Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Groovy Education with Carol and Bev


Bev and Carol are characters from my two (soon to be three) humorous memoirs.  See right side panel.




EPISODE TWO

Location, location, location.

Ten-minute walk onto campus (if late for lecture), twenty-minute stagger back, (if tipsy), circular never-ending maze (if under the influence of Southern Comfort).

Today, exploratory tour of campus (no alcohol). 

Wore bright blue velvet jacket over button-through checked maxi-dress and favourite platform sandals, bought from Dolcis’ during moment of spontaneity into which consideration of outrageous price did not enter.  Rocked myself there and clomped around library, having registered but forgotten to bring reading list. BIRDBRAIN!  Illustrious temple of learning and chewing gum more or less empty – Saturday, before lunchtime. 

Outside, weather behaving very well for October.  Scouted off, noting small but well-equipped laundrette, tiny superette selling produce at extortionate prices. Gasped at sixties monstrosity dominating quadrangle - leggy students’ union, den of iniquity and shrine to political busy-bodies. BRILLIANT!

Entered with intention of flouting authority. Glad of rainbow eye-shadow and ‘Polyblonde’ hair. Edgy.

Found pigeonhole with name on it, stuffed with welcoming literature (secretly pleased).

Notice boards advertising all manner of clubs/forthcoming events, (browse later). 

Behind stairs, treasure trove of games machines. Whines, screeches and bangs, squeak of soft shoes on linoleum - best collection of eye-candy in town. BOYS! Scruffy, hungover, oozing sex-appeal.  BAD!  -  obviously spent great deal of time drinking beer and killing aliens/blowing up cities.  Noted.

Up wide stairs and through to bar, murky/pungent even during day, unhealthy/sticky, EXCELLENT! Realised full potential would only be evident during hours of darkness.  Checked out jukebox for fave bands. LOADED. Resolved to return with bottle of cider, later. 

Visited gig/events room - soon to be favourite disco hothouse.  Congratulated self on very bloody good choice of educational establishment.

Wended way back to Room, tra la, via superette (rice pudding, Ambrosia - lunch). 

Full of joys of autumn, randomly hatching plan to befriend girl in next room (looked nice).

Rocked myself back to hall with enthusiasm.

DISASTER - beloved sandal (left foot) snapped in middle - nearly broke ankle/neck/wind.
 
Arrived bare-foot. Lay on bed, listening to ‘Rumours’ (Fleetwood Mac) being played in several rooms at same time/not at same time! 

Fabulous start to groovy education.

Brain sparkle.  Deep sigh of contentment.

To be continued …

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Groovy Education - Episode One


Bev and Carol are characters from my two (soon to be three) humorous memoirs.  See right side panel.
 This is the second post.  Introduction posted 9/12/13.


ONE

Room. 

On arrival, was disenchanted.  Central, voice-amplifying staircase - bad design, kitchen - large, functional/heartless, actual Room (capitalisation intended) for next three years – featureless, with miserly bed, stunted wardrobe, ambitiously proportioned desk plus chair.  Surprise ‘extra’ - wash basin inside cupboard - useful for practical jokes.

Ferried up bags and smiled enigmatically at other new arrivals, some of whom flanked by parents, one of whom used toilet just inside entrance to hall, making breathing inadvisable before first floor level.  Red-faced girl did best to evacuate said parent, who seemed unaware of powerful stench he had created.  Overheard (painful) one-sided conversation: ‘Thanks for your help, Dad.  See you in the holidays.  Goodbye.  Give my love to Mum.’ Sorry for girl, propelling.  Sorry for parent, propelled.

Note to self: buy air freshener. 

Unpacked. One shelf for eveningwear (sequined boob-tube, leather miniskirt etc.), one for jumpers (baggy), one for jeans (drainpipe/stretch).  Desk drawer for pants/bras/frillies.  Books, on desk (conspicuously).  Paper, files, new pens, academic miscellany – under desk, awaiting re-location. 

Stashed make-up inside sink cupboard, on shelf (handy variety).  Added Wisdom toothbrush and Colgate (ring of confidence) toothpaste.

Grundig cassette player/radio (silver machine) – pride of place in centre of desk (vague tremor of wicked delight).  Cassettes – stacked in purpose-built rack (not provided!).

Switched on radiator.  Opened window (global warming not yet discovered). Looked out onto car park and beloved Renault 4TL.

Happy sigh.

To be continued…


Monday, 9 December 2013

Living in the Past - A Groovy Education


(Bev and Carol are characters from my two (soon to be three) humorous memoirs.  See right side panel for links.)

Three years at university were awesome (always wanted to use that word and now feel strangely let down).

But… they very nearly didn’t happen!

First off, (excuses, excuses) didn’t get the grades I wanted.  Big surprise. Blame (oh, there has to be blame!) psychological torture and lack of faith on part of  middle-class educational establishment of the elite, grammar school variety.

Other possible factors: hedonistic tendencies, narcissistic wearing out of mirrors, lack of ‘application’ (memories of comments in margins – notably: ‘satisfactory’, 'grammar?'  'No!'), plus, penchant for copying out tedious articles from Reader’s Digest for school projects, notably: ‘Write about a Favourite Holiday Destination (with pictures)’ – Afghanistan was a bad choice, even in the seventies, (excellent drawing of camel, although  can now reveal it was traced…from National Geographic). 

Unfortunately, was pigeonholed (nice but dim) and packed off to secretarial school (bilingual course) clutching two (not three) A’ levels, having been ASSURED by elements of  afore-mentioned establishment that university entry was, is and will always remain the domain of the THREE A’-levelled candidate.  (Dubious compound).

This turned out to be a BIG LIE. 

