Wednesday, 28 June 2017


More cloudy days. Yesterday (27th June) we did what I call the monastery circuit. We walked up the hill to the Gite Rural, along the top road towards the monastery and then down the hill to meet the road to Laurent de Batons. We met two other dog walkers, one Dutch, one English and Tom whizzed by in his van. By the time we walked along the bottom road it was ten past nine and starting to get really warm. Tim has been quiet all day after that walk but it totalled on 7,200 steps on my pedometer.

Early evening the thunder storm began just as we were sitting down on the bolly to eat our lapin casserĂ´le. Tim was frightened, but then became so interested in the rabbit stew that he ignored the thunder crashes. Later still the rain started, but it wasn’t the full on rainstorm we’ve seen here in other years.

 I’ve intended to try cooking rabbit for a ong, and finally did so. I followed a recipe in the Slow Cooker recipe book and marinated the meat in fruity red wine. It turned purple in colour and looked truly revolting, but frying it improved the colour to a dark brown – nothing like the photo in the recipe book! How they got it to be golden brown after a red wine marinade, I have no idea. After four hours in the slow cooker on the bolly it smelled delicious. We found it very tasty. Not unlike a meaty chicken, but not as dry.

Farmers were rushing about collecting hay bales while the thunder crashed. It has rained through the night and today the pool is rather full and the fields are greening up almost as we watch. I doubt we’ll go far today, but I should get lots of editing done.

Monday, 26 June 2017


We had a cloudy day yesterday (25th June). The temperature dropped to a mere 28. Inside the mill, it dropped to 24.5 which was really comfortable. So we did some work – sweeping, dusting, tidying up for me and working on the hedge for Bill.

The water in the pool was still silky warm, but today it felt a good deal cooler. Refreshing and still a lovely treat. I took Tim across the stream this morning and had a plod around the field where the farmer was bashing the hedge to bits. He has been back and baled his hay, so I felt he wouldn’t mind. We don’t trample around hay fields, but wait until they’re cut and baled. I Googled  laws of trespass in France last year and couldn't find any. As long as we don’t do damage, it seems we can wander. On the practical side, I would never wander where there is livestock, because the local cattle are big beasts and don’t look friendly.

Sad to say, the newly cut field beyond the stream was uninteresting. Tim loved it, lots of new smells to explore. It proved to be almost two fields in the shape of a letter B. Imagine the I is the stream, and the bottom curve is the partly open segment from which the sparse road traffic can be seen whizzing along. The hidden segment must have been wonderful for the local deer and foxes – a perfect hideaway surrounded by trees. It will be again when the grasses grow. Although it has not rained for days, the stream is higher than it was, a good inch or two higher. I suppose the water must come up via springs. The springs in the field beside the house have never stopped running no matter how hot it was.

Sunday, 25 June 2017


After my sad attempt at shopping in French supermarkets we decided to return home via Lalinde, which is a lovely little town on the Dordogne. It was 39 degrees at 11am and the heat hit us when we got out of the car. It was market day and the main car park was full of market stalls selling everything from strawberries to vintage dresses, but we found a spot by the lake.

We soon discovered the streets were too full of people and dogs to walk comfortably through with Tim, so we dived down a side-street. We stayed in the shade where we could as we made our way down to the pharmacie on the corner of the main square. DH and Tim stayed in the shade while I bought my Insect Ecran Familles. I asked for what I wanted in a mixture of French and charades, but the girl understood me! The Marie Rose cream they did not stock.

Across the road from pharmacie was the boulanger so I rushed in and bought some bread for lunch. Once I found Tim and DH again, lurking in the shade, we decided that the peace and quiet of home was very appealing. We drove to St Foy with the road to ourselves, and then on to St Felix and only met one other vehicle – naturally, in the most narrow part of the road.

Swimming this afternoon was amazing. The water was almost warm so I slid in without my usual hovering on the steps while I nerve myself for the cold shock of hitting the water. Delightful experience. How wonderful to have a pool of one’s own, even if it is for only a few weeks of the year.

