Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Jottings from the Journals... La Ferté-Macé...

Stunning masonry, Notre-Dame de L'Assomption
...I'm continuing my occasional series of notes from my journals.  Read on...

Thursday, 12th

Camped at Domfront and here in La Ferté-Macé today, to see the town.  With a population of around 7,000 inhabitants, it is a small place that has very few ancient monuments but is rich in old houses and buildings dating for the 18th and 19th centuries.
I've been wandering the town centre and I checked out the butcher's shop.  There is a local dish called tripes en brochettes noisetier which appears to be peculiar to this place.  At first glance, the kebabs I saw in the window looked very appetising.  Then I read the label.  Nothing will induce me to eat animal intestines, no matter how they are presented and completely irrespective of whether the skewer is made of hazelnut or just plain steel - as is the norm for my barbecues!
As I begin to meander through the central square I hear the thrum of an old car engine.  Within moments a Triumph pulls around the side of the church and is guided into a parking spot.  A minute or two later an old Morgan, in British racing green, appeared.  Then a steady stream of classic and vintage cars poured into the square.  The atmosphere took on a metallic scent, people appeared from everywhere and the hum of engines competed with numerous conversations.
The plate on one of the cars tells me this is Le 3e Tour de Normandie.  Across 4 days these vehicles travel through Normandy, stopping off for lunch and overnight stays at various locations in the region and today they are here in La Ferté.  What a find!  I decide to have a look at these fabulous vehicles and start with the Morgan.  It may have French plates but it is my dream car and it's British.  These gorgeous machines are coach built at the factory (first established in 1914) in Malvern, even today.  I'm told by the owner that the car is a V6. A 6 cylinder engine and that means it will go some!  I wonder if I dare ask to be taken for a spin in this gorgeous machine, but I chicken out!
A Citroën Avant
As I move through the lines of cars I come across a large gleaming black vehicle.  The driver is talking to another car enthusiast and I can't understand everything that's being said because they are clearly talking about the technicalities of the engine as they peer under the bonnet.  However, I do pick up that it is a Citroën Avant.  The Avant (front-wheel drive, independent suspension, among other innovations) was something of a first when it came into production in 1934.
I'm joined by an elderly gentleman, who is also ear-wigging.  After a few moments, he shakes his head and beckons me away.  In whispers, he tells me what that car means to him as he shares a little of his childhood experience in occupied France.  Then he leaves and, in an instant, my perception is changed.  I saw an interesting and old vehicle, he saw terror...

At the time, this was just an interesting incident.  However, Monsieur's comments continued to live with me and inspired my research of this period in French history. His comments and that research have become the inspiration for a character in Montbel, which be published in November and is available for pre-order here 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

William Golding...

...was born on September 19th in 1911.  As a writer he is a great favourite of mine and, this week - the 107th anniversary of his birth - seemed as good a time as any for me to celebrate his work...

Born in Cornwall, he served in the Navy and worked as a teacher before he became a full-time novelist and poet.  Say the name William Golding and everyone thinks of 'The Lord of the Flies'.  This book, perhaps his most well-known, was rejected 21 times before it was finally picked up and published in 1954.  It didn't sell particularly well, to begin with, either, but has now become a classic.  And yes, I've read it more than once, and have my own copy.  Alas, not a first edition - you can pay anything from £1,000 and upwards for one of those!  Mine is a much later and more affordable copy.
But it's one of his other works that I particularly want to mention today.  In 1967 Faber and Faber published 'The Pyramid'.  I came across my copy by accident, as I have a great deal of my collection of books.  As I was browsing through a second -hand bookshop in Ripon, the title caught my attention rather than the author.  I had recently returned from an extended trip to Egypt and the experience and the country were still very fresh in my mind.  When I looked inside I found this:

'If thou be among people make for thyself love, the beginning and end of the heart.'

It's from an ancient Egyptian text written by the vizier, Ptah-Hotep who lived during the 5th dynasty (around 4,500 years ago).  What struck me about the quote was how relevant it still was.  I bought the book, still not totally aware that the author was Golding.  It was a couple of years before I got round to reading it and I have recently re-read it.
Set in the fictitious and small town of Stilbourne, it is a story in three chapters.  Perhaps that should be three parts, as the different scenes are delineated within each part, but the narrative in each separate section remains continuous.  From a writer's perspective, the format is interesting.
The story surrounds a selection of characters in Stilbourne - a quiet place by an equally quiet and unsubstantial river. It is an acutely accurate presentation of life in a small town.  As the reader delves into the world of Oliver, the story becomes an interlacing and overlapping of the human dynamics between the inhabitants of Stilbourne.  The characters - from Miss Dawlish, the music teacher to Evie, the girl everyone wants, Ewan with his motorbike and Mr de Tracey the director for the Operatic society - are all wonderfully drawn and each mesmerising in their own,  and sometimes tragic, way.  And there's Stilbourne itself.  Not just a backdrop to contain the action and the characters, but an unobtrusive and beautifully presented character in its own right.
This story is sensitively told using elegant and flowing prose. The ending was unexpected and something that I was not prepared for.  An excellent read that I will pick up again and again.

William Golding died on June 19th, 1993.  His work includes not just his novels but his poetry - firsts of these are as rare as hen's teeth! - essays, a play and 'An Egyptian Journal'.  Look out for my review of his journal in a couple of months.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Finding a Place to Write...

 ...friend and author Tom Halford joins me today.  Thanks for being here, Tom, and tell us a little about how and where you write?

