Life, Writing, Depression, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Wigs, Hair Loss

Hair today…

Apologies for being a little absent, recently.  There’s been a bit going on.  The AS has been  in overdrive, since my two-week stint in hospital late last summer, (I never realised a flare could last so very long).  Since being diagnosed, in 2005, I thought I had experienced every possible permutation of passenger that the disease could drag along for the journey (Uveitis, Colitis, Peripheral Joint Disease).  I was wrong.

Late last year, I started to receive four-hourly, Inflectra Anti-Tnf infusions in hospital every eight weeks.  And then I noticed that I was losing more hair in the shower (and, trust me, I really didn’t have much to spare).  Patches and gaps appeared, until I had no choice but to get it cropped.  The loss continued.  I had decisions to make – I could either put up with it, and continue to lose what confidence I had or I could do something about it.  So, one Sunday afternoon, my sister-in-law shaved all of what was left right off.  Oh.  My.  Life.  I looked like Mrs Potatohead.  I laughed, and after my sister-in-law had left and it was just me and the cat, I cried.

For a while before the worst of the hair loss began, a couple of friends had noticed that my hair had been getting thinner and suggested I might want to think about a really good wig – ‘just for social occasions’, to give me a bit of oomph.  I laughed it off.  But now, as I sat around in the bamboo beanies I had ordered online, I knew that I had faced the point where I had to make some decisions.  I could either sit around, afraid to go out in case I was stared at, or I could woman-up and take some control back.

I made an appointment with a salon that I found via Google.  The reviews looked good, so off I went.  I was a wreck.  The owner seemed lovely, very helpful, and the stylist that looked after me was great.  They told me I was lucky they had a quiet afternoon and I could try on styles until we found the right one.  The problem was that every style we tried was just wrong: the caps were too big, the colours were wrong, the caps were thick and itchy and the styles were not what I wanted.  Yes, I took a long time trying styles on.  Finally, the owner suggested they order a couple of hand-tied, monofilament capped styles from Europe.  They said it would be a couple of days before they arrived.

Two weeks later, I went back to the salon with my friend and tried on the three fibre wigs they had ordered for me.  The one I really liked, that looked most realistic, was the one I was about to buy…until the stylist whispered that I should ask the owner how much it was, first.  This was the point when the owner, who had been so nice to me previously, started to get more and more snappy with me.  She wanted £499 for the wig.  I nearly choked. I asked about the price of the other two – the cheapest one would cost me just over £300.  We put it on, played around with it and the stylist said she could cut into it for me to make it exactly right.  I dithered.  I wasn’t sure.  Then the owner appeared in the doorway, arms folded, with a face like thunder and suggested I should not waste their time any longer and make a decision ‘particularly if you want us to cut it for you, as well.’

The stylist leaned in when her boss had gone into the kitchen to make tea, (or stir her cauldron, take a valium or whatever) and told me that she didn’t think the wig was worth it – she was mortified at the other woman’s behaviour. I was acutely embarrassed and so very desperate to have hair on my head that I told her to please cut it and get me out of there. I handed over my credit card on my way out but what I should have done, in hindsight, was tell this cruel, uncaring woman where to stick her overpriced wigs and woeful customer service. But I didn’t.  I was too emotionally fragile to say a word.

At home, I closed my front door behind me, and cried.  Again.  And then I poured myself a large glass of wine and got my iPad out.  Surely this kind of service wasn’t the norm?  Surely women suffering the trauma of hair loss through cancer or alopecia, or whatever, weren’t usually subjected to this kind of nonsense? And then I looked at the online price of the wig I had just been bullied into buying – I had paid over £150 more than I should have.  I looked at myself in the mirror – the wig aged me by a good five years.  Oh, man.  This was when I got angry.  I couldn’t do anything about my experience, but I if I was facing a lifetime of wig-wearing, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be treated like that again.

And that was when I started researching online, and I discovered that the internet gave me worldwide access to really lovely wig-wearing women who went out of their way to review the best – and worst – in wigs and headwear.  I discovered Patti’s Pearls first, and found myself roaring with laughter at this warrior of a women who talks about ‘shaking the tar’ out of wigs and showing us how to make them work for us.  Then, in the UK, I found the inspirational Michelle Moffatt who is absolutely brilliant at giving the pros and cons for each piece she reviews.  Her enthusiasm is infectious.

