Pangolin Issue 49

Behold – my pumpkin biscuit from youth club last Wednesday. They were short-staffed so I went along to help, but found myself being offered the chance to ice a biscuit of my own. Whoopee! – a chance to express myself in icing. I decided to try and portray the feelings of the inner me at that moment – not sure if I succeeded, let’s discuss this later should we?

Alert readers of my bloglet (are there any other sort?) will remember that this month’s offering was supposed to be about kindness, triggered as it is by Joanna Cannon’s Breaking and Mending book tour. My mindful soulmate and I were in good time to get a front-row seat at Waterstones in Harrogate last week and I enjoyed seeing and hearing Joanna live. We learnt that Alan Bennett is at the top of her pantheon of writers and her desert island book would be Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

As well as her delightful prose in The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and Three Things about Elsie (which I prefer) I was particularly interested to hear her because she is both a doctor and a writer. She says that medicine is about stories. On page 4 of her memoir, Breaking and Mending, she writes: Stories bind us together, stories unite us, and we tell our stories in the hope that someone out there will listen, and we will be understood. She is right.

Joanna expanded on this at the event, telling us that one of her consultants said that readers make the best psychiatrists. Readers have an ear for the subtle off-beat, the out-of-place, the unusual turn of phrase which carries meaning that may be hidden from those less attuned to language. Joanna illustrated this with a cracking anecdote of a rare diagnosis she made as a result of a few words a young patient once said to her.

I asked Joanna my question about kindness and the way it underpins her writing. She confirmed this was important to her, although she wasn’t at all keen to have been labelled as one of the first Up-Lit writers. She doesn’t want to be categorised – who does? When I introduced myself to her, I meant to use the words ‘recycled paediatrician’, from my Twitter bio. What I actually said was that I was transitioning from being a doctor to being a writer. Transitioning – a word that is often used these days for those making the journey from one gender to another. Where did that come from? The subconscious is a curious thing. Is my identity as a doctor almost as close to the core of my being as my gender? Still, I like the way I used transitioning in my context, so the Twitter bio has been changed. I think my progress from doctor to writer will take a dozen years. I have three years left.

How do you see my pumpkin biscuit’s expression? Anxiety? Stress? A Case for Extreme Dentistry? Maybe it’s simply evidence of my poor icing skills. I’ll admit it’s been quite a stressful couple of weeks since our break in the Lakes with the family. I came back to a small mountain of admin to climb, and not a few false summits. It was only today that I got back to the early morning writing of novel 2, before my mindful soulmate and I had a lovely autumn walk from Barden Bridge towards Bolton Abbey. I had edited the last chapter written in the voice of my ‘villain’ and, during the walk, I realised that the whole chapter had to be deleted and re-written.

Also on today’s walk, my mindful soulmate asked me why I chose to write a book about revenge. My main protagonist, a medical secretary made redundant by voice-recognition software, might call it justice, not revenge. There are other, deeper, layers to my story, as I hope my readers will discover in due course. When we are thinking about transitioning, as we were, its interesting to note that novel 2 is called Not Letting Go: a beginner’s guide. The subconscious is a curious thing, is it not?

And what happened to the biscuit? Reader, I ate it.

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