Carole Hatch’s active and busy lifestyle changed dramatically when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But the former park ranger, dog warden and retired college lecturer is determined to help others as well as achieve her own life ambitions.
Here she talks about finding solace through writing novels – one of which has recently been published and is receiving rave reviews – and feeling motivated to make new friendships and give something back to her community by volunteering for St Catherine’s Hospice.
“MS will always affect me,” 68-year-old Carole says. “Some days I’m so tired or feel so off balance that I can’t stand up. But I will never let it define who I am and what I can do. I want to make the best of the good days when I feel ok, and do what I can to improve my quality of life and help others.
“That’s the main reason I started volunteering – it gives you a reason to get out of the house and it’s very sociable and fun. It beats sitting alone at home watching TV!
“I volunteer at the St Catherine’s Hospice charity shop in Sumner Street, Leyland. I wanted to keep busy once I retired, and although I can’t do anything physical, I enjoy sitting in the store room and sorting through the bags of donations and pricing the items with other volunteers.
“Charity volunteers are naturally very giving and friendly people, so I’ve made some lovely friends and we have a laugh. I was drawn to St Catherine’s because of the nature of the hospice’s work; I might require that help myself at some stage, so it seems fitting to do what I can to help support the charity now while I can.
“It’s very humbling actually because you meet some customers who have experienced the care of St Catherine’s, and it brings it back home about why you’re giving your time and the difference the charity makes.”
Carole, who lives in one of the Farmyard Cottages within Worden Park, Leyland, used to work as the park ranger and dog warden, before becoming a lecturer in animal care at Myerscough College.
She retired in 1999 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) – a condition which affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause fatigue, and problems with vision, mobility, and thinking.
Despite such setbacks, Carole is now a celebrated author after her novel, No Son Of Mine, was recently printed by Michael Terrance Publishing, and is gaining five star reviews from readers.
The book follows the story of Bran O’Donnell, who moves from Ireland to Liverpool with his father and brothers following a tragic event, and who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.
“I’ve always loved writing,” Carole, who uses the pen name J.J. Carlin, says. “I started this book years ago as a hobby, after I retired and had more time on my hands.
“I just write whenever I feel like it. I carry a notebook round with me everywhere I go and jot down ideas and thoughts – the majority of the book was written by hand, and I put it all together and tidy it up on the computer in the evening.
“It has been a challenge because MS can make you forgetful, and it’s sometimes difficult to put your thoughts into words. But it’s given me a discipline, to sit down and write most days, and I find it very therapeutic.
“The book looks closely, and I hope, sympathetically at the challenges, the traumas, the despair and the love that surrounds Bran, the eldest of three brothers. It is a story of relationships, tested and torn apart, breaking hearts and splitting families, and of lives that will be changed and defined by the life Bran leads.”
“I get a real buzz when I pick up a copy of the book,” Carole adds. “It’s a lifetime ambition achieved!
“I’m currently working on the sequel to ‘No Son Of Mine’ now, as well as a children’s book about fairies in Worden Park. I’m doing the illustrations for that one myself; I love painting and drawing, and I know Worden Park like the back of my hand after working and living here for the past 30 or so years.
“It’s a nice change from the serious subjects addressed in ‘No Son Of Mine’; it’s nice to be creative and have some fun with the children’s book. And the sequel to Bran’s story follows his brother Kieran, who is wild, headstrong and impulsive, so that’s got quite a different tone as well.
“I plan to complete the trilogy with the third brother’s story. I’ve been living with these characters for so many years now, they feel real to me, and I’m enjoying exploring their complicated relationships with each other and their father, and the gay relationships Bran is experiencing in the face of adversity.
“I’m blown away and thrilled by all of the wonderful compliments I’m receiving, which has really given me the incentive and the inspiration to push on with the second book of the O’Donnell brothers trilogy.”
Carole is also a big lover of dogs and has two Papillons – Loki and Erik – who she has presented at prestigious dog shows including Crufts in 2017. They have been handled by friends for the last few years because Carole is no longer able to walk round the rings, but she’s made some lasting friendships from the experience.
“I have a lot of gay friends from the world of showing dogs,” she explains. “It seems so accepted to me, and yet there’s still so much in the media about hate crimes and homophobic behaviour. I think I wanted to explore those relationships in the book, and I’m really pleased that so many of my friends say that I’ve managed to capture those feelings and emotions through Bran’s story.
“I’m thrilled to bits and humbled by the comments and reviews; my publisher said he was immediately hooked, and said that it was pacey and exciting with many touching moments too.”