Friday, 18 December 2015

Nearly Christmas - Yikes!

With Christmas on the way, I’ve done what I always do in times of crisis.  I’ve turned my attention to things that don’t need to be done.  I do have a list – well it’s not quite linear – in my head of essential jobs, but I’ve spent the morning reading about the genome of Cichlid fish who live in a tiny volcanic crater in Africa.  I’ve learned something I didn’t know – that these fish are capable of sympatric speciation. Not content with this amazing discovery, I overdosed on new information on drugs to combat stomach bacteria that encourage hardening of the arteries and then couldn’t resist an article on cellular activity that affects memory.
I haven’t showered.  I haven’t dressed properly.  The postman could arrive at any minute and the hoover needs a full service before I use it.  My sister is arriving in three hours, my son will be home for lunch in one, the dishwasher needs salt and I’m almost out of deodorant.
I turn to the past for consolation.  Yesterday, I fixed the car with the help of the Internet (finding the right cap for the coolant – did you know that there are two types of coolant?  One has to be diluted, the other is ready-mixed).  I also bought four Christmas presents, wrapped them and put them under the tree, I bought a turkey with a best before date of 21st December (an easy mistake to make), had two tyres replaced on my old Peugeot (French language challenge), made a cheese and onion sandwich, and looked out of the kitchen window at the lawn, trying to decide whether I should get the mower out.  I’ll have a look again today.
Oh, and I published a short story called ‘Christmas Tree’ (the title came to me in a moment of inspiration).  Rarely have I been known to publish anything at the right time.
Right (that’s me, being decisive).  That’s all for now.  If I don’t get back to my blog before the big day, I hope you all have a very happy Christmas.  I’m going to steel myself against further distractions and do some chores – I must just look up the etymology of ‘chore’…

Happy Days!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Review: 'Searching for Summer' by Christine Campbell

I have reviewed this book as one of  Rosie's Book Review Team

'Searching for Summer' is a character-driven novel that draws the reader in to Mirabelle’s world.  She is an interesting, fun-loving woman with a big personality, however, when her daughter goes missing, she is tortured by questions about her worth as a mother and begins to lose her self-confidence.

The first part of the book is taken up with her emotional response to the loss of her daughter.  Then we see the super-human efforts that Mirabelle goes to in her search for Summer: sleeping rough, trailing ‘suspects’ and persuading Sam (a detective friend) not to give up, when there is little justification for pursuing the investigation (Summer is old enough to leave home).

The ending is not clichéd.  In fact this book is not in the least sentimental, which is refreshing.  If I’m honest, I found the first part a little repetitive, but I always wanted to find out what had happened to Summer.  In the end, though, I was more interested in Mirabelle and how she would come out of an experience that not only made her question her relationship with her daughter, but also the direction her own life was taking.

In the next book, we are told that Mirabelle will turn detective and open an agency to find missing people.  Her tenacity is not in doubt!  Perhaps she has found her true vocation…

An interesting read.  A well-written book.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Hanson's Hunch 

A five-star review from top Amazon reviewer C. Lahain:

A detective tries to solve a series of murders where the victims have no obvious relationship to one another.

This is a short, suspenseful work. Spicer packs a lot of character and action into it. The motive behind the killings isn't something I've seen before. Detective Hanson remains something of an enigma throughout the piece. We get the sense of a complicated and gifted intellect, and the tiny peek into his home life hints at an abundance of warmth buried under the all-business exterior. I would have loved even more of this personal side as a contrast to the nightmare going on around them.

The end comes as a big surprise. I'm still not sure how I feel about it...very mixed emotions for reasons anyone who reads it will understand. However, this resolution did add a nice splash of dark humor.

Free until 6th December

Monday, 23 November 2015

I was going to write a review but...

Then, my computer crashed, I didn’t have time, the cat was sick.  Now it’s too late.

These are just a few of the reasons we find not to sit down and write a review for a book we’ve read.  That is, if we even think about it in the first place.  I know I’m guilty of thinking that, as an author, I have a duty to write something sparkling and incisive, which obviously takes more than five minutes, so it’s easy to say to myself that I’ll do it the next day/week.  Then I forget.  That’s really the crux of my particular problem. I don’t remember to pay bills, I don’t remember to watch a tennis match I’ve been waiting to see, I even forgot to pick up my daughter from a babysitter years ago.  So it’s got nothing to do with getting older!

When I eventually remember that I’ve missed reviewing a book, I think it’s too late.  I can’t quite remember the protagonist’s name, or even the title and/or author!  So I don’t write a review.

Some time ago, a reader was honest enough to leave a review of My Grandfather’s Eyes that said:

‘I read awhile ago so I don't remember exactly why I like it, but I know I liked it a lot.’

This made me smile.  I didn’t care about the typo.  I didn’t care about the vagueness of the comment.  What made me feel good about my writing was that it had somehow left its mark and that this person had taken the time to rate my book and comment months after reading it.

A review doesn’t have to be detailed.  I know a lot of people must worry that they have to summarise the plot and analyse the characters - it will take too long.  But a few words can say a lot.  These are some of the very brief reviews that readers have kindly left for My Grandfather’s Eyes:

‘Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well written and suspenseful, Kept me gripped till the very end, then I wanted more!’

