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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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Cheating Death

Would you pay $200,000 to have your dead body preserved in liquid nitrogen and hung upside down in a sleeping bag, until medicine advances far enough to cure the disease that killed you? Cryonics might promise you immortality or at least offer to add years onto your life at some point in the future. No guarantees, mind.

A growing number of people are buying into this hope of a physical resurrection. But why? How will these ex-dead fit into a world that has moved on or maybe has experienced a nuclear war? I would never want to live back in my home town again, not because I don’t love it but because we no longer fit together, so why on earth would I want to come back to life. Done that, the T shirts are in the charity shop.

With the world’s population expected to break the 8 billion barrier by 2030, this will put even more pressure on the planet to provide resources for a world already struggling to feed its people.  I have to question what lies behind this greed. After all, it’s pure luck that any of us have been given the gift of life in the first place.

Never one to believe in unnecessary end-of-life intervention at the expense of the quality of life,, I think it’s the responsibility of the death industry to talk more about what it means to let go of life as we know it and embrace the end with equanimity and gratitude.

Religion used to give us permission to leave this world anticipating some sort of life eternal providing we behaved according to divine law. Now we look to holding back the tide with cosmetic surgery, dietary fads which promise to add years to your life and super technology to promise a new physical life in maybe a hundred years’ time.  It’s nonsense. It’s a denial of death which to my mind is triggered by fear- of nothingness, non-existence, the grave, of being forgotten, for not having made the most of the opportunities, doing what we came here to do ( if we can ever work that out), for making mistakes, hurting people but most of all of not being able to turn back the clock or hold back the tide. As time marches on we feel powerless and out of control.  A sense of doom pervades our later years when we could be feeling joyous. We made it that far.

We plead with the doctors, mumble through a half-remembered prayer from childhood to quell the panic. It becomes all about us, me, unaware that over 100 billion human beings have trod this path before us and have returned to specks of stardust.  They’re just fine.

We fight the inevitable and in our anguish and exhaustion we fail to soak up the intensity of that moment – the lilac tree blossom outside our window, a fluttering red admiral butterfly, the squeeze of a loved one’s hand.

In his deeply moving book, Waiting For The Last Bus,  Richard Holloway reminds us that instead of there being sorrow for what death will take from us, we can choose to let it reveal the beauty of the world. https://amzn.to/2JFwA55

Those promoting Mindfulness are onto something.

We groan under the towering boulders of regret, knowing that one day we will be a distant memory handed down in the sketchy narrative to our descendants who might wonder for a moment or two about our life before returning greedily back to theirs.

Dylan Thomas said, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night….. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

I don’t agree with this. There’s no point in fighting the inevitable. Death was always part of the plan.  A calm and gracious acceptance is what I hope for my final goodbye. I am mentally prepared and that gives meaning to everything I say and do.

If just one person remembers me for doing my best and will forgive me for straying from that, on the grounds that I’m human, then what more could I want?

Being able to die in peace, is knowing when enough is enough. That peace comes from being able to forgive yourself.

My new novel  Edna’s Death Café, Talking about death, celebrating life. Out Sept 2018   

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/ednas-death-cafe/

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A Chat with Anne Coates - author of the popular Hannah Weybridge crime novels

I’m not a book blogger as such, but when an interesting author with an exciting new approach to their genre comes along, I’d like to help get their titles out there because you, voracious readers, might miss something.

If you haven't heard of  Hannah Weybridge,  you’re in for a treat. She is the lead in Anne Coates’ pacey thrillers. Single mother, investigative journalist with a dogged determination to get to the truth whatever the risks, Hannah Weybridge takes the star role in Anne’s three novels, details of which can be found below.

I’m going to focus on Anne’s latest book, ‘Songs of Innocence’ as I think this is her best and most socially sensitive book to date. Why do I say that? These are not your average murder scenes or crimes. They involve several young women from ethnic communities in South London but the police don’t seem to be taking the crimes seriously enough.