Listening to these women, and hearing their wisdom and the way they have dealt with hair loss inspired me to take a chance and order some wigs online instead of putting myself though the wringer at a salon, ever again.  So, I contacted these lovely people and ordered a couple of styles that I had seen reviewed.  And wow, am I glad I did.  Not only do I have the confidence to step outside and not think the world is judging me for not having hair but I find myself getting the odd admiring glance.  A couple of weeks back, I was wearing Ellen Wille’s Flip Mono in Pearl Blonde Rooted at the optician’s, and a hairdresser complimented me on my lovely hair.  I thanked her, leaned across and told her it was a wig.  I thought she was going to fall off her chair.  She asked where I got my hair from, and I wrote the website address out for her.  That’s the other thing – I have been given the confidence to not only wear these styles, but I am no longer ashamed to admit that I’m wearing a wig.  I am embracing it, loving the admiring glances I get.  I’ve just taken delivery of this little beauty which I got for my friend’s daughter’s wedding this coming weekend, and I have been amazed at the compliments I’ve received about it, already.  I have better hair than I’ve had in years!  I’m not going to look back, now that I have the freedom to wear whatever I like, funds permitting.

I don’t mind admitting that illness has taken me to some fairly dark places, and of course I know that it’s only hair, but it has had a huge impact on my mood and how I feel when I get up in the morning.  I might be in constant pain and spend a lot of time at home, but I can put on some fabulous hair and look pretty good for someone who doesn’t get around too well.

And you remember that first wig that I got from the awful salon?  I donated it to a local cancer centre.  At least something good came from the experience.

 

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Ankylosing Spondylitis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Life, Publishing, Recovery, Writing

Oh well, then…

As of this week, I am officially unemployed.  For the first time in a long while.

The docs at the hospital advised me to rest, eliminate stress and concentrate on recovery.  I listened to them, resigning from my Part-Time job within days of being discharged.  I had been struggling to work for a long time.  It means that I’m now reliant on government help, but so be it. I thought that I would find all of this a little stressful, but I feel oddly calm about it all.  I feel free.  I am going to be able to spend some time finishing the novel and take a breath.  I may even fire it off to an agent.

And I have a huge pile of books that I will actually read, now. Oh to read a book for the pure pleasure of reading a book!

You see, rather than feeling fear I feel optimism – like I am coming full circle, back to being a writer. I haven’t felt like one of those in a while.

I’m on a long road to recovery, still.  I know that.  And I know that my challenges are not going to miraculously disappear, but that’s okay.

It’s going to be fine.

Onwards…

Uncategorized

Thankful.

It’s a glorious early autumn Sunday.  A light breeze blows through open windows.  Neighbours are outside: cutting lawns, trimming hedges and chatting over gates. Cows are lazing around in the field while Sparrows and Blue Tits are busily devouring food I put on to the feeding tables for them earlier.

My beautiful cat snores on my bed; her tabby-and-white fur shining as the sun creeps through a gap in the curtain.

This is enough.  Today, I need nothing more.

I am present.

And thankful.

 

Divorce, Life, Recovery, Uncategorized, Wales, Writing

My 50th year doing wonderful things begins…

Readers of my blog will know that the last couple of years have been a difficult time: divorce, health challenges, coping with new complications of disability, surgery and bereavements have made for a bit of a tricky period. Underneath all that, my determination to improve my life has been bubbling away, waiting for the time to do something about it.

That time is now.

2018, my 50th birthday year, is going to be my year of doing wonderful things and creating the life I really want, within my physical limits.

Almost as soon as the clock ticked midnight on 31st December 2017, the first of those wonderful things was underway. After living in Anti-Social Central (albeit by the much-adored sea), I was already preparing to move to the beautiful Welsh countryside. The seaside town I was just existing in held many memories for me, and I’ve written about some of those on here, but the latter ones weren’t particularly good and I knew that if I was going to improve my life I had to start again, away from the bad and into a whole new way of life.