Two years later, after exercising accredited secretarial skills in various contexts, most boringly as  legal dogsbody and appalling speller/typist, it was back to the drawing board.  Duly informed by (normally unreliable) friend that university entry was and always had been viable with only TWO A’ levels. 

BUGGERATION!

Strangulation of former headmistress and/or careers’ advisor impracticable and, arguably, disproportionate.

Sulking ensued.  Much contemplation, much going down pub.

Eventually, arrived at decision – would make belated application to take up  place at Keele University (famous for lakes) to study English and French literature, with subsidiary Astronomy (one science subject required).  Astronomy least frightening/prettiest.

From 1977 – 1980 undergraduate/scholar/bimbo/jam aficionado and expert in procrastination. 

Will attempt to record best bits in coming weeks, months, years.  Bouts of lethargy, extreme alternative activity and/or mood swings may result in casual scheduling of posts.

To be continued…

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Books Direct: "My Grandfather's Eyes" by B. A. Spicer

Books Direct: "My Grandfather's Eyes" by B. A. Spicer: ON SALE for $0.99 My Grandfather's Eyes by B. A. Spicer My Grandfather’s Eyes by B. A. Spicer is ON SALE for only $0.99 (s...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Countdown Promotion for 'My Grandfather's Eyes'

'My Grandfather's Eyes' is a book that I feel very pleased to have written.  On re-reading it recently, I was surprised how single-minded I had made Alex and how much I had made her suffer, too.  Some people have said that she is egotistical, self-obsessed, even evil!  And yet, it is clear that she has caught the imagination of my readers, who also describe her story as riveting.  

She is not a conventional protagonist, certainly.  Her story is that of a young woman of unusual appearance, who discovers that there is more to her family history than meets the eye.  The people who surround her are not all they seem, and she is drawn into a world of secrets that will ultimately change her life.

I have the greatest respect for Alex, even though she may seem cold, even ruthless at times.  She is an intriguing character, who learns quickly and adapts to what is possible in a world where what we want is generally conditional on the wishes of other people.  While her aspirations may not always be attainable, she is an intelligent and pro-active human being, who will always find a way forward.  

Is Alex Crane evil?  I'll let you decide.

'My Grandfather's Eyes' will be listed in the Amazon Countdown promotion from 3rd - 6th December, at a starting price of 99p/$0.99.  Just click on the link to read the sample chapters:

viewBook.at/B009B7W10U

Friday, 15 November 2013

The writing of 'One Summer in France'






When it all started:
1979 (a very good year).

Where it all started:
Keele University (northern England, non-prestigious, apart from renowned Astronomy department –run by friend of Sir Patrick Moore – name on tip of tongue/impressive English department - gargoyled hall, windows bit too high to gaze out of).

Friendships formed, (in order of importance/in no particular order – bit of a mix, really):
Carol (best friend/totally brilliant/mad/blond/netball fiend, wing-attack/can be trifle politically incorrect/bit sweary/good punch).
Alison (uptight/control freak/freak/not really friend but essential enemy/obsessive milk hoarder – all property is theft, Alison).
James (hopelessly besotted with Bev – brash totty/betrothed to Jocasta – posh totty/doomed/dishy/dope/eventual accountant, argh!).
Andy (undergraduate in French/lord-of-manor type if not actual lord of manor/Shrewsbury estate/heart of gold/spotty/def. not shaggable).
Luc (entrepreneurial market trader/south of France poseur/admirer of Bev’s dream-goddess bikini and contents/eventual shag interest of Carol).
Lawrence (cor!/French/married – bummer! – ambiguity not intended).
Charles (French/pancake chef/bit stinky/animal/non-runner – pity).
Antoine and Cedric (French/caravan-dwellers/benevolent/gallant/lecherous old buggers).
Others too numerous to mention.

Reason for trip:
To learn French and to contextualise studies.

Itinerary:
1. Train to South of France.
2. Put up tent.
3. Go to beach.

Activities:
Reading/lounging about/flirting/moped mastery/selective sightseeing (pinnacle – Dali’s museum – bonkers).

Places visited:
Lots and lots.

Best bits:
Beaches (normal x 2, naturist x 1)/port – gallon thereof/Jean-Paul Sartre – ‘Huis Clos’ – intellectual stimulant – Carol not enamoured/Spike Milligan – genius - worm verse – best poem ever written - Carol's opinion, not mine/being freeeeee!

Worst bits:
Mohammed’s couscous/paranoid, raw-meat-eating Anna (don’t ask).

Summing up:
Totally amazing time.  Love Carol forever.  Best friend in world.  Thanks to Ms. Adams (finance), my father (extra finance), and to Dave (emergency finance).  Have grown as person.  Have brilliant photos.  French improved (beaucoup). Tan – even. Hair – ruined (in a good way).  Power over opposite sex – incalculable. N.B. government grant/tax payers' money - repaid a thousand times over!  


Developments:
Wrote book: ‘One Summer in France’, humorous memoir of three-month study break in France (obligatory)



Additional information:
Two-day bargain price ($0.99/77p) 20th and 21st November.  Can’t wait?  Get it now and blow the expense!  (Best consumed with big smile and bigger glass of port).

viewBook.at/B00B2HFOO2 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Sticky fingers

Christmas is coming, even in France.

Things go more slowly where I live, in SW France.  But, (shock, horror) LeClerc already has all the chocs you could ever want and lots that you probably would rather not have, sitting on shelves specially allocated for 'seasonal goods'.  Gone are the inflatable boats, the luminous bikinis and the swing-balls, replaced by pyramids of chocolate Santas, boxes of advent calendars to suit all pockets and handmade chocolates at extortionate prices.

