Thursday 29 January 2015

My French Life - At last! The house of our dreams.

 (If you would like to read previous posts, please go to My French Life.)

By the end of January 2009, we still had no house of our own.  We wanted something habitable, in the countryside, with land and outbuildings for my husband, Al to renovate.  It had to have a nice garden and it had to have a garage to fill with motorbikes.  The list had been growing for over a year!  You may notice the total absence of practical concerns, like schools, transport, shops…

I’d already been to see a fair number of places, and had gone back to a few with Al and the boys for a second look.  There was always something wrong.  Mainly low roofs (we are a very tall bunch of people), lack of original features (ancient fire places replaced with shiny storage heaters), price (mythical) and condition.  We came close with a couple and went so far as to make an offer on a huge house which had been half renovated and which we would have bought if the price had come down just a little more.  The other offer was more of an act of desperation – so glad we didn’t go through with that one! 

Then it happened!  I was out with my favourite estate agent and she brought me to a house in Corme Royal – very posh!  It’s a medium-sized village with all the amenities you could ask for, and elegant buildings around its own busy market square.  I loved it as soon as I saw it.  But where was the house?  Would it be next to a power station?  Would it be big enough for four giants?  Would it have a garden?  On top of all these questions, it occurred to me that we hadn’t really considered buying in a village.

Just opposite the bakery, Anna took a left into an Impasse and pulled up in front of the third terraced house along.  Terraced! The façade was in need of attention, its tired paint flaking.  And it didn’t look very big at all.  There was just enough room to park outside and no sign of a garage.  I looked at Anna.  She was wearing her ‘don’t make up your mind yet’ expression.

Somebody didn't set the date!

Inside, the long hallway had an 80s disco feel, with enormous swirling patterns of very loud wallpaper and, half way along, a central heating boiler that looked as though it had been chosen as a feature, jutting out like a 19th century Dalek.  But, the floor was covered in 17th century tiles and, looking up, the ceiling had its original beams (generously glossed and yellowed by time).  After that, it only got better.  Two Charentaise fireplaces.  Two!   (Although they too had been recently slathered in white gloss).  Massive oak beams, solid hardwood floors and, piece de resistance! I glimpsed a walled garden of, as they say in every programme about house buying, a very good size.  Yipee!

Non-drip gloss!

There were two large reception rooms: one done out as a bedroom, complete with open plan toilet, lid up but luckily sans organic interest.  A dining room, a kitchen, three upstairs bedrooms and, surprisingly, along the back of the neighbouring house, a utility room, shower room, separate wc and a large chai (store room), which could be converted into more accommodation (bingo! – Al’s renovation project). 

Outside, the garden was about as big as one and a half tennis courts, with a couple of small stone outbuildings and a shelter for wood.  It was perfect.  Stone walls all around and no viz a viz!  What’s more, the neighbours’ gardens were strewn with beautiful mature trees to the right and centre.  To the left, there was the enormous 12th century village church! I couldn’t believe it.  Magnificent.  The clock chimed and I laughed.  Anna looked relieved – she’d shown me a lot of houses by this time.

January 2009!  Before we moved in.

Back outside, I was beginning to take ownership already, assessing the shutters, which seemed in excellent repair.  Then I remembered – garage! It would be, as they say, a deal breaker.  I turned to see Anna unlocking a large double door in a lovely stone built building opposite the house.  Thank the Lord and praise the angels!  There it was.  Big enough for a couple of motorbikes and plenty of other tools and junk. 

Anna drove me back to the gite and I fell upon Al, gushing with enthusiasm.  You have to come and see it!  This is the one!

Happy Days!

To be continued…

Monday 26 January 2015

Review of The Song of The Cypress by Tonia Parronchi

I won’t give a summary here, as other reviewers have already very efficiently done so. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. Tonia Parronchi’s practically flawless prose flows beautifully and is at times poetic.  The story itself is a mix of fairytale romance and mystical folklore, which I haven’t come across before.  I must say that the enchanted Cypress did not appeal to me much to start with, but as I progressed with the story, I understood that it added an interesting dimension to Annie’s new life in Italy.

I generally read two or three books at a time, and The Song of the Cypress was the one I wanted to settle down with an hour or so before bedtime because it is so uplifting and positive.  Rural Italy comes alive, with fabulous descriptions, traditional anecdotes and a welcome helping of local produce served up at sunny picnics, village feasts, or cosy meals for two in front of the fire.  Everything is rather perfect, but I enjoyed this indulgence – it was refreshingly uplifting and a great way to de-stress at the end of the day.

If I had to mention something negative, I’d say that the pace did stall from time to time, where there was occasional repetition, verbosity or inaction.  However, if you’re looking for a nice dose of romantic escapism, coupled with an authentic overview of life in a Tuscan village, written by an author who knows how to write, this book definitely fits the bill.

