Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A tribute to a favourite writer, Willa Cather

I first encountered Willa Cather as I was browsing in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.  Not an unusual occupation for me – browsing in bookshops, that is, not encountering Cather regularly.  That would be extremely difficult as she died 71 years ago today.
Born in Gore, Virginia, in 1873 and named Wilella Sibert Cather, she grew up to be a novelist of some repute, winning the Pullitzer Prize in 1922.  Her many books are still available as reprints or paperbacks, but modern copies don’t really interest me – hence my many hours of browsing.
My first purchase, on that occasion in Hay, was Sapphira and the Slave Girl, published in 1940.  My copy (not a first edition, unfortunately) is in pristine condition even though it has been read and re-read by me.  This was to be Cather’s last novel, published at a point when Europe was in absolute turmoil and occupied.  Something that made Cather fear for the future.  Although I didn’t know it at the time of my first reading of the novel, this book is one of the darkest she ever produced.
Cather wrote a dozen novels. One of Ours (1922), My Antonia (1918), A Lost Lady (1923), Shadows on the Rock (1931) and Sapphira being her most well-known. 
Something that I hadn’t realised that day in Hay, was that I had encountered Cather before, but in another guise.  Some years later, in another haven for books in Alnwick I found a collection of her poetry from 1913.  Once home again, I started reading through it and found a sonnet that I had used as a teenager for one of my Poetry Society exams.  It has since become a favourite and, as it is the anniversary of her death, I thought I would share it with you.


Alas, that June should come when thou didst go;
I think you passed each other on the way;
And seeing thee, the Summer loved thee so
That all her loveliness she gave away;
Her rare perfumes, in hawthorn boughs distilled,
Blushing, she in the sweeter bosom left,
Thine arms with all her virgin roses filled,
Yet felt herself the richer for thy theft;
Beggared herself of morning for thine eyes,
Hung on the lips of every bird the tune,
Breathed on thy cheek her soft vermillion dyes,
And in thee set the singing heart of June.
And so, not only do I mourn thy flight,
But summer comes despoiled of her delight.

                                        Willa Cather 1913  

Willa Cather December 7th, 1873 – April 24th, 1947.  Her grave is behind the Meeting House in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. The Willa Cather Foundation is centred in Red Cloud, Nebraska and the US postal service and mint honoured her by issuing stamps and a medallion, respectively. In 2011, she was inducted into the New York Writers’ Hall of Fame.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Flowers and Shakespeare

For World Book Day - which is also the date of the Bard's birth and death - I'm celebrating with sonnets and flowers...

Sonnet XCIV

They that have the power to hurt and will do none,  
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation;
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with the base infection meet,
The basest weed out-braves his dignity;
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

Sonnet LIV

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-looms have full as deep a dye
 As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
 Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly,
 When summer’s breath their masked buds           discloses;
 But for their virtue only is their show,
 They live unwooed, and unrespected fade,
 Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
 Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made;
 And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth;
 When that shall vade, my verse distills your truth.

Sonnet XCIX

The forward violet thus did I chide;
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells, 
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red not white, had stol’n both
And to his robbery had annex’d thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or colour it had stol’n from thee.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Please welcome, friend and author, Alex Macbeth...