TH  Writing can happen anywhere at any time.
A person might not be physically writing something down, but they might be planning out a character arc or a plot twist.  It helps, however, to have a space specifically for writing.
Virginia Woolf famously wrote about this in “A Room of One’s Own.”  It would be fair to say that Woolf astutely argued for the importance of a physical room but also for intellectual room to value women writers.
Some writers have more than a room. I recently heard that famous Canadian author, Lawrence Hill, has his very own shed.
Some writers take it even further.  I’ve heard of authors who have their own writing cottages. 
I have had quite a few different writing spaces.  When I was a kid, I used to sit at my parents’ kitchen table and scribble into a notebook.  As I got older, my mom and dad bought me a leather-bound journal, which looked very professional.  I worked from my bedroom, and I probably envisioned myself as something equivalent to Ray Bradbury in the opening credits of The Ray Bradbury Theater.
When my wife and I lived in South Korea, I usually sat on the floor and worked at a coffee table that was purchased by the company we worked for.  From there, we went to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and I built my own coffee table to work from.  I had found scrap wood just outside of our apartment and screwed it all together into something resembling a desk.  It was a hunk of junk, but I still think about that desk.  It reminds me that if you want to write enough, then you’ll make space for it.
From St. John’s, we moved to Plattsburgh, New York.  My desk didn’t survive the move, but I found an old, plastic card table.  It was behind a door and it had an unidentifiable brown stain that I still haven’t been able to remove.  I unfolded that and got to work whenever I had free time.  That table has been good to me for roughly six years now.
I packed it up in the U-Haul when we left Plattsburgh to come back to Canada.  I have it set up in my basement just outside of the laundry room now.
I was once lucky enough to meet one of my favourite writers, Michael Winter.  He saw that I had one of those leather-bound books for journalling.  He pulled a couple of tiny, tattered pieces of notepaper from his pocket.  I think he’d gotten them from a bank machine.  He told me that was all I really needed.
I think he was right.  A physical space for writing is a clear advantage to those who have it, but the mental space and need to write is what I think keeps a writer working.


... about the book  Effie Pitts is not your typical hero of a crime novel.
Looking for her husband who disappeared during a bachelor trip across the border, Effie stumbles onto a hidden connection between a series of crimes plaguing the citizens of Plattsburgh, New York.
Tourists and shoppers have been disappearing for four years, and locals are certain a serial killer is prowling the streets of the small border town—that is until a mysterious cult known as The Pure White Hand surfaces.
Effie travels to the United States looking for answers, but she only finds more questions.
Where is her husband? Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

You can follow Tom on Amazon  Twitter  and on  Goodreads   

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Reality and imagination...

... working together...


Lac de Charpal
I'm often asked if the places in my books are real or not.  The straight and completely accurate answer to this question is both yes and no.  My response often prompts a look of confusion on the face of the questioner.  I've also noticed a few comments from reviewers too and I thought I would take this opportunity to clarify the matter. 
My village of Messandrierre and its inhabitants are entirely fictitious, as is the name.  To give the village something of a French feel I derived the name from that of a real village that sits some way north-west of the actual location that I use as the model for my imaginary place.  Messandrierre is based on the real village of Laubert in the Cévennes.  It's a place that I have visited many times over the years.  Using a real village that I know means that I can visualise where my characters are at any one moment as I'm writing the books.  It means that I can also call on my real experiences of the weather there - and it can be extreme at times - and recreate it as a backdrop for scenes in the stories.  However, the real village of Laubert didn't quite meet all of the needs of my plot for the first book.  So, I changed one or two things.  For example, I've moved and ruined the chateau.  I planted a dead oak at the side of the top road and I felled a few of the surrounding trees.  I also built Beth's hunting chalet and placed it in the location that I would have chosen for myself. 
 Notre Dame et St Privat Cathedral, Mende
The city of Mende features in both Messandrierre and Merle - the second book in the series. Mende is very much a real place as are the streets that I mention.  It's a very old city with a colourful history and one that I have written about before and you can read my musings Here.  The sister buildings of the Vaux Group... they only exist in my imagination, but I know exactly where on Boulevard Théophile Roussel they sit.  Just as I know precisely where Beth's photographic studio and shop is situated.  The suburb of Merle is a figment of my imagination but is roughly situated towards the north of the modern town.  Of course, the name Merle has some significance in its own right.  The word translates as blackbird and Jacques is considering buying an apartment in a newly built block called Hirondelle (Swallow). But Merle is also used as a girl's Christian name and was the surname of a Huguenot soldier called Capitaine Matthieu Merle.  Living in the 16th century, he was something of a tyrant!
Decorated house, Le Puy-en-Velay
In Merle, Jacques follows one suspect to the city of Le Puy-en-Velay.  A real place that I love to visit whenever I am in the area and there are a couple of detailed posts about the times I've spent there.  Again, it is a place with an amazing history, a fabulous city centre and an imposing geography.  You can read my thoughts Here.  
The third book in the series, Montbel, is due for release on November 13th.  It is a real and small village about 8 kilometres from Laubert.  The description of Jacques' route to Montbel is exactly the same journey I've taken many times.  It is a typical mountain village surrounded by high pastures and the description in the book is recalling the scenery as it was the last time I was there.  Although the location is real, the crime comes entirely from my own imagination.  The property that Jacques visits is imaginary and, as with Laubert, I've had to make some changes to the village to support the plot.  But telling you now what those changes are, would be giving the game away!