Category Archives: About Me

Sjogren’s Syndrome: a misunderstood condition.

This is not a post about books or writing. Bear with me, normal service will resume soon (I hope).

It’s been a while since I wrote about Sjogren’s Sydrome (pronounced show-grins although there is nothing funny about it). Over the past several weeks, I have experienced what medics and people with autoimmune diseases call ‘a flare’.

Many autoimmune conditions – like Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s to name a few – can be compared to waves on a beach. They crest and fall, making the condition totally unpredictable. It’s a constant guessing game. Will I sleep tonight? Will I be in too much pain? Will I walk with a limp tomorrow? Will I walk at all? 

During good times, you can almost forget you have it. Almost. Autoimmune conditions can go into remission but they’re always lurking. In all honesty, most of the people I know who live with autoimmune disease still suffer every day but when things are good, the pain is manageable and they can function. Whether good or bad, I take a lot of medication every day. Even during the good times, I have to pace myself and not over-commit. I find this one of the most frustrating things about Sjogren’s.

Actually, I find hundreds of things annoying about the condition.

Although Sjogren’s is becoming more widely recognised, thanks in no small part to Venus Williams for being so honest about her experiences, Sjogren’s is often represented as a condition where patients have ‘dry eyes and a dry mouth’. I’ve had doctors say to me “Oh, so do you get a dry mouth with that and gritty eyes?” Yes, I do and I wish they were the only symptoms. They’re not pleasant – the dry mouth makes eating certain things difficult and sometimes I get food lodged at the back of my throat – but I would far rather contend with them than what I do actually live with.

In addition to the dryness in my mouth (caused by the fact that Sjogren’s has destroyed many of my salivary glands) and the dry eyes (I produce barely any tears so even when I cry, my eyes are pretty much tear-free), I suffer daily pain all over my body, issues with my lungs and kidneys, brain fog and fatigue. I was told in 2013 by the lung specialist that I may need chemotherapy to dampen down the immune response. Thankfully, that hasn’t been required.

In 2012, when I was going through my last major flare, I was told by a Rheumatologist that I should prepare myself for the fact that I would (not if, would) “end up in a wheelchair”. Every time I wake up with more pain than usual, I panic and wonder if this will be it. I’ve spent time this year working towards acceptance of this. That’s not to say I’m going to hang up my shoes and give up, I will keep walking for as long as I can, however acceptance means I can concentrate on recuperating instead of putting my immune system under further pressure by worrying.

When I saw the emergency Rheumatologist a couple of weeks ago after begging my GP for a steroid injection (which has helped me pick up previously), she commented on how hypermobile I was. People have mentioned this to me before but I never realised that what I could do with my joints was unusual until a nurse went a bit funny during an assessment. The other week, the Rheumatologist warned me to be mindful of dislocation which is common in people with hypermobility but thankfully something I’ve avoided thus far (apart from that one time…). She also congratulated me on not having a steroid injection since 2012, as thought it was something I had achieved which, I suppose, it was in a way.

Over the past few weeks, I have wildly vacillated between sleeping sixteen hours a day and constantly tossing and turning, trying to minimise the pain. It’s the fatigue that has always got me down the most. The feeling that, no matter how long or how well you have slept, you are still exhausted in the most indescribable way when you wake up.

I know I am improving because walking around my house no longer feels like wading through treacle however going to the supermarket is still guaranteed to require a rest before and after.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know I am a motivated person. I hate that this condition makes me appear what some may term as ‘lazy’. I hate that it limits me in more ways than most people can imagine. I feel held to ransom by my own body every day (“if you do x then y, I am going to punish you. So choose one”).

Although I am more accepting of my body and the condition than I ever have been before, I still struggle. I struggle because I want to do more, be more. I don’t want to have to choose to do one thing or another – I want to do both and not suffer for it.

I guess I have a way to go yet. But, you know what? I’m tenacious. I’ll keep on at it. You might see me struggle but you’ll never see me quit.

Vic x

PS – I wrote a poem about Sjogren’s a few years ago, you can read it here.

