Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Just a snippet (comments welcome)

I thought I'd post the occasional excerpt from unpublished pieces.  It could be part of a work in progress or a snippet from one of the many 'ideas' I have for my next book.  Friends is the result of something my mother told me about the farm she grew up on in Shropshire in the 1930s.  It's also inspired by the feelings I have for friends I used to know and have lost contact with.  I've experimented with leaving out speech marks.  Hope you like it.


'Dear Charlie'.  No.  'Dear Charlotte'. No. 'Hi Charlie'.  Maybe.

Two o'clock.  The afternoon seemed hollow.  The washing machine noise irritated her.  If she switched it off, what else would she hear?

Hi Charlie,

It's been a long time.  I was wondering how you were.


Charlie, with red hair and eyes too big for her face.  Blue. She smelled of wood smoke and had dirt under her fingernails.  A fine seam of earth from potato picking, or stacking vegetables.

Dear Charlie,

I've been thinking of you.

The last time she'd seen Charlie was the day she'd left the farm.  There, in the corner of the open barn,the old trap stood, empty.  On the wall, the harness hung from a thick spike like an ornament, never to be attached to the pony and ridden down to the fields, carrying picnic baskets and flasks of cold orange squash.  Even at the last moment, she had hoped for a reprieve.  A miracle to give Charlie back her home.  But the van was filling up and Mrs. Churchyard was sweeping the kitchen, moving towards the door and finally propping the broom against the pale yellow stone wall.

Charlie ferried boxes and looked across the yard at her friend.

Dear Charlie,

I'm sending this to your aunt's address.

The fields on a summer's day were cut like butter into the land.  Like butter.  The corn fell and was collected by machine, with workers following behind and picking up the scattered heads that had gone astray.  At midday, Charlie said, come on! and laughed.  Charlie had known what to do.  There she stood, heaving the baskets and the boxes of fruit onto the cart, bringing the pony from the stables and slipping on it's harness.  I'm going down to the cows.  There's one not happy, said Mr. Churchyard, striding out in boots undone, tucking in his shirt. Bound to be the hornets, I should say.  Afternoon Jude, he called.  Having fun?  I nodded.

Dear Charlie,

We had some good times on the farm, didn't we?

He squeezes them. Said Charlie.  They burrow down into the cow's skin and can't be seen, but Dad finds them and pinches them.  They shoot out and drop down.  Mostly dead.  If not, he puts his boot on them.  Let's go.

She drove the cart.  I sat beside her.  Rocking, our heads full of horizons, we went down to the big field.  I never wanted to take the reins.  Scaredy-cat.  Charlie laughed, but in a kind way.

The day she left, she didn't laugh.  The van made dust rise like smoke and I saw her hanging out of the side window, her curls joggling.  We stared at each other for as long as we could see, and even after I stood and watched and waited for what would come next.

Dear Charlie,

When you went the farm was not the same.  I ran home and cried to think I'd never see you again.  I used all the tissues in my box of Kleenex.  Then I went down for tea with red eyes and my mother sat with me on the couch and we watched television.

I wanted to find out where you had gone.  But I didn't know how.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Finding new readers

Last week I ran a promotion on One Summer in France in tandem with a Countdown Deal on the next two books in the series, Bunny on a Bike and Stranded in the Seychelles.
I didn’t pay for any marketing, just used the Amazon features. 
Before long, the free downloads were impressive.  In the end, after a five-day promo, I amassed eight hundred and seventy.  Almost double the number I was expecting.  I posted on Facebook and in We Love Memoirs and tweeted once or twice (don’t want to spam my non-writer friends).  Then I found out that BookSCREAM had included One Summer in France in their newsletter.  I found them on Twitter and they seem like a nice bunch of people. Thank you very much indeed for your help! 
Following the promotion, I’ve had modest but very welcome increases in downloads for all three Carol and Bev books and a couple of extras for my other titles, particularly my Memoir of An Overweight Schoolgirl.  Nothing to shout too loudly about – the royalties would have to roll in tsunami-like to change my financial situation.  But, like the majority of authors who take their art seriously, I’m happy to find new readers and get the occasional feedback in a review.

Happy Days

If you want to use BookScream, here’s a link to their Twitter page: BookSCREAM

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Bev's books - special offers

Want a free fun read this summer?  From 26th - 28th July you can download One Summer in France FREE.

I've also discounted the other books in the series. From 28th July - 4th August you can download Bunny on a Bike

for just 99p each.

Happy reading! 

Monday, 24 July 2017

I read, I write, I watch television, I grow stuff. Oh, and I live in France.

Just back from a holiday in Cap d’Agde (pronunciation varies but reminds Al and I of a song involving pushing a pineapple and shaking a tree…). It’s a jolly little resort made up of a million campsites one of which I chose more or less at random.  Yelloh Village – you may have had the pleasure, as it’s a chain.  Anyway, I foolishly took along and failed to read through the latest draft of my new DCI Alice Candy manuscript.  I got to page ten on the third day, hunched over in bed, trying to ignore the rave that was going on not far enough away from my open window, open due to the online misrepresentation of what was supposed to be ‘air-conditioning’ and which was in fact a wall-mounted fan.

Hot and bothered, I squinted at the bundle of A4 paper and blamed my husband for the print size and spacing.  All to no avail as he quoted my request for a font size of twelve and extra wide margins.  Double spacing hadn’t been specified, apparently.

Three days gone.  And editing barely begun.

We had neighbours with young children on either side of our mobile home.  (Mobile homes, or tin boxes with zero sound or heat insulating properties, are not recommended for authors wishing to add value to a manuscript.)  I wanted to make sure there was continuity and check detail.  My neighbours wanted to vie with each other in a ‘tolerant parents’ contest, calling to their children in increasingly harrassed tones, urging them to stop destroying various toys, washing lines, plastic chairs and wooden deckings.  In the end, with nerves frazzled and wanting to strangle someone, anyone, I knew that going to the beach was the only option.

