Monday, 24 October 2011

Update from Jane Boyd re Miraflor, Nicaragua

Jane (Juanita) Boyd, who runs the Cafe Luz and Hostel Luna in Estelí, Nicaragua filed the following update on conditions in the Miraflor Reserve at 18.43hrs BST Sunday 23 October.

The rains have stopped thank goodness, though we're forecast more, though not sure when. The cases in Miraflor are emerging slowly still hearing new issues, comms, food and health issues being the most critical, but clothes are drying and people getting warm again, helps for the morale if nothing else. We're looking closely at helping with medicines, and roof structures for the homes, I've been shocked by what I've seen, the conditions in some homes.

See the previous post for further details.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Flood Disaster in Nicaragua

   I am posting Jane (Juanita) Boyd's email in its entirety so you can see the extent of the problem in the Estelí region and particularly in the Miraflor Reserve where she does an enormous amount of work supporting the local communities. She has been working at ground level there for eight years. This email was passed to me from friends John and Brian both of whom have done volunteer work in the rural communities in Nicaragua.

Dear friends and supporters

Summary and weather situation (as best we know it)

We are launching an urgent appeal for Emergency Action from here in Esteli, Nicaragua, to ask for your financial help and assistance in raising some funds this week.
We are currently in Day 9 of a severe tropical depression that has found Esteli to be the worst hit region of this country. Many of you will have heard about the rains and storms that hit Mexico and Guatemala. That was storm 10/Hurricane Joda, storm 11 and we are experiencing storm 12-E/Irwin a slow moving depression now threatening to convert into a hurricane to top it all.
The most deaths and landslides are occurring in these regions here and in Salvador.

The city of Esteli has bared the brunt of the rains, floods peaking on Friday, but today and forecast tomorrow more severe rainfall is to follow. We have had 9 days of 24/7 rain.

The affected zone of Miraflor:
Miraflor Natural reserve is a high mountainous region, surrounded by the Esteli river, the Yali river, with dirt roads and steep landscapes. Within the danger area are over 33 communities, thousands of people, living in very impoverished conditions, susceptible to these most severe of weather phenomenons. The people are strong, but not well nutritioned, they find work but only when it's available, they sustain poor weather but rely on access to the outside for most healthcare and supplies. I have worked with these communities for nearly 8 years now, and am still shocked by some of the conditions in which many still live. The rainfall this last week has surpassed that of the terrible Hurricane Mitch of 1998, Many houses are better reinforced, roads always built up with stones by hand, but that's not everyone, and these rains have are passing the limitations of most.

Our role:
We administrate the eco-tourism programme of Miraflor, and also work 2-3 further social development projects within the reserve. Our responsibility for these people, especially those beyond most social programmes that reach many parts, is huge and I turn to the goodwill of our supporters and your solidarity to support our emergency action. 

Our/my work here is voluntary, no administration costs are taken from donated funds, nor would be taken. Cafe Luz y Luna works as a social enterprise, not a registered NGO, we can act quickly, in collaboration and all our regular social programmes are sustained from our business and tour activities as well as some valuable donations.

Current Situation:
The big rivers are breaking bridges, foot bridges are becoming damaged and impassable. All small streams and small rivers are torrents and impassable. The water table is too high, outside toilets are flooding into the open, flat areas are becoming impassable.

The crisis is as follows;
The buses have been unable to reach many routes in Miraflor. At least 8 communities are completely cut off, due to road damage (collapses) and landslides. They have no food left to sell in the villages. The rain and cold has led to several homes being damaged and thier families left at high risk, children and the elderly especially. The threat of further landslides is at red alert. Animals are dying, the biggest investment a family can have. Most importantly many  of the most impoverished families rely on a hand to mouth existence of working as farm workers daily, where they earn $2-$4 a day, if and when they work. There's been no work and they have no money to buy the food at the local shops, perhaps selling at inflated prices for it being so scarce.

The weather forecast is poor, at least another 10 days of rain, though we remain uncertain. We fear epidemics of illness to follow, through contaminated water in wells, springs, poor self-care of the weak, children and elderly especially, many of whom live alone with little ability to walk far.

Tomorrow I am returning up to Miraflor to help with the governing organization Foro Miraflor, the city council, Minsa/the health medical brigades, and due to the national crisis, funds are at a minimum. 