So, a couple of weeks ago, the cat and I landed in our gorgeous home in a tiny village; well away from where we had spent the previous thirteen years. It was a huge leap, but one that I just knew was right. Within five minutes of the removals truck arriving, neighbours appeared from their homes to welcome me to the village, offering help if needed and letting me know that all I needed to do was knock. Just hours later, amid the many boxes of belongings and with old friends around me who had supported me through the weeks of upheaval, I could literally feel myself decompressing from the years of stress. It was incredible. My furniture fits into place, here, as if it was tailor made. I finally have the space to breathe, a spare bedroom to write in and for guests to sleep in. The garden, backing on to the Village Church, is full of wildlife and little areas that I know the cat and I will love spending time in.

I received confirmation that this move was absolutely the right thing to do, very early. On that first night here, instead of being woken at 1am to the sound of alcohol-fuelled arguments outside, I heard two Owls having a chat. The following morning, while sitting at the lounge window drinking my coffee, I saw the first Spotted Woodpecker in my garden. Every day has brought new joy, and all I have had to do is be brave enough to take this chance as it came my way. It is a world away from witnessing middle-aged idiots on mobility scooters running into Swans at top speed. Gone, also, are the teenagers whose idea of Friday night fun was kicking wing mirrors off nearby cars and hurling abuse at my elderly neighbours. All the bad is beginning to feel like a distant memory. And I am so thankful to whoever in the universe was behind the orchestration of this new, happy period in my life. I know, now, that someone up there is looking out for me.

So, we are well into February. This 50th Year of doing wonderful things continues, and I’m going to share it on here with you as it unfolds (photos to follow). Instead of celebrating hitting half-a-century with one big event, I am going to spend the whole year doing wonderful things that have a beneficial impact on my life – I’ve learned that all of us only have a short time here and we should make it count. This month, I’ve also been blessed by a couple of writing opportunities that have appeared from nowhere. I am continuing to quietly work on the completion of my PhD thesis while the cat and I happily settle in to our beautiful, peaceful new surroundings. Only after I have completed my doctorate can the half-finished novel in my drawer even begin to see the light of day for the first time in four years. I am also enjoying the company of the friends I haven’t spent this much quality time with in years, who tell me that they’ve never seen me smile so much. I’m finding my happy, and I’ve said goodbye to the person I had started to become when I was surrounded by all that negativity. I don’t miss her one little bit.

Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Prince…one year on.

When I was sixteen-years-old, I fell in love for the first time.  It would last a lifetime, despite periods of musical separation. I saw Purple Rain in the local cinema.  The next day, while shopping in town, I spotted a life-size cardboard cutout of Prince on his purple motorbike in the window of our local record store. I went in, saw the manager, and asked if I could have it when they had finished with it.  Despite being assured by the bemused manager that they would keep it for me, I insisted on him scrawling my name on the reverse of the cardboard.  I went back every Saturday for five weeks, and eventually this prized piece of cardboard became mine.  There were some interesting looks from other passengers on the bus, as I took Prince home and placed him in the corner of my bedroom.  It would remain there until my stepfather set fire to it, one Sunday morning, in the garden years later.  It was apparently  accompanied with expletive mutterings as the purple paper went up in flames, while I was out at work.  I moved out soon afterwards.

Betcha By Golly Wow provided the accompaniment to a relationship that knocked me sideways when I was twenty-eight.  It looked like that was it, I’d found it.  The thing that had alluded me thus far.

Skip forward to 1999, (yes, literally), and the end of an eighteen-month marriage.  Emancipation was played, and played, as I cried tears of disappointment in a home that had been hastily emptied of many of my belongings, clothes, jewellery and a much-loved cat in bitter estrangement while I had remained, unaware, at work.

2002 saw me heading off to Hammersmith Apollo for One Night Alone.  It would be the first time I had managed to see Prince live.  I was spellbound the whole time; emotional, unable to quite believe what I was seeing, hearing.  My friend and I were up in the nosebleed seats, but the atmosphere of that performance was just as electric as it was down in the front rows.  Extraordinary was in my ear for days afterwards.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis.  Remarried and relocated to the seaside town I had spent much of my childhood in, there was a growing collection of Prince tracks on my iPod, which would accompany me to my monthly four-hour infusions in hospital.  I joined Prince.org and Housequake to keep updated with news of new music and live (accessible) dates, while struggling to study for a degree in Creative Writing.

