MY BCRA Journey: Health/Cookery/Lifestyle
How my life-long passion for food helped me survive
This inspiring and incredibly uplifting part-memoir, part recipe book charts one woman’s quest to face up to – and face down – the genetic timebomb she has been handed, and recounts her battle to take control of her own health while continuing to look after her teenage children and her extended family as well as she always has.
In January 2016, Karyn Booth, a highly successful professional food stylist and a divorced mum of two teenage boys, received the devastating news that she carries the BCRA 2 gene mutation, meaning she has a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
In one sense, the test result was not a complete shock – there was a history of cancer in Karyn’s family on her father’s side. Her paternal great grandmother, Mary had died from ovarian cancer; her grandmother, Joanie had been diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 40s, which, thankfully, she survived; one of Karyn’s aunts (her father’s eldest sister) had died of breast cancer. When Karyn’s aunt Sarah was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003, it was recommended that all females within the family should contact a family history genetic clinic. Karyn and her sisters duly did this, and signed up to the annual screening programme which was on offer. However, they each decided to put off having the gene test, dreading the consequences of a positive BRCA result, which would include having to decide whether to have the radical risk-reducing surgery normally recommended.
When however, in 2013, the family learned that Karyn’s father had oesophageal cancer, her genetic consultant told her that she couldn’t bury her head in the sand any longer – she had to get the gene test done, and, if the result was positive, take the necessary action to spare the family circle any further heartache.
The positive BRCA 2 result was the beginning of a very tough journey for Karyn, and over the next few years, she faced a series of difficult challenges and life changes. She elected to have both risk-reducing surgeries in rapid succession – in April 2017, she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed; in June 2017 she had a double mastectomy. After the first procedure, she found herself plunged into early menopause. She had to see herself through the recovery process while trying to keep her working life on track and continue to be a caring mum to her two teenage sons. After the second procedure, she had to begin to deal with the psychological impact of losing both of her breasts, while having to negotiate key choices about further related surgery – which she now faces in the summer of 2018.
Throughout this process, Karyn was forced to reassess other, more general aspects of her lifestyle – including her diet, her relationship with food and her attitude to exercise. She also found herself questioning many things in her life on a profound level – including her close relationships and whether these were truly contributing to her health and well-being. ‘There is nothing quite like a good dose of fear to make you look deep into yourself, and ask questions you never thought you would. It’ll change you, but I suppose it’s up to you whether you allow this change to be a positive or a negative thing.’
Food has been a life-long passion for Karyn, from her days as a star catering student at The Ritz in London, where very early on, she was called upon to prepare an afternoon tea for the Royal family, to her current work as a food stylist at the top of her game, taking on assignments like recreating a medieval banquet for a key scene on Game of Thrones (where she worked on-set as chief food consultant for four seasons). Unsurprisingly, then, food has played a very important role at every stage of her BRCA journey. As Karyn puts it herself: ‘Food is such a vital part of my life that I can’t tell this story without including it and the way it helped me overcome the many challenges I’ve faced.’
When the genetic consultant told Karyn that for the sake of her health, it was crucial to reduce her weight dramatically, she was forced to acknowledge her own unhealthy eating habits and indeed her emotional relationship with food. And she was deeply embarrassed when she consulted a website about healthy eating recommended by her doctor, only to find that the recipes featured there were ones she had written herself when consulting for the Public Health Agency! By making simple yet effective changes, and without starving or depriving herself, Karyn would go on to lose five stone over the next few years.
What becomes clear in the telling of this story is that food is not just a professional passion for Karyn – above and beyond this, and far more importantly, it represents for her a way of expressing love for those she cares about. She will tell us how she helped her father recover from cancer by preparing delicious ‘mini portions’ of all his favourite dishes. She will describe how, as a way of showing her teenage sons that she was still there for them even while she recovered from the surgeries, she spent long days prior to her hospital stays, cooking and freezing healthy but delicious meals the boys could prepare for themselves with the flick of a microwave button. She will share mouth-watering recipes for the cakes, cookies and ‘the stickiest of sticky buns’ which she brings along to her weekly sessions with the Lagan Dragons (a Dragon boat team of women cancer survivors) and which they enjoy with steaming mugs of tea after a Saturday morning of furious rowing on Belfast’s river Lagan.
Karyn’s courage, her zest for life, her self-deprecating humour and her capacity for love will astound you; her passion for food and her ability to create mouth-watering yet nourishing recipes will delight you. Although cancer touches the lives of so many of us, you don’t have to be affected by it, either as an individual or within your family circle, to gain a great deal in the reading of this book – including the inspiration to change your life for the better, and a wealth of fantastic ideas for providing yourself and those you love with healthy, balanced and yet truly delicious meals.
Karyn Booth is a mum of two teenage boys, a freelance food stylist, home economist and cookery writer. Her work mainly involves creating food for film, television commercials, magazines and food packaging. She was the home economist and food stylist on Game of Thrones for four years. Other film work includes High Rise, Dracula Untold, Your Highness, Shooting for Socrates, The Wiper Times, Frankenstein Chronicles and My Mother and Other Strangers.