We, Cafe Luz y Luna have been asked to provide the following;

Rolls of Black plastic, nails, hammers > to cover roofs, and protect walls from the pouring streams of water from entering the houses
Sweaters and jackets > a surprisingly rare commodity despite the cool climate in the mountains, and most will be wet by now with no way to dry. Needed to assist in prevention of severe colds/flu and respiratory diseases.
Some hats for extra warmth
Pampers/nappies > Disposible nappies, usually plain cotton cloth variety are used but no chance of having any washed and dry. Especially for newborns and young toddlers, help avoid unnecssary water contamination
Baby milk > expensive and there's little milk production right now, necessary for the young
Blankets . a few dozen for those in shelters and those without in very impoverished housing
Wet weather gear for the local leaders.

Cafe Luz y Luna has already spent the spare funds we had for food deposits in other communities. 

  • Therefore I appeal to our dear friends and supporters to help just a little to fund these necessary goods.
  • We look only for 5-10 GBP or $10 per gift or more as you or your friends and associates can afford it.
We expect to help too with emergency free food and supplementary medical packages, like vitamins and oral rehydration packets, water filters where needed.
The government provides food at lower than cost prices but it's not free. We see the need to provide some free rations to the most affected and those evacuated families in the coming days. There's even a crisis for underwear !, for firewood, it's not dry anywhere, for dry bedding or mattresses in certain areas not otherwise attended. Other emergency materials are being provided by the council and government for now.

Tomorrow I will post photos of a damage report committee that returned today. But we are seeing heavy downpours tonight already worsening access and the situation.

On a personal level, I hugely appreciate your help and support. A full account of expenditure will be posted after these emergencies subside.
Any excess funds, will be maintained in a separate fund from donations, for emergency social needs in Miraflor maintained by Cafe Luz y Luna.
Opportunities of working with eco-stove projects/Give-a-stove a chimney, water filter projects, immediate housing needs are optional for this emergency fund, set up by our Friends in Ireland,  but supporters would be informed during the decision process.
We continue to work in many themes in Miraflor, including environmental iniatives to help with prevention of soil erosion, organic gardens fand food security programmes, protection of water sources and environ. education, with basic healthcare and gender issues workshops addressed, through our Mobile Library bus starting this December. Watch this space. Please check our website.

For those in the UK you can transfer to the following account.
Many friends are in the USA, Canada and Europe. We will set up a Paypal account or otherwise we can set up a coordination with friends in the USA who can transfer us funds, since Nicaragua also trades in US$$.

UK Bank Details

a/c 01840079

Thank you so much for your time.
A paypal account with details will be issued ASAP too, along with photos in the next 2 days.

Abrazos from Nicaragua


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Prologue Opening from Work in Progress (American Daughters)