View on Amazon

Thursday 22 January 2015

*** Three Free Short Stories 23rd/24th January ***

Dear blog visitors,

Thank you for popping over to see what's happening on my blog.  I'm amazed and delighted to have regular page views - sometimes over one hundred per day!  Most gratifying.

As you can see, I'm offering three of my short stories free for a limited time and I hope that as many people as possible will take advantage of this, so if you would like to tell your friends, please do.

Short stories are not everyone's first choice, but they really do have a lot to offer.  It might be tempting to think that because they do not have the word count of a novel, they are simply dashed off in an hour or so and do not have much to offer in the way of characters or plot development.

In fact, short stories take months or even years to develop and polish.  The story may take place over a few minutes or a lifetime, the characters may be many or few, nevertheless the end product must have an emotional effect, and leave the reader changed in some way. With a limited word count, there must be a potency of expression that is not present in longer works.  I always know when I've read a good short story because I think about it for days afterwards.

I recently read and reviewed a wonderful short story by Alice Munro entitled 'Queenie'.  I still recall the power of the last sentence.  It's a story that I know I will go back to. You can read my review on this blog by clicking on 'Books I've Read'.

Of course, I do not dare to compare my stories with this great writer's masterpieces, but I do hope that I can hold my reader's attention while he reads and perhaps, just perhaps, as the last page is turned, make him glad that he chose to download one of my stories.

Friday 16 January 2015

Review: Dare to Lose by E. L. Lindley

I enjoyed this book on my Kindle, over Christmas. 

After a gentle start, the plot gets exciting when a young waitress disappears under mysterious circumstances.  Dare to Lose is essentially a ‘whodunnit’ incorporating a twist of romance, with a skilful measure of violence, danger and suspense.  The story is well constructed with great tension at times, and the characters, some of them extremely undesirable, are well drawn.  Nicola is a middle-aged woman who risks all she has built up over the years to start up a café, serving homemade meals and delicious cakes.  She’s a kind person, who suffers from a range of mild neuroses, especially when it comes to men.  She is in need of someone to love.  I especially like the protagonist’s mother, who is a frank, fun-loving, well-balanced person not afraid to break the stereotypical descriptors associated with ‘being old’.  Although Jack, the American love interest, is rather one-dimensional, I was interested in what would happen as his relationship with Nicola deepened.

Apart from a couple of spelling slips, the writing is almost flawless (which is important to me) with an easy style that flows and hardly ever jars.

I’d recommend this book if you like an exciting story with good pace and realistic characters. 

Thursday 1 January 2015

Review: Queenie by Alice Munro

Amongst the books I received at Christmas was a  tiny sixty-page short story entitled ‘Queenie’, by an author I’d never heard of: Alice Munro, now eighty-three years old and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  As a writer of short stories myself, I was curious to find out how this author could have earned the most prestigious of prizes for such an underrated art form.

I was excited.  Expecting miracles.  I was not to be disappointed.

It’s a slow burn, which is what I like.  Introductions are succinct and slick.  No information overload here. 

Queenie (real name, Lena) and Chrissy (the narrator) are half sisters, who leave their family home and follow very different paths. Their story is unremarkable, but that’s not what we’re digging for, as we read.  We sift through Chrissy’s observations of the beautiful but tragic Queenie.  We look for treasure, as she reveals little by little the faults in her sister’s marriage and hints at a possible alternative future. We hold our breath as, through Chrissy’s eyes, we take in the weight of a new perspective on someone she thought she knew, who suddenly seems strange to her.  There is little of substance in the plot.  But that is the point.  This is no quick fix.  The seeds are scattered and take time to grow.

What comes to the fore as we assess the girls’ individual predicaments, is the realisation that, with the passing of time, something precious, something familiar, is left behind.  Not just for Chrissy, but for all of us.  ‘Queenie’ captures and delivers an exquisite and ultimately overwhelming synthesis of those moments in life that pass us by and which are largely taken for granted, only coming back to haunt us later, arriving like shock waves, unsummoned and bewildering, as we perform our routine tasks, dumbed down and comfortable, as it were, in the microcosm of our present existence.  A word, a phrase, a smile, the tilt of a head takes us away, then leaves us bereft, wanting to find a way back but not knowing how to get there.

This wonderful story reminds us that, at a certain point, we no longer look to the future hoping for excitement or novelty as often as we look into the past for comfort and reassurance, or, if we are honest, with regret.  Alice Munro’s ‘Queenie’ once read, ripples through our minds, reminding us of those times, gone forever, that mean the world to us. 

Quite simply a masterpiece.