They’ve just put a Costa in our local hospital.

We go to the hospital quite a lot because of my OH’s various ailments. The coffee in the hospital is awful – utterly tasteless and horrible so you may imagine how pleased we were to see that Costa had opened there.


Firstly because we both love a decent coffee, of course, and Costa’s not superb but it’s consistently decent. Dependable, you might say.

Secondly because when you are in a place like a hospital where everything is uncertain and nothing is within your power, you gravitate to the familiar. In Costa you know what you’re getting, you know you’re going to enjoy it, and you can have your usual favourite. It’s a dose of normality when you need it.

Costa isn’t sterile and clinical like the the hospital, it doesn’t smell of disinfectant and promote the use of hand gel in case you have a mysterious flesh eating virus; it smells all dark and rich with coffee beans. It has comfy chairs, and it looks the same as the High Street Costa you stop in for a chat and a cake with your family while shopping. It’s familiar, comforting, a refuge. And it makes it easier to go to the hospital.

Waiting for test results is easier in familiar territory. Being nervous or worried is more manageable. It gets so that you go to that hospital Costa not because you want coffee or cake, but because it makes you feel more able to manage what waits outside. That’s pretty powerful, and honestly, it’s a bit of a gift. It makes our lives easier.

To a certain extent, that’s what I’m trying to do with my stories.

We seem to be living in dark times right now. Everywhere you look, something terrible is happening. The news is rife with disasters, tragedy, stupid political decisions that will have all sorts of impact on real people’s lives. You hear of people in all sorts of terrible situations, all sorts of cruelty and hardship and hopelessness, and it’s very difficult to resist despairing of it all.

But actually, resisting it is what we need to do.

It’s not easy. You have to go out of your way to find the good stuff, but know what? It’s there. There’s a quote from Mr Rogers that says that when he was scared as a kid, his mother used to tell him to look for the helpers. I love this, and it’s true.

You can’t be blinkered about world events – you can’t ignore them, but you can choose carefully the aspects about them you pass on. If all we can do is highlight the pictures of everyone charging over to help, regardless of age or race or religion, even that is a little blow for the cause of hope.

And it is becoming clear to me that hope is something we need to fight for. In this day and age hope is becoming rare and precious; anything that keeps that spark alive, it’s worth doing.

For me, my stories are part of that. I try to be realistic in my view of humanity, so in my books dark events do occur and times can be bad, but always there is faith and hope and the determination to make things better, at least a little bit.

Sometimes things can be fixed; sometimes they really can’t, but often they can be ameliorated a bit, or made more bearable. If you can’t help all of the people, sometimes you can help one.

But that sort of fight is exhausting, whether in real life or fiction. We can’t fight all the time. No-one can. We get exhausted, and we need somewhere to go where we can recharge for a while, just to get our breath back, and our emotional reserves, and our determination.

For that we need a safe place, a refuge. We need to be reminded that, as Samwise Gamgee says, “there are good things in the world, and that they are worth fighting for.” We need to find hope, and the will to persist.

And that is why we need stories.

Stories where two hobbits cross a continent and save the world simply by persistence and faith, even if things can never be the same again for anyone afterwards.

Stories of a person who roams the galaxy in a police-box, who has to let go of the people he/she loves every time he/she regenerates, but still cannot resist the urge to help every new person he/she meets.

Stories that tell us that we can make a difference, even when it feels as if we are powerless.

Stories are our sanctuary, and if ever we needed a sanctuary, that time is now.

Find your story. Find your sanctuary. Find your feet.

And believe in hope, because like the helpers, it is always there.

Take care of yourselves – and each other.