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Me and my health: Co Down novelist Sheena Wilkinson on her lifestyle


By Stephanie Bell

The 49-year-old is a novelist from Co Down. Her most recent novel, Star By Star (Little Island) has just been published to commemorate 100 years of female suffrage.

Q: Do you take regular exercise - and if so, what?

A: I love walking and try to walk for at least an hour every day, usually in Castlewellan Forest, which is very close to my home. It's really important for me to be outdoors, especially as I spend a lot of time at my desk, writing. I've never been to a gym in my life: that kind of exercise doesn't appeal at all. However, I go to set dancing every week, which is great fun and a good workout. I am a bit galumphing but I love the music. Walking is really my number one exercise - it's the fresh air and the trees as much as the physical exertion that matters. I'll often work out a problem in a story while I'm walking, though often not consciously. I'm a bit like a puppy: if I don't get out to the park, I get agitated!

Q: What's the worst illness you have had?

A: I had bacterial meningitis in 1975 when I was six, and I was very lucky to be diagnosed quickly and make a full recovery. That's the only time I've ever been in hospital. I'm really squeamish and I hate anything medical, unless it's on the page. The characters in my books are always ending up in hospital!

Q: How healthy is your diet?

A: Well… I start the day really well with porridge, winter or summer, and I try to eat healthily. I love salads and all the good stuff, but I do have a weakness for carbs and sweet stuff. I'd love to be the kind of person who craves an apple, but I'm more likely to crave an iced finger with plenty of butter. Having said that, I can be pretty disciplined when I put my mind to it. Living alone, I can make sure I don't buy the unhealthy stuff and then it's not in the house to tempt me.

Q: Any bad habits?

A: Sweets. I have never grown out of my love for the 10p mix - what my mum calls 'rubbish'. If I start eating rubbish I find it hard to stop. Not that you'd get much rubbish for 10p these days.

Q: Do you drink and/or smoke - if so, how much?

A: I've never smoked. My father was a chain smoker and it really put me off; I'm glad I was never tempted, because I can see how addictive it is. I've always done a lot of singing in folk clubs, etc, and I was so happy when the smoking ban came in. I do like a drink - a few glasses of red wine in an average week. More on holiday. I'm always driving, because I live in the country, so I've got used to socialising without alcohol.

Q: Do you take any health supplements?

A: I go through phases; for a few months now I have been taking a vitamin and mineral supplement which is meant especially for women, and I do think that it's helped boost my immune system. I travel a lot for my work, and I always hate the air in planes, but I've got through this whole winter without a cold, which is unusual for me.

Q: How do you take time out?

A: Walking in the forest, singing/playing my guitar and reading. I used to teach full-time as well as write, but for the last five years I have been a freelance writer. In theory, I should have more downtime than I used to, but it's not unusual for me still to be working most days, doing school events, talks, etc. and so I often spend most of the weekend writing, just as I did in the bad old days. I am very good at relaxing - I spend plenty of evenings watching TV in my mum's house.

Q: How well do you sleep?

A: It varies. Generally I wake up at least once and may struggle to get back to sleep. But other times it's not a problem. I do love sleep.

Q: Do you worry about getting old?

A: It's better than the alternative. My father died at 62, so I probably worry more about not getting old. But yes, I think age needs to be seen more positively in our society - maybe my generation will help to do that. I and my contemporaries turn 50 this year and one or two of them are a bit depressed about it, but I plan to have a party.

  • Star by Star, Little Island Books, by Sheena Wilkinson, priced £6.07

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