The book is set in the nineties and I can't help thinking that we are facing similar themes of  racism and protests against immigration while Asian and African women are still battling against cultural mores and equal rights within their own communities, such as forced marriage, domestic abuse and trafficking as well as battling on going discrimination in the UK. The author does an excellent job of giving us a realistic insight into these issues which, let’s face it, we would rather pretend didn’t exist.

It’s gritty, it’s real, and if you’re looking for something that carries you along, Songs of Innocence’ is a must read.

As always I am keen to know the story behind a popular author so I asked Anne a few searching questions. Anne, author of seven non-fiction books and short story writer who has been published in magazines such as Bella and Caris,   really knows what she is talking about.

Hannah Weybridge has developed into a strong, identifiable character. What gave you the idea for her and in particular her role as a journalist as opposed to an investigating police officer? 
Hannah Weybridge first appears in ‘Dancers in the Wind’, a novel which was inspired by my own journalism. I had interviewed a prostitute and a police officer at King’s Cross for a national newspaper. It was to link to a documentary that was just about to be aired. My article was spiked as it was too harrowing… Sometime later I started thinking “what if” and fictionalised the interview to set off the events for the novel. Hannah Weybridge was born… there was never any thought of her being a police officer.

 

As someone who does not know London outside of the areas visited by tourists, why did you choose Peckham for the setting on Songs of Innocence? I must add that you present a strong sense of place with minimal description. 
Peckham is only one location in the book. Dulwich also features plus the action takes place throughout the borough of Southwark, plus other areas. Peckham Park pond is where the first body is discovered – the park is where William Blake had his vision of angels in an oak tree, hence the link to the title of the book. South-east London is Hannah’s home patch – and mine.


I ask this question as someone whose life has been enriched by diversity since 1979, yet has found it challenging writing about mixed communities from the outside, have you had similar experiences when writing Songs of Innocence and what advice would you give to other writers when tackling similar themes? 
The area where I have lived for many years is a melting pot of cultures and residents come from all walks of life. I love it. When I first moved into my house, my neighbours on one side were Indian and Caribbean on the other, plus a Turkish family a few doors down. There was also an elderly lady who had been born in her house before WW2 and a middle-aged man still living with his father in the flat he’d also been born in. My work as an editor introduced me to books written by Asian women plus I have visited India. However I would stress that Songs of Innocence is written from Hannah’s perspective as an investigating journalist. Advice to other writers would be to go to primary sources and always at least three – the magic number we were given when fact checking as a journalist. 


What appeals to you about crime writing? Would you consider other genres for future books?
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series have a lot to answer for! I find crime really satisfying to write – I love the clues characters whisper to me as we get to know each other. Previously I have written short stories for women’s magazines and many of these centred on a “crime” although others were more about family relationships. Another project I’m working on is a stand-alone, first person narrative but I’m not sure where it’s heading at the moment… Although I have translated an erotic novel written in French, I wouldn’t dream of writing in that genre nor would I attempt science fiction and I don’t think I’m romantic enough to write a love story.


You have told me that most of your life has been in publishing related industries so you must have seen many changes. How do you see publishing in the future and what do new authors need to understand before they embark on what is certainly a tough career?

I’d love to have a crystal ball to predict the future path of publishing! The changes that the digital age has made are phenomenal and now everyone can be a publisher, which is exciting and (sometimes) disastrous. For anyone considering writing books I’d say write because you love writing. It’s not a “career” as such – no entry qualifications or clear “continuing professional development” – it’s a way of life and you will probably need another career to support yourself financially.

How do you think social media helps sell books (or not)? 

Well, I certainly buy books that I’ve discovered via social media and if I am “friends” with an author, I’m likely to buy and read their books. However it’s a double-edged sword for an author as you mustn’t be seen to be trying to sell your books. Nevertheless, I have seen one author recently do nothing but self-promote and it seems to have worked judging by her “bestseller” listings.