They begin the campaign for over indulgence and excess where there is the least resistance.  My particular favourite lies in wait: orange peel in dark chocolate.



I just get a few other things so I don't have to dash around at the last minute, in a couple of months' time.  Into the trap I fall. My trolley is laden, but not with the things I came in for.  Too late to go back, I go home to a house full of chocolate-detecting aficionados. 

There are limited new hiding places.  Especially from myself.

I long for the future, when, never getting properly dressed or brushing my hair, spending even more of my time writing books and forgetting about the real world for days on end, I won't be able to remember where I've stashed my wicked treats.  Then, I shall come upon a Milka Daim amongst the bag of summer hats I never wear or a slab of nougat in the lining of an old coat.  How marvellous it will be to discover chocolate I didn't know I had!   




In the meantime, I shall exercise my willpower and watch, as my children and husband tuck in.  After all I haven't told them about my secret stash.  Ho! Ho! Ho!




HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

First chapter of my latest mystery/suspense novel.

AN ACCIDENTAL KILLING

CHAPTER ONE

 

The man who stood on the coastal path was unremarkable.  He was of average height and build, with thin mousy hair and a longish pointed nose.  People put him at forty, but he was in fact thirty-four.  He was considered plain by those who knew him, quiet to the point of alienating, and had never been in love.  Now, he stared out to sea but watched instead a scene from his past, when he had been a boy; the kind of boy who stood alone in the school playground, who lacked friends but attracted enemies.  This present memory came to him with a clarity that stirred a kind of nostalgia inside him that troubled him.  He was not accustomed to pleasant reminiscing.

The body lay under a thin white sheet.  In the corner of a large, sparsely furnished room Claude watched his father putting on clear plastic gloves.  It was cold and the bright lights made it seem colder.  He wished he had put on an extra sweater.  When his father was ready, Claude stood back a little, waiting for the first glimpse.  He knew that it was a man, a tourist from the south, killed in a traffic accident. 
‘Are you ready?’ asked his father, smiling.
‘Yes, father.’
‘Very well.’ He pulled back the sheet.
The man’s hair was dark and slicked back, apart from a strand that fell forward, partially adhering to a sticky-looking wound above his left eye.  His complexion was already pale and bluish, lacking lustre.  He was wearing casual but expensive clothes and, where his skin was exposed, he would have been tanned with the honey glow that you saw on television advertisements.  His shoes had leather soles.  As Claude helped his father to undress the corpse, he imagined the accident, the look on the man’s face before the impact that had left him suddenly lifeless.  When he lay naked, his father said what he always said: ‘In death we are all equal, rich or poor, old or young!’  Claude liked the way he said it, almost like a prayer.
‘Pass me the scalpel, will you?’ his father asked. ‘Unless you would like to try?’
Claude smiled timidly and shook his head. 
‘No matter,’ his father said, his eyes full of kindness.  ‘Another time, another time.’  He took the instrument and made an incision in the neck of the dead man, inserted a tube and opened a large container of embalming fluid.
The boy did not ask questions.  He understood the process.  Once more, Claude shivered in the cold, wishing again that he had dressed more warmly.  He didn’t usually forget, but this time he had been in the garden playing, and in the sunshine it had been pleasantly warm.
‘You can run and fetch a sweater,’ said his father.  ‘I will do the face when you get back.  Tell mother we will be ready for dinner at the usual time.’
Inside the house, there was the warm moist smell of washing, vying with the meaty aroma of lasagne, and on the sideboard, shone a fresh green salad with small ripe tomatoes and pale flakes of parmesan cheese.  Claude felt the first stirrings of hunger.  In his room, he quickly found what he was looking for and ran back through the kitchen, his soft shoes making hardly a sound.
‘Where are you going?’ 
He did not like to tell his mother.  ‘Outside!  We will be in for dinner at the usual time!’ he called, realising that she would know from the ‘we’ that he was going to watch his father, and swearing under his breath.
Back inside the one-storey building which stood in the deep, cool shadows at the bottom of the garden of his mother’s house, there was a buzz from the lights overhead as he entered, and he saw his father from the back this time, bent over the body, his white coat luminous. 
‘Have you started yet, father?’ said Claude, panting slightly.
‘I said that I would wait, and I have,’ he replied, pleasantly.  ‘Come to the other side and we can begin.  Put on your gloves.’
Claude pulled on the smaller gloves, bought specially for him, taking longer than he should because of his haste, grinning and jumping up and down a little on the spot.  At last they were on. 
After his father had supervised the washing of the man’s face, he allowed his son to lather and shave it – delighting in the care and attention the lad took.  The corpse’s lips were cracked and a little dehydrated so, after the usual moisturising, Claude applied a little soft wax to even out the surface.  The lips were firm and moved like rubber, displaying pale gums and a good set of teeth.  When Claude had finished, his father helped him insert the plastic discs, which kept the shape of the eyes, under the eyelids, and then he mixed up glue to seal the eyes and mouth shut.   
The body already looked healthier, more lifelike and yet not alive.  Working from a photograph, it would be simple to render the man as fresh-faced in death as he had been before the accident.  With his index finger Claude took a little foundation and began to dab it gently on the bruised area around the wound, which soon began to take on a natural fleshy tone.  His father had cleaned out the dirt and used tape to close it.  They worked closely together, their arms brushing one against the other, making them smile momentarily.  Claude listened to his father’s breathing and caught the smell of garlic from his mouth. 
By the time they had finished, the man looked as though he had a small, almost invisible scar on an otherwise flawless complexion. 
‘He was a handsome man,’ said Signor Cousteau, holding up the photograph they had worked from.  ‘More handsome in death than in life, don’t you think?’
‘Yes, father,’ replied Claude, sincerely.
‘Put a little rouge on the cheeks,’ said his father.  ‘That’s right, and a little on the nose.  Yes.  Now, on the forehead and just a little on the chin.  Perfect!’
‘Shall I put the lipstick on now, father?’
‘Do you think he needs it?’
‘Maybe a little,’ said the boy, more because he wanted to finish the job, not leaving anything out.
‘Very well.  Just a little.’
The body was bruised where the seatbelt had been, but the family and friends would not see the torso of the deceased.  The hands would need some attention, though, when he had been dressed.
‘Is it time?’ asked his father.
‘We have ten minutes more.’
‘We will finish after dinner in that case.  It is always better not to rush.  Do you have homework tonight?’
The boy hung his head a little. ‘Yes, father.’
‘Then I will come alone.  Thank you for your assistance, my son.’
Claude looked up quickly and smiled at his father, who pretended to be busy with some clearing away.   
After taking off their gloves and washing their hands with a special antiseptic soap, they left the building and went up towards the main house, in order to take a shower and be ready for their meal.  Claude put an arm around his father’s waist and felt the weight and warmth of a large hand on his shoulder.  The garden was cooler now that the sun had gone below the tops of the trees.  It was different out in the fresh air, where people lived and moved.  More complicated thoughts invaded Claude’s head and he wished he could go back and finish the work, so that he could avoid the distractions that now assaulted his mind. 
His mother was draining the pasta when they entered, in the large traditional kitchen where she had grown up.  She was still a beauty, it was said, and could have married into a grand Italian family.  Instead, she had fallen in love with a Frenchman, who had never quite managed to make the required transition from one culture to another. He had come to Italy, for her, but his heart had never left France.  So the story went.  Claude knew the fairytale had not quite come true, but he was too young to understand why.
  His mother’s house.  That was what his father called it, even after all the years he had lived in it.  Involuntarily, an idea came to Claude: he wondered what it would be like to see her on the long, narrow table, covered by a thin white sheet.  Drawing it back, he would do his best to take away the harshness in her face, to soften her expression and make her look happy.
‘Be quick!  The pasta will be ruined.  Why can you never be on time!’ she said.
The men did not speak, but hurried upstairs to wash.

