Just before the summer holidays, my daughter Laura and I were lucky enough to be invited to tour some of the research laboratories of Southmead Hospital. The purpose of the tour was to see at first hand some of the work being co-funded by the JDRF to search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Regular readers of this blog will know that Laura was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of three, a few years after Gordon, my husband received his own diagnosis of the same disease.
JDRF funds a lot of research projects all around the world, and by chance some of these happen to be based in the hospital that helps us manage Laura’s diabetes. It’s also the hospital in which she was born. So there were lots of good reasons to go along for a look behind the scenes, even though the tour happened to fall the day before we were about to depart to Greece on holiday. I’m very glad I made the slightly reckless decision to abandon our packing and go for it!
What We Saw on our Tour
Accompanied by our regional JDRF team, the lovely Lee Newman and Danielle Angelli, we were shown round the labs by Dr Kathleen Gillespie, a researcher in molecular medicine with special interest in the genetic mechanisms underlying immunity. Apparently 50% of the occurrences of T1D are thought to be genetic-related – although it’s by no means straightforward, as there are incidences of identical twins, one of whom develops the disease and the other doesn’t.
Dr Gillespie introduced us to her cheerful and welcoming team of staff who have dedicated their careers to amazing projects investigating the prediction and prevention of the development of Type 1 diabetes. We toured a series of small laboratories, each with a special set of expensive machinery – but the machinery would be worthless without the intelligence and imagination of the extraordinary staff who operate it. Their kit included some less costly items that you’d find in any kitchen, such as fridges and microwaves. When Dr Gillespie showed us how to extract DNA, she did so on a kiwi fruit!
“Our work does look a lot like cookery sometimes,” said Dr Gillespie. “People who are good at cooking are usually good at lab work too!”
How the Work is Funded
Every research project that goes into the jigsaw of the search for a cure has to be funded separately, in blocks, with submissions made to fundholders in order for the work to continue. The tour made us all aware of the importance of raising funds for the JDRF long-term, so that their work can continue.
We all came away motivated to work harder to raise funds and awareness for JDRF. We were also inspired by the imagination, creativity, positive attitude and dedication of Dr Gillespie, her team, and their equivalents around the world, for helping bring the cure for diabetes ever closer.
My Book Launch in aid of JDRF
This November, to mark World Diabetes Day, I’ll be launching the paperback edition of my book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, to make more widely available the ebook that I published for WDD last year. A new chapter will be included entitled “Diabetes Is Always With Us”. If you’re within reach of Bristol and would like to come to the event launch at Foyles Bookshop, Cabot Circus, on Thursday 13th November, the eve of World Diabetes Day, please send me a message to reserve you a place at the event. I’ll also send you more details of the launch.
For more information about the JDRF, please visit their website: www.jdrf.org.uk.
A post about my latest book review column in the parenting magazine Today’s Child
Every two months I have a great excuse for getting stuck into children’s books: the review pages that I write for the parenting magazine, Today’s Child. Available on free distribution in London, this colourful and lively magazine may also be read online via one of those cute widgets that lets you flip through the pages as if it’s a real magazine.
Why I Write for Today’s Child
I started writing for Today’s Child when I worked for the national charity Read for Good, which runs sponsored Readathons in schools all over the country, and which also sends free books and storytellers into children in hospital via its ReadWell programme. Approached by an advertising sales executive to place a paid ad for the charity, I countered with the offer of a piece of editorial as an alternative, and the editor liked what I’d written so much that the arrangement has morphed into a regular gig as their book reviewer, with occasional features on other issues thrown in as the opportunity arises. For the next issue, for example, I’ll be writing a feature on Type 1 Diabetes, to coincide with World Diabetes Day on 14th November, and promoting the new paperback edition of my family memoir Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, to be launched on the eve of World Diabetes Day.
Today’s Child is run by a lively young team with big ideas and a great sense of colour and design. The magazine recently had a makeover, and its new look is bright, cheerful and upbeat. Each issue has a particular theme, as does my book reviews page. I include some new books, but I also often refer to classics and old favourites that remain in fashion, and I think that approach adds value to my feature – I’m clearly not just regurgitating the big publishers’ PR campaigns. I’m also happy to feature books from small independent presses and self-published authors, if I like their books and think they’ll be enjoyed by the magazine’s readers.
