Monday, 20 June 2016

When LIfe Imitates Art ~ An author's tale (Part III)

More pain and even more painkillers...

A couple of weeks before the surgery, you finally tell your brothers and sisters about your diagnosis and pending operation. They're shocked. Scared. Worried. After lecturing you about how you should have told them a year ago, when you first learned of your condition, they promise to pray for you and be there for you.

Your surgery - foramen magnum decompression - is the first of the day. In the waiting room, you're practically quaking from fear and dread. There's another lady waiting to have a procedure so much more complex than yours. She and her sister have had a few brain surgeries in the last few years. One of them almost died on the operating table. The surgeon that saved her life, is your surgeon, so you put things into perspective and realise how lucky you are to not be suffering from what they are.

A porter and a wheelchair take you to the room where you'll be put to sleep. You don't expect to dream while you're unconscious, but you do. You dream about waking up and getting ready to arrive for your operation. You also dream of your deceased mum and sister-in-law; it's like they're there to keep you company until you awake.

And you awake with pain so sharp, so severe, that you feel breathless and begin to cry. You thought you knew pain, knew it well. You and pain have always had a love-hate relationship - you hate pain but pain loves you, never leaves your side.

But this is something else. This is like hell.

You beg for painkillers but you're already on morphine and they can't give you another dose for another four minutes. Once you're given morphine that you can administer yourself - at a very high dosage - the pain becomes bearable. It makes you drowsy though, your speech slurs and you doze off in the middle of talking to your visitors. You're sort of overdoing it with the morphine, but you can't help it. The biting pain is too much.

You're well tended to at the hospital and your family and friends really pull through for you. It overwhelms you. You've always been the one to look after the others, and now they're looking after you. It's nice.

Being in hospital however, is still the worst thing ever. It's lonely after visiting hours are over and you can't sleep, can't eat and you don't feel like doing anything to help pass the time. Your mother had spent a whole year in hospital and you cry over it in private. She must have felt so alone and helpless...

The physiotherapist comes to see you everyday - she's the same one your mum had - and it turns out that one side of your body is less sensitive to touch and temperature than the other following the operation. You don't care. You just want to go home.

Monday, 13 June 2016

When LIfe Imitates Art ~ An author's tale (Part II)

I always knew there was something wrong with my brain...

"Tell me, what have you come to see us for?" asks the friendly neurosurgeon when he ushers you into his consulting room. You tell him it's because your MRI scan showed you had a bulge in your spine. "Okay, tell me about your headaches."

You say that you get really bad headaches at least once a month, they're accompanied by nausea and last all day, all night and you wake up with them the next morning. They start when you sit down at your desk in the office, and it gets worse as the day progresses. When you get home, you wish someone would take a hammer and smash your head in. Maybe that's the only thing that'll stop the pain.

Then a set of diagnostic questions:
Do you feel numbness in your fingers, weakness in your limbs.
"Yes, sometimes," you reply, wondering what any of this has to do with your back pain, which is the real, debilitating problem.
Any problems swallowing?
"Yes. I have to concentrate when swallowing food, drinking liquids, else it goes down the wrong way..."
Dizziness, depression, insomnia?
"Yes, yes and yes, but the low moods and lack of sleep are connected to my back pain and my personal life..."

Apparently, it's all related to what they saw in your MRI scan.

You look at the black-and-white images on the computer and your Psychology training helps you understand what they show.

There's a tube-shaped cavity in your spinal cord that shouldn't be there.

"It's called a syrinx," he explains. "It's common in patients suffering from type 1 Chiari malformation, which is what you have."

Your brain is too big for your skull - your skull is smaller than normal.

Pressure builds up in your skull and pushes the lowest part of your brain downwards, into the spinal cord, causing the hole - the syrinx - inside your spine.

The pressure at the base of your brain blocks cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from circulating properly, which means the CSF can't bring nutrients to your brain or remove waste.

The syrinx can elongate and cause serious damage to your spine.

The only way to fix this problem is to operate. Make the opening at the base of your skull larger.

But you have so much going on in your life at the moment - your mother has just been diagnosed with kidney cancer and your family is going through a lot - so you put-off the surgery for six months and agree to see your neurosurgeon then.

Even in six months, you might still be terrified about having brain surgery.

