Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Off to the French Pyrenees...

All being well; figers crossed and all that, we will be taking our camper-van next month to a place we used to holiday every year when our boys were young. We used to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Normandy and then take a week travlling south and stopping off on the banks of Loire, then catching up with friends who owned a vineyard on the Dordogne and finally end up in our beloved western French Pyrenees, sometimes enjoying the Basque region en fete. (where is a circumflex or acute accents hen you need one?)

We have loads of photos in albums but they all date from before the digital age and so, until we're there next month, I have had to make do for this post with some I've pinched from  public domains to remind myself of why I adore that part of France.

This time, we're doing it the lazy way. We;'re getting a ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain then driving north to the Ossau Valley in France.

Oh and this is our favourite mountain. Le Pic du Midi d'Ossau. It's not the highest  but it is iconic. You can read about it here. It is THE Western French Pyrenees to us. Every year our hearts used to soar as soon as we caught sight of its iconic split peak  on the distant horizon.


I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My favourite novels of 2016. So far...

Although, we all immersed in the lazy, hazy crazy days of summer, I am still writing; well, dotting the i's and crossing the t's of my re-written (and I hope, much improved) 14th century novel. I've made lots of changes along the way. However. the body and soul longs to be outside in the sun. Jon and I have been out and about, here and there but our main holiday is to come next month in the French Pyrénées. A later blog post beckons...

In the breaks from my own writing, I have been reading some fabulous novels this summer and I would like to mention three of them here. I'm too involved in my own manuscript to write the detailed, appreciative and literate reviews they all deserve. I suggest, however, you don't take my word for anything I say, but find out for yourselves. (Don't look at Amazon. I know that most of the reviews there are democratic but, by golly, some people shouldn't write reviews at all without understanding how to do so!)

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton blew me away when it was published in 2014. I know I wasn't the only reader to love it. Her recently-published second novel is equally good but didn't knock me sideways quite as dramatically . That isn't to say it isn't a brilliant read. It is. But, often a second novel hasn't quite the same magic that is there in a fresh new voice. Those who know me will know I am an absolute sucker, not so much for plot, but for original writing and the evocation of landscape in all its moods. The Miniaturist takes us back to 17th century Amsterdam in winter. Jessie Burton's feel for the tense atmosphere of Andalucia during the tense run-up to the Spanish Civil War is wonderful. How a writer can achieve this so brilliantly by a combination of research and travel is amazing.

Talking of second novels that don't quite match the impact of the first, it happens so often, there is a phrase for it: second novel syndrome. I consider this phenomenon, the fault of the publisher or more likely their accountants and marketing departments and not the writer. These people want the second novel to be published within a year of the last as they assume we all have very short memories and butterfly minds. We readers haven't. We relish but we are prepared to wait.

But here is a case where the second novel is even better than the début novel! Claire King's The Night Rainbow was absolutely original and so, so brilliant. But, take it from me, Everything Love Is is even more brilliant. How on earth does she do it? Whereas The Night Rainbow depicts childhood with a deft touch without being mawkish or sentimental, Everything Love Is examines love, family and memory with equal finesse. Claire King deeply understands both the joy and despair of early-onset dementia, both from the minds of the carer, friends, family but the sufferer himself. Having seen my once-sharp and talented father descend into confusion, forgetfulness, anger and nasty jibes and accusations, I do know how distressing it is. And yet Claire also shows us its joys. She knows her France; both The Night Rainbow and Everything Love Is are  masterful evocations of the French countryside in all its moods. If I hadn't wanted to spend time on the Canal du Midi before, I most certainly do now! Claire shows us this amazing piece of engineering, its people, its flora and fauna in all seasons, all moods, its people, its food and the way the light falls on the water. But it is at the end I emotionally 'lost it.' The last pages are devastating. It's rare for me to sob and sob and sob at the end of a novel. Here I did. But again there wasn't a trace of mawkishness or sentimentality. This is dementia. It happens. I doubt that the judges of the major competitions will even get to read this novel. More fool them. Everything Love Is by Claire King. Remember the name.

The novel also took me towards The Camargue, its water, its heat, wild horses and flamingoes. They also appear in Susan Fletcher' latest novel, Let Me Tell You about a Man I Knew.

