Festival Notes: an interview with Travel Writer Susie Kelly by the Charroux Litfest team

Apologies for the erratic line-spacing in this post – WordPress is throwing a wobbly and refuses to let me edit. I’ll keep trying, though. 🙂 


Charroux LitFest: Can you tell me a bit about what you are writing at the moment?

Last year we went on a safari to Kenya, and just now I’m writing about that.

As well as visiting game parks all over the country we also had an opportunity to see different aspects of life in Kenya today, from supreme luxury to extreme poverty, and to meet people living and working at both ends of the scale and in between.

I had a set idea in advance of how the book would evolve, but it all changed during our visit and I’m trying to adjust my original concept to take into account those changes that have taken place, and my feelings about them, forty years after I left the country. It’s a digression from my usual style, and something I haven’t completely mastered so far. It’s still a work in progress.

Charroux LitFest: Can you tell me a bit about your writing/working day e.g. place/time/treats/special mementos you have in your writing space?

I’m a slow starter, more of an owl than a lark, and begin my day with coffee while reading emails, checking on Facebook and doing the Guardian quick crossword on-line. Then I deal with paperwork, shopping, cooking – all those chores for which a wife would be really useful, although my husband Terry does a lot to help.

My office is a small room facing onto the garden, where we have set up a bird-feeding table. During the winter I make up large bowls of food for them, melting vegetable fat and adding cooked pasta, sunflower seeds and mixed grains, which go into the fridge to set. These very large pieces allow many small birds to comfortably feed at the same time, without risk of catching their claws in the nylon netting on those small balls you can buy. They have also attracted several great spotted woodpeckers this year, so rather a lot of my time has been spent watching them. While I’m doing so, thoughts, phrases and ideas are running through my mind, so although I’m not physically writing, it’s all going on in my head.

Once I start writing the least interruption can kill my train of thought, so I wait until the dogs have settled down for the night and Terry is reading, and the telephone has stopped ringing. When I get going I’ll carry on for as long as the words flow, so am often still writing at midnight.

Try as I may to keep my working space neat and tidy, it is invariably cluttered with paperwork, photos, empty cups, rubber bands, pens and notebooks, but the one thing that is always there is a Swiss cheese plant on my desk. She is called Ethel and is my confidante, guardian of my secrets and a good listener.


Charroux LitFest: Of all the places you have visited in your books, where do you want to return to most and why?


Kenya, where I grew up and which I wrote about in my memoir, is where in my heart I will always think of as home and where I would choose to live under the right circumstances.

However, I love France, where we have lived for over twenty years. Having travelled around and across it, there are so many places I’d like to go back to, but if I had to choose, it would be one of the first places we visited on our trip in the camping car which I wrote about in Travels with Tinkerbelle, the Pointe du Van in Brittany, on a summer day.


Pointe du Van, Finisterre, Brittany

Although I am not a lover of the sea, there is something about that tip of land that is so majestic and other-wordly. On a perfect day the shades of blue of the sea blend seamlessly into the blue of sky, so you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins, and it feels as if you are standing on the very edge of the world. But during the winter, storms can whip that same sea into a terrifying cauldron of towering grey waves. Nature here is at her most unspoilt and invincible.

The Brittany coastline, for me, is the most beautiful natural area of France. I’d like to go back there.

Charroux LitFest: What Novelists /novels have influenced you in your reading life, and why:how?

That’s a hard one! I read so much in several genres by so many writers.

As far as travel writing goes, Bill Bryson has to be my number one favourite. Paul Theroux is up there too. Both of them always make me laugh. Although I enjoy most travel literature, I enjoy it far more when it involves mishaps and nothing goes according to plan. That certainly encourages me when writing about our travels, because they invariably go wrong from day one.

For thrillers, Gerald Seymour is my pick. The lines between good and evil are blurred, with no stereotypical goodies and baddies; each character is a human being with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. His story lines are gripping and from his career as a front line journalist in war zones around the world, he knows exactly what he’s talking about. Something that instantly puts me off a book is when there is a factual error, and it is something I am very conscious of when writing. I check, double-check and check my facts again to try to ensure they are correct. If in doubt, I’d sooner leave something out.

Historical fiction – Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, C J Sansom and newcomer Tony Riches are among my favourites in this genre. History was one of my least favourite subjects at school, it was all dry facts and dates, whereas well-written historical fiction brings it to life. I’ve learned far more about the evolution of Europe than I ever did from lessons at school, and doing so sparked my interest in learning about the history of those places we visit.

My greatest regret is that if I live to be 150, there still won’t be time to read all the books I’d like to. As well as those from the mainstream publishers, there is so much quality writing being published now by small presses and people who choose to self-publish. These are often overlooked, but are worth investigating because there is some really, really great writing to be found, particularly memoirs and biographies of ‘ordinary’ people who have lived extraordinary lives and often prove that fact is indeed stranger than fiction..

