Suspicious minds

A funny thing happened this week.

I volunteer at a charity shop raising funds for abandoned and abused animals. Mostly I am in the book department, where we have a vast quantity of both hardback and paperback books donated by well-wishers and which are sold for 1 euro each.

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The ‘shop’ isn’t exactly a shop in the conventional sense. It’s a collection of barns and outbuildings selling quality bric-a-brac, furniture, linens, clothing, children’s games and toys, electrical goods, DVDs, CDs and the aforesaid books. There is also a tea shop where shoppers can spoil themselves with the very best of home-baked cakes and pastries.

Anyway, a lady came in on Tuesday and selected a number of books, and when she came to pay I noticed that a couple of them were written by me.

I said to her, “Oh, I hope you’ll enjoy these – I’m the author.”

She stared at me and said, “What?”

“I wrote these two books.” I tapped the covers. She looked at the books and then back at me, and didn’t seem convinced.

She turned her attention to my apparel, which was suited to mid-February in rural France. Fleecy trousers and tops, scarf, boots and woolly gloves all topped off with a red nose.

“Then what are you doing working here,” she asked. “I thought writers were rich.” 😀

Contrast that with what happened many years ago in the Brighton branch of the greatly missed and much-lamented Borders Bookshop, where you could sit and read for as long as you wished on a comfy sofa, and drink coffee and eat cakes, when one of my titles was newly-released and piled up on a table at the front of the shop. The friend I was with walked up to the person behind the counter and said: “This lady is the author of that book – she’ll sign some copies if you like.”

So the man came from behind the counter, found me a chair, and not only did I sign every copy, he found other titles of mine on the shelves and asked me to sign those too.

Without asking for any proof that I was the author!

Looking back I suspect he must have been relatively new or very confident that the books would sell, because bookshops cannot return unsold books to the publisher once they’ve been signed. My agent, the lovely Maggie Noach had told me that. Luckily for that man the title sold well and I don’t recall that there were ever any returns.

Here’s the King, never been equalled.

CHORCHORI

 

 

There is very little I miss about England, apart from a good curry. There are good Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurants here in south-west France, although to me those cuisines lack the unique punch of Indian food. The Indian restaurants we have tried haven’t quite hit the mark; it has felt as if they’ve tinkered with the spices to suit a French clientele whose palate is not accustomed to the powerful flavours of an authentic Indian curry.

Friends returning from a trip to England over Christmas brought me back a supply of mango powder, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves and nigella, some of the spices essential to making a curry but impossible to find here. Consequently we’ve been having a lot of curries recently to warm us up on these chilly winter days.

Last night I tried a new recipe for a vegetable curry and it was so good, I have to share it. Although it is very simple and uses few spices, the flavour was absolutely gorgeous. It took less than 20 minutes from start to finish.

Cook some vegetables of your choice. I used cauliflower, potatoes, frozen broccoli, green beans and peas, in total about 1.5 kilos. Steam or simmer until vegetables are just tender and the potatoes are soft. Drain them well.

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large saucepan, and fry œ teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds. (You can roast the cumin seeds in a frying pan for a couple of minutes to increase the flavour if you wish.)

When the seeds begin to jump about in the oil, add Âœ teaspoon of nigella (onion seed), 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 red chilli (I didn’t have one so substituted a quarter of a teaspoon of strong chilli powder) and 8 curry leaves.

Reduce the heat and fry gently until the garlic is golden. 

Add the vegetables to the pan with 1 teaspoon of sugar, a good pinch of salt and 150 ml. of plain yoghurt mixed with a teaspoon of cornflour. Stir thoroughly and heat through to serve. 

I replaced the yoghurt with soya cream for a vegan version.

The recipe came from the Curries of the World flipcook book, and is described as a typical example of cooking from the east and north-east of India. It differs from most other recipes I have seen for chorchori, being simpler and using fewer ingredients, but we loved the result. This recipe is a keeper.

I really like this book, the recipes are straightforward and do not require lengthy, complicated techniques (you know what a lazy cook I am!) and they work. I see it’s available used from Amazon.co.uk for as little as 1p.

Tarka dhal tonight.

