A Shed-load of Scenery

Having just returned from a memorable few days in France, I now understand why so many people love this country.  Angela Wren and I met there “in the flesh” for the first time, and I’m delighted to introduce her to you. She makes me want to return tomorrow, and I will re-read her books with a new light in my eyes.

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Hi Jane, and thanks very much for inviting me back onto your blog.  I’ll try not to bore your regular readers with my enthusiasm for France!

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a lover of France.  Have been since I was teenager.  I’ve been spending time there for almost as long and I still find the country fascinating and I never seem to stop learning new things about the history and the culture.  But there’s also the geography that is varied – from the flat marshy plains of the Vendée bordering the Bay of Biscay to the vast and spectacular gorges of the Tarn, Dordogne and Verdon along with the uplands of the Grands Causses of the Massif Central and the vastness of the Alps and Pyrénées.  At 6 times the size of GB, there’s a shed-load of scenery to look at!

RoadtoLangogne02

Road to Lango

Today, I want to take you to one of my favourite places, the Cévennes, an upland area in south central France.  Look at a modern map of France and you’ll see the Cévennes is now defined as a national park that covers parts of 4 départements – Ardèche, Gard, Hérault, and Lozère.  It spreads south and west below the route nationale RN88, a major thoroughfare that crosses this upland area from Lyon heading southwest.  It’s an area I’ve visited many times and there’s a wild ruggedness and a silence there I can’t seem to find anywhere else.

When I visit, I like to be in a tiny village that sits just north of the national park in col de la Pierre Plantée (planted rock).  So called because of that vast grey rocks strewn across the open pasture areas as though they are growing out of the landscape.  Apparently they warrant the technical term of ‘glacial erratics’, having been deposited millions of year ago as the ice sheets retreated.

At an altitude of 1263 metres (that’s 4,144 feet above sea-level), it’s a bit like living close to the summit of Ben Nevis (4,413 ft), but with better weather in summer.  Come here in June and the pastures are pear-green, the pines are inky-green in colour with the pale yellow pollen from the cones drifting on the gentle breeze.  The leaves of the chestnut trees are the same lush shade of green as shamrock, and, amidst the green expanse sit clumps of sunshine yellow genêt (botanical name Genista) almost competing for a right to grow amongst the planted rocks.  When it’s 28° in the centre of Mende (préfecture for Lozère) it’s a balmy 22°/23° up on the col. 

Having said that, the weather can be extreme and it can change in a moment.  When I was there a couple of years ago, it last snowed on May 31st.  In July and August the weather can be hot and dry and the grass turns a straw yellow under the baking sun.  In September the balmy breeze returns but so can the rain, bringing with it vast storms and floods.  I remember watching the sky in 1992 as it raged above the col, the colours moving from white to yellow, pink, and then green as a storm devastated the whole area and forced a national emergency to be declared. 

ColduRieutortinsnow

Col du Rieutor in snow

That year it was rain, but sometimes it can be snow if the wind is coming from the right direction – as it was overnight on September 27th in 2007.  I woke up the next morning to a silent and white mountainous landscape and, after taking in the view, my thoughts turned to murder and how easy it would be to use snow in a place like the Cévennes to cover someone’s misdeeds.

So, I can honestly say that, I never made a single conscious or deliberate decision to locate my books in France. It, genuinely, just happened.

CoverArtA clear-cut case?

A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.

When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.

Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?

 

AEWBlackWhiteAmazon : AngelaWren

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

 

 

 

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Clever Concentric Circles

After our canal boat ride I was worried about being on time for the wine-tasting meeting at Porte Narbonnaise an hour later. Prepared to take a taxi, I offered to pay for the others. But they were reluctant and I needed the exercise. Trusting again to Carrie-Ann, we marched the route to la Cite. They kept to my slow speed. It was a long way on hard pavements and rough paths; the sun beat down and streams of sweat threaded my hair under my Aussie bush hat. But we arrived on time. I rested on the side of a trough where pigeons sipped, while the others stood waiting for our host.

artwork

We followed him up through a cobbled street bordered by colourful vendors, rubbing shoulders with tourists from all directions. We crossed to the other side of the city and examined the circling golden artwork, consisting of tinfoil topped with bright gold paper, stuck to the stonework in clever concentric circles. Thank goodness it wasn’t paint. Laurence told us the controversial spectacle, commemorating the anniversary of the city’s recognition as a UNESCO listed site, would be removed in October.

