Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I have two very special guests today...

... friend and author, Marsali Taylor, and her central character, Cass Lynch...

‘Cass Lynch,’ my editor said.  ‘The Girl at the Heart of the Longship Case.’  He tended to think in cliches.  ‘Innocent Victim or Holllywood Star’s Love Triangle?’
‘Do my best,’ I said.
Once I got to Shetland, it looked like my best wasn’t going to be good enough.  ‘Cass Lynch?’ my contact said.  ‘Pulling teeth.  Look, she did two interviews.  The first one was after the body was found, with a policeman on each side.  The second one was a Guardian exclusive, with her mother – do you know about her mother?’
I’d done my homework.  ‘Oil man father, Irish, French opera singer mother.  Eugenie Delafauve.  Specialist in music from the court of the Sun King.’
‘And a turn on her own.  Dramatic plus.  Anyway, she presented Cass as the well-brought up young lady with her family around her.  The only time anyone’s ever seen her in a dress.  No awkward questions.  Since then, the barbed wire’s gone up.’  He looked thoughtful.  One hand rose slowly in a hang-on gesture. ‘Unless we approach her by sea …’
Which was how I came to find myself on board a sailing boat belonging to one of his mates, Barry, dodging ropes as the head-height piece of metal at the bottom of the sail crashed overhead.  Even in late July it was freezing, and I was very glad when, three hours later, our skipper nodded at the houses ahead of us and said, ‘Brae.’
I kept out of the way as he scrambled about hauling flapping sails down, and we chugged into the marina.  A boy in a navy jersey came out of one of the boats to indicate where we should park, and followed us over to stand, hand out, ready to take our ropes.
Out on the water
It was then I realised that I was looking straight at Cass Lynch herself.  I hadn’t expected her to be so small; five foot two, at a guess, and wearing sandshoes.  The jumper was a navy seaman’s gansey, too big for her, and worn above working jeans. She had a black plait hanging down her back, with the occasional curl breaking free around her ears.  For all her size, she was strong, pulling our thirty footer in on its line as if it was a rowboat, then she moved quickly around the dock, fastening one rope, going back to alter another, until she finally exchanged glances with Barry, and they nodded at each other, one seaman to another.  ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Give us ten minutes to tidy up, then come aboard for a cup of tea.’
She hesitated over that one.  I had a good look at her face now, tilted up towards us. The long, straight scar on her right cheek was lit by the sun, a snail-trail of white skin in her tanned face.  I’d read up on her lover’s death in the middle of the Atlantic; it was another thing I wanted to ask her about.  Apart from that, she had a stubborn chin, high cheekbones, dark lashes and eyes as blue as cornflowers.  The scar stopped her from being pretty, but she had a face you wouldn’t forget.
‘You can tell us about the local area,’ I said quickly, seeing the refusal trembling on her lips.  It was a shameless play on what she’d see as her duty to her fellow sailors, and it worked.
She nodded.  ‘Ten minutes, then.’
We had tea in mugs, out in the cockpit.  She was accompanied by a bearded Thor look-alike, introduced as Anders, with no further explanation.  He gave me a charming smile and asked if I objected to rats.  ‘Yes,’ I said firmly, and was startled to see him fish a large black and white beast out of his shirt and take it back to their own boat.
‘So,’ I said, once the livestock had been disposed of, and Barry and Anders had gone below to talk about the engine in a boys-together sort of way, ‘what’s around here?’  I tried not to look disparagingly round at the cluster of houses, though I had to concede that the green hills, the burns thick with formica-yellow marsh marigolds, the seaweed-fringed shoreline, the sparkling sea, was all scenic enough.
Her blue eyes were surprisingly shrewd, as if she was considering where she’d put me on board a ship.  ‘Depends what you want.  There’s a lot of Britain’s most northerly.  Indian take-away, chip shop, hairdresser, Co-op, fire station, astro-turf, high school.  The blue roof is the leisure centre, with a swimming pool, and there are showers in the clubhouse here.’
‘Historic stuff? Isn’t there a haunted house?’  It had been where the film crew had stayed, in the Longship case.
Her chin jerked off to the left.  ‘Busta,’ she conceded. ‘Oldest still-inhabited house in Shetland.  It’s a hotel now.’
I was going to have to use shock tactics.  I put on my best naïve expression and said, ‘Wasn’t that where all the film stars stayed, when there was the murder here?’
Her face went mutinous.  She shrugged.
‘Were you here then?’
A reluctant nod.
‘Involved with the filming?  Didn’t they moor the longship here?’
Her chin tilted again.  ‘At the pier there.’
‘Were you on board?’
Field of buttercups, Shetland
I could see she didn’t want to lie about it.  Her head went up, and her blue eyes looked directly at mine.  Suddenly she turned from a shabby near-boy to the captain of the ship, her voice authoritative.  ‘We don’t talk about it here.’  Her glance flicked down to the engine-room; she drained her tea, and rose.  ‘If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back.  Have a good stay here in Brae.’
I watched her unobtrusively for the rest of the evening; moving about below in her Khalida, in the gold of a lit oil lamp, coming up on deck to brush her teeth, with her hair a loose cloud about her shoulders.  I got a few good pictures, but there was no conversational opening for me to rush in.  I’d get her in the morning, two women in the showers together.
I was too late.  By half past eight the next morning, as I was heading for the clubhouse, make-up bag and towel in one hand, she was already dressed in a faded black all-in-one sailing suit, and starting to haul grey plastic dinghies about on the boating club slip.  I got an over-the-shoulder hello.  When I came out, she was surrounded by children in blue plastic overalls, drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. She could talk to them all right:  ‘Okay, so let’s look at the sea first.  How windy is it?’
Oh, well.  It wasn’t the first time I’d made up an interview from so little material.  I just had to decide the angle.  Cass Lynch was understandably tight-lipped about the events of the Longship Case … still finds it hard to talk about … ‘It was a difficult time,’ she admitted …
I glanced across at the slip and heard her voice again.  ‘What’s the tide doing?  Why does it matter?’  There was a mutter of voices, and then a scrum of children and a welter of flapping neon sails.  She moved among them, calm and competent, then clambered into a rubber boat and herded them out of the marina, like a swan rounding up unruly cygnets.  I shot a couple of photos; she turned to see where the flash had come from.  The sullen look was gone; now she was smiling.  She spun the rescue boat round in a roar of engine, setting the dinghies rocking in the wash.  The children shrieked with delight, and she laughed, and waved to me.
My car was bigger than the boat she lived in, and the cost of her whole wardrobe wouldn’t have bought me one pair of shoes, yet at that moment I suddenly envied her.  I deleted what I’d done, and began again.
Cass Lynch, the girl in the Longship Case, has moved on …



