Monday, 29 August 2016

My French Life - A Bit of a Rant

I don't usually complain, but...

Last week we went out to eat at a local restaurant whilst holidaying in the family mobile home.  It’s always a gamble, especially in a holiday resort, where tourists line up to be disappointed by mediocre food and disaffected kitchen staff, and owners lose sleep over rents and retirement funds, vying with other eateries for customers.  Of course, bad experiences are rare in France – we were just unlucky I suppose.

It was to be primarily a social occasion. The meal would be of secondary importance.  There was Al, my husband, Alfie, my son, Sally and Paul, two friends, Ollie, Sam and Tom, their teenage sons. 

Someone had recommended a place. Sally checked out the menu in advance and judging it to be refreshingly different from the ubiquitous pizza or hamburger restaurants, booked a table for eight thirty.

I’ll admit, I’m always a bit nervous about eating out at the best of times – home cooking is generally so much better.  And, although French cuisine is more exciting than the local Beefeater Pub fare in England, one tourist resort is very much like another no matter where you are. You never know what you’re going to get, who will be preparing it, or whether it will provoke a violent reaction later.  But, as I say, it was all about the company.

The menu was ominously prolific.  Gordon Ramsay would have given it a severe edit.  We made our selections, some of us ordering a starter and all of us carefully selecting a main course from the modern wipe-down menu.  If only I had ventured into the back of the restaurant before the waitress came to take our orders.

Tom and I ordered cod in a sauce (unspecified, but which turned out to be largely flour and water), served with summer vegetables (cold sweet peppers tainted with curry powder).  Four of our party went for the notorious French entrecote and chips, Sally had moules mariniere, Al had sole.  The starters arrived and were eaten:  A few prawns served with a dollop of mayonnaise, a meagre fruits de mer platter that looked as though it had been in a can moments earlier, an underwhelming ‘chiffonade’ of ham for Tom, fish soup for Alfie (straight from a jar, complete with sludge), and enormous salads for Paul, Ollie and Sam (mostly lettuce, decorated with cheese, fish and ham respectively). We were struck by the variations in portion size and nervously fascinated by the oddity of the dishes. 

My piece of cod came skin-up.  It measured less than the size of a small bar of soap and had rather less to recommend it in terms of flavour (I imagine).  The chef had lavished four potato wedges on me and the afore-mentioned summer vegetables sat in a one-person earthenware dish, shivering.  I exchanged more than glances with the waitress, who offered to bring me another piece of fish, and vanished before I could stop her.

I apologised to the party, feeling churlish for being so negative.  This was no beachside cafĂ©, however, and the prices had hinted at some element of quality, not to mention a warm plate and a few therms running through the food upon it. 

We drank more wine, tried to find something positive to say, but Alfie reluctantly admitted that his steak was mostly fat, as was Sam’s, Ollie's and Paul’s.  They ate the parts that were edible and looked miserable.  Al, affable and uncomplaining, had eaten half his sole before asking me whether it should be pink and frozen in the middle.  

In the meantime, our waitress returned with another miniscule piece of cod in a microwave-safe dish, only to meet my eye and hear that I would not eat it, neither would I pay for my meal, adding that Al’s fish was raw.  

His second sole was hot and delicious.   

By this time, the simple act of eating had become surreal.

The waitress placed her hands on her hips and adopted a conspiratorial air. Over the course of the next few minutes, various discoveries were made to explain her pained yet strangely gleeful expression:  The owner, she said, was not himself.  He was standing in for the washer-upper and, as a result, the ‘chef’ had been left unsupervised in the kitchen with his lack of passion running wild.  This meant, our waitress told us, that he was serving ‘n’importe quoi’ to the diners.  I asked my son what this meant (he’s fluent in conversational derogatory French, whereas I am more at home reading Moliere) and he told me that it meant the food was basically ‘bollocks’.  I could only agree.  As could the waitress.

Grumblings began to turn to calls for action and as the rest of the party had little French (my son was not confident enough to rise to the challenge), I asked the waitress to take me to the ‘patron’.  A light flickered in her eye and she led me to the open kitchen where I was met by two young men (one no more than a teenager) both evidently brimming with pent up emotion and unused to being caught out.  I told them that they should be ashamed to serve such food to their customers.  This seemed to hit home – they had been expecting a rather more aggressive attack, I think.  I felt no remorse for their embarrassment.  The food had been exceptionally inedible.

