Tuesday, 13 April 2021

April 13th Cycling the Canal du Bourgogne...

... from lock 83 to 90.  Come and join me...

I’m heading down the canal today, towards its source.  So this trip means that I will be cycling downhill.  The canal's lowest point is where it joins the river Yonne a little further west of Tonerre.  However I'm not going that far today as there's yet another fabulous chateau that I want to see.  From where I'm camped at Lézinnes it’s up to the main road, the D905, across the river and then a left onto the canal path.  From here it's a steady run through Vinnemer to Tanlay and the marina.  At Tanlay there's a wide basin and picnic area.  I can park the bike here, cross the canal and walk into yet another sleepy little village.
With a population of around 1000 people, it’s one of the larger villages on the canal, but, as I stroll from the marina and along the main street, as always, the place is quiet and mostly deserted.  Grande rue brings you right out in front of the petit château - what we Brits would call the gatehouse or the lodge - and access is over a walled moat.
At the time the chateau was built the moat and the bridge that crosses it from the town would have been very necessary precautions during France’s turbulent past.  Indeed, as large and as gracious as the building is, if you look at the masonry above the entrance to the gatehouse closely you will see military devices carved into the stonework indicating that soldiers were probably garrisoned here at some point.
Built a little after the château at Ancy-le-Franc, this property is a shining example of French Renaissance style and form rather than Italian – that southerly influence having been eschewed.  The building has symmetry and is beautifully decorated both inside and out.  I was not prepared for what I found inside.
Constructed by François de Coligny d’Andelot, in the mid-sixteenth century, it replaced a feudal fort and provided a sumptuous upgrade on what would have been little better than garrison life.  Since the late seventeenth century the house has been and still is, in the possession of the Thévenin de Tanlay family.
The stunning Long Gallery
The tours around the property are guided. I prefer to wander through such places at my own pace.  However, this property did not disappoint.  The great gallery is a stunning example of trompe I’œil in monochrome.  As I stood at one end of the room and gazed around I could imagine ladies in fabulous gowns and gentlemen in their doublets.  I could almost hear the soft swish of the silk, lace and velvet as these imaginary ladies moved across the floor.  Had I been an independent visitor I would probably have written a story in my head before I moved up the spiral staircase to the next floor.  But that was not to be and I, along with three others, was ushered out.
Up on the top floor, there are some lovely views of the grounds, but it had started to rain whilst I was inside so I passed on the opportunity to get pics.  But in the turret room was a secret place.  A small circular room has a fresco on the ceiling attributed to the Fontainebleau school of art that depicts notable people from the sixteenth century.  Our guide then lets us into the secret.  The turret room was the meeting place for Huguenot conspirators during the Wars of Religion.  I make a mental note to do some research when I get home.  It is quite apparent that this period of history is as important to the French as our own Wars of the Roses are to us.
The walk back to get the bike is under a grey and threatening sky.  I decide not to hang about and make the trip back from Tanlay (Lock 90) to Lézinnes (Lock 83) without stopping.  It’s just over 10Ks but it’s uphill this time!  I’m back at the campsite just before the heavens opened.  The rain didn’t stop for the next three days…

I will be taking another trip along the canal on May 18th and if you want to read about other stretches of the canal you can find my posts Here and Here

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Please welcome friend and author, D J Swykert...

... to my blog today.  Hi David, and thanks very much for making time in your busy schedule to be here.  So, tell me what is your latest release?

DS  Lebo, released in June 2020 which I edited and co-wrote portions of it with a young African writer from Botswana.  The latest release solely written by me is For the Love of Wolves, released in May 2019.
AW   What first got you into writing and why?
DS  I started writing poetry in my late teens to impress an art student I was dating.  I couldn’t draw a stick figure so I decided to try my hand at writing.
AW  You write in a number of different genres.  Is there one particular genre that you feel most at ease with and why?
DS  I worked in law enforcement for quite a while, so mystery and crime stories come easiest for me.  I worked on many cases with unsavory characters, I’ll never run out of bad guys to put into my stories.
AW  Lucky you!  The oft quoted mantra is write what you know. To what extent does your experience as a 911 operator bleed into your work?
DS  Most of the characters in my stories are fictionalized versions of real characters I have encountered.  My favorite cop is Benham, a female homicide detective, who is modeled after a female officer in our department.
  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
DS  I have an office on the bottom floor of our Mid-Century Modern home.  When I lived in northern Michigan I used a plant room that was off of our dining room.
AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
DS  Albert Einstein.  My favorite quote of his, of which there are many, but this one I like the best: Imagination is greater than knowledge.  I’d love to ask him what he thinks of the 21st century.