This stunning novel tells of the tangential relationship between Vincent Van Gogh, when he was a patient of a small asylum near Arles, and Jeanne Trabuc, the wife of the hospital's superintendent. She is warned to stay away because the patient is reputed to be dangerous but she disbobeys everyone. She is fascinated by him; by the way he paints the olive trees, the sunflowers and the stars over and over again. As in Clare King's novel, this novel depicts how long-past events in childhood and early marriage are only fully understood when evoked in later life and how with this maturity comes the true understanding of self.

It is shaping up to be a very good summer. In this post I have named the three novels I rate the best in 2016. And it's only July and half way through. Do you agree? What are your favourite reads this year so far?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Livi Michael: SUCCESSION, REBELLION and now ACCESSION.

 Goodness only knows why it took me so long. Livi Michael's three stunning novels began their life a few years ago. The first in the trilogy SUCCESSION was published in 2014. REBELLION followed in 2015 and now ACCESSION has hit the book stores and no doubt rave reviews.


I am so happy to take part in Livi Michael's blog tour today (Sorry I'm a bit late in the day but this was due to circumstances beyond my control but better late than never.)  I have said it before and I will say it again, I will not compromise myself by saying I love books or writers just because I was given free copies. The fact that Penguin asked me to be part of Livi's blog tour was, I assume, that I am an avid historical novel reader and also writer.

Anyway, enough of me. This blog today is all about this fabulous trilogy of War of the Roses novels. Although I have studied the history ans read a few novels set in in those times, I have never understood all the whys and wherefores of the people involved. Livi Michael has done something I have never thought of before. Margaret Beaufort is the lynch-pin of the trilogy. We first see her as a small child and follow her through her life, husbands, and most importantly, her beloved son. She was apart from her son for many years and they were almost strangers to one another but she lives to see him crowned Henry VII, the first of the Tudors Dynasty.

What I love about Livi Michael's writing is that she understands women and the way they were political pawns in the 15th century. I will even forgive here for her bias towards the Lancaster side. (Well, I am an adopted Yorkshire lass and don't think Richard III was any worse than any royal male at the time.)

Not only does Livi make me love Margaret Beaufort, she even makes me care about that other Margaret - she of Anjou, the consort of poor, benighted Henry VI.whom I've always disliked as well. Poor ladies. How history has viewed your sex.

My advice is: please read these books. You may well totally disagree with me. Tell me if you do. I would love to know. I will remain grateful to Pegiun Books without whom I would never have heard of Livi Michael. And what a loss that would have been.

She is probably ready to move on from the War od the Roses now, but I would love her to write about the reign of Henry VII and his dealings with his second son and heir Henry VIII.
 

Please continue following Livi's blog tour here:


Friday, July 29, 2016

My Hero, Triathlete and TV Star!

Last Sunday, 24th July 2016, My much better half, Jon, raced his very last full-length iron-man distance triathlon. The grand-daddy of triathlon distances is nothing like the triathlons in which the Leeds-based Brownlee brother excel. Not only are they different distances), the rules are totally different. But I won't bore you with them here.

A bit about the term IRONMAN. The word is actually a trademark of one company that runs many races world-wide. Other such races call themselves many names but not 'Ironman' (although they are all generic ironman-distance races.) It's like Hoovers versus the rest of the excellent vacuum cleaners available.

In a nutshell. This Ironman-distance disciple is this. Swim: 2.4 miles. Bike: 112 miles. Run (marathon) 26.2 miles. Phew, it exhausts me to type them! The very top competitors can complete one in & to 8 hours. However, most competitors are sheer amateurs and are classified into various age-groups.

Although Jon is not 65 until September, all triathletes are treated like race horses and all have their  birthdays on January the First. This year Jon is in the 65+ group. Those of you who know me or follow this blog will know that not only is Jon an amazing athlete, he has a major health issue. When he was a teenager, he caught rheumatic fever just before it was totally eradicated in the the first world. (It is still rampant outside Europe.) Anyway, rheumatic fever damages the heart. Jon had no sign of any illness until recently although his heart was rapidly going downhill until he was given eighteen months to live unless he had his aortic heart valve replaced in  a pioneering operation several years ago. He has now recovered but along the way, he suffered a stroke, had a pacemaker fitted and then a carbon-fibre aortic heart valve.