For enthusiastic readers who like to explore beyond the book club choices and newspaper reviews, I’d recommend signing up to one of the services like BookBub, which hand pick books in your chosen genres and send you daily emails when they are on special offer – often free, or reduced to 99 cts. It is quick and easy way to discover new writers.

Charroux LitFest: Other than writing, what is your idea of your perfect day here in South West France?

The temperature is exactly 24ºC. There are tiny smudges of cloud high up in the blueness of the sky. A warm, gentle breeze tinkles the wind chimes.

We breakfast in the garden, beside the pond, in the shade of the tri-colour maple. The lawn is perfectly mowed, the wisteria in bloom, the scent of roses in the air, and there’s not a weed to be seen. A jug of freshly-squeezed orange juice, a pot of strong coffee, a small jug of cream and a plate of buttery croissants and black cherry jam are laid out on the table. Our dogs lie beside us enjoying the sunshine. There are no flies.

All around the birds are singing, bees burrow into the hearts of the lavender, and I smile knowing somebody is cleaning the house for me.

After breakfast I shower and pamper myself for half an hour, then flick through my extensive wardrobe to choose something to wear. All the clothes are size 10, and they all fit comfortably.

We take the dogs for a long walk through the fields, and then it is almost mid-day, time to meet friends for lunch at our favourite restaurant, Le Bouton d’Or, a fifteen minute stroll from our house. Chef Francis welcomes us with his permanent smile and joke, and serves a superb 4-course meal with a bottle of crisp, light rose wine.

During the afternoon we retire to the garden to read and doze, with the dogs beside us. They take us for another walk before supper, which is served in the garden. We have a simple, light meal – Vichyssoise followed by fresh Gariguette strawberries, and a glass of something fizzy, probably a Vouvray.

We sit in the warm evening until the stars came out, and the nightingales begin to sing. It has been a perfect day.

CLFT: Thank you Susie

The second Charroux Literary Festival will take place from 24 – 26 August 2017 in the historic town of Charroux in south-west France. Author lunches and other  literary events will take place throughout the months leading up to the festival. To find out more like us on  Facebook.com/Charrouxlitfest  or contact us at charrouxlitfest@gmail.com

The People’s Book Prize

Thanks to all those who were kind enough to vote for Swallows and Robins, I’m thrilled to say it is a finalist in the People’s Book Prize. 🙂

The winner will be chosen, again by public vote, from the twelve finalists in the non-fiction category. The next round of voting starts in May – I’ll take the liberty of reminding you when the time comes. 🙂

I am so grateful for all your support. download.png


Thank you

I haven’t been active on social media for the last three weeks, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been active. There’s a load of stuff going on that is taking up my time and which has to take priority, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.

To all those people who have already voted for me in The People’s Book Prize –

Thank you.jpg

For anybody who would like to, there is just one week remaining before voting closes, so if you can spare a moment I’d be very grateful. 🙂

Click the link below to go to the voting page.



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.


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.


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



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.

SwallowsWEB (1)

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. 😀


Me in a frock


5 – 3 – 1

These are my 5 intentions for 2016.  Hopefully they will not pave the road to Hell.

Drink more water
– because water is not only essential, it is good for us. The body of an ‘average’ adult – whatever an ‘average adult’ may be – is composed of approximately 65% water. Just fancy that. No wonder we’re so heavy. As we don’t want the same old stale water swishing around our internal waterways, it must be good to keep it freshly supplied. This interesting article knocks on the head the dictum that we should all be drinking half a gallon of water a day, but I don’t think I intake sufficient liquid, so I’m going to make a conscious effort to drink at least a few glasses every day.

Stop being angry – I’ve already started that one! Currently on Day 5 of the Negative News Detox and it’s working. 🙂

Finish the Kenyan safari bookIt’s taking longer to finish the first draft than I anticipated. As well as all my handwritten notes, I use the several thousand photos I took as aide memoires. Once I begin looking through them my mind drifts away, and I start going through all the photos that bring back such beautiful memories, and before you know it I haven’t written a word. So I’ve myself from looking at the photos again until I’ve finished the first draft based on my notes. Just one more peek first.


Improve my photography. I only became interested in photography when I bought my first micro-four-thirds camera three years ago. I’d tried my husband’s Canon DSLR and found it too awkward and heavy, so when I wanted to move up from a point and shoot, the tiny Olympus EPM-1 mini-Pen was my choice. It’s a gorgeous, versatile little camera that takes beautiful photos. I had no idea what all the knobs and buttons meant, so I joined our local camera club and have since learned how to move beyond the ‘Auto’ setting to obtain the required image. I later bought an Olympus OMD EM-10, another micro–four-thirds camera that is a joy to handle and produces high quality images. Through the club I now understand the elements of photography and using post-processing software, but I have been using the ‘hit and miss’ approach and taking far too many photos in the hope that some of them will be good, and relying on processing to refine them. I enjoy that aspect of photography, using Light Room, but for speed and  simplicity, Faststone is  my pick of the free image manipulation software if you want to view your files really quickly and make basic adjustments. It is invaluable for calculating the size of a high quality print you can get from a digital image.