On the coastal path, Claude allowed a smile to spread across his face.  Exactly which memory was the author of such a pleasant reaction, was impossible to surmise.


If you would like to download 'An Accidental Killing' just click on the link on the sidebar.

 

Friday, 11 October 2013

I wish I were a weather girl
working on the telly.
I'd smile and say the clouds today
will taste like lemon jelly.

I'd pout and preen
and toss my head,
and butter sunshine
on your bread.
 

I'd banish drizzle
With a swivel
of my perfect hips.
Lips
of strawberry,
skin of cream,
I'd brighten up the dullest screen.


My dresses chosen with great care,
to cling
to all my bits.
I'm on display
Hip hip hooray!
I'm bound to be a hit.


Carol does it very well,
she's lovely I'll admit.

But if I got her morning slot,
I'd wear a hat
of honey bees
and chase away
the sexy Scot.

I wish I were a weather girl,
working on the telly.
I'd smile and say the clouds today
will taste like lemon jelly.

















 





Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Taste of France

Boys, buses and profs.

If you asked me to get up at 6.00 am every morning, eat a bowl of cereal with chocolate shrapnel as its main ingredient, smothered in semi-skimmed UHT milk, shower, dress and lug a ridiculously heavy bag down to the bus stop in the dark, I'd probably think you were joking, bonkers or living in France.









Watching my two teenage sons disappear around the corner and knowing that I won't see them again until twelve hours later, doesn't get any easier. The French school system is austere.  Dare I say, outdated.

I have a 'convocation' coming up next week to listen to a presentation on a forthcoming school trip to Paris at which I am under orders not to embarrass my eldest by speaking to any of his friends, their siblings or parents.  Apparently, my French accent is 'Wow!'  or 'Are you serious?'  I will however be required to steal a couple of minutes with his French prof to beg forgiveness for his latest 'commentaire' and, in fact, to raise the rather delicate question of what, exactly, a 'commentaire' is.


I do speak French quite well, although I can easily crumble in the face of teaching professionals (of which I am one), who have various strategies to hoodwink the unsuspecting parent into believing that they a) know who you are b) know who your child is, and c) understand how to do a 'commentaire'.  I  have an advantage with both a) and b) as I speak my own enthusiastic version of French, and have a son who is almost two metres tall, which means that we stand out from the crowd more than most.  c) will be awkward, although I am ever the optimist and hope for at least a snippet of useful information amongst the piffs and paffs and shoulder shrugging.

Zut alors!

I'll let you know what happens.

In the meantime, I have just remembered that today is Wednesday, a half-day at schools in France, so I shall have to get moving in order to prepare a mountainous twelve o'clock lunch for two ravenous boys. 








Tartiflette




Life is good.




Friday, 27 September 2013

'ANGELS' - A mother's revenge.

For the next four days, my short story 'Angels' will be free to download onto any electronic device.


I like to explore emotional responses to all kinds of situations, because the human mind is endlessly fascinating, resourceful and mysterious.  I know I am reading a good book when the words on a page strike a note, and I experience a strong affinity with a character.  I like to see and feel as I read.  I prefer a book to be about real people, not stereotypes.  And setting is important, too.  I do not like description for its own sake, but to create an atmosphere, a backdrop for the story.

'Angels' is about a mother who loses her daughter to bullying at school and decides to take revenge.  I wanted to walk with her through the forest and understand her motivations.  I hope I have avoided sentimentality.  I am aiming for something much deeper.