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Mid-Year Review Book Tag nominated by @LoveBooksGroup

Massive thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group for nominating me to do this mid-year book tag. 2017 is whipping by and it’s interesting to reflect on which books I’ve enjoyed this year so far.

So, here goes…

  1. Best book you’ve read in 2017 so farYear of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Shonda, writer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, challenged herself to say yes to every opportunity she was offered for a year. As an introvert who lacks self-confidence, I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved reading about Shonda’s writing process, her family life and her challenge. Oh, ok then, I loved it all. I’d love to hang out with this fierce woman.
  2. Best sequel you’ve read in 2017 so far: The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay. I read the three books from the Promise Falls trilogy this year. Linwood Barclay is my favourite crime writer and I was impressed with the way the final instalment tied things up.
  3. New release not yet read: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
  4. Most anticipated release of the second half of 2017: A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena. 
  5. Biggest disappointment of 2017: Thankfully I haven’t had one yet!
  6. Biggest surprise of 2017: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell. I first heard Sarah talk at Newcastle Noir this year and I was so taken in with the themes she talked about that I just had to read ExquisiteIt was a surprise because I hadn’t heard anything about it prior to Newcastle Noir. It’s a story that keeps you second guessing until the very end – very cleverly done. 

  7. Favourite new author: Bizarrely, I’d never read Stephen King until 2017 but I read Bazaar of Bad Dreams which is a collection of short stories. I think I bought it because it was on offer and I liked the look of the cover – yes, I did judge a book by its cover – but when I read it, I really enjoyed the stories.
    In fairness, though, Matt Wesolowski is my favourite new author. I want to tweet him every day and ask when we can expect his next novel.
  8. Newest fictional crush: Haven’t got one as I’m pretty taken with my husband – we got married in March this year. 
  9. Newest favourite character: Archie from Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland. Everyone should have an Archie in their life.
  10. Book that made you cry: Year of Yes and Lost for Words.
  11. Book that made you happy: Year of Yes.
  12. Best book to movie adaptation of 2017: I haven’t seen any film adaptations although I’m looking forward to seeing My Cousin Rachel. I am loving The Handmaid’s Tale which is currently being shown on Channel 4.
  13. Favourite review you’ve written in 2017 so far: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. The book just really captured my imagination and I loved writing about it. 
  14. The most beautiful book you bought / received in 2017: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards. I bought it for myself last weekend at Barter Books. I just love the colours and shading on it. As previously mentioned, Bazaar of Bad Dreams is also a very colourful book. I think this has established how vacuous I am.
  15. Books to read by the end of 2017: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Girls by Emma ClineIt Devours: A Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout… The list goes on. I’d also like to read more Agatha Christie. 

I’m passing the Mid-Year Review Book tag onto Emma Welton @damppebbles, Juliet @bookliterat and Sheila Howes @thequietgeordie. I look forward to finding out what you choose!

Vic x

 

Another proud day

For my birthday this year, one of my best friends bought me a scrapbook and told me to fill it with fabulous things that happened. At the time, a house purchase had just fallen through (costing us rather a lot of money) and I’d recently been made redundant. I knew my friend’s gift came from a wonderful, encouraging place but I did wonder at the time what the I’d put in this bloody scrapbook, now I’m worried I’m going to run out of pages!

No doubt you’ll read about all of my happy moments in my review of 2016 (it’ll be here before we know it) but I just had to blog about one thing in particular while it’s fresh in the memory. Last year, I wrote about how proud I was at being nominated for Woman of the Year in my Slimming World group. Well, last night, I won it.

Woman of the year

It’s funny how things turn out.

Vic x

Harrogate 2016.

I’m so overwhelmed by this weekend’s activities that I can’t even think of a witty title for this post.

Up until three or four weeks ago, I wasn’t planning on going to Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival this year. And then the stars aligned. My partners in crime (ahem) Jay Stringer and Graham Smith – organisers of Noir at the Bar Glasgow and Carlisle respectively – decided to throw a wee bash at Harrogate. How could I say no? For several days before the big event, I wished I had said no to the invitation to read from my novel Fix Me Up at Hales Bar alongside some impressive writers. However, I am so glad I did it. I got to be on the bill with Helen FitzGerald and Brooke Magnanti as well as my very good friend, Lucy Cameron.