I liked Alex, I felt she was a well rounded character, with flaws, but they only made her more real.’

‘This was very well written. It kept me interested and engrossed. I would definitely add this author to my must read list.’

Just one or two (or three) sentences.

So, I’ve decided to go back to my kindle management page and write five quick reviews for books I’ve read and not reviewed.  It will make me feel good and I know it will make the authors feel even better.  I like positivity more than anything!

I do read a lot, so I’m not going to promise myself that I’ll seek out every book I’ve missed.  But from now on, I shall at least try to give a quick comment.  One advantage will be that I’ll have a written record for when my friends ask me to recommend a good book to them!  You know the feeling when you want to tell them about one you’ve enjoyed and the words just won’t come out in the right order…

Life is not as complicated as I try to make it.  Not all the time, anyway.

Still can't decide whether I like my chimney pot.  It's only been seven years.


Happy Days!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

My French Life

The Important Bits

I’ve made an end of year resolution to write every morning for three hours.

I have no idea how it will work out, but today is the fourth day and I’ve written 10,345 words of book one in my new science fiction trilogy.

I have the story arc for each book and the whole series worked out.  I have detailed chapter summaries and character profiles for book one. I’ve done everything the right way round this time.

I have peace and quiet, a large table overlooking my garden and a laptop that has stood me in good stead for the last four years.  I have a cushion for my chair and a hot water bottle on my lap.  I have aspirations.  I have motivation.  I am anchored in my work.

Today, just as on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I was amazed when I came to the end of chapter five and checked the time.  I had only thirty minutes remaining to change scene and begin chapter six.  I didn’t want to stop.  I liked it where I was. But my eyes began to protest.

So.  Now what? I thought.

I’ve had reheated spaghetti for lunch (not recommended), fed my over-worked husband a larger portion, with salad, taken out the organic waste and turned the compost.  I’ve emptied the dishwasher, folded the towels and flossed my teeth.  The washing needs sorting, the world has gone to rack and ruin, there are bombs and politicians on the midday news.  The bakery is closed, but will re-open in time for me to buy a Suisse for my son’s homecoming snack. I'll make sure the milk is chilled.  

I would go out on my bike if it were not raining.  I would bake a cake if I had the ingredients, or a suitable oven.  I would change the world.  Only the bad bits.  If I could.

It’s almost three o’clock in France.  Nearly time for cheap rate electricity and washing machine noise.  Nearly time to find the sweet wrappers in jeans and crumpled receipts for chain saw links and glue that doesn’t work from Brico Depot.  Nearly time to drag out my exercise bike to pedal fast while I watch something that won’t fill my mind with horror.  Like Tipping Point.  Like Bradley on The Chase.

I’m not complaining.  Far from it.  Just saying.


Monday, 2 November 2015

Brouage - A Great Day Out

Brouage is  my husband’s favourite venue for a brocante extravaganza.  

Brouage is home to a few hundred people, who live inside fortifications built by Cardinal Richelieu in the 1630s.  At the time, the village was important as a port, giving access to the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Since the harbour silted up in the latter part of the 17th century it lost its importance and fell into ruin.

Now, it hosts the largest and most visited annual brocante in the region, cunningly arranged to coincide with my husband’s birthday. 

So, yesterday, Al’s dearest wish was to strike out in our silver Peugeot and rummage for copper piping and obsolete tools.  The former to construct a new and very lovely radiator of a type never seen before, and the latter just for fun.

In the past we’ve had sun, rain, cold and heat.  Yesterday was perfect.  Temperatures too hot for tights, a cooling breeze to ease the odd menopausal flush, and a sky so blue it had to be texted to relatives living in Manchester, the Midlands and Devon.  Al took a coat and left it in the car.  Almost unheard of.

We had an economical journey, following a driver who had mislaid fourth and fifth gears, but who kept things interesting with unexpected sudden braking.  We were tolerant and jovial on our Sunday afternoon outing.  

Upon arrival, we encountered friendly, waving car park attendants in specially created orange waistcoats who directed us around a field.  Several times.  

Soon, we joined  hundreds of fellow brocante enthusiasts in a leisurely meander amongst stalls displaying anything from beautiful gilt-framed mirrors to a particularly well-used second hand bra and pants set.  There was something for everyone.

We nearly bought a painting by a lady called Rosa Marco, who was probably aiming for Picasso, when she missed in a most interesting way.  But, having set a euro limit in our heads, the stall holder blew it out of the water and made us feel guilty to boot, lavishing us with pertinent details of the artist (an eighty-five-year-old lady living on the Ile d’Oleron), her numerous exhibitions, not to mention the implicit tragedy of a talent left undiscovered.  Luckily, like the odd fraudulent crook-dressed-as-a-policeman, who demands payment of instant fines in cash, having leapt from the hedgerow brandishing a fake speed gun, our benevolent art collector wouldn’t accept Visa.

I was later quite taken with various sets of non-dishwasher-safe decorative glasses, and also the idea of beginning a collection of brooches in the style of Bling.  Al listened, then walked on, and my resolve to follow my instincts crumbled. 

In short, I came to my senses.  I was there for his birthday treat, the odd bit of human contact, and the prospect of chips.  I just hadn’t immediately realised that life was so simple.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

October Madness!