What's your view of the current wave of fiction writing in the first person/present tense? 
First person narratives have been around forever. One of my all time favourites is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne which was first published in the 18th century and is so funny. Books written in the first person lend an intimacy to the reading process which is very powerful. The book I’ve just read in the first person is Rowan Colman’s The Summer of Impossible Things and it’s practically perfect. I love first person narratives when they are well executed but it’s a skill not everyone has.

Will we see more of Hannah? 
I am currently writing the fourth book in the Hannah Weybridge series so that’s a resounding yes!

You can buy 'Songs of Innocence from amazon.co.uk https://amzn.to/2LoTAa8

Death's Silent Judgement                                             https://amzn.to/2L4qIrw

Dancers in the Wind                                                      https://amzn.to/2Ldjotb

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Edna's Death Cafe

As in life, death is not without its agenda. This is something seventy-nine year old Edna Reid finds out when her partner, Ted, suddenly dies.

To cope with her loss, she sets up a Death Café to break down the taboo around death and to encourage other members of the community to discuss it openly. Over tea and cake, the participants hide their fears behind a veil of dark humour.

Religious fanaticism clashes with Victorian spiritualism as Edna’s meetings trigger lively conversations on the fragility of life, anxiety over dying, cost of funerals, and making sure long-lost greedy relatives don’t benefit from inheritances. 

Soon, a series of events begin to unfold which threaten to undermine Edna’s livelihood and the Death Café meetings. These events just happen to coincide with the arrival of a mysterious stranger into the village.

Who is she and why is she so hostile to Edna?

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Talking About Death, Celebrating Life

YODO! No, it’s not a new greeting. It’s shorthand for You Only Die Once, so why not make it a good death? There has never been a better time to get talking about those “face behind a cushion” topics we’d all rather pretend weren’t going to happen. At least, not to us.

The international Death Cafe movement has been encouraging us to share what’s on our mind about death, dying and bereavement since 2011 when Jon Underwood set up the first Death Cafe meeting in Hackney, washed down with tea and sweetened with a bit of cake. Over 6000 meetings in 56 countries have been held to date but you won’t find negativity on the menu.

It’s a safe space run with no agenda, no aim to convert to a belief or sign up to a philosophy of life (or death). No one is under pressure to do or say anything. No long lectures or guest speakers pontificating, no funeral services representatives trying to sell you a plan. Just you, others like you and the facilitator wanting to share what’s on their mind. To find out about a meeting in your area or to see what’s involved should you want to set one up, visit www.deathcafe.org Follow them on Twitter @DeathCafe

Let’s get back to YODO. Being near Birmingham, I shall be attending A Matter of Life and Death Festival (May 10th – 26th), an arts of cultural programme of events with death as a core theme. BrumYODO is a local collective set up with the aim of helping the people of Birmingham have more open and honest conversations about death and dying. The collective describes themselves as “a growing group of artists, undertakers, food artists, hospices, palliative care professionals and generally all-round interesting folk. http://brumyodo.org.uk/matter-life-death/

So why am I so passionate about the need to talk about all things mortal?

As someone who has suffered from death anxiety (thanatophobia) ever since my Grandad died when I was ten (fifty years ago), I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Part of any fear is driven by not owning it. Bringing it out into the open is one way of disempowering that fear and empowering ourselves. In doing so, we add more value and quality into our daily lives by making every moment count.

            I’ve attended a number of Death Cafe meetings which have provided the inspiration for my latest novel, EDNA’S DEATH CAFE, set in the Derbyshire Peak District, my childhood stomping ground. Fiction can often reach parts that other communication channels cannot. We can be alone with a book, argue with the characters, ponder on their words and reflect on their lives, hopefully to find resonance with ours.

            I’ll be writing more about the book, about bereavement and my work as a newly trained funeral celebrant. I’ll leave you with my favourite bit of philosophy. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside is while we live. Norman Cousins.

Edna’s Death Cafe will be published by Matador in September 2018. Keep up to date with the news on Twitter. Follow @Angelena Boden @matadorbooks

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