Posted in Type 1 diabetes, Writing

For World Diabetes Day 2016: Meet Rachel Carpenter, A Fictional Heroine with Type 1 Diabetes – via her Creator, Australian Novelist Belinda Pollard

world-diabetes-day-logo

Today is World Diabetes Day. November 14th has long been designated as a day to draw attention to this important disease.

Because both my husband and our daughter both have Type 1 diabetes, I like to do something special on this day to raise awareness of this condition. The incidence of Type 1 is increasing at an alarming rate, with a radical effect not only on the lives of individuals but also on national healthcare services.

Headshot of Belinda Pollard
Meet Belinda Pollard, author, editor, consultant, optimist

This year what I’d like to mark World Diabetes Day is to introduce you to a terrific Australian author Belinda Pollard, whose novel Poison Bay features a character, Rachel Carpenter, who has Type 1 diabetes so must overcome extreme challenges when she gets lost in New Zealand wildnerness with her friends.

Although Belinda’s initial intention was just to write a great thriller, the final result is a terrific novel that will raise awareness and foster better understanding of Type 1 around the world. I was privileged to help her fine-tune the diabetes story line drawing on my family’s experience of living with the disease.

So for this World Diabetes Day 2016, I’d like to share the story behind Belinda’s story, and I’m very grateful to her for answering my questions below.

Debbie: What made you choose Type 1 diabetes as a condition for one of your characters?

Cover of Poison Bay
In Belinda Pollard’s thriller, Type 1 diabetes is only of many dangers facing Rachel Carpenter and her friends in their disastrous trek through New Zealand wilderness

Belinda: Poison Bay is about a group of old school friends with past secrets who go hiking in the remote New Zealand wilderness, and lose their way, both geographically and morally. Basically, they start killing one another, as old friends so often do.

The terrain and weather are brutal in Fiordland National Park, but it’s feasible that a large, well-equipped group could just sit tight and wait a few weeks to be rescued. I needed to raise the stakes. A character with Type 1 diabetes added urgency for both the lost hikers and their rescuers.

It was the plot-tensioner that came to my mind because I’ve had some friends with Type 1 diabetes over the years, even if I didn’t fully understand what daily life was like for them.

From the start, I was determined that Rachel be a physically strong character, not a feel-sorry-for-me weakling. She is the fittest of them all at the beginning, because she uses exercise to give her a sense of control over her condition.

The more I learned about Type 1 during my research, the more glad I was that I had chosen that character trait. She’s also doing her best to heal from a recent bereavement, which adds another layer of emotional strength to her.

Debbie: How did your perspective on the condition change between you starting to write the book and publication day? Did you actually know anyone with Type 1 before you started writing, or was it more of a plot device to add tension to your story?

Belinda: Big changes! There’s been a kerfuffle recently about writers who appropriate other cultures into their books in a negative way. I think the same is often true of various medical conditions, belief systems and personality traits.

I’m embarrassed to say that Rachel was little more than a plot device at the beginning.

While I was writing the first draft, I won a prize that gave me a manuscript consultation. It turned out that my manuscript consultant had a daughter with a significant medical condition. She said something about how Rachel’s mother might be feeling in this situation, and it flicked a switch in my brain.

I realised that some readers might have a strong emotional investment in Rachel’s fictional outcome, and though I knew it would be impossible to please everyone, I owed it to them to do my best. It became almost like a ‘duty of care’ in my mind.

I cruised the internet and read books, and a nurse I met online did some training with me over Skype in the various glucose meters etc that Australian diabetics most commonly use. This only got me just so far. Strangely enough, there are not that many books on how to manage Type 1 diabetes while lost in the wilderness without food for a couple of weeks!

That’s when you came into the equation, Debbie. I knew you were an advocate for Type 1 research, and we’d brushed past each other on Twitter and blogs. I screwed up my courage, and asked if you’d mind checking the Type 1 storyline for me, and you said yes!