On the publication of my new collection of short stories 'Thirteen', I'm offering four individual stories FREE until 20th October.  If you want more - there are eight previously unpublished stories in my new collection, priced at just £1.99.


In the meantime, get your FREE stories here.  There's something for everyone:

'Peaches in the Attic' is a disturbing tale involving a grandmother and her granddaughter.  Forget the usual cosy image of sitting on your grandmother's knee listening to fairy stories.  This time the story is not so sugar sweet.  What's more, it's difficult to know where imagination ends and reality begins.


'Angels' is a suspenseful and atmospheric story.  A mother is driven to revenge after the death of her daughter, provoked by bullying at school.


'Strings' is for those who enjoy science fiction, end of the world scenarios. Will anyone believe Maddy's visions?  What do they mean?  And will there be time to take action?


'Flying' is my newest short story.  Nelly lives at the foot of a mountain and loves to watch the gliders soaring the ridge.  Her parents have divorced and she deals with the emotional fallout in her own magical, childlike way.


Friday, 16 October 2015

My French Life

Woke up early to empty almost dead hoover and ensure it still worked.  Today is cleaning day chez moi.  I have help.  Together, Aline and I move like Jagger might if he knew about spray wax and limescale remover. In French.

My jobs are bathrooms and toilets (under all rims), on the basis that I wouldn't want to clean anybody else's, so why should I ask Aline to clean mine.  My sister says I shouldn't pay a cleaner and then clean myself.  We ain't going to agree on this one.

So, with blue sky, sunshine and military jets zooming by outside, we turned up the volume and danced through the housework.

All fairly routine by now.  Won't bore you with it.  No events to report.

The nice part came at 12.30 when Al (my husband) swept me off my feet with a lunchtime proposition. We popped next door to eat at our local restaurant.  Tuna salad followed by cod with leeks and mushrooms, followed by a café gourmand.

 I couldn't manage all mine due to the fact that I've lost ten kilos and my stomach is now the size of an apple.  Al, my husband, was delighted to 'share'.

Back to work on my latest novel, which is in its umpteenth draft.  I'm approaching 'the trial', which (after hours of research) needs to be re-written because Al says the verdict is unreasonable.  He's right.  I have my laptop, my notes and annotations, and two hours to spare before I have to be somewhere else.  Hence my sudden interest in writing a blog post.  I shall soon be making tea, putting on the washing and nipping to the post office.

 Thought you'd like to see my logs.

Happy Days

Friday, 9 October 2015

Welcome to my #FridayFiveChallenge

(Original idea from Rosie Amber  at

 Me, Christmas 2014, wearing a dress not made to accommodate a Christmas Dinner (random pic)

Why not try out this excellently random way of choosing your next read?

Get yourself a cuppa (or a glass of something) and give yourself 5 minutes. (Use your own pic or copy mine or anything else like a clock/ stopwatch etc)
In today's online shopping age, readers often base their buying decisions from small postage stamp size book covers (Thumb-nails), a quick glance at the book description and the review. How much time do they really spend making that buying decision?
AUTHORS - You often only have seconds to get a reader to buy your book, is your book cover and book bio up to it?
My Friday Five Challenge is this..... IN ONLY FIVE MINUTES....
1) Go to any online book supplier,
2) Randomly choose a category,
3) Speed through the book covers, choose one which has instantly appealed to your eye,
4) Read the book Bio/ Description for this book,
5) If there are reviews, check out a couple,
6) Make an instant decision, would you BUY or PASS?
(then write a little analysis about your decision)

Here's my selection for this Friday:  Extinct by Ike Hamill

Product description

Channel Two predicted a blanket of snow for Thanksgiving weekend--unusual, but not alarming for the little Maine island. What comes is a blinding blizzard, and a mass disappearance of nearly every person Robby Pierce knows. He and his family flee, trying to escape the snow and the invisible forces stealing people right from the street. 
*** Join the mailing list at to receive Ike's next book free. *** 
Miles away, Brad Jenkins battles the same storm. Alone, he attempts to survive as snow envelops his house. When the storm breaks, Brad makes his way south to where the snow ends and the world lies empty. Join Brad, Robby, and the other survivors as they fight to find the truth about the apocalypse and discover how to live in their new world. 

I stuck in 'science fiction'.  Because I like science fiction.  Not very original, but this is my first attempt at the Friday Five Challenge, so I'm playing safe.

The cover was simple and I liked the cheesy 3D effect coupled with cheesy footprints in the snow.  Makes me equally cheesy, I suppose.

The product description - not bad.  I like a disaster as much as the next person.  Not too sure about the alien abduction slant...  Don't know whether I want to sign up to a mailing list.  But - hang on a minute, it's free at the moment.  

Reviews look good 4.2 with 44.  Seems as though more editing is required (from readers' comments).  That's a shame.  But, if the story's as good as it sounds, I'll put up with a few typos.

My verdict for this one: BUY  (Who knows - Mr. Hamill might turn out to be a favourite.)

PS  This took more like fifteen minutes - I'll be quicker next time.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

"This clever story twists and turns...

