me, at an academic conference

I’ve been to a conference, feeling worthy, at the local university, on epatients, blogging and social media. It was about story telling and connection and sharing and learning and power imbalances. I spent days with amazing people, a peer amongst academics, and still got to sleep in my own bed and hug my little people.


I’d always intended to attend the event, but I was thrown by being asked to speak a week before. (I’d written a proposal months ago, and not considered it at all when it wasn’t accepted then.) Cue panic of research, sleep, more research, writing, sleep. I produced something and stopped writing when I got bored. I used some of my own story; I would use more the next time.

I often tell people about how all the stories matter, but appear to be reluctant to keep talking about my own. Do I think that ‘me as patient’ is too mundane to have any impact? Do I think ‘me as carer’ is out of date and the lessons have all been learnt? Oliver Burkeman’s article Why don’t we take our own advice? resonated with me. I’d encouraged one of the other speakers to apply, to tell her story, to share her experience, and yet I was freaking out when I had the chance to do so myself.

Marie on the power of stories in health, at a different event

Sally’s story from Saturday

My head is still buzzing. I have much to learn and relearn. I have ordered many books referenced at the conference. Fingers crossed my brain has the energy to read them.

How can we use stories to improve the system?

Work in progress…

an unexpected problem with reading

I was cosy and comfy in the caravan. There were bursts of sunshine and wandering on beaches. We were still in the honeymoon phase of Girl1’s return from foreign parts.

Mountcharles pier

We’d had the world cup chocolate boot presentation.

worthy winners

We’d been in a favourite shop and seen a real loom. No tiny elastic bands required.

Magee's loom

I had plenty of reading material, and was engrossed in a novel. All was well with the world.

The next morning I refilled the breakfast coffee mug and lifted my trusty Kindle, another day of lazy contentment planned. I flicked the switch, keen to get on with the story.


The screen was filled with half images and shadows of words (not a good sign), and didn’t change (a worse sign). I’d been here before, many moons ago, when my Kindle was still an infant. Amazon replaced it immediately. But now, the Kindle is elderly, obsolete. Dead. They don’t make that model any more.

farewell old friend

We have no internet access in Donegal which meant that I couldn’t set about finding a replacement until we came home. Also, I couldn’t simply continue reading the novel on my phone, because it wasn’t already downloaded to that device.

I started to read Spurs Fan’s football book, but it wasn’t the same. Less violence, for a start.

Once home, I began to investigate. I was briefly tempted by ‘Fire’, ‘HD’, ‘HDX’ and other random collections of letters before deciding I wasn’t going to pay good money for a flash tablet when I had a voucher that would practically cover the cost of a basic e reader. Doesn’t my phone do all the fancy stuff? (I have no idea what my phone can do.) After that I pottered choosing a cover and spent a huge amount of time trying to organise super speedy delivery.


The colourful cover is here. The Kindle is not. I feel like I’m waiting for a baby to be born. “Is it here yet?” “Oh, it’s on it’s way!” “Still not here.” I’m pining for a bit of electronic equipment I’ve never met.


I got the story finished. Jo Nesbo’s The Son. A bit long, a bit daft, but I enjoyed it. The reviewers didn’t. Lazy, they said. Turgid, they said. Perhaps my judgement was addled by the Kindle added suspense.

Or maybe I just enjoy some fun rubbish fiction*?


*other examples of this genre include anything by Lee Child or Janet Evanovich.

on my night with a Norwegian stockbroker

Well, who knew?

Scandi crime writer Jo Nesbo was a top flight footballer before falling victim to a cruciate injury. He then was a lyricist and musician with Norwegian pop/ rock band Di Derre. While his band mates were on the tour bus, he was flying back to Oslo daily to do the day job- stockbroker. Ridiculous levels of over achievement, before he became a novelist.

He got into writing crime fiction because he had five weeks to write something and reckoned crime would be good- it needed a start, a middle and an end, and surely he could do that. While touring Australia with the band.

At this stage the audience were rocking with laughter, or jealous rage.

from @noalibisbooks
from @noalibisbooks

Jo Nesbo faced the biggest audience of his book launch tour at the Ulster Hall over the weekend. He was impressed equally by the fact that Dickens and Led Zeppelin had been on that stage before him. He’d have been ecstatic if they’d been able to find a note of George Best having been there too.

From a distance the shaved head, black t shirt and jeans put me in mind of TV doctor/ detective Gregory House, and of course the other funny guy/ sportsman/ musician/ writer/actor chap, Hugh Laurie. This is never a bad thing.

not like Hugh at all
not like Hugh at all

Nesbo spoke of revealing only 10% of the story in his novels, trusting the reader to do the work. Also, he has to trust to the translator- accepting that some of the nuance will get misplaced in translation. What I hadn’t considered was how important an English translation is, as that forms the basis of other versions- e.g. it is easier to find a translator to work from English to Korean than from Norwegian to Korean.

He spoke mostly of his Harry Hole series of novels, but also stand alone work, film, and children’s books.

We heard of how a childhood experience eating apples off the tree (unpicked- the apples still on the tree, growing) inspired a particularly horrible murder in Phantom. I haven’t yet read that book, but the image of Jo up his granny’s tree with an apple stuck in his mouth will stay with me.

“My stories are about moral dilemmas, about choices.”

“Everybody wants a happy ending, but really, we want to know will he do the right thing. Will he save his eternal soul?”

I’ve read several of the Harry Hole series. The rest may have found their way on to my Kindle within minutes of me arriving home…

“I am the world’s greatest living crime writer. Jo Nesbø is a man who is snapping at my heels like a rabid pitbull poised to take over my mantle when I dramatically pre-decease him”
–James Ellroy


The problem with having too many things- in this case, books- is that I can’t find what I’m looking for. How am I going to impress you all with my knowledge of random bits, if I don’t know where I’ve put it? Hmm, yes, I do suppose that means that I don’t really know the stuff, I just like having access to it. That’s why I love the internet.

After wondering about Seamus Heaney on the bus the other week, I thought I’d hunt out some of the poetry and remind myself of its wonder. I’d thought I’d be curled up on the sofa, nodding knowledgeably, stroking my metaphorical beard, chewing on the end of a pencil. I thought I knew where the books were. Right there beside the bed. Or in the living room. The shelves are double stacked, but nothing is lost. I don’t think. It’s not a big house. I give loads of books to charity shops, but surely I wouldn’t have given away Seamus?

I did have to revert to the internet after all. Forgive me for the obvious choices- familiarity doesn’t reduce their power, and also, they’re easier to find… (the book turned up later, beside the bed, just like you all predicted)

Digging, by Seamus Heaney

Lovers on Aran, By Seamus Heaney

Then, there is another poem which came to mind when I was looking at Not Seamus

A lover of words, by John Hegley

The words are his potatoes.

He spades them out

he lets them lie

he brings them home

he wrings them dry.

Then the honing

and the boning

of the artificial eye.

And then further cleaning:

this is Seamus,



This post was first published in May 2011. Works by Heaney and Hegley are available for reading anytime.