As we cooked our beef burgers on the barbie (before you scoff, let me say that French burgers are so much better than the usual English fare. Here, they are made of beef and nothing else), we heard a tractor and a dreadful crashing noise. Sounded as if the tractor was in the field at the back the house, and when we looked across the lower patio, it almost was. The tractor was cruising the far side of the stream and bashing down the undergrowth, so now there is a view across into the fields beyond the stream. Since the stream itself is barely an inch deep though still running fast and clear, I could be tempted to get my wellies and explore next time Tim and I walk around the lake.

Our early morning walk was concluding about half six or so when we stepped onto the road between the fields and stopped in amazement. A deer bounded into view only ten or twelve yards away. Fortunately I had Tim on the lead just in case some white van drove along (they all drive like maniacs here). So we stood absolutely still, even Tim, and the deer stared back at us for a few seconds and then trotted off and bounded back into the woodland. I think it was a small Munckjack (?) certainly not a roe or red deer, but a lovely thing to see.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Shopping en France

According to the thermometer in Lalinde, it was 39 degrees today (22nd June) at 11am. Still no rain, no wind, no clouds. It was joy to drive to Bergerac and then on to Lalinde because we could enjoy the air conditioning in the car! So cool, so wonderful. 

I wanted to buy fly repellent, skin lotion and anti-moustiques cream, plus a bottle of wine to replace the one we drank the first night we were here. The wine was the easiest thing to find in the Bergerac wine section because the bottle was on display, but I failed absolutely to find a Marie Rose mosquito repellent, though I did find what I think were lotions against head lice. Not quite what I wanted.

Then the fly spray; there was one here last year, so I know they exist but in the whole of Monsieur LeClerc’s fine supermarket I could not find a similar household spray. I came out with something called Stop Insects that promised to kill mosquitos, flying ants, cockroaches and the like. Then I went to look for the apres sun lotion. Again zilch. Sun tanning lotion everywhere, but no apres soleil in sight. I gave up and bought a tube of good old Nivea to stop my skin wrinkling up in all this heat.

At home with the dictionary I discovered the Stop Insect was not quite what I thought. It kills the creepy crawlers, but by spraying the curtains, window uprights, doors, tables, pool surrounds etc etc. Not sure what to do with it now.
On the wildlife front I found the desiccated corpse of a five inch lizard languishing in the bottom of an empty blue glazed planter. I wonder if I could fill these somehow, so that they are not death traps? Poor thing must have starved to death. At least I could turn them upside down.

Another problem is that the men who come and remove the dustbin bags have not appeared so far. We remember they came on Wednesday around 10.30, but something must have happened to the schedule, or else they’re not doing it in this heat. It really is extraordinary.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Night activity

the bolly
Another day with 36 degrees forecast. We are longing for rain! Or at least cooler days, some cloud, some wind. We’re not eating much in the way of dinners, but Magnums from the freezer are most welcome mid-afternoon. That’s when I swim. 

Yesterday the tiles around the pool were too hot to walk on, so it was a mad dash out of the shade of the bolly to the edge of the pool! If this weather continues, and it is forecast at over 30 until next Monday, I shall be an accomplished swimmer before we go home.

The late evenings are very pleasant. We switch between the bolly and the balcony in the hope of catching a breeze. The farmer turned up at 10pm last night, headlights on his tractor and we thought he must be about to move his hay bales. He did the turning and baling after eight o'clock at night earlier this week and finished with two tractors whirling around in the dark with headlights glaring. Rather like watching huge fireflies flitting about. If he did, he took only one (we couldn’t actually see what he was doing because of the rather large and healthy pine tree) before he roared off back up the hill to the north. Next morning the bales were still in the field.

Two mornings ago I saw a young fox racing away from us as Tim and I returned to the house, and yesterday evening it was a small deer that legged it at the first sight of us as we left the house. Tim saw neither – some dog he! I’m pleased, actually, because if he had seen it, he’d have chased it. He nearly broke his lead this morning to attack something (unseen) in the hedge at the end of the drive. Naturally, I saw nothing, and he never caught anything. Maybe it was the scent of the deer. Or the fox.

I’ve finished reading a Jack Reacher I brought with me – Without Fail. Interesting story but a tad long-winded on the explanations, but isn't that typical Lee Child? It struck me yesterday that he's becoming more like Sherlock Holmes in the way he makes his deductions about what villains will do or why they do it. Intriguing to read, but must be annoying to have someone like that in real life! I found one of his titles  I hadn't read - Night School - on the shelves here, so I'm reading that now.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Hotter still!