about the author… DJ Swykert is a fiction writer and former 911 operator. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Coe Review, Sand Canyon Review, Zodiac Review, The Newer York, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include The Pool Boy’s Beatitude, Children of the Enemy, Alpha Wolves, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, For the Love of Wolves and The Death of Anyone. He is a self-proclaimed wolf expert.
about the book…  My name is Lebo. I am six years old and my mother is dying. They brought her home from the clinic in a wheelbarrow. She’s fragile and ashen, and looked at me with painful eyes as they unloaded her off the wheelbarrow. They laid her on a mattress in my aunt’s sitting room and left her alone there. It’s about four pm and the village was quiet except for the cries and howling of pain from my mother. It’s dark and cloudy and the day is gloomy, the atmosphere matched the mood of the home.

You can get his books on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble 
You can follow David on his  Website Facebook Twitter and on Instagram

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

I'm reviewing Birdcage Walk...

... by Helen Dunmore, one of my many favourite writers...

I read this book for my village Book Club.  I would have got around to reading it eventually as a personal choice anyway, because I like Dunmore's work.
Born in Beverley in 1952 she studied English at York and worked as a teacher.  She was also a poet and a short story and children's writer.  It was her poetry that first attracted my attention, and her last collection of poems, Inside the Wave, won her the Costa Books Award in 2017.  The collection was published just before her death in that year.
Reading her novels, I quickly discovered that the sharpness and insight in her poetry bled through into her prose too, irrespective of the themes of the book.  I thought the excellence of her use of language is emminently demonstrated in Birdcage Walk.  The flow of the narrative is gentle throughout the novel.  I have no issue with that, but I do understand how other readers might.
I thought the 18th century historical detail was conveyed very well.  I also liked the contrast between revolutionary Paris and the personal trials and tribulations of the Tredevants in England.  I found the examination of the place of women in Georgian society fascinating - it made we realise just how far we have come.  But having said that, I am only too well aware that there are still inequalities to be overcome in our forward-thinking 21st century.
As much as I enjoyed this story, I thought that there were some aspects that could have been handled differently thereby preventing, what I percieved to be, some unnecessary repetition.
I don't consider this to be her best novel, in my humble opinon - see The Lie, The Greatcoat or The Betrayal - but I did find it a fascinating read.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Published today...

...#Mercœur, book 5 in the #JacquesForêt mystery series is released today...

Another testing case for #JacquesForêt

On a quiet forest walk, Investigator Jacques Forêt encounters a sinister scene.  Convinced there is evidence of malicious intent, he treats his discovery as a crime scene.

But intent for what?  Without a body, how can he be sure that a crime has been - or is about to be - committed?  Without a body, how can Jacques be sure that it’s murder, and not suicide?  Without a body, how can the perpetrator be found?

A baffling case that tests Jacques to his limits.

Set in the #Cévennes in south central France, the primary action in this story takes place in the city of Mende and on Mont Mimat.  Mont Mimat overlooks Mende.  There were some small settlements up there but those villages are now abandoned.

You can read more about the setting for the book Here  Here and Here
You can catch up with Jacques and his fellow investigators Here  Here and Here

You can get all the books Here

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

An offer that...

...I hope you will be unable to refuse.  Read on...

In preparation, and in celebration of the launch of Book 5 in my #JacquesForêt mystery series set in the #Cévennes in south central France, I am discounting the cost of the first four e-books.  

#Messandrierre is FREE to download. 

#Merle #Montbel and #Marseille are also reduced to 99p/c or international equivalent.

Go on spoil yourself!

You can get the books Here  And #Mercœur the next book in the series is available to pre-order Here

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

I'm Cycling the Canal du Bourgogne...

