Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Year with Selene

Yes, she came to live with me on January 19th 2016.

For the most part it’s been a happy year, gradually building trust  and affection between us, establishing our little domestic routines and learning each other’s behaviours and boundaries. 

She likes to hang with me, to be close to wherever I am; but she also regards the spare room as hers, and sometimes likes to retreat to her own space for a snooze. She is thrilled when I sometimes have occasion to go into 'her' room. She welcomes me with a big fuss, as if I'm paying her a visit. 

In the evening, if I watch TV, she will soon be relaxing on  the couch beside me. She gets VERY relaxed.




I have some long, dangly things I use for playing with her; the game is that she jumps up and tries to catch them. Once caught, she is not so much interested; she lets them go so I’ll start all over again. When she sees me getting ready to retire for the night, she insists on having playtime first.

When I do go to bed, she comes straight onto the bed with me and settles down. But at some point, after I’m asleep, she goes off to her own space again.




As I may have mentioned before, she is mostly non-vocal. But there was the day I came home after a very busy morning and decided to have a little nap, which I rarely do in the daytime. She came up onto the bed next to me as usual, and then she began to purr. It was very faint but it went on for about two minutes. For this cat, that was A LOT! I was thrilled to pieces.

The long danglies we play with usually live in a drawer but one day I left them on the table. She knows she is not allowed on the table, and they stayed there untouched while I was out that day. But after I came home, I walked past the table and she reached up to where the end of one was hanging a little over the edge and gave it a tug with her paw, looking at me meaningfully. ‘Initiating play,’ said my social worker friend approvingly, when I told her later. (Yes, she got her game.)

We have had nice times out in the back yard together, me sitting in an outdoor chair meditating, reading or writing; her reclining nearby or inspecting the garden. It’s a small enclosed back yard. She can’t get out under the fence and shows no inclination to climb over it – much too afraid of what might be on the other side. She knows there are dogs and men in the neighbourhood.





She still hides when visitors come, but when they are women she’ll eventually come and check them out. She was OK with a gay male friend, too. It’s masculinity that scares her most.

She has got to the point, I believe, of loving and trusting me as much as she could any human being. Although it's unlikely she’ll ever be a cuddly cat, she has even let me pick her up now and then. And I do get to stroke her when she’s lying beside me on the couch or the bed. 

Everything progressing so nicely – and bang! Trouble. In this heatwave summer we’ve been having, she doesn't want to go outside in the middle of the day (neither do I). But she asks to go out briefly in the morning before it heats up, and again late afternoon / early evening, when it cools down again. Mostly I haven’t accompanied her, and she hasn't stayed out long. But long enough.

I started noticing odd little white spots on her fur, which appeared immediately after her being outside. Also the hair over her eyebrows has thinned noticeably, and under one paw. Her beautiful white eyebrow whiskers fell out a while back. (‘They do moult,’ said one of the vet nurses; but so far they haven’t grown back. I’m glad to say her whiskers proper are still there.)

I made a vet appointment, and for a few days beforehand accustomed her to having her special fishy treat in her carry cage – that is, the food in the cage and her poking her head inside to get it. But on the morning of the appointment, when I tried to push the rest of her in, she was quick to wriggle out of my hands. I waited a while, and then tried to pick her up. Instead of letting me, she twisted and bit my thumb before running off to hide. It wasn’t a hard bite; she really doesn't wish to attack me too fiercely nowadays. There was no bleeding, but the skin was broken in two places.

I went to the vet without her, but with photos. The vet thought it was probably an allergy to mosquito bites, and agreed to do a home visit when she could. That happened yesterday, and she confirmed the diagnosis. Selene hid at first but then came to say hello, and the vet was able to pick her up and pet her. But when she went to give her an injection, Selene bit her too. The vet was wearing cat-proof gloves, so no harm done. But no injection either; Selene was off her lap and away very smartly. 

The vet had come prepared, and gave me some tablets to crush in her food. That works. I am also supposed to slather calendula cream on her areas of fur loss. Well I can get it on the spots behind her ears, but she won't tolerate it anywhere else, and by now is afraid to come near me in case I try and put it on. No more bites, but if I were to try and force the issue, I’m sure there would be. So the next thing is to get a sedative from the vet tomorrow and see if that enables me to get her in her cage and take her there the next day. 

The worst thing is her poor little belly. It was always a bit furless around the nipples, indicating she’d had a litter. I hadn't noticed that the pink area had gradually spread. When the vet remarked on it, I said, ‘It’s always been like that.’ Then today I saw her washing it, and to my horror realised the bald area is already spreading down the insides of her back legs – since yesterday!

She seems happy enough, apart from distrusting my medicinal intentions, and not in any discomfort. But I am distraught. I realise that I can’t manage her in a crisis, and that the trust I’d established over a whole year is fragile. She will be 9 in April; she is not likely to change at this stage. For a while I was comparing how easy it was to manage our other two cats when Andrew was here to help. But really I doubt if even two people would be able to manage Selene.

