Just over a week ago, on the last night of the eight-day Jewish festival Chanukah (for more about that, click here), I listened to an amazing woman speaking at my local synagogue.
Louise lost her sight at the age of 27, 13 years ago, brought on by brittle diabetes, a rare, severe and unpredictable form of the disease. Since then, she has had two kidney transplants. Her first was combined with a pancreas transplant - a very risky procedure, especially as these double transplants were still fairly new at the time. Her second transplant took place earlier this year.
Louise is one of the most inspirational women I have ever listened to. Like many teenagers, she took risks with her health, which affected her existing diabetes and led to her sight loss. Soon after she lost her sight, determined to regain back her independence, Louise visited family in Australia. She took part in a special support programme for people who had lost their sight, and even learnt survival skills in the Outback.
Louise talked about how technology helps her to enjoy her favourite things in life, including cooking and shopping. And how, despite her disabilities and the treatments she endures, she doesn't let anything hold her back. She climbs mountains, swims regularly, co-pilots a plane and lives independently with the help of her constant companion, guide dog Nemo.
Louise's key message that evening was 'make the most of your talents. Whatever you can do, do it. Whatever you enjoy, do it. Don’t let anything hold you back'.
This reminded me of the former headmistress of my sons’ school, who passed away suddenly in 2013, just before she was due to retire. She was a highly respected educator and believed that ‘every child is good at something and it is our job (as teachers) to find out what it is’.
She helped to create a secondary school that has become one of the top-performing non-selective state schools in the country. But most importantly, she designed a school day to incorporate enrichments, which are extra-curricular opportunities during lesson time rather than as optional after-school activities. Students aged 11 to 14 have a choice of over 70 activities, including sports, arts, music, drama, meditation, fashion design, car mechanics, cookery, jewellery making, public speaking, film studies and charity work.
So children who aren’t so academic, or have less interest in academic subjects, are given the opportunity to discover their own talents and interests.
Why am I telling you all this?
I set up Off-the-Shelf Books on 30 December 2014, with the aim of reviewing fiction, interviewing authors and sharing book love. It’s certainly been a rollercoaster three years, full of ups and downs. I’ve learnt so much about books, reading, publishing, social media and also people. So much has happened, prompting me to look back on the past. Wishing there were some things I could change.
But no one can change what's already been. We can only steer towards our future.
I always wanted to write crime fiction, from the moment I read the Secret Seven and Famous Five. I watched a post-mortem at the age of 16, then studied Biomedical Science at university, with plans to do a Forensics PhD. But I became side tracked and ended up in journalism - and fiction became just a dream. Until just over two years ago when, after years of writing the first chapters of various books, I started writing fiction with more commitment.
I did write one book, but decided earlier this year to put it aside and work on something else - and to keep working on it until I feel it's 'right'. I am now over 77K words through the first draft, which means I'm nearly there - and then the long editing process begins. Writing isn't new to me, and nor is editing. I have been a health journalist/editor for over 20 years. But fiction is very different to my day job, putting some (or all) of 'me' on to the page.
Over the years, I have written for various magazines and websites, and edited them too. Currently, one of my main roles is freelance health editor for Bupa. I wrote a book on children's allergies in 2009, and I’ve edited and contributed to several others over the years. In 2017, I signed a contract with a publisher to update a bestselling baby care book. The updated version of the book should be published in 2018. I am now looking out for similar work.
A few weeks ago I was talking to someone about writing and life’s regrets - being proud of your achievements, finding your own talents and not letting anything stop you achieving your dreams. The person I spoke to said that it was time for me to look forward and to stop looking back. Time to grasp all opportunities - and time to create my own.
I recently wrote some bookish new year resolutions and tweeted them, admittedly slightly tongue-in-cheek. But actually... reading them made me realise how much I want to achieve them.
Now I’m wondering whether I could use my love of the creative arts for something more substantial, as a sideline to journalism, while still leaving time for me to write. I used to draw too, but haven't found the time to do it properly since my university days. I'll be looking for all opportunities, even if it's just a way to relax.
Looking forward to 2018, I’m hoping that I’ll finish off this book I’m working on and do something with it, rather than hide it in a bottom drawer. That I’ll find opportunities for drawing or design. That I'll continue with some other bookish plans I've already put into place. And that I’ll be following Louise's advice - ‘make the most of your talents and don’t let anything hold you back'.
It's time to live life with no regrets, and I encourage others to do the same. Taking one step forwards at a time.
Happy Birthday to my blog and Happy New Year to everyone who reads it!