Monday, 10 January 2005

Bizarro Coincidence

As I lay in hospital, as coincidence would have it, the patient who joined me in the small, immaculately clean and tidy Swiss hospital ward, was from Mexico.

An Olympic standard beach volleyball player, poor girl, she'd broken her wrist. Not skiing, either, but falling off a bar stool or something.

So, out of all the Mexicans in the valley, we ended up in adjacent hospital beds. Klutzes or what?

We started to chat. The young woman's mind was, not surprisingly, turning to thoughts of a post-volleyball career. I asked her what she'd studied and where. Personnel administration, at the UNAM. Well then, I offered, maybe you've read my grandfather's book. He's Agustin Reyes Ponce.

And that was the strangest part of all. That two crumbly-boned Mexicans should meet at the base of a wintry ski slope, I buy. That one should be in awe of the other for being an Olympic athlete...okay. That the other should be silenced in respectful memory of a deceased guru of the Mexican business schools, was taking it all too far.

How big is this world, anyway?

Sunday, 9 January 2005

Boo hoo, I broke my leg: Broken Leg Part 2

You think about some sad stuff in hospital.

Me, I thought about people I'd visited in hospital; my mother, father and my grandmother, and Jane, and how they were all dead now.

I thought about how physical pain diminishes a human being. I thought about all the terrible suffering in the world and how little I was having to deal with, by comparison with hundreds of thousands of people in the world, especially the tsunami victims. I thought about the horrors of life before pain killers, and how 'pain relief' doesn't actually mean that they get rid of the pain, just that they reduce it enough so that you stop screaming, or don't pass out.

None of this came as news to me, by the way; but the acute experience of sharing, even to some small extent, what had happened to my mother, to Jane and to other people whose bodies have been broken, did give me some insight, just for a few days, and it was pitiful. I don't mind admitting that I cried hot salty tears for many of the nights (only when the pain levels came down though, because real pain makes you selfish; you can't think of anything else and you don't care, not unless you are a saint).

I realised that the crying was a useful was to release tension, from which I suffered quite a bit, being immobilised on my back with my leg up on a support. Sometimes I even chose to listen to something that would turn on the tap. My sister-in-law Rachel lent me her iPod, complete with her own musical selection.

So here are my top tunes for inducing the night-time boo-hoos.

1. Angels (Robbie Williams)

2. Feel (Robbie Williams) Damn, that boy writes some good sentimental songs. And he met my mother. Once, when she was with the Manchester Olympic Committee, she met all the lads from Take That.

3. English Suite No2 (JS Bach) Just because it's so beautiful; it seems you appreciate beauty more when suffering.

4. Anyone Who Has A Heart (Dionne Warwick, by Bacharach) Oh who knows why this one set me off. I was missing my baby, Lilia.

And to cheer you up:

1. Cosmic Girl (Jamiroquai) I was fair dancing in my bed.

2. Voi che sapete (Marriage of Figaro, Mozart) Well, anything from this opera cheered me up.

3. Any song by Celia Cruz. La Reina de la Salsa! If I could have had salsa to listen to from the beginning I would probably have healed faster! Thank goodness for my conga drums. Playing them is almost as good as dancing.

Saturday, 8 January 2005

It's All About Me - Broken Leg Part 1

We were kindly invited by Laura, my baby brother Michael's sister-in-law, to spend Christmas in Gstaad, Switzerland.

On Dec 28th, I decided to switch from my snowboarding lessons - where progress was slow and bruising, to skiing, which I do poorly but at least can stay upright for more than ten minutes at a time.

I agreed, with Tom, a cousin of Michael's wife, to share an instructor, Rolf. We all departed for the Eggli mountain and Rolf and I hit the chair lift with enthusiasm. Well, me with some trepidation, because it can be tricky to get off those when you are as clueless a skier as I, but somehow I made it off the machine and remained upright. I mean, it's been 4 years since I last skied and 15 years since I did a chair lift; it wasn't bad going!

Rolf and I skied down the top part of the mountain a couple of times and rode up on the T bar. The T bar was easy, but I had the feeling that Rolf was making this so. The third time down the mountain, Rolf looked at the T bar, shrugged and said "This time, let's go down the mountain".

