Tuesday, 25 January 2022

I'm celebrating the work of A. A. Milne…

… this week. And no, I'm not going to be talking about that teddy bear.   Read on…

Alan Alexander Milne was born on January 18th in 1882 in Kilburn, London.  His father was a teacher who ran a small, independent school.  Milne attended Westminster school and subsequently, Trinity College, Oxford where he obtained his MA.  He grew up in the company of such fabulous writers as H. G. Wells who also worked as a teacher, and played cricket with novelist & playwright J. M. Barrie, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle and P. G. Wodehouse.  It is perhaps not so surprising to learn that Milne was a playwright before he became known for anything else.
After graduating, Milne wrote witty poems and essays for the magazine Punch, eventually being taken on as a permanent member of staff in 1906 as an assistant editor.  He went on to write a total of 38 plays, published 7 novels - one of which was The Red House Mystery - along with non-fiction, poetry and his collection of works for children.
During the twenties and thirties his plays were regularly staged in the west end of London, and mostly received excellent reviews.  At that time, he was one of our greatest living playwrights.  He wrote his last play, Before the Flood, in 1951 and during his lifetime he also adapted some of his stage plays for screen, working with highly acclaimed actors at a the time such as Leslie Howard and C. Aubrey Smith.
I was first introduced to Milne through his poetry, which I had to learn and recite for poetry-speaking exams and competitions.  Some of those stanzas have remained etched into my brain.  As a seventeen-year-old, I came across the playwright Milne and found myself playing roles and learning speeches for yet more exams, competitions and local productions.  I loved his dialogue, which scintillated on the pages of those scripts, not to mention the opportunity to dress up in fabulous period costumes.
But, the connection with the Milne of my childhood completely eluded me until I was working in London and had a book collecting habit that was in its infancy.  About a twenty minute walk from my office was a dark and dingy second-hand bookshop.  Whilst rummaging through a box of heavily foxed paperbacks I came across a 1938 Penguin edition of Milne's locked room mystery story.  It was in a bit of a state, the cover was detached and some of the pages were in danger of being lost forever.  But I bought it for a few pence.  It was only when I read it a few months later that I realised that the man of the plays, the wit and the cracking dialogue was the same man who created the poetry.
Unfortunately, I no longer have that paperback.  I'm not sure what happened to it, but the book has been replaced by a hardback in much better condition.  It's not a first edition - I'd need to own a bank to get one of those - but it is on my shelves with my childhood copies of his poetry and some of his scripts.
Examples of Milne's Playscripts
Milne's writing life is only part of the story.  He served during both wars, taking a commission with the Royal Warwickshire's in 1915 and then serving with the Signals.  He was injured at the Battle of the Somme, and once recovered, he remained in the UK and served with Military Intelligence.  During the 1939/45 conflict he served as a Captain in the British Home Guard. He continued writing right up until 1952 when he suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery, which left him an invalid.  He died on the last day of January in 1956.
I find it quite sad that Milne's extensive body of work is now completely overshadowed by a teddy bear that you can find in just about every toyshop.  And yes, I do have to admit that even I've got one.  But he is a very small version and he sits in the door pocket of my car. However, when anyone ever mentions A. A. Milne to me, my thoughts always stray to the stage, his dialogue, his novels and his poetry.

I'm celebrating the life and work of other authors in earlier posts, which you might find interesting.  You can also read about Willa Cather  William Golding 

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Please welcome, friend and author Marilyn Pemberton...

...to my blog this week.  Hello Marilyn and thanks for making time to be here today.  Your journey to being a writer has been quite different from mine, so tell me all about it...