Most people would rest on their laurels, enjoy a restful retirement. But not my Jon! This year, we made the decision that he would complete in his very last full iron-man distance race and then concentrate on the half-distance long races and even marathons or other long running races. He is annoyed that he has slowed considerable because of his heart (which has suffered to much damage over the years to ever function like new.)


And so it was, On 24th July 2016, we headed back to the National Water-sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham for The Outlaw 2016. (We know the venue well)

It dawned a lovely day, not too hot or too cold. It was a full and busy day, and that's just us spectators! Jon got into the water at 6am and didn't cross the finish-line until around 9pm and the number of hours and minutes he took altogether was 14 hours, 40 minutes and 29 seconds. Many many competitors did not finish, either because they ran out of time allowed for each discipline or they gave up. It could have been illness or injury, sheer fatigue of illness or even as problem with their bike. I have enormous sympathy for them all because all of them are heroes, having trained worked so hard for months or years before they even got to the start line.

Oh and Jon was one of the competitors who will be  featured on the resuting TV programme as a 'human-interest" story!  Although he was interviewed and filmed throughout the day, we do not know how much will be shown. (They say they always film 4 times more footage than they use.)

PS.   I AM SO PROUD OF HIM

If you're interested, then make a note of the following dates and times on your TV: I don't know what the programme will be called but I guess The Outlaw Triathlon 2016 - or words to that effect.

  • Channel 4:  3rd September  7am
  • British Eurosport: 14th September 17:30
  • Sky Sports 3 SD: 27th August 19:01 & 28th August 08:01 - additional overnight transmissions too.

 Photos. Copyright WebCam.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Back to Reality - Books

I thought this was the moment to mention those books I have really loved so far this year. None of them were given to me by publishers. You can trust me that I found them all that extra bit special.

You've heard too much of my opinions in the last couple of days so all I have done is posted their cover photos and their details. Fin them for yourself - if you want to and make up your own minds. I have already mentioned one or two but not all. They're either historical novels or books about landscape, nature and the countryside but much more.

The Running Hare. John Lewis-Stemple:

A mix of memoir; a plea to stop kerb or ban agri-business and look, really look, around us before it's too late.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain:  Fiction at its best.



Let me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher: A novel about Vincent Van Gogh - only it isn't...If you've not read anything  by this fabulous writer than do read this. It is stunning. To me, this is the most outstanding novel so far of 2016. If it isn't short-listed for this years Booker, then life most definitely isn't fair.


The Ashes of London is another Tour de Force by wonderful  historical crime novelist, Andrew Taylor. You can taste, smell the ashes and gaze at he devastation when a baker's shops caught fire in 1666. Immerse yourself in a slow-burning love affair between two polar opposites; a man of law and a rebellious young woman who wishes to be an architect. 




And finally: my non-fiction favourite of this years so far: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot.

Where better to fight self-destructive alcohol addiction than on Orkney?

And finally, to help heal raw wounds of recently, how about listening to this?

"Farewell to Stromness" by Peter Maxwell-Davies.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pause for thought

I'm depressed.

Not clinically depressed, I hasten to add  - but I'm hurt; bruised and battered by all the vitriol on social media yesterday. It's time I came clean. Yes, I voted to leave. All right. All right. But hold onto your tomatoes and rotten eggs for a minute...

I voted out for several reasons - which I haven't the energy to discuss here - but not one of them is because I'm a Little Englander and am racist. That accusation wounds me so deeply I can't begin to tell you.

I have thought long and hard; almost fell out with my adult sons over it. I have been appalled by the campaign on both sides - such negativity and so many lies from both sides. However not one of my reasons was anything whatsoever to do with race. I am all for  people to travel and live anywhere in Europe. I can't see the borders will be locked. Nor do I think Europe or the rest of the world will refuse to trade with us.

I hope all the world believes that this country  (The United Kingdom) welcomes all creeds, colours and races with tolerance and kindness.

