Sunday, 21 January 2018

Sunday walking in France

Love this house in Pontaillac

Due to lack of interest on behalf of my husband and son, who were involved in DIY and planning a trip to Thailand, respectively, I set off to Royan for a walk along the coast on my own.  I like walking on my own, especially by the sea, but I don’t do it often enough. 

Just after 11.00 am and no one about on the coastal path.  Blue skies, sunshine and stepping out in comfortable shoes and kagoule (apparently there are four different spellings of kagoule) in case it rains.

I am hit immediately by an amazing thought – that the brain is like a musical instrument.  It can be played, plucked, strummed.  As I proceed at an even pace contemplating the metaphor (which I know to be flawed) I am aware of several competing ‘tracks’ vying for space, with the rhythmic backing of the sea rushing like wind through trees. After a minute or two of appalling self indulgence, I return to more practical musings…I can often get above myself.

Practical musings generally mean how to progress with my current work in progress.  I hear you yawn.  

With my current novel near completion, safe and fully absorbed inside my brain, my mind turns to what comes next?  I have two choices: a half-written manuscript, literary in genre, about a woman who travels to Turkey and Greece, recounting tales of her experiences (mostly to her daughter) when she returns out of the blue – she left years ago to run away with her soul mate, Sebastian Love.  I’ve called it Joanna Love’s Stories.

Or, there is the thriller without a title that’s been going round in my head involving a rather stiff solicitor, his promiscuous wife, and a young girl he sees from his office window, who fascinates him in ways he cannot understand.  It’s a story of class, trickery and betrayal. There will be at least one murder and just the right number of red herrings.

I play around with points of view, clever twists, intriguing plots, knowing that this is perhaps the most enjoyable phase of writing – when the creative process is still fluid, before anything is written in stone.

With the sea rushing and the the waves lifting against the rocks, anything seems possible and, all at once, I become conscious that I may be grinning like a maniac.

waves crashing onto rocks - how tame they seem here

After a lunch of warm quiche and less warm coffee in Pontaillac I wander around the backstreets, looking at mostly closed up houses, muttering to myself in an abstract kind of way, and then descend onto the beach, choosing a line of surf debris to follow.  In the past, I've found a two-euro coin and a tiny silver ring.  Today the treasures are buried too deeply.

I stop midway to watch the surfers.  I wish I were one of them and imagine going into the surf school office to enquire about lessons.  Why not? I tell myself.  I may not be in my twenties, but I'm still game.  The sea heaves in slow motion, rising humps fall and crash in white foamy fractals.  Some of the surfers catch the right moment and ride in, others float on their stomachs watching and waiting.

I continue on my way – there’s a man staring out to sea while his small son draws circles in the sand with a stick.  A little way off a couple with a toddler staggering and squealing kiss, the man pushing back a strand of his wife’s hair.  People gather in their bubbles of happiness and reflection and I feel a surge of empathy, just another soul out to feed her eyes and treat her brain to a bit of beauty and peace.

On and up the steps, round the cliffs, past the grassy bunkers and exercise machines where families take turns, for fun.  Round another corner and there’s Royan.  My Smartwatch beeps to tell me I’ve done 10,000 steps, my daily target.  But I’m not finished yet.

An experiment to amuse myself.  How many people will smile back at me if I smile first?  There are crowds now, after lunch strolling.  Couples, parents, children.  A couple younger than me come towards me, their children on skate boards in the road.  I think ‘liberal’ I think ‘joyous’ I think ‘irresponsible’.  The man gives me an enormous grin and the woman, knowing somehow that I am a mother too, smiles with her whole being, shepherding her children to keep them in her sight.  She will watch over them and keep them safe.  Next there is a woman wearing garish lipstick, her skin weather beaten, her eyes narrowed against the sunshine.  She rewards me with a beautifully all encompassing smile – she knows the stage I’m going through – your birds have flown the nest and you’re looking forward whilst still looking back – her expression seems a comfort and also wry with secrets.  Now a family group advances, blocking the pavement, the matriarch in her eighties or nineties, on her daughter’s arm.  Gathered around them, a quiet husband and two bright teenage girls, grandchildren doing their duty.  No smiles for me – they are a closed unit, stopping suddenly en masse for the daughter to wrap a scarf around her mother’s neck.  I wonder what it feels like to be old and to be guided along, having lost the ability or the will, or both, to stride out independently as I do now.  I get an aura of acceptance edged with tedium – but I might be surmising too boldly.  I try to catch the old lady’s eye, but she doesn’t want me to – perhaps, to her, I am insignificant – just another passer by. Of course I am.

And then I think: how do I look to others?  I’d like to know.  Dressed as I am for winter on a sunny January day in south west France, removing layers as the afternoon warms up.  I carry my gloves and scarf inside my bobble hat, using it like a bag.  Inside my bulging grey windproof jacket, I have my purse, my phone, half a salmon and leek quiche, a pack of tissues, car keys and a Murray mint.  I wear the black trousers I use for gardening and the blue and white trainers I bought for running last year.  I have on odd socks, but no one can see them.  My face is scrubbed clean, my hair, too long for my age (so says my mother), flies out in the breeze.  And I’m smiling outwardly as well as inwardly, greeting all who pass with empathy and optimism.  What do they see?