Noir at the Bar Harrogate

My old pal Luca Veste hosted and thought up some brilliant intros. It was fantastic to be introduced by a man who gave me opportunities when I was just starting out. The readings at Noir at the Bar weren’t just dark, there was plenty of humour too. I loved Russel D. McLean’s reading and I thought Helen FitzGerald was bloody brilliant, her book Viral is the most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year, managing to combine a really serious issue with plenty of biting wit.

It really was something to see Hales bar packed out at the beginning of the festival – thank you to everyone who came.

My friend Luca introduces me

Over the course of my time in Harrogate this year, I got a lot of great feedback following my reading at Noir at the Bar from people I really respect and admire . It made my weekend to have Steve Mosby and Helen FitzGerald (among others) tell me that they liked my reading. Several people compared my work to the great Irvine Welsh – I’m still speechless.

Noir at the Bar crew

Meanwhile, back at the Swan…

Congratulations to Clare Mackintosh on her win for I Let You Go which won Crime Novel of the Year at the opening ceremony on Thursday evening. Her follow-up, I See Youwas available at the festival on an exclusive pre-release and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

On Friday morning, I was up with the larks to see the man who inspired me to write crime fiction: Linwood Barclay. He was interviewed by Mark Bilingham – who later sang The Kinks’ Victoria to me in the signing tent – and, despite the early hour, the audience was thoroughly entertained. Although, I have to admit, I was too shy to ask Linwood for a picture which is something I shall always regret! The rest of the panels I saw were intriguing and left me brimming with ideas.

Due to work commitments, I left Harrogate on Saturday morning after a whirlwind of panels, familiar faces and new friends. On my drive home, I felt incredibly guilty for missing lots of people or not getting to chat as much as I would have liked but I know there’s always next year…

Vic x

Never give up…

As I took a trip through Newcastle today, I noticed that it was graduation day. I watched students in their caps and gowns, taking selfies and celebrating the end of an era.

Strolling through the beautiful campus of my alma mater, Newcastle University, I thought back to my own graduation day eight years ago. It was I day I never thought I’d see.

I was twenty-one when I finally went to uni. I’d had three years in ‘the real world’, earning some money and doing another A-Level, and during that time I’d decided I wanted to train to be a teacher.

Despite a hand injury which left me unable to write, I quite enjoyed the first terms. Uni was so different to anything I’d experienced before and I met two wonderful girls who, to this day, remain my best friends.

By March of my first year, though,  I was ready to quit. I’d failed a History assessment and was wracked with self-doubt. I remember vividly those fraught days as I struggled to make a decision on what to do. I was terrified of failure. I felt that staying on at uni could equal complete failure. What if I flunked the first year completely? What if they kicked me out? It didn’t occur to me at the time that all my other marks were really rather good. Another thought that occurred to me, though, was that quitting would be a definite failure in my eyes.

I don’t remember how I came to a decision. I don’t remember how I overcame those wicked gremlins. But I did. Staying might mean failure, quitting definitely would.

With the support of my parents and some of the academic staff, I decided to streamline my degree from Combined Studies to Media, Communication and Cultural Studies. I never looked back.

As my undergraduate days drew to a close, I began to consider what to do next. That summer, I read more books than I had done in years (apart from academic books, of course). Some were inspiring in the traditional sense. Others made me think: ‘I could do that’. Around the same time, I was given a place on the Chronicle’s Young Reviewer of the Year scheme. Not only was this a fantastic outlet – giving me ‘a reason’ to write and deadlines to meet – but it also gave me the confidence I needed to look into Masters degrees in Creative Writing.

As we queued outside the ceremonial hall on graduation day, a course-mate asked what my plans were, I answered: ‘I’m going to be a writer’. That moment is crystallised in my memory and every year, when I see loved ones in all their finery and graduates with their capes blowing in the wind, I’m reminded of that conversation. And when I think back on that conversation, I stand a little taller and remind myself that I made it happen. I am a writer, just as I said I would be.