The feedback you gave me was bracing and somewhat bruising – but also thrilling! It gave me the chance to fix some serious misunderstandings and reconfigure certain sections of the plot. I’m sure the result is not perfect, but I felt like I now had a plausible outcome for Rachel. I’m incredibly grateful for the feedback!

Debbie: How did including a character with Type 1 diabetes enhance your story?

Belinda: All my characters have challenges of various kinds. I love writing them that way, because every single person I know is fighting a battle.

Anxiety, grief, chronic fatigue, depression, Type 1 diabetes, cancer, fear of heights, social awkwardness… these or any of a million other challenges might be our daily companions, but they don’t define us. It’s our character that defines us, and we make the most of the life we’ve got.

In the same way, I want my characters’ problems to be almost incidental. I want them to be defined by how they treat other people and the great things they achieve. Hopefully, I will get better at writing ‘real’ characters as I continue to grow as a writer.

Debbie: Have you had any feedback since publication from people affected by Type 1?

No, but I see that as a good thing: apparently they’re not annoyed! (Thanks, Debbie.)

Debbie: You’ve had some healthcare challenges yourself in the past which you overcame by what I might describe as dogged determination! Can you tell us a little about that, because it seems analagous to someone trying to deal with the challenges of living with Type 1 diabetes?

Cover of Dogged Optimism
Belinda Pollard is my kind of optimist!

Belinda: In 2004 I was bitten by a mosquito and got a virus that left me with enduring pain and fatigue. Ever the eccentric, I chose to hike New Zealand’s Milford Track as part of my rehab program! This sounds even more nuts when you know that I’m not a particularly athletic person, even when I’m well. The Milford Track is 53km over mountains that look like upside-down shark teeth, and I’d been wanting to do it as part of a research trip for Poison Bay.

I’d also heard that a program of consistent exercise helped some people heal from chronic fatigue, but exercise seemed virtually impossible to me at that time. Training for a research trek gave me a deadline as well as the motivation to push through the pain and exhaustion, and keep on plodding.

My weird rehab program wasn’t a miracle cure, but I found that with each training session I could do a little more for the same amount of pain.

The day I arrived at the start of the trek was terrifying. I really didn’t know if I would end up on the evening news, being airlifted off the side of a mountain. But somehow I did it, one painful step at a time. I have a photo of myself standing under the sign that marks the end of the track. To the casual observer, it’s not obvious that my hiking poles are acting almost as crutches by this stage, or that my heart is on fire with the joy of having done this crazy thing.

Today, I still have bad days, but I have a lot more good ones. I achieve a lot of things that didn’t seem possible in those dark early days of the illness.

Belinda on the mountain path
Belinda’s unusual cure for her own illness – an incredible hiking challenge!

Debbie: What was the most surprising thing you learned about Type 1 diabetes while writing this book?

Belinda: I didn’t know that exercise could reduce the amount of insulin a Type 1 diabetic needed to inject. And I didn’t know that a dwindling supply of insulin would not be Rachel’s biggest or only problem – that low blood sugar with no hypo remedies available was also a serious threat as the survival situation went on.

misty mountain view looking ominous
Top tip: “Don’t go into the mountains with a deranged murderer”!!

Debbie: What would your advice be to anyone with Type 1 diabetes who might be thinking of making a trek like the one you describe in Poison Bay?

Belinda: Don’t go into the wilderness with a deranged murderer. 😀

Debbie: I really enjoyed Poison Bay, and would have done even if it wasn’t helping raise awareness of the challenge of living with Type 1 diabetes. What are your future plans for writing novels? And do they include Type 1 diabetes?

Belinda: I’m currently working on Venom Reef: Wild Crimes #2. This time my two journalists are heading to a remote tropical island on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef to make a documentary. (A rather less gruelling research trip for me this time!) Groundbreaking medical research collides with terrorism and greed, and… well… let’s say it’s not the best holiday they’ve ever had!