 

The labyrinth of frustration

Four years after I first posted this, we still correspond regularly and he never fails to make me laugh. Having just emerged victorious from a day-long battle with Three Long Beeps and Four Short Bips I was reminded of how a well-meant remark from me led him into the labyrinth of frustration. 🙂

 

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Susie Kelly - Writer

There’s a man I don’t know who lives somewhere in Florida. Well, when I say I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, but through a mutual struggle with a particular piece of software, we connected on a forum, and have for a couple of months been exchanging emails on a variety of subjects. Mainly photography with a dash of philosophy thrown in, and a soupçon of literature. He’s a very funny man who has a great way with words, and his emails always make me smile. But this one beats the lot, and made me cry real tears of laughter.
He had recommended Vonnegut to me, and I returned the favour by suggesting David Sedaris, whose book “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” is currently producing snorts and chuckles in our household.
Here’s what Mr Florida wrote last night, and it will resonate with anybody who has ever needed to


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The Poitiers paperchase

Facebook keeps reminding me that I haven’t posted on my author page since 22nd September. Do I detect a slight admonishment? I plead extenuating circumstances, to wit:

I have had nothing to write that I think could have been of any interest to readers, and even if I had, I have been too busy to do so.

Mainly, but not exclusively, it dates back to that fateful car journey  at the end of June when our car broke down and our caravan was damaged. The car limped back home, only to put an end to itself shortly afterwards by releasing its handbrake while parked on a slope, and smashing itself to bits on a concrete pillar.

The quantity of paperwork necessary to sort out the insurance claims seemed disproportionate to the value of the claims,  but all the boxes had to be filled, in triplicate, accompanied by photocopies of numerous other documents that I had to hunt for in dusty old files, and sent off, only to be returned days or even weeks later asking for more information. .

It didn’t help that our misfortunes coincided with that time of the year in France when everybody shuts up shop and heads off to the Midi for their summer holidays and you can’t get hold of anybody for a month. Unfortunately our lovely insurance broker who has taken care of all our needs for the last twenty years, and speaks perfect English, happened to be on his well-deserved holidays when the accident happened, and has subsequently been seriously ill in hospital ever since, which means that I have had to deal with the French-speaking lady, and while my French is fairly good, it doesn’t extend to arcane French insurance language and laws and my conversations with the company were sometimes as clear as mud. It took several weeks for the payment for the car to arrive, and three more weeks to find a suitable replacement, an English-registered vehicle.

We are still awaiting compensation for the caravan, but are told it should be done within 8-10 days

As a French resident your car has to be registered in France, and so on to the next phase of paperwork, which took us to Poitiers yesterday, confident that I had everything necessary to obtain a ‘carte grise‘ – the vehicle registration document, which would mean the car was officially registered as French and we could then have new number plates fitted.

Two stops were necessary, firstly at the Centre des Finances Publiques and afterwards at the PrĂ©fecture. I checked the opening times before we left – French Government offices are notorious for their erratic opening hours. Centre des Finances Publiques is open in the afternoons from 1.15 to 3.45, and the PrĂ©fecture all day until 5.00 pm, so we should theoretically at least be able to wrap up the whole exercise in one afternoon.

We arrived 10 minutes before the Centre opened, anticipating that it would be busy and we’d have a long wait if we were at the back of the queue. When the doors opened a polite smiling young man asked each person what they wanted and directed them to the appropriate counter. He pointed us to the first floor, room 106, where a friendly lady processed the ream of paperwork in my folder and within ten minutes we had the necessary ‘quitus fiscal‘ – a document certifying that there was no tax to pay on the vehicle, one of the essential pieces of paper needed for the next stage of our venture.

Off we set to the other side of town to the PrĂ©fecture. While TOH drove off to find a parking place, I went and asked at reception which form I needed to complete. A polite and helpful young man led me to another counter and patiently went through all the steps needed and listed the papers to include with the form. I thought I’d brought everything with me – original registration certificate, bill of sale, certificate of conformity, utility bill to verify address, certificate of a contrĂŽle technique – the French equivalent of an MOT – and the newly acquired ‘quitus fiscal‘ and proof of identity. One thing, however, that I had overlooked, was a stamped self-addressed envelope. Dammit!