I graduated in 2010 with a Masters in Creative Writing. And again in 2014 with a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. I hope to get a doctorate one day. And all this from a girl who almost dropped out six months in because of the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t clever enough.

Don’t ever give up.

Vic x

My Crime & Publishment Experience.

Here I sit on Monday, 29th February 2016 reflecting on the whirlwind weekend I’ve just experienced: Crime and Publishment: what a bloody great weekend (pun intended).

In two days, I’ve been in workshops led by writers who I really admire, have met some wonderful people with whom I shared many laughs and pitched to a publisher.

I’ve known Graham Smith, one of the organisers of C&P, for several years now thanks to a number of events and social media. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Graham for the friendship he’s shown me over the years, particularly this weekend. Mr Smith isn’t just a great writer but he’s a nurturing force, helping others to realise their potential and encouraging them to follow their dreams. As an attendee of C&P, I got to witness first hand Graham’s innate ability to not only make people feel at ease but give them the confidence to speak up and contribute.

The people that led workshops during Crime and Publishment this year – Alexandra Sokoloff, Matt Hilton, Michael J. Malone, Graham Smith and Sara Hunt of Saraband Publishing – were engaging, approachable and encouraging. A sense of camaraderie pervaded the weekend, and that included the guest speakers. Everyone ate (and drank!) together and there was no sense that someone was better than anyone else. Even when we weren’t in a workshop environment, everyone was talking about writing, sharing their experiences and giving valuable advice.

Workshops ranged from networking to creating story arcs, writing a compelling synopsis to building a character as well as a very hands-on demonstration from Matt Hilton regarding compelling fight scenes. The announcement regarding next year’s speakers was enough to stun many into silence. I’m not allowed to say who has been booked yet but I can assure you, if you’re into crime fiction, you are going to want to be there!

C&P was a wonderful balance of learning and socialising with other writers. It was an utter joy to meet so many people who were friendly and interesting. Some members of the cohort had attended previous Crime & Publishments but, despite already having established friendships, they welcomed me like an old friend and made me feel really at ease.

As many of you know, I have been working on a crime novel on and off since 2009. I pitched that novel, which is currently sitting at 25,000 words, to Sara Hunt yesterday before making the trip home. The feedback I received was very positive and I hope to complete the novel by the end of this year. It’s incredible how much confidence I’ve gained over the last two days.

I can’t think of a better reason to go to Gretna.

Vic x

Countdown to Crime and Publishment

I got an email this evening with the subject line: Homework from Alexandra Sokoloff. I initially thought it was spam but then read the preview pane where Alexandra introduced herself as the Story Structure instructor for next week’s Crime and Publishment.

‘Next week is Crime and Publishment? Next week is the end of February?!’ an alarmed voice shouted in my head. ‘What happened to January?!’ 

Once I’d got over the fact that the first two months of 2016 had almost disappeared, I began to get excited for my trip to Gretna. The weekend consists of a variety of workshops from brilliant writers like Alexandra, Michael J. Malone, Matt Hilton and C&P’s own Graham Smith. There is also an opportunity at next weekend’s course to pitch your novel to Sara Hunt from Saraband Publishing and I will be taking Fix Me Up to showcase.

I made a promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I’d quietly chip away at my novel, 500 words a day, until it was done. I lasted less than a week doing that. It’s not that I’m lazy, I’m really not, it’s just that I tend to prioritise everything else above my own writing. The only time I write consistently is when I have a genuine deadline, if it’s self-imposed, I disregard it. However, I do still have about 25,000 words written and that’s not an insubstantial amount.

The thing I love about going to workshops and residentials is that I can’t help but get fired up to write. You’re surrounded by people who love stories, who enjoy reading and writing, and want to talk about it. I know the enthusiasm is still there, just buried at the bottom of my to-do list. I love the feeling of coming away from a workshop and thinking ‘I can’t wait to get writing again.’

And, of course, the fact that you get to pitch is an excellent incentive to attend Crime & Publishment. Organiser Graham Smith  says Crime and Publishment’s success rate of attendees getting published “is unprecedented for such a short-lived venture and a source of immense pride for me.”

There are only a few spaces left but if you’re quick, you might still be able to bag one!

Vic x