Category Archives: Charity

Getting to Know You: Helen Victoria Anderson

Today on the blog, we get to know Helen Victoria Anderson.

I first met Helen when she attended one of my writing groups in September 2013. Helen had contacted me about the session and explained that she was looking for somewhere to write while her daughter Georgina was in the Royal Victoria Infirmary. Unfortunately, Georgina was seriously ill with liver cancer and passed away. 

Helen has since released ‘Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir‘ which is an honest, unflinching account of her daughter’s final months and the impact her death has had. 

I’m really honoured to have Helen on the blog today. Thank you for taking part, Helen.

Vic x

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Helen, your memoir ‘Piece by Piece is about your daughter Georgina’s diagnosis with an aggressive form of liver cancer. Although much of the book is transcripts from diaries written during this period, how did it feel going back and reliving those times?

As I typed up the entries from my diaries, I kept thinking “Wow – did that really happen to us?” Georgina’s illness progressed and became terminal so rapidly (just four months from her diagnosis to her death) that it almost seemed like a bad dream. Going back over my diaries from that time brought it home to me that our lives have actually been changed forever. That period was such a mad whirlwind, I am now very glad that I have a record of it.

I thought the book was a really honest portrayal of depression, too, have you found people have been receptive to that element of it?

A lot of people who have experienced depression themselves have picked up on my references to my own mental health. I didn’t want the book to be ‘about’ my past (and sometimes current) depression, but I’m not ashamed of it either, so I was determined not to gloss over its effect on me and our family. Georgina was very worried that I might go on a downward spiral after her death, so it was natural for me to write about my efforts to maintain my recovery.

What’s been the most surprising reaction you’ve had regarding your memoir?

I have had many moving messages from other bereaved parents, including a lady in the US who has become a ‘penfriend’. It’s obviously meant a lot to me to have helped other people in this situation, in some small way. Also, the comments I have had about Georgina’s bravery and her music have made this project worthwhile. But probably the most surprising reaction has been the surprise of readers themselves to find that, overall, ‘Piece by Piece’ is an uplifting – rather than depressing – read.

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You are very open regarding other familial relationships in your life, how have the subjects coped with that?

I was careful to ask everyone who is mentioned in the book for their permission to publish the relevant passages, because no book is worth falling out over. My husband was very happy for me to write about him – even if his perspective of events (such as our arguments) was not always the same as mine! Georgina’s brother understood that it was important for me to tell my story, but so far he prefers not to read the book (which I totally understand).  On a side note, Georgina’s consultant was generous enough to let me include some slightly less-than-complimentary entries about our experience of her treatment, and said that the book would be useful in training future doctors about the patient/carer perspective of cancer.

Do you see writing as a cathartic experience?

Definitely, there is that element of relief when ‘spilling’ onto the page, but writing also helps me with ordering thoughts and feelings – hopefully to form a meaningful piece for the people who might get to read it.

I see you were recently able to make a donation to the Make-a-Wish foundation. How did that feel?

I recently donated £800 – the profits of the sale of the book to date – to Make-A-Wish UK, and it felt excellent to be able to give something back. Lots of charities helped Georgina, and we have tried to ‘repay’ them in various ways. In the book, I describe how Georgina’s story and her music became known around the world: Make-A-Wish was instrumental in getting Georgina’s music heard (which was her ‘wish’) via her YouTube video and single ‘Two Thirds of A Piece’. So, donating the proceeds of my book to grant other seriously ill children’s wishes seemed like something Georgina would approve of.

Have you any advice for someone considering writing a memoir?

It’s important to make careful decisions about how honest you are going to be – to think how you will feel once you have opened up your heart to your parents/neighbours/people you don’t know. Also, you need to be mindful and acknowledge that your version of events is just that – rather than objective ‘fact’.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently writing my second full-length piece of fiction ‘All Hushed’, while hunting for an agent for my first novel, which I’d just completed before Georgina got ill. Both of these books began with autobiographical seeds, but are very much crafted and fictionalised stories. I also have my first chapbook of poetry coming out with the Black Light Engine Room Press early in 2017.

What’s the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve received? Who was it from?

I received a wealth of useful advice from my tutors on the MA Creative Writing course at Teesside University about reading widely, writing a lot, and being persistent. I also love Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, in which he reminds writers that “stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it”. I often need to remind myself of that. But most of all, for me, writing is, as Stephen King also says, about “getting up, getting well and staying well. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

 

Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir’ (Slipway Press, 2015) is available from Amazon as an e-book (£1.99) and paperback (£7.99). It is also stocked by Saltburn Book Corner, Marske Post Office, Guisborough Book Shop, and Drake – The Book Shop, Stockton.

