dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Day Four: Dundee, Where the book tour really starts

Today I stood at a lectern in a church I wrote about in my book, When the Boats Come Home. I must have done the research about the real-life evangelist Jock Troup and his time in Dundee several years ago, written that piece (the beginning of Chapter 48) at least two years ago. And never dreamed I would ever be invited to speak there.

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And today, there I was. In the Steeple Church, Dundee.

The church interior has changed a lot since Jock Troup’s day. Comfy chairs now face towards the side where there is a long platform, lectern with microphone, and all the benefits of 21st century technology. But I was standing within the self-same walls that heard him preach and how I longed to speak with the same fire – and the same results!

He was part of the 1921 Fishermen’s Revival that spread up the east coast of Britain, changing lives and towns and villages. Revival is something churches and individuals talk about and long for today. In my research I discovered that the forerunner of revival is prayer – praying communities that refuse to give up even where there seems to be no sign of harvest.

We say we long for revival. I wonder are we willing to put in the hours and months and years of prayer that underpinned earlier revivals? Or are we infected by the instant gratification of modern consumer society and give up way too soon?

‘Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Before the book tour

Only a few days to go before I set off on my longest solo trip ever. It is a little daunting but God says ‘Don’t worry. I go ahead of you’ and other comforting things so I’m holding onto trust as best I can. The trip is 24 days long, visiting places mentioned in my new novel, When the Boats Come Home, giving talks and readings to churches, church groups, bookshops and libraries. I’m driving, and it will be a 1500 mile round-trip – not counting any detours, extra bits or days out!

When the Boats Come Home cover

I start in Edinburgh, go on to Dundee, then head on up to Wick. Then I retrace my steps to Inverness, go across to Aberdeenshire, back to Dundee, and then home.

One of the delights of this planned trip is going to be meeting up with lots of old friends and new. When my mother was alive, I used to nip up to Wick quite often to visit but then spend all the available time with her so my friends from home got neglected. I’m hoping to remedy that this time! The first week of my trip I’ll be staying with friends from my university days… Will we recognise each other? How much will we have changed? I’m looking forward to hearing their stories of how their lives have turned out.

Thanks to Facebook and the Association of Christian Writers (and the Christian Authors, Booksellers and Publishers page) , I’ve ‘met’ lots of new friends and this trip is going to allow me to meet some of them for real.

So yes, daunting and exciting. I haven’t started packing yet – haven’t even started writing the packing list!

I’ll be taking my laptop etc with me and plan to take pics and write the blog as I go so you’ll be very welcome to keep me company as I travel along. And I’d welcome your prayers too! Not just for me as I travel and speak, but that God will use this trip to spread the good news of His amazing transforming love.

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Today is new book day!

My new book is published today! I totally love the cover:

Still Caring - web

I think the team at publisher SPCK came up with the perfect title: Still Caring – because that’s what you do when someone you used to look after at home goes into residential care.

Coincidentally – or maybe not! – today is outing day for my husband. I told him about the book and we agreed this one and the previous book about at-home caring, One Day at a Time, are the silver lining to our journey with dementia – if they will help other carers learn more easily what I had to learn the hard way.

We’ve been on this road a long while and there is no knowing how much longer we’ll be travelling. My husband’s consultant suggested, when he diagnosed dementia six years’ ago, that the illness had been developing over the previous twenty years. Looking back, I can certainly see signs that now I know enough about the disease, I maybe might have picked up on.

No point beating myself up. It’s what everyone with a family member affected by dementia says: “I should have spotted it them. I just thought it was weird….”

We’ve been for our outing. Today’s only included a very brief pre-lunch shuffle. I notice differences – deteriorations – every time. But on we plod.

Lord, have mercy on everyone suffering from dementia and on everybody involved with their care.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Amen.

 

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Lunch thoughts

At last – a peaceful Friday!  It’s been a busy few weeks and I’m glad of a day going nowhere.

Yesterday, as always, was John-outing day. He’s not walking so much now so I thought a longer drive and a special lunch would fit the bill. We headed off down the coast to Butley Orford Oysterage,

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a renowned if unpretentious fish restaurant in a tiny village with a parking problem. Yes, there’s a large car park but not within walking distance and I haven’t yet got round to getting a disabled parking permit. (Note to self: must do!)