... about the author... Marsali Taylor’s writing career began with plays for her school pupils to perform in the local Festival. Her first Shetland-set crime novel starring quick-witted, practical sailor Cass Lynch and Inverness DI Gavin Macrae was published in 2013, and there are now five in the series, with a sixth due this November. Reviewers have praised their clever plotting, lively characters and vividly-evoked setting. Marsali’s interest in history is shown in her self-published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland, and Norse-set crime novella, Footsteps in the Dew. She helped organise the 2015 Shetland Noir festival, and is a ‘regular’ at Bloody Scotland and Iceland Noir.  She’s a columnist and reviewer for the e-zine Mystery People.

... about the book... When she wangles the job of skippering a Viking longship for a film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, which she ran away from as a teenager. Then the ‘accidents’ begin - and when a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass realises that she, her family and her past are under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae. Cass must call on all her local knowledge, the wisdom she didn’t realise she’d gained from sailing and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear them all of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.

You can follow Marsali on Amazon her  website and on Facebook

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Postcards from Auvergne with Marie Laval...

... I have the great pleasure to welcome friend and author, Marie Laval, to my blog today.  We're talking about the Auvergne - one of my faviourite areas of France to visit.  Marie you're just back from France, what have you got for us...
ML  I thought it would be easy to write about my recent holiday in Auvergne, about its beautiful countryside, lovely villages and chateaux (the region counts over 450, most of them private), or the many restaurants with their cheap and delicious 'menus ouvriers' (workmen's menus).  I  was wrong. There is so much to write about I found it really hard to choose, so I will focus on two very special places that captured my imagination.  The first is Souvigny, a quiet and unspoilt little town located in the Allier département, North of Vichy.
AW  Souvigny!  It's quite a while since I was last there.  Please remind me what it's like...
The Herboristerie
ML  We wandered the quiet streets lined with stunning medieval and Renaissance houses, including the ruined former palace of the Bourbons, and did a bit of shopping in the 'Herboristerie' before visiting the Priory Church of Saint-Peter and Saint-Paul.  There is a quirky legend about that church, which is very grand for such a small village.  It was supposedly built by fairies in just one night, and when a local milkmaid saw it emerge from the morning mist, she was so shocked she was instantly changed into stone.
The Church dates from the 11th and 15th century, and is a testimony to the importance of the town as a pilgrimage centre and as a centre for the Bourbons who ruled much of the region at the time.  The interior is stunning, not only because of its mix of Roman and Gothic architecture, but also the chapels with sepulchres of Bourbons dukes dating back from the 14th century.  The church also hosts the sepulchres of Saint Mayeul (Majolus in English) and Saint Odilon, two of the most revered abbots from the prestigious Cluny Abbey.  Next to the church the lapidary museum is well worth a visit too, with its famous 'Zodiac column', a 12th century column with carvings representing harvest or grape-picking scenes, but also fantasy animals and monsters, and the signs of the Zodiac.
The beautiful gardens at Souvigny
What I loved the most however were the priory gardens.  They were organised by the capitulary De Villis, which was edited by Charlemagne in the beginning of the 9th century, and which recommended the plantation of 90 plants known for their medicinal properties in monastic and laymen's gardens.
The gardens are a riot of colours and scents.  You will find garlic, roses, tansy, common sage, mustard, marigolds, leek, carrots, parsley, muskmelon, cardoon, coriander, cucumber, tarragon, rocket, parsnip, radishes, sage, burdock, flax, mallow, chicory, lettuce, to name but a few!     When we were there, there was an exhibition of  'bancs poèmes' with artists designing benches to illustrate a poem of their choice. Some of them were a bit strange and very impractical, but others simply stunning and were it not for the price and the impossibility of packing one in my suitcase I would have loved to take one home!
You can find more information about Souvigny here.
AW  I'd forgotten there wass so mcuh to see there!  You said there were two places, so where are we going next?
ML  The second place I fell in love with is Montaigu-le-Blin, a village we discovered by chance as we were driving through.  Apart from the medieval castle standing on a small hill which is being renovated by young volunteers, this tiny village boasts several magnificent bourgeois houses ('maisons de maître'), a tiny and delightful Roman church, and a ancient wood with two 'magic' stones, named God's Font and the Devil's Font.
We had a stroll through the village streets and sat down in the large village square - a listed site with over 143 chestnut, oak, lime trees, many of them dating from the early nineteenth century.  The village has two renowned auberges on opposite ends of the square, but sadly they were too expensive...
AW  That's somewhere I haven't discovered yet, but it's marked on my map now!
Chateau de Chareil-Cintrat
ML  There are so many other places worth visiting, especially if, like me, you like chateaux. 
AW  I most certainly do.
ML  The chateau of La Palice with its fascinating history (more information about it here) and the charming Renaissance chateau de Chareil-Cintrat, set amongst ancient vineyards which boasts unique wall paintings (more information about it here).
A week wasn't enough for all the places we wanted to see, and I hope we can return very soon...
AW  Marie, thank you for visiting and for giving up some of your very valauable time to tell us about the Auvergne.  Most interesting.  I hope you make back there soon, I know I will be planning a trip there in the very near future.