I started writing late in life.  Having taken a BA, MA and PhD as a very mature student, I managed to get a biography of Mary De Morgan, Out of the Shadows: the life and works of Mary De Morgan, published in 2012, when I was in my late fifties.  I then wrote a fictional account of De Morgan’s life, The Jewel Garden, and after almost a year’s worth of rejections it was published by a small, independent publisher in 2018.  Unfortunately, he stopped taking submissions a few months later.
Whilst I was trying to get The Jewel Garden published, I heard a programme on the radio about how in eighteenth-century Italy boys were bought from poor families, castrated and taught to sing; the seeds of my next novel were sown. Within a year I was ready to send Song of the Nightingale: a tale of two castrati out to a long list of literary agents and publishers.
After months of depressing rejections.....I had a call in August 2019 from a publisher, who said he absolutely loved my book - music to an author’s ears. There followed, however, days of indecision, sleepless nights, numerous calls with the publisher, e-mails to other writer friends,  much trawling through the internet and speaking with a couple of the authors on the publisher's list.
The reason why the decision was so hard?  Because he wanted me to pay £755 up front for the administration and the design of the cover.  Oh, and another five hundred or so for 300 copies to be printed (200 of which would be delivered to my door for me to sell).
I could hear the screams of "Nooooooooooooooooooo!" and the mantra "Authors should never, ever pay a publisher" resounding around the country.
The publisher assured me that they are not a vanity publisher; they are a hybrid-publisher – this being somewhere between a traditional publisher and self-publishing, a route I wasn’t yet willing to go down.
Having convinced myself it wasn’t a vanity publisher, I eventually decided to go with them.  After all, I was merely paying for a service: a professionally designed cover; a book ready for publication and on the world-wide e-book sales sites; print copies available and all the things a traditional publisher does.  If I had self-published I would have had to do all these things myself.  I was lucky enough to have the money and I was thrilled that someone else loved my book and really, all I wanted was to get it out there so that people could enjoy it.  Was that too much to ask?  Am I the devil’s spawn for being willing to put some money where my mouth is?
I think not, but will I use the publisher again for my new books?  No, for the following reasons:
I can no longer afford it. Song of the Nightingale has not earned anything like enough to cover the costs.
I still have about 150 books in a cupboard; there is no room for more.
I was lucky enough to find a literary agent eighteen months ago and am hoping she will find me a publisher.
If she doesn’t and I have to go down the self-publishing route, then I think I can achieve what the publisher did for far less and I would keep all the profit.
However my next books are published I will still need to market and promote myself.
Do I regret paying to get Song of the Nightingale published?  Absolutely not!
There are lots of horror stories of authors being suckered in, sending their money and never seeing a printed page, but I now have a beautiful book that I am immensely proud of and that is available for readers to enjoy.
about the book… Philippe, the narrator of this tale, is secretary to Count De Lorenzo, and lover to the Count’s young wife. He is tasked with buying young boys from poor villagers, having them castrated and taking them to Florence to be taught to sing as castrati. The parents are told that their sons are especially blessed with their wonderful voices and they do not object to the boys making a physical sacrifice in order to thank and praise the Lord; nor to the bag of gold they are given in exchange.
The boys are innocents, victims of circumstances beyond their control. Surely they can have nothing to do with a barber’s mysterious death, or the suicide of an abusive Jesuit priest?
This is a tale of passion, revenge, guilt, regret, loss and redemption.
Would you sell your son so he can forever sing God’s praises? If it means he will lead a better life than you can offer him? If it means a bag of gold for you? If it means the boy is castrated and will never lead a 'normal’ life?
Winner of the 2020  International Rubery Book Award Fiction Category.

You can get the book and follow Marilyn on Amazon.com

You can follow Marilyn on her Website Blog Facebook  and on Twitter

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

I'm reviewing The French Baker's War…

… by Michael Whatling.