I’d discussed the outing with Jesus and when the idea of Orford came up, I mentioned the parking problem. How come I’m always surprised when there’s no problem? You guessed it: it looked like there was no space, then as we drove round, there was the perfect space within a few steps of the restaurant! Thank You, Lord!

The food was wonderful. For the foodies among you, we started with one serving of home-made taramasalata and one pot of home-made potted shrimps, and swapped halfway! We followed this with grey mullet, meltingly fresh, and new potatoes, and a beautiful dressed crab with loads of salad. Yum! And wine: Merlot for him (his usual Shiraz was not available) and a Pinot Grigio for me. All taken at a very leisurely pace and rounded off with lots of coffee.

The folks at the next table had a mixed smoked fish starter and lobster. I mention this to explain why I’ve included the third pic!

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I probably should have taken the pics before we started so you could enjoy how lovely it all looked, but our focus was on eating!

It was an excellent – and expensive – meal, but worth every penny. And as life creaks on, maybe there’s a case for splashing out now and then to help us  ‘not weary’ as Saint Paul would have it. So often we focus on the empty shells, forgetting the succulence of what we have enjoyed!

 

 

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Reaching our readers

 

London Christian bookshop in church - not where I was today!

London Christian bookshop in church – not where I was today!

I have just spent three hours in a Christian bookshop. I was filling in for a friend who could not do her usual duty slot. It’s useful for a writer to have a chance for a leisurely and unpressurised browse of the latest titles – and any catalogues that are available.

The only book purchasers who came by were looking for a Bible – specifically The Message. Happily we had one in stock and I was able to sell it to her, though she was horrified at the price (originally £22.95). I know Christian publishing is a niche market, but must the books be so expensive?

And so many American! On the counter was a copy of the Authentic catalogue for 2013. I leafed through it and found several appealing titles but I wonder how relevant it is to a British book-buyer that a writer is a ‘famous conference leader’ or ‘up and coming pastor’ somewhere in the USA?

My own next book will hit the shops on 15 August here in the UK. Still Caring mines my own experience as a carer faced with the terrible decision to move a loved one into residential care. The first part of the book treats that situation, then moves on to the settling-in period with all its hassles and upsets, and then the final one-third covers the seemingly endless grind as you settle down into visiting and caring at arm’s-length.

I know there are a lot of people in the UK in each of the stages covered by the book. I know they are suffering and struggling and desperately need help. And I know I did and still do.

But my book is written from my Christian viewpoint. It consists of a short piece about a specific situation I’ve encountered, a relevant quotation from the Bible, a prayer, and a self-care suggestion. And I wonder will the ‘religious’ aspect put people off – people who might find this book really helpful and supportive? And if it is only sold in Christian bookshops how will non-church people ever know about it?

I know my publishers will do their best. And I will too – although I find the apparent self-promotion required to publicise the book cringe-making! I also find talking about my husband’s dementia upsetting. But both are necessary. I’m glad I’ve got a few days to get myself into gear!

 

 

 

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Stung

I was stung by a bee on Tuesday.

Driving back from spending a pleasant morning with friends, I had the car radio tuned to Classic FM as usual. As the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 came on, I sighed with delight and reached over to turn up the volume. I was driving through a 30 mph area so I could settle back in my seat and enjoy.

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But as I sat back, I felt I had been stabbed in the back. Yes, that’s when the bee – about to be squashed between me and the seat back – stung me!

Shocked and in real pain, I gripped the steering wheel tight and concentrated on keeping the car on the road. I was also praying! I’d no idea what had happened but as I drove on and the pain ebbed away into numbness, I guessed it was a sting.

When I got home, I hurried upstairs to the bathroom mirror to check it out – and yes, I could see the puncture mark with a surrounding raised circular area about the size of a 10p piece on my back. At once onto the internet to find out what I should do, I discovered calming advice about anti-histamine so although I’d taken my morning dose to combat hay fever, I quickly swallowed another.

By today, the area is red, raised and inflamed but the practice nurse assures me it’s not infected, there’s no sign of the sting and although I’m having a fairly strong reaction to it, it’s probably fine. Give it a week.

