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At a Stroke cover-350pix

‘At a Stroke’ by Harold Lawrence – a survivor’s tale told with  hope and humour (plus literary events from 14 Jan 2020)

He couldn’t believe it. Harold Lawrence had had a stroke. In an instant, his normal, busy life was transformed into a frightening, uncertain place that was hard to deal with. He talks to Angela J. Phillip about his decision to write about the journey.

Q1 Hi, Harold, could you tell me when you first made the decision to turn your experiences of having a stroke into a book and why?

Hello, Angie. Initially, when I realised that the stroke had not impaired my faculties, and I was still able to think and be conscious of my predicament, I decided it would be good therapy and keep my brain active to try and keep notes from day to day. This caused the specialist to comment, and though I kidded him that I was writing a letter about him and that he had better look after me properly or I’d post it, he planted the idea in my head that it could become the subject for a book.

He believed it would be a rarity. Stroke survivors have written about their rehabilitation, but to his knowledge, a book didn’t exist that catalogued a survivor’s experiences from the time the event occurred. The seed propagated, and on my return home, though I found it impossible to spend more than five minutes at a time on the computer, I had this unstoppable urge to write a memoir of my experiences.

I hoped that my writing might help those who faced similar health challenges and carers, too. It also presented me with an opportunity to use my story to assist the Stroke Association in their efforts to educate the general public on stroke awareness.  I believed that it would help me to make sense of the sudden change in my life, and help me to turn my perception of a major negative into a huge positive!

Midlife mayhem-220pixQ2 – Is this your first book? Could you say a little about when you started writing and what kinds of things you wrote?

I independently published Midlife Mayhem – the misadventures of the middle-aged man through Amazon in 2013 under the pen name of Harry Lawrie. It was a series of short stories based on the idiosyncrasies, self-perceptions and delusions that seem to beset men of a certain age! It was a bit of fun and to my surprise, it sold a few hundred copies! I am certainly not an academic but have always had the desire, even as a schoolboy, to write.

Many of my efforts in those days were unceremoniously ‘put down’ by my English-teacher, Dr Osgerby. He was certainly not on my humour wavelength and disdainfully criticised my work, often in front of the class, as being over-populated with clichés, without, to my memory, ever giving me any direction on how to avoid them. What he did do was to convince me that, though my spirit was willing, if I possessed any talent, it was extremely weak.

I have persevered over the years, writing articles for local magazines, short stories and light, mainly humorous, poetry. I joined the Battle Writers’ Group in 2005. This gave me confidence, and I have received a great deal of encouragement from my fellow members. In fact, I credit them for giving me back the self-belief that my former schoolteacher knocked out of me all those years ago. I have also recorded a lot of my work for listeners/members of the Bexhill Talking Newspaper Association. In fact, I am close to completing an audio version of At a Stroke, which should be published within the next couple of months.

Q3 – Despite the serious subject, you have injected amusing anecdotes throughout. Do you think it’s important to make people smile even when they may be gravely ill?

When people are gravely ill, they probably have little to smile about. However, I am a firm believer that laughter is a powerful medicine. It is the intention of my book to be read by people in the recovery process. During rehabilitation, challenges must be met that are sometimes painfully intense and if it can sometimes be punctuated with a smile or even laughter, that is a blessing.

Graham Wilkins, Illustrator

Graham Wilkins, Illustrator

Q4 – Can you say a little about your illustrator, Graham Wilkins? Did he choose which pictures to draw or did you give him instructions? Would he like to add a few words?

HL – I have known Graham Wilkins since his teen years. He is a very talented artist and has, in the past, drawn some great cartoons for me that I used to advertise my business. These became a front-page feature in a local paper. We also collaborated in a cartoon strip. I supplied the stories and Graham drew the cartoons. It was something along the lines of ‘Sporting Sam’ (Reg Wooton 1908 – 1995) that used to appear on the back page of The Sunday Express, but it featured the adventures of our hero with ‘the long nose.’

granny-pills-470pixGW – As a digital illustrator and visualiser, I have a wonderful job. I get an opportunity to push my skills to the very edge of my creative and technical knowledge on every project I undertake. Using pinpoint precision I can place each and every digital dot and line exactly where I want them, so when Harold asked me to tear up my virtual rule book and to illustrate a serious subject with a humorous edge, by hand, and as a series of cartoons, I was very excited indeed.

I have known Harold since I was a young man, seems such a long time ago now. When I heard that he had suffered a stroke I thought it was the start of another of his jokes and that I would get the punch line sooner or later. Harold has always been a storyteller, his narratives are filled with humour, irony and scattered with occasional and considered sarcasm. The book he wrote about his experience as a stroke survivor is no different and I have to say, I saw a visual joke on every single page.

Q5 – Thanks, Graham. Back to Harold – what kind of books do you like reading? Who are your favourite authors?

I like reading historical novels and travel stories. I am a great fan of Bill Bryson and have just finished Notes from a Small Island for probably the fourth time!
I have quite a catholic taste in literature. Ken Follett, I particularly enjoy, Spike Milligan and even Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. As a child, I was an avid reader of Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit stories, Biggles and Enid Blyton. Luckily, Roald Dahl was prolific by the time I was reading bedtime stories to my children. However, they still got a dose of Little Grey Rabbit and Christopher Robin poems from battered old editions belonging to their nostalgic Dad.