...and you can follow Marie on Amazon   Facebook  Twitter and on her Blog

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

In finding your voice...

...today, I have the great pleasure to host friend and author, Dafni Ma, on my blog.  Hi there, and thanks for giving up your valuable time to be here.  And Dafni has a post about a subject that caused me some considerable anguish when I first made a foray into the world of writing.  It's just that Dafni presents the difficuties far better than I ever could...

It’s not only multitalented people who come across the dilemma: “which art form would better express what I have to say?”  This was me also, and I don’t consider myself multitalented (or ever particularly talented for that matter).  To decide that I am going to express through writing took a long LONG time, a dance diploma, seminars in acting – directing – screenwriting – playwriting – painting – photography, three year studies in film making, and, well, an epiphany.

After that, I had the mistaken impression that this was it; I had found the magic elixir, the dragon was half-dead, I had discovered my bliss and now the only thing I had to do was follow it to the ends of time.  And then that beautifully pronounced word came to crush all my plans: Genre.
Kay Nielsen
East of the Sun West of the Moon

When I started writing, I had a story that was burning inside me and all that; simply put, I had already planned my first novel and it was a romance.  I didn’t know what kind of romance though, so I started it as a screenplay- it would be a romantic comedy.  Realising quickly that it would almost definitely never get produced, I changed the form to a novel.  At that time, I was reading chick-lit by British authors like a hungry vampire that had suddenly came across a slumber party of 19 year old virgins.  So chick-lit was my genre, great, I knew how to do that, and after a couple of months, I actually did it: I had now, a finished novel.

At this point, I could add a paragraph on the heart-breaking journey I went through to find a publisher, but I’ll spare you with the details.  Just imagine rejections flying in my e-mail like Hitchcock's “The Birds”- me, pretending not to care - me, screaming “Why? God Why?” to the winds, well, you have the picture, moving on.  I got published.

I then got into a phase in my life where poetry was the centrefold.  From Traditional Haiku to Modern American, from Shakespeare to Eliot, etc.  So, I started writing poetry.  I self-published one collection.  As time went by, I realised that I really liked this stream of consciousness thing.  So, I self-published a memoir.  Then I got into non-fiction books: Started writing one about Shakespeare.  Science fiction: Started writing three novels, ditched them at about 15,000 words.  Metafiction: Wrote multiple short stories.  Kid’s poetry: Wrote a collection.  You do get the picture.
Arthuir Rackham
The Hare & the Tortoise

Yes, there is a conclusion and here it comes.  Lately, I’ve been spending most of my time being worried about my future as a writer and the thing is, I don’t feel good about what I have published.  It seems messy.  And I don’t mind a bit of messiness in my personal life (as the past has clearly showed me), but I have decided that my career has to be one of those things where I know where I am going, even if blindfolded.
I have finally decided on a genre, that, most definitely, I will deviate from at some point.  But fantasy it what always triggered me, from the first story I’ve ever read to the recent last one. So, there.  This is my road now: it’s paved with oddness and mist and two witches who kissed (and the occasional quirky rhymes).

The words are yet to come.

You can follow Dafni on Amazon  Facebook & Twitter