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Hazel McHaffie, Midlothian

Hazel McHaffie

Hazel wanted to make her academic work in Medical Ethics more accessible to people and decided to write the themes into Novels. Further to her Writers Bureau Course Hazel has had five novels published and appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2008.

www.hazelmchaffie.com

Hazel's books are available to buy at amazon:

Paternity, Double Trouble, Vacant Possession, Right to Die, Crucial Decisions at the Beginning of Life, Life, Death and Decisions.

 

Taking tea in the House of Lords; appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival; sharing a platform with Baroness Mary Warnock; interacting with fifty-plus teenagers in a school hall; responding to journalists' requests for comment; watching strangers queuing for my signature ... can this really be me? All because I've become a writer?

This year saw the publication of my fifth novel and the launch of a new website to rebrand me. After over twenty years of being a medical author/researcher/lecturer I shed my old image and donned a completely different persona – that of novelist. Self employed. Freelance. No safety net. No guarantees. In this new life, a heavy academic CV and a PhD count for nothing; I'm only as good as my last book.

I've been a scribbler and teller of tales since childhood but it was always a hobby until I reached my fiftieth birthday. At the time I was working in a University department writing almost every day – academic papers and books about ethical issues; fascinating material but accessible only to a limited readership. And yet things like abortion, euthanasia, organ transplantation, infertility, mental incapacity, stem cells, affect us all in one way or another, in our everyday lives as well as in relation to the kind of society we want for ourselves and for our children. The newspaper columns are full of real-life stories about these subjects. Journalists, politicians, experts, fill whole pages with their opinions. But they're often biased, often sensationalised. Expert philosophers and ethicists provide a more balanced view but it's often so shrouded in erudite language it requires a PhD in the works of Immanuel Kant to understand it. I felt a burning desire to do something to kindle a spark – perhaps even a fire – in people's hearts; re-wrap ethics in a more vital guise that would inform in a balanced way whilst at the same time, appealing to and entertaining the reader.

In my research life my main area of interest was tiny sick babies. Just in my lifetime the possibilities for saving them have changed out of all recognition. But simply because we can save them, should we? ... I had the subject for my first novel.

The manuscript was accepted by the first publisher I approached. With hindsight I believe that wasn't the best outcome, because I knew it wasn't as good as it should have been. And there was to be no editing. To my astonishment the book quickly became a teaching tool on professional and degree courses, but I wasn't satisfied. That's when I enrolled with the Writers Bureau.

What a treat! My own personal tutor – an established author herself – analysing every assignment, critiquing style as well as content, and helping me to hone my skills. The difference was tangible. So much so that I don't even list the first novel on my website! I wish it would sink without trace.

Now serious fiction writing could begin ... My fifth novel was published this year and – another first – I appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival alongside Baroness Mary Warnock, speaking about our books on euthanasia and assisted dying. Our respective queues of readers waiting for signatures lined up side by side – hers only slightly longer than mine. She's an amazing lady and I'd have queued for her if I hadn't been on the other side of the table! I don't begrudge her those extra few.

Of course, it's not all festivities and celebration. The writing goes on in isolation. But here my compulsive inclinations stand me in good stead. Not only am I obsessively organised but I constantly research topics for future books. On my desk the row of folders for a range of titles grows fatter weekly as I slip in ideas, plots, news items, articles. There's never a dearth of material on issues that affect society so profoundly. Two more novels are now written and accepted for publication and the eighth one is currently being plotted. If I hadn't changed to fiction I'd have retired by now. As it is I have a wonderfully stimulating life, doing what I love. It's not uncommon to work a fourteen-hour day. Not infrequently I wake in the night with dialogue racing in my head, a twist to a tale, or simply the next chapter just screaming out to be written down. But it's from choice. Nobody else is cracking the whip.

With five novels now under my belt, I love to receive feedback from readers. I know from them that the books have the capacity to change people's way of thinking: not telling them what they should believe, but showing them how important it is to be open to different ways of understanding these complex and life-changing situations. Show, don't tell. Every writing tutor's mantra!

These are topics that affect us all, and wherever I go with interactive sessions and workshops I find real enthusiasm for the challenge of re-examining opinions and prejudices. And I'm kept on my toes by the perceptive and varied responses both adults and teenagers throw back at me.

My professional and academic training and experience equipped me with knowledge of my subject area and tested my ability to communicate it in an accessible way. The creative writing course taught me how to weave facts into a narrative in such a way as to make it hard to put the book down. In November of this year an academic study (carried out by Manchester University and The London School of Economics) found that not only did novels reach a wider readership, but they were more effective at giving people an understanding of the complexities of world issues than academic reports. The Writers Bureau and I know that to be true.

 
 

Sarah Plater Writers Bureau's Writer of the Year 2017

“I’m currently working on my fourth book, have been paid for my writing by at least 15 different magazines, and now earn half my income from writing – all thanks to The Writers Bureau’s course."

Sarah Plater - Writers Bureau Writer of the Year 2017

Read Sarah's full story.

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