Funny the things we react to. I’m allergic to any kind of ivy – just touch it with bare hands and I come out in a nasty itchy rash. And there was a drug a few years back that I developed an allergy to and actually went into mild toxic shock on one occasion. And I remember the mosquitos in Nigeria left horrendous weals.

But I’m also very sensitive to unkindness and criticism, and to rejection (which makes being a writer perhaps not the most obvious career!). Those things don’t leave visible marks so when we deal them out to others, we seldom see the damage/harm that we’ve done. Even when – like the bee – we feel fully justified in our reactions, the result is that we sting one another with our words.

James, the Lord’s brother, has quite a lot to say about what we say to one another and reminds us that “Those who consider themselves religious but do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves ” James 1:26

Peter (1 Peter 3:10) offers a positive approach: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil”

Let’s not sting one another!

 

 

 

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The real thing and no rationing

I don’t remember wartime rationing but I do recall my auntie telling how she wanted to make an iced-over-marzipan birthday cake for me when I was one. Unfortunately, there was no marzipan in the shops but she was persuaded to buy hazelnuts as a substitute for almonds, took them home and ground them up to make a marzipan replacement. Not altogether successfully, she said ruefully. Sounds like a good try!

I remember other folk saying how exciting it was when the first bananas and oranges arrived by ship after the war.

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And how very special the sweets ration was.

Did things taste better for being rare or rationed, I wonder? And have our delight-buds become blunted by having everything available, all the year round, at our local open-all-hours supermarket?

I remember the excitement of a visit to Kano market in Northern Nigeria. I was told that here you could buy anything – from a lion to a slave, if you wanted. I think I skirted one tiny part of it but it was so huge that the story was almost believable.

My Grandmother had a saying ‘Wants never gets’. I thought it was designed to shut up demanding children and was duly undemanding in her presence!

I worry sometimes that my prayers sound like shopping lists. All those people I care about who are ill or in trouble or just in need of a bit of support or protection or what one prayer group used to call ‘God’s travelling mercies’. I hold them up like a platter of delicacies, almost inviting God to select…

And suddenly I remember Kim’s Game from Guides – and of course originally from that wonderful Kipling novel, Kim. The purpose is training in observation and memory. You lay out a tray of different items (Kim, as I recall, got precious jewels). You’re given a couple of minutes to view and memorise, then it’s covered up and you have to list what you can remember. (I think the cuddly toy version in the Generation Game was a steal from this!)

So there I am holding up my platter of precious jewels to God, asking for His care, healing, love, protection, travelling mercies whatever – and the great thing is He remembers them all. Not a single one is forgotten or overlooked. And His love is never rationed. What’s available to us is all of it.

Yet so often we settle for substitutes and second best. But why go for a bag of hazelnuts that you then have to grind up…. when you can have unlimited marzipan?

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And now, maybe, for something different?

Tuesday is my busy day. First, meeting friends for coffee and chat aka fellowship, then Study Group in the afternoon. This morning, one of our number was telling us about her visit to Ely Cathedral’s flower festival.

Arbour at Peter Beales Rose Nursery

Arbour at Peter Beales Rose Nursery

And right in the middle of her account she said something perfectly innocuous which triggered that writer’s response: “I want to use that. I want to write something about that.” All unbeknownst, she had given me the title for a crime novel.

A few years ago, I wrote a crime novel with a Christian lay preacher sleuth. It was planned as the first in a series and I had made a start on a couple of plots. Neither of which worked. Till I realised I needed to go back and lay the foundations for my protagonist’s sleuthing activities. This was the one I completed in 2006.

It sailed through the synopsis-and-sample-chapters stage and I really began to hope when the publisher requested the complete manuscript. Only to have my hopes dashed when it came home with a standard/form rejection letter.

Then my husband was diagnosed with dementia and my writing life had to take a back seat.

I have always read crime novels. The only other fiction I read is the chocolate-box Regency romance type and I have to be very low and in need of the reading equivalent of comfort eating for that! I have read mystery novels since before I could pronounce the word. (I called it “my stery”  as in “my story” and got thoroughly mocked by the bigger girls!) I give talks to WIs and Women’s Fellowships on women crime writers and the Golden Age of the Crime Novel.