…and I'm picking up from where I left you in my previous post - you can remind yourself by clicking Here 
The bike is under the trees in the parking area and I'm now inside the château here in Ancy-le-Franc.  Built in the 16th century, the house we see today replaced an old fort, which stood here for over 400 years.  I have no doubt that this fabulous renaissance building was a significant improvement on the previous dwelling place.
The château was commissioned by Antoine de Clermont (Antoine III) whose mother was the countess of nearby Tonnerre.  As the word tonnere means thunder or thunderbolt, I have to wonder if the town was christened such because of a thunderous battle that might have been fought in order to gain control of the land.
The original plans for the house were drawn up by the Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio, one of the team of specialists who created Fontainebleau.  Unfortunately, Serlio died in Paris in 1544 and the work at Ancy was taken forward by French architect Pierre Lescot (1515-1578) who remained faithful to the plans of his predecessor.  As you approach the house, you can instantly see that the lines and symmetry scream renaissance style at you.
Antoine de Clermont died in 1578.  It was Antoine's grandson, Charles-Henri de Clermont who managed the completion of the interior of the château.  Having done so, the house and grounds then became a place for a number of notable people to visit, including Louis XIV in 1674.
In 1683 the estate was sold to the Le Tellier family, François-Michel Le Tellier was then Secretary of State for War for Louis XIV.  One has to wonder what happened in those nine intervening years.  In 1684, Le Tellier acquired the whole county of Tonnerre, which included a second house and estate at Maulnes - more of that in a future post.  It was during Le Tellier's ownership that the grounds were laid out by André Le Nôtre, head landscape architect to Louis XIV.  Yep, that name crops up again, doesn't it?
Following the revolution (1789-1790), the Clermont family managed to regain possession of the property and the estate.  The house was restored and everything settled until the mid- 19th century.  The estate then passed through various hands until it went into private ownership.  Since then, there has been further restoration work and it is now an historic monument that is available to all.
Decorative detail from a cabinet
The house that you can see today has some stunning murals and trompe l'oeil work inside. The interior has been dressed in keeping with the style of the building and to walk through those rooms for an afternoon is to walk in the footsteps of kings and courtiers.  Although, with an exterior temperature of 35°C on the afternoon I visited, I'm so glad I didn't have to wear one of those dresses!
My history drug taken, and I'm back on the bike again.  I retrace my route along the canal.  Monsieur Pêcheur and the heron are still sat on the bank fishing and dining.  I free wheel behind them…

You can read more about my trip along the canal Here and I will be back with further travels on April 13th.  Watch this space...

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Come and meet Thibault Clergue…

…a secondary character in the #JacquesForêt mystery stories…

Secondary characters are necessary for the flow of the story.
  They also provide opportunities for the focus of a novel to move from the primary plotline to a less important one.  But that doesn't automatically mean such individuals within the book are less well formed or developed.  For me, these secondary characters are just as important as Jacques or Didier.  And once developed, they are then available to walk on and off the page in any number of scenes or stories.
Take Thibault Clergue for instance.  We first meet him in Messandrierre when he is assigned to work alongside Jacques at the gendarmerie in the village.  He's described as 'a large, bluff man with a sometimes annoyingly positive slant on the world'.  At that point in the first story he is still a serving officer in the rural police.  In Merle and Montbel Thibault is the go-to policeman for the village as he has taken Jacques' role.  In Marseille Thibault is mentioned in passing.  But in one particular scene he has to deliver some distressing news to Jacques.  In the next book, Thibault has finally retired from policework and we get the opportunity to see what he is up to…

Retired gendarme, Thibault Clergue, was in his eldest daughter’s empty bedroom with the sports pages from that day’s newspaper occupying all of his attention. The ladders were placed in precisely the right spot as were the tray and paintbrush on the top. Sat on the third step of the ladder, his ample back resting against the higher steps, Thibault could not have been more comfortable. The worn and paint-splashed overalls he was wearing had not gained any further dashes of colour, but neither had the walls or ceiling. The can of paint was open on the floor beside him. Despite the claim on the tin, Thibault felt there was always an unmistakable taint in the air when wet paint was in use – or not, as in his case. At the sound of his wife’s footsteps on the stairs, he knew he would have just enough time to pick up his tools and begin mounting the ladders before she appeared in the doorway.
Thibault Clergue was a seasoned master when it came to creating the illusion of industry.
A large bluff man in his fifties, he had retired from his position in the force at the earliest opportunity, once his wife’s lifetime ambition of seeing their two daughters married and settled had been achieved. What he hadn’t quite appreciated was that, in want of a new purpose, he had become the focus of his wife’s attentions. An ever-increasing list of tasks for him to complete had become the norm. At first, it was a trial, but his experience at work had taught him many tricks, and now he was employing them at home solely for his own benefit.
His phone ringing made him jump. The paper was discarded immediately, and the brush grabbed in one practised sweep of movement as his feet propelled him towards the window sill to collect the device.

#Mercœur will be published on March 23rd and is available for pre-order Here