Crazy Mad Cancer Lady

Heart-breaking writing from a great friend.

The Red Wine Box

keep-calm-and-put-the-kettle-on

Crazy Mad Cancer Lady

Crazy Mad Cancer Lady wants to be normal, but she’s rubbish at normal.

She wants things to be like they were, when you could complain about your head cold without apologising to her because she’s had so much worse.

She wants you to forget her cancer but rages inside when you complain about your breasts being too big or sweaty or the wrong shape.

Crazy Mad Cancer Lady feels that she is not a very good friend anymore.

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Crazy Mad Cancer Lady has unfathomable depths of guilt because of what she has put her children through.

Crazy Mad Cancer Lady would buy her children cars and horses and unicorns and designer clothes to compensate if she had the money.   But she doesn’t.

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Crazy Mad Cancer Lady knows her history, her treatment and her prognosis. She can trot out a list of drugs and medical…

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Can you hum the theme from The Omen?

Google must struggle to know what to make of authors sometimes. Some of my recent Google searches have been:-

1. The theme from The Omen
2. 1960 cheesecloth dresses
3. Distance from Oxford to Shipston-on-Stour
4. Did Victorian mansions have reception rooms?
5. Garden gnomes
6. Cary Grant’s chin
7. The theme from The Exorcist
8. Size of the earth
9. Eyeshadow tips for deep-set eyes
10. History of British Rail

These have all been in the course of research for various books and stories. I like the fact that I am seriously confusing Google. Some very misleading marketing research must come from people like me.
We had some good advice about research from the Arvon course. Basically, do it! Do lots of it! Check everything! But don’t show it off. You may, like me, spend hours looking up the history of World War II and end up with a single line in your novel about the battle of El Alamein.
One of the tutors told a story about how he asked his agent if he could go to San Francisco to do some research. ‘Goodness me, no!’ she replied. ‘That’s what street view is for!’
And if you want to know the answer to my question, you can – just about – hum parts of the theme from the Omen.

the omen

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Feedback: don’t make love to the world

This has been a month full of feedback about writing, some good, some bad. How do you handle feedback?

 
My friendly editor from Scrolla gave me some first-rate feedback about ‘The Blue House’. There has been contradictory advice about whether a novel should start with a funeral: some for, some against! He has come down strongly against: saying that a funeral is so dramatic, it tends to eclipse everything afterwards, so move it. Also I had used the opening funeral scene to drop in information about the protagonist: dates on gravestones and so on. He pointed out that readers won’t pick up those sort of numerical cues. They are looking for characters to identify with. So I need to find a better way to indicate her age and the approximate date of the novel. Cue the big party scene with 1980’s disco music and an employer talking about ‘our new graduate’!

 
A very good friend of mine, whose writing advice is excellent, said he liked my Science Fiction story. He then proceeded to tear it to pieces. Oh well, he obviously thinks it’s worth working on, I thought, and promptly rewrote it. This turned out to be a mistake. I had removed the heart of the story and it no longer worked. So I thought about his advice. He is very good at drama, plays, short theatre scenes, and so he tends to concentrate on dialogue and gesture to convey emotion. He is always saying ‘Show, don’t tell!” But for this story, by no longer giving the point of view and the inner thoughts of the human protagonist, I had turned him into a blank. Fiction, unlike drama, allows the reader access inside someone’s head. For the science fiction story, it was vital that the human response to the alien world was shown conveyed in the best way.

 
Compare these two moments, when the human, Sorin, realises that the aliens do not have families or love:

 

“You and Gant … are some of the eggs yours? How do you know … which ones are yours?”
“Does it matter?” said Gant.
“But…Oh!” said Sorin. “That is why…Why you have no words for… not offspring, parents, but…” He turned aside, his head bowed, for a few heartbeats. Then he turned back.
“We should go. I’ve seen enough,” he said.

That version was the rewritten version, told entirely from the alien, Gant’s, point of view. (Note: for plot reasons, I couldn’t tell all the story from the human, Sorin’s, viewpoint.)
This is the original version:

“You and Gant … are some of the eggs yours? How do you know … which ones are yours?”
“Does it matter?” said Gant.
“But…”
Suddenly Sorin understood why the house-cubes were so small and why the translator failed with words like family, child, father, love. He turned away and gazed at the expanse of unmarked restless eggs. He remembered his five-year old son. He had died from radiation poisoning, six months after his mother.
He blinked hard and turned back to Gant. “We should go. I’ve seen enough,” he said.

I know which I prefer. Why not take advantage of the ability in fiction to show character’s internal landscape? It leads to richer prose that will connect more with the user.

 
Some of his feedback was valid. I had a massive plot hole that I hoped no-one would notice. He did. Also he objected strongly to 1950’s-style sci-fi names full of z’s and k’s! We also thought it was worth trying to condense it down to less than 5,000 words. But, having fixed the plot-hole then rewritten it all so that it is from the alien’s viewpoint, I rewrote it all again! It is now longer! But better, I hope. The differences in the alien world and the issues raised are so complex that I feel it needs more words, not less, to convey the story.