Ah, the beach.  No, really.  The Mediterranean does it well.  Soft sand, blue skies and water heated to a temperature cool enough to make you squeal and yet just perfectly refreshing once you were ‘in’.  If I couldn’t write, I could read, stretched out on my mat, working on my tan.  What could be nicer?  A pleasant walk along the beach?  An enormous human turd in cross-section?  I stepped around it, wondering where the other half might be, still questioning how it had settled next to a group of oblivious tourists chomping on beignets.

Oh, well.

In a matter of what seemed like minutes, with a number of salads under my belt and a higher number of glasses of wine sloshed down in some of the most chilled out restaurants I’d ever eaten in, built on the beach, with the sea fifty metres away, I eventually forgot about the editing I hadn’t been able to do.  I’d had a great time.  And so had my sons and my husband.

The journey home was fabulous.  Our Peugeot 406 had developped alternator problems which had been easy to ignore until the day we left Cap d’Agde.  As we clanked to reception to hand in our signed inventory, pedestrians looked round in astonishment believing, no doubt, that they were moments away from being killed by a tractor with engine problems.

“It’ll be okay,” would be the mantra of the day.
And the magic of positive thought seemed to be working… 

Then, approaching Toulouse a message flashed up on the dashboard, ‘battery charging fault’.  It was the first of many, each one staying on for a little longer.  I diagnosed the problem, slowed down and it disappeared. 

We limped home, grafeful for every mile covered and momentarily appalled as we almost got taken out by a poids lourds pulling out in front of us at two miles an hour from the hard shoulder.  Al shouted, “go, go, go!” and I did.  Never had I been so focussed – I made for the gap with inches to spare.

We got home in one piece and lugged in the cases.

To celebrate, I went to the butcher's and bought entrecotes which we ate with jacket potatoes and butter.  Bye, bye Caesar salad and café liégeois.

Yesterday and today I’ve been putting the garden to rights.  Tomorrow my friends arrive for a week.  We have no car until Thursday.  Maybe I’ll wait until next week to get Alice Candy by the scruff of the neck and sort her out.

Or, I might get started right away… 

The first DCI Alice Candy book is available here.  It’s a dramatic tale that will have you guessing from the start.

Locked Away by B. A. Spicer

Friday, 7 July 2017

Living the dream is not quite so simple for Martha Burton.

My lovely house - a lifetime of renovation!

France is wonderful – the weather, the food, the pace of life.  I have a bakery on my doorstep and the beautiful town of Saintes with its majestic river and colourful cafes a short drive away.  In my garden there are tomatoes re-seeded from last year which will be small and sweet and delicious.  I have an olive tree and a ridiculous number of thriving rose bushes.  But the most precious commodity I have is time.  My children are grown and about to fly the nest.  My husband and I look forward to a simple life and a lot more travelling.  And, best of all, I will be able to devote even more time to my writing.

From 14th - 19th July I’m running a promotion on A Life Lived Twice. Although it is most definitely not autobiographical, it is set in France, with lots of authentic detail.  Of course my experiences here have fuelled the setting and the characters to some extent, although this is primarily a work of fiction - thank goodness.


Martha Burton is relatively young and attractive, values her newfound independence, has a very healthy bank balance and, although she wouldn’t admit it, is on the lookout for a new man. She leaves behind a faithless husband and a life that has become routine.  When she moves in to a charming Charentaise house and later meets the handsome and enigmatic Clement Berger it's easy to believe that a new and vibrant future beckons.

But the world is inhabited by all kinds of people, some of whom follow imperatives that are too dark to contemplate.  How could Martha have known the dramatic turn her new life would take?

Sunday, 18 June 2017

At the Beach with Bev and Carol

Bev and Carol are graduates, spending three months in France as part of their degree course.  They are young and frivolous, unfettered by preconceptions or mortgage payments. Bev is bookish, a bit of a dreamer, and Carol is down-to-earth, unafraid to say what she thinks.  In this (exceptionally frank) excerpt, they experience the challenges of their very first nudist beach.

‘Does ‘Naturiste’ mean what I think it means?’ asked Carol, standing in front of a very large sign with a very large arrow on it.

I wasn’t sure, but I thought so.

‘I don’t mind getting my baps out if you don’t!’  she reasoned.

The beach was coming up fast and we clutched at each other, controlling our giggles as best we could.  We might have made it, had we not heard men’s voices behind us and looked round to see two bronzed gods swinging up fast.

‘Christ on a bike!’ said Carol, stepping aside and staring rudely.

‘Guten Tag!’ 

Please don’t stop and have a conversation with us!  I thought.

They passed in front of us and we watched their perfect asses for a while, breathing in for what seemed to be a very long time and, eventually, remembering to breathe out.

‘Did you see the size of his cock?’ asked my gobsmacked friend.

 ‘Well, yes.  I didn’t have much choice in the matter, did I?’

‘Come on!  There must be loads more on the beach…’

 I wasn’t sure that I fancied the idea of so much nudity all in one place, but I had never sunbathed topless before, so I was keen to give it a go in an environment where one extra set of, admittedly, perfect breasts would not cause too much of a stir.

To my horror, Carol was untying her bikini top before we even got there and soon it was difficult for me to concentrate on what she was saying as I felt a little sea-sick in the face of so much uncontrolled bouncing.

‘God!  Your tits are enormous!’ I said.

‘Pretty good, eh?  Aren’t you getting yours out?’ 

'All in good time, all in good time, my little Devonshire divvy,' I said.

