Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A treasure of a book


Here's a thoughtful, appreciative review of Fields of Gold published this week in the June 2014 online magazine for the New Zealand Transactional Analysis Association.

Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life. Charles M. Schulz

Once in a while, if you are lucky, you cross paths with a book that is a treasure; one that you know you will keep – to dip into time and again – because it moves you or expresses something for you, of life, which has been difficult to put into words of your own. For me, Fields of Gold is such a book.

It is not possible to generalize the experience of what it means to be a sister or to have a sister, let alone what is means to be facing a terminal illness, because the experiences are so profoundly personal and so varied. This book, however, gently entwines the individual and combined experiences of sisters Annie McGregor and Pam Morrison through the last year of Annie’s life using a journal – ‘a shared container’ – as a means of holding something precious to them both about what it means for one sister to face letting go of life and the other sister to face letting go of her as a loved, life-long friend and companion.

You know full well, as I do, the value of a sister’s affections: there is nothing like it in this world. Charlotte Bronte

It is tempting to use clichés when we speak of death and dying.  So often we are at a loss as to what to say to express ourselves, restricted by our sense of inadequacy and fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Sometimes, however, when it is too hard to find the right words for ourselves around grief, we recognize them elsewhere, the effect being a release of emotions held in a place of vulnerability, thus permission-giving and healing; a ‘yes, I know about that’ kind-of-experience. This book models permission to live life fully to the very end in such a way as to give expression to an array of emotions and experiences from joy, exuberance and hilarity to tenderness, bewilderment, and sorrow, which add a richness to the tapestry of threads that hold Annie and Pam together through the daunting prospect of the most final of separations.

You mess with my sister, you’re messing with me! Loretta Livingstone  

While Fields of Gold is written from the personal perspectives of the writers, the writing style is inclusive of the reader through its honesty and recognition that all life experiences, from the moment of our birth to our death, impact on us as relational beings and affect how we feel about ourselves and others. One of the lovely aspects of this book is that it candidly models that it is not only ok to be real to self and to other, but that by being real we grow so much more fully into ourselves and stand with one another with a genuine experience of authenticity and vulnerability that refines and enhances shared moments of genuine recognition and consequently, intimacy.

If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone? Jodi Picoult 

Pam and Annie stand together through the progression of Annie’s cancer with an honesty between them that is heart-warming and real, enhanced by a shared love of music, all things creative, a joy that comes from being with those who love them best and a generosity that is inclusive, right to the end, making room for others to be a part of the journey armed with whatever offerings they might bring be they practical, spiritual, emotional or otherwise. It is a gift to write with such candor, one to the other, and reflects the underlying strength of their sister-to-sister relationship.

My sister and I are so close that we finish each other’s sentences and often wonder whose memories belong to whom. Shannon Celebi

I imagine that Fields of Gold will appeal to a wide range of readers. Having worked in a hospice for two years myself, I know the benefit of books as a resource when people lose their way in the complexities of grief, again because they can be permission-giving, putting words to experiences when words can be lost. This book is also a lovely reflection of the relationship between sisters and a wonderful recognition of the emotional and psychological strength that can lie between two women who have known one another throughout a shared lifetime.

I would like more sisters, that the taking out of one might not leave such a stillness. Emily Dickinson

Pam expresses a hope at the end of the book “that others in relationship will be encouraged, when spoken words are not enough, to find a beautiful book, pick up a pencil, and take turns to write.” I have encouraged our youngest daughter, whose partner recently underwent major transplant surgery, to do just that. She was immediately engaged by the idea and has asked to read the book.

I am sure she will not be disappointed.

  Sue McMenamin

A fanciful stalk from a field of gold and the possible reappearance of Ratty.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A very important Hat and two leaves.

We're back. I was going to include The Rat with the pic but he scarpered, so, just the two leaves picked up from an Auckland pavement after the recent storm.

And this note to say that I'm very pleased to be working with Mary McCallum of Mākaro Press to produce an ebook version of The Book of Hat.

That's all for now. Have to go and visit the (gran') babies. More soon.




Monday, 28 April 2014

What's going on here

Ratty's still scudding about in the north, occasionally settling to some worthwhile project, more often looking as if he's doing nothing at all. Hardly ever out promoting RMB ebooks which, nevertheless, remain as potent and exceptional as they ever were.


Those of us still applying ourselves to our self-appointed tasks have been talking about publishing collaborations (digital here, beautifully produced hard copy over there — you'll hear more about it soon); I've been reading a couple of exciting manuscripts and weighing them up against my time, interest and resources (I need a team of reindeer to replicate what the rat's supposed to be doing; an ensemble of editing elves).

Some of Rosa Mira's authors have been performing wonders.  Of those featured in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, Coral Atkinson is in the throes of launching her novel Passing Through, set 'in the port of Lyttelton, in a community still recovering from World War 1'. Coral draws richly credible historical characters and atmospheres; I've read this and it lingers warmly with me.