The rest of the time she’s a sweetie, extraordinarily well-behaved and keen to please. But when she’s afraid, there’s no reassuring her.

I have been feeling guilty too. I had originally intended she should be an indoor cat, which was what she herself obviously wanted. But a friend heavied me about it being cruel to keep her inside, and around that time Selene started looking a little curious about the back yard, though perfectly content to survey the front yard and street from safely behind the flywire. So I made sure the back yard was safe for her, and encouraged her to try it. I have been doing some beating myself up that I didn't stick to the original decision and keep her inside, safe from the wretched mozzies. However, she has enjoyed the back yard, and as the vet said, 'It’s a summer problem.’  

The vet also said, ‘Don’t let her out at dawn or dusk.’ Well, in this weather, that’s exactly when she was going out! So now she’s not going out at all, and we are mooching around the house looking warily at each other, wishing for the rapport we had so carefully established before, but with very different ideas of what needs to be done about it.





PS I went to the vet to pick up tablets she prescribed during Saturday's home visit and also a pheromone diffuser to set up near where Selene sleeps (OK, near where she most often sleeps). I was advised to give her the tablets for two weeks before worrying about trying to sedate her and take her in, as they should clear up the trouble, even that bald belly! – Yrs considerably relieved.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Interview at Smashwords

(a request to my readers)

I had to devise a self-interview as part of my profile on Smashwords, where my latest poetry book is published (actually a collaboration with Jennie Fraine and Helen Patrice: THREE CYCLES OF THE MOON).

You can read the interview here. I request that you please do so, and please tell me in the comments at this blog post whether there are are other questions you would like me to answer.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Falling for Flavia – Book review

















While detective fiction isn't my top favourite genre, I can stand a bit of it now and then – in a wide range, from Agatha Christie to Matthew Reilly. 

11-year-old detective Flavia de Luce, as written by Alan Bradley, is something else again. I have rapidly fallen in love with her.

She had me from the very first sentence I read, but I'll give you this excerpt from early in the first chapter of THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (the first book in the series) to show you why.

    The eyes, as blue as the birds in the Willow pattern, looked up into mine as if staring out from some dim and smoky past, as if there were some recognition in their depths.
    And then they died.
    I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn't. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savouring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it were being breathed upon by death. 
    And then the utter stillness.
    I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.

How could one not adore a girl like that? She is the girl I should have wished to be, if I'd been a lot smarter and wiser than I was at 11. But I did have one thing in common with her: a singular passion from an early age. Whereas mine was (and is) poetry, Flavia's was chemistry. She was especially fascinated by poisons – and their antidotes. Flavia is tough-minded and sometimes vengeful (particularly towards the two older sisters who torment her) but far from evil. And she is good at solving murder mysteries.

Yes, these books are in the 'mystery' sub-genre, and it's fun to watch Flavia assemble the clues. She tends to be several steps ahead of the police by means it doesn't occur to them to use. On the other hand, her favourite policeman, Inspector Hewitt, usually arrives at the same place at the same time by more orthodox methods.

The stories are set in the nineteen-fifties, in an English village, and are full of cultural references I am old enough and literate enough to enjoy. Flavia is quite well and widely-read – with some unusual preferences – and was born in the same year as me.

I see from the Wikipedia entry about him that her author, Alan Bradley, was born a year earlier and was brought up with two older sisters, which no doubt gives him a lot of insight into Flavia's sibling situation. He certainly gets into the mind of an 11-year-old convincingly, and I never questioned Flavia's gender. I still don't – heck, Flavia is REAL. 

My friend, author Leah Kaminsky, once said to me about reading fiction, 'I don't care about story; what I love is language.' I love language too, and think of people like Markus Zusak, Carmel Bird and Leah herself as shining examples. Also I need the story to be sufficiently interesting. But I have realised that the aspect which fascinates me most in any novel is the characters. Flavia is a winner! 

I encountered her via two books mid-series which I picked up at the library. Books in this series are stand-alone enough to be read out of order, but I so loved Flavia that I had to go back and start over at the beginning, and I certainly plan to complete the rest – ten so far, but that doesn't daunt me as they are so readable. 

They are designated Young Adult, I see – correctly, I think – but in my local library are also shelved with adult fiction. I like reading Young Adult books anyway; also, as a former children's librarian, I firmly believe a good book for children of any age is one that can be enjoyed by adults too. (Incidentally, another thing that endears Flavia to me is her notion that heaven is a place where the library is open eight days a week.)

I am far from her only devoted admirer. There's a fan club, and talk of a TV series, and Flavia has won Bradley several literary awards. 

I'm glad to note she is still only 12 in the tenth book. It wouldn't do to have her ageing too fast!