It was a beautiful beach and there were a fair number of people, mostly couples or small groups, generally without a stitch on.  This was a whole new experience for me.  The German gods we had come across on the path had set up camp near the sea and looked over to us, waving.  Carol was all for joining them, but I suggested that we should keep our options open for the time being, not mentioning that I was rather uneasy about diving into a conversation with a couple of blokes with their willies out.

So we put our towels out about thirty feet from the dunes and sat down.  It wasn’t that easy pretending that it was perfectly normal to be sitting with a load of people we’d never met before who seemed very pleased to see us.  I was aware of my breasts in a way that I had never been aware of them before.  I wished they would just shut up (metaphorically speaking) instead of pertly announcing themselves to all and sundry.

‘Shall we whip off our pants, too?’ said Carol, as she was actually whipping off her bikini bottoms.

‘Really?’ I replied, ‘I don’t know whether-’

‘Don’t be such a prude!  No other bugger’s wearing any.’

She was right.  So I did.

Having no clothes on in public was an altogether liberating experience.  I got used to it quickly and was soon stretching out in various poses, sighing nonchalantly and acting as though it was all terribly normal.  I got out my latest find and started to read. I had brought l’Etranger to the beach and made sure that the cover of the book was visible to others as I read. In those days I was deeply proud of my literary pretensions.  I breathed in the ozone and tried to remember what my French tutor had said about Camus, but I kept hearing the Cure singing ‘Killing an Arab’ instead.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Bonjour tout le monde!
Sunny again this morning in Charente Maritime. Difficult to stay indoors and write, but I shall get to the garden this afternoon. With two huge sons and a husband to cook for, I'll have to pop out to the market at some point too. Luckily, we have one in the village on a Thursday - fifty metres from my door. Just a little further away than the boulangerie...

In other news - I just wanted to let you know that Bunny on a Bike is free today and tomorrow (13 - 14 April) so if you're looking for something lighthearted and fun you've come to the right place! If you do download and enjoy it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads - potential readers prefer to choose books with lots of reviews. Thanks a million, and happy reading x

Friday, 7 April 2017

Couch to 5k Week Six

Steps 5663  km 4.72  cal. 451  time 40m

Bonjour!  For those of you who have been reading my journey to 5k you might notice that I’ve jumped to week six…  I have been running three times a week since I last posted, but have had no time to write a post as I was (and still am) heavily involved in revising my second DCI Alice Candy book.  However, I’m currently looking at half an hour of precious free time before I go running for the first time on the road near our French house – it’s a 5k loop, fairly safe apart from local unpredictable drivers, some of whom are well into their nineties and probably visualising the road from memory (I kid you not).

Anyway. I did my run around the garden yesterday (yes, I know I should leave a day between runs, but my husband has promised to come with me today – he’s caught the bug) with a new selection of music on an old MP3 player.  Long overdue – how can we be so easily and quickly bored with our music collections?  As the new selection is my husband, Al’s there’s a lot of rock, some of it fairly violent.  But on a ‘random’ setting, I got an inspired variety including Kate Bush, Ozric Tentacles, Johnny Cash and The Cult.  What’s more the sun was shining, the garden was bursting with shiny leaves and emerging colour and my body was functioning in all the ways it should.  Bliss.

Hang on a minute! This running lark seems to be catching.  My son, back from uni only yesterday, has just come downstairs in his dad’s best shorts, downloaded a superior app (mine is apparently rubbish) and disappeared out of the front door a la jog.  My other son is mocking all present while making a saussison seche baguette with cornichons, onion, butter and mayonnaise.  He’s already eaten a handful of grapes, a banana and an apple.  He runs like a gazelle and is super fit and healthy.  And annoyingly smug.

So.  Anyway.  I shall resist having lunch before I set off on a circuit that I will hopefully be able to accomplish without sinking to my knees or rupturing my enthusiasm.  The plan is to start ten minutes before Al, who will try to catch me up.  I’m sure he’ll cheat, but I’m equally sure he won’t set off in time to finish before me – he’s always the last to leave the house. 

Wish me luck.  I shall have to do without music.  Might be the fatal blow.

I’ll post when I can.

A la prochaine.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Couch to 5k Week Four

Week Four 13.3.17

Steps 3834  km 3.08  cal. 291  time 29m

A brisk five-minute walk, then eight minutes of running, five minutes of walking and eight minutes of running.

Week five!  Over half way through.  I like that.  I like it so much I mess up my timings and only do 29 minutes instead of 31.  Never mind.  Weds will be more exciting for it.

On my own today, so sleep in.  Naughty.  Get up to see Victoria Derbyshire ensconced in a semi circle of people who believe (or not) that dogs can sniff out cancer.  Must be a trend – only the other day, there was a woman who could do the same with Parkinson’s.  Ian Duncan Smith did a good job of undermining the voice of science and good sense by quite reasonably suggesting that if it works, it might be worth a try until something more, well, scientific comes along.  Nothing is, apparently, that simple.  The NHS can’t keep dogs – what about feeding them, walking them?  I feel my brain glazing over.  I say, stop arguing about it and let those who want to be diagnosed by a savvy four-legged friend at least have a try.

Homes under the Hammer is on the other side.  Dare I?  I feel myself being dragged under by the 80s current.  Presenters who echo the fashions and music of a bygone age, entrap me.

I finish my toast.  Drink my tea.  Stare at the screen goldfish-like.

Eventually, when I’ve seen how much profit everyone has made, I curse my luck  and get into my leggings.  Blue sky and a surly breeze.  Perfect washing day for sheets and towels.  Damn!

The sheets blow dry and I run.  Marianne Faithfull is in full flow with some of the most colourful language I’ve heard set to music.  I imagine that some of the (quite ball-shrivelling) accusations are aimed at Mick Jagger, not that he will give a hoot.  I find that I like the narratives more than I thought I would.  Four letter, mainly anatomical words abound, along with ever more cutting recriminations and a slightly contradictory world view.  Go Marianne!