...moving from Greece to London and back again, and is full of surprises.The wonderfully well drawn character of Joyce Shackleton will make you gasp. I became completely absorbed in the plot and couldn't put the book down."   Amazon reviewer

I'm offering 'A Good Day for Jumping' at the very popular price of 99p until 7th October.  For my American readers it's just 99c.

I lived on the island of Crete for two years and this is the setting for a drama that plays out between millionaire Steve Firth (born Stephano) and the people he comes into contact with along the way.  He may be rich and handsome, but he has a lot to learn about the human condition and, indeed, his behaviour is morally reprehensible to most people. However, he is still susceptible to integrity, if it hits him between the eyes. When he comes into contact with Roula, he finds himself fascinated by her.  She is poor but ambitious, and willing to sacrifice her dreams for her family.

Steven Firth has a tangled history.  His mother is Greek and his father an advertising tycoon.  The love of his life, May, cannot hold him.  Fast cars and fast women have always been easy options.  Crass, and resolutely egocentric, he may trample on the very people who can help him in his subconscious quest for genuine emotional attachment.

Click on one of these links to look inside and read how Steven Firth's story begins:

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Review: The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack

This is a most intriguing collection.  Reminiscent of Poe’s ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ with a hint of Asimov.  The genres range between science fiction, fantasy and paranormal.  They are dark for the most part, which I like, but each story is highly individual.  There are robots, ghosts, and a fearless little girl who lives near a forest making cabbage soup when she’s not ridding the village of monsters ('The Soup Ladle of Destiny' is my personal favourite, and the funniest of the stories).  All the stories have a twist.  Mostly these are unexpected – although you do catch the mindset of the author after reading a few.  This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the stories, though.  It just made me wonder what was coming up. 

In the middle of the collection, the author includes an ‘intermission’, where he addresses the reader in person.  I must admit that this is the first time I’ve come across such an approach.  But C. S. Boyack (Craig – if you visit his Amazon Author Page) has an engaging style, and I find the personal touch here adds to my enjoyment of the stories.  It made me click on his author page!

There is an excerpt from one of his YA novels (Will O’ the Wisp) at the end of the collection.  I read this too.  Another charismatic set of characters and a glimpse of an intriguing plot.

I recommend this author.  He’s a real spinner of yarns. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Everyone likes a Whodunnit!  

In a small English town, a girl is found murdered in the park.  And she's not the first.  There has been a spate of unusual killings and Chief Inspector Hanson is not used to such high drama.  With the help of his able young colleague, Detective Simmonds, he sets out to track down a criminal who must be stopped before someone else is harmed.  Hanson is particularly touched by the latest murder - a bright young local girl.  He needs a break. There must be something he's missing.  Simmonds finds a lead and Hanson begins to follow a trail that may well lead him to the killer.  Hanson's Hunch. Where will it take him?

Free until Friday 11th September.

Reviews welcome!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Let's hear it for reviewers!

It's not the first thing you think of when you put down a book you've enjoyed reading.  I'm the first to admit that before I published my first book I'd never left a review on Amazon or anywhere else.  I'd tell my friends if I liked something enough, and they'd probably forget the title or the author, or both. Reviews are a more permanent record of a reader's reactions - for better or for worse!

Needless to say, I always make the effort to leave a balanced review these days.

I'm actually reading 'The Apple Yard' at the moment, alongside 'The Constant Gardener'.  I looked at a couple of reviews for both of these last night.  Curiosity, I suppose.  The first is a thriller, top ten bestseller (so it states on the cover), by Louise Doughty.  The second, a classic by John le Carre.  Both have a fair percentage of one-star reviews with comments surprisingly similar: 'sorry I paid money for this book'  'boring' 'unbelievable'.  My favourite: 'John le Carre has lost it.'

I reminded myself that the star rating used by Amazon ranges from 'I hate it' to 'I love it'.  Fair enough. If you need to hate something, I suppose a book is a harmless target for your venom.  Some of the reviews are articulate and make valid points, some are flippant, some downright rude.  What really does intrigue me is how someone can be so totally negative about a book.  How they can hate it so completely.  Perhaps the ending is a let down, but surely there are passages they have enjoyed, characters they have empathised with to some extent?

The Apple Yard is going passably well.  I do agree that the protagonist and her lover are rather cold fish, but there is tension to the plot and a solid grounding in the value of mediocrity in everyday life and relationships.  We can't all be thoroughly beautiful beings leading extraordinary lives all of the time.  I like the ordinariness of the woman who feels good about her freshly washed hair and her new, rather sexy boots that make her feel less middle-aged.  If the ending is 'disappointing' and the affair 'unbelievable' I won't mind that much.  After all, we all look for an ending that is largely unattainable. We want definitive, we think.  We're not sure about an 'open-ending'.  Endings should perhaps be multiple...  Choose the one you like best.

In my view, the Constant Gardener is a gem of a book in terms of beautifully written prose and totally engaging characters, some petty, some naive, some heroic.  Sandy is a triumph of smug bigotry and I cringe when he gives himself away so utterly as a man who has no idea of how much others despise and deride him. There is masterful use of irony, and imagery which is both surprising and which resonates so precisely it can interrupt your reading while you savour its effect.  The plot is secondary for me, although that's not to say I dislike the action.

