behind the trappings of normal everyday life to pursue an answer or a goal – is always one that appeals to me. I loved the dry wit and how a section of the novel is part- travelogue, with entertaining and evocative descriptions of the places and people the travellers encounter, and their life on the boat.

This book also had some subtle things to say about life, books and reading, and that scores highly with me. I grew to love the characters and could happily have stayed with them a little longer. Guilt, regret, happiness, love, loss, freedom, fresh starts and a warning against presuming that you know someone else’s reactions, feelings or motivations – and acting on those presumptions without checking you’re right.’

7. Birdbox by Josh Malerman

Yet another one from Six Stories to Send a Shiver up your Spine and definitely one of the most original books I’d read in awhile.

‘Like dystopian, post-apocalyptic weirdness? Then [this book] is the one for you – unless you’re the kind of person who can’t go upstairs to a dark bedroom after watching a horror film…

“Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew.
Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing.
And we couldn’t look outside anymore.”

The beauty of this book is its simplicity. We never see the horror, and nor do the main characters… that are still alive. What we do feel, intensely, is the terror of people who daren’t use the sense most of us primarily rely on to orient ourselves and keep us safe – our sight. What happens to a society literally too afraid to look – yet still unaware what they’ll see when they do?

Massively gripping – and probably not a read for a week when you’re feeling stressed. It does its job too well and you live every agonisingly tense, terrifying moment along with the main character.’

8. At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

I love everything Tracy Chevalier does; this isn’t my favourite novel of hers, but would certainly rank in my top 4 – and it’s the only one of hers I’ve read in the last eighteen months. It’s also my most recent read in this selection and, unsurprisingly, I reviewed this story about James and Sadie Goodenough, who settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of 1830s Ohio.

It’s a sometimes dark and brutal story about a dysfunctional family working relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from John Appleseed to cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their land claim  and Robert, the youngest Goodenough, who escapes that life but is always drawn to trees as he wanders across the country.

But did I feel the love? I surely did!

‘This is a beautiful story; as usual, Tracy Chevalier’s impeccable research makes the time, the place and the events totally believable and fully immersive. I always revel in her wonderful use of language, but I particularly liked her use of different diction and word choice to separate James and Sophie’s characters and narratives, and it’s just part of what makes the characters so well realised and believable.

 

…There’s also the added delight, as with all of her novels, of effortlessly acquiring fascinating insights into the lives of people in the past and gaining knowledge about a host of new topics. For instance, before reading At the Edge of the Orchard I’d never heard of Calaveras Grove, where giant sequoias were first identified – and had barely heard of Johnny Appleseed before either.

Two days after I finished reading this novel, Calaveras Grove was on the news because its famous Pioneer Cabin tree had come down in a storm on the 8th of January…,I can feel my brain grow a little whenever I read a Chevalier book, and that’s a feeling I love. It’s what puts her among my top five authors.’

So that’s eight of my  best-loved books. Care to share yours? 🙂

 

The Story My Abandoned E-Books Tell

Confession 1: Sometimes I abandon a book and go back to it later.

Why? Well, it might be that I’m not in the mood for a book of that particular tone or theme. Perhaps it requires concentration or patience that I don’t have at the time. Maybe it asks questions I don’t want to answer just then, or gives answers I’m not ready for.

I might be looking to be entertained and uplifted, while the book wants to pick apart my life and give me a microscope with which to study the pieces.

Confession 2: On rare occasions, I abandon a book permanently because something makes me cringe to the extent that I can’t carry on with it.
These abandonment issues can affect all books I buy, not just ebooks, but ebooks are a little different. I have to be in the mood for reading on my Kindle – and sometimes I’m simply not. Despite its handy blue light filter that makes the experience easier on the eyes and melatonin levels, I still get just plain sick of staring at screens sometimes, or aware that I’ve spent too long doing so already. This means books languish for longer on my Kindle than on my paperback TBR pile.

And there are more of them because ebooks are cheaper to buy, meaning I take more chances. Ebooks give me the chance to try out authors who are new to me, putting (usually) more money in those authors’ pockets than a PLR payment would  – without committing me to a £6-£10 spend on a paperback I’m not already besotted with. Perhaps this makes them more likely abandonment candidates.

You might surmise that because they’re cheaper to buy, ebooks are easier to abandon aanyway I’m not sure this is true for me, though. I’m not keen on abandoning any book. It seems such a waste!

So what made me abandon the books currently started on my Kindle but not finished?

Book A: My first purchase of a book from a well-respected author who gives and writes writing advice (in fact, I bought more than one on a special deal).

Problem: In the very first scene in the very first book, there was head-hopping. We’re in the heroine’s head, she meets a guy, she walks away and suddenly we’re in the guy’s head. Aaaargh!

Will I go back to it? I’ll probably give it another go when I’m at a loose end, bookwise. So many people I know praise this author’s work; can they all be wrong? But boy, do I hate head-hopping – and it was a big disappointment coming from someone who advises others on writing! And it made me think – where was the editor? Napping?!

Book B: My second purchase from this author. I’d enjoyed their first book well enough, although there were a couple of points where my editor’s fingers twitched. I thought I’d give this far earlier work, from a different genre, I try.

Problem: Too much of everything too quickly. Too many characters introduced at once, many of whom seemed too similar to quickly establish a unique place in your head. Too much hard to follow dialogue, too much backstory delivered in awkward dollops. I also didn’t warm to the main characters and struggled to find them realistic.

Will I go back to it? No. I might be missing out and I’ll certainly be trying another book by this author, but as for this one, my gut feeling is that life’s too short, and good books too numerous, to bother.

In the meantime, I had a bit of a Kindle splurge back in November when my husband’s op was due and another one post-Christmas when there were many bargains to be had. This is the result: the top two rows on my Kindle, as shown here. None abandoned so far!

I’ve already read the excellent Nightbird (Alice Hoffman) and The Secrets Between Sisters (Annie Lyons), which I’ll try and review very soon. I’m looking forward to reading the rest. They either won me over with their blurb, attracted my attention in an article or are by authors whose books I’ve read and enjoyed before (Alex Walters and Jane Holland). Roll on half-term!

Pulp Fiction: Are Big Name Authors Being Pulped At Your Library?

Last week, on my way out of the library, I stopped as I always do at the book sale display.

“Take whatever you want, even if you’re not sure!” called the lovely librarian, Ann. “Don’t worry about the prices on the sign – you’re a regular and we’re going to pulp them at the end of the week, anyway.”

How naive am I. I looked at the bookcase in front of me, full of not just those one-hit wonders and library oddities but also big name authors. And then I looked at Ann. “Pulped?”  I squawked.

“Yes.” Ann walked over to me. “I know it seems a shame, but we can’t get rid of them fast enough; we’ve got so many books. If we send them to be pulped, they give us money by weight, so at least the library makes some money.”

These were the books I rescued from pulping, having emptied my purse and left behind several well-known titles because I’d read them already:

 

Can you believe it? Erica James? Sarah Morgan? Freya North? Harriet Evans? Sophie Kinsella?

Some libraries, like ours, always have a small bookcase of books and back issue magazines for sale; others have a huge sale every so often. There are hardbacks, paperbacks, fiction and non-fiction, and it’s a great way to catch up with favorite mags too. If you’re a writer, it’s a great way to do some reasonably-priced research on potential magazine markets, as recommended here by Simon Whaley.

I urge you to get down to your local library and make sure you scoop up some bargains, saving them from a pulpy fate. You may not be helping the authors, but you will be helping the library. I’m betting the 50p our library charges per paperback is more than they get for its weight and it seems criminal for these books to be pulped!

I’m off for a read 🙂