Last year I spent a day with Marian Brickner photographing the bonobo chimpanzees who live a few miles from our home. She was gracious enough to share her time and photographic wisdom with a very raw amateur. When we were discussing a particular shot, I mentioned that if the exposure wasn’t quite right, I could tweak it with software to achieve the correct result. Marian looked at me over the rim of her glasses and asked: “But why don’t you get it right when you take it?” Indeed, why not?

lexi flossing poster 24 x 36


Find out more about my grandfather.  Who and what was my Irish-American grandfather? My quest is to try and uncover more about his life, particularly his activities in WW1. Why did he have two names Vincent Kelly and Frederick Mannering and how did he marry my grandmother under both names, at the same time and in the same place? How did he have at least three different and disparate wartime occupations, including fighting with a South African kilted regiment? So far the trail runs out at his death in 1932 and I’ve been unable to find any information regarding his siblings. They seem to just fade into obscurity. A surname like Kelly doesn’t help. I’ve spent rather a lot of time on Ancestry without achieving very much. My lovely friend Jenny who is clever found several family photos and other information on the site, so I’m hopeful that if I keep going long enough I can find out at least a little more about this mysterious character.

Vincent Allen Kelly

Vincent Allen Kelly


These are my three best finds of 2015:


Replacing fabric softener with vinegar.  It’s better for your health, better for your clothes, better for your pocket and good for your washing machine. And it’s vegan, too.

The Perfect Pace dog lead

Our rescued Vizsla Tommy, is beautiful, and wilful. He will walk quietly on a lead for only as long as he wants to, and then he’s off and hard to hold. We tried various Haltis, Gentle Leaders, an expensive harness, all of which were ineffective. He continually scraped at the halters until he either caught his claws in them or pulled them off, and in the harness he hugged the ground to get his centre of gravity right down and then pulled like a train. Taking him out was exhausting and unsatisfying.

I read an article on one of the dog owners’ fora, where somebody recommended the Infinity Collar (now renamed the Perfect Pace) as being the first and only means she had found for stopping her dogs pulling. I ordered one – they are made in the US – and was somewhat bemused when it arrived, because it was a simple plaited cord of soft but strong material, with a fixed loop for a handle at one and, and a variable loop at the other. It took me a while to work out the mechanics of it, but it’s absolute simplicity. You make a big loose loop and put it around the dog’s neck. Then you twist the loop into a figure 8 under the dog’s chin, and place the resulting second loop over the muzzle. Tighten the loop behind the ears, and keep it in place with the sliding leather toggle. Voila! There is nothing more to it than that. No straps, buckles, Velcro, just a narrow, gentle figure 8 over the dog’s head. It doesn’t ride up. It can’t come off (unless you use the optional attachment for fixing it to the dog’s collar, because if the dog backs out of the collar, it will take the loop with it.) Tommy made a half-hearted attempt to remove the loop over his nose, and then trotted happily and quietly beside us. If he does suddenly lurch – as when the dog at the end of the lane leaps up at the gate – the lead checks him. Best buy!



The BaByliss rotating hairbrush

I hate my hair. I’ve always hated it. And I’ve hated it most when people say: “Aren’t you lucky to have curly hair!” No. Curly hair is not lucky. It is unruly, sticks up and out, and frizzes at the sight of a weather forecast predicting even a mildly damp day. I’ve tried various techniques for taming it, from having it short cropped to growing it below shoulder-length, encouraging it to go its own reckless way by spraying it with water, and sleeping with my head in a tight-fitting cap to clamp the unruliness to my skull. It’s been a life-long battle between us, always ending up with a 1-nil victory to hair, apart from occasions when I’ve managed to iron it into flatness with tongs which generally burnt my ears and neck. I could never get curlers to stay in place, nor manage a hairbrush in one hand and a hair dryer in the other.

Since I discovered the Babyliss rotating hairbrush, with just a minimal effort I can get my hair looking like hair and not a ball of tumbleweed. Take that, hair!



This is my one material want


This isn’t a need, and I know it’s shallow, and that photography isn’t about your equipment – people take sublime photos with iPhones or disposable cameras – but I WANT one of these. I already have the 40-150mm f4 to f5.6 zoom which is by far the favourite lens in my collection, but this would really put the cherry on the cake.


It’s extremely unlikely I’ll ever be able to afford it, so I’m thinking about asking for somebody to give me one. Maybe Olympus would. I know someone who was given a Nikon lens costing over $10,000 – just for asking. Or should I try Just Giving? Any ideas? 🙂