I'm feeling too upset to write any more. I live in the North of England and for years and yet we've been patronised by London for too long.  Enough. They've listened to Scotland but not us. Northern Powerhouse? Don't make me laugh. We can't even get a mobile phone signal here. So what use is the latest all-singing, all-dancing multi-app gizmo we get thrown at us? Yes, we have Broadband - but you don't invest in super-fast fibre-optics for us up here. You can fly to Edinburgh easily and get a fast train to Paris or Belgium. But try getting from here to the nearest railways station by public transport - it takes hours top get to London. Scotland is strong. Scotland is fierce. It frightens London. Wales is patronised. Northern England is patronised.

The North of England, Wales and Scotland, did much to make Britain Great. Up in the north, we had the steel, the coal and the manpower. London made all the money. We lost our coal and steel. London held onto the money. London still holds the upper hand. And Londoners are cross with us. So you all insult us.

I shall retreat and lick my wounds. I shall go up here at the very top of my garden away from everyone.



And contemplate my own 'Little England.'




Come and join me and listen to the birds and sheep living their lives regardless. All are welcome as long as you let me know first. But please don't shout.

I shall probably not blog or say anything on social media until I feel better. Nobody listens anyway. Everybody is all too busy shouting and insult-slinging.

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well

(Julian of Norwich)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

RIP Sally Brampton

So very sad to hear of the death of Sally Brampton. I emailed her way back about about her brilliant book and her reply was so friendly and gracious. Seems that damn dog got her in the end.


Let's go out and shoot it now!






Friday, March 11, 2016

Blog Break

I am taking a break from blogging as from today. I am currently right in the middle of that muddle/morass/mess (call it what you will) that is rewriting my current novel in progress. As you probably know, I am a plodder at the best of times - cue snap of plodder -



but lately I have got tired and bored with trying to show how how dynamic, alive and progressive I can be. (And we all HAVE to be these days.) So even thought spring is on its way - or so they tell me - I'm retreating into myself until further notice.  Cue picture of me retreating into myself...


Don't worry. I'm feeling fine if a bit stodgy and dull. I'm not smiling much but am not morose. Basically, I need to get on with my novel and am not feeling sociable. Nor have I anything to say that won't bore the socks off you. I am reading and watching the world go by.  I am not ill but will be undergoing  several miscellaneous and boring medical tests in the next few weeks. I am convinced the medical fraternity are over-reacting but you never know. I'm feeling okay - but a little lethargic and dull company.

But, as they say, no news is good news. I hope I will be submitting my novel manuscript to unsuspecting agents some time later this year. But I'm in no rush. Just plodding along...



See you soon. I may even pop up on social media very occasionally.  There's one thing I refuse to become and that's a bore. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Onwards and upwards one step at a time.

Time for a catch-up and prove I'm still writing. I'm steadily plodding through a major rewrite of my latest novel.

 In case you've forgotten - or more likely, don't give two hoots - but I'm telling you anyway, my last attempt to be published was a novel was set between the end of WW1 and The General Strike ie 1919-1926 and partly discusses the repercussions of the horror of that conflict.  I totally missed the boat because by the time it was sent out to agents it was already late 1913. And you know how slowly the publication process works.

Basically, I had some decent feedback but no editor was eager enough to bite my hand off. Oh well.

Having left that one languishing, I have been working on and on and on with a medieval novel. Set in the 14th century it concerns a real and very small Cistercian priory of nuns in the village where I now live. Those who know me or read this blog may well remember that my first version it wasn't at all well-received by my (then) agent and we parted company. I am now, very slowly and ploddingly rewriting it after advice and more thought. I am hoping there is now more at stake for the major players plus a lit of magic realism (sort of).



So that, in brief, is where I stand now. I have no deadline so there is no need to rush. I am totally rewriting it and adding more powerful scenes whilst deleting all the waffle. I refuse to be rushed. I have no deadline so I intend to complete a reasonable new draft, then ask for an opinion of one of the major literary consultancies, make the necessary changes (as long as I accept them) then have it professionally sub-edited.

Then I will begin the submission process which will inevitably take time. I am not wildly optimistic. I have decided to take it 5 agents at a time until such time I have amassed 20 rejections without any interest. Then, my plan is to self-publish. I will never stop writing. I will never give up as long as I have my health and strength.