One morning in early May, Prince dropped one of his last-minute gig announcements for that night, in Camden, London.  This was no huge arena, but a small nightclub that probably held a few hundred at best.  The ticket sale button appeared, and I got two.  I was never going to get as close to Prince as this, and I knew it.   I had no idea how I was going to get there or who was going to get me there, or if I was able to get there.  My friends, none of whom were keen, all turned down the opportunity.  In the end, I logged onto one of the Prince sites and promised away the other ticket to another London-based fan, at face value.  He agreed to get in the front of the queue, and hence get me and my dysfunctional body into the front of the venue. I also got into an online conversation with two fans who were driving up to London from around five miles away, and we agreed to split the petrol and travel up together.  The Prince fan community really is like no other – while there is much passion, and sometimes disagreement about our beloved Prince, there is also a famial, supportive  atmosphere that is cultivated and nurtured.

We screamed up the M4, after my new friends had finished work.  Everything went like clockwork: no traffic, easy parking and straight to the front of the queue – the spare ticket recipient had explained to others around him in the queue that we were travelling from Wales, and there were no objections to us going in before them.  See what I mean – Prince fams, not just fans. We got in to the club, and, full of pain medication, I went straight to the front and just held on to a steel barrier.  The place filled up quickly – everyday people were standing shoulder to shoulder with celebrities, united for Prince.

There was a wait – there was always a wait where Prince was concerned and you just accepted it. I was probably four-feet away from the stage, with microphones set up directly in front of me.  Again, the fams around me seemed to look out for me so that I wasn’t crushed.  The House DJ played funk from across the years, then stopped abruptly as the first lines of Satisfied were sung by Prince as he walked on stage, wearing a black suit, black heels and a white knitted beret.  The place erupted.  Shelby J, The Twinz and the band were just phenomenal. A few tracks in, and the miraculous happened – with a mischievous smile, turning his back to the stage, Prince launched himself into the crowd, landing and being supported by fams immediately to my left – for a few seconds, none of us could believe what was going on.  Nobody knew what to do.  Tears sprang into my eyes. I smiled at him.  He smiled at me.  And then, just as quickly as he had arrived into the crowd, Prince was tenderly handed back to the stage, and that was that.  I hugged one of my new friends, whose face was frozen in pure disbelief.  Her boyfriend, equally as shocked, just shook his head, trying to take it all in.

The gig continued, and around half-an-hour later Prince leaned forward and I found myself holding a leopard-print Gibson.  What was going on?  Was I supposed to do with this?  One of my new friends, a guitar player, held it like it was the Holy Grail itself before it too was returned to the stage.  And that was it.  I’d had my moment, and I knew it. It all went on past midnight, but it ended far too soon – much like Prince’s life.

On 21st April 2016: post-divorce number two, trying to complete a PhD and struggling through one of the worst flares of AS I had experienced, a headline sprang into my computer news feed.  He was gone.  I headed  to The Org for some kind of clarity, because there was no way he could have passed away.  It had to be one of those sick headlines that turned out to be nonsense.  Everyone was bereft.  The site crashed, unable to cope with the sudden surge of activity.  Again, a whole family were unable to know what to do.  Eventually, for me, shock turned to tears, tears turned to music and I remembered that beautiful, warm smile from the person whose life’s work has walked me through life.

It’s a year ago, today.  I lit a candle and I’ve written the words that, until now, have been unable to escape my soul.  I remember that music, that moment, that smile.  And I am thankful.

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Fiction, Life, Uncategorized, Wales, Writing

The Bad Apple

It’s a rainy, cold Saturday morning. Newport is even more depressing to me in the grey of October.

It’s been eight weeks since my father tried to seduce my mother back to Porthcawl with a steak dinner, whiskey and a new velvet jacket. I unpacked my bag an hour after my nan threw him out of the house. Even I realise that we’re never going back home now.

