Posted on Leave a comment

Stroke of Fortune

Living the Dream—Well, almost!

It’s no fun being disabled, though it is the perfect excuse to get out of doing the ironing, which I always loathed! All right, I never actually did any ironing, far preferring creases to sweating over a hot crease-eradicator, but hey, it provides me with the perfect explanation for the creases instead of just being regarded as an idle domestic slut.

I had a stroke in 2015, on the jet flying to Malta for a week’s holiday-cum-writing break. I never did get to see the island. Instead, I saw the inside of a Maltese hospital for about four weeks, before my travel insurance company arranged for a plane home.

That was a memorable trip. I was hoisted to a rack inches from the plane’s roof, well-strapped-in, for the flight. Surely, I could use that experience? I was a writer, for God’s sake, so I was certain I could lever it in somewhere! Especially as the worry about how in hell I’d get to the loo, lassoed as I was from the ceiling, occupied me for the duration of air time.

But writing – about the terrors of inaccessible toilet facilities or anything else, when you’re disabled – is often an exercise in frustration,

For instance, I can no longer touch-type, having only my left hand that actually works. Instead, it’s a one-handed peck and sniff exercise. I often hit the wrong key: ‘p’ when I want ‘o’, and, ‘m’ when I want ‘n’.

And when I’m interrupted by bathroom breaks I have generally lost my train of thought entirely by the time I get back. What used to be a quick scurry to the loo, has turned into a 15/20 minutes’ operation, by foot, by the aid of trolleys, furniture, invalid bars, and a wheelchair. Getting there and back is an effort, especially as the bathroom, like in a lot of these old terraces, is built on to the end of the kitchen. Occasionally it means I’ve had an ‘accident’ before I get there.

If things are really desperate, I use the commode in the ground-floor dining room-turned-bedroom; though I try to avoid using that during the daytime as it’s so easy to become lazy. Besides, getting to the loo and back is the only exercise I get (I know, I know).

As I said, I live in an old terrace, and the house is a bit up and down, with a step up from the living room where I work, so, what, in a normal house, would be a quick whiz to the downstairs bathroom in the wheelchair, involves all of the above aids, and the same in reverse. So you can see why I can often lose my train of thought. Perhaps I should keep a writing pad, with string attached pen in the bathroom. Although, if I did that, I might never get off the loo!

Alternatively, I could write the idea/plot twist down before I started my intrepid travels. But if I did that, it’s guaranteed that I would be one soggy scribbler by the time I reached the bathroom (or even the commode).

Moving on from bathroom matters (thank God, sez you!), as regards writing itself, I’ve been a seat-of-pants writer from the beginning, although, nowadays, I do make a plot plan of sorts. There’s usually a good lump of the middle missed out; I’ll figure that out when I get to it, is my thought.

I’ve never had the patience to write plot-plans that are half as long as the novel will be. Not sure if the necessity of writing even a half-arsed plot-plan is down to the stroke, or just getting older. Maybe, I’m just fed up rewriting those endless drafts necessitated by being an SOP writer.

Anyway, since my stroke, plot-planned, or otherwise, I’ve completed three novels (Asking For It, The Spanish Connection, and Game of Bones, numbers 16, 17, and 18 in my Rafferty & Llewellyn Mystery Series, and several short stories, which is an achievement in itself, with just my left hand.

I’m now halfway through #19 in the series, though my notebook, with my only part-done plot-plan, tends to keep getting away from me. Writing with your left hand when you’re right-handed, is hard at the best of times without a moving notebook, so the chances of me being able to read the doctor-like scribble are small, at best. I’ve tried using the hard plastic folders with the metal grip, but I’m just as likely to grip my fingers as the notebook. Ouch! Those grippers are fierce. Maybe a permanently-open document on the computer would be a better idea—at least I’d avoid the hazard of the grippers snapping my digits.

Sorry, this is turning into a rant. But I shall continue in this vein for a moment, while I tell you about my recent experience with a hotel in Norwich, which I went to for a weekend writing break. The accommodation door was so heavy I couldn’t get it open sufficiently to get me on my wobbly legs, or my mobility scooter, out. Yes, I’d asked for a disabled room when booking, so I don’t know who thought it would be a brilliant idea to provide the disabled with an impossible-to-open door…

When I tried to ring reception to come and let me out, I discovered the telephone wouldn’t work. I finally thought of ringing reception on my (seldom used) mobile, so, after missing Afternoon Tea, I did make it to dinner. But the next day, Sod’s Law being what it is, when I tried to ring Reception on the mobile to go home, it had run out of charge. I had my Fire tablet with me, so I next sent reception an email. But the hotel’s Wifi was erratic at best, so I doubt they received it.

Presumably, they didn’t, as there I stayed, incarcerated in my room, trapped by a very heavy, barely movable door, with no means of communicating with the staff. I was reliant upon the youngsters who manned reception to remember my existence. And we all know that youngsters are more likely to be thinking about what they’ll do in their time off, than about the disabled old bird in the off-by-itself-Annexe, who hadn’t made it to breakfast.

A writer’s imagination being what it is, those long hours were filled with thoughts of slowly starving to death, forgotten by youngsters whose heads were filled with far more delightful thoughts. I was finally released from my prison at 11.00 am, and thankful to return home unscathed but for bruised dignity.

Nowadays, I’m an Indie Publisher so I can afford to live and write full time (well, when I say full-time, you understand the word is relative, what with emails, watching podcasts, trips to the loo, etc).

I spent about eighteen years with various traditional publishers, but I could never afford to give up the day job. The writing obviously fitted around that, in evenings and weekends. Like most writers, I worked seven-day-weeks for decades.

Maybe all that sitting helped to lead to my stroke, which the airplane trip brought to a climax. Use your talents, is one of the parables I used to be particularly fond of. I didn’t realise my lifestyle would lead me to a life as a disabled writer! Oh, the iron-y.

Anyway, when Amazon’s Kindle came along, offering writers the opportunity to turn Indie, and after having read various American writers’ blogs about how their income had vastly improved since they took the plunge, I grabbed the chance with both hands in 2010 and discovered those American authors were right. A matter of months after I’d turned Indie I was earning a full-time living. I could afford to give up my hated temping jobs. Hurrah!

Now I thank God I took the opportunity, because, since I had the stroke, I’ve had a lot of expense, so it’s just as well that I could finally earn a proper living, as I can’t see any employer wanting a one-handed typist! Would you?

But you know, having a stroke isn’t the end of the world. With my mobility scooter I can still indulge in retail therapy, and although some of the high racks on which the clothes are hung are a bit of a trial, I manage.

And then, of course, there’s Amazon, again, coming to the rescue, with their home delivery of anything from inco-pads to bags of compost.

Admittedly, I can no longer touch-type, play my keyboards, paint, sew, (or iron!), but the many frustrations aside, I can still live a fulfilling life, doing what I love—writing novels.

It’s a far better life than many people enjoy, and I thank my lucky stars, every day, that I found my reason for living when I was in my twenties, and writing my half-finished novels. It took until I hit thirty to finish that first novel, and another six years, completing a novel a year, to get published. You can imagine how I felt when I received my first acceptance.

But do you know what? For me, nothing compares with the pleasure writing gives me.

And when I’m in the middle of another novel, nothing else matters – not even the, often inconvenient business – of being disabled. It’s pure joy

What about you? What’s your ‘Reason for Living?’ Or are you still waiting to discover it?