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Launching a new career in adversity
10/24/2005 1:42:00 PM
by Miller H Caldwell
|Can writing be in the genes?
A DIRECT descendent of Robert Burns has followed in his famous ancestor's
footsteps and penned an acclaimed debut novel - despite being diagnosed with
a progressive form of dementia.
Miller Caldwell (53) from Dumfries, whose female family line extends back to
the national bard's first daughter, Dear Bought Bess born in 1785, was told
by Doctors he had Mild Cognitive Impairment(MCI) in January this year -
turning his world upside down.
The former Regional and Authority Reporter to Dumfries and Galloway
Children's panel had no option to retire from his job and has been warned
the condition will deteriorate.
However, instead of lying down to the illness, Miller, a past President of
the Dumfries Burns Club, explained how he's embraced the present and beat
the onset of a condition by drawing on his inherent flare for the written
"I was becoming quite forgetful and easily lost at the tail end of last
year, but I just put that down to everyday stress - so it came as a bit of a
shock when I was diagnosed as having MCI.
"It's either down to high blood pressure or a bad reaction to anaesthetics
which I was given when I had an appendix operation four years ago. Whatever
the cause, the only option open to me was to retire from my job given the
sensitivity and importance of the cases I was dealing with."
Miller's present condition effects his short-term memory and although he's
still able to drive and doesn't yet need drugs to control the symptoms, he
has to attend hospital tests every six months.
However, with the support of his wife Jocelyn and two daughters, he's relied
on his long term memory and own colourful experiences to create a novel -all
inspired by his late Godmother, Vera Wild.
"It was Christmas 1991 when Vera visited our home, which was then in Troon.
She had led a remarkable life and my daughters Fiona, who was then 11 and
Laura, who was eight, used to love sitting around the fire listening to her
"On that occasion she told the girls the story of her life, how she had been
stranded in Germany at the outbreak of World War I and the remarkable
sequence of events of how she returned to Scottish shores. Her aunt Fleur married a German doctor and when he died in 1935 and after her son joined the German Army in 1939, she returned to Scotland and was immediately appointed, as a fluent German speaker, in the service of the Foreign Office in West Africa."
From the hardships of World War I Europe to the amazing cultures of
Africa, Operation Oboe, entitled because of the main charactersí love for
the instrument and as the code name for her work, is a vivid biographical tale of romance and adventure.
It's another addition to Miller's impressive CV which includes being a
founding fellow of the Institute of Contemporary Scotland to spending six
years in Ghana as a missionary, which enabled him to bring colour to the
second half of the narrative set in the dark continent.
And although the book, which was published in September, has received rave
reviews on the Internet, Miller expressed how the real pleasure has come
from the benefit he's reaped from the writing process.
"The novel took five months to write and involved a lot of research - but I
started it in February the week after I retired and it's quite amazing to
see the end product in the shops.
"Maybe writing is in my genes but I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in
the book - it's been a good way of keeping my mind as active as possible."
Despite his condition, Miller is looking forward to the future and is due to
compete on the channel Four Quiz show 15-1 in Spring 2004. In June he also
appeared as a French peasant in Red Rose, the first film about Robert Burns
since 1947, due to be released next year.
He enthused, " I think it's important to live life for the here and now as
nobody knows what lies ahead."
Operation Oboe, published by authorsonline.co.uk, ISBN: 0-7552-0900-X is
available from all good book shops.
From Burns to Caldwell in 3 generations
Miller H Caldwell