But during those six months, your mother passes away and it's at the end of the month she dies that you have your appointment with your neurosurgeon. He explains the risks of not having the operation because he can see how scared you are. "The worst-case scenario, should you be so unlucky, is that you sneeze and that causes enough pressure in your skull and in the syrinx, that you rapture your spine and end up paralysed, or even dead."

That makes up your mind for you and you're booked in for surgery in a couple of months' time. February 2016. But you're still frightened out of your wits.

Mostly, you worry about the general anaesthetic and if you'll wake up from it...

Part III

Monday, 6 June 2016

When LIfe Imitates Art ~ An author's tale (Part I)

Sitting Pains

Imagine writing when it kills you to sit down.

When your lower back aches and throbs, feels sore. Burns.

When it feels like your bones are falling apart, hanging loose inside your skin.

Imagine having to sit in an office for eight or nine hours every weekday and then hope to go home and do a bit of writing. Then groaning because that includes more sitting. More pain and discomfort.

But you persist. You have to. You need to. You want to. Writing is what you love to do most. Plus, you're just starting your indie-author journey and want to see how it goes. Mostly, you want to spend time with your characters and see where they take you. Mukti, Jamie (Soulmates Saga), Ellie and Christian (Poison Blood Series), they're beckoning you all the time. Come with us, they whisper. Finish our stories. Without you, we don't exist...

And the thought of your beloved creations no longer existing, the adventures you'd planned for them never materialising... No, that can't be.

So you write and write and publish and Tweet and all the rest. Life finally starts making sense. Writing, maybe that's your calling after all. When you write, you don't feel thirst, hunger; you don't notice the passing of time. After nine hours at the office, you can write an average of 3,000 words every evening and it's great.

Then something happens in your personal life (see my previous posts for details) and your back pain is the least of your worries. Writer's block sets in and you can't write a sentence for months on end.

The back pain however, only gets worse. Your employer arranges for a special £2,000 chair to make you more comfortable, but it does little to ease any of your pains. Your physiotherapist thinks that your core muscles are weak, need strengthening.

Six months of physio and you still feel no better. If anything, your back hurts even more.

After three years of your GP insisting that MRI scans are rarely conducted to investigate back pain, your rheumatologist decides it's the first thing she wants to do.

The scan is for your lower back and spine, and should take only an hour, but you're in the scanner for almost three. There's an abnormality higher up, near your neck.

So they scan your brain too.

"It's an incidental finding," says your rheumatologist when you meet her to discuss the results.

A few of the discs in your spine are fractured and the majority are flat like pancakes instead of round and spongy. But you push all that to the back of your mind when you hear that you're being referred to a neurosurgeon

You have a degree in Psychology and you know the NHS - they wouldn't refer you to a neurosurgeon if you didn't neurosurgery....

Part II

Friday, 27 May 2016

Reacting to Negative Reviews - Part II

Q: Have any reviews made you cry?

A: No. Luckily, I haven't (yet!) seen a review that has upset me to such an extent that I went all teary. I've seen some reviews on Goodreads of books that I've read (and liked!) where I really felt for the author, going as far as saying that no one deserves that kind of cyber-bashing.

However, I do groan when I see reviews that include spoilers, especially if it's plot twists designed to surprise readers mid-way through the book. What's worse is when the ending is revealed - I don't read books if I know beforehand how it ends, and I don't expect my readers to either.

Q: Have any reviews made you laugh?

A: There was a reader that insisted "vampires don't sparkle!" I haven't been lucky enough to meet the vampires that proved this point :) I prefer the vampires in my imagination to glitter like diamonds in the sunlight - but that's just me and my imagination. I know vampires don't exist in real life. Really.

There are a couple of reviews on iTunes/iBooks Australia which claim my books have spelling mistakes everywhere. I admit there were a few minor spelling
mistakes in the first upload of these books, which I corrected immediately and re-loaded - even traditionally published books have a few errors here and there - but I know it wasn't spelling mistakes galore. It's most likely the British English spelling of certain words - we use the letter s instead of z in some words, we have u's when some countries don't.


Q: Do any of the bad reviews make you wish you did something differently? 

A: I'd like to go back to 2012 and change a lot of things, the main thing being holding off on publishing the Poison Blood books until I'd written the entire series. I didn't know when I published them that my life would turn upside down soon after and leave me no time or peace of mind to continue with my writing.