33 degrees forecast yesterday, and 38 actually recorded. Today 35 is forecast, so we’ll see how high it goes. We get up early, around half six and I walk Tim well before seven. Then we do everything to keep the house as cool as we can. After that it is read, relax, swim and sunbathe – and go indoors when the heat is too much!

The second edit on Alba is Mine is going well. DH did a second day working on the overgrown hedge and has given himself a day off today. Actually he is on his way to the supermarket to do a grocery shop as we’ve eaten everything in the house. Tim is squealing as the car goes down the drive – worried that his dad is going and might not come back Or – why am I not going with you, dad?

I’ve been reading After You by Jojo Moyes and enjoyed it. It’s the same kind of writing style as Barbara Erskine – easy, effortless, uncontrived yet the reader keeps wanting to turn pages. 

The pic? That's my shadow taken yesterday!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

It's Hot!

Had my first swim yesterday. We’ve arrived after a thunderstorm, so according to the forecast, the next few days are going to get hotter and hotter. The curtains are closed to keep out the sun, and we sleep with the windows open and the shutters closed. That keeps us at a comfortable temperature as the heat of the day disappears. It seems amazing but at half six in the morning, when we wake, it is shivery cold. Soon warms up though.

Already, at nine fifteen in the morning, I have come indoors into the cool because it is too hot to pull the weeds out of the steps down to the lower patio. By weeds, I mean three foot lengths of Virginia creeper and ivy, and those horrid weeds that look like maroon spiders and grow to enormous size with tiny pink flowers. Not to mention the ants that scuttle away every time I uproot something. Somehow I don’t feel guilty about them, but I was sad to see two pathetically small lizards dead in a garden jug that had half filled with water. When I emptied it, a live fully grown lizard swept out with the water. Green and gold, he sparkled and glittered in the sunshine before he raced away into the undergrowth. Perhaps I saved his life. Anyway the earthen ware jug now sits upside down so nothing else can fall in and find itself unable to get out.

I am about to begin a second edit on Alba is Mine, after re-writing the first scene yet again. DH is out hacking merry hell out of the overgrown hedge that runs beside the drive. He did this yesterday, cleared a strip about twenty yards long and fell asleep after dinner and slept all through the night too! Must be the fresh air.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

En France

After a long journey by car I am now resident en France for the next few weeks. Good to be back.  The sun is not at full strength to day but even so I gave up sitting in it after an hour. My pale white English skin will turn lobster pink if I don’t expose myself bit by bit. (If that sounds vaguely rude, I apologise.) But given time and patience I shall turn brown; I have the sort of skin chemicals or proteins or whatever it is that turns sin brown. A lady from Israel, sitting beside me by the lake during my time as a summer camp councillor in Maine, once remarked that I had a “nice colour in my skin.” Not everyone has, she explained.

This time when we arrived the first thing that struck me about this green lush valley in the Dordogne is the complete absence of sound. Granted the birds sing with extraordinary energy and the wind rustles through the millions of green, shiny leaves, but the sound of humans is absent. Gone. Disappeared. The distant chug of a tractor mowing an adjacent field later this morning was something worthy of my getting up and taking a look.

I think it may have inspired DH, because he is now outside, wearing my sunhat, driving the mini tractor round and round the meadows to bring the knee-high grass to a manageable level. A shame in a way, because among the grasses are the yellow iris, and all the other wildflowers that bloom unseen and keep the bees and presumably themselves happy. Near the lake, the young frogs will leap out of harm’s way ahead of him. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Predictie text and Amazon changes.

Amazon have changed their stats system yet again. I don't know if their method of "counting" has changed, but certainy their way of reporting to authors has, and in a way I find most unhelpful. Bar charts are all very well in their place, but I much prefer the old method of numbers of books sold against each title, and number of KENP pages read against each title.

Now it seems I have to check through each titles infividually to find out what is happening to it. I looknat the bar chart and see for example that two books have sold, but I don't know which one or in which country. I have to go and do some extra work to find out.  Might be easier for Amazon, but it certainly isn't easier for me.