... to my blog today.  Hello Alex, and thanks for making time in your busy schedule to be here.  So what have you got for us?
AM  I have an excerpt from The Red Die, my crime fiction thriller set in Mozambique.
When the Comandante arrived at the former comando, he found Samora moving a desk and two chairs into a room that still had some roof over it. Two builders were hoisting a few new sheets of zinc onto the holes in the ceiling while Samora watched closely, his index finger hurriedly tapping his watch. In no time the zinc plates were in place and Samora and Felisberto were once again alone.
Good morning, chefe,” said Samora, shoving a cup of tea with condensed milk and an egg roll Felisberto’s way. “I took the liberty of getting the place ready for work,” added Mossuril’s police deputy. “Mozambique’s greatest detective can’t work with holes in the roof.”
Felisberto sipped the tepid tea and looked out through the window onto the bay. A group of local women were collecting crabs on the beach. Further out, two passenger dhows crossed each other in the bay halfway between Lumbo and Mossuril. Felisberto had read that the Aga Khan, the influential religious leader and philanthropist, had honeymooned with a famous US actress called Rita Hayworth at the Hotel de Lumbo in the 1940s. The  Comandante imagined the two rich and successful VIPs sailing in the same bay over sixty years before. Mozambique had since fought a war of independence with Portugal, its former coloniser. The country had then endured another sixteen years of war to safeguard that independence from foreign interests. Now the Hotel de Lumbo, once the haunt of global celebrities, was a complex of ruins slowly being returned to nature with the assistance of termites, rain and wind. Its only remaining seasonal guests were the swallows that weaved in and out of the fallen rafters.
A brown eagle glided in and out of Felisberto’s viewfinder and the Comandante followed it as it flew towards Ilha de Moçambique, the country’s former capital. Felisberto sipped his tea and looked across the bay in the other direction towards Quissanga. Nothing he did, it seemed, could escape the spell of Stokes’ death and the trails it had left. The sight of two children playing with dice refocused the Comandante.

about the book... The body of a man with a red die in his pocket is washed ashore near a quiet village on the coast of the Indian Ocean in southern Africa. But what looked initially like a corpse that came in with the tide soon turns out to be a murder case that will lead Comandante Felisberto and his team to the edge of danger and despair as they uncover a trail leading up to the highest echelons of power in their country.

Can Felisberto and his 'motley crew of rural investigators' solve the case - and survive?

You can follow Alex on Amazon on his website
Twitter and on  Facebook

Monday, 16 April 2018

Meet the Crooked Cat Authors

Tim Taylor, myself and John Jackson

Come and meet us at Tickhill Library at 2.00pm on Thursday April 26th

Fellow Crooked Cat author, Tim Taylor will be joining me on Thursday April 26th, to read from and talk about his book, Revolution Day.  The book centres on a dictator clinging to power and a vice-president eager to sieze it. The ex-first lady is unknowingly drawn into his plans.

Tim lives in Meltham near Huddersfield. He writes contemporary and historical fiction and has published two novels.  He also does part time teaching and research in Ethics at Leeds University.

 Also joining me on Thursday will be yet another Crooked Cat author, John Jackson.  John will be introducing his book, Heart of Stone.  The story of a girl who is owned by an Earl, but loved by his brother.

John is a retired ship's Captain and he lives in York.  He writes historical fiction, based on his remarkably colourful family tree!  In his own words, 'For a Historical Novelist, a Family Tree is the gift that keeps on giving'.

 And then there's me. I will be talking about my second Jacques Forêt novel, Merle.  In this story my investigator, Jacques, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent.  Yet again, it's up to Jacques to work out who is behind it all…and why?

So, come and join us at Tickhill Community Library, Market Place, Tickhill, Doncaster. DN11 9QU at 2.00pm on April 26th.  Please telephone the library on 01302 742871 and let them know you will be there.  Tea/Coffee and bickies will be available.

We are all looking forward to seeing you. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Jottings from the Journals... Villefranche-de-Rouergue

... I've been taking a look back through my journals and came across this entry. As I read it for the first time in more than two years, I found I could remember the scents and sounds of the place... 
River Averyon, Villefranche
Thursday, 26th

Market day in Villefranche, today.  A twenty-minute stroll from the campsite along the west bank - or is that the right bank? - of the river Averyon into town.  From Quai de la Sénéchausé I follow the criss-cross of narrow, shaded streets through to the Halles des Marchés which is a relatively modern building located on the site of an ancient cemetery.  And that's where the regular market begins. 