After all this time John’s self-possession deserted him. He wanted to make sure that he saw her before she saw him. He just wanted that one momentary advantage, to be able to look at her. A moment of discovery. He knew she would be more beautiful than any of the photographs he had seen.
Like a guerrilla commander readying himself for a skirmish he sized up the lay of the land for an advantageous position. The weather, timing and topography had joined together to provide him with a perfect place. He’d done it so many times before on battlefields from La Haye Sainte at Waterloo to Touro at Lake Trasimeno looking in on the past, but this reconnoitre was more concerned with the present and the future.
He’d dressed meticulously for the occasion, not in camouflage but more in an attempt to be inconspicuous. Over a plain, dark blue button-down shirt he’d added a light, crewneck lambswool sweater and his dark grey jacket with the elbow pads. The navy blue cords fitted his well-proportioned physique snugly and the new brown shoes he’d had to go out and buy at Saks completed the effect. He grabbed his dark blue and brown leather outdoors coat from the back seat and struggled into it. Although a watery sun shone insipidly through a thickening cloud cover it looked like the temperature would drop below freezing after dark. It was already noticeably colder this much further north.
He’d followed the directions he’d been given and without too much trouble he’d pulled up in front of a modern residence hall on the upper side of the clinically manicured campus at Middlebury. As he hobbled from his rental car he cursed the crutches he had to use. The journey from New York City, with only the use of his right leg, had been tiresome, although inside him there was an exhilaration he couldn’t quite repress. Finishing his work in Manhattan in the early afternoon the previous day, he’d avoided the commuter rush and, guided by the ‘eye in the sky’ traffic reports on the radio, had headed uptown and out on to I87, the Adirondack Parkway. He’d noticed the air altogether crisper and cleaner by the time he’d left the environs of the city and it certainly felt brisk when he stopped off in a rest area in the dark of the early evening north of Albany. He’d eventually called it a day when he found a small modest motel open for business, one of the few in the off-season on N7, just across the state line in Vermont. And the following morning he’d been uneasy after a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and coffee as it had tried to rain and he’d watched a flurry of raindrops run down the window mixed with a sleet of deformed snow crystals that melted on contact with the glass.
As John worked his way with some effort up the pathway to the dorm, a pretty co-ed emerged from the building, wearing a fur-lined khaki parka, her small beanie and grey scarf struggling to confine her long blonde hair. For a moment, a heart-lurching moment, he had thought it was Hilary, as the girl strode towards him, her head down, carrying a file folder and a couple of books. She barely stepped aside for him as he continued his unsteady progress towards the door. Reaching the lobby he’d realised Hilary was not there to meet him at the appointed hour.
He glanced at his watch and smiled to himself. He was a few minutes early. She’d said she would be working at the library in the morning, so he asked the next student coming down the stairs for directions. Not that he was going to walk all the way there. Better, he thought, to let her come to me. It was a new century, a new beginning, but inevitably, for John, it felt as if he was doing what he knew best, digging something up from the past which, he hoped, would give a different perspective, however small, to events back then. He knew it was not going to be easy.
He did, however, manage to walk round to the other side of the dormitory, which stood above a large expanse of grassed quadrangle surrounded by grey limestone and white marbled buildings. It was an almost treeless open space reinforcing the cold, pristine, Calvinist feel of the older buildings. He didn’t much appreciate the austerity of Colonial Revival architecture. The campus harboured nearly two thousand college students with a healthy appetite for partying or the outdoors, or possibly both, to say nothing of the excellent educational and support staff. There was an almost inverted snobbery in that Middlebury was just a college and had no postgraduate faculties. Before him, cut through a grassy bank, a dozen stone steps led down to the gravel paths that criss-crossed the bare landscape.
It was that brief industrious academic interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when students were buried in classes or finalising assignments before the winter break chores of reading and revision for their end of semester exams. Certainly they were spending most of their time indoors, unless preparing for the winter sports season and the glories of the winter semester. That one month one course interlude allowed for an afternoon of skiing to reward their attendance at morning classes, topped off by an evening of study and socialising in their cosy dorms with plentiful helpings of hot chocolate before the parties started.
John stood back from the top step looking down to the corner of a building some sixty yards away, round which he was certain she would come. The stiff breeze coming out of the northwest from Canada was cold, the sky suddenly leaden, as if confirming his earlier appraisal that snow was imminent. He was glad he’d remembered to put on his coat before leaving the car. He turned the collar up, feeling the cold air on his neck and regretted he’d forgotten his scarf.
At last a hatless figure marched into view in a royal blue parka and black turtle neck, jeans and loafers, her helmet of dull gold hair swinging from side to side as she strode forward determinedly against the wind carrying a pile of books. Her parka was unfastened so that the breeze caught at it and made it flap against her body. John had an irresistible desire to run to meet her, only held in check by his incapacity.
She involuntarily hesitated as she turned onto the gravel path that led up to the steps, suddenly aware she was being watched. John had succeeded in capturing the moment. Many mixed emotions surged through him. He swallowed to clear his throat. Hilary came on methodically up the path and climbed the dozen steps, the faintest of smiles playing at her lips, her eyes moving from his face to his crutches.
Good, he thought, at least the injury has been useful for something. However she must have envisaged their meeting, she would not have put anything like that into the frame.
At last she was with him, the shadow of her smile broadening a touch, as she reached the top step and burrowed into his coat. The moment of their embrace, when she would physically connect with him, was something he’d dreamed about time after time, feeling the weight of her firm body pressed against his. It was never going to be long enough whenever she pulled back.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Spirit of Place in The Cushion Effect