Is it smoking that gives her voice such gravel?

I run.  Almost without noticing.  I have absolutely no shortness of breath, although my legs wouldn’t cope for long with a faster sprint.  I might try next time.

My garden is coming along.  I edged some of it yesterday but was awake all last night, itching.  It’s either cancer of the kidney or an allergic reaction to some of the weeds I strangled.

Fingers crossed.  There are three dogs in the impasse.

Times’s up.  Saunter.  Smug expression.  Lunchtime – does it count as lunchtime if I’ve just had breakfast?

I believe it might.

A mercredi?

Week Four 15.3.17

Steps 4089  km 3.32  cal. 314  time 31m

Blue skies and garden coming to life.  Feeling on top of the world.  No time to write blog.  Too much to do.

Week Four 18.3.17

Steps 4729  km 3.88  cal. 369  time 34m

Missed Friday so just did my run today (Saturday).  I tuned in to the music of Queen and hoped it wouldn’t go on forever.  When the rhythm took me I upped the energy level and was surprised how fast I could go.  Pushed myself.  Actually got out of breath today.  Time was up, but Brian Ferry started singing More than This and I wasn’t going to stop him.  Took me back to the idealism of my youth and made me want to write a book.  I’d call it The Bits that Matter.  In the meantime, I have to practically re-write my second Alice Candy mystery.  I’m up for the challenge, though.  My advice: Get running – there’s nothing like it for boosting those brain cells.

My posts have shrunk.  If anyone is reading them and notices, apologies.  I will probably get back to normal next week.  Probably  But as long as I’m doing the running, that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

A la semaine prochaine  x

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Couch to 5k Week four

Week Four 6.6.17

Steps 3266  km 2.64  cal. 249  time 25m

The new schedule: a brisk 5-minute warm-up walk then 3 minutes of running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running, 2 ½ minutes walking, 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running.

Back to morning running.  Fruit for breakfast – I sometimes feel the need for an apple with my cup of tea.  We watch another episode of Fortitude as the thought of BBC’s Louise and Dan on the couch is just a little underwhelming in comparison to great drama.  The Arctic landscape is bleak and the murders brutal.  The two policewomen are reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy.  The sheriff’s smile makes my blood run cold.

Should I watch another episode?

Got to get moving.

Outside, the weather is blowing a storm.  Trees are down in the village.  But I love the wind.  I set off at a brisk pace and am soon jogging easily.  First up is Gotye with Somebody I Used to Know – I can’t resist singing along.  Then comes Grace Jones and my running takes on a whole new rythmn.

I think of a place I used to work in London, Bond Street.  The mind makes strange connections.  It was a family business dealing in high quality, high tensile bin bags.  Amanda was the boss’s daughter, selling bin bags over the phone with her educated banter and plummy tones.  She and her millionaire boyfriend had gone to see Grace Jones in concert.  It was back in the late 70s and I was a Blondie lookalike who’d never heard of  Pull up to the Bumper.

Mirror Man and Electric Dreams send me into a different, more nostalgic, more romantic mood.  The garden takes on a summer haze and I picture perfect afternoons spent in the arms of perfect men (isn’t imagination a wonderful thing…). 

With Happy Mondays Twisting my Melons, I start to wonder about the rest of my day.  Writing, a lunchtime walk with Al, a dental appointment, shopping, and cooking dinner.  And planning a trip to Berlin.  It could be worse.

Time is up.

A mercredi?

Week Four 8.3.17

Steps 3626  km 2.95  cal. 2.79  time 27.5m

First, let me note that I forgot to progress to week four schedule on Monday.  Just realised!

Today, I’m thrilled to see an increase in my stats.  Almost touching 3k and running is much easier.  Too late for the olympics, but keeps me out of walking netball.  I’m aiming to be able to run for a bus, leap on a moving train or take part in my future grandchildren’s egg and spoon race without flushing purple.  All looks good at the moment.

Only downside today has been the music.  Japan.  Just Japan.  I like a bit of Japan in a bar, as an alternative to jazz, but after 27.5 minutes of David Sylvian droning on, replacing lyrics with dum, dum, dums and la, la, las.  Ad infinitum.  Well, I must say I pulled out my earphones and considered the various methods of pruning my wayward garden, wondering at the same time when I had turned into a person who prunes.

But I didn’t skip ahead on my MP3.

I simply put in an earphone every couple of minutes to see if anything with a bit more life had arrived.  Not a bit of it.  And, as I began to write up this blog I decided to leave the MP3 running, just to flush out the last remaining dirges.  The net result of this is that I shall begin on Friday to the outrageously fabulous Hendrix and his wailing guitar.  Good.

Back in the house I couldn’t be bothered to do the cool down.  I know.  I should have.  Nobody’s perfect.

Instead, I shall shower, listen to Charlton Heston reading The Old Man and the Sea while I concoct a pork curry for the slow cooker.  Requested by my son.

When we are on our own, I tell Al, we will eat at lunchtime and in the evening, we’ll sit by the sea for aperos then come home for romance and cheese. 

A vendredi?

Week Four 10.3.17

Steps 3718  km 3.04  cal. 289  time 27.5m

Woke up to the most beautiful blue sky and sunshine at my bedroom window.  And, yes, the birds were singing their hearts out.

Toast and marmalade for me, peanut butter for Al.

Today, we are being encouraged by the BBC to listen to a very affable man and his adoring colleague.  They want us to count penguins.  More interesting to me is mapping the surface features of Mars.  And wondering why Sally is wearing her grandmother’s lacy blouse.  Oh, and she has a dog on her lap.  There are more dogs.  Ones that behave badly.  Apparently, according to an expert, we shouldn’t reward bad behaviour. Who knew? BBC in depth investigative insight at its best.

