Category Archives: Milton Keynes

Alzheimer’s and the author: The long goodbye

As many of you will know, William has Alzheimer’s. He began showing signs of dementia shortly after finishing writing the Cypress Branches 15 years ago. Since then, his health has deteriorated steadily and he is now cared for in a home in Milton Keynes in the UK.

It has been a struggle for the family to see a man so vibrant and intelligent in life slowly slip away from us.

Browsing through some old photos a few days ago, I found three photos of William with his wife Sheila, each taken 3 years apart covering the last six years. It is both remarkable and heartbreaking to see the difference in each photo.

The first was taken in April 2006 on a holiday in Somerset.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila on holiday 2006

The next was taken three years later, at the launch of the hardback book in July 2009.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila at book launch 2009

And most recently, this one, taken in March 2012, at the launch of Pegasus Falling.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila in 2012

Alzheimer’s is called “the long goodbye” for a reason. I was asked recently during a radio interview whether the family had said goodbye and the question floored me for a second. Although William’s personality and vitality has diminished rapidly in the last six years, there are still glimmers of him that come through. On most occasions, he won’t talk and rarely recognises members of his own family. We’re all prepared for the inevitable. He’s not going to get any better. And we’ve all been saying goodbye for a while now, but it’s so hard to do.

When, all of a sudden, he’ll fix you with a knowing stare and say, “hello mate”, instead of saying goodbye, you want to reach into that mind of his and say hello back, start a conversation, ask him what he’s been up to and share a joke or two. It would be wonderful to be able to claw back the man who wrote such incredible books, and to ask him the many questions I have about them.

Instead, the moment passes all too quickly and the understanding is gone again.

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Radio days

I’m reaching the end of what has been a rather odd week.

Last week, we were contemplating putting the heating on overnight because it was so cold in the flat. This week, we’re basking in glorious early summer sunshine.

Last week, I was contemplating writing an email to Nick Coffer, presenter of the afternoon show on BBC Three Counties Radio with a press release about Pegasus Falling. This week, I’m just about getting over the trauma of appearing on the show.

The speed at which it all happened took me completely by surprise. The email was sent on Friday, a reply received on Saturday, appearance arranged on Monday and I was on the air on Wednesday. The downside of all this was that Nick didn’t have the chance to read the book before the item. The upside was that I only had a couple of days to panic.

Now, you’d think, me being a seasoned media professional, I’d be relaxed with the idea of being placed in front of the mic myself. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case. I’m much happier being behind the camera, and well away from the microphone, so on the morning of the show I have to admit I got into a bit of a panic. I was trying to put some notes together to make sure I had all the information I needed in my head beforehand, but I found that the more I worked on the notes the more nervous I became. So I stopped, printed out what I had and hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything – or at least had enough in my head not to be tripped up by any left-field questions I might be asked. On the train up to the studio, I got the notes out and started reading them. Again, the nerves started to jangle, so they were promptly put to one side again.

I’d managed to calm down a little when I arrived at the studio in Luton, about 10 minutes early. I had been surprised when Nick asked me to be there just 10 minutes before I was due in the studio. Coming from a television background, I’m used to there being a much longer lead in to an appearance. With no visual aspect to worry about in radio, there was no need for the make-up and wardrobe checks, the fitting of radio-mics, camera rehearsals, or the like that I’m used to. Instead, I was beckoned into the reception area and simply asked to wait.

This would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the fact that the station’s output was being piped over the loud speaker. When I arrived, Nick was talking to a doctor who was helping callers with their health problems. The nerves, which had been dying down, sprang to life again when Nick trailed what was coming next…me!

I had been told that I would be in the studio after the 3 o’clock news and would be talking to Nick for about half and hour. At 3, the news came on, and finished, and I was still sat in reception wondering if anyone actually knew I was there. Nick’s voice appeared again and he intro’d what was coming next again…me. But there I was, still outside in reception. When a song came on, suddenly the door burst open and in came Katherine, Nick’s producer. She beckoned me in, apologising for taking so long to retrieve me. It turned out the guest before me had broken her leg (weeks ago, not in the studio) and needed help leaving the studio.