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Cover of Coming To Terms
“A moving and personal testimony” – Justin Webb, BBC Radio 4 news journalist, whose son has T1D
  • To find out more about Belinda and her novels, visit her website: www.belindapollard.com.
  • If you’d like to learn more about what it’s like to live with Type 1 diabetes in your family, you might like to read my slim memoir, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, available as an ebook or paperback.
  • The following websites are invaluable for anyone affected by diabetes of any kind: http://www.idf.org and http://www.diabetes.org.uk.
  • JDRF is the leading charitable funder for research into better therapy and a cure for Type 1 diabetes, and all profits from my Coming To Terms book go to them.

 

Posted in Type 1 diabetes, Writing

The Silvery Sounds of Radio Voices

A quick post to point you in the direction of my most recent radio appearance

Debbie Young standing outside the studio
Outside the BCfm studio on Friday

As regular readers of this blog will know, I love being a guest on radio shows. (I know, what a show-off!) I’m a regular guest on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, and an occasional guest on BBC Radio Bristol and 10Radio in Somerset.

It’s an added bonus when the host of the programme is an author whose work I know and respect. So I was honoured when last Friday I was invited to be the guest on award-winning historical novelist Lucienne Boyce‘s new SilverSound show, part of the Bristol community radio station BCfm.

All About SilverSound

BCfm’s SilverSound programme, which Lucienne hosts once a month, is aimed at older listeners audience. Lucienne wanted to focus on my involvement with community publishing projects.

We therefore talked about projects such as:

  • the Monument to Hawkesbury social history books
  • my two books of collected columns that I’ve written for the last six years for two local magazines, the Tetbury Advertiser (book title: Young By Name) and the Hawkesbury Parish News (book title: All Part of the Charm)
  • my memoir aimed at the diabetes community, Coming to Terms with Type 1 Diabetes, particularly topical as World Diabetes Day is coming up on Monday 14th November

Cover of All Part of the Charm

Cover of Young By Name book
Available in paperback and ebook
Cover of Simon Bendry's book
A role model for communities nationwide

I was also pleased to have the opportunity to give a shout-out for an excellent local history book written and published by my friend Simon Bendry. Hawkesbury at War – The Roll of Honour, his biography of all the people commemorated on the Hawkesbury Upton war memorial, plus all of the villagers who survived active service in the wars, is an inspiring example for communities everywhere. Again, a topical choice, with Remembrance Day imminent.

Fun Fellow Guests

But the show wasn’t only about me, nor was it as serious as I’ve perhaps made it sound. Fellow guest George talked about the latest movie he’d seen (I, Daniel Blake), and Gerard contributed a very entertaining quiz, specially written to match the guest of the week. This time, the quiz was about famous Debbies, Youngs, and cosy mystery detectives. Why the latter? We also managed to squeeze in some jolly conversation about my current work-in-progress, a new cosy mystery novel, kicking off with Best Murder in Show, the first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.

How to Listen to the SilverSound Show

Lucienne’s blogged about the show on her own author website here. Her post includes her own take on the broadcast, and while you’re over there, take a look at all her other activities including her excellent books and talks.

Here’s a direct link to the show, to which you can “listen again”, by the magic that is the internet, up to three months after the date of the broadcast. Just scroll down to the 10am slot on 4/11/16.

How to Listen to My Latest SoundCloud Appearance

Headshot of Suzie Grogan
SoundCloud presenter, historian and author Suzie Grogan

By chance, I’ve also just received a link to my latest appearance on Suzie Grogan’s fab Talking Books show on 10Radio, which you can listen to ad infinitum on SoundCloud. Here’s a link to Suzie’s Soundcloud channel where you can catch not only my appearance on her show back in July, but also a more recent one with Lucienne Boyce, who’s a great guest as well as an excellent writer and presenter.