The waitress, who was now unabashedly delighting in the spectacle of their maroon faces, led me further into the restaurant to speak to the patron, who was hosing down plates and looking shifty.  On the counter, were the remnants of four entrecotes.  His first defence was to point out the edible bits, sorting through the leftovers with a fork, oblivious to my incredulity. I said that the meal had been awful and that our evening had been ruined.  What was he going to do about it?  I would have been satisfied with an apology, a reduction in the bill and a quick getaway.

To my surprise, he responded that his evening had also been ruined, adding with a petulant flourish, as though I should be pleased, that he had sacked the chef with immediate effect.  In a gesture of magnanimity he had removed the price of the meal I hadn’t eaten from the bill and offered to do the same for one of the steak and chips.

Paul was all for walking out.

I negotiated further, amazed that the man in charge could miss the point so completely. 

In the end, the bill was adjusted a little more in our favour, but the evening still cost us far too much.  Al and I went on the big wheel, just to add some frivolity to an otherwise sober evening, and because he had drunk too much wine.  After that, we went home and Al had cheese and biscuits while I made myself a lovely tomato sandwich.

Happy Days

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Bev Spicer's Novels

I have written a number of novels, all of which are character-driven and involve intricate plots that will hopefully keep you guessing.

My Grandfather's Eyes is my first published novel, although it was not the first I wrote.
I tend to enjoy creating flawed characters, and Alex is probably one of my most complex.  There isn't much to like about her, it's true, but she does have some serious issues to deal with.  Her single-minded approach to investigating the past so that she can move on with her life often has shocking consequences.  What has she done and what will she do next?  These are the questions that drive the story forward.
You can download a free sample of My Grandfather's Eyes to find out whether Alex is the type of character you might enjoy.  Just click on the link below:





A Good Day for Jumping follows the lives of Stephen Firth, a handsome, rich, promiscuous young man and Joyce Shackleton, a deeply surprising middle-aged woman. (No, they are not going to have a torrid affair - sorry to disappoint!  Their stories are linked in a much more subtle and interesting way.)
Set in Greece, where I lived for two years, there is a many-layered plot involving characters whose worlds collide in the most disturbing ways.  
There are characters you can really care about and others you may despise.  The world is not full of perfect people, after all.
Follow the link below and look inside - you will find yourself in the small town of Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where Stephen Firth is considering his options.






A Life Lived Twice is quite different in format to my first two novels, with shorter chapters and rather more well-balanced characters, who lead normal lives and whose interactions do not always lead to disaster!  However, there are the usual scandals associated with a close-knit society and there is also Claude Cousteau (the undertaker's son) to add a touch of evil that will undermine the pleasant comings and goings in the small French village of St. Martin le Vieux, where our heroine, Martha Burton, has bought a traditional Charentaise house, and has attracted the attentions of her handsome neighbour.

Follow the link and download a free sample to find out how the idyll of everyday life in a French setting has no bearing on a man who has grown up in an altogether more disturbing environment.








What I Did Not Say is my most recent novel.  Jessica Morley is on her way to meet with a man she hasn't seen for fifteen years.  In her bag there is a package she must deliver.  As she travels south, she remembers Jack Banford, a boy who captured her imagination as a child and made her believe in a fure that could never happen.  Now it is time for her to set the record straight and finally pu the past behind her.  If you like a good courtroom drama, you'll love part two of this well-received story of love and cruelty in all its forms.







New crime fiction will be available in September 2016.  Locked Away is the first of a fascinating series: DCI Alice Candy has a  challenge.  A young woman has disappeared on her way home from a local shop.  Ellie Braintree is locked away.  She wakes to find herself in darkness, lying on bare earth with her mouth taped and her hands tied.
 


Thursday, 28 July 2016

Terry Tyler: #AugustReviews ~ because every little helps :)

#AugustReviews ~ because every little helps :)


This is a blog post written by Terry Tyler #August Reviews.  If you would like to share, please do.  If you would like to copy it onto your blog, please feel free.  Many thanks.
August 2016 is Write An Amazon Review Month!  