The September/October issue was, not surprisingly, all about Back to School, a theme that is front of mind for most parents at this time of year. Next issue I’ll be writing about diaries and journals, providing ideas for Christmas gifts and inspiration for children to start or keep a diary-writing habit when the new year kicks in. From childhood, I was an avid diarist, and I still have all my old diaries on a high shelf on the landing, much to my eleven-year-old daughter’s amusement – time to hide them, I think, now she can reach the shelf! My blog has now replaced my diaries, and as any regular reader here will know, I do love to blog! But I wouldn’t be without a paper diary too.
More Information about Today’s Child
Today’s Child has regular competitions and shares lots of fun stuff on its Facebook page and on Twitter, so if you’d like to follow them there, here are the links:
Today’s Child isn’t the only magazine that I review books for – I’m also a regular reviewer for Vine Leaves Literary Journal, equally beautiful and valuable to a completely different audience.
I think all writers should not only be avid readers but review books too, whether or not they choose to share their reviews in public, in magazines or online. (I’m also a top reviewer for Amazon, by the way, steadily approaching the Top #1000 badge and aspiring to climb higher!)
I also try to include book reviews on this website, by way of recommended reading, but am way behind just now, due to other commitments. I’m now planning to allocate an hour every weekend to updating my site and elsewhere with book reviews, and hope to catch up eventually – though reading an average of 2-3 books a week, this will take a while! If you’d like to see the reviews I’ve currently got on this site, you’ll find them here: My Book Reviews.
Like to Review My Books?
Of course, I do have a vested interest in reviewing books – as an author myself, I know how rewarding it is to receive a review of one of my own books! So if you’ve read and enjoyed one of mine, I’d be very grateful if you could spare a moment to post a quick review somewhere – whether on Amazon, Goodreads, your own blog, or anywhere else.
And if you’re a book blogger or journalist who would like a free review copy of any of my books, just send me a message via the contact form, specifying which book you’d like and where you intend to review it. Thank you so much – and happy reading to one and all!
The internet (God bless it) is awash with pithy sayings about the power of books to change lives, so it’s good now and again to be allowed to say something online about the subject without the constraints of the 140 character Tweet or the space allowed for a status update before Facebook cuts you off with a “see more” link.
My latest article for the monthly online parenting magazine Kideeko talks about the power of books to make life better for poorly children. It draws on my experience of three years working for the children’s reading charity Read for Good – parent of Readathon (which runs Sponsored Reads in schools) and ReadWell (taking books and storytellers to children in hospital).
Whether or not you have children at home, I reckon it’s still worth reading my article, if you have a moment to spare, to remind yourself of the power of storytelling to distract you from life’s ups and downs. To read the article in full, please click this link: Make Life Better with a Book
And if you’d like some ideas of great reads to curl up with, take a trip to my Book Reviews directory.
“Some of SilverWood’s many authors have come together to share a variety of articles and items of interest on their blogs for your enjoyment.
“There are some lovely giveaway prizes, and – to stay in keeping with the Spring and rebirth theme at this time of year – some colourful Easter eggs.
“Feel free to collect the eggs, and use them where you like. They were drawn by SilverWood author Peter St John who writes the ‘Gang’ series about a boy who was evacuated to a village near Ipswich during WWII. Meet Peter and his characters on the Blog Hop, along with a host of eggcellent SilverWood authors. 😉
My contribution to the blog hop is a light-hearted very short story that takes as its theme every woman’s love of chocolate. I’ve always loved chocolate, though my relationship with it hasn’t always been easy, especially since my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 3.
But it is a complete myth that diabetics can’t eat chocolate – they can, they just need to give themselves enough insulin to offset it before they eat it. So if you know a diabetic and are wondering what to give them this Easter, don’t hesitate to give them a chocolate Easter egg – and not “diabetic chocolate” either, an evil concoction made with a sugar substitute that spoils the flavour and has no health benefit compared to normal chocolate. (Yes, there IS a health benefit – to dark chocolate, in moderation, and it’s a useful source of slow-release carbs, which is why Paula Radcliffe eats a couple of squares before running.)