‘Here love, take this list up to Mary’s, and tell her to put it on the book. Then go over to Mrs Fulton and get two pounds of potatoes with this,’ nan says, handing me a fifty pence piece.

‘And can I have some sweets?’

‘Yeah. Ten pence worth…and tell Mary I’ll square up with her on Monday…and if those bloody Jones girls are out there you just cross the road and ignore them, right?’

‘Yeah.’

I put my pink jacket on, open the inner door and yank open the enormous brown wooden front door with four locks on it. It groans as it opens. I poke my head around the corner to see if the coast is clear. And I walk through the drizzle, daydreaming of cola cubes and sherbet lemons, trying to ignore the thumping of my heart in my chest.

Mary Arnott runs a little shop in the front room of her terraced house, at the top of the street. If her black front door is open then we know the shop is open. If it’s shut, then she’s either having a lie-in or she simply can’t be bothered to open up today.

The bell in her back room rings as I open the door into her hallway. She always knows when a customer appears.

‘I’ll be there in a minute,’ Mary’s tired groan reverberates through her living room door, ‘go on in.’

I stand in the shop, gazing up at the items for sale on her sparse shelves. Tins of soup, beans, oxo cubes and the like are lined up on one shelf. In the fridge cabinet sit a huge lump of cheese, some bacon, ham and four bottles of silver-top milk. There’s a small selection of cigarettes behind the counter, and three or four jars of sweets next to them. And that’s it – give or take a loaf of bread or the odd roll of toilet paper.

‘Hello love,’ she says.

She shuffles her huge dumpy frame through the shop doorway. Her slippers are cut along the top to let the flesh move unhindered underneath her wrinkly brown tights. The smell of TCP is overpowering this morning. I try not to stare at the gravy stains on her blue apron.

‘Nan said she’ll see you on Monday to square up,’ I say, handing her the list.

‘Hmmm,’ she scours the list disapprovingly.

‘And can I have a quarter of sherbet lemons please?’

‘Hmmm.’

Mary picks up the big blue book, licks her index finger and starts thumbing through the pages, looking for my nan’s page. Lines of writing and numbers open and close as she sucks her toothless gums and mumbles to herself.

‘Monday, she said?’

‘Yeah.’

We both know that we’ll be running up the Mary debt and living off the book again by Tuesday night.

‘Hmmm.’

She cuts some cheese off the huge lump with some wire, and puts it into a paper bag. Then she shuffles around to the other side of the shop and picks up a loaf of white sliced bread. Her fat wrinkly neck wobbles as her sunken cheeks expand and contract with each heavy breath.

I look at Mary’s limp, greasy dark hair.

‘Oh, and a sachet of Vosene shampoo please,’ I haven’t got permission for this addition to the list, but the washing up liquid is making my scalp sore. I’ll face the music on Monday night, after school, when nan and mam have paid the book off.

‘Hmmm.’ Shuffle.

‘Can I have a carrier bag please, to carry it in?’

‘Hmmm…I’m not splitting a box of eggs again, she’ll have to have a box of six, tell her,’ she says, squinting at the list.

‘Okay.’

‘And this is the last box of snuff till I go to the cash an’ carry next week, tell her.’

‘Okay,’ Nan’s nose always runs a brown colour.

‘Six slices of bacon,’ she mumbles, wrapping the meat in cling film. Two for Damien, who is working at the fruit and veg market, humping bags of potatoes around with his bad back, while other boys go to school.

‘Right…hmmm,’ she says, totting up the figures in her book.

‘And can I have a quarter of sherbet lemons please?’

‘Hmmm.’ Scribble, shuffle.

‘Thanks.’

‘Your poor nan still got a bloody house full then, has she?’ Say please and thank you to her. We don’t want to upset her, or she’ll stop us having stuff on the book, even if she does charge over the odds for everything, nan warned, as she was writing the list out.

‘Yeah.’ And if Mary asks you anything, you tell her to ask me.

‘No sign of your father, then?’

‘No.’

‘Hmmm.’ She loads the groceries in the carrier bag and hands it to me.

