Elizabeth Chats With…Annette Shaw

This month’s guest is the books editor for Devon Life; a great friend to and vehement supporter of authors and all things literary in the South West; and a delightful person to know. She has organised World Book Night events in Dartmouth; her contact list is formidable; and she is always ready to offer advice on suitable speakers for Literary Festivals. Yet for more than forty years, she has struggled with her health following an adverse reaction to prescription medicines. Along with her very busy day job, she is currently writing a book about her experiences, in the hope it will help others in the same situation. I am delighted to be chatting with Annette Shaw.

Hello Annette, and welcome to the blog. Let’s start by going back to childhood. What was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

Loved French. My teacher was Mrs Smith – previously Miss Cabioch before she married Mr Smith. With la famille Bertillion in a text book, I fell in love in Manchester with la vie franc᷂aise and a real French man at a later date. Hated maths – think I may be numerically dyslexic. Was it twice or three times I failed that O-level…?

Talking about yourself, how would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know…”?

…I work with agoraphobia and that can be pretty complicated. Everything is planned like a military campaign.

Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?

Has to be France, although now a distant memory, but in the UK I’d be torn between the Surrey Hills near Newlands Corner and looking out to Caldey Island in Wales – for the memories.

How do you relax?

By the sea in Burton Bradstock, on the terrace at the Seaside Boarding House overlooking Lyme Bay and Thomas Hardy land, with a gentle breeze blowing and mug of latte in my hand.

If you could change one law, what would it be?

That the Government really got to grips with mental health, gave it the same status as physical health and truly adopted whole person care.

If you could change one thing about yourself or your life so far, what would it be?

Never to have taken the first tranquilliser in 1977. That changed the course of my life – yet if the book makes it – then it will not be in vain.

Describe your ideal menu — and where would you like to eat it?

Modern European – if we stay in the UK, at St Bride’s Hotel overlooking Cardigan Bay. Going slightly wistful and beyond our borders, it has to be the Ferme St Siméon in Honfleur a gourmet haven and heaven. The best of Normandy combined with the art of the Impressionists. Sadly, my agoraphobia means I am unlikely to be able to take that journey again.

If you were a car, what type would you be — and why?

A Bentley. Always good to have big dreams. And I would be dreaming about a road trip to the paradors of Castile and Aragon.

If you could meet one person from history, who would it be — and why?

Gosh, there are so many. Having watched the BBC2 series ICONS, I have a list that extends from Nelson Mandela to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The key point is the legacy – what did the person leave that is everlasting, be it love or a new way of living.

If you could take part in one television programme, which one would it be?

Err..rr a travel programme! To go on a train with Michael Portillo. That seems a bit unreal given my health problems but having met him – WOW what a travel companion. Ditto Alex Polizzi. Jane Macdonald on a cruise.

Have you embraced your destiny?

This is more complex than it seems. We have free will so how do we know whether or not we’ve turned towards or away from our destiny? Then there’s nature and nurture…

Given how young I was when my life derailed, I feel that choices were limited. It was more a case of being blown about by the wind. However, as the storms subsided and there was a genuine desire to change track, I was able to literally follow a dream to become a writer and a journalist. It wasn’t one that anyone in my family had ever pursued, I had no idea where it was leading. But I did it and had bylines in the national press as well as being available in Smiths and all leading newsagents. Question is: what next? Maybe that was the apprenticeship.

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By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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