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Then I realised – that glimpse from the canal of the sun striking the towers was none other than the brilliance of the design on its walls.

As dusk fell we gathered in a private circular crenellation on the castle ramparts, sipping at many variations of wine and nibbling titbits; getting to know each other and appreciate our similarities and differences. The conversation grew less erudite as the wine took hold. There was no spittoon. I furtively tipped some unfinished samples onto the concrete below before accepting another, but I didn’t see anyone else do the same. How did they manage all this alcohol? I preferred the throaty red at the end and drained my glass. The wind gusted through the arrow niches; it was getting cold.

We hobbled over the cobbles back into the city centre. Our party of seventeen were turned down at our inn of choice. Why don’t we just take three tables, I thought. However, after some hassling, we were accepted at another. My delicious smoked salmon tagliatelle was just the dish to warm my insides and soak up the effects of the wine. An evening of warm camaraderie and one or two asides of semi-serious author talk in anticipation of tomorrow.

A painless thirty minute walk down the hill in the cool of the night, following Carrie-Ann’s lighted mobile until the battery died. But she’d memorised the way.

Our landlady had removed the smoke alarm battery during our absence, and left us some chocolate and soap bars in compensation.

A blessed peaceful night, before an early rise to meet at the Hotel de la Cite for 9am.

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Setting Out, Setting In

You’re in for a treat today, as Ron Askew , one of my favourite writers, is my guest. We hark back to authonomy times, when he was an enthusiastic supporter of my first novel. He gave me the confidence to persevere. His book  One Swift Summer holds a permanent place on my kindle.

Rona

I have never thought much about story setting before. It is just there, a background feature. Story and character have always taken precedence, with the question of which drives which, story or character, always seeming a more important focus, at least for me. That said, setting may clearly influence story and character in certain circumstances and even become a dominant factor. When Napoleon and Hitler invaded Russia they were both thwarted by General Winter. That said, are climatic conditions really to do with setting? Arguably, yes. Similarly, in The Cruel Sea and The Old Man And The Sea, the sea seems to play such a strong role as to shift from background setting to being an active player. So, too, in Hardy’s Wessex novels, the countryside is a consistent presence and its moods seem almost human at times, especially Egdon Heath in The Return Of The Native. Though here, too, it is often the climate rather than the physical setting that Hardy uses to reflect or influence the mood and behaviour of his characters.

Thinking about it, my recent writing has been set in London in part or wholly. In Watching Swifts, the story is set entirely within Kew Gardens, though the buildings and locations are fictional. This mix of fact and fiction serves two purposes. Most people have either been to or heard of Kew Gardens. It evokes an idea that acts as a hook upon which to hang fictions. This is great. Some readers may not realise they are fictions. And I am not going to tell them. Not that it matters. There is no such building as The Old Specimen House at Kew Gardens, for example. But there is in my story. I don’t like the idea of nailing everything down in faction. It’s too mundane. Having everything in a work of fiction just as it is in reality seems…

bookIn The Room With Three Doors gyrates from London to Hampshire. London is seen as a monster. It kills Rhi’s twin sister in a cycling mishap at Old Street roundabout. Rhi stands on Blackfriars bridge, seizes the phones of Matt and Jamie and hurls them into the River Thames, with the lights of Canary Wharf as a backdrop. But that is enough setting. The story then shifts to the dynamics of their love triangle. Setting reasserts itself as a feature in the final third of the story when the action has shifted to a watercress farm in Hampshire. Again, I know there are watercress farms in Hampshire, but I did not have a specific one in mind. To have done so would have got in the way. It is easier to invent one. The finer details don’t matter. Anyone looking for detailed nailed down accuracy will not find it. What they will get is an impression. The setting of a tranquil Hampshire watercress farm is deliberately there to symbolise a different way of life to that offered by London’s Canary Wharf.

Harking back to Watching Swifts, I suppose the use of a garden within the city was similarly symbolic because the principle character was a refugee from himself who had sought to escape from modern life to the peace offered by Kew Garden, one of London’s famous green lungs.

My most recent story (MMRS), as yet unpublished is set in a specific corner of London’s Kensington. That said the street and especially the house at the core of the story are fictional. They mock the reality of the real streets of Kensington by striving to be more alive in their own way. But isn’t that what fiction is about? It’s not a mirror to reality, more a procession of half-truths and lies. But this is wonderful, as absolutely anything may and does happen.