In a random universe I shouldn’t have been surprised when Susie Quatro appeared, unchanged in style, if not in physiology.  We switch off.

Round and round the garden.  I’ve actually started to wear a track.  Lots of dew on the grass, but the weather is pure summer bliss.  I fill my lungs and remember the bike ride I had to work in Cambridge in the midst of lorries and cars and untrained cyclists from all over the world.  With my three-year-old son on the back, we would could the different words for rain and snow.  I remember getting to twenty-six.

Hendrix sings in one ear and plays guitar in the other.  He shoots his fickle woman, muddles through a purple haze, before turning up all along the watchtower.  I try to work out why he is such a genius and decide that genius is not something that can be defined.  I just let the music penetrate my soul and take me back to parties, youth, laughing, dancing, joie de vivre.

My track is turning muddy.

My favourite primrose is flowering next to the compost bin.

Daffodils that have survived the storms are brilliant, brilliant yellow.

Madonna injects me with vigour.  She’s a dancy kind of girl.  Good for joggers.  I remember being surprised that such a scraggy, untalented young girl had become so famous when I returned to England after two years in Greece.  Holiday was the song that got her noticed, apparently.  All I saw was a Cindy Lauper lookalike who couldn’t really sing.  Much better now. Hard not to be envious of her jaw and waistline.

Time’s nearly up and I’m not in the least exhausted.  My knees are fine.  No twinges in my muscles.  Alice in Chains delights me with a version of The Man Who Sold the World.  Better than Bowie?  Would that be blasphemous?  I remember my grandmother’s warning: comparison is odious. Where did that come from!

My final seconds.  A perfect start to my morning.  And as Marianne Faithfull begins Broken English, I pull out my ear plugs and go inside.  I’ll switch off my MP3 player when she’s finished.

Happy days!

A la semaine prochaine?

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Couch to 5k Week three

Week Three 27.2.17

Steps 3161  km 2.54  cal. 239  time 25m

Hmm… my stats seem to be a little down on last week.  To the discerning analyst it would perhaps suggest that my fitness level has taken a small hit of the ‘weekend away’ variety.

On the other hand, it could be that the very basic counter is not very accurate on Mondays.

Breakfast was porridge.  TV was dominated by the Oscar Awards mess-up.  Do you think Fay Dunnaway failed to read the nomination properly?  Or at all?  Very entertaining, very gracious, not very bright.  Heads will roll, but only some will care.  Other news was tragic.  Mobile phone users cause road accidents – who knew?  So police it!  Create a device to disable phones in cars?  Or am I being naïve?

On with the kit and out into the white day.  Coolish and drizzle a possibility, but for the moment it’s dry (except for the grass).  I begin with the five-minute warm up.  Then it’s 90 secs running/90 secs walking, followed by 3 mins running/3mins walking.  For total of 25 mins (including warm up).

Music begins with Telegraph Road – a Dire Straits epic.  Can’t say I was thrilled with it in the context of my regime.  Bit ploddy. Went on, and on, and on.  Fabulous, of course, but still a bit ploddy.  No skipping rule remained in force and I listened to the interminable journey through decades and across miles.  Went into a kind of daze. Nice guitar bits. Daze.

Then came an Echo and the Bunnymen selection.  Not much of an improvement – but I did get into People are Strange.  The lyrics can’t be that simple and yet incomprehensible, can they? 

Never mind.

Time is nearly up.  I have a slight twinge in my right shin.  I slow to a walk for the last minute.  This is payback for missing my Friday run. 

Into the house and do my stretches (a bit). 

Week three needs to be taken seriously.  Who can I find to do such a thing?

Life is calling – housework first, then shopping, then writing.  Or I could start the other way round.  

A mercredi x

Week Three 1.3.17

Steps 3202  km 2.56  cal. 241  time 25m

Well.  Breakfast was toast and Marmite (one slice) and marmalade (the other slice) preceded by a glass of green tea and accompanied by a cup of Yorkhire.  Outside, the weather was asking for a derogatory comment, but I went straight to the living room for the latest BBC could offer.

Today we will be fined more for using a mobile phone whilst in our car and will have six points instead of three on our licence.  Newly qualified drivers will potentially lose their licence.  Don’t know whether to be pleased or not.  Sounds like fluff. Why are human beings so difficult to train?

More news about Trump and his new, more stately image.  More news about football.  And lovely Carol brings us giant daffodils, tranquil lakes, another version of the only dress design she possesses, an unstable hair piece and an irresistibly jolly demeanor.  Thank you, Carol, for your everlasting positivity.

Outside, the weather is still vile.  Should I brave it?


Four o’clock in the afternoon and it’s stopped raining.  Off I go.  Warm up, brisk five minutes walk and, up to my heels in mud, I break into what can only be described as a dangerously euphoric jog.

Today I have Echo and the Bunnymen in all their forms.  They sound like an 80s band (cue xylophone).  They sound like U2 – nice pipes.  They sound like The Cure.  Maybe they just sound too generic for their own good.  Nice tunes, though.  Pleasant.  Just about right for jogging and thinking about something entirely different. 

I pass the washing line and a wet towel slaps me across the face.

New game of dodge the towel – nice distraction.

The garden is very soggy.  It’s the time of year when roses start to come into leaf only to rot on the stems before being burned to a crisp by the French sunshine.  Every year I get rid of the most susceptible varieties and every year I try another.  Result – more blackspot and yellow leaves.

What we need is astroturf and a pool.

I notice there is a bird’s nest in the Red Robin bush.  It seems that the sacrifice made by previous birds to the cat kingdom is a ritual that will continue.  What to do?  Spray cat deterrent? Build a fence? Frighten away the bird?  Let nature take its course?

Last year the cat did the frightening.  Mother bird fled.  Baby birds got eaten (I presume).