   “All landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’” Lawrence Durrell knew the answer only too well. I wonder if it is possible in this current era, where idle travel is such a rare occurrence amidst the ADHD lives we live, to summon up the genius loci in place names. And is all our interest in the landscape encapsulated in the real estate agents' mantra: location, location, location?
   Of course we all have our prejudices, which colour our senses. For example if I mention Liverpool and London the majority of readers will conjure up two distinctly contrary cityscapes in their mind. The industry and commerce of Liverpool seem of an earlier age to the material aggrandisement we see in the capital. The former is marked by a current sense of deprivation in the contemporary mind’s eye, despite the efforts to renovate the city centre and the riverside frontage. The latter is seen as the burgeoning world city, despite the enormous differences between rich and poor and the sink estates that north, south, east and west scar many of the villages that make up the metropolis.
   So what, dear reader, will you make of the place names in The Cushion Effect? Perhaps it is better to not have heard of them, although this is far from likely.
   Does one start from a macro viewpoint and drill down as if in a Google map? Perhaps. So I focus on London, the Berkshire/Buckinghamshire border and Devon.
   In London we can drill down a level to neighbourhoods: the Barbican, Barnes, Belgravia, Chelsea, Clerkenwell, Fitzrovia, Maida Vale, Mayfair, North Finchley, Shepherd’s Bush, Smithfield, Soho and St James’s. Whereas in Berkshire it’s Cookham Dean, Lambourn and Maidenhead, and in Buckinghamshire it’s Bisham Abbey, Bourne End, Christmas Common, Marlow, Taplow and Stoke Poges. In Devon the scene is set almost exclusively in or close to the South Hams: Ashburton, Ashprington, Blackawton, Berry Pomeroy, Blackpool, Buckfastleigh, Cott, Compton, Cornworthy, Dartington, Dartmouth, Denbury, Dittisham, East Portlemouth, Kingsbridge, Kingswear, Salcombe, Torquay and Totnes.
   A further level down reveals the streetscape and the banks, clubs, churches, galleries, hotels, institutions, restaurants, pubs and shops. The London streets include: Beech Street, Bond Street, Brook Street, Chester Square, Culford Gardens, Edgeware Road, Fleet Street, Fulham Road, Great Sutton Street, Harley Street, Jermyn Street, King’s Road, Lots Road, Park Lane, Savile Row, Sloane Square and Sloane Street. Within them are the significant locations of the Chelsea School of Art and Design, the Royal Academy, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London School of Economics, St Paul’s School, Armani, The Blueprint Café, The Capital Hotel, Cerruti, Colefax and Fowler, The Connaught, Daphne’s, The Dorchester, Dover Street Wine Bar, El Vino, The Enterprise, Foyles, the Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery, The General Trading Company, Gucci, Hambros Bank, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, The Ivy, Joseph, Kensington Roof Gardens, Le Caprice, Lobb of St James’s, Marks & Spencer, Novelli's, Peter Jones, Prada, Le Pont de la Tour, The Savoy Grill, Searcy’s, Sloane Street, The Sutton Arms, Thomas Pink, The Ritz, Vivienne Westwood, Waitrose, Wasps RUFC and the 606 Club.
   In Devon as one might expect it’s the landscape and seascape as much as the institutions and edifices which take the attention. From the River Dart, Biddlehead Point, Bolt Head, Bolt Tail, Landcomb Cove, Mathew's Point, Mill Bay, Prawle Point, Start Bay, Start Point and Sunny Cove to Dartington College, Dartmouth Castle, Dartmouth Golf and Country Club, the Royal Dartmouth Yacht Club, the Royal Naval College, Salcombe RUFC, Totnes RUFC, the Arcturus Bookshop, AW Luscombe, the Fortescue Arms, the Royal Seven Stars Hotel, Sacks Wholefoods, The White Hart and the Willow restaurant.
   Further afield, more ephemerally in the context of this novel, are other UK settings in the Forest of Dean, in mid-Wales around Machynlleth and the Wirral. Overseas Canada, the original home of Leanne, the pivotal female character, features with locations in the hinterland of British Columbia centred on Penticton. In continental Europe Switzerland is the primary country considered focusing on Montreux and its environs in Valais and the Vaud.
   The Cushion Effect is rich not only in places but also in the characters who populate them. With the spirit of place one attempts to invoke an inviting imagery to be experienced. I hope you will come to enjoy it. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

My First Ob/Gyn (New York Stories 1)