Plot is important, too.  There are a few surprises and points of interest along the way.  There is even an intrepid 19th century inventor, who jumps from the Eiffel Tower, wearing a homemade parachute!  He was quite determined, as you can see if you click on the link below. 

There is an unusual ending to 'Angels', which I hope will satisfy.  Why not download it and let me know what you think?  Many thanks.

Download 'Angels' FREE by clicking on this direct link to Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Angels-ebook/dp/B009DFGNFO/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_i


You can watch this short (less than two minutes) film on You Tube, either before or after you've read 'Angels': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBN3xfGrx_U 




Thursday, 5 September 2013

French Living



Obviously, I am 'living the dream' - this is just what happens the rest of the time:


Got back from the coast to find that the bakery was shut.  Monday closing.  So was the Co-op. No bread, no milk, no cereal.  The boys were not amused. I’ve been here for nearly five years now and I still can’t get used to the French way of life. 

I get up between 7.00 and 10.00 depending on who needs me to be conscious and in the kitchen.  I don’t plan much, so meals are last minute inventions.  Yesterday we had cheese with tortillas and fig jam.  They were quite nice, actually.  So, today was not too much of a challenge, once I’d found some burger buns in the freezer and made ‘sandwiches’ with lardons, and tomatoes from the garden.  Went down well.

I talked about writing a list, over coffee with my husband.  Too many things to do, depressing not to get stuff done, blah, blah.  He dozed off in his chair, basking in the sunshine before work. Then I started on the laundry room – the least renovated and most uncleaned part of the house.  The washing machine is in one corner, with the tumble drier on top (I sometimes like to shrink clothes).  There is a manky Butler sink with a tap that spurts water in most directions.  The laundry basket is generally overflowing with clean clothes that my children shove in regardless, fresh from their bedroom floors.  Most horrendous of all are the temporary plastic shelves that house 101 almost empty bottles of lotions, soaps, sun creams, etc and millions of out-of-date potions from the pharmacy.

I have to mention that the pharmacy is the most important shop in the village and is always busy.  In France people love to buy medicine.  You can’t get anything in the supermarket, not even a box of paracetemol  - you have to go to the pharmacy.  I went with my son today to get a certificate for him to play football from the doctor’s (all to do with insurance, apparently!) then to pick up some becotide and a knee strap.  We were offered various other medication for no particular reason, and the assistant was amazed that we only wanted what we came in for.  I advised my son to forget about languages and train to be a pharmacist.

Anyway, back to the laundry room.  Cobwebs, dust from the stone walls, various stains – it would not be a one-hour job (I refer you to my unmade list).  I hung out the washing and snipped off a dead sunflower, deadheaded a million roses and stick-flicked a cat poo (not recommended).  Cup of tea.  ‘I’m hungry’ alert went up – still no bread.  Thank God for baked beans and omelette. 

Dishwasher loading by eldest son.

Spider chasing re-commenced at around 3.00 and mopping followed hoovering (hoover had to be coaxed  three times after choking on small stones - from mortar currently holding walls up).  Then, I went shopping.  Spent a fortune and watched my purchases pile up as I tried to unload and pack at the same time.  Did not thank the assistant for not stopping the conveyor belt or noticing that I was willing her to break the habit of a lifetime and help me pack (in France you are on your own at the checkout).

Back home and a reluctant return to the laundry room, via petrol station (where I was behind a man with a deathwish -smoking) and a shop called Foire Fouille where I bought some of those funny 80s shelves that look like boxes and are stepped – meant for ornaments, I think, but perfect for shoes that normally reside on laundry room floor.  Bingo.

Self assembly.

Laundry room finished, shoes stacked on shelves  (rocket science degree required to put together).

Glass of wine in the garden was nice, as was mosquito bite on instep.  Then re-appearance of boys led to preparation of newly purchased chicken kievs with potatoes dauphinoise (canned) and haricots verts.  I wasn’t hungry.

So, tomorrow?  Stuff the housework, I’m going to work on my book, which has been ‘finished’ for months and will never be published if I don’t ignore the chaos of a crumbly old house in France for a while and just get on with it.


You will find direct links to all my books, and what Amazon readers say about them, at the top of this page.  






Sunday, 11 August 2013

Caravan holidays






I'm having a lovely couple of weeks in a luxurious mobile home in the SW of France (very kind parents-in-law).  My two boys are out playing football until midnight and I'm sitting on the sumptuous couch wondering at how nice it is to have no less than two bathrooms, a state of the art kitchen and spacious decking.  The boys' bedroom is at one end and mine at the other.  What planning!

Caravans weren't quite like this when I was little.  They didn't use to have showers, or toilets for a start!  The one we spent our holidays in was at a place called Green Acres in North Wales.  Nearest beach was Black Rock sands.




The van was pale green and cream, with a large living area and bay window (some things don't change).  I remember we cooked on gas because my mother left it on regularly, but failed to see any of us off, luckily.  In those days, the smell was powerful.  We had bunk beds to sleep in.  Cramped, no head room and hardly long enough to stretch out. We zipped ourselves into sleeping bags and hoped we wouldn't need a wee in the night.

We went to the beach no matter what the weather was like, put on crinkly swimming costumes and ran up and down to keep warm.  My mother tied a line to our wrists when we went in the sea, as though the three of us were ungainly kites, taken by the treacherous currents rather than the wind.  We had a dinghy, too, which caused a great deal of bickering as it wasn't big enough for all of us at the same time.

At the end of the day, when we were blue, Mum stuck our heads through specially made ponchos so we could get dressed without showing our bottoms, then we would be allowed to sit on Dad's lap and drive the Volkswagen Camper Van up and down the beach, veering towards the waves and screaming loudly.