On Monday 25th July, book blogger Rosie Amber wrote this post encouraging readers and writers alike to post a short review on Amazon for any book they've read and enjoyed ~ following this up, I'm starting this initiative along with other writer-bloggers including RosieCathy from Between The LinesBarb TaubShelley Wilson and Alison Williams. 


The idea is that, during August 1st, everyone who reads this uses their Amazon account to postjust one review on one book that they've read (but feel free to carry on if you get in the swing!).  You don't even have to have read it recently, it can be any book you've read, any time. The book does not have to have been purchased from Amazon, though if it is you get the 'Verified Purchase' tag on it; however, if you download all your books via Kindle Unlimited, as many do these days, they don't show the VP tag, anyway.

Remember, this isn't the Times Literary Supplement, it's Amazon, where ordinary people go to choose their next £1.99 Kindle book.  No one expects you to write a thousand word, in-depth critique; I don't know about you, but I'm more likely to read one short paragraph or a couple of lines saying what an average reader thought of a book, than a long-winded essay about the pros and cons of the various literary techniques used.  Yes, those are welcome too (!), but no more so than a few words saying "I loved this book, I was up reading it until 3am", or "I loved Jim and Vivien and the dialogue was so realistic", or whatever!



Why should you write a review?

  • They help book buyers make decisions.  Don't you read the reviews on Trip Advisor before deciding on a hotel, or any site from which you might buy an item for practical use?  Book reviews are no different.
  • If the book is by a self-published author, or published by an independent press, the writers have to do all their promotion and marketing themselves ~ reviews from the reading public is their one free helping hand.
  • The amount of reviews on Amazon helps a book's visibility (allegedly).  If you love a writer's work and want others to do so, too, this is the best possible way of making this happen.
  • It's your good deed for the day, and will only take five minutes!


Off we go, then!  A few more pointers:

  • If you need any help with writing your review, do click on Rosie's post, above.
  • A review can be as short as one word.  The shortest one I have is just two :)
  • You don't have to put your name to the review, as your Amazon 'handle' can be anything you like.
  • No writer expects all their reviews to be 5* and say the book is the best thing ever written; there is a star rating guide on Rosie's post.
  • Would you like to tell the Twittersphere about your review?  If so, tweet the link to it with the hashtag #AugustReviews ~ and thank you!  I will do one blog post a week featuring these links: The #AugustReviews Hall of Fame (thank you, Barb!).


If you have a blog and would like to spread the word about #AugustReviews, please feel free to copy and paste this blog post, provide the link to it, re-blog it, or whatever ~ many thanks, and I hope you will join in to make this idea a success :) 

Saturday, 18 June 2016



There are three books in the humorous Bev and Carol series:

One Summer in France (just 99p for your kindle and £6.99 in paperback) is the first adventure, which takes place, you guessed it, in the South of France, and is based on the author's experiences during a study break from university.  I wanted to write a humorous memoir about the wonderful sense of freedom and possibility we all feel when we are just starting out in life as independent people.  It's true that I had some very strange experiences but I had a lot of fun too.  What's more, I learned a great deal about France, its language and its culture.
Although Carol is an entirely fictitious character, the friendship we share in the book is real.  We don't always agree on everything, and like to get the better of one another from time to time.  Bev and Carol are certainly very different characters.  They see the world in very different ways.
One Summer in France has received many positive reviews from readers who perhaps remember a similar time in their lives, when they took so many things for granted that, in adult life, seem to have all but disappeared.
You can download a free sample to your kindle by following the link below.  Why not relax for a while in the company of Bev and Carol in One Summer in France (two girls in a tent).  I hope it puts a smile on your face and takes you back to a less complicated, more spontaneous time:





Bunny on a Bike is the second in the Bev and Carol series. This time, the author recounts her real life experiences as a Playboy croupier in London in the 80s.  Bev and Carol are eager to stick together after university and find the prospect of the graduate jobs available too dull to contemplate.  They see an advertisement in the newspaper for blackjack dealers and apply.
I think you will be surprised at some of the realities of the less than glamorous lives they lead, always looking on the bright side even when faced with landlords from hell and stringent training schedules at Victor Lownes' mansion in Tring.
Bunny on a Bike has the same light touch as One Summer in France.  It's a humorous memoir which follows the lives of two girls thrown into 80s London, and gives an impression of what happened behind the doors of the Playboy casino.
Again, you can download a free sample by following the link below, where the Bev and Caroladventure continues:







Stranded in the Seychelles is the third and most recently published volume in the Bev and Carol series, although I do have plans for a further book at some point.
Our intrepid heroines have had a few years apart after leaving Playboy and have met up once more for a new adventure, this time in the Seychelles as teachers.
Stranded in the Seychelles is based once more on the author's real life experiences as a teacher on the tiny island of Ste. Anne in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and includes lots of local colour and cultural insights along the way.  Bev and Carol are older, but not particularly wiser.  They savour this new opportunity to duck out of the lives they are leading in England and jet off to somewhere altogether more exotic.  Of course it's not all plain sailing and, as usual, the girls have to cope with the unexpected, such things as giant spiders, insect infested cornflakes, heart-stopping bus rides and accident prone cleaners.  But they enjoy their experiences and learn a lot about expat society.
Stranded in the Seychelles will make you laugh just as much as One Summer in Franceand Bunny on a Bike, but this time, Bev and Carol are faced with rather more sobering choices from time to time, in between the absurd and the hilarious.
Follow the link below to download a free sample and find out what they get up to this time:







So, that's it for my humorous books.  If you would like to look at my other books, please go back to my home page and select Novels by B A Spicer. 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

FIVE READS

FIVE AUTHORS

FIVE GENRES

99p/99c

FIVE DAYS ONLY


Discover a new author? Try something different? All of the authors below are offering readers the chance to download one of their ebooks that has received great reviews and has a high star rating. For the next five days you can download and enjoy any of these titles for just 99p or 99c (from 10th–15th June). Just click on the links to view any book on Amazon.






What I Did Not Say
Mystery/thriller 

"Outstanding mystery/thriller. I was blown away by this novel…" ~ Babus Ahmed, Amazon Top 1000 reviewer and prolific book blogger.

"Part 2 was the trial, where the pace and tension were excellent. The pages seemed to turn themselves." ~ Amazon reviewer. 

Jessica Morley is on her way to meet with a man she has not seen for fifteen years. In her bag there is a package she must deliver.

Click to view on Amazon





The House of York
Contemporary family drama



"The ending to the story kept me thinking for days." ~ Shaz Goodwin, book blogger and Amazon Top 100 reviewer.

"Best book I've read this year." ~ Joanne Phillips, top selling women's fiction author.


Love, loss, jealousy, abduction and murderous intent form the basis of this highly acclaimed, complex family saga spanning the years 1993  2014.

Click to view on Amazon









The Sickness
Supernatural horror


"If you like your supernatural horror to be dark, gruesome and unequivocally gory, then this is the book for you. It is explosive, expertly written and riveting." ~ Shelley Wilson, author of The Guardians, YA fiction novels.


"A captivating and suspenseful read . . . a story-telling standard equal to some of the biggest names out there in horror today." ~ Sharon Stevenson, author of The Gallows Novels and the After Death Series.


Forced home to attend his parents' funeral, 
James Harris returns to a place of childhood torment and gruesome horror.







Death Times Three
Cosy mystery


 "Elinor (Gray) is a wonderful amateur sleuth—she's whip-smart and determined without coming across as nosy or arrogant." ~ Elizabeth Maria Naranjo. 

"I'm a sucker for stories involving a female who can't resist sticking her nose into a curious puzzle and the attractive man who can't stop her." ~ Terri Case.



A Las Vegas librarian trips over a murdered artist and an amateur sleuth is born. 
Two short stories and a novella.






What Jennifer Knows
Contemporary women's fiction


"I started off liking What Jennifer Knows...I finished the novel loving it." ~ Judith Barrow, author and creative writing tutor.

"Sensitively drawn characters charm us… The shifting nature of loyalty and love is portrayed through searingly honest glimpses into the characters' lives, both past and present." ~ Jenny Worstall, author and musician.


Jennifer Jacobs unwittingly discovers a link between two of her friends. 
Should she speak out or stay silent?
  