One of those flashes of insight, which I have stupidly trained myself to ignore (because of all that scientific training, the requirement for evidence and such rot), told me that I should NOT go down the mountain. I was tiring; I could feel that I wasn't leaning forward enough in my boots, my toes weren't pointing quite enough, the skis didn't feel like extensions of my feet; in summary, I still felt as though I were strapped into two slidey bits of plastic on a slippy, slidey mountain.

But the silly, rational part overrode that insight with sensible thoughts like "If the instructor thinks you are doing okay then it will be fine. And then you can use the chair lift to get back. And you'll feel great when you get down there!"

We made a left turn down a narrower part of the piste, where I had to turn three times in quick succession - and was just beginning to feel comfortable, when the Rolf urged me to join him further down. At the last minute, I lost my nerve; he was on a narrow section, in front of a tree and I wasn't sure I could stop in time. So I swerved towards the apparent safety of the fresh powder at the side of the piste.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

As I snow-plowed into the powder, my right ski connected with something very unpowdery, and stopped abrubtly. The left ski slid neatly beneath that locked right ski and when the boot connected, I fell forward with the force...and didn't come out of the bindings, but instead felt my leg break against the top of the boot.

Well, panic, panic, screams for help, the instructor came over and held me as I struggled to stay conscious, waiting for the rescue sled.It was a long and painful 25 minutes. I wondered vaguely what the next hours and days would hold in store. My worst case scenario was a minor break, a plaster cast and back to the ranch in time for tea.

But no. The face of the radiologist (at Spital Saanen) fell when she saw the break and she said, abruptly; "It's broken and for sure we have to operate".Well, the rest was 48 hours of pure pain, pain, pethidine shots, an untimely fever, a quite wonderful operation under epidural, during which I opted for Mozart and sedation, quite a lovely hour by comparison with the rest.

Then 48 hours with the epidural still in place to spare me the horrors of post-operative agony, then the return of the pain and more lovely pethidine. Once the fever and intestinal effects of that fever had cleared my system, I felt surprisingly strong and was able, with crutches, to hobble to the bathroom and give myself a shower and change of hospital gown.

So they let me go. All in all, as wretched it is to be in hospital and in pain, a ski injury isn't much to complain about. It's partly your own fault and you aren't actually sick.I thought a lot about Jane, and Monica (whose leg was chomped by bacteria within an inch of her life), and I couldn't feel sorry for myself. But I did feel sorry for poor David and my kids. Anyway, it's home to bed and three months recuperation for me. What will I do with myself?

Oh, The Things That You'll Do

So I finally got my dream of being able to stay in bed and watch TV all day. I had to break my leg to get it, but what are you gonna do? But it's a long story and I've missed loads of the lead-up-to-Christmas stuff, so why don't I fill you in on the whole shebang...

Saturday, 1 January 2005

About MG

The first job I was ever aware of wanting to do, aged six, was to write children's books. Then, aged eight, trying to make Wirrn slime with a friend's Chemistry Set 4, I discovered chemistry... and writing went out of the window.

It took me a long time to get back to it. Funny how our six-year old view of ourselves can be uncannily accurate.

Here's how it happened. (I'll be zooming through the boring bits.)

The Mexico-Manchester Connection
I was born in Mexico City, where my parents failed miserably to get along, resulting in divorce - scandalous for both families who belonged to the strictly Roman Catholic, Mexican middle-class. My mother (also named 'Maria', about fifty-eight times better looking and more fascinating than I could hope to be even on a good day) threw caution to the wind and took off for Germany to work as a stewardess for Lufthansa with me (aged 4) and my baby sister, Pili.

I would have been raised as a little Deutscher madchen except for the fact that my 'nanny' – a young aunt who had been coerced to tag along with her big sister – decided that life in dreary Frankfurt was no fun (it wasn't, poor Aunty), and with no warning, took herself off back to sunny Mexico… leaving four-year old me and little Pili “home alone” in our Frankfurt apartment for a day and night.

Horrified, our mother returned home from flying to find everything in order, except for an empty jar of Nutella. Hey, it wasn't as bad as it sounds. I remember being thrilled at the prospect of unsupervised jumping on beds and unlimited access to the Nutella.