Being a longer story than the previously mentioned, MMRS shifts to a manor house in Hampshire, where a hill with a Celtic burial mound plays a key role, to the swimming pool of The Marina Bay Sands Hotel a mile high in Singapore. It shifts again to a beach in Cornwall and finally to a backwater in rural Shropshire. Of course, all this water symbolises emotion and fateful undercurrents. Yet to the reader, the setting is purely background. There are no lengthy descriptions of hills, trees, views or weather. The story is paramount in the way it allows the characters to evolve. In terms of art, for me at least, the human portraiture of character is more interesting than the landscape of setting.

That’s it. It’s the unstated features of setting that are its most useful feature, especially when used sparingly. Were setting to be too heavily emphasised that might get in the way of character and story, at least for this reader.

Looking ahead, I have started to think of what to write next. So far I’ve got no further than wondering ‘Who is it about? Who does what and why?’ The where of it has not featured, so far. The idea of starting with ‘where’ doesn’t work for me. That’s not to say a story can’t evolve from a ‘where’. Maybe if you go and sit in Antibes, say, and petition The Great Demon God of Stories for copy, a yarn might present itself. But then it might not be anything to do with Antibes. Maybe another aspect of setting is the pre-story setting of the writer as he waits to receive his next handful of flash.  In which case my present setting is a small room with no view to impede the inner eye’s creative vision.

Ron

Ron is from Lancashire, and lives in London in the heady world of Reuters and Fleet Street. You really must read about him on his author page.

https://www.amazon.com/R-J-Askew/e/B006GDQKCC/

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Minor Problems and a Canal Trip

Carcassonne, France.

It is still our first day. We had a quick shower and change in our well appointed Casa del Teisseire and the fifteen-minute walk back to the station, downhill and without luggage was a doddle. We sauntered along the Canal du Midi guided by Carrie-Ann’s google maps and found our publishers’ abode, no problem.

The other authors were already there, and for the next three hours we sat in the pleasantly shaded patio imbibing wine, chatting and partaking of endless platters of delicious meats and salads. A veritable feast – made even more welcome as I’d eaten little since arriving in Toulouse early that morning.

We walked back with Miriam to her hotel Bistro opposite the station and went home without having to rely on the mobile directions at all. We were already feeling at home.

A shrill peeping noise woke me. And another a while later… it wasn’t until dawn and a conversation between us that I realised it was the battery fading on the smoke alarm. The ceiling was very high and there was no way we could reach to take out the battery. The peeping continued, and I messaged airbnb before we went out for a canal boat trip up the Midi. The 12.30pm ride advertised did not materialise, so after buying ourselves sandwich breakfasts, Miriam came back with us to the Casa.

There was a message on the table from Marion – she’d heard no peeps. Perhaps we’d removed the battery? We must have just missed her!

The sharp peeps continued to interrupt our thoughts as we passed the time, pouring over maps and making plans. I messaged Marion again, saying we were going out soon, and wouldn’t be back ‘til late at night, and the peeps were still sounding. Could she please renew the battery!

lock

We walked back to the Midi and boarded the boat for an afternoon ride; a pleasant, peaceful ninety minutes through foaming locks.

canal trip

Leaving the suburbs of Carcassonne behind us, the boat slipped quietly between borders of green foliage and tall trees.

citadel view

We turned back and stopped for a romantic sighting of the Citadel with the sun striking its ancient towers. (You’ll see a better picture of it next week.)

 

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Our guide, a lively buxom wench with an unruly mass of bright orange corkscrew hair, regaled us with snippets of information in French, English and, privately to a couple behind us, in Spanish. At one lock a man in dirty jeans appeared on the shore. He had short-cropped hair and a fuzzy chin. Lying in provocative manner along the wall, he assisted with the ropes. On tiptoe, she reached up to him. The water rose and the lock filled. They waited; closer and closer…

“Are they going to kiss?”

Just as the gap between them narrowed to a mere couple of inches, he got up, handed back the rope, and sauntered away.

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Letting Lucinda Loose

I always enjoy reading Lucinda Clarke, whatever she writes. She fills me with joy and I never know what she’s going to say next..

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First, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Jane for her courage in letting me loose on her blog.  She has suggested I chat about settings for my books, an easy question to answer.