If we were good, we went along 'the rabbit run' to Criccieth, singing 'Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run...' whenever one bounded into the road ahead, as they often did.  It was a winding road and, in the dark, the whole adventure was even more thrilling.  In Criccieth, after we'd looked at the castle, we had fish and chips, sitting on the sea wall, followed by a Cadwalader's ice cream, with its secret ingredient, which was rumoured to be honey.



                            






 Home again and out like a light while Mum and Dad sat outside talking and laughing, having a drink and a smoke in a rare moment of calm under clear, starry skies.

Those were happy days, indeed.     


Saturday, 3 August 2013

How do you write?

Lots of people ask me this question. A very few of them actually want to know the answer.

Everyone is different.  So my way will not be the same as anyone else's way, right?

Who knows?

I thought I would try to put together a few pointers that I keep in mind while writing, just to fix them in my own mind and give people who are interested an insight into the mind of someone who is doing her best to learn and develop her skills.

First of all, I have several projects on the go at the same time.  At present I have five, all at different stages.  This, I find, is essential.  I have to have a choice.  When I sit down, I am grabbed and sucked in, to the exclusion of everything, including food, time and other people.  Then, just as quickly, I am finished.  For example, so far today I have submitted a book for printing and written 1,000 words of my novella 'Night Garden'.

I say, novella.  It started out as a short story and might well end up as a novel.  I have no idea what will happen next.  My protagonist, a nineteen-year-old university student with a crush on a twenty-nine-year-old woman will work it out.  The story is told through his voice.  He is caught up in what will happen, just as much as I am.  I do have plans and keep notes, but I am not restricted by these.

Which leads me on to a very important aspect of my work (because it is work, even though I could not live without it).  I spend months, often longer, developing a book.  By the time it is ready for publication I know every inch of it and have lived inside my characters for so long that I can call them up for their opinion on anything under the sun.  I know how they move, how they eat, whether they believe in love, god or charity.  And I know how they express themselves.

Dialogue is key.  I have learned to use it more and more.  It moves the action along and adds value to the characters without boring the reader.  This is crucial, I think.  My first novel is so thick and muddy with prose that I would not wade through it in the foreseeable future unless my life depended on it.  I may revise it one day, when the urge takes me.  But it will be a labour that may not be worth the effort.  We shall see.

Was I blind to my own shortcomings?  Categorically, yes! Why did I not get a second opinion?  How could I not have recognised the turgidity of style and the ramblings of a self-indulgent mind?  The answer to this is important.  Don’t expect your friends to tell you the (whole) truth.  ‘Please be honest!’ doesn’t work.  You need an unbiased opinion, which is hard to find.  What I do now is to use a number of readers – some are friends who do give gentle nudges in the right direction, others are colleagues ranging from professional editors to fellow authors.  And for the absolute truth, I have my husband.  Feedback.  I might not like it, but I always listen to it carefully and take heed.

And then there is proofreading.  How many times have I heard people say that you cannot proofread your own work?  You can.  But you will miss something, that’s for sure.  Spellcheck can help – if you don’t believe it most of the time and know why it's giving such mad advice.  What you need, though is other people.  And they have to be able to spell and punctuate.  Again, my husband is invaluable, as he sees the final reading as a personal challenge, invariably coming up with a number of queries and at least a couple of mistakes I didn’t know I’d made.  An example of this is ‘wondered’ in my book ‘One Summer in France’.  Now, I know the difference between ‘wonder’ and ‘wander’.  Of course I do.  But I still missed one and he found it.  I have corrected it, along with four other errors, for my paperback version.  I will also re-submit the ebook version, although I am always slightly nervous that the conversion process for Kindle will end up producing mistakes in formatting that will be far more distracting than a very small error in spelling or punctuation.  Trouble is, once I know about them, I have to fix them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  I could go on for far too long about many other aspects of writing that come into play in the process of producing a work of fiction.  Not least the crucial role of the imagination.  Perhaps that will get a post all of its own one day.

For the moment, I shall leave you with the prologue to ‘My Grandfather’s Eyes’.  Of course, all comments will be gratefully received!



                                                                                




  

Prologue




I have never been beautiful. And, of course, my appearance has deteriorated over time.  It is something I have become used to.  When I look in the mirror these days, and that is not very often, I am not surprised by what I see.  Nor am I disappointed, as I have given up hope of catching myself in a good light. 

Let me tell you what I see.  First, the shape of my head is noticeably irregular, with a medium-sized bump just in front of the crown.  Next, my forehead is lined.  It always has been, ever since I can remember. People used to say I must be a deep thinker.  Only some of them were being kind.   Now the lines are deeper, but the traces they follow date back to my school days, when they did not go unnoticed by bullies.  My eyes are large and green; some might say they are intelligent eyes, that they are insightful or sincere.  I have learned not to set much store by what other people say. 

I have meagre lashes, but it is usually boys who have the lavish kind.  My nose is straight and my mouth is full.  My hair is mousy, fine and thin.   I used to buy shampoo for flyaway hair, when I believed in such nonsense.  When I was young, I wanted thick, straight blond hair, like my friend Lizzy’s.  We all want what we can’t have.

There is perhaps nothing so far to complain about very much, you might say. 

And so I come to my moles: the unnatural, crawling growths that spread themselves over the side of my face and the underside of my jaw.  If you could see me now, you would probably recoil. I have noticed that even the most educated, the most sympathetic person has difficulty in hiding the innate disgust my moles excite in them.  Ah, yes.  Disgust is not too harsh a word, I can assure you.  And the others? Those who make no attempt to hide their feelings towards me?  They cannot help themselves, but stare in horror at what they see, as they sit on the bus clutching their shiny, plastic bags full of new things or as they push their wholesome choices around the supermarket.   Young children are the worst.  I do not admire their honesty, as their obsequious parents do. 