Karyn qualified as a chef from the Belfast College of Business Studies, and developed an eye for detail while working as a pastry chef in The Ritz Hotel in London. Passion, creative flair and ability to work under pressure led her to Roscoff in Belfast, where she worked with Paul Rankin. A decision to return to London was prompted by a job offer at The House of Albert Roux, and then followed by 18 months at Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant, Sartoria. Finally, she spent two years working with leading party caterer, Linda Artus, before returning to her native Belfast. Some of Linda’s well-known clients have included Mick Jagger, Lord Linley, the Spice Girls and Elton John.
Karyn has written recipes for Sainsbury’s, Lidl and the NI Livestock and Meat Commission, among many others, including a book for Forest Feast. Most recently she helped to found the Belfast Cookery School, where she runs two classes per month.
Author’s Home: Belfast, N. Ireland World Rights
Afraid of the Dark Mental Health/Parenting/Lifestyle
In May 2013, 39-year-old Jonny McCambridge had a beautiful wife and a newborn son, a top job in Northern Irish journalism and a very bright future in the media industry. Two months later, in the early hours of an August Sunday morning, an emergency doctor was offering him the choice of being forcibly sectioned, or of voluntarily accepting admission to the acute psychiatric ward of the local hospital – the euphemistically named ‘Ward 12’. How had Jonny’s seemingly perfect life so dramatically fallen apart?
After a brief few months of recovery and a premature return to work, he managed to struggle on for almost three years before his distress levels became critical again, and he was forced to confront the reality – that something, somewhere, had to give. In May 2017, Jonny made the decision to leave work, and abandon a career he’d been building for over 20 years, and look after his young son, James, full-time, as a ‘stay-at-home’ dad.
By turns poignant, heartbreakingly sad and side-achingly funny, this book charts one man’s journey through the struggles of mental illness and the challenges of new parenthood.
‘This is not a guidebook or a manual – about how to be a perfect parent or about how to heal yourself from depression; nor does it advocate walking away from a corporate existence in search of a deeper, simpler meaning to life. It is simply a series of things that happened to me. How I suffered a breakdown. How I overcame the terror of losing my freedom as a patient in a psychiatric ward. How I became the world's least likely blogger. How I dealt with trolls (who named me ‘The Little Snowflake’). How I somehow ended up in demand from broadcasters as an 'expert' on parenting. How I embraced alternative medicine. How I was told I might be the world's greatest psychic. How I ended up being investigated by social services as an unfit father. How I tried to build a new life. How in the darkest moments, I learnt to always find something to laugh about.’
Yet while the author does not claim to have the definitive answer to any of the challenges he faces, his story in the telling will deeply resonate with a very wide range of readers – young fathers, young mothers, and anyone, who deep down and perhaps unacknowledged even to themselves, feels ‘crushed by the responsibility of being a parent’; anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem; any of us who has ever questioned the ‘relentless path’ of the life our society has prescribed for us, and who sometimes wonders what on earth it’s all about.
Jonny McCambridge writes the way all really good journalists do – at a cracking pace, with an eye for pertinent detail and not a wasted word. His pithy, at times almost terse style belies the intensity of the experiences he relates; the economy of language reflects a complete lack of self-pity; and his dry, laconic humour only adds to the poignancy of the extreme emotional states he talks about.
Jonny McCambridge was born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland in 1974. After university, he trained as a journalist and worked in the NI media industry for almost two decades, holding a number of senior editorial positions, including at the Belfast Telegraph, among them security correspondent, news editor and deputy editor.
In 2016, Jonny gave up daily newspaper journalism to concentrate on looking after his son. He continues working as a journalist on a freelance basis, while also delivering media consultancy and communications training. He is a regular contributor on local and national radio as a commentator on parenting and social and mental health issues. In 2017 he launched the popular blog, What’s a Daddy For? He lives in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, with his wife and young son.
Author’s Home: Hillsborough, N. Ireland World Rights
Morphine: The Blessing, The Curse Narrative Non-Fiction/Memoir
Author’s Home: Rostrevor, N. Ireland World Rights
Carsten Krieger Photography
Ireland's Food Year - A culinary journey
Ireland's Food Year will explore the food produced in Ireland through the seasons.
From the ubiquitous cattle and sheep, fruit and vegetables to the wild foods, the book will explore in words and photographs the best that Ireland has to offer.
Each chapter will be dedicated to one season and feature what is grown and what can be harvested during the season. In addition, a selection of seasonal recipes will feature in each chapter as well as tips for the private gardener,fruit and vegetable grower and smallholder.
Carsten Krieger is a landscape photographer based in Ireland. His first book was The Fertile Rock: Seasons in the Burren (Collins Press, 2006), which was followed by The West of Ireland(Collins Press, 2009). His next book, The Ireland’s Glorious Landscape, was published by O’Brien Press in Spring 2010 and was followed by The Wild Flowers of Ireland, published by Gill & Macmillan in Autumn 2010, Ireland’s Coast (O’Brien Press, 2012) and The Irish Wildlife Year (Gill & Macmillan, 2012). His latest book, Ireland'sWild Atlantic Way, was published by The O'Brien Press in 2015. His next two books, Ireland's Ancient East and Ireland's Beautiful North were published in 2017. Forthcoming are Ireland's Islands and The Shannon.
Author’s Home: County Clare, Ireland World Rights
101 Curling Excuses is available as a printed book and an e book in the USA, UK and Canada: Click here: 101 Curling Excuses
Author's Home: Toronto, Canada World Rights