The bustle of people was just ahead of me and the smell of the market was potent.  The aroma of roasting chickens and potatoes. The hint of herbs and spices, olives, shallots, vegetables in general, underlined by the pungent sock smell - always there at a French market - of the cheese!  A plethora of local cheese in all its finery.  At one of the cheese stalls, I breathe in the musty smell, lightened by a bit of smokiness and the metallic accent of the blue cheeses. It just speaks fresh French cheese to me.
Place Notre Dame
In rue Durand, on my left is a stall selling nougat. I pause momentarily to read the labels detailing the flavours of the vast rounded mounds of sugar and fruit and nuts.  Honey and lavender flavoured with lightly toasted almonds. Honey and red fruits of the forest. Vanilla and walnut.  I know instantly which one I want.
'You can try a morsel,' says Monsieur.
'No thank you,' I reply as I move on.
I meander around place Notre Dame.  Vegetables, fruit and more and more people and after twenty minutes I'm back in rue Durand again with the nougat seller.  I can't get enough of those wonderfully sweet scents.  He recognises me and catches my eye again - French men are very good at doing that, I've noticed.  I reluctantly give in to my sweet tooth.
'A small piece of this one please,' I say pointing at the large semicircle of lusciousness in the centre.
'But you must also try this one,' he says.  It's made with honey and lightly toasted almonds.  It's a new flavour that I am trying.'
Reluctantly I accept a 'morceau' but I know what I want.
'So, which would you like?'  He asks, French charm oozing and a gorgeous smile on his face.
'This one please.'
He then places the knife carefully and says in English, 'you tell how much. I put the knife here and you tell me how much.'
OK so I've been rumbled, but his smile is cheeky and clearly tourist-bound!
'You must have a lot of English customers,' I grin.  'And that's enough,' I say in French.
He then tells me that the nougat will keep for up to 6 months providing I don't put it in the fridge.  'It's made of honey, not sugar and honey crystallises if you put it in the fridge.'
‘Of course,' I respond in French.
He packages my slice of nougat and weighs it and puts it in a tiny paper bag.  'So, you can keep this for 6 months, or 6 weeks or 6 days or maybe 6 minutes.  That is the record!'
I smile and tell him that I'm going to save it at least until I get back to the campsite.
He gives me my change and his most charming smile yet…

If you want know more about Villefranche from a different perspective, check out 'French Collection', an anthology of stories written by friend and author, Vanessa Couchman.  There will be more jottings from my journals over the coming months.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Recipe for an Anthology

A while ago, when I was asked to contribute to an anthology of stories, I was very, very pleased to have been included.  Having submitted my story, I've taken time-out to reflect on how the project moved from initial idea to finished product. Read on...

  • take 9 enthusiastic writers
  • add a location to meet
  • a feature character
  • a single and primary setting
  • a title
  • a blurb
  • a cover
  • gather your writers together for some blue-sky thinking
  • allow the initial thoughts to ferment for a month or so
  • bring the writers back to the meeting location to create the character common to all the stories and to name her
  • at the same time agree the location that is to be used as the model for the single and primary setting for the fictitious world of the book
  • leave the writers' thoughts and ideas in a marinade for a month or so
  • gather your writers together and discuss, ensuring that the resultant stories are well mixed and cohesive
  • let the writers braise their stories slowly on a low heat for two months, remembering to check the seasoning occasionally
  • once fully cooked, allow to cool before decorating with the cover
  • dress with an agreed title and a blurb and serve immediately to the reading public
I’m very pleased to be able to tell you the Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings is available on Amazon

about the book... Sometimes what you need is right there waiting for you...

Miss Moonshine's Wonderful Emporium has stood in the pretty Yorkshire town of Haven Bridge for as long as anyone can remember. With her ever-changing stock, Miss Moonshine has a rare gift for providing exactly what her customers need: a fire opal necklace that provides a glimpse of a different life; a novel whose phantom doodler casts a spell over the reader; a music box whose song links love affairs across the generations. One thing is for certain: after visiting Miss Moonshine's quirky shop, life is never the same again...

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this collection of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This intriguing mix of historical and contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry, and believe in the happy-ever-after.

I’ve really enjoyed working with my writing colleagues on this project and am immensely proud of our collective achievement.  I hope you enjoy the book.