Another post will follow soon sharing my first appearance as a performer at the Cheltenham Literature Festival – but that’s another story, in every respect!

To find out more about my fiction books, click here.

To find out more about my non-fiction books, click here.

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

On Brunel, Bears, Birthdays and Banting (oh, and Type 1 Diabetes)

A post about my first official talk as a volunteer speaker for JDRF

JDRF logo and URLEarlier this year I trained as an official volunteer speaker for the JDRF, the leading charitable fundraiser for research into a cure for Type 1 diabetes, which affects both my husband and our daughter. The training day was held at the the London headquarters of the UK branch of this global charity, bringing together dozens of volunteers whose lives had been affected in some way by this incurable, serious disease. We had an uplifting, inevitably emotional day sharing our experiences as we practised our talks. For some participants, it was the first time they’d ever talked publicly about their illness (or their child’s, depending on who had it).

Once trained, we’re obliged to do at least three talks per year, which is fine by me, and I was excited to receive my first assignment, to speak to Morning Break, a group for toddlers and their carers, in Nailsea, south of Bristol. Continue reading “On Brunel, Bears, Birthdays and Banting (oh, and Type 1 Diabetes)”

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver Suggesting What He Should Have Said About Sugar and Diabetes

New post in response to ill-informed and offensive PR piece by Jamie Oliver, influential chef and campaigner for healthy food

NO, JAMIE OLIVER, NO!

An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver, Top Chef, Food Writer and Campaigner for Healthy Eating

Dear Jamie

On my Facebook timeline this morning, a friend whose child, like mine, has Type 1 diabetes, alerted me to this provocative photo of you on your own Facebook page, as part of your campaign to encourage children to drink water instead of colas and other sugary drinks:

Jamie Oliver in front of a can of cola misleadingly labelled "Diabetes"
NO, JAMIE OLIVER, YOU’VE GOT IT ALL WRONG!

Now, I have a lot of respect for you, because instead of coasting on your high income and national treasure status, you have stuck your neck out with a substantial and controversial campaign to encourage families and schoolchildren in particular to embrace a healthier diet. When I say controversial, most of what have said in your campaigns is a no-brainer to anyone who is not a hardened McDonald’s addict: avoid processed food, eat a balanced diet, turn your back on fast food. (Some misguided parents continue to shove BigMacs through school railings to kids averse to trying your lovingly prepared, home-cooked school lunches, for fear of the unknown.)

But Jamie, you – or at least your publicists – really should know better than to make the schoolboy error indicated by your photo. You may be self-made, but you surely have some qualified dieticians as part of your team. And as any dietician will tell you: drinking Coke instead of water does not cause Type One diabetes.

Let me expand upon that statement.

Contracting Type 1 Diabetes has nothing to do with diet. It is an incurable immune disorder that affects people at random through no fault of their own. The part of the body responsible for producing insulin – the hormone that enables your body to process sugar (and all carbohydrates) – stops working. Extensive research is trying to identify what triggers this malfunction, but it is definitely not consumption of sugary drinks such as the brand your photo clearly alludes to.

I should know: my daughter had never touched a drop of Coca Cola before she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 3.  My husband, diagnosed in his late 40s, can’t bear the stuff.

What I think you really meant and needed to say is this:

“Drinking sugary drinks, if done without being part of a controlled, balanced and healthy diet, increases the chances of becoming obese. Obesity carries increased risk of disorders which include TYPE 2 diabetes which is a completely different condition to TYPE 1 diabetes. Therefore it is wise to discourage drinking sugary drinks if you wish to avoid increased risk of obesity and its complications, of which there are many more, besides Type 2 diabetes. Sugary drinks are not great for your teeth either, due to the acid content, and fruit juices, though perceived as the healthy option, are also packed with sugar, causing unhelpful blood sugar spikes and a roller-coaster of energy levels.”

What you should also say is:

“I apologise to those with Type 1 diabetes for my error, which is likely to have added to the burden you carry daily of having to live with a serious condition requiring multiple daily blood tests and insulin injections to keep you alive.”

