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.

One swallow ………..

…. does not a summer make.

Neither do fourteen, it seems, as Midsummer day is almost upon us and the weather continues to be cool, damp and grey with frequent heavy downpours and occasional violent storms. This afternoon we are threatened with a hail storm. Given the choice of excessive heat, or excessive rain, I would choose the latter, but it really has been a dismal start to summer, and from the forecast it doesn’t look as if we can expect any improvement for another few days at least.

The garden is luxuriant both in terms of plants and weeds. The rose bushes are bent beneath their own weight, but the blooms are ragged and soggy. The lawn never dries out sufficiently for mowing.

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But on the bright side, the swallows are flourishing. The four who arrived in mid-March are now fourteen as far as I can count, all feathered and flying. Hopefully there will be more to come, as they often raise two broods before they migrate in the autumn.

A consequence of all the renovations that have taken place in rural areas is that swallows and owls have lost their ancestral family homes. All the barns and previously deserted houses in our hamlet have been converted into either permanent or holiday homes. It is really heart-breaking to see the swallows, when they arrive, flutter around windows that were once empty gaps, as they try in vain to reach the beams where they had nested for generations.

Although we renovated one tiny old house as a holiday home, several years ago we stopped using it for that purpose and instead use it for storage. I leave the upstairs windows open throughout the year for ventilation, and as soon as the swallows discovered that, they were in like Flynn and building their nests. They also established themselves in the little wooden chalet in the garden. We are able to watch at close quarters as they work through the daylight hours to fill the gaping mouths of their young. The birds are quite used to us being in close proximity.

Hungry swallows

Last year we met a couple who were temporarily without accommodation, and offered them the opportunity to ‘camp out’ in the small house, on the understanding that there would be birds swooping in and out and around the bedroom. They reported that as the young fledged and began practising flying, lying in bed was like being on the platform at Waterloo during rush hour. 😀

There is an obvious consequence of having birds living indoors, but clearing up their mess is a small price to pay for the pleasure of knowing we have given them space to raise their young in safety. Once they were a common sight here, but over the years their numbers have dropped alarmingly. We must help them in every way we can.

As I am writing this I can see a dozen or so swallows swooping around the garden, plus the goldfinches, blackbirds, wagtails and woodpeckers. None of them seem discouraged by the weather, although the swallows look rather soggy.

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While discussing swallows, I thought I would mention for those who don’t know, that my book ‘Swallows and Robins – the Laughs and Tears of a Holiday Home Owner’ is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2016. The winner is chosen by public vote, and the award ceremony will be broadcast by Sky News on 12th July at 8.00 pm. If you would like to vote for me, here is the link to click. If you voted for me in the first round, thank you, please do continue to support me by voting again. Finalists are listed in alphabetical order, so you need to scroll down.

PBP Finalist
Click image to go to voting page.

I know that we are not alone in having unseasonable weather, and that while some are suffering floods others are suffering heatwaves. Here’s hoping that for all of us we soon have some relief and can get out of the house without being either drenched or baked. 🙂

 

 

 

Not yet a novelist

It doesn’t happen often, that I am left speechless. Even if it’s only a curse I can usually muster a couple of words.

Being unable to write is a new experience. Never have I stared blankly at a bare sheet of paper for ten minutes and failed to find a single word worth writing.

But on Wednesday  that’s what happened. Unnerving.

I’ve sometimes been called a novelist. The definition of a novel is a story invented by the writer – a tale about imaginary characters and events. In other words, fiction. The person who writes a novel is a novelist.

All my books so far have been non-fiction. They are about actual events, people and places. They are not novels, and I am not a novelist. I’m a writer, or author. However it is increasingly common to hear all writers referred to as novelists. Does it really matter except to the pedants?

But I have meandered away from the point.

Our guest speaker at the May literary luncheon hosted by Charroux Literary Festival was the effervescent Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova novels. After lunch Alison held  a workshop on ‘character and setting.’ The first part of the exercise was to create a character. In ten minutes.