This and other myths surrounding life with Type 1 diabetes will be dispelled in my new book, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes,which SilverWood will be publishing in paperback form for World Diabetes Day, 14 November 2014. The ebook edition, for which SilverWood provided this beautiful and appropriate cover (the blue circle being the international symbol of diabetes), was published for World Diabetes Day 2013 to raise awareness of the condition and funds for research into a cure. and has gathered many 5* reviews and has been called by a leading GP “one of the best things I’ve ever read about diabetes”. The paperback will have new bonus material added. To keep informed about the book’s progress, and for an invitation to the launch in Foyles’ Bristol Bookshop on Thursday 13th November, please click here to sign up for my mailing list.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my chocolate-inspired short story below – and if you like it, please leave a comment. As an incentive, one commenter drawn at random on the day my book is launched will receive a free signed copy of the new paperback – plus a slim bar of chocolate to use as a bookmark!
The Alchemy of Chocolate
If you dip a wafer biscuit into a chocolate fountain enough times, eventually it won’t fit in your mouth. Much the same had happened with Jennifer’s body. It was as if every bar of chocolate that she’d ever eaten had been melted down and painted onto her frame.
Oozing into hidden places, the fat encroached so slowly at first that Jennifer was slow to notice her transformation. Then, one summer’s day while sunbathing on her lawn, she realised that she’d no longer pass the fat test she and her friends had used at school: the ability to lay a ruler flat across her hipbones. (That was the best use they’d found for their geometry sets).
By the time she came to squeeze into an old pair of cords for Bonfire Night, Jennifer observed that where her stomach had once been concave, it now billowed out, like a ship in full sail. No wonder sleeping on her tummy had become uncomfortable.
Trying on a party dress for New Year, she spotted that her waistline only curved inwards when elasticated clothing constrainied her flesh.
By the Spring solstice, the fat had found new places to hide. Her eyelids were thicker, and when inserting an earring, she had to push harder before the post emerged on the other side of the lobe.
Jennifer was glad when spring sunshine came early, because it gave her licence to go bare-legged. Lately, tights had become irksome. Unless she aligned their waistband precisely with that of her knickers, skirt and petticoat, her silhouette resembled the scalloped edge of a doily on a plate of cakes.
At Easter, Jennifer was quick to remove the temptation of her Easter eggs – by eating them. But then, at last, she decided to take action about her surplus fat. Precisely what action, she was not sure. She was unwilling to relinquish chocolate, or indeed any kind of food. Nor did she fancy exercising her way into shape. Poring over a list of how to burn calories, she was horrified by the ridiculous distance she’d have to run to work off a single bar of Dairy Milk. There had to be an easier way. It was just a question of dispersing fat rather than storing it.
Then, lulled to sleep on Midsummer’s Eve by an exceptionally delicious hot chocolate, Jennifer had a remarkable dream. She dreamed of the perfect recipe for weight loss.
Next morning on waking, she knew exactly what to do. She rushed downstairs to her kitchen and assembled in a mixing bowl the ingredients dictated by her dream. Instead of stopping to wonder how this magical formula could require only store-cupboard staples, she got on with beating the mixture, her wooden spoon a biscuit-coloured blur.
Once the batter was blended, she tipped it into a saucepan and set it over a low heat, chanting the mantra that had also come to her in the dream. When the mixture was smooth and warm as the perfect waistline, she decanted it into a jug and popped it in the fridge. She knew instinctively that this was the correct next step.
When she arrived at her office for work, she was so impatient for nightfall – the witching hour, or so her dream had told her – that she could hardly concentrate on her job.
As soon as she arrived home, she slipped on her nightie, took the jug from the fridge and with a medicine spoon measured out the dose prescribed in her dream. She swallowed the quivering spoonful in a rush, before she could change her mind and retired to bed to await the results. The anxious fluttering in her tummy didn’t stop her from tumbling into solid, dreamless sleep.
Waking next morning, she climbed out of bed, slipped off her nightdress and flung it distractedly on the bed. Reaching with her right hand behind the back of her neck, she grasped what the previous night’s dream had told her she would find just above the nubbly bone at the top of her spine: a trapezoidal zip-pull. She grasped the metal.
Bending her head forward to clear her long dark hair out of the way, Jennifer tugged the zip-pull between thumb and forefinger as far as she could. Then she stretched her left hand up behind her back to meet the right one, and continued pulling the zip down, slowly, slowly, till it reached the base of her backbone.
