Monday, 16 July 2018

South of La Dordogne

Monday 16th July, 2018

More thunderstorms, one yesterday morning and one this morning. Lightning and thunder reverberating around the valley, lots of rain but no high winds, thank goodness. And all between four and five in the morning, guaranteed to wake a person from a sound sleep, which means a very slow start when morning actually arrives. But the air is somewhat cooler today, which is a relief. And now we know why the local farmer was working so hard and so late to get his crop in before the deluge.

Yesterday we discovered the gas bottle which runs the bbq was empty so we drove down to the Jardinelle in Bergerac to have it recharged. Because it was Sunday and opening hours were later than normal, we drove south from the last roundabout in order to locate the turn-off for the airport and fill in a little time. The countryside seems quite different south of La Dordogne – smooth green hills filled with vineyards and with the most surprising chateaux dotted around. Well worth exploring – or going to visit the caves to sample the wine – though perhaps not the best idea when driving!

My impression of this small portion of France is that there are not many tourists about. Oh, they are here; but not in the numbers that we’ve seen in previous years. Is that because of Brexit, I wonder? The general economic climate? Prices in France are very much on a par with England these days, so the days of a cheap holiday are long gone. Makes it easy to calculate the euro-pound sterling exchange rate, which for me is good news.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

It's the little things....

Saturday 12th July, 2018

Doing the grocery shopping in Vergt is dh’s task, mainly because I am cowardly about driving the big car through the narrow little lanes around here, not to mention parking it in the congested car park once I get there. In my trusty 14 year-old mini Cooper I'd have no probs, but dh’s car is so much bigger and it is automatic AND it has all the latest computerised gizmos and gadgets. 

I can drive the mini in my sleep, but just starting and moving off in the new one involves a set of instructions I ought to know and keep forgetting.

I like shopping in France, because the selection is different, obviously, and it is a much more leisurely occupation than back home. That may be to do with the rural location than the French psyche, but you never quite know if that is the answer. After all, I have never grocery shopped in Paris or Lyons! I stood in line at the till with 2 items the other day – bread and two millefeuille – around 11 o’clock and stood there for ages while every housewife in Vergt did her weekly shop and then stood in the queue patiently waiting while the lucky person actually going through the till exchanged pleasantries with the cashier. There were at least six lines and the same was happening at each. When my turn came after about 20 minutes I stepped forward with the usual "Bonjour Madam" and put my two items forward. 

$4.55 she said, in French and I checked the numbers on the screen just to be sure I had them right and then handed her the $5 euros in small change I had laboriously counted out as I waited.

She quickly gave me back about 40cents and I picked up my packages and walked away, glad to get away at last. There was an outcry behind me. 

“Madame, madame MADAME!” Oh God, I thought, what have I done wrong?

It turned out, with much giggling from the young cashier and the ladies in the queue, that I had walked away without “la difference” - my change. All 5 cents of it.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Storm damage

Saturday 7th July, 2018

What a week! We had the night of the thunderstorm on Monday 2nd; violent thunder and lightning all through the night, with power off from about 11pm until about 8am Tuesday morning. On Wednesday 4th, it started rumbling off in the west mid-morning and faded away again. Then late afternoon, back it came with a vengeance – not only thunder and lightning, but torrents of water and a howling roaring wind that thrashed the trees round about the mill in a scary way. The power went off again almost at once.

Dh was downstairs checking the electrics and I was sitting cuddling Tim when there was a bang, a crash and the windows behind me blew open with another crash. The wind had blown open the shutters in the balcony room (they were pulled closed but not fixed and the windows were open because of the heat) The gust of wind slammed the door in the hall and knocked out a small pane of glass and the big windows at the end of the living room banged. I leapt up and ran to secure the shutters and found the floor of the balcony room very wet where the rain had blown in. DH arrived upstairs at the gallop wondering what all the noise had been.

Fortunately the only damage was the small pane of glass from the lovely old hall door. The rest was mopping up and fixing all the shutters properly, which meant we were in semi-darkness, so there was a hasty rummage in cupboards to find candles. Then dh found water pouring through a conduit into the same cupboard as the electrics…. after a hasty mop-up there, we traced that back upstairs and found the downcomers from the roof – and it is a huge roof – had carried all the dust and debris into the drain that runs along the bolly and then plunges down under the house. It was blocked and the water was backing up. So we unblocked it and next morning we spent a good hour cleaning that out.

The storm final moved off, but by then it was too late and dark to do anything. Next morning everything seemed quiet. I took Tim for his early morning trot around the lake and discovered three, maybe four big trees damaged. Two big walnut trees in the garden have lost major branches, the old quince tree by the well has a broken branch and at the far end of the lake by the log store, a huge tree had snapped, fallen and broken another tree in the process. One branch has speared through the log store roof.