Monday, 23 May 2016

Life in a French Village

 Excerpt Six from 'A Life Lived Twice' by B A Spicer 

(Click on the title to go to Amazon and download Martha's story for 99p/99c 24th - 30th May.)  Offer now ended.



After two years, Claude had reluctantly left his apprenticeship under the guidance of Felix Dumas, to return to his father, who could no longer fulfil the occasional contracts required of him.  The time had come when he did not have the stomach for his trade and preferred to busy himself with his undertaking business, making arrangements for the dead instead of providing new corpses for the coffins he sold.  So, despite an overwhelming wish for his son to qualify as a lawyer, he sent for Claude one cold afternoon, when his heart had been touched by ice for the last time.
Claude had not hesitated. He would not have said so for the world, but he knew fundamentally and categorically that Felix Dumas would never make anything of him.  The former was restricted by the law he served, despite his undeniable intelligence.  The law was a prison.  Claude coveted his freedom, both physical and spiritual – he would never be able to abide by such petty rules.

And now, his father was dead.

Rosa Cousteau had grown older and fatter, her expression set and sullen.  She worried about the past and the future, leaving no time for the present.  She had no love for her son, but grieved still for the daughter she had lost years ago to a cruel virus.  Claude was no substitute, with his cadaverous features, his sunken eyes and his untidy, mouse-coloured hair. 
She could not bring herself to kiss her son when he came to visit, but listened politely to his descriptions of the places he had been.  It was always places that he spoke of and never people.  Almost never.  Only one name came up in conversation: Felix Dumas was a paragon of virtue, selfless and generous to a fault.  She was sick of hearing about him.  His father had been a constant drain on her husband.  Such a big man!  Wealthy and educated.  Pah!  Her husband had been caught in his flame, like a moth, bobbing and blundering to remain in the circle of light, just as her son now did, a generation on. 
The life had been sucked out of her husband slowly but surely, until his heart had given out one day during dinner and he had died in front of her, the agony on his face a memory she could not forget, his love for her too tragic to be savoured.  Dumas had not attended the funeral but his son had sent a message – she remembered how Claude had read it out to her.  It had made her sick to her stomach.
Rosa Cousteau’s bills were paid, and food was put before her.  She lived on, cared for by servants who whispered behind her back, and a son who fulfilled his professional obligations with a sang froid that her husband had lacked. 
      The sun rose each morning and lit the room where she slept, but could not warm her heart.  And when Claude came to visit, it was without love that she surveyed the dull features of a man who killed, she suspected, without conscience.  More than once, she had considered taking the shotgun from the cabinet and pretending that she had mistaken him for an intruder, for, the thought that she had brought such a monster into the world was, at times, unbearable.  

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover!

Review: 'Jessica Lost her Wobble' by J. Schlenker






Both the cover (which shows a bicycle on a bridge), and the author’s plot summary set me on course for the tale of a ‘damaged’ woman who had moved to an island to begin a new life and who, metaphorically speaking, might lose her ‘wobble’.  It was a fairly under-whelming premise.

The style of writing is explicit - there were no real surprises.  I must admit that although the story of Jessie’s life on the island and her memories of when she moved to New York from England as a young girl are well-written and engaging, the candid nostalgia of a woman writing about life in the mid-nineteen hundreds was not ringing my bell.  Strange then, how comfortable it felt to pick up my kindle and retrieve Jessie where I had left her.  Strange, the vague affinity I had with this woman who seemed to be working through a tragic history and searching for a new interest: yoga, cooking Indian food, opening a tea shop… 

The people she meets are interesting and well-developed characters, the stories of her past are from another era, and demonstrate a shocking naivety and a touching vulnerability.  Jessie is nice, with a capital ‘N’.  But ‘nice’ just doesn’t cut it in the real world.  Not for me, at least.  Lots of people will enjoy the life and times of a woman like Jessie, who has lived a varied and interesting life.  A woman who it’s easy to like and for whom we wish at least some happiness in her new life on the island.  But I couldn’t quite understand why this book was a finalist in the 2014 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.

Then comes the twist.  Exquisite!

I wanted to know more about the author.  The only thing I could find was a single photograph on Amazon India.  In it, she’s wearing a huge grin.  How appropriate!