Harold Lawrence, author

Harold Lawrence, author

Q6 – How long did it take you to write the book and do you have plans for a follow-up?

I returned home from hospital at the beginning of January 2018 and was under the care of the community team for a further eight weeks. I attempted to write up my notes on the computer, but, as I said earlier, after approx. five minutes would find myself in the middle of a vortex with the world spinning around me. I did not start writing properly until the end of July 2018 and completed the first draft of the manuscript by the end of December and sent it on to Jericho Writers for proofreading and an in-depth editorial report. The book was ready for publishing by Amazon in July 2019. I delayed the book launch until September as I reasoned that it might concentrate the mind of purchasers on the pre-Christmas present season.

I am not sure that a follow-up to At a Stroke is in the forefront of my mind. The thought of trying to write a sequel, e.g. ‘At the Second Stroke…’ is rather daunting, especially as my Specialist told me, “You are in the last chance saloon.” My response, at the time, was that I would have a gin and tonic, but perhaps that was just bravado!
I do have an idea or two in the locker, and I plan to attempt a novel based on the life and trials of a family from the forties through to the present day. A working-class version of The Forsyte Saga which will include plenty of humour without ignoring struggle, ambition (personal and political) as well as social comment on changes within a society that has progressed from accumulator charged wireless sets to live colour TV pictures of men on the moon. It’s an ambitious project and a bit of a challenge!

£1,000 for the Stroke Association

£1,000 for the Stroke Association

Q7 – Have you had any feedback from stroke sufferers or carers?

Yes, I have received positive feedback from stroke survivors, carers, and even, to my surprise, members of the medical profession. Though it is a difficult subject, there are a lot of humorous incidents that ex-patients often enjoyed!

When I approached Graham during the production of At a Stroke, he generously offered his talents, without fee, which greatly helped to maximize the donation to the Stroke Association. Since the launch at the Bookkeeper Bookshop, in September, I have already donated £1,000 from book sales.

Thank you, Harold, for all that you have done and for your interesting comments on the evolution of your book. I am sure that many patients and carers – as well as the general public – will enjoy reading At a stroke. Thanks, too, to Graham for your  comments and your lovely cartoons.  I hope that many of our readers will buy the book.

Please buy these books from independent bookshops if at all possible (see list in next section).

At a stroke (2019) by Harold Lawrence

Other books on stroke recovery:
My stroke of insight (2009) by Jill Bolte Taylor
Stronger after stroke: your road-map to recovery 3 (2018) by Peter Levine
Healing and happiness after stroke (2016) by Kari Dahlgren
To root and to rise: accepting brain injury (2017) by Carole J. Starr
The brain that changes itself: stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science (2008) by Norman Doidge
Living with stroke: a guide for families (2007) by Richard Senelick
Brain maker (2015) by David Perlmutter

photos –  Harold Lawrence
drawings – Graham Wilkins

Bookshops & Events

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Sheer Poetry – Thursday 16 January 2020, 6 – 8 pm  –  £2 on the door.
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page to see more.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Jan 2020: Book launch of Paul Anderson’s Suedeheads & film screening of Horace Ove’s ‘Reggae 1970’ at The Electric Palace Cinema, Old Town.
Please see Facebook page for more details of these and other events.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at the Bookkeeper Bookshop Facebook page to see more.

The Hare & Hawthorn Bookshop 
51 George St, Hastings Old Town
For more information see the Hare & Hawthorn Facebook page.

Angela J. Phillip
Hi there – are you still keeping your resolutions? Or didn’t you make any?

I’m trying to get fit. Since I sit in a chair for hours on end, I’ve decided that I need to get out of it regularly – while I still can. For the first two weeks of this year, I have run on the spot while counting up to 60 twice – noticed that it wasn’t a minute because my counting was much faster than seconds take to tick, but that was the most I could do. Until yesterday (I’m writing this on Sunday) when I managed to run on the spot for five minutes!!!!!!!!

I’m sure this is nothing to all you fit readers and writers out there, but to me, it feels like a major breakthrough. As though I’m now in training for a marathon. Just think, five minutes already. Only another few years before I can join the Hastings Half Marathon. Not to mention all the good I can already feel it doing to my muscles, arteries and all other parts. Apparently, the saying is that if exercise were a pill, it would be hailed as a wonder drug.

I’ve been frantically working on my first novel to get it ready for publishing. It’s called Red to Remember. The proofreading takes so long.

I’ve promised updates to my website for the last few weeks and still haven’t managed it, but this week should be the Website Week together with the first Newsletter.

Thank you again to those of you who have already signed up for my Newsletter – and apologies that they are taking so long to get going. I am grateful for your patience.

Please see: The Newsletter signup form is on the right-hand side as you scroll down.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Thanks so much for reading.


Angela J. Phillip

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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020 In: Hastings Bookchat

1 Comment

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  1. Bryan Fisher

    I know Graham Wilkins well and have met Harold Lawrence twice (the second time when he was trying walking football recently). This book encapsulates all you would expect from them – treating a serious subject and condition in a funny way! I urge everyone to get it!!

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020 @ 13:34

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