You might also like to say (because you are very influential for the excellent work you have done in schools to date):

“Please, guys, do not confuse Type 1 with Type 2 , and do not accuse anyone of bringing this horrible illness on themselves by eating too much sugar. Please do not bully them or abuse them when they test their blood or take their insulin – they need to do this many times every day simply to stay alive. Please be supportive to them and watchful – and if they suffer a hypo (which means they do not have enough sugar in their blood – a condition that can potentially kill them), make them drink a sugary drink such as full-sugar Coca-Cola which is the fastest way to restore their blood sugar imbalance to a safe level. If they cannot drink it because they have fallen unconscious, immediately call the emergency services who will save their lives another way. Yes, sometimes sugary drinks will save lives, not threaten them. Don’t make the mistake that I did, and you may well one day be a lifesaver yourself.”

With the facts set straight in this way, Jamie, your campaign to encourage children to drink water – the first choice now of many children, thanks to campaigners such as yourself – will have much more credibility and will garner much more support, including from those with diabetes of all kinds.

Thank you for listening, and please continue the fine job you are doing to raise standards in cooking and eating, for the benefit of present and future generations everywhere.

With best wishes

Debbie Young

English mother and wife, lover of home-made healthy food, and carer for two precious people whose lives have been turned upside down by a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes through no fault of their own

Author of Coming to Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, “a lovely uplifting little book, full of insight, wit, and practical know-how” (Dr Carol Cooper, President of the Guild of Health Writers)

Cover front page only

 

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

It’s Official! The New Paperback of My Diabetes Book

Cover front page onlyI’m delighted to announce on World Diabetes Day 2014 that the new paperback edition of my book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes is now officially launched, following the celebrations at Foyles’ bookshop in Bristol last night.

Around 50 people battled through dreadful weather and traffic into Bristol’s prime shopping quarter, Cabot Circus, to attend the event that I seem to have been planning for weeks!

We welcomed them with a sumptuous array of food, all carefully chosen to echo the international symbol of diabetes – the blue circle. Blueberry muffins and blue iced cupcakes, plus some extraordinary blue corn chips and sky-blue sweets fortified the audience to hear a terrific line-up of guest speakers.

Debbie and Laura Young by the table of cakes!
Ready to welcome our guests (Photo by Danielle Angell)
  • Paul Coker, who has had Type 1 diabetes for 37 years, told us about his recent conquest of Mount Kilimanjaro, demonstrating that having diabetes needn’t stop you doing anything.
  • Dr Kathleen Gillespie, research scientist from Bristol’s Southmead Hospital, gave a fascinating update on the latest diabetes research programmes in terms that were easy for us all to understand.
  • Danielle Angell of the JDRF explained how the research can only take place if funds are raised. JDRF is the leading charitable funder of diabetes research, and I am donating all the profits from sales of my book to this important cause.
Debbie at signing table with book buyer
Happily signing books – with Lisa Hirst (Photo by Jacky Taylor)

We were ably assisted by my daughter Laura (11) and three of her friends, who staged a dramatic entry at the end, dressed up in their onesies. This is because on World Diabetes Day, JDRF stages “Type Onesie Day”, encouraging everyone to wear their onesies to work or school to raise awareness and funds.

I don’t yet have many photos available of the evening but will post these up as soon as I have them. I’ll be grateful to receive any photos that anyone took on the night to add to my collection.

Huge thanks to all those who attended on the night. With your support, we are bringing the day when a cure for Type 1 diabetes will be more than just a dream.

HOW TO ORDER YOUR COPY

My new paperback edition of my book is now available to order at £6/8E/$10 from all good book retailers. It is an updated and expanded edition of the ebook that I published for World Diabetes Day 2013, including the new chapter “Diabetes Is Always With Us”. The ebook, updated to match, is also available from Amazon.