My moles. My nevi.  How can I describe them?  I should say they are more or less dark brown in colour, although there are two above my left eye that are noticeably lighter.  My husband called them Castor and Pollux.  All have a rubbery, soft texture and, apart from one large mole near my ear, are hairless.  The one near my ear has short, thick hairs that bristle untidily.  My husband had a name for this one too.  He loved me too much.  He couldn’t help it.  None of us can choose whom we love.


What more can I tell you?   That I am ambivalent to my nevi? That Castor and Pollux are my favourites?  That I like them for being different?  You may think this kind of reasoning is strange and I wouldn’t blame you.  I can only explain it as a truth, a principle that has grown inside me as my moles have swelled and spread; have become part of my life.   Now, I am not sure I could be separated from them. 

There was a time when I believed my mother loved me. A time when she called me beautiful and, because I was not yet self-aware, I let myself be preened and cosseted in exchange for the comfort I felt from the warm glow of her approval.  I did not notice how she suffered. I did not recognise the mortification that lay beneath her smile.

However, a story must start somewhere nearer its beginning, and so I will go back and show myself more clearly to you, before I reveal what I have done.  I expect that you will judge me.

But I do not care.

 


If I have aroused your curiosity, you might like to download the rest of the book by clicking on the direct link to Amazon at the top of this page.  And, if you do, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 





Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sample Sunday Excerpt from 'Bunny on a Bike'

Bev and Carol take a weekend away before starting work at the Playboy casino. 


    Fourteen

    The Long Mynd



We had come to the end of our training and when Dad picked me up I had the same feeling that I’d had when I had driven through the gates of Keele University for the last time, having spent three glorious years enjoying myself, discovering English Literature and listening to Molière’s plays on a long-playing record, in a small room, presided over by my somnolent French tutor. 
With my exquisitely educated brain I had two thoughts: I wish I’d done a degree in astro-physics and now the shit is really going to hit the fan!  I had delayed the inevitable moment when I would actually have to earn a living, but now the time had come when I would be put to the test.
Dad took me up to the Long Mynd for the weekend. I didn’t resist.  Carol went off to spend some time with Dave and wander round some fields talking to pigs and cows.  It would be a moment of calm, a chance to reflect and to look forward to putting what I had learned into practice. It would be a time to go for long walks and evoke fond memories of Rick and I hiding in the forest while glider pilots circled over us taking notes.  Dad didn’t want to talk much, so we listened to the Mike Sam Singers.  The least bad tune, as I remember, was ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’.  I watched my dad as he drove round the winding country roads lightly drumming the steering wheel with his fingers and smiling to himself.  He looked happy and kind of slow, as though he were contemplating something of very little importance or of great philosophical enlightenment.  Then he told me again to take care when I drove round narrow lanes that there were not walkers on a blind bend.  My father was a mystery to me all my life and now, when I say some of the same things to my own children, I wish he could hear me.

Gladys and Vera were in the kitchen, cackling away at some private joke.  They made sure I was welcome and dosed me with tea and homemade fruit cake, asking me whether I was still ‘chasing after that poor young boy’. 
‘It was nothing serious.  Just a bit of fun,’ I said.  ‘Anyway, I already have a boyfriend.’
This, apparently, was a hilarious thing to say.

Next morning the weather on the mountain was good, with a clear sky and a favourable wind direction, so that launches would be possible.  Everyone looked forward to a good day’s flying.  After lunch I went over to the airfield and Dad took me up in his two-seater.  The sound when you are inside a glider is eerie.  The wind makes a soft, whistling noise that seems to wrap around you, as though you are giving the air a shape and a voice.  I felt safe up in the sky in an aeroplane made of fibreglass, with no engine and only a few thermals to hold it up. I felt safe because I was with my dad and he was doing the thing he loved most in the world.  He told me that there had been an accident at one of the other clubs and that it had said in the newspaper that the plane had crashed and burst into flames.  Luckily I realised that this was impossible and could join in with the irony of it all. 
I liked being in the sky with my dad.  He was quiet most of the time, and when he spoke he did nothing to disturb the peace.  He taught me some of the things that I treasure most: about being consumed by an interest and, on dark nights out on the mountain, about the stars. He knew their names and showed me the constellations, just as I do now, when I can get my children to take any notice.
That night there was a phone call for me on the clubhouse payphone, which was in the draughty and very public entrance hall.  Dad said that it was Rick. He assumed, as I did, that it was Rick, and not Rick.
‘Hello,’ said a voice I didn’t recognise.
‘Hello,’ I answered.
‘It’s Rick,’ the voice continued.
And, just as I was about to say, ‘No, it’s not!’ I realised that it was in fact Rick.
‘Hello Rick.’  I had one of those moments where my brain lags slightly behind my mouth and I couldn’t think of what to say next.
‘How are you?’  he asked.  He was very young and very well educated.
‘Freezing, actually.  What are you up to?’  I was not curious, but I thought I should ask.
‘Thinking about you,’ he said.
‘How sweet,’ I replied.
I liked the boy, but there was no future in it.  Bugger and damnation I was cold.  Anyway, it turned out that Rick wanted to play something on the piano to me.  It was ‘A song for Guy’ or something like that.  Elton John, I think.  He was rather good, but the heartfelt notes resonated relentlessly and generally went on a bit.  By this time my extremities were turning blue and I was sniffing. 
‘That was lovely,’ I said.
‘Would you like me to play another?’  He offered, sweetly, obviously mistaking my snuffling for heart-broken emotion.
My mind raced. ‘I have to do some reading.’ It was a poor excuse.
‘Oh, okay.  Can I call again?’
‘Sure.  I mean, yes.’
He didn’t and I was disappointed.  Everyone likes to be adored, after all.