The review system is perhaps a little too 'throw-away' for the average reader, who is, in Amazon's eyes, a customer.  And, as we all know (except if, like me, you live in France...), the customer is king.  If he wants to complain, let him.  If he wants to offer a wholly negative point of view, that's his prerogative. And long may it be so!

One-star reviews are only hurtful to the author.  But, the odd jolt can be beneficial in many ways.  I have to mention one I received for 'One Summer in France'  It read simply: To stupid.  Made me laugh for ages.

Anyway, I've had my say!  I started this post with the intention of directing as many people as possible to a couple of new reviews of my recently revised novel, 'The Undertaker's Son'.  I'm grateful for such support and hope that it will encourage people to download and enjoy (at least some of) my book.  To make the decision easier, I've made it free on 7th and 8th August.  Obviously, if you would like to give your personal and honest opinions in a short review I would be happy to read and digest them.

With special thanks to Rosie Amber and her fabulous book review team: Rosie Amber

Here's the link to Alison Williams' review:  Review of 'The Undertaker's Son'

My book is also featured on Olga Nunez Miret's blog today: Review of 'The Undertaker's Son'

Thank you for visiting my blog!  Comments welcome.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Night walk II

Lovely crabstick salad!
(Note spare wine.)

Al and I did the Corme Royal ‘randonée pédestre nocturne’ last year.  Then, it was our first time. Tremble.  This time we knew what to expect, which is never quite the same experience. 

We set out just as the match I’d been waiting for all day began.  Andy Murray stuffed a tennis ball into his shorts and threw the other one up to serve.  Bugger! I thought.  I wonder whether I could just sit here and…  No chance!  The tickets had been paid for, it would be a serene family outing.  Not to mention a nice bit of exercise.

Outside, the temperature was still in the high twenties at 7.30 and we’d put on jeans and long sleeved tops against the mozzies.  There was Al, my husband, Alfie, our teenage son, and yours truly, already too hot and just a little petulant. 

Up to the recreation ground we went, stepping out enthusiastically.  We collected our tickets, tied them to our clothes with a thoughtfully provided red ribbon, and waited to be released into the French countryside in staggered groups (there were over a thousand of us, apparently).  

France in July. There were sunflowers everywhere.  There were also leggings filled by thighs and bottoms of all shapes and sizes, and merry banter together with the odd gasp from people who passed by (we are slow walkers and enormously tall). 

Bathed in the fragile tranquility of wide open spaces invaded by we walkers, and keeping an eye on the dust that rose from children who kicked it up in front of us, we entered into the spirit and smiled our way onwards.  The first stop was for sangria (very nice and very strong) accompanied by salty biscuits.  Alfie got squash – poor Alfie - the expectation of a Coca-cola on ice had been strong within him!  Still, it was a nice way to start our adventure and we set off again rehydrated.  Al and I felt distinctly loosened up, living on alcohol fumes from the bottom of our plastic cups, and raring to sit down and have another drink.

The conversation was football oriented and so I went into a daze and thought about my current work in progress, imagining clever twists that would be forgotten by the time I got home.  The views were most lovely and the air simmered up gently.  We were all looking forward to the starter before long.  The previous year there had been a delicious tuna salad.  This time, we were handed a nice looking mayonnaise coleslaw which turned out to be mostly sliced crabsticks.  I tried not to think about it – I was hungry.  Alfie just ate bread and attempted to hide his disgust (not very successfully).  Al said he hated crabsticks, although he didn’t really need to say anything (see above photo).  The highlight was being served by an authentically rotund Obelix, complete with two-horned helmet and an air of French pride at representing all that is good about France’s cartoon heritage.

"Encore du vin, Monsieur? Madame?"
"Bah, ouai!"

By this time Al and I were fairly tipsy, taking pictures of a caged gorilla, a playful caveman, and each other.  We were all enjoying the evening in spite of the after effects of the fishy dish.  So when we came to a field in which there seemed to be various games being organised, we plunged in on the basis that we were in for a penny and in for a pound.  We were intrigued by one game in particular.  It seemed to be a variation on blind man’s bluff, involving the enforced participation of a goose. Politically correct?  Not in the slightest. Several men and women wearing blindfolds were groping around for a goose that had been shown to them beforehand and then (much to our relief) removed.  How wonderful to have the welfare of the animal at heart, we mistakenly thought.  Moments later, the games master set down the bird, who was pounced on and almost throttled by an over-enthusiastic competitor. We lost the ending of the video (divine intervention?), but have the first part here.  Very funny (see for yourself). Note: the goose was not actually hurt.  There were another four geese - so they could have a rest between bouts. (Hmm.) 

 French Quacking

It was still light when we arrived to sample the main course and were handed a plate of ham and dish of beans.  And more wine.  We sat on hay bales and were entertained by backward facing horn players, some of them new recruits by the sound of it.  Fabulously different and all in good fun.  (See video.)