With no resident nanny, things had to change. Our mother agreed to marry her English boyfriend, a cellist with the Halle Orchestra: which is how my sister and I moved to Manchester, England. It was there that I first discovered the two principal passions of my early life: “Doctor Who” and Manchester United. At the age of twelve, “Blake's Seven” took over from “Doctor Who”. 'Avon': sigh.

Mexico and the Maya
Pili and I continued to regularly visit our father in Mexico, the director of a copper mining company. When I was debating whether to become a scientist or to study cinema, he gave me this sagacious advice: “Your first duty is to be a person of the Renaissance.”

At fifteen, we visited for the first time the Yucatan region of Mexico, methodically visiting all the Mayan ruins in sweltering heat. In a Cancun hotel bookshop I bought “Mysteries of the Ancients” by Eric and Craig Umland - a non-fiction book positing the theory that the Ancient Mayan civilisation was a remnant of Atlantis, which itself was a colony of ancient extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth.

The idea fascinated me. One night I asked my step-aunt, a lawyer in Cancun, what she thought of the theory. “Of course”, came the sanguine reply. “Most of the locals here have known that for centuries.”

Back in Mexico City, Pili and I headed straight for the awesomely cool Museum of Anthropology, bought a stack of stout, sober archaeology books by the great Mayanist scholars. Thus began our life-long fascination with the field of Mayan archaeology.

College and Catastrophe
Meanwhile, for my “formal” education, I had begun to study biochemistry at St Catherine's College, Oxford. The plan was to get a place in the subject for which I knew I'd achieve the best grades, and then to spend all my free time with the film-making society. Quite unpredictably, however, I fell madly in love with molecular biology to the exclusion of any other idea for a career.

Obsessed with molecular biology and its potential for the emerging industry of biotechnology, I immersed myself entirely in the world of science. Summer jobs with the hottest new biotech company in the country followed, then a doctorate, and then post-doctoral research fellowships.

In 1986, I arrived one evening in Mexico City with my sister, half-brother and mother to learn that my father had that day suffered a massive heart attack. He'd only survived because of the fact that his office was on the same street as a hospital. After a by-pass operation in Houston, Texas, it seemed as though our father would recover. Two weeks later back in Oxford, I learned that he'd had another attack. This time, he'd died.

Having lost the most significant influence in my life at the age of twenty, I took months to recover. The experience of bereavement, however, was to be something of a practice run. Six years later our mother was taken ill whilst visiting Mexico City as part of the Manchester Olympic Bid Team. Once again we arrived in Mexico to hear that a parent was at the point of death. Hours later, our mother died of viral encephalitis.

They'd both died aged 46, after being taken ill in the same part of Mexico City - Colonia Roma. They both ended up being interred in the same crypt in the church (Sta Cruz of El Pedregal) where my mother had been confirmed. Sometimes life throws up some pretty strange coincidences.

A Lucky Break
I began writing seriously in January 2005 after a ski accident in Gstaad forced me to spend many weeks recuperating. With a ten-inch operation wound and five long pins in my tibia plateau, merely getting out of bed was a challenge. My husband arranged a laptop on a chair by the bed and for the next twelve weeks, I wrote my first novel - a techno-thriller which combined my two intellectual loves - molecular biology and archaeology. Like most first novels it was rejected by every agent who saw it. Curses!

It wasn't the first time it had occurred to me to write. I'd tried my hand at screenwriting from the age of eleven, once winning a runner-up prize in a Blue Peter competition for “Grange Hill”. I returned to screenwriting in 2004, just failing to shortlist in a BBC New Talent contest to write a sitcom. If not for the hugely encouraging letter which the BBC New Talent team sent me, it's likely that I'd have given up any hope of being a writer.

After reading a totally engrossing book about the decipherment of Mayan writing, “Breaking the Maya Code” by Michael Coe, I had an idea for another story, that of a young boy who made an outstanding discovery about the origins of Mayan civilisation.

This story immediately attracted agent and publisher interest, as well as narrowly missing (again!) being short-listed in a Waterstone's competition to find a new children's author. However, on reading the full manuscript, the answer was always “No”.

Peter Cox of Redhammer, however, believed he'd spotted potential in my writing and was enthused by the central concept. After a meeting with Peter, I came up with another way to tell the story. The result of another six month's work was my first book: “The Joshua Files: Invisible City”.

I live in Oxford with my husband and two daughters.