Helen blogs about writing at https://www.helenvictoriaanderson.co.uk

Follow Helen on www.facebook.com/helenvictoriaanderson

 To read more about Georgina Anderson’s story and legacy, see www.facebook.com/rememberinggeorgina

Upcoming event: Nepal Earthquake Benefit Gig – Friday, 8th May.

Benefit gig

The wonderful folks at Danusha have arranged a benefit gig in support of the Nepal Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund. 

Today, I have Allison Davies, part of the Danusha team, to talk about Nepal and why she and her wonderful colleagues have arranged this event. 

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today. What’s your link with Nepal? 

Back in 2008, I took a holiday and went to visit my friends Mike and Sue Lavender who were living and working in Nepal. They have a long history with the country beginning when Sue was 12 years old, as her parents worked at a hospital in Pokhara for a year. Sue met Mike and after he finished his medical training, he and Sue went off to work at a Leprosy Hospital. Since then, they’ve spent many years in Nepal, coming home for a time in the mid-90s for their kids’ schooling and with an adopted Nepali daughter.

In 2007, their children were all grown up so off they went again, this time to work with Nepal Leprosy Trust – hence my visit in 2008. I’d seen photos and heard plenty of stories, but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer beauty of the Nepali landscape, not to mention the country’s many stunning historic landmarks. Factor in the people who are warm, friendly and hospitable and I had no chance. I decided to do everything I could to get back to a place that was completely under my skin. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair.

So, tell us about Danusha.

There’s a saying, be careful what you wish for. Fast forward to 2010 and Sue, myself and another friend Katy Barr were in the process of setting up a small fair trade social enterprise – Danusha – working with marginalised women to provide skills training in jewellery making, alongside some simple health and hygiene education and literacy classes. Our goal was simple. To empower these women to make a difference in their communities. At this point our knowledge of the jewellery business could have been written on the head of a fairly small pin. We learned fast, made plenty of mistakes but somehow the project grew. We’ve visited Nepal many times since that time and have been thrilled to see the transformation in the lives of the women who work for us.

At the end of March 2015, Sue and I had just returned from a workshop visit. We were tired, happy, inspired and looking forward to what the next few months would bring.

Some of the Danusha team

April 25th, 2015 was just an ordinary Saturday, or so I thought until I got into the car and turned on the radio. Quake day. Nepal’s ground zero, when the landscape shifted, buildings tumbled and thousands of lives were smashed to pieces. I spent the rest of the day online, desperately reading the reports that began to flood in and hoping for news about our team. I felt sick, cried a lot and couldn’t sleep that night. Sue and Mike were also grief-stricken. On Sunday, there was one question that wouldn’t go away: “What can we do? We can’t just sit here. There must be something.”  Lightbulb moment: a benefit gig. Maybe we could get 15 – 20 people in a room, have a few performers and raise some cash.

It’s a brilliant idea, I bet it’s been getting a great response. 

The response from friends and colleagues was overwhelming. Within a few days we had a venue, free of charge at the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay, and a ton of performers queuing up to get a slot on the bill. In the midst of a dreadful situation, these generous people have been a shining band of hope. Words can’t tell you how grateful we are at what our friends are willing to give.

And then the news came that all our team were safe. We were overjoyed, yet still struggling with the scale of what had happened and the aftermath. It grieves us to know that friends are sleeping outside in the rain with no shelter, no clean drinking water and with food supplies running out. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands who are in the same position and worse, then get out of your seat and do whatever you can to help.

Danusha

What you guys are doing is brilliant. How do you feel now that you’re doing something?

Our gig is a small droplet in a gigantic ocean of need. We hope it will be a success and hope to help bring hope to a people who have lost theirs.

If you asked me to sum up the reason why I’m part of this, the answer is simple. I love Nepal and I’ll do anything to serve the country that stole my heart and inspired my soul.

Thanks Allison. Best of luck with the gig on Friday. 

Allison and her colleagues at Danusha are hoping to pack out the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay (9 Marine Avenue, NE26 1LY) this coming Friday, everyone is welcome.  It starts at 7pm and ends when we get kicked out! Please come prepared to have a good time and give generously. 

There’ll be great live music, poetry and stories from some of the north east’s finest; award-winning films from Beacon Hill Arts and a charity auction. The bar will be open and there will be snacks too. 

You can join the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1578209815801018/ 

Donations will go the relief effort via Oxfam GB.

Luca Veste goes ‘Off The Record’ (Volume 2).