‘Thank you,’ I say, sticking a sherbet lemon in my mouth and making a run for it before she can ask me any more questions that I’m not allowed to answer.

I poke my head around the corner of Mary’s doorway to check that the street is Jones-free, and make my way over the road to get the potatoes.

Mr Lucker, the elderly cobbler, is standing in his shop doorway; smoking and watching the rainy world go by. He doesn’t do things on the book. That’s why there’s newspaper in the bottom of my school shoes to block the holes up.

I walk through Mrs Fulton’s shop door and the smell of stale tobacco hits me like a tidal wave. She is huddled in front of a three-bar electric fire as usual – it’s always freezing cold in this shop, even in the summer.

‘Hello love,’ she growls in the low voice of a man, as she breathes out smoke and puts her cigarette in the overflowing glass ashtray.

‘Two pounds of potatoes please?’

‘How’s yer nan?’

‘Fine thanks.’ And whatever you do, don’t tell that old dragon over the road anything!

‘Your mother alright?’

‘Yes thanks.’

‘Seen your father lately?’ She puffs her curly grey hair out of her face.

‘Um…no…nan said for me to hurry up with the potatoes…’

She grunts, pushes her thick glasses further up her nose and starts putting potatoes on the weighing scales.

‘That’s fifty seven pence,’ she says, exposing her nicotine-stained fingernails as she hands the bag of potatoes to me.

‘Oh…nan only gave me fifty pence…’ I say, flushing with awkwardness.

‘Ah, that’s alright, tell your nan to pop it into me next week, on her way back from picking her pension up.’ You can’t fart without that old cow knowing what you had for breakfast.

‘Okay, thanks.’ I make a dash for the door.

‘Here love, have this on me.’ She hands me a wrinkly old apple with her wrinkly, dirty, fingerless-gloved hands.

‘Thanks.’

I cross back over the road and head for home. Green and cream Corporation buses go by, chuffing plumes of grey smoke into the grimey town. I walk down nan’s street, avoiding the Jones girls’ house. They haven’t tripped me up recently – not since my nan charged over and had a word with their mother, her with the screechy voice, just as the whole tribe of them got back from six o’clock mass at St Pat’s.

‘Church or no church, they’re a bad bunch of buggers,’ my nan said when she’d got back in.

As I walk to the house I remember waiting for the bus to the High School on the previous Monday. Two of the Jones girls, the oldest and the second youngest, were waiting at the stop opposite – waiting for the number nine to St Joseph’s on the other side of town. And then along came Alison, the middle girl, wearing round, thick glasses. Down she came, duffle coated and feet flapping outwards in the ugliest shoes you ever saw. Every day I was amazed that she got anywhere, being carried by feet that pointed outwards as she walked.

‘You mustn’t mock the inflicted,’ my nan said, grinning, that tea time, when I’d rushed home from school to tell her that I hadn’t been picked on that day by the foot-flapping Alison or her sisters. It was a good day, even if the newspaper print did come gushing over the top of my holey shoes in a wash of rainwater on the walk home.

As I walk back through the door I’m greeted with an almighty row coming from the living room. My oldest brother, Tom, has appeared – his belongings, packed hastily by his jilting beauty-queen of a fiancée, sit in the hallway. The smell of stale booze rises from him.

‘You stupid git. What did you do to her this time?’ Mam says.

‘It’s fuck all to do with you. I’ll be back in that flat before the weekend’s out. Get the breakfast on, mother, I’m starving.’ He switches the ancient television on to Football Focus and parks himself on the settee next to Damien, who can barely keep his eyes open.

‘Your sister’s gone to the shop for bacon…ah here she is…’

I look at my youngest brother, tired and hungry, and at my oldest, unshaven and hungover. Within twenty-four hours Damien will be relegated to sleeping on the settee with his bad back, and the two-bedroom lopsided terrace will groan under the weight of all of those people.

I hand the bags over to my mother, put the bad apple on the table and walk into the front room – the quiet one that nan keeps for best, where the dead parents and husbands were laid out. As I close the door on the chaos that will reign for too long, I see the Radiogram in the corner of the room. I pull the gleaming vinyl out of the sleeve, for the first time, and look at the man with the guitar smiling while he leans on his friend. And I place the needle on Born to Run, suck on my sherbet lemons and wait for the sun to appear.