As the zip-pull stopped abruptly at her coccyx, the thick flesh covering Jennifer’s upper back and shoulders started to feel loose. Soon she was easing off the entire outer casing of flesh as instinctively as a snake sheds its skin. Wriggling her hips and thighs to dislodge this pudgy onesie, she sat down on the bed, peeled it off her calves and finally stepped out of it on to the bedside rug.
Only now did she have the courage to glance in the dressing table mirror. There, to her delight, in a flawless casing of fresh skin, was her slender teenage outline. It was like meeting a long-lost, much-missed friend.
Glancing down at the discarded, Jennifer-shaped fat that lay perfectly still on floor, she wondered what on earth to do with it.
But of course! It was recycling day. She could simply put it in the green wheelie bin. After all, it should compost down as readily as bacon rind. Better to throw it in the wheelie bin than put it out in the garden for the birds.
With a new lightness of tread, Jennifer took a few steps around the bedroom. She felt decidedly different. The top of her thighs no longer rubbed together, her arms lay straighter against her sides, and she no longer felt that her stomach had been lagged, like the insulating jacket wrapped round a hot water tank.
Beginning to enjoy the full effect, Jennifer turned this way and that. But it wasn’t the slim reflection in the dressing-table mirror that caused her to smile. It wasn’t the realisation that her low-cost recipe would fetch a fortune on the heaving market for diet products. Nor was it the recognition that she’d achieving every slimmer’s dream of alchemy, turning fat into gold. It was the thought that she could now eat as much chocolate as she liked, without ever having to worry about gaining weight. It was a dream come true.
This story features in “Quick Change”, my first collection of flash fiction, which you can buy from Amazon here: Quick Change.
My post is just one of many interesting articles in the SilverWood Spring Blog Hop. To hop forward to read these, please click on the links below. You’ll also find more colourful Easter eggs to collect and some more giveaway prizes!
An update about one of my freelance writing projectsFor the last year or so, I’ve been writing a regular column for a British online parenting magazine calledKideeko (www.kideeko.co.uk). I first became involved with Kideeko when I was still working part-time at the children’s reading charity Read for Good. At first, I was writing exclusively about children’s books and reading, fuelled by the knowledge and experience I’d gained through my work at Read for Good, and these articles provided a valuable opportunity to raise awareness before a family audience of Read for Good’s excellent work. For those of you who don’t already know, Read for Good is a UK national charity which exists to promote reading for pleasure among children. There are two distinct parts to the charity, which is funded entirely by donations (it’s easy to donate online via their websites):
Readathon, which provides schools with free materials to runs sponsored reading schemes in thousands of schools all over the country, at any time
ReadWell, which takes free books and storytellers into children’s hospitals to make life better for young patients, their families and their carers
In the three and a half years that I worked for Read for Good, I learned what I had already known instinctively: that books change lives for the better, in all kinds of ways.
Growing Up With Books
My own life experience endorses that view. I was a lucky child: I was brought up in a house full of books, taken on regular visits to the local public library and had my own bookshelves in my bedroom. Books were valued and reading always encouraged. Whether sharing books with other members of the family, listening to stories on the radio or on vinyl records (no CDs or iPods in those days!), or reading alone, I grew up loving books. It was no surprise to anyone when I chose English Literature for my degree, or when my career revolved around writing, at first under the guise of trade press hack and PR consultant, and latterly as a published author, journalist and blogger. Although Kideeko’s editor has now asked me to address broader parenting topics, the joys of children’s books and reading are never far from my mind whenever I’m writing about children. (I also write for Today’s Child Magazine, available in print and online.) For evidence, you have only to read my article about Mother’s Day in Kideeko‘s March issue, in which I hark back to treasured moments sharing books and stories with my mum. You can read that column here: Making Mother’s Day
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing Mother’s Day with my child, as well as my mum, this Sunday, and I wish a happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.If you’d like to read more about my lovely mum and daughter, here are some past posts about them:The Scent of a Mummy – remembering my grandmothers’ and mother’s perfumesThe Only Certainties in Life: Birthdays and Taxes – celebrating my mum’s 80th birthdayFather’s Day To Follow – my daughter’s take on such celebrations