Must be in a growse mode today, because I'm getting annoyed with predictive text too.  DH has found a way of switching it off, so I must do that when I have a moment. I have enough mistakes of my own to correct without predictive text incorrectly guessing what I want to say.  I'm in the washing, ironing, tidying, hoovering stage of getting ready to go on holiday so I live in turmoil. Perhaps that's my problem!

The pic? The laburnum has faded now, but it was glorious while it lasted. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Stage One complete

At last the re-edit/write is now done. I've printed out 238 pages, and parcelled it up in a blue folder I bought a decade ago and never used to take with me on my holidays.
At the time I was sending submissions out to agents and wanted to impress, but soon discovered that fancy folders were a no-no among busy agents. So at last it has a use!

 The word count is now 104,740 reduced from 147k so that is a substantial reduction. After a few days break comes the read through on paper with pen and post-its to hand. Heaven knows what I'll find to correct. Anything is possible. I may need more than post it notes, though they are a fair size. I never travel without my laptop, paper etc etc etc so that won't be a problem. 

I took out the first chapter, and one or two paragraphs that I thought repetitious or that I didn't need, but the bulk of the reduction has come from removing what I call stage directions - moving to or from one position to another -  and taking out many speech tags where the action made it clear who was speaking;  generally tightening up my writing by remoing all those unnecessary words such as just, nearly, almost

A word like quickly can become a habit or a crutch word and mop up 50 or 60 uses and you never notice until you work your way through a list looking for them. I found over 200 uses of one word, but I've forgotten what that word was now. Turned, probably. My characters kept turning before they spoke or acted or sometimes even breathed. I also discovered I was one of those authors who gave advance warning and then described the action! Quelle horreur! I think I dropped that bad habit some time ago.

The pic is from our trip into Yorkshire last week. Very dramatic skies and a narrow single track road, but we got there safely and without the rain storm we suffered on our trip last year.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Cookery, glasses and retail therapy

Contemplating some cookery beyond the normal run of feeding self and husband. Friends are arriving home tomorrow from South Korea and I'm planning on giving them dinner on Saturday. To be more precise I'm contemplating what to give them, as they will surely be here on Saturday night! After the highly spiced dishes of SK, I thought they might welcome some fairly plain English food, so I'm working on roast beef,  and lemon meringue pie. I don't know anyone who dislikes either!

The washer stopped working yesterday, which was inconvenient of it as we had a load in at the time. I suppose it always happens like that. We have ordered another which will arrive next Tuesday by which time the washing will have piled up.  This is proving to be an expensive time -  not only the washer to pay for, but Tim's vet's fees are not inconsiderable, and our holiday looms. I visited the optician yesterday since I'm struggling to read small print these days and that can become embarrassing with menus and price tags and such like. So that will be another £500 when I pick up my new specs. 

Yesterday's visit to the optician is one of the few times I have been out without a dog in tow, so I made the most of it by visiting M&S and a shoe shop and bought something in both! Thought it wise to stop there. I was obviously lacking retail therapy and to go on visiting shops would have been dangerous to my bank balance! 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Half-Viking Scots hero.

Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due. Yesterday around 3pm I ordered three books from Amazon to arrive in time to take on my holidays next month. Imagine my surprise when half an hour ago, they were delivered to my door! That's less than 24 hours! and with free delivery. Amazing. Congratulations to Somebody in there has a good management strategy going!

What did I order? My holiday reading will include two books from Lee Child, and the latest in the Jimmy Perez series by Ann Cleeves - Cold Earth. Besides these, I shall have several titles on my ipad and will happily peruse the book shelves at our destination. I tried a copy of The Red Tent and never finished it, but now I see it has become a tv serial. Perhaps a second look is in order.

I mustn't take too much reading matter as I have a novel to read and edit. Alba is Mine is now down to 106k word count and I am over the halfway mark, almost two thirds done on a first edit, and I have to say that it is looking good. I suppose re-reading Jack Reacher novels would be good right now in fine tuning how men think - though perhaps not all men think like him! Still, his thought processes might be a tad more in tune with a half-Viking Scots hero than me. 