Darkness fell and there were stars.  We walked on through woods marked with luminous paint where a tree stump or rock may have tripped a walker.  The crowds had thinned and when we came to an enormous cornfield I found myself alone.  Al and Alfie had gone on ahead spouting names of footballers who had been bought and sold for millions of pounds, which was, apparently, quite normal.  I savoured the solitude, enjoying the sound of the wind in the corn, until I started to remember scenes from ‘Signs’ – you must know it.  Of course I wasn’t afraid.  There are no such things as aliens.  I just had an urgent desire to walk a bit faster, that was all. Al and Alfie were waiting for me at the end of the field.  They'd had the same thoughts – Mel Gibson swinging away with a baseball bat. 

By the time we saw the lights of the village I was on the verge of getting tired of walking through heaps of stinking dried grass, wondering whether I should have eaten all those crabsticks and beans and sure that this walk had been much shorter than the previous one (not complaining).  Al and Alfie investigated the desserts at the final stop, but left the slices of fruit tart alone in the end.  I think they’d been hoping for a nice ice cream or chocolate mousse.  It was getting on for midnight and I made hot chocolate when we got home just for a bit of sweetness to end the day.

We were tired and clammy, but very glad to have gone.  Andy Murray won his match and I had the chance to watch Federer make mince meat of the poor chap a couple of days later.

Many, many thanks to all the folk who organised the food and the fun.  No doubt the English giants will be back for more next summer.

fromage et vin - delicious


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Review: The Undertaker's Son

Cathy Ryan reviews The Undertaker's Son.  Set in France, this is the story of Martha Burton, who is ready to start a new life.  The people she meets have their own hopes and dreams, some not so admirable...  The people she doesn't get to know will nevertheless have a profound influence on her, none more so than Claude Cousteau, the undertaker's son...

Author's note: This review is of the original edition of The Undertaker's Son. The current edition has been substantially revised and edited with a new ending.

Cathy Ryan reviews The Undertaker's Son

Monday, 15 June 2015

Review: 'Morgrim's Wood' by Carrie Ann Lahain

Imagine the worst thing that could happen to you then tell yourself that you have to `move on'. Clichés can be cruelly euphemistic. Morgrim's Wood is the place Pamela German chooses to escape to so that her home can be transformed in her absence. Only then, can she come to terms with her grief. But in the family cabin in the woods, she is reminded of childhood memories that hint at clues she has missed until now. Clues that will lead her back to her daughter, Kate. Mysterious? It is. Packed with original and likeable characters, an evil that must be defeated, and centred around a personal story of courage and enlightenment, 'Morgrim's Wood' kept me (happily) prisoner for a couple of days. I love the magical kingdom, the time shifts, the battles. It reeks of imagination. No glaring errors here, either. I like an author I can read with confidence. More please.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I should mention first of all that I bought Station Eleven after reading a review on one of my favourite blogs:

It starts obliquely.  Nothing much happening apart from a middle-aged actor going through multiple mid-life crises and messing up his lines, before collapsing on stage.  Who would have guessed that it would turn out to be an end-of-the-world story? 

I would have said that I didn’t like post-apocalyptic as a genre.  But there is something more to Station Eleven than the gruesome demise of the human race, and I was delighted that Mandel didn’t go in for vicarious deathly detail.  Instead, she follows the survival of diverse groups of people who have made it through the epidemic and created various kinds of communities.  Some are more appealing than others.  All are leftfield and (in my opinion) perhaps a little esoteric. 

What really drew me in were Mandel’s observations.  A world without electricity, juxtaposed with the desire to flick a switch, just to bring back the memory of what it felt like to flood a room with light.  An obsession with travel and telecommunications -  in the new world there are children who have grown up not knowing about the miracle of the Internet, who gasp at the implausibility of rockets to the moon. 

And, there is ‘Station Eleven’ – Dr. Eleven and his psychedelic comic book story of a spaceship drifting in a parallel universe, its inspirational close-ups and bubble language building from the past and influencing the future in the most unpredictable of ways.  Its slogan and epitaph ‘survival is insufficient’ (borrowed from an episode of Startreck).

Like any good story, there are characters you care about.  Their hopes and aspirations cruelly shattered by the epidemic.  Mandel creates a retrospective poignancy with remembered lives set against a bleak future.  Many questions are raised about what it is that should be kept from the past and shared with the children growing up in the future.  The intimation that there will be a future is deeply consoling.

One of the most interesting reads so far this year.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Review: 'The Black Hours' by Alison Williams

I must say that I was gripped by this book.  There are parts that are so suspenseful that I had to sneak off and hide so that I could finish a chapter in peace!  The character of Matthew Hopkins is remarkably drawn and I note at the end of the book that Alison Williams did a great deal of research into the subject of witch hunting in 17th century England before writing this book.  Hopkins is both evil and almost childlike in his actions.  He never fails to justify his beliefs with logic that, to him, is water-tight.  His victims are helpless in the face of his practised undermining of their defence, and we are made to feel the intensity of their suffering and the terrors that await them.  The settings are beautifully drawn, the characters absorbing, and the story all the more devastating for being based on fact.  If you like great writing with archetypal heroes and villains portrayed with skill and sensitivity, this book is for you.  More, please!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

My French Life this week

Sunday 31st May

A downpour at nine this morning hindered my energetic leap into the garden for my regular jogging experience.  I like to run round the garden when I can.  I don’t like to wear lycra in public.  Why do I like to run?  It gives me something to tell my doctor when he asks whether I do any exercise and it helps me sort out my muddled mind.  Oh, and I can listen to music I enjoy without my two teenage sons’ unwanted comments.  