No problem, the young man said, you can get one from the post office, it’s only two minutes away. He led me out of the door and round the corner to show me the way.

Off I trotted to the post office, where there were several counters for various services, but none for somebody wanting to buy a single stamped envelope. There were four people ahead of me in the queue, and a young woman asked each what they wanted and directed them to a counter. She escorted me to the parcel deposit and collection point, and it was there, when I went to pay for the envelope, that I found I had left my purse at home. It seemed silly to pay for a 1 euro purchase with my bank card, so I bought ten envelopes. Then I trotted back to the Préfecture and continued assembling all the necessary documents.

That was when I discovered that I needed a photocopy of the utility bill and my driving licence. In the past it used to be the person at the counter who provided the registration document – they would make the copies for you. I went to the photocopy machine and remembered that I didn’t have any money to pay for them, so I trudged back to the place where I had been filling in the forms. As I approached a young woman was waving at me rather urgently. I’d left my nine stamped envelopes there for anybody to take, so she had kept them safe for me. Thanking her, she asked if I had everything I needed. No, I replied, I’ve forgotten my purse and have no money to pay for the photocopies. Give them to me, she said, I’ll do them for you. Which she did. Finally everything seemed to be in order, and I went to the ticket machine to take a number – most public buildings around here work on that system, so that people are seen in the order they arrive, like the fish counter in supermarkets. No queue jumping!

The kind young woman caught up with me and explained that there was no need to take a ticket, because the department that deals with vehicle registration is only open in the morning.

La vache!” I exclaimed in frustration. That would mean another seventy mile round trip tomorrow, just what I had hoped to avoid.

But no, she said. Look, you take one of these brown envelopes and put all your papers inside, then put the envelope in this box, and your claim will be dealt with tomorrow. And you have to enclose a blank signed cheque. Hm, I wonder how much it will be?

I have a premonition that my application will come back, as the contrÎle technique validity is slightly out of date, but who knows, my luck may continue.

We do read quite often complaints about French bureaucrats, but based on my experiences yesterday, and indeed generally, I cannot fault them. At each place I went there were people there to help to keep the machine running smoothly and efficiently, and they all did so with a smile.

I also discovered recently that we had been paying the tax man money that was not owed to him, which has to be reclaimed, which involves hunting out another load of paperwork and writing a long letter in French and hoping that the tax office will be helpful and obliging.

So that’s part of the reason why I haven’t updated the Facebook page. Another reason is that thanks to the French health care system, both of us have had numerous appointments with our doctor and various specialists over the last few months, and TOH had an operation ten days ago. That itself required three visits to Poitiers – first to see the surgeon, again to see the anaesthetist and then for the actual operation. A trip to town does take a hefty chunk out of the day.

I volunteer at a charity shop on Tuesday afternoons and all day on the last Saturday of the month, help a 95-year-old lady with her paperwork on Wednesday afternoons, go to photographic club on the first and third Monday of each month, do the club meeting notes, and have a book club meeting on the last Friday of the month. This Thursday morning I start restorative yoga classes to try and restore some bendability to my rigid spine.

Add in all the other day to day tasks that keep life ticking over, the shopping and cooking and looking after the animals, it really doesn’t leave too much time on my hands, especially as I’m still working on the book, which has been greatly delayed mainly due the aforesaid interruptions.

And finally, my attempt to download the latest Windows 10 upgrade is now in its fifth day. Every download either fails to start or runs for about 15 hours up to 99% and then freezes and crashes the computer. I’ve tried every solution I can find on the web, nothing has worked so far. In an hour I shall go to bed, and leave the update that I began downloading at 10.15 am still running and only up to 67% eleven hours later. I’m fairly certain that when I come down in the morning, it will once again have failed.

So that is why I have been absent for so long not only from Facebook but from social media in all its forms. Just ain’t got the time at the moment, except for whipping in to Facebook for a few minutes every day to check on messages and share a few of those things that really matter to me.