The local woods were full of garlic flowers a few days ago, billows and cushions of them. Such lovely flowers when viewed close up. The perfume is strong and antiseptic but not unpleasant - I should think it would be used in many medieval potions and lotions.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Buster collar days

I'm not getting any work done. The last two days have been a wash out, workwise, and all because my dog has been to the vet.  Like the last time he went in for an op, they blithely said to pick him up at 4.10pm. We said that would be fine but they could ring at any time and we'd pick him up. He went in at 9am and by 10.40 they were telephoning to say he's awake - come when you like.

We parked behind the surgery and we could hear him when we got out of the car, doing his Huckleberry Hound thing. Long drawn out whoooooooooooooooo, deep breath and then again - whooo-ooo-o-o-o. He was very pleased to see us and quietened at once. He's wearing a Buster collar to prevent him licking and chewing his stitches, of which he has seven, in two differentand no doubt sore places - one to remove a small growth and the other take a skin patch to inestigate an irritating itch he's had for some time which ointments don't seem to help.

We're all far too hot to be comfortable and he has perfected the art of side-swiping me with his Buster collar. I shall be covered in bruises before he stops wearing the wretched thing. Our garden thermometer claimed 31 degrees C this afternoon. We sat in the shade. What on earth are July and August going to be like?

Right now I'm hearing the pathetic little snuffles and moans that indicate he wants a cuddle. When I looked round, he's lying there, staring at me. Got to go and offer comfort...

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Re-tweet groups

Intrigued by a group new to me, I joined and found they re-tweet everyone's posts, which means every post goes to everyone's followers. Great, I thought, more exposure and it probably is. But there is a downside, as I soon found out after only two days. 

Some of the authors I don't know, and consequently I don't know their books, so how do I know what I'm sending out? I don't want to spend time checking everyone's titles but then I don't want to discover down the line that I've retweeted and liked something that will not be appreciated.

Plus which I've noticed already that many of the people are authors I know. A lot of our followers are the same, too. The poor followers must be inundated by tweets about books! So all in all it is probably a good idea, but to be used *sensitively.* Otherwise no one will want to know me. (It certainly did not boost either my sales or my KENP stats over the last two days.)

Starting to dream of holidays in the sun, though to be fair it is warm enough here. Still, a change of surroundings will be welcome. Looks like I'll be taking my re-editing with me. It is turning into more of a re-write and Alba Is Mine (was Banners of Alba) stands at 107k word count now. That's 40k words gone! and mostly every one of them through smartening up the writing rather than cutting out chunks of story.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Fascinating characters

17 May 2017


Amazon UK £1.20
Amazon US $1.50
Amazon CA n/a


“For an ex-duchess, obeying orders proves difficult. But Melanie has little choice. Scarred and cheated out of her widow's entitlement, she accepts a post as housekeeper in remote Gavington House where widowed Lord Jarrow rears his young daughter. He has secrets, and Mel's curiosity will not let her rest until she has discovered what it is that occupies both him and his friend Mangerton. Soon she is embroiled in lying to the Excise men, and wondering if she dare risk falling in love again.”

Maybe Dark Whisky Road is a little melodramatic, and reminiscent of Jane Eyre in places, but what the heck? This is a thoroughly enjoyable true-to-the-genre romance.

I confess I initially selected the book because of the lovely piebald horse on the cover, which shows that cover content is as important as the narrative, but soon found myself engrossed in the struggles and doubts of our wonderful heroine, Melanie Grey. Forced to leave her wealthy life as a duchess, Melanie finds a position as a governess and housekeeper for a widower and his daughter. And so the plot continues from there, leading to the Excise Men and other such nasty baddies.

There are fascinating and well-created characters in this story, most of them with secrets or struggles to overcome, and of course there is an anxious budding of love. We meet the typical-genre necessity of brooding heroes, unsure heroines, dastardly anti-heroes, remote settings and misunderstandings

Jen Black writes with a crisp, refreshing style and elegant descriptions which take her reader right into the scenes she is creating. Her characters are equally well written, Melanie in particular is not the typical feisty beauty who has it all – she is vulnerable has her fears and none of the modern feminist views we often come to expect in novels. In this story she is ordinary – and I very much liked her, and Ms Black, for it!

© Helen Hollick