This week has been extra muddled because, apart from running a (shockingly unsuccessful) promotion on one of my books, which I fear has a misleading title and an inappropriate cover, not to mention a mere three (glowing) reviews, I have a teenage son who is revising for his Baccalaureate, another who isn’t (torture, torture), and a husband who has to fix the digibox connection that was broken as a result of the removal of bindweed from the satellite dish and cables.  It was my fault.  I apologised. Click on this link if you like reading about the difference between signal strength and signal quality: What?  I did, and it has led me round in several circles, all of them leaving me none the wiser.

Other highlights this week have included three visits to the Mairie to sort out planning applications for my sister’s house in the next village; catching a lizard who was hiding between my younger son’s mattress and bed base (remembering at the last minute that lizards can’t fly and taking it downstairs into the garden), and, finally, beginning to watch Game of Thrones with my husband, after the boys have gone to bed.  Oh, la la!  Episode five (and maybe six) of series one tonight.  Cushions plumped and corkscrew handy.  Who needs a digibox!

Which one can fly?  Answer: neither.

Happy Days!

Monday, 18 May 2015

New and ON SALE at 99p until May 30th. Revised, and with additional chapters: 'The Undertaker's Son'. Martha is lucky. Financially independent, young, and ready to start a new life in France. If only she could find the right man! But other, darker forces are at work, and life in Charente Maritime is not the idyll she thinks it is. This is romance with a very dark twist.

One of the beautiful things about publishing your work on Kindle is that it is possible to re-publish at any time.

I'm not talking about cutting corners in the first place, knowing that you can fix mistakes later.  That would be counter-productive in so many ways.  The process of writing a novel is many-layered and, at times, crushingly dull.  When the fifth draft has been approved by beta readers, sent to a professional editor, edited and revised, there is formatting, proofreading and, inevitably, a final reading (or two) by the author, just to make sure everything is as it should be.

So why would I re-publish a novel that took the best part of a year to bring to Kindle readers the first time around?

Well, there are two reasons.  The first is that I have (surely?) improved as a writer over the past eighteen months, so back in March when I spent an afternoon re-reading 'The Undertaker's Son' because I had nothing else to read at the time, I noticed things I didn't like.  Once I'd finished, I had various ideas that would not disappear until I'd explored them fully.  Should I add another chapter about Claude Cousteau?  Did I like the ending enough?

Two months later, having taken a lot longer than I imagined (fellow authors will know that this is not unusual), and having gone through the same stages of checking and double-checking as I did with the original version, I pushed the 'publish' button.  A few hours have elapsed, and I have just received an email from Amazon to say that my new edition is 'live'.  I've checked it again (obviously) and it looks fine.

Oh, I said there were two reasons, didn't I?  The second is that I want to bring out a paperback later this month.  I still like to hold a physical book in my hands, and I want it to be absolutely perfect, if it can be (probably not possible in the real world...but I have to give it a go!).

Anyway, if you have already bought 'The Undertaker's Son', Amazon will send you the updated version free of charge - you just have to ask.  And thank you for buying it in the first place!

If, however, you think you might like to read the description and/or the first chapters, just click here:

And thank you for looking.  No, really!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Review - The Ways of Mud and Bone by Carrie Ann Lahain

I loved the title and was intrigued by the subject matter: An American point of view on the struggle of the allies during the Great War. Lahain paints a picture of an American community divided by politics, neighbour set against neighbour, with violence never far beneath the surface. Add to this the outbreak of influenza which strikes without discrimination, and you have a small town in meltdown.

France seems almost like an adventure to Meryl, her sister and her friends. She is inspired by a desire to care for the casualties of war and sets off for the front to do what she can. Needless to say, the reality of battle is a shock to the volunteers, even though they believe themselves to be ready for such a challenge. Meryl struggles with the consequences of a world turned upside down, which will never be the same again. She is sensitive and intelligent, unsentimental and pragmatic. Relationships in this novel are subtle, understated. We have to read between the lines, sense the meaning of simple gestures. But against the horrific backdrop of chaos and death, in action scenes that are all too realistic, there is still room for hope.

I read a little everyday, often sneaking off to find out what happened next, wanting a sliver more to mull over. I held the dwindling pages (I bought the book, but I see it is available on Kindle too), and wished that Meryl’s story could continue. Highly recommended – a literary gem.

I see that the Kindle version is only 99p for the next few days.  Not to be missed, I say!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.

I’ve read everything by this author (except The Bone Clocks, which is on my list), and so I knew that I would have to have my wits about me with this most ambitious work.  (I’m still trying to come to terms with all the intricacies of Cloud Atlas, a most epic piece of writing, which I have read twice and will probably read again at some point.)

The setting for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is Japan, which is a place Mitchell goes back to time and time again, having lived there with his Japanese wife before eventually settling in Ireland.  This time we are sailing into Nagasaki harbour to rendezvous at Dejima, a small trading post. We arrive on a Dutch ship at the end of the 18th century.  International trade between Japan and the rest of the world is limited. 