The rest of the weekend was pleasant, apart from when I found an enormous spider in the shower and had to listen to spider stories for the rest of the evening, sitting round the clubhouse bar.  I played billiards and lost some money to the one-armed bandit before walking out to my caravan in the dark, windswept night.  I looked up at the sky and suddenly felt that I belonged on the mountain and not behind a blackjack table on Edgware Road.  My bed was ever so slightly damp, which was normal, and I snuggled into my duvet and thought about the next day.  Carol would be there and she would have the keys to our new flat in Willesden Green.  It would be fun and, after all, it would not be forever.  As I closed my eyes and smiled to myself at the thought of the night sky above me and all around, and pictured the glowing lights of the scattered houses in the valley below, I thought of Rick playing his piano.

Playing it for me.



Find out about Bev and Carol at Playboy - click on the link above and download 'Bunny on a Bike' for a fun read.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

On the beach with Bev and Carol


      (Bev and Carol are characters from my two novels: 'One Summer in France' and its sequel 'Bunny on a Bike'.)

 A French lesson

I looked about me.  It was difficult to see the world as a bright and shiny place, when Jean-Paul Sartre had wheedled his way inside my brain.  ‘Huis Clos’, on the beach.  I looked around at some of the people, trying to decide which of them I would mind being locked up with for eternity. 
‘What rubbish are you reading now?’  asked Carol, sleepily.
‘It’s a play about three people who are locked in a room together.’
‘Why?’
‘It doesn’t say.’  It was a good question.
‘Tell me what happens.’  Carol wriggled a little and readied herself for some entertainment.
‘Okay.  It’s supposed to be about hell.  The title means ‘No Exit’.  Have you heard of existentialism?’
‘Just get on with it!’
This meant she hadn’t, or like me, didn’t really get it.  ‘There are two women and one man and they hate each other.  The idea is that putting them together will create a personalised hell.’
‘Christ!  I can think of a couple of people I wouldn’t want to be locked up with!’
‘Anyway, the upshot is that we are supposed to consider the fact that we are all free and responsible for our own lives, but that we rely on other people or even a little voice inside our own head to spoil our freedom by defining us and everything we do.  Oh, and existence itself is meaningless.’
‘Is it French?’
‘Yeah!’
She nodded.  ‘Right!  So, what you’re saying is that, if I pick my nose, I only feel bad about it if someone sees me and I see that they see me?’
I thought for a moment. ‘Yeah, I think so.  Or, you could be self-conscious and see yourself.’ 
‘Sounds as though Jean-Paul had too much time on his hands,’ said Carol, having lost interest.
I re-opened my book, exercising my freedom to do as I pleased, with my friend’s comments niggling somewhere at the back of my otherwise pure and unencumbered mind.  I was soon back in hell and appalled at Estelle’s blatant sexual advances towards Garcin in front of Inez (a lesbian, and, admittedly, a bit of a tart herself).  They seemed to be making it all much worse for themselves.’

‘Come on, then.  Teach me something useful.’
Carol lay with her hands behind her head and not a stitch on.  She was irresistible. It was another late afternoon at the naturist beach we had found by accident, in a bid to outrun a hoard of Japanese tourists and, much as I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of my French literature reading list, I really hadn’t the heart to ignore her.  I decided to have some fun. 
‘Okay. Let me see.  Something useful.  Right!  Did you know that you can remove hair dye from your forehead with plain old milk?  Works like a dream.’ 
Carol didn’t speak.
‘It’s really useful, actually -’
‘Stop!  I meant, you incredible numbskull, teach me some useful phrases in French!’
‘Ha!  Got you!’
Carol sat up.  ‘What?’
‘I got you!  This time, I got you!’  I was beside my new and very childish self.
‘What are you talking about?’  she said, but I knew that she knew she had been got.  It was a rare victory.  Sweet, and to be savoured.
Carol examined the white marks under her two silver rings, not looking up.  
In an effort to remain blasé I picked up my book and pretended to read, snickering quietly.
‘Aren’t you going to teach me any French, then?  You always say I should learn some and now, when I ask, you just muck about!’
I put down my book.  ‘All right.  Let’s start with something easy...  J’ai faim.  I’m hungry.’
‘J’ai faim.’
‘J’ai soif.  I’m thirsty.’
‘J’ai soif.’
‘Good.  J’ai chaud.  I’m hot.’
‘Now you’re talking!  J’ai chaud!’  Carol licked her lips in a rather sluttish fashion, if I’m being totally honest.
‘It doesn’t mean that kind of hot!’  I laughed and then I saw Carol smiling.  It was the easy, mocking smile of revenge.
‘Got you back!’
‘I do really hate you!’ I said, categorically.
‘I know you do, you lovely tart.’

The sun was still delicious, even though it was past 9.00pm.   Time to put on some pants, go back to the campsite and cook up some soup and rice, followed by Pop Tarts.   A perfect end to another perfect day.
‘Bring Jean-Paul,’ she said.  ‘Don’t want any other poor bugger to have to read his deadly book.’
I shoved ‘Huis Clos’ in my bag for later and thanked God (now that I had thought of him) that there were people like Carol in the world.


You can download more of Bev and Carol, young and carefree in the South of France, by clicking on the direct link to ONE SUMMER IN FRANCE, at the top right of this blog.