I check my time.  Three minutes left.  I could run for another hour or so…

Inside for stretches and time for a nice coffee – we have a machine!  Al is now officially running on caffeine – locked away in his office being a wage slave. 

I’m running on sauerkraut, grated carrot and boiled ham.  Got to shift a few kilos for the good weather.  Only fair on the neighbours.

A vendredi x

Week Three 3.3.17

Steps 3203  km 2.57  cal. 242  time 25m

Toast, tea, grapefruit juice and, on a sudden whim, a little of the next episode of Fortitude to ease ourselved into the day.  Must say I’m hooked. 

I have a student this morning – exceptionellement.  So running is delayed a little, allowing the sun to establish itself in my French garden.  Nice.  I change, forget to warm up and get outside before someone asks me to do anything. 

Echo and the Bunnymen are Breaking the Back of Love and I’m loving it.  Tones of Bowie.  Energising.  Then comes Frankie with Two Tribes and I up my pace.  It’s time I cut the grass.  Need rabbits or a goat.

The wind blows my hair around and the music keeps coming.  Then, disaster!  Gary Jules and Mad World.  It’s as though I’ve been given chocolates, a good book and a sedative.  I ramp up my resistance and don’t skip the song, punching the air I let the lyrics fly over my head.  Going nowhere, going nowhere…  No expression, no expression… Why does he have to repeat everything.  I’m on a downward spiral.  When people run in circles…My hackles rise.  I will not give in. 

At last, Radar Love!  Memories of university life, a well-stocked juke box, Special Brew and blackcurrant.  I’m back in the smoke, in the dirt and the LIFE.  Keele, with its vibrant students’ union and liberal politics.  Rugby boys bare their bums in the bar, girls keep their distance and smoke demurely (some of them).  There is noise and a sense that anything is possible.

Time’s up.  My cheeks glow.  It’s almost time for lunch.

Happy days!

See you next week?  I’ll try to have some pics next time.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Couch to 5k Week Two

Week Two 20.2.17

Steps 3209  km 2.57  cal. 242  time 25m

This is it!  Well, a bit closer to it, anyway.  I wake up, make toast with marmalade (they sell Oxford thick cut in LeClerc these days) and a cup of tea for me, coffee for Al.  He reads my latest draft of my latest book and licks his finger to pick up crumbs that have fallen inside his dressing gown.  I read poetry sent by a friend and feel that the past is beautiful but sad and that toast is delicious.

I decide I’m fed up with writing ruling my life.  I determine to do something spectacular that won’t involve thinking about characters and plots from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep.

In the meantime, my corn is not hurting, the sun is shining and it’s day one of week two.

Forgot to wash my leggings – they’ll have to do as they are.   Best not think about it.

Very unglamourous pre-run pic - deal with it!

Remembering to do my warm up this time I go into a fast walk with Billy still singing about his little dancer.  After five minutes I break into a run (fast jog).  Week two is 90 seconds running and 60 seconds walking, alternating for 20 minutes. 

The sun is hot.  The day is shiny.  It’s the kind of day that makes you want to cartwheel across the garden, or do a back flip.  I don’t. I could, but I don’t.

I couldn’t really.

Billy dies down and The Black Eyed Peas take over.  My Humps is a particular favourite of mine, even though the girl singing is a terrible minx.  I like the rhythm and get into the beat, happy that my lovely lady lumps are strapped inside a sports bra I bought in 1985.  It’s also where I keep my MP3 player.

I feel alive and energised as Will I Am (I presume) tells me to Pump It.  There are various people hating on each other, but I concentrate on shaking my ass, because, as you probably already know, this joint is fizzlin’.

It’s actually very warm inside my cardigan by now – that must mean calories are flying off my body in all directions.  I check my time.  One minute remaining. So soon!

In the kitchen I do my stretches (skimpily) and wonder when my son will get out of bed (it’s holiday time here).  I’m pleased he didn’t see me running.  He has a grin that can make you doubt your very existence in a world where anyone over 30 who makes an effort to exercise is largely a figure of fun.  Although, he admits that, as parents, we are the best.  Thanks.

So, I’m done for today.  Looking forward to Wednesday already. 

See you then?

Week Two 22.2.17

Steps 3209  km 2.57  cal. 242  time 25m

Toast and marmalade routine (almost empty jar sends panic waves through my confused morning head).  I do psychological spreading.

Watch BBC news.  New day, new topic: Interview technique insights - What kind of biscuit would you be?  How do your enemies see you?  Hmm…  Dog and with their eyes.

Flip over to Lorraine for some social skills training. Currently, cloying enthusiasm is being lavished on new Internet sensation girl.  Al throws his head back and utters his usual ‘who gives a ****?’  I wonder vaguely what kind of biscuit Lorraine would be. 

For Al I choose a Bath Oliver.

Slipping on leggings and tee shirt, I’m almost overcome by the fresh aroma of too much Lenor in the rinse cycle.

Trainers are still green.

The sky is white.  It’s warm.  I spot my first yellow daffodil.  The birds have eaten all Al’s fat ball (love how that sounds).

Warm up: check.  Music: check.  Counter thingy: check.

There is literally no one about but me.  I feel good. 

First song is one I shouldn’t like (probably not the target audience), but I do.  Black Eyed Peas’ Where is the Love?  I jog in time to the beat (bit slow) and let my soul gravitate to the love.  I soak up the political message y’all.

Next up is Cold Play.  Some dirge from the Parachutes album.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I love Cold Play.  But there is a time and a place.  Given that there is no handy sword to fall on in the garden, I break my self-imposed rule and skip forward to something with more of a pulse.

The Cult.  She Sells Sanctuary.  I’ll admit a button is pushed.  Ian Astbury dances in a white New Romantics ensemble, then in black leather.  Which is more alluring?  I can’t decide.  I replay my personal fantasy.  I may have missed a crucial walking/running change-over.  What a song!  What a sexually charged three minutes!  I need a more sensitive and comprehensive calories counter.  Surely?