 Yesterday saw the release of ‘Off the Record 2: At the Movies’, a charity anthology edited by Luca Veste and Paul D. Brazill. It features short stories with movie-inspired titles from the likes of Matt Hilton, Claire McGowan and many more, including a story by lil ol’ me.
Luca stopped by to tell us what inspired the original idea.
Vic x
OTR At the Movies is a follow-up to OTR, what brought about the idea for the 1st OTR?
It originated from reading many short stories over the summer of 2011. One anthology really caught my eye. ‘Pulp Ink’ was put together by the excellent Chris Rhatigan and Nigel Bird. What jumped out at me, was the hook. All of the stories were named after tracks from the ‘Pulp Fiction’ soundtrack. I then drank Jack Daniels and began thinking of doing something along the same lines.
That was back in August 2011. My ‘Guilty Conscience’ review site was a month or so old. I had one short story written, and knew very few people. What I knew, even at that point, was what I wanted ‘Off The Record’ to be. It had to be for charity, and in particular, something to do with children reading. And also, it had to be a genuine mix of writers and genres. So, I wanted big names in fiction sharing space with those who were just starting out.
How did you get so many ace writers involved?
I never worried about getting a “no” which meant I had no problem emailing any writer I may have had contact with in the past year and asking them to be involved. And thankfully, writers are, in the main, good people. As soon as they hear the word charity, they’re in.
Plus, it’s something a bit new or different for many of these bigger ‘names’. They spend most of the year writing a 100,000 word novel. I guess writing a couple of thousand words, about any subject they want with no pressure from a publisher etc, is a nice change.
Getting “unknowns” in was a bit trickier. I could possibly have done more there. Most of the writers from the first ‘OTR’ have returned, but there are a few new names. That came from reading short stories around the web and getting in touch with the authors of ones which stood out.
I’m still waiting to hear back from Stephen King though…
Who’s going to receive the profits of these books?
In the UK, the National Literacy Trust and in the US, the Children’s Literacy Initiative. Both charities deal with supporting literacy in children.
Why did you choose those charities?
I know how important reading was for me as a child. It’s an escape from whatever is happening around you in the real world, and that can be good for most children. It broadens your horizons and gives you hope. Anything I can do to help other children find that solace is important to me.
Any plans for a third volume?
Definitely. Not for a while yet, but it’s already being discussed. First one was song titles, this one is films…TV shows? Video Games? Not sure yet.
Do you have favourites from each volume?
It’s like choosing your favourite child…from ‘OTR 1’, I think Steve Mosby’s stood out. It’s a remarkable story which was picked out by the ‘Mammoth Book of Crime’ for wider publication next year. I also really enjoyed Simon Logan’s story, and Darren Sant’s sci-fi take on ‘Karma Police’.
From this one, I think there’s a few which I’ll re-read over and over. Helen FitzGerald’s autobiographical piece which is astounding. Stav Sherez’s tale of pregnancy woe, David Jackson’s ‘The Time Machine’ – which is Stephen King-esque -Tracey Edges story, which came in from an open submission, I loved that tale. There’s too many. I love them all!
Personally, do you have a favourite anthology that you’ve read?
‘First Thrills’ edited by Lee Child, I really enjoyed. But it has to be the one that started ‘Off The Record’, ‘Pulp Ink’.
Download your copy of ‘Off the Record 2: At the Movies’ here: http://amzn.to/UuxJvZ
Download ‘Off the Record’ here: http://amzn.to/MDkWDQ

Review: ‘Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson Lost His Way’ by Jon Krakauer

Greg Mortenson has made a name for himself as a selfless humanitarian and children’s crusader. He’s a favourite of book clubs and philanthropists around the world. He’s even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. According to this book, Mortensen is also not what he appears to be. As acclaimed author Jon Krakauer discovered, Mortenson has not only fabricated substantial parts of his bestselling books ‘Three Cups of Tea’ and ‘Stones into Schools’, but has also misused millions of dollars donated by unsuspecting donors like Krakauer himself.

This book is jam-packed with testimonies for people who have worked with the seemingly self-obsessed Mortenson. I would like to know how Krakauer discovered the deceit but this book is well worth a read, particularly if you’re tempted to donate to Mortenson – basically he is benefitting from the donations made: not the people who should be.

Vic x

Off The Record: a charity anthology.

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid. Oh, wait….. No, that’s a completely different charity appeal. There’ll be no cheesy singing coming from this band of literary do-gooders. Instead there are 38 top-notch stories presented in ‘Off The Record’ – a charity anthology arranged and compiled by the wonderful Luca Veste.

Luca had the great idea of each of the authors picking a song title and writing a story around it. The anthology features lots of talented writers from the UK and US. You will see some familiar names – a few of this blog’s guests have contributed, as have I.

Proceeds from the book will go to the National Literacy Trust in the UK (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/) and the Children’s Literacy Initiative in US (http://www.cliontheweb.org/).

So not only are you getting a darn good read, you’re helping others get the skills needed to enjoy a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Vic x

UK readers can get ‘Off the Record’ here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Off-Record-Charity-Anthology-ebook/dp/B006EU1E7S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324240330&sr=8-1

US readers order ‘Off the Record’ here: http://www.amazon.com/Off-Record-Charity-Anthology-ebook/dp/B006EU1E7S/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1324241034&sr=8-4