The briefest of formalities, and there I was, sat in front of a green microphone and Nick with his bank of equipment. We had barely said hello when the music died down and Nick introduced me and the conversation started flowing.

The nerves were certainly jangling, and I was suddenly aware of my very dry throat. Katherine walked in with a glass of water, but I was unable to take a much needed draught, as I was the one doing most of the talking. Despite the lack of preparation on both sides, Nick knew just enough to get the story out of me and somehow I managed to make sense (I think).

Listening back, you can hear the nerves in my voice, certainly in the first half of the item. Thankfully, as the time went on, those nerves abated slightly and the shakiness left my voice. Nick has a clever way that good presenters do of making a nervous contributor feel at ease. The questions flowed and he gave the appropriate nods and gestures to let me know that what I was saying was interesting. All that being said, I’ve never been happier to hear the opening chords of Wet Wet Wet’s Goodnight Girl, a song I can’t stand, but it did give me an opportunity to finally whet my whistle from that glass of water which had been taunting me for the last 10 minutes.

At the end of the first half of the interview, we’d covered the very emotional story of William and his battle with Alzheimer’s. As Marti Pellow got stuck in, Nick said, “Lovely”. Then immediately apologised – it wasn’t the right word to use. It was lovely in a “good radio” sense, but the story itself wasn’t “lovely”. I told him not to worry, I knew exactly what he meant and certainly wasn’t going to take offence. It served to highlight just how difficult it is to talk about Alzheimer’s, and its leading role in the story of William and the book.

The only embarrassing moment in the whole broadcast came after Nick had cut off Marti in his prime. During the song he had briefed me about what he was going to ask in part 2 and I was deep in thought when he turned to me, mid-spiel and asked me a question. I had been so caught up in my thoughts that all I heard was “1952” and a question. I hadn’t actually heard what he’d asked at all! Hence my rather vague reply to a very easy question! Luckily, the rest of the interview went swimmingly.

In truth, the entire 25 minutes or so I was in the studio flew past, as I knew it would. A quick goodbye from Nick and Katherine before they whisked their next guest in to the hot seat and I was headed out into the glaring afternoon sun again, barely remembering a thing about what had just happened.

As I left, though, Nick asked me to let them know when It Never Was You is released. I’ll definitely be keeping in touch.

So, all in all, a successful radio debut. Hopefully it won’t be my last appearance. And hopefully my nerves won’t be as shredded next time!

If you missed it, or would like to listen to the show again, you can listen online by following this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rjdks I appear 2 hours in to the show. It’s available until next Tuesday (29th May) before it is consigned to the iPlayer recycle bin. Enjoy!

May Newsletter – Bank Holiday Ebook Giveaway & We Need Your Reviews!

This newsletter was sent out to the Acute Angle books mailing list on 4th May 2012. If you’d like to receive future newsletters in your inbox, drop us a line at newsletterATacuteanglebooks.co.uk