While the 17 other guests bent their heads and wrote diligently, my mind became a vacuum. The minutes ticked by. Alison called: “You have five minutes left!”

I felt a wave of panic. This is how Masterchef contestants must feel as the clock ticks down and their panna cotta hasn’t set. I quickly scribbled down the most clichĂ©d character imaginable, and as quickly scribbled them out. When our ten minutes was over, my character was non-existent. It’s the hardest piece of writing I’ve never done. I could feel sweat trickling down my back, and my throat had dried up.

Things looked up when we went on to the second element of the exercise,  creating a setting. From nowhere came a muse who settled on my shoulder and helped squeeze out a couple of hundred words.

The final part of the exercise was to swap all our characters and settings around anonymously, and create a story from them. Pity the poor person who was landed with my non-character.

I landed on my feet, as the character and setting, although devised by two different people, could have been written for each other, and I regained my writing mojo, for the first time actually writing fiction. And loving it. Something I have never believed I am capable of. That doesn’t mean I’ve become a novelist – 200 words do not a novel make, but I can see a glimmer of light beckoning from the end of a previously unknown tunnel.

Since then I have been creating characters in my head, and without the pressure of the ticking clock have found it addictive and fascinating.

Alison is – forgive the clichĂ© – a prolific author with a huge fan base, and has written five novels in the Roma Nova series in three years. She also blogs energetically and offers advice and help for writers. I bought her book The 500 Word Writing Buddy which contains  no-nonsense, succinct advice delivered with a generous dollop of humour. It has motivated me to hope that one day I will deserve the title of novelist.

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First, however, I must finish the current non-fiction book I am working on. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Johns and a Rosie

Reblogged from https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com

Interesting. Ourselves as others see us. I think Eric has the English fairly well worked out. But will we ever fully understand them?

Harriet Springbett's playground

I knew that Cognac’s European Literature festival wasn’t a literary festival. Not a writers’ literary festival, in any case. I knew it would be nothing like the intimate meeting place for writers and readers you’ll find at the St.Clementin and Charroux lit fests.

But it was happening close to home. There would be books and authors. And I was intrigued because the European country selected as the theme of the festival wasn’t a country. It was a city. The city of London.

Aha, I thought, as I looked through the programme. Now I’ll understand how the French see the English.

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The inauguration event – a discussion between two journalists about their visions of London – came halfway through the festival (I haven’t worked that one out yet. Perhaps I’ll have to wait until France is the theme country to understand this logic).

But Jon Henley, a journalist from The Guardian


View original post 1,108 more words

The alphabet of death

I don’t know who to attribute this to, but whoever it is, nice one!

If anybody does know, please tell me so I can give credit where it’s due.

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Many thanks to Michael Gage – the alphabet is the wonderful work “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” by Edward Gorey.

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Could you get me in a frock?

 

Have you ever seen me wear a frock? Probably not. It’s always been riding breeches or jeans since I was a teenager, except for work when I had to wear ‘proper’ clothes.

So frocks do not feature in my wardrobe. You could change that.

My best-selling title last year was Swallows and Robins, which is long-listed for the People’s Book Prize.

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If it makes the finals, I’ll have to wear a posh frock.

The competition is formidable, from stellar writers like Frederick Forsyth and brilliant cartoonist Mac to name-drop just two of the opposition.

Winners are chosen solely by public vote. Most votes wins. So, for a rare chance to get me into a frock, cast your vote here: People’s Book Prize – Swallows and Robins. Voting closes 28th February.

Leaving a comment is optional. In case you are stuck for ideas to add to those super comments made so far (thanks hugely, whoever you are!), here are a few suggestions:

  • Brilliant!
  • Wonderful!
  • Amazing talent!
  • Best book ever!
  • Definitely the winner!

Thank you for reading. Thanks a lot if you vote me into wearing a frock. 😀

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Me in a frock