Churches, a Museum and More Food

fountainCarcassonne. Wed. 26th September 2018. Most of the authors have left by now, and I enjoy a leisurely morning writing my diary while Carrie-Ann works on the edits of her new book. The hours speed by and it is time to meet Steph and Laurence for our final lunch under the shadow of the Fountain of Neptune. Miriam and Katy complete our table of six – the final remnant.

last lunchI am hungry and my chosen dish, smoked salmon ravioli looks meagre, but it satisfies me adequately, followed by a delicious apple tart and cream. I am proud I’ve resisted the rich profiteroles on the menu. We say our goodbyes.

It has been a memorable few days. I’ve got to know my publishers much better as people this time. The experience has been warm and friendly as well as fruitful and satisfying.

Carrie-Ann and I amble down the narrow streets towards the Aude river and spend an hour or so admiring some huge impressive works in the Museum of Fine Art. My favourite is a small depiction of a traveller; it could be St. Peter with rheumy eyes and thick-veined hands. A masterpiece.

start of the viaWe tarry for ten minutes in the Chapel of Notre Dame de la Sante, thankfully devoid of tourists. We savour the tranquillity of the place with its ribbed vaulted ceiling. It marks the start of the Pyrenean foothills path leading towards St. Jean Pied de Port, on the way to Santiago de Compostella.

We find a path along the river to the footbridge across to the medieval city and rest at a wooden trestle table before retracing our steps, sidestepping a potential dog fight between three animals and their owners, shouting French obscenities at each other.

We wander along now familiar streets back to the Rue Arago, stopping awhile to listen to a deafening recital of organ music in the impressive interior of St. Michael Cathedral with its enormous stained-glass window. The instant we enter the door to enjoy the lovely stained glass window and rest awhile in the peace of contemplation, we are surrounded by the deafening sound of an organ. Somebody must be practising. Once my ears become attuned to the din, which pervades my very being, I surrender to the sounds. We don’t wait to the end, and outside is blessedly peaceful.

I don’t feel like going out again for supper, but Carrie-Ann is a night owl, and has taken the key to the casa. She’s been out a couple of hours now. I’ve devoured the chocolate left by our landlady, eaten a  banana and had two cups of jasmine tea.

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Four Species in Perfect Harmony

I can’t remember how or when I found Jim Webster. The dry humour of his regular blogs makes my day every Monday, when I catch up with fellow authors. He has great insight to how animals behave, in a human sort-of way, and I hope you will appreciate this little rambling.
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It’s when you deal with dogs, cattle, and sheep at the same time that you
realise that, to be honest, they’re not all singing from the same hymn
sheet.
To give an example, because of the grass situation we had a couple of dairy
heifers in the same field as a lot of sheep. The heifers needed some
supplementary feed, but at that stage of the year, the sheep didn’t. So I
had to go into the field, accompanied by Sal our Border Collie, and feed the
cattle but not the sheep.
Now you might wonder how easy this was to do. If I walk through the sheep
accompanied by Sal, the sheep gather in a group some distance away and watch
me with hawk-like intensity. This they’re quite happy to do until I leave
the field and then they get back on with their own lives.
But then on one occasion, one of the sheep noticed I was carrying a red
plastic bucket. These red buckets are what I use to carry feed in. Suddenly
that sheep in the huddle suddenly bleated and set off towards me. Within
seconds the rest of them started bleating and in spite of Sal being there, I
was swamped by the mob.
Yet, if I carry an empty red plastic bucket over one shoulder, it obviously
isn’t a bucket and the sheep leave me alone.
With the two dairy heifers, they tend to ignore overt signals such as
buckets and the like. If I appear, they immediately converge on me and check
me out. To them, I am the source of food, not the bucket. The bucket is
merely the thing I sometimes carry food in. Thus to the cattle, it is my
presence that produces the reaction.
So to feed cattle but not the sheep I merely have to walk through the field
with the bucket held in my hand opposite the mob of sheep. The two cattle
will join me, and the sheep will ignore me because they don’t see a bucket.
Provided I can feed the cattle somewhere where the sheep don’t see them
eating, I can get away with it.
On another occasion we have a batch of fattening lambs being fed in some
troughs. We had to move the troughs out of the first field into the second,
and hide them behind a hedge, because some cattle in a field adjacent to the
first field would see me and climb over the hedge to get to the feed.
If I put the troughs where the cattle couldn’t see them, then they lost
interest. Me just looking at sheep wasn’t interesting enough to climb over a
hedge for. But unfortunately the sheep in the first field who could see the
troughs, would stand there by the fence between the two fields, bleating at
the troughs, rather than following me round through the gate.
I would then have to send Sal to collect them, because otherwise they’d just
stand there bleating until their smarter mates had finished and had wandered
off to do something more interesting.
Sal on the other hand tends to regard the two dairy heifers as potential
playmates. She doesn’t attempt to herd them, but just frolics around them
and sniffs their noses. She also leaves them to get on with eating because
she doesn’t want to be casually buffeted out of the way by a heifer’s nose
that is bigger than she is.
But with the sheep she’ll move up to a trough I’ve put feed in, and the
sheep will quietly evacuate it, heading for the next trough. Sal will then
pinch a few pieces of the cake before running back to join me.
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Me? I’m Jim Webster, farmer, writer and whatever. I’ve done a couple of
collections of blog posts about farming, dogs, quadbikes, sheep and life.
One of my books is
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I also write fantasy with four paperbacks out there. (they’re available as ebooks as well but for some weird reason Amazon has cut their paperback price down to their kindle price.) So the paperbacks are worth checking out in case Amazon is still doing strange things with pricing. One of them is
I’ve also got a lot of fantasy novellas as well, which are all ebooks, but you perhaps ought to wander across to my Amazon page to take a look
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We Had so Much to Say

We got up early for a slog up the steep steps to the Porte d’Aude of the medieval city of Carcassonne. But I made it. At The Hotel de la Cite, we prepared for our day’s conference. It went so fast. We had so much to say and ask of each other, and items had to be scrapped from the agenda to keep to time.

Seventeen of us getting to know each other, learning interesting titbits about the publishing trade, discussing case studies. Then some serious stuff, bringing us up to date on the fast-moving writing world, and analysing how the best-selling CATS did it. A quick run-through of social media tips and techniques, and then it was lunch time.

lunch in the hotel
serving lunchAn epicurean meal, delicious, meticulously catering to individual tastes and needs. Beautifully presented by smiling waiters, always ready to pose for photos, and take a few against the spectacular backdrop of the castle battlements.

 

The two hours flew by before we trooped back to the conference room to discuss developing and working together as writers.

 

There was no time for tea, but we went out to the terrace for a final photo at 5pm, against the striking artwork of the battlements.

from the Hotel balcony We trooped down the hill in the dark to our various hotels and abodes, me trusting in Carrie-Ann and her mobile to pick our way through the darkened streets to the Casa del Teisseire.

A quick shower and a change, then off to the Bistro d’Augustin near the station to meet up again for supper with a diminished number of CATS. I made an unfortunate menu choice – ordering fisherman’s soup, stupidly thinking it would be bouillabaisse. A large bowl of deep brown liquid was put before me. I was hungry and mopped up several mouthfuls with French bread. But the taste wasn’t particularly pleasant and I wondered what fish, or parts of fish were included in the mess. I didn’t finish it. But made up for my mistake by tucking into a giant portion of rum baba dessert.

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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.

*** 

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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