Our understated protagonist, Jacob de Zoet, is an honest man, a trader employed by the Dutch East India Company who is given the task of validating the accounts concerning the merchandising of goods in Dejima.  He soon finds himself amongst liars and thieves, eager to influence him in any way they can.  At first, de Zoet seems naïve, but he bides his time and does not stumble into the traps that are set for him. 

Love is a central theme, too.  Realism is the order of the day, but romance often bubbles up to inspire us.  Jacob talks about a girl he has left behind, and obsesses about a midwife he meets in Dejima during a hilarious set-to with a chimpanzee called William Pitt. 

The plot is intricate, the characters many and complex – far more than seems necessary at first.  But, please, persevere – it’s worth it!  Mitchell involves every level of society, with a Shakespearean eye for detail. The dialogue is ubiquitous and complicatedly Pinteresque, peppered with asides and minute observations that give an immediate sense of place or emotional insight. There is horror, murder, betrayal and double-dealing.  There is humour when you least expect it, often in the form of farce and, more often than not, involving William Pitt, who is there at the beginning and still around at the end of this epic adventure.

When I came to the final pages, I’ll admit that I thrilled at the idea of a momentous conclusion.  Time slowed as I devoured each word, not wanting my enjoyment to end, imagining scenarios that I suspected were too cliched for a Mitchell masterpiece.  What happens?  Ah, you wouldn’t want me to tell you, would you?  Suffice to say, if you love literary genius, you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Writing Psychological Drama

'I love things that leave room to dream and are open to various interpretations.' David Lynch

Think you know me?

People do the strangest things, don't they?

You live in a street for years and then, suddenly, you watch the arrival of a police car and see your neighbour being cuffed and escorted to the back seat, police hand on head, quiet as a lamb, while his wife stands on the driveway crying and his older son screams that he'll cut off his father's balls for what he's done to his younger brother.

This is the same man who borrowed your lawn mower and cleaned it carefully before returning it; the same man who planted out a Christmas tree for next year; the same man who polished his car every Sunday afternoon, listening to R.E.M. on his in-car sound system.

It's probably not a great idea to wonder too much about what lies behind the eyes of the people you know.  Except, that is, if you write books.  Books about real people.  Books that delve into the psychology of an ordinary human being and come up with aspects that might not be all that admirable or even desirable.

What is an ordinary person, anyway? Someone who goes to college, gets a job, marries a man who loves her and lives in his beautiful house? Maybe.

Think you know her?  Think you know what she is capable of?  Of course you do.  There are no thoughts she has had that are new.

In literature, what it boils down to is genre.  Is this character going to fall in love and live happily ever after?  Is she going to overcome an incredible obstacle and save herself/her loved ones/the world?  Is she going to batter her husband with a leg of lamb and serve the murder weapon, roasted, to the police? (Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl).  Is she going to make us laugh?  Make us cry? Scare us half to death?

The point is that we don't know what's going to happen.  In dark psychological drama, we know there is something awful that is going to be exposed at some point.  We imagine what it might be. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong.  That's the fun of it. We are rarely happy, though, if the plot is too obvious.  We like our twists and turns.

Although the following quote is related to scene setting, I think it also applies to unravelling the hidden psychology of a character.  

"To me a mystery is like a magnet.  Whenever there is something that's unknown, it has a pull to it.  For instance, if you were in a room and there was a doorway open and stairs going down and the light just fell away, you didn't even see the bottom, where the stairs ended, you'd be very much tempted to go down there."  David Lynch

We want to find out what the protagonist is really like, so we allow ourselves to be lured.

Of course, characters from literature are not the same as real people.  How can they be?  We know something about them, but detail can never be comprehensive.  Perhaps we are told that the protagonist has had a difficult life, a privileged existence, or a sublime childhood.  We are fed information that will create interest.  We fill in the gaps.  And, when we are reading a psychological drama, we make value judgements.  Oh, we can't help it! The protagonist's actions, her thoughts and decisions are fair game.  Usually, we want to like her, to admire her, to see her get through.  But she must not behave badly all the time if she wants us to travel with her and hold her hand.

My neighbour didn't say much when they took him away.  He didn't look at his wife, or his son. But, as the police car pulled away, he looked at me and I saw, just for a moment, into his black heart. Everything I'd thought I'd known about him was re-written in that split second.  He was evil. He would be punished, and rightly so.  There could be no mitigating circumstances for his actions. I had made my judgement.

If his story were told, we would despise his crime.  If he were a character in a book, we would search for empathy until we finally discovered what he'd done.  There are people who would be able to forgive him and there are people who would not.  One thing is certain, though, most of us would be fascinated to know how an ordinary man, a neighbour who was just like everyone else in the street, could have turned out to be such a monster.

“I have a feeling that inside you somewhere, there's somebody nobody knows about.” Alfred Hitchcock

Alex Crane, the protagonist in My Grandfather's Eyes, is a complicated woman.  Most of the people who have reviewed this book have found little to admire in her.  They have filled in the gaps and made their judgements.  But they have found both Alex and her story fascinating.  

Psychological drama is one of my favourite genres.  I'd love to see Alex on the big screen, lit at an unexpected angle, semi-hidden from view, inviting us to follow her through the open door, down the stairs to where the light fades.  How much would she show us?  And how much would she hold back?

That would depend on the reader, don't you think?