To date I’ve written 3 memoirs, a 4 book Amie series and a comedy – oh and the freebie I offer to anyone

WRS sign up 3 APRIL 2018myBook.to/WRS

 All of them (but one) are set in – guess where? Yes, Africa.  

My only excuse for this is I lived there a long, long time almost 40 years and I didn’t want to leave. It gets into your heart, your mind and in some unexplained way it heightens your senses. 

We began in Kenya – well that was me – the Ex was carted off to
Tanzania – leaving me to cope on my own with a 9 week-old baby, in the bush 25 miles outside Nairobi.

Next stop was a five-year spell in Libya on the north African coast. Life was different but interesting. I taught and worked on the radio and produced the second baby. Ah, but then we were PI’d (thrown out) after the Ex was locked up. Bit embarrassing when your infant cries out in the playground: “Please get Daddy out of jail.” I was a teacher there at the time and it didn’t do much for my reputation. 

Next stop was Botswana and it was here, still teaching and running that rather desperate riding school, that I remember with most fondness. Nothing quite beats riding off across the dry river bed on the back of a horse, meandering through the villages and cantering slowly (and very carefully, I’m a terrible coward) across the wide- open savannah. 

Then it was South Africa. Now we were on the fringe of the cities it was more first world – high rise buildings and highways. Later, my work filming took me deep rural and I was so privileged to meet the peoples at grass root levels. I spent days with them, learned about their lives, their aspirations and their triumphs and struggles. I visited/met/worked with: farmers, vets, teachers, road menders, witchdoctors, nurses, doctors, patients with AIDS and all kinds of other illnesses, museums, schools, prisons, drug rehabilitation centres, abattoirs, airports, government offices, news rooms, international world leaders and celebrities – the list could go on and on.

Many of the wonderful people I met have popped up in both my career memoirs in the Truth, Lies and Propaganda series:

https://www.books2read.com/u/47kzYN

https://www.books2read.com/u/4AgL6p

my personal memoir

https://www.books2read.com/u/md7Py3 

and as characters in my Amie novels.

31956016_2073860759497078_6609426112688685056_n We came to Spain in 2008 side-lined due to Africanisation policies. My clients wanted my work, I wanted to work for them – the government said ‘no’. We had little option but to leave and it broke my heart.

Initially I modelled Amie on my own experience – moving to Africa as a newly married wife. But then to make it more exciting I embroil her in a civil war and pop her into prison and then …

myBook.to/Amie1

The physical descriptions of places in my books are a combination of Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique and Kenya. 

I’m hoping to publish the 5th book in the series, plus two back stories before the end of 2018.

Now the theory in coming to Spain was to lie about in the sun all day, sipping sangria and chilling out. Two problems with that: winters are cold here – well after Africa they are – and do you realise how boring it is doing nothing? Within 3 months I was itching to write, but apart from a few commissions in the early days, I had no clients.

Solution? Commission myself – and the most obvious medium was from scripts to books. I didn’t bother to look up my old agent nor the traditional publishers I’d worked for. When you’re a wrinkly you just don’t have the spare years to make all that effort.

So, I became an indie and I’m proud of it. I think I take as much care as any traditional publishing house with editing, proofing, cover etc. to make my books the best they can be. As I am my sole client I give myself lots and lots of attention!

The huge difference of course is the marketing but let’s not go there and write about depressing stuff.

I’ve ordered the outer shell for next time round – Goldi Hawn’s hair, Madonna’s figure, Einstein’s brain and Mata Hari’s sex appeal. That should give me a head start. But would I be a writer? Of course! I’m addicted and couldn’t stop if I tried. However, the above ‘extras’ might just help me get my books converted into Hollywood blockbusters. Hey, I can dream can’t I?

You can find me here.

Web page – http://lucindaeclarkeauthor.com

Blog link  http://lucindaeclarke.wordpress.com  then add date

Amazon page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lucinda-E-Clarke/e/B00FDWB914

Twitter  @LucindaEClarke     https://twitter.com/LucindaEClarke

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/lucindaeclarke.author

 

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The Trials of Travelling in a Foreign Country…

I’d never been to France; I don’t speak French, nor can I understand what they’re saying. But I can sort-of get the gist when I dig deep into my memory of O-level written French.

It is Sunday 23rd September 2018.

I wake up, ready to be collected at 6am, only to discover a message from Carrie-Ann saying she is coming fifteen minutes earlier. I rush through my ablutions, grab a glass of cranberry juice to swallow down my daily pills, and run out to the car, its headlights glowing along the street.