Dear Friends and Family,
Welcome to the May newsletter. In this edition, we’re asking for your reviews, and also giving you the chance to download the ebook for free.
It’s been a busy month following the release of Pegasus Falling, and it looks like it’s going down very well with readers everywhere. As well as being in stock at amazon.co.uk, the paperback is also now available at Waterstones in Midsummer Place, Milton Keynes and Rye Books in East Dulwich, London. We’re keen to support local bookshops and we’d encourage others who feel the same to pick up their copy of Pegasus Fallinglocally. Even if it’s not in stock yet at your local shop, most should be able to order it in easily if you provide them with the ISBN number (978-09562299-1-5).  
The ebook is also now available widely and, thanks to smashwords.com, for virtually any device. As well as amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, you’ll also find it in the iBooks store, kobo.com and diesel-ebooks.com with many others to follow.
WILLIAM’S BEEN IN THE PAPERS
We were thrilled when William and the book were featured in the Milton Keynes Citizen a few weeks ago, with an article appearing on the inside front cover, much to our surprise and delight. If you don’t live in the area, or missed it at the time, you can read it online here.
WE NEED YOUR REVIEWS!
We’ve already had a handful of reviews on Amazon (take a look here) and several bloggers have agreed to read and review the book, so keep an eye out for their thoughts in the coming weeks. It can not be underestimated how important reviews are to people – especially when they’re buying a book by an author they don’t know.
We’re therefore asking (very nicely!) anyone who’s read the book to please take a few moments to post a review online. The best place to post a review is on amazon.co.uk. You don’t need to have bought the book there, but you do need to be logged in to an account from which you’ve made a purchase in the past. Go to the Pegasus Falling page and click on “Create your own review”. (You can comment on either the paperback or the Kindle edition – your review will be seen on both.)
Please be honest and say what you liked and didn’t like about the book. If you thought it was wonderful and worthy of 5 stars, then great. But if you thought it was only worth 1 or 2 stars, then that’s fine too – but please explain why. As long as you’re honest, your comments will help others who are happening upon the book to make their choice. Your review doesn’t have to be long – just a sentence or two will do.
If you’d like to help us further, you could post your review on other sites too. There are hundreds out there, but here’s a selection to choose from. Click on the hyperlink to go straight to the book’s page:
Amazon.com(for our American friends)
WHSmith.co.uk(where it’s available to download on Kobo)
Goodreads.com(a great site for all booklovers. Check out William’s author page while you’re there)
Smashwords.com (you need to buy the book here first before reviewing it – see below for a coupon)
iBooks or Aldiko on your iPhone/iPad/smartphone
DOWNLOAD THE EBOOK FOR FREE THIS WEEKEND
It’s a bank holiday weekend and with the weather looking typical for a British bank holiday, it looks like getting stuck in a good book is the order of the day. So, we’re making Pegasus Falling free to download at smashwords.com where you can download a copy of the ebook suitable for any ereader or for reading on your PC. Head over there and use the coupon code SF42B for a 100% discount. Feel free to forward the code to your friends and family – this offer is open to all – but the coupon expires on Monday evening, so hurry!
Before I sign off, some of you may have heard that William’s wife Sheila is recovering in hospital after suffering a stroke two weeks ago. I’m sure you’ll all join us in wishing her a full and speedy recovery.
Mike Harris
acuteANGLE books
Find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/PegasusFalling
Follow us on Twitter: @cypressbranches

William has been in the papers!

This post was originally published on acuteanglebooks.co.uk on 13th April 2012

On 5th April, the Milton Keynes Citizen ran a feature on William and Pegasus Falling. Sally Murrer wrote a lovely piece which ran on the inside cover (much to our shock and excitement!). We’d like to extend our thanks to Sally for writing such a lovely piece for us.

The article also appeared on the MK Citizen’s website – www.miltonkeynes.co.uk – and you can read the article online here.

And thanks should also go to Rachel, who attended the book launch, for her very touching comment after the article. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the book, Rachel!

We’re hoping for a lot more media coverage over the coming weeks and months, so keep a look out.

Family gathers to launch Pegasus Falling

This post was originally published on acuteanglebooks.co.uk on 25th March 2012

Four generations of William’s family gathered today (Sunday 25th March) to celebrate the launch of Pegasus Falling.

The event took place at the care home where William is now resident, so that the man himself could be a part of the day. William, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, got into the spirit of the occasion by sporting a vintage paratrooper’s beret – similar to the one he wore as a member of the parachute regiment during and after the second world war.

The family raised a toast to William and the success of the book with a glass of champagne (orange juice for the kids!) and enjoyed the glorious spring sunshine before leaving William to his well earned afternoon nap.

Thanks to all the family for making the effort to attend the party and give the book the perfect launch.