And I enjoyed plotting and writing my crime novel.

It wasn’t right though. I wanted a Christian protagonist but I ducked all the issues of her faith and so her Christianity appeared a very dilute and lukewarm add-on: a little Bible reading and a pitiful amount of prayer!

I think I’ve moved on. The six years of my husband’s illness has driven me to a much deeper relationship with God. I know my preaching has changed. I’ve became much bolder, more evangelical, more openly passionate. And I know it has fed through into my writing. The current work-in-progress, the novel about the Fishermen’s Revival, is soaked in faith and the way people search for or turn their backs on God.

So I think maybe – just maybe – it’s time, when I’ve completed this one, to pull out the crime novel and see if it’s rescuable. I think it will need a complete rewrite from beginning to end. But that’s all right. I think I’d really like to do it.  And then maybe try it out again on the big wide world of publishing, but this time aim it fair and square at the Christian market. Which means getting to grips with my protagonist’s faith and doubts and what God might be doing in (and with?) that story.

I used to be a Heathrow type of writer: ideas popped up on the screen of my mind and needed to be stacked and handled by a kind of story traffic control system. The stresses of the past few years has all but wiped the screen so I am delighted to find a new idea appearing on the radar. I’m looking forward to getting out those ping-pong bats and bringing it in to land!

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Thursday in nightmare-land

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Another Prezzo lunch. It’s the same place. Same staff. Same food. Same drinks – a big glass of Shiraz for him, a diet Coke for me, then two black coffees.

But it’s not the same. Because we are in a different place. Further down the slippery slope of this nightmare that is dementia.

The weird thing is I seem to be the only person aware of it. He’s enjoying the outing, the food, the booze. The haul of weird and wonderful charity shop books (5 for £2) which he chose today. He thinks he’s having a nice time. The staff enquire is everything all right and I say yes. Thank you.

It’s only later on the way home that I start to cry.

How much longer? Oh God, how much longer? It’s seven years since the diagnosis. Today he asked as we made our slow way back to the car ‘How long is it since I was able to walk normally?’ A shockingly intelligent question. But how long is it since anything was normal? Will my life ever be normal again? Will I survive this? Or will it go on for so long that I will be too old to have any kind of life when it’s finally over?

I feel horribly selfish even thinking this way, but I do feel I have stumbled into a dank dark dungeon where someone has thrown away the key. Today I have no resources left. I pray. I keep praying.

It really is completely up to God now.

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Time for courage

I’ve enjoyed living in my current home. The cats have enjoyed the garden. It’s just the right length for a decent run up to the tree at the bottom of the garden to launch them half way, claws scrabbling for a hold, before they give up and drop back down to the lawn.

When they were tiny, I discovered they liked climbing. They’d be halfway up the telegraph pole at the bottom of that garden! And they used to annoy my next-but-one neighbour and terrorise her fully grown cats, scrabbling over her conservatory roof, even though they were only 6-week-old bundles of black fluff.

They’re still quite small. And I’ve booked them into the cattery for the duration of the move. I kind-of wish I could book myself somewhere similar and sit it out while it all happens around me! However, it is my responsibility so I must get on with it. So far everything is moving with amazing smoothness. The various people I’m dealing with – from utility companies to removals firms – have been unstintingly and unfailingly helpful. I get to keep my telephone number. All I need do to access broadband is plug it in when I get there. I have a couple of meter readings to phone through on the day… And so on.

The hardest thing to do has been to sort out my husband’s things. My plan is to use the tiny bedroom in the new house as a boxroom/store-room and simply label everything I won’t be using and he won’t be needing and store the bags and boxes there. However, in one wardrobe here there were two dinner suits, a morning suit, two heavy coats, three business suits… clothes he won’t be needing now, but I can’t bear to get rid of – yet.

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So I was sorting them out to pack and label. And it reminded me of sorting out my mother’s things after her death. Except that then, my sister was with me and that made all the difference.

Dementia is like death without death. And I’m a widow without being a widow.

Somehow I have to face this new stage in my life with courage and dredge up some hope for a future that will be worth living, despite what’s happening to my husband. I have to trust that God is with me and looking after me. I really need my two key life texts:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will go with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

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