If I'd known, I wouldn't have published those books and made the readers who loved them wait so long for the next instalment - they're still waiting and I'm really sorry :(

I'll be even sorrier if the fans of the first two books have completely forgotten about Ellie by the time I release Book 3.

Would I change my vampires' skin-type? It would up a lot of the 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-star reviews where readers have rated it down specifically due to the vampire mythology.

My answer is: No.

I went with this type of immortal blood-drinker because it makes most sense to me, and I stayed true to my beliefs. Its all about the story and the personalities in the book, and it's too bad that some readers will judge my characters based on their skin and physical appearance. But that is one of the realities I have to face as an author and I'm okay with it.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Reacting to Negative Reviews - Part I

In this 2-part blog post, I answer some of the questions I've been asked in the last few years about negative reviews of my books. This first one just happens to be a long answer to one question...

Q: What's your initial reaction when you read a negative review about one of your books?

A: An exaggerated pout, eyebrows joining in the middle, sad puppy-dog eyes. Then the words, "That's a bit harsh." My books are my babies; it stings when someone says they're not adorable.

A few moments later, I re-read the review and make a note of the feedback that I can work on in future novels. You have to learn from your mistakes, listen to your readers. You're writing for them, their thoughts matter.

I've been lucky that my contemporary romance books Chasing Pavements and Make You Feel My Love, haven't received any negative reviews yet. Well, I haven't spotted anything less than a 4-star review for these. (We'll ignore the 1-star rating left for Chasing Pavements on Goodreads as there was no text accompanying that rating.)

The reviews of the first two books in my paranormal series Poison Blood on the other hand, are mixed. The average rating (out of 5-stars) on Goodreads for Poison Blood, Book 1: Revelation is currently 3.61-stars, and 3.76-stars for Poison Blood, Book 2: Absolution. Not bad. I'll take that considering downloads of more than 30,000 at the end of 2015. Add this to the many people who contacted me via Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads saying they loved the first two books and want to know when the next instalment will be out, I'm elated that I pleased a few readers and did one or two things right.

The feedback I can take on board from the 1-star Goodreads reviews for Book 1 is that there wasn't enough action and perhaps the language was a tad grown-up for a YA novel.

One thing that keeps coming up is that the Poison Blood books are a rip-off of Twilight, a book in which girl meets vampire, girl falls in love with vampire, girl wants to become a vampire, vampire refuses to turn girl into a vampire unless girl marries vampire. All of this happens in my book; the only difference is that when my protagonist Ellie meets vampire, she doesn't fall madly in love with vampire, Ellie doesn't want to become a vampire and doesn't marry vampire. Also, vampire is not a teenager, and is not in high school. And there's not a single werewolf in sight.

My characters' personalities are very different too. I've read many books where it's the same story as Twilight, with the protagonists having similar personality traits to Bella and Edward, but Edward just happens to be some other mythical creature. Really, the similarities between my vampires and those in Stephanie Meyer's novels end with the skin/body. And the plot couldn't be anymore different.

Amidst the negative feelings about the vampire mythology I adopted, my writing receives praise on more occasions than none. The below reviews are classic examples of readers loving my work but not the sparkles:

4-star review on Smashwords: 
"I enjoyed this book. I have read so many free paranormal romance books and this one kept me reading. I found the whole slayer angle interesting and I am excited to read the third installment. The only reason I am not giving it 5 stars is the whole diamond sparkly skin thing which was too familiar to Twilight for me."

3-star review on Goodreads: 
"Simultaneously one of the best and the worst vampire books ever. Not sure how I feel about this.

Best because the grammar is great, it transitions smoothly, it is NOT a love struck human pining for a vampire, as well as being funny and sarcastic.

Worst because the mythology behind these vampires is TWILIGHT. Everything: the sparkling in the day light, the extreme beauty, AND THE REST OF IT TOO.

Don't get me wrong, the writing is great. But when all of your knowledge about your characters was told to you by Twilight - you have a problem."

In response to the last sentence: all my knowledge on my characters' personalities (remember, personality is separate to physical appearance) comes, not from Twilight, but from me. I created these characters. 