I will not bore you about my work in progress until there is something worth saying. My next blog post will be sheer self-indulgence. Surely I am not the only person who has ever dreamt of choosing my very own  Desert Island Discs and have complied several lists over the years. As the reality will never come about, I shall do it for myself.

So tune in - or turn off. I won't be offended.  I'm doing it for me.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reasons to Stay Alive? Mine? My family, my life through music and books.

I have mentioned before that I have suffered depression at various periods in my life. I have now reached the age when my life is somewhat more comfortable and less frenetic, I have gained a wider perspective. I am what I am and know when I am about to enter choppy waters - and I know it can strike at any time - so I can arm myself with the remedies that work for me, be they through medication, sleep, de-cluttering and mindfulness.

Depression affects so many of us but we are all individuals and our own depression varies widely. I read many books about it and have read many  personal accounts. One that resonated a great deal with me was Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton. 

But the most engaging account of this horrid black dog is Matt Haig's brilliant and honest account of his own depression. And no, it's not depressing; it actually had me laughing out loud on many occasions. Matt is a great guy. I love that his book is full, throughout, with huge love for his wife and children.  Everybody should read it, marvel and learn. (Yes, you: I'm talking to those many people who think depressives are whineing selfish miseries.) Matt's depression and the way he has leaned to cope with it does not mirror mine.  Depression is universal, yet individual.. Matt Haig's book reveals a startling fact of which I was not fully aware. It's worse for men. Having said that, it's no picnic for women either but did you realise that, although depression effects more women than men, men are more likely than women to commit suicide?

To me, what depression is not. A black dog. To me it is nothing like as concrete, as clear-cut or so well defined. I like black dogs; the bigger the better. To me, depression descends on me when all motivation, happiness, and interest in people, beautiful places and even a blue sky, oozes from me, rendering me flat, boring, stupid and tearful. I am a total pain in everybody's neck. Put me in Paradise and I would lie there wrapped in my misery blanket, made even more miserable because, at the same time, I ooze guilt. Yet I do not live in a war-zone. I have sufficient money. I am not starving, I have people who care for me etc etc. Am I boring you? Of course I am...

Anyway, touch wood and all that, I am currently in a good place and I can take pleasure in the smallest of things like snowdrops in the rain and being mindful of the taste of coal-smoke in the mist, a grass snake slithering across a path and disappearing into a land drain,and for sheer indulgence, hearing The Chaconne from Bach's Partita in D minor about which Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann:

"On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. If one doesn't have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one's mind."

It was written at a time when Bach's wife had very recently died and yet, it doesn't depress me, it uplifts me. Funnily enough most of my favourite pieces of any music could be throught of as depressing but not for me: Beethoven's Piano Sonata no 29, the Hammerklavier, Schubert's String Quintet, anything by Enya and Bob Dylan, particularly, Mr Tambourine Man. Then there's Leonard Cohen's Suzanne; the most sublime poem in music I have ever heard. 

Going from the absolute sublime Bach to - well not the ridiculous - but taking me back to the early 1970s when the world was my oyster, I was in my early twenties, I was at university in London,   Not only is it youthful and joyous (unlike the Bach which is an outburst of grief) I can't help but want to dance and wave my arms in the air. It brings back vivid memories of maxi-coats and Laura Ashley dresses when I was in love with someone else's boyfriend.  That was a silly crush because, then, I really fell hook, line and sinker for a school-friend of his. - We shall have been married to for 40 years this September! So, it's All Right Now by Yes. 

So I like a wide variety of music but it is books I can never do without. They are my life-blood. Like many of us who write, I am addicted to books - buying them, collecting them, reading or rather, savouring, absorbing or devouring them. Although I am in the throes of re-writing and editing my latest novel, I have found that I am also reading an enormous amount of published books at the moment. I can only think it's because my mind is even more tuned to words. Here's a taster of some I have read, am currently reading or will do soon.








Is it me, or do publishers choose the end of January to deluge us bookaholics with a huge amount? My bank balance, which had only begun to rise again is now plunging back into deficit. I'd better get on and write a novel that might sell... or not.


And finally, finally. Here's a You Tube clip of one of my family, all so dear to me, when he was only 14. How time flies.