Amazon Kindle, Life, Publishing, Writing

What now for the book? A flashback to 2011…

In June 2011, I did something that I swore I never would. The soon-to-be-ex-husband had been asking me to do it for weeks and I had continually delayed the decision. Eventually, pressure from peers and friends – who raved about it and drove me half-mad with curiosity – made me cave in. Afterwards, I found myself racked with guilt that in the knowledge that I had turned to the dark side. When I admitted to it on Facebook, a virtual torrent of opinion was unleashed and some of my on-line friends admitted that they were massively disappointed at my decision. I was amazed at the depth of emotion on the subject. But I did it anyway.

I had taken ownership of an Amazon Kindle for my birthday.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed the guilty pleasure of being able to download books in a couple of minutes, (I’ve never liked waiting for anything, anyway, so this is nectar to me), and having the luxury of carrying lots of lovely books in a lightweight virtual folder has been bliss. But this isn’t the full story because, if you could look at my bedside table, you would see four paperback novels piled on top of said Kindle.

All of this has made me think – if I’m torn between the novel and the virtual version, then just how does this reflect around the world and how does the future look for reading? Will the virtual novel leave the paper version lying in the dust, or will there be a revolution in orthodox book publishing?

According to engadget.com 12,000,000 e-readers were shipped in 2010. Around 700,000,000 books were sold in the same year, with 22,000,000 Kindle books being sold by Amazon. This is a scary statistic for those who are steadfastly holding on to their paperbacks, shaking their heads in disgust at those who have crossed to the supposed dark side of e-reading.

Even our tiny local library has joined the revolution. Tired of being left in the technology doldrums, with falling borrower numbers, Bridgend County Borough Council libraries, in South Wales, have started offering e-books in addition to the orthodox paper versions.

I wanted to find out how the e-reading phenomenon is changing the world of the writer, too, so I decided to use Facebook to see how successful writers are being influenced by the changes in publishing.

First, I asked Tiffany Murray, author of Diamond Star Halo, about whose decision it was to convert her novel to electronic format for resale. She told me, ‘Nowadays you sign an e-book contract with the publisher, via an agent. This is a temporary contract with a temporary royalty percentage, so that the agent has the right to change it at any time. This is because nobody really knows what’s going to happen with the e-novel.’

Percentages, of course, dictate the motivation behind converting novels into virtual versions. Tiffany clarified this, ‘The market norm (for e-books) at the moment is 25%, whereas paperback is just 7.5%. And every book deal that’s been signed over the past five years will contain a separate e-book contract.’ So the decision is clearly a no-brainer for any writer, but what of the buyer? What price-point incentive is there for them?

I checked out a couple of my favourite novels on Amazon, the current market leader in all things e-book, and it appears that there’s generally just a twenty to thirty pence reduction in Kindle books compared to the conventional versions. Of course, there’s no cost for delivery so buyers can download instantly without paying a premium for having the book available immediately.

Annette Green, a literary agent whose clients include Sarah Salway, gave me her take on the subject. She said ‘Almost all of my clients publish their books electronically nowadays. And the decision to publish this way has definitely affected paperback sales.’

But does the rise of the e-book really mean the end for the real thing? Both Tiffany and Annette confirmed that, while they both own electronic readers, they are still energetically and enthusiastically purchasing orthodox books from local retailers. And how are book retailers fighting this newest challenge to their business? They’re finding new ways of providing that personal service to customers – for example, one retailer in Herefordshire is providing a free, next-day bespoke delivery service in a bid to hold on to market share. And it’s working.

And what’s on my bedside table these days? Well, there’s the infamous Kindle, which currently contains some fifty-odd books, but it’s sandwiched between three novels and a biography – all paperbacks. I have a feeling that, while the e-reading sensation will continue to increase in popularity, there will always be a place for the paperback – after all, nothing can compare to the smell of a freshly-discovered novel, the discovery of a story as physical pages are turned. Time will tell…

*Originally published 2011