As for authors conforming to the rules of the vampire mythology explored in Twilight, I think it's their decision. Some readers don't like sparkling vampires and so, understandably don't support my decision of staying in line with that. At the end of the day, vampires aren't real beings. Authors writing about vampires that sleep during the day, burn in the sun, can only be killed if their hearts are ripped out, who are stronger and faster than humans, are they plagiarising each other? Or does it only become a problem if the vampires are like those in Twilight, which some readers love and others hate?

Personally, I love the sparkling in the sunlight - to me, this seems far more feasible than industructible immortals that have skin that suddenly becomes flammable and burns to ashes in sunlight. More than that though, I love the fact that Ellie is more than just a vampire and I hope readers can give her a chance to tell her story. There’s more to her than her skin, trust me!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Delve into The Soulmates Saga this year!

Someone Like You, the third book in my contemporary romance series, the Soulmates Saga, will be released on July 27, 2016. You can pre-order your copy now from Amazon US, Amazon UK, iBooks and B&N Nook at a low introductory price of $0.99/£0.99. Hurry, because after its release, the cost will return to its normal price of $2.99, still very cheap considering what you get - romance, tension, heartache, tears, laughs and even suspense.

What’s that? You want more in a modern love story? Sorry, even if I tried, I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze any more drama into this book. It’s practically bursting with it. Just like its predecessors.

Hang on, did you say you haven’t read the first two books? Well, why ever not? Chasing Pavements and Make You Feel My Love introduce you to Mukti and Jamie - two very unique characters that you can’t help but get attached to - and set the stage beautifully for the epic third instalment. If you haven’t gotten your (digital) hands on these, download them now, because both books are half price for a limited time only (at Amazon USAmazon UKiBooks USiBooks UKNook and Smashwords). So, there’s no excuse for you to not start the Soulmates Saga this year.

Now, just because these books share their titles with singles released by the brilliant Adele (who I love, love, love!), don’t interpret it as a gimmick, a marketing ploy, to cover up sloppy, poorly-written love stories. No, there’s some serious writing going on in there, I should know, I spent the last six years writing them!

Not quite convinced yet? That’s okay. You can download free samples before you buy and have a look at my favourite reviews that I’ve added to the book pages on this blog. With books 1 and 2 now half price, and book 3 ready for pre-order at a low introductory price, there really is no better time to delve into this series.

Time for an FYI. If you haven’t read the first two books but are interested in getting into this saga, stay away from the Someone Like You book page, don’t read the blurb, don’t look at the cover, just leave it alone. Why? Spoilers, that’s why. Trust me, you will enjoy the first two books a lot more this way.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Delve into the Soulmates Saga in 2016!

Someone Like You, the third book in my contemporary romance series, the Soulmates Saga, will be released on July 27, 2016. You can pre-order your copy now from iBooks and B&N Nook at a low introductory price of $0.99/£0.99. Hurry, because after its release, the cost will return to its normal price of $2.99, still very cheap considering what you get - romance, tension, heartache, tears, laughs and even suspense.

What’s that? You want more in a modern love story? Sorry, even if I tried, I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze any more drama into this book. It’s practically bursting with it. Just like its predecessors.

Hang on, did you say you haven’t read the first two books? Well, why ever not? Chasing Pavements and Make You Feel My Love introduce you to Mukti and Jamie - two very unique characters that you can’t help but get attached to - and set the stage beautifully for the epic third instalment. If you haven’t gotten your (digital) hands on these, download them now, because both books are half price for a limited time only (at Amazon USAmazon UKiBooks USiBooks UKNook and Smashwords). So, there’s no excuse for you to not start the Soulmates Saga this year.

Now, just because these books share their titles with singles released by the brilliant Adele (who I love, love, love!), don’t interpret it as a gimmick, a marketing ploy, to cover up sloppy, poorly-written love stories. No, there’s some serious writing going on in there, I should know, I spent the last six years writing them!

Not quite convinced yet? That’s okay. You can download free samples before you buy and have a look at my favourite reviews that I’ve added to the book pages on this blog. With books 1 and 2 now half price, and book 3 ready for pre-order at a low introductory price, there really is no better time to delve into this series.

Time for an FYI. If you haven’t read the first two books but are interested in getting into this saga, stay away from the Someone Like You book page, don’t read the blurb, don’t look at the cover, just leave it alone. Why? Spoilers, that’s why. Trust me, you will enjoy the first two books a lot more this way.