Like all good things, the fire in my eyes is extinguished too soon and I’m handed a helping of conventional good advice delivered by boys with fresh faces.  Enjoy the Silence.  Will do, Depeche Mode.

Time has passed very quickly.  I’ve hardly had time to look around and take note.  The music has taken me back in time to places and people I like to re-visit on a regular basis.  Only now do I notice the cat-shaped fur ball watching me from the garden wall, the new shoots on the clematis, the wet towel on my sun lounger and the mysterious green bottle top next to the dead geraniums.

Inside for stretches.

My son is watching the latest episode of Walking Dead with his friend who slept over.  It might seem a bit tame after the film they watched last night (Blair Witch – the new one).  Sweet.

A la prochaine x 

Same day, after lunch. Sun! This is why I came to France.

Week Two 24.2.17

Didn’t do my run.  Instead, went for a short break with my Al and my son to Angers.  Copious amounts of walking, sitting and eating.  Fab place to visit.  Back to the drill on Monday.  Curiously, no feelings of guilt or shame – not for missing the run, anyway.

A lundi x

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Couch to 5K

Good morning and bonjour!

Don’t really know how any of this happened, but here I am starting something that lasts nine weeks.  Quite a slice of commitment for someone who’s cut out alcohol and hasn’t had a drink for three days, four hours and sixteen minutes.

I came across the Couch to 5k site and I’m actually going to do some running.

Last time I did some running I went straight for the burn and ended up with shin splints and a twisted ankle.  This time I’m doing it carefully.

So, how’s it going? 

Week One 13.2.17
Steps 2994  km 2.32  cal. 215  time 24m

Timing a little skimpy.  One minute short for some reason.  But first run completed.  I’m using my garden, which is not big enough, but is private.  Five minutes fast walking followed by 60 seconds running and 90 seconds fast walking for twenty minutes.

I have proper shoes and a hair band.  Couldn’t find my sports leggings, so I’m wearing loose jeans with a belt to keep them up.

How do I feel?

A little smug, not much fitter yet, no racing heart or terminal asthma. Happy to be on top of the challenge.

Week one 15.2.17
Steps 3102  km 2.44  cal. 228  time 25m

Breakfast with Arnold Bennet, in bed.  V. decadent.  Husband beginning first read of my new DCI Alice Candy story.  Trade off is toast and coffee brought to him, oh, and his glasses.  Wouldn’t let me take a pic.

Sunny outside but dew has made my feet wet.  Had music this time – much better.  Started off with Flock of Seagulls, trying not to think of The Slaughter of the Lambs.  On to Abba – beautiful but fairly depressing nostalgia.  What can a person who grew up with the 80s do?

Still on the 60 secs running, 90 secs walking.  Not enough time to get into it, but the reason I’m doing this by degrees is to avoid injury.  I have to remember.  No going for it.  Not yet.

Only problem today, apart from the wet feet, was my almost irresistible desire to sing along with Super Trouper.  In a small French village, with the mayor and his chickens living next door on the other side of my garden wall, who knows what the consequences might be.  Watch this space.

Pleased with myself.

Week one 17.2.17
Steps 3106  km 2.46  cal. 230  time 25m

Woke up to summer mist.  Bacon sandwich tasted brilliant – had to be done because the fridge freezer is  in danger of collapse and so an eating frenzy of perishables is inevitable – what’s that you say? Bacon keeps?  I say, No it doesn’t.  Not in our house.  So, to be specific, we have freezer power, but the fridge is warming up nicely. 

Not yet poisoned, I made another search for my lycra leggings and found them this time in a bag of summer clothes.  Persistence pays off.

Forgetting to do the warm up yet again, I begin with the five-minute fast walking around the garden then launch into the 60 sec. Running, 90 sec walking regime for twenty minutes in the knowledge that the next time I challenge myself the timings will be reversed.  I feel I am ready for the next stage.

I determined at the start (for no particular reason) that I would not skip any songs on my MP3.  Listening to Abba still (they made a lot of songs, didn’t they?) I’m taken by the simplicity of the lyrics and also by trying to work out which of the girls is singing which tunes.  I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.  Not that it matters. 

As I lumber round the garden (my husband’s words), I decide it would be fun to write a series of quick reads, each with the title of an Abba song.  I listen to the lyrics of Take a Chance on Me and decide that I would rather stick needles in my eyes than build a plot around such a door mat of a protagonist.  Harsh, but true.  Sorry, Abba ladies.

Passing by the early snails, I have a moment of  clarity. Abba blares on. Resolute and coolly superior, I decide that I should probably get on with one of the five or six started but not finished works in progress on my laptop, instead of wandering off the beaten track, as it were, in search of popular cliché and unrealistic romance (after all, who wants to make money writing?) – I also decide I want to travel the world, learn to sing, and fix the fridge myself.

It’s truly summer-like when I finish running. The mist has floated away. As I walk back to the house, passing pretty spring flowers and noticing that my trainers have turned green with grass cuttings, Idle Billy (as I like to call him), is singing about his rendez-vous with a little dancer, who apparently came dancing to his door and proceeded to kick up a hell of a racket.  I pause Billy in mid more, more, more chorus, leaving him on tenterhooks until my next run.

No injuries, aches or pains.  Just a casual kind of smugness and a feeling of limbering up for the next level.

Next week I’ll sort out some pics.  A bientôt.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Gap Year in Australia? What! (Part three)

My son was looking up information for his gap year in Australia.  He knew the best times of year to travel.  The best places to find casual work (but he intended not to have to work – all set to try to earn enough before he went).

I had given up trying to scare myself with Internet searches detailing adventures with horror story endings.  I was now becoming overwhelmed with the practicalities involved in a trip to the other side of the world.