At Gatwick I sampled the inner workings of checking in. Carrie-Ann had pre-checked her bag into the hold, but when I tried, I baulked at the £37 price. We went towards security. I was ready with my bottles and tubes visible in a plastic bag – but my special body lotion was too large, and no way was I going to sacrifice it. The man at security was very helpful. I could go back and check my case in “hands free”. He suggested I asked for assistance. We submitted ourselves to rigorous exit security (passport, stand in the specified area and have our faces scanned) before retracing our steps.

This time, an attendant was at hand to work the machine while I played helpless at her side. It worked! A five pound swipe with my card and a preferential tag on my case, before we returned to security and sailed onto the Easyjet plane for the smooth ninety minute flight to Toulouse.

It took some trudging along hard pavements while my companion used her mobile google map to find the shuttle to Matabiau train station. And we nearly booked ourselves on the coach instead of the train to Carcassonne. 

Forty-one minutes through parched harvested countryside, the Pyrenees rising dimly in the distance. We took an earlier train than planned, so Steph didn’t meet us in her car at the station as arranged. We’d be able to walk to our Airbnb cottage on Rue Arago and back to our publisher’s home near the Canal du Midi for a welcoming barbeque.

Carrie-Ann brought out her mobile with confidence, and once she’d established the orientation, we walked through a square of fountains and up dusty streets dragging our luggage. Laborious, uphill. Even though I’d been sitting for many hours, my legs ached. We stopped in front of a wooden red door in a rickety frame and rang the bell. Denise opened it in a fluster. It was only 3pm, we were early, and she wasn’t ready! We needed to spend a penny; she showed us quickly round; we left our luggage out of the way under the stairs, and she gave us the key to get in, showing us how to unlock the door. Then we were hustled out to kick our heels for half an hour.

Narrow, one-way streets, drab, with tiny pavements; cars creeping by as we cringe against the walls.

St. Martial bastion

The Garden of Calvary, Carcassonne

We turned a couple of corners, and happened on the Garden of Calvary, the Bastion Saint-Martial. A rocky, overgrown place with winding path punctuated by niches on either side, depicting the stations of the cross in dramatic stone carvings. We rested on the step with our backs to the “judas kiss”. Carrie-Ann didn’t like the creepy atmosphere of the place, but I wanted to explore further. Glimpses of three giant crucified figures, touched by the golden sun, rose through the tangled trees above us. Bravely, she followed me. The crucifixion scene, too large to encompass in a single photo, confronted us. We wandered round the small bastion, dallying before each niche, and the minutes sped by.

Denise had gone – and we couldn’t unlock the door. We hadn’t listened properly to her instructions. We both tried twisting, turning, pulling and pushing, in efforts to uncover its quirky warp. Despairing, I looked over my right shoulder towards a neighbour, who was showing signs of offering assistance – when suddenly I happened to pull and push at the right moment. Voila!

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Money Money Money

Final insight into my new book.

The real-life launch at People Matter yesterday, complete with bubbly, and graced by our MP, Stephen Llloyd, past clients, friends and associates was my best ever. I hardly slept a wink last night.

To make your new business work, you need customers – but you cannot pluck them from trees. You need to go out and find them.

What – expose myself? And where can I find them?

Yosemite Half Dome (640x399)

I give you a few tips to go on with – HERE

And where do you get finance if you need it?

Here’s an open secret…. My book shows you how to keep records, and even to take a look into the future. Those who wish to perform a simple “What-if” analysis on sales-forecasting and budgeting for their business, can download a free Excel spreadsheet. Full instructions on how to use this useful tool can be found in the book.

Meanwhile, I invite you to think again about those ten personal dreams I helped you identify in my blogs over the past two weeks. You will have decided on the year you hope to achieve each one.

Your task now is to think about how much achieving each of those dreams would cost. You could work it out in today’s terms. You could even try some educated guesses. But if you want the full benefit of the exercise and give yourself a chance of fulfilment, it would be well to do some real research and decide on the details.

Now do some simple maths: work out the number of years to your goal, divide the total cost by that number, and – to make the objective even easier to envisage – divide the answer by twelve, to find out the monthly sum you will need to save, to achieve your goal.

Put your detailed list at the bottom of your in-tray, and re-visit it every year. You’ll be surprised how many you can strike off as achieved, allowing you to add more dreams each time.

And, remember – you can always change the goal posts!

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