A Spirit of Place!

I’ve at last managed to chase John Jackson down! It’s a privilege having him join me today, and learning more about the bogs of Ireland. Over to you, John – I thoroughly enjoyed your book (here’s my review of Heart of Stone), and I too, was brought up on Georgette Heyer!

***

For me, writing historical novels based on facts and on, as much as possible, a known series of events, correlating the words on the page to the location is vital.

In Heart of Stone, the action takes place principally in Ireland, in the area aroundbook
Mullingar in County Westmeath, and in Dublin. If you look at a map of Ireland, County Westmeath is pretty well slap bang in the middle. It is a mixture of rich agricultural land and peat bog. Peat has been the fuel of Ireland for many centuries. Each household and farm would have access to the bog, and they would cut, stack, dry, turn (or “rickle”) their peat and then bring it in to be stacked near the dwelling. These days, there is still some cutting of peat, but its use as a power station fuel has stopped. Its agricultural use is also much reduced.

However, you can’t set a whole book in a peat bog! Heart of Stone is, for the most part, concerned with houses; Gaulstown, the old family home of the Rochforts, and now vanished, Belfield, the home of Arthur Rochfort, also vanished, Rochfort House, now a ruin and renamed Tuddenham House, and, principally, the manor of Belvedere. Fortunately for me, Belvedere House is still very much there, as is its famous Wall. They are national monuments and open to the public, and well worth a visit. I had the privilege of giving an Authors Talk and a signing actually AT Belvedere.

Anti-clockwise from the left: Belvedere Manor,  The “Jealous Wall”, and Tuddenham House, now a ruin. 

When I wrote Heart of Stone, I completed the first draft using existing photos and old maps, etc. This was fine, but I knew I HAD to visit the place to get that “sense of place”; to make sure that what I had written was reasonable and feasible. Even such trivial matters as the height of the hedges in the roads – can you see over them on foot? (No, not really, but you can from the back of a horse!) I also wanted to absorb and breath in a real part of the atmosphere of the whole area.

I also felt I needed to get a feel for distance. How far were the houses from one another? How long would it take a pony and trap to drive from Gaulstown into Mullingar?

The names of Gaulstown and Belfield are maintained as the names of the old farms, now sold and redeveloped. In Gaulstown you can still see the remains of the avenues of trees that radiated from the front of the house.

It’s not just maps and ruins though. So much depends on your feelings when you shut out extraneous noises. What can you small? What crops are they growing locally? Imagine there is no modern machinery. What would you still be able to hear?

My next book, tentatively titled Strange bedfellows, is mostly set in London, in the area of Stanhope Gate, Clarges street and May Fair! By 1770, the streets of London were set with cobbles, and – wonder of wonders, the main streets had pavements!

John Jackson

After a lifetime at sea and in ship management, I am now retired and living in York.

An avid genealogist, I found a rich vein of ancestors going back many generations. My forebears included Irish peers, country parsons, and both naval and military men. They opened up Canada and Australia and fought at Waterloo. My late mother’s maiden name was DUMARESQ, which is a Jersey name. It is so unusual, it makes it easy to find. It is through my mother that my family go back to Robert Rochford and Mary Molesworth.

I also have a Hare great grandmother, from Listowel, and a Jackson great grandfather, again on my mother’s side, from Clonmel, who became a railway contractor and worked on the Chester – Holyhead railway. He had 5000 navvies working for him at one time.

A chance meeting with some authors, now increasingly successful in the world of romantic fiction, both historical and contemporary, have led me to turn my efforts to setting down some amazing stories. I am a keen member of the Romantic Novelists Association and part of their New Writers Scheme. I am also a member of the Historic Novel Association and an enthusiastic conference-goer for both organizations.

I was brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and, like many of my age devoured Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen, R M Ballantyne, and the like.

Modern favorite authors include Bernard Cornwell, Liz Fenwick, Simon Scarrow, Carol McGrath, Lindsey Davis and Kate Mosse.

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The view from a country churchyard

Amen to this.

Jim Webster

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A funeral is a formal occasion rich with symbolism. Dark clad people stand solemnly, and as they leave you’ll notice that some of the faces are tear-streaked. Yet there is such a thing as a ‘good funeral’ where the stories are told and you catch up with people you haven’t seen for a decade or more.

And then there’s the ‘crem.’ We’re an overpopulated little island and there isn’t the seven feet of ground available for most of us, so the Crematorium is involved. Some people cut out the middle man and have the funeral there. Some do both, the crem service being after the funeral and reserved for immediate family and the closest friends.

Finally, the last part of the process, we have the disposal of ashes. Some people scatter them. Given the amount of heavy metals etc involved there are actually rules about it, but I’ll let that…

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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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