   A stopover in New York is now on my itinerary before travelling to Los Angeles. It always conjures up in my mind my first time there. The city that never sleeps was the destination for my gap year, although in my case I think it should have been called a fill year. I loved it from the moment I arrived and took it all in from the helicopter shuttle that picked me up at Kennedy.
  It didn't take long for me to find him, or rather him to find me. He was, of course, a lot older than me, good looking in an academic sort of way, with a charming bedside manner. He had an office in Riverdale but worked mainly through one of the uptown West Side hospitals. Within days he had installed me in an apartment in the low seventies a couple of blocks from Central Park. I was naive, if not innocent. He showed me round his home town while I let him explore, well, lets just say the temples in the citadel of my mind (mostly unadorned sites of worship in that era). 
  We spent some glorious days that late summer and autumn in the Hamptons where he had the use of a beautiful beach house in Southampton. I particularly liked going up to the lighthouse at Montauk Point and surfing the ocean rollers nearby. Now you can fly out but then it was a tedious drive. To amuse me he lectured me on my oxytocin levels (going through the roof most of the time) and taught me a thing or two about Kegel exercises, which I put into practice only too well. 
  By the time winter arrived he had separated and invited me to join him in his house in Riverdale. Big mistake! It seems I was to be the wife substitute. That was not in my plans. An ob/gyn has just about the best job in the world for playing away. His beeper can go anytime 24/7 and, duty calls, he is off to see an expectant mother, to deliver a baby or, as when I was on the Upper East Side, to attend to me! But in Riverdale, the boot was on the other foot (ugly expression in the circumstances -- why does it bring to mind someone with their feet in the stirrups in his office?) and he would disappear into the night. I am sure his secretary was complicit in his nocturnal adventures. She had, after all, known all about me.
  I was working on a political campaign and found I had little time to appreciate exactly how inattentive he had become. Then one night in a restaurant, I watched him pull apart a lobster, his chicken of the sea, with his bare hands. With a dawning horror. What had he been pulling apart earlier that day in his office, in the delivery room, or the OR? Where had those stubby fingers been? One thing for sure, I decided there and then they would never come close to me again. The next day I moved out and started hanging with some Barnard girls, feeling altogether relieved that I had escaped heart whole with just a salutary lesson to remember.   

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Branding, Labels and Product Placement in The Cushion Effect

  Some writers offer readers, friends and acquaintances the opportunity to appear as characters in their novels, either altruistically raising money for charity, or mercenarily cashing in on the current trend for celebrity, however minor. I have created fictional characters, no doubt with the traits and peccadilloes of people I have observed, conversed with, or interacted with in some way. 
  I have also mentioned a few real people in The Cushion Effect. For example, a business man looking very much like Andrew Neil tries to pick up two of the main characters in Daphne's. They think it might have been him. I am not so sure even though I used to see him there frequently, indiscreetly sitting at a window table having Saturday lunch there with a blonde companion. And, occasionally by himself, poor lamb!  Moreover, Sir Anthony Caro and Dr Francis Graham-Dixon have cameo roles in one chapter at an exhibition. There is aIso an appearance by Jesus Adorno, that doyen of maitre d's and face of my favourite restaurant, Le Caprice, who comes to the rescue of two of my characters on a girls' night out. I hope they do not mind supporting the ambience I am creating in their particular scenes.
  In terms of product placement I am not of the Broccoli persuasion, receiving vast amounts of dosh to promote a brand. Simply put, the labels I use elaborate the imagery of The Cushion Effect, carefully chosen to create a dynamic mental or sensational image in the reader's mind, and an appropriateness when linked with a specific character. The brand and product elements are used to evoke not only a visual sense, but also a sensation, where appropriate, of touch, taste, smell and sound. 
  I also want to make it clear that I am not personally endorsing these brands. My preferences are quite well known in some areas, such as lingerie (Agent Provocateur) and champagne (Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot). However the rich tapestry of the environment for the story is populated with some other leading brands and products, a selection of which you can follow here:

  I do hope you enjoy sampling the look, taste and feel of The Cushion Effect style.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Cushion Effect Chapter One Opening