Normal service will probably be resumed eventually. I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The People’s Book Prize – as it happened

I planned to write this as soon as I returned home from London, but what ever goes to plan here? 🙂 Instead I worked my way through the 127 emails and dozens of Facebook comments that had accumulated in the one and a half days I was without Internet access.

And by the time I’d done that and sorted out the washing etc. etc. etc. and had a busy week, it had slipped from top of the list to way, way down. But now it’s a peaceful Sunday morning and TOH is out for the day, so here goes.

Firstly all the panic about possible flight delays or cancellations proved to be a waste of time and panic. Everything ran on time, and I reached my accommodation at 9.00 pm on a warm dry summer evening.

Next day started off with blinding sunshine, which by 11.00 am had given way to lashing rain, which persisted throughout the afternoon.

Dressed in my finery and sandals, and wielding an umbrella, I travelled with Stephanie to the venue at Stationer’s Hall. We were only slightly soggy when we met up with the rest of the Blackbird Digital Books contingent – intern Rosalie Love and authors Tanya Bullock (gosh, she is so tall and slim, gorgeous) and Diane Chandler with her husband Nick, and made our way into the splendour of Stationer’s Hall.

Organiser Tatiana put all the finalists through their paces in a dress rehearsal of where we should be, when and how, and once we had all been photographed we moved on for drinkypoos and had the pleasure of meeting and chatting for several minutes to Frederick Forsyth.

Dinner was served. The starter was a pretty pastel green pea mousse, decorated with a Parmesan wafer. Yummy. Main course was cod for the carnivores, but most people on our table were served the vegetarian option, a tasty pastry filled with spinach and mushrooms and served with crushed potatoes, followed by an excellent deconstructed lemon meringue pie.

Then we got down to business, beginning with the Beryl Bainbridge award for the best first time author. This went to Quentin Letts for ‘The Speaker’s Wife’

Best Publisher award was taken by Percy Publishing.

Then it was time for the non-fiction finalists to mount the platform (amidst much giggling). The prize went to Rachel McGrath with her book ‘Finding the Rainbow,’ her account of her struggle to conceive. Winners took seats at the back of the platform, while the rest of us negotiated the steps back down to floor level and took our seats with a sigh of relief at not having to make a speech. 🙂

The prize for the Children’s Book went to lovely smiley Ellie Stoneley’s Milky Moments.

I can’t remember Frederick Forsyth’s speech word for word as he prepared to announce the winner of the Fiction prize, but it was something in the order of ‘now let’s move on to the winner of the BIG prize, Fiction. An interesting one, because I was talking to her earlier over there’ – he nodded his head towards the room where we had drinkypoos.  And that’s when I knew who the winner was. Incidentally, willowy Tanya, who was also a finalist in the fiction category with her beautiful book That Special Someone, is so tall that she could read the name of the winner over his shoulder. 😀

The People’s Book Prize for fiction went to Diane Chandler for ‘The Road to Donetsk’. YAY!!! Bravo Diane, I am so thrilled and delighted for you.

And bravo Blackbird Digital Books. For a small publisher to not only have three titles in the finals but to scoop the BIG prize too, that is special. Stephanie works unbelievably hard to promote her authors, and has built up a stable of the nicest and most  talented writers you could hope to find.

Dr Sarah Myhill picked up the final award for Best Achievement with her book ‘Sustainable Medicine’.

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Winners of The People’s Book Prizes, 2016

To the people who stayed up for several hours waiting to see the ‘live broadcast by Sky News,’ although they were indeed filming the event, Theresa May’s accession to the Tory Throne took priority. It was rescheduled for showing on Friday, but was overshadowed by events in Turkey.

There was only one way to wrap up the evening, so we retired to a local hostelry and celebrated Diane’s win with a large bottle of MoĂ«t, courtesy of Diane and Nick. 🙂

As well as meeting Diane, Tanya and Rosalie for the first time, earlier in the day I met up with long-time Facebook mate the very lovely Jacqui Lofthouse, and newest Blackbird author Susie Lynes, whose first novel, Valentina, a psycho-thriller is raking in the 5-star reviews.

To all those people who voted for me, without you I would not have been a finalist and had such a blast, so thank you enormously. 🙂