When I pick up a book that is set in France I can't stop myself from also picking up my map.  It's a bad habit, I know, but I just have to be able to see where the characters are at all times.  And you never know, I might come across a place that I decide to visit for myself when I'm next able to travel.  The other wonderful thing about books set in France is that I can live vicariously through the characters and thereby stave off my disappointment about not being able to be in France myself because of the current restrictions.  But it's a new year and, fingers crossed, I will be traversing the Channel in the not too distant future.
As for the book, it's set during the occupation and focuses on a few months during 1943.  Mireille and André are the married couple that own the local pâtisserie in the village of St-Léry d'Espoir in Bretagne.  But it's October and the weather is getting colder.  The hardships of the occupation are getting more stringent and there's an ingrained fear that permeates the village which comes with being constantly watched, being unable to be sure who can be trusted.  That pervading and ever growing sense of fear is in the words and actions of all the characters throughout the whole of the story.
In many ways this is a dark tale set during France's années noires and yet the over-riding theme is love.  When Mireille suddenly and without explanation disappears, André is completely lost.  Add into the mix the arrival - unannounced and unexpected - of a woman who has clearly been held prisoner and has escaped and you have a scenario that is dangerous for the whole village, not just the pâtissier and his small son.
The story is told - in beautiful prose - from various points of view and mostly in the present tense, which puts the reader right at the heart of the action.  The reader has the opportunity to feel what André feels, to instantly understand his anguish at his wife's disappearance and his frustration with the new situation in which he finds himself.  As the story unfolds and the motivations of the various characters are revealed, it becomes clear that not everyone has acted for the best of reasons.  In that respect, this story reads a little like a mystery as it moves to a surprising conclusion.
As for St-Léry the village, there really is one in the département of Morbihan (56).  It is a small place of less than 200 people.  Does it have a pâtisserie?  No, but it does have a road called rue de la Boulangerie where there might once have been such an establishment.  Is this the real village of the story?  I don't know, but the author does say at the outset that his novel is 'Inspired by a true story.'  Another little thing about this village is that there is a war memorial that stands across the road from the Mairie and, try as I might I'm not able to read the details on Google Earth.
Lastly, the history of the village is interesting.  The land upon which the village stands was given to Saint Léry (to whom the church is dedicated) by Judicaël, a King of Bretagne, around 632, with the intention that a monastery be established.  That is the earliest record of the village and it became a formal municipality after the revolution.
Of course, all of that history means that I will have to go there if only to visit the 16th century church and the memorial for myself.  Naturally, I will also have to sniff out the real story behind the book!

You can read a shortened version of this review on Amazon, Goodreads and Bookbub.  There will be more book reviews in the coming weeks and months...

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

A New Year...

…and, hopefully, a year that begins with better prospects than the last two. Yet again, I have a packed agenda for you…

In this new, and hopeful year, there will be some new features and some old favourites with a bit of a twist!
As always there will be features from, or about, other authors.  Some you may know, some may be new to you, but I can promise that the articles will be interesting and varied.  So, look out for my celebration of the works of A. A. Milne towards the end of this month – and no, my article won’t be all about that teddy bear.  There’s so much more to Milne as a writer than his children’s stories.
Last September, in conjunction with eight other writers from across the pond, I had the privilege of being a contributing author to an anthology called Autumn Paths.  I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that some of my fellow contributors on that project will be making visits to the blog in the coming weeks. So, look out for posts from S. C. Eston and Pierre Arseneault – both wonderful and established writers in Canada.  There’s also a whisper that there may be more news about this recently formed collaboration.  Watch this space!
As travel to France has been difficult over the last twelve months, I’m resurrecting my #OffMyBeatenTrack posts and the first will appear here in February.  I’ll be exploring new places a little closer to home, finding interesting snippets of history along the way, and, I have no doubt that the best of food-on-the-hoof will feature too!  Oh, and just because I haven’t been able to get to France, it does not mean that my alternative places to visit are all situated in the UK.  I have journals that have notes from other, more exotic, locations and I will also be delving into those to bring you the best bits of info.
Before Christmas I took a break from Jacques Forêt and Book 6 – there was a plotline that just wasn’t working.  I told Jacques and Didier that they needed to sort that out for themselves.  Here we are, some weeks later and I am pleased to be able to say that, between them, Jacques and Didier have come up with an excellent solution.  Look out for more news on the next instalment of my Cévennes-based mysteries.
As always, the #FranceFridayPhoto will return across all my social media at the end of this week. This year, these pics will be regularly interspersed with fabulous photos of other locations too. I hope you will enjoy them.  Book reviews return too, with the first about 'The French Baker's War'.  A fascinating read.
Much later in the year, I hope to have details of a new project that I’m very much looking forward to.  It’s a writing project that I’ve wanted to undertake for quite some time and I’m hopeful that this year will see its fruition.  I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, it’s awesome to be back!