What’s a girl to think? When her man, without any prior warning or consultation, makes an unforeseen transition from Austin Reed to Armani, what’s a poor girl to do?
And so it was that a husband, who had never paid any attention to fashion or the beau monde, came home to his Tudor cottage with a designer suit and a shopping bag emblazoned with the logo of a Jermyn Street emporium. Casually, as if it were an afterthought, he told his wife that a sports car would be delivered later that week.
It was only reasonable then, that as soon as possible, she’d reach for the telephone. And that’s exactly what Dr Catherine Lewis did the moment her husband announced this sea change. Or, at least, the moment his back was turned. Until then she found herself in a state of suspended animation, most unusual for her, breathing quietly, watching and listening for his every move. Her very world stood still with this enormity, a challenge to all she held dear.
Before supper husband Thomas took himself off to the gym for a workout. It was his knee-jerk response to the consultant’s workday. On weekdays when he stayed in London at his Barbican pied-à-terre it was the fitness centre on the corner of Beech Street and Aldersgate. Otherwise, the local health club in Maidenhead if he got home to Cookham Dean early enough. Once Catherine had seen his dark blue Volvo estate disappear up the road, she climbed the stairs to her study, composed herself and tapped out her best friend’s number.
She remonstrated with herself for her lack of desire to tackle him over his surprise announcement while waiting for the inevitable hook-up to Leanne’s answering machine. How she hated these contraptions. If Leanne wasn’t at home or was screening her calls she would rather not . . . her thought remained hanging in the air as she heard her friend pick up, the uninflected, cautious voice with its marginally transatlantic accent at the other end instead of the expected fatuousness of the recorded message.
‘Oh. Leanne. It’s Catherine. How are you?’ She fastidiously pushed a loose strand of hair back into place to the side of her forehead with her middle finger.
Of course she did not want to know the answer to the question, which she asked in a peremptory tone more professional than personal. As a general practitioner she made the same perfunctory interrogation of her patients scores of times a day. With them she would accentuate the second word, as if challenging their right to be ill and daring them to qualify for the free health care she would provide. With Leanne she stressed the last word, indicating her solicitous attention to the person, not to the state of wellness.
Their telephone conversations would automatically begin with this earnest enquiry. Then they would rapidly descend into an all points fitness check: physical, mental and emotional. But Catherine was anxious to dispense with their trusted formula in order to unburden herself of the new development. This was not normal.
‘Such a shock … sometimes I think I could set my clock by the regularity of his schedule and the consistency of his behaviour … not even discussing it … not even showing me … been shopping in St James’s he says … a shopping bag full of new shirts … I always buy his shirts … he hates shopping … it’s all I can do to get him into Austin Reed in Maidenhead to replace a worn pair of grey trousers … bloody suit bag over his arm … straight up to the bedroom and into the wardrobe with it … cool as you like … picks up his gym bag and on his way out just casually mentions this sports car … not some little MG or Mazda … turns out it’s some bloody beast of an Aston Martin … the best of British, as if I care … dealer’s special to avoid the waiting list … didn’t ever discuss it … not even a hint of guilt … cost a fortune even though it’s not new … great investment according to him … sure he can afford it, but why, that’s what I want to know, why?’

Read on at

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Creating The Cushion Effect

  The catalyst that initiated the journey of writing The Cushion Effect was a secret shared. It all started when a close friend confided in me, outlining the story of a letter hidden in a cushion by another of her friends, a device of which even Master William Shakespeare would have been proud.
  Once I started thinking about the literal application of the device in a story I also mused on the metaphorical inferences. Both the Collins and the OED gave me more than enough interpretations. 
  I was fascinated by the ambiguity if not the near contradiction in meanings. As a noun: a bag made of cloth, leather, plastic, etc., stuffed with a mass of soft material, used as a comfortable support for sitting on or leaning against; something resembling a cushion in function or appearance, especially to support or pad, to absorb shock or to protect against impact. Fine and good, but the examination of the verb provides a wider, more metaphorical range of meaning: to provide with cushions; to protect, especially against hardship or change; to check the motion of (a mechanism) gently, especially by the compression of trapped fluid in a cylinder; to provide with a means of absorbing shock.
  It is, however, in the Thesaurus that there are more variables, if not direct contradiction, as one might expect. For the noun it lists beanbag, hassock, headrest, pad, pillow, scatter cushion, squab. And, more significantly for my interests, for the verb bolster, cradle, dampen, deaden, muffle, pillow, protect, soften, stifle, support, suppress. Of the eleven verbs only five offer an unequivocally positive sentiment and four are distinctly negative.
  Meanwhile three characters had found me, who would embody this ambiguity in different ways. The principal point of view in the story is through the eyes of an outsider, through whom much of the action is experienced and observed. She drew on my own dual nationality (British/Canadian) to provide an at times dispassionate view of the English society she inhabits. This alienation adds a piquancy to her struggle to liberate herself from the financially secure, conservative, risk-free, but emotionally suffocating environment she finds herself married into.
  Her friends provide a contrast in styles of enjoying professional success, the material benefits and the corresponding comfortable co-existences. Where one is a consummate (how does she do it?) steady performer as GP, wife and mother, the other is a younger up and coming interior designer without children, with a driven sense of mission and the vivacity and daring to reach out for more than mere workaday accomplishments. Nevertheless, both of them, in different ways, find they are suppressed by the lives they lead, at work and at home.
  When the alpha husband of the GP comes home with the trappings of a mid-life crisis, the three women began to develop their individual responses to the challenge and I set out to record their struggles over time. This set in motion the basic underlying structure for the novel.