The risks - a real notice.

The cost of the flight.

The cost of the accommodation (£20 a night over a period of six months coming in at around £3,800).

The need for medical insurance, travel costs (he can’t drive).

God knows what else I’ve not even thought of!

How could he believe any of it were possible?

I tried to be positive.  I managed not to come out with what I was thinking: you are deluded, my darling.

I deliberately played devil’s advocate with myself and ended up going back again to 1979 and Camping Sirene in Argeles sur mer.  The Bev who stood looing up at the sign she had found after an ill-advised march in the midday sun along country lanes piled high with oranges and their sellers, thought only of the present.

She saw colour and light.  She saw a place to pitch a tent.  She saw the small notice that told her and Carol that the site was full.

I like to think that I still have a good measure of the optimism and joie de vivre that I had when I was twenty-one.  I like to think that I would still board a train with my best pal with no thought of booking accommodation along the way.

I remembered that the camp site in Argeles had been our ultimate stop.  We had spent time in Carcassonne along the way.  We’d met two middle-aged men at the Camping Municipal and struck up an unlikely yet most delightful friendship.  How did that kind of thing happen?


It only took a moment for the most cynical of answers to come.

Carol and I were young and pretty.  The men were chancers.  They couldn’t believe their luck.

But this, of course, was not the whole story.

With a little more probing of my twenty-one-year-old self, I knew that there was more to it.  There must have been a kernel of something much more precious inside my firm body and beneath my smooth complexion. 

Our gentlemen admirers told us that we made them feel young again.  Of course, they were attracted to our relative physical perfection, but they were also captivated by our joyful approach to life, to our willingness to experience all that was new.  We accompanied them to a restaurant, a chateau, a supermarket.  We enjoyed outrageous and unfathomable conversations about food, love, politics and growing old.

When we left, they gave us money – not for services rendered (there was no physical gratification on offer), but because they genuinely wanted us to be happy and have fun. 

And money for them had come to represent anything but fun.

They were sad to see us go.

They would revert to the routine of signing on at the Social Security Office (they were retired and vehemently believed that they were entitled to their paltry pensions, which unfortunately meant that they were unable to move far from the camp site).

They had their cats and they had each other.

Carol and I had enjoyed their company, but they were remote from our world and from lives that had only just begun.  We left with no regrets and boarded the train for the next stage of our adventure.

My son wanted an adventure too.

That was all.

I knew that he should be free to choose – but I still longed for him to stay close.  At least closer than the other side of the world. 

I wanted him to follow in my footsteps.  Perhaps taking in a slightly wider area. 

And I wanted him to go with a friend – this was the sticking point.  If he went, I didn’t want him to go alone.

To be continued...

Happy Days!

Friday, 20 January 2017

Gap year in Australia? What! (Part two)


This is a recent pic of our campsite (La Sirene) - where are the tents? 

To say I remember every detail would be a lie.  I can’t remember the exact timing or the order of what Carol (I shall call her Carol because she said I should) and I had to do to make the trip happen.

We were lucky.  The three month stay in France was a course requirement.  I doubt whether I would have even thought of it had it not been.  University itself was a joy.  I could happily have stayed there forever.  I had worked in London as a secretary and knew the taste of defeat and deadly routine.

University was about opportunity.  A chance to add layers to my worth as a thinking human being.  To learn and to excel.  And to waste copious amounts of time.

France was just the jewel in the crown.  And with my best friend – who could ask for more?

At the time, I had a room in Horwood hall at Keele University – a beautiful place with its own lakes and swans and gothic building (where I studied English Literature).

What was it like?

What was I like?

It’s difficult to really pin any of this down.  But I shall try.

I have pictures from around that time.  I wore floral summer dresses and strappy sandals.  My hair was, as you can see from the first post, long and blond.  Not naturally blond, but not yet ruined.  I favoured a fringe, little makeup, and went to yoga classes at the gym.

I adored the sun and there was precious little of it at Keele or in Shropshire.  So, a trip to France would sort out the summer months.  I wouldn’t have to spend it on top of a mountain in Wales, where my father ran the accommodation and catering for The Midland Gliding Club.  Hooray.

Carol and I ate rice pudding and jam and talked about where we should head for.  What I remember most was the never-ending gush of possibilties.  And the fact that we and only we would be deciding which ones to choose.

It was easy in the end.  The South of France was irresistible as a destination.  I had already been to St. Tropez on a fortnight’s camping trip with my boyfriend. 

Is that the way it works?

You think you are being original and daring, but you are simply opting for a bit more of what you have already experienced?

Neither of us had any knowledge of the glamorous venues all along the Mediterranean coast.  They were just names on a map.  St. Tropez had yachts and street artists.  Bars and music.  It was a place where film stars and pop singers spent their hols.  Sting might even be there.

We bought our InterRail tickets and set off one day in late June with a vague idea of where we might end up.

And, this is the point.  Excitement and adventure, at least for me, had to have a huge random element.

I was beginning, reluctantly, to understand my son’s dream of a gap year in Australia.  Only beginning.  I still thought it would probably not happen.  There were, there are, so many ways it could fall through, or at least be postponed...

He would have to save an enormous amount of money, which meant, means, he would, will, have to find a job here in France.  And he’s only seventeen.  Surely he’ll have to wait until he’s eighteen to earn money?  After all, this is France – the land of rules and regulations. 

I was still convincing myself that he would decide not to go.  Or that something would stop him.

I felt mean.  But worry and fear still had me gripped.

I would have to rejoin the Bev that didn’t care about danger or insect bites or flooded tents or insurance, or anything much at all except being truly alive and kicking. 

The Bev that arrived at a campsite in Argeles-sur-mer with a rucksack on her back and no idea of having to book a pitch in high season.

Happy Days!

To be continued…