Sue Wootton has a new book of ten poems, a collector's item called out of shape: have a look. "Handset letterpress in a soft palette of blue, green, brown and red on Magnani Velata Avorio wove mould-made Italian paper." Sounds edible, doesn't it, and I know the work will match the medium.

(I know there are others putting excellent work out into the world but if I haven't written it down, it isn't retained, so I hope any RMB authors will jog my memory and send info about your latest creations.)




Friday, 4 April 2014

Who's afraid to read about death?

I was talking publishing the other day (a conversation that could go on until the cows some home, go out and come home again) with Mary McCallum who's just published through Mākaro Press the extraordinary journal of Harriet Rowland, who records her last two years, living with osteosarcoma, in The Book of Hat. We touched on the difficulty of 'selling' books in which the author is facing her own death (as Annie also was in co-authoring Fields of Gold). We acknowledged the deep-rooted anxiety that to read about death and think about it is tantamount to inviting our own. All of us and especially those facing their mortality through illness are more inclined to seek stories of healing and second chances.

However, it seems that when we lay aside this natural but primitive fear, the contemplation of death and difficulty can deepen and intensify our experience of life — that's the curiously joyous truth radiating from these two books. One initially reluctant reader of Fields of Gold, told co-author Pam Morrison that through her engagement with the story she was extraordinarily and entirely released from her own (very present and pertinent) fear of death.

That's powerful writing, and it's what comes from writers who have courageously entered the darkness and found there inextinguishable light.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Compelling reading in Fields of Gold

Readers are finding the co-written journal Fields of Gold (Celebrating Life in the Face of Cancer: a tale of two sisters) potent, heart-aching, inspiring. You can hear surviving author Pam Morrison speaking powerfully in a radio interview here: you have to choose 'Write On with Vanda Symon' from the category list then Pam's name will be near the top of the list that comes up (and mine is under hers, speaking the previous week about Rosa Mira Books).

 Reviewing the book, author Mike Crowl of Dunedin wrote: This book, which started out as a journal in which the two sisters wrote collectively, was never intended to be published. Fortunately it has been. All books that help people to understand that their journey through something painful, such as the cancer that affected one of the sisters, is both unique and universal, are of value. 
Annie is a lively and outgoing personality, seen through her own words and those of Pam. The latter is quieter, perhaps more reflective, and even more vulnerable. It is the delineation of her increasing sense of powerlessness and separation that makes the book’s latter half so compelling.

In a completely different vein, last year I almost published a cookbook-with-stories-and-photos called Fait Maison: Recipes from a Kiwi in France. I didn't go through with the process, but had found the recipes attractive, wholesome and easy to make — described as 'simple, delicious, quotidien or day-to-day recipes for homemade food, with a French and Mediterranean influence,' and commend author Rachel Panckhurst for seeing this through and publishing the ebook here.  

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Fields of Gold, published

Did you know? Fields of Gold: Celebrating Life in the Face of Cancer — a tale of two sisters, was published in the weekend. It's out there. Available here. It's Pam Morrison and Annie McGregor telling their story in journal entries, and forging a path, actually, for others (for all of us) who are likely to lose someone we love and who will need to find a way to utter those things too subtle, painful and precious to be spoken. The reach of this book is profound.

P.S. Pass it on.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What they wrote

Here are a couple of extracts from the journal (sisters) Pam and Annie wrote the year Annie was dying. We're launching the journal on Sunday: Fields of Gold.

ANNIE                                                       Sunday 20 April 2003
Last night the kids were here. There was music playing, the sounds of whistling and chopping, cooking noises, recipes being changed. I was in front of the fire under the mohair rug. And I tell you what: I was in heaven, or pretty close to it, about five kilometres away. Sometimes I wonder: why didn’t I come to this place earlier? Then I remember – oh, that’s right!

Graham says he’s noticed some frailty in me. And there is, at times. In the mornings sometimes, the tears come – just pop out. This morning they came. I wet Graham’s pillow. But they weren’t hot tears. They were cool by the time they hit the pillow. And I think, it’s only ten days since I had the treatment. I was told I would feel terrible. But I haven’t been trampled by an elephant; I’ve been trampled by a sheepdog.


PAM                                                  Sunday 18 January 2004
Life has been far from straightforward. At times I feel like I’m in a paper boat, bobbing on a current, which takes me anywhere it pleases. At other times it’s felt like I’m under an ever-changing sky. I look up and find there’s been a dramatic shift. And I’ve had absolutely nothing to do with it.

I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to give expression to my own needs and feelings when I’m with Annie. A week ago I was feeling dismantled and, consequently, distant from her and me. Lots of crying.

Now, three days on, I think there is no place for any of this while Annie is alive. I was almost appalled that I would take any measure of sorrow into my interaction with her.

And now, as I write that, the pendulum has swung again. How could sorrow not be present? And so the sky changes. My boat sails on.