In kindly mood I arrive at Royan beach where dogs on leads pull their owners along, and the scene makes me think of a painting, comical and full of fun.  The crowds are dispersed along the endless sand, all out for an afternoon by the sea, thinking, like me perhaps, how wonderful it is to be out in the world on such a day.

I walk still, reluctant to turn back towards the town but eventually making for steps to the promenade where more organised strolling is in evidence.  Couples, some with their sons and daughters, or grandchildren, each belonging to the other in different ways and yet each looking out through eyes that feed an individual mind. 

people on the beach at Royan - I must get a better camera

I arrive back at my car and remove my coat.  Throw my things on the back seat.  Get in and notice what it feels like to be stationary.  I drive home in placid contentment.  I’ve had a perfect day, watching others equally glad to have come to the winding coast and, just for a while, leave their daily lives behind.

Happy days!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

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.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Goodreads Giveaway now ended. Winner announced. Book in the post!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Stranded in the Seychelles by Bev Spicer

Stranded in the Seychelles

by Bev Spicer

Giveaway ends January 11, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, 4 January 2018

My French Life

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year!

And thank goodness Christmas is over.  Not that I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but sherry trifle and meringues and cream can do a lot of damage!

With storm Carmen lingering, I think this has been one of the worst bits of weather we’ve had here in Charente Maritime for quite a while.  Didn’t stop me getting out there, though.  I’ve cleaned my boots at least three times, dried out numerous coats, hats and scarves most indecorously on radiators and had the tumble dryer going for hours at a time.  Still the rain comes down and the wind whistles.

It’s nice to spend more time writing, as things return to normal.  I’m heavily into a second edit of my Alice Candy novel (Book Two), which is covered with notes and suggestions from my tireless and shrewd editor, who cares about my book more than my sensibilities (thank goodness).  Everything makes more sense when I read her comments.  And, slowly but surely, I see my manuscript turning into something more like a ‘finished’ book.  I still have no title or cover – the most frustrating jobs for me.  Really impossible.  I have a wonderful professional cover designer to produce the artwork, but it’s my job to provide ideas.  A big font, a catchy title and a couple of shiny symbols: a country house, a painting, a speeding car.  How to show the reader what kind of book it is, without ending up with a cliché?

It can wait a while longer.

The interior has me hooked for the time being.

In the meantime, there are distractions: a trip abroad for one son during his gap year, driving lessons for another and a wedding day to help plan for my daughter.  All thrilling in different ways.  And expensive!  Looks as though we’ll be in thrift mode for a while, which I kind of welcome after the excesses of the past weeks.

Happy Days!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Fun with Bev and Carol - Promotion now ENDED!

Just to let you know I'm running a price promotion on all my humorous memoirs beginning on November 28th for three - seven days (depending on the ebook).  At the bottom of this post I've included a short extract from Bunny on a Bike so you can see whether you empathise with a rather easily distracted Bev as she undergoes a particularly challenging test to become a Playboy croupier.

There are four books in the Bev and Carol series (all but one are available in paperback too):




Here's the extract, where Bev and Carol take the second maths test included in the Playboy selection process:

More Maths (this time, ‘mental’)

Keith was right, there was more to come.

‘Please record your answers on the paper provided, clearly numbered and legibly written.  Take care to keep to the correct numbering.  You will hear the questions once and have ten seconds to calculate and note down your answer.’
We had made it through to the final hurdle.  There were twenty-seven of us left, which meant that seven of us would not get a job, according to a girl called Desdemona, who, apparently, hadn’t heard of a ‘geezer’ called Shakespeare.
Suddenly maths seemed more important.  I had scored ninety-five on the written maths test, one more than Carol. Result!  Keith had got eighty-three.

We were spaced out, spatially speaking, so that copying would be impossible this time, and I knew that I was on my own.  In some twisted way, this was invigorating as I felt, unjustifiably, that I was up to the challenge. I flexed my mental muscles and took a deep breath – oxygen to the brain, in lieu of a gin and tonic - memories of my French Oral exam at ‘O’ level came flooding back.  Carol gave me a look that said, ‘You have a bogey on the end of your nose.’  And I stared back with a, ‘Your right boob is more droopy than your left one.’  We were as relaxed as we could be under the circumstances and ready for the first question.

‘Question one.  Seven times nine?’
The numbers fed into my brain and it spoke to me: Easy peasy.  Ten sevens are seventy, less seven, means nine sevens are sixty-three.  It appeared that I had forgotten my nine times table.  Oh well, never mind.
‘Question two.  Eleven times thirteen?’
Bit more tricky. Ten thirteens are one hundred and thirty, plus thirteen, makes one hundred and forty-three.  Thank you brain. And so it went on.  After a few minutes, I heard a soft blubbing noise behind me, and Desdemona was led away by one of the assistants. One down, six to go.   I looked over to where Keith was sitting and he winked at me.  I stuck out my tongue and smiled broadly, waiting for the test to continue.