 
At the same time I have taken the big (and brave) step of asking some of my local friends, and a local author that I know, to read my third completed novel, Rokeby. Then I panicked: it is set in a local recognisable place – have I overstepped the mark? Will people be offended? Worse, will they think that they recognise someone in the novel?

 
One friend read it immediately (good), enjoyed it (better), and couldn’t put it down (best!) She gave me very positive feedback. Which I have discounted because she is a lovely person who might not tell me the truth as she wouldn’t want to hurt me!

 
The local author was very helpful with her feedback: detailed and constructive. Which I appreciated, because I think it is incredibly generous of a writer to spend time helping another writer in what is, to be honest, a competitive field. However, I found her comments hard to deal with – I wanted to argue, to stamp my feet and complain. But she is busy, and I don’t have the right to pester her with discussions. So I have paused, thought about her points, and tried to be completely honest. Then I decided on almost all of her suggestions that I wouldn’t change the novel – for one reason or other. I think they are valid reasons. For example, she suggested ‘upping the ante’ by introducing an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion. But I’ve done that scenario in The Blue House. (Incidentally, she asked if I’d done any writing courses… that hurt! Is my writing that bad?)

 
The trouble with feedback occurs when you have the tendency, like me, to over-react and instantly start rewriting entire stories or even novels. Instead, I suggest you learn to stop, pause, think, and decide. You have to write like yourself, not like someone else. On the Arvon course, we were given a quote about writing:

If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. … Kurt Vonnegut

 
So, there you are. I’ve had four bits of feedback, three of which I am totally ignoring. Arrogant, or what?

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You’ve got to laugh!

Dark humour from a very funny and wise lady going through a tough time.

The Red Wine Box

036You’ve got to laugh!  Surreal, dark and bizarre moments collected over the last few months:

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The lady in the next hospital bed keeps up a monologue about cancer and death. “Once cancer has marked your card it’s only a matter of time,” she moans. “It’ll come for you. You might think you’ve got rid of it but it will be back. It might be years down the line but it’s got you in its sights. Then it’s just suffering and pain and death. It’s just a matter of time.” She keeps this up for hours on end. I can’t talk very well but every now and then I say “Stop! Can you stop?” But she doesn’t.

Occasionally she veers off into racist nonsense about nurses from other countries who ….”don’t care like our British nurses do.” I want to argue with her but I only manage to croak “No!”

I am…

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One Last, Sodding Chemo

So pleased that Edwina only has to go through one more chemo!

The Red Wine Box

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One last, final, concluding, sodding chemo…

Yes, I know, two blogs in three days is too much. This is a shortie, I promise.

I saw my consultant yesterday. We ploughed through my history and notes since the start of chemo on 7 October. Given my experience with chemo 5 (see previous blog – Human Egg White? Really?) I was offered the chance to stop now but I decided that I would give it one last go. The Prof suggested a week’s delay as I’m pretty tired and fed up with pain and nose-bleeds and night-time vomiting and stumbling over my numb feet but I just want to get it over with. He’s reducing the dose of Abraxane slightly and prescribing stronger morphine patches, more anti-sickness drugs, better ant-acids and stronger steroids over a longer period. The steroids will make me flush pink and orange and probably lead to me eating…

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Human Egg White? Really?

Powerful and moving.

The Red Wine Box

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My new chemo drug, Abraxane, contains human albumin. I’d always thought that albumin was something in egg white, so I pictured some white-coated geek hovering over a petri dish with teeny tiny instruments extracting enough human egg white to fill a huge IV bag. What dedication! I was so ignorant. This morning I’ve been doing some research about human albumin and have found that it is a blood product.

The nurses on chemo ward at University Hospital tell me that Abraxane is very expensive. I qualify for it having had two emergency admissions due to the grim side effects of my previous drug – docetaxel. Abraxane is the brand name for one of the paclitaxel group of drugs or taxanes. The albumin wraps around the paclitaxel nano particles and smooths its acceptance into the human body. (Apologies to the bio-chemists out there. It may be obvious that I didn’t study any…

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New Year, New Plan

The Red Wine Box

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I saw my lovely oncologist registrar and consultant yesterday. The new plan is to proceed with chemo substituting a new drug – Abraxane for the docetaxel which I can’t tolerate anymore. This will be my fifth dose of chemo. I am impressed with myself for coming this far. I’d had enough chemo after the first dose, back in early October. I blogged about it at the time. After chemo 1 I asked my chum Perpetua how you made yourself go back for more. And here I am now, facing my fifth despite my body and my soul saying “No! Don’t do this again! Are you crazy?”

Are you impressed? You should be. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. People who’ve been through this kind of chemo should get a medal, or a tiara. When I’m done with this I want a tiara. It can sit on my…

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