None of those will be dealt with until some sort of mechanical power is used. There are hundreds of smaller branches littering the ground and those we can move, we will. There are other, smaller trees that have fallen or partially fallen within the woods but luckily nothing had blocked the drive.

The real problem was no power. Friday morning we made contact with the neighbours and heard that the high tension line that supplied power to the area was down, and no one knew how long it would take to repair. In a way it was a relief to know that it wasn’t only us without electricity, but that didn’t solve the problem. We had several days food supply in the freezer and the fridge and by Friday it was starting to unfreeze.

There was nothing for it but to cook everything on the gas barbecue, and we spent a couple of hours doing that on Friday around 6pm. We braved another cold shower (my second and dh’s third, since he had been unlucky enough not to have had his shower when the power went out on Wednesday!) and retired to the balcony room to read. The pool is filled with leaves and dirt, but there’s no power to clean it. No tv, no computer, and my ipad was down to 19% charged. Things were looking dire. We retreated to bed about 9.30pm while we could still see what we were doing, and suddenly dh saw the electric clock had sprung back into life. 9.40pm and we had power! We could look forward to a cup of coffee and a hot breakfast in the morning!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Wildlife in't mill

Wednesday 4th July, 2018

The thunderstorm should have left the air fresher, but it didn’t. Next day the heat was back, as hot as ever and has continued ever since. By Monday night I was so tired I went to bed in the afternoon and had a real siesta. Slept for an hour, and then slept all night too. Days later we are still hot, hot, hot and getting very little done. We are drinking litres of water and skulking in the shade wherever we can find it.

Saw a fox the other night, running away from me across the nearest part of the cows’ field. It had been foraging among the irises that grow by the stream, but ran off into the woods. Tim never saw it, but he finds the little piles of poo filled with cherry stones or some dark blue fruit. I scooped a frog from the pool with the long net and dumped it in the wild grass. Currently watching a chick being reared in the rafters of the bolly. We think they are swifts or swallows (we don’t know the difference!) and then there is the large grasshopper that dh picked up somewhere on his way back from shopping in Vergt. It was clinging to the front bumper and seemed unhurt, so we released it into the nearby honeysuckle. Small adventures, all of them, but part of the rural life we like. Oh, and there was the mouse who came galloping in from the hayfields when the farmer was cutting the hay and the kites were flying overhead; it made a beeline for the house door until dh put his foot in the way. Mouse turned sharp right and ran along the house wall back to the fields – but our fields and woods, hopefully.

I also forgot to mention the unmentionables - those pesky biting flies that find every inch of unprotected flesh and leave an itchy red bump that makes us look like plague victims!

Friday, 29 June 2018

Editing and writing - the difference!

Friday 29th June
Sunshine continues to blast out of a clear blue sky, though when I woke yesterday the world was swathed in mist and I was chortling at the thought of a cool day. By 9.10am the mist had vanished and there was the sun again. My swimming is improving to the point of 14 crossings of the pool while dh lounges on the side counting them off on the fingers of both hands. Nothing to write home about for the excellent swimmers out there, but for me, it’s good!

I’m done with the wip but for the last chapter, and I want to sort out some twists in the storyline before I attempt that. Things grow as you write, don’t they, and a few tweaks are needed to get everything in line. All this exceedingly hot weather means I can concentrate on writing, or rather editing. I need to check for single v double quotes, since I first began this story using single ones and then decided I didn’t like them. Much as it grieves me to agree with any reader of the USA who insists on them, I do find them easier on the eye. (Must be my sight deteriorating as I get older, as I never used to mind which type were used.)

Then there are all the repeated or missed words, typos and most of all correcting any errors in names or facts. One instance of Justin has cropped up already in the first two chapters instead of Jehan, which is the name I finally decided to give my Frenchman. Most of all it is smoothing out the writing, making sure pronouns don’t confuse the action and strengthening the verbs. If I can think of a prettier or more interesting way to say something, I’ll use it. There’s so much to look out for that I do only half a dozen pages in one burst and then do something else for a while. Tim benefits, as that often means walking the dog around the fields and lanes!

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Lunch in Lalinde

Tuesday 26th June

Yesterday we went to Lalinde and got hissed at (or Tim did) as we walked past the basin to go on our walk, for a pair of swans had a nest there. We walked by the canal, mostly in the shade of beautiful trees, which was wonderful, since the average temperature was 28 degrees – and seemed hotter in full sun!

All in all it was about 3 kilometres to the bridge and back, and by the time we got back into the town, we were all flagging. It was a little early for lunch so we went and sat by La Dordogne where it was cooler. There was a lot more water flowing fast, more than we remember seeing; the river bed was completely filled with fast flowing water and we could see the river bed and the long streamers of weed. The swans that usually cluster on the opposite bank were nowhere to be seen. We ambled back to the square and chose our seat. The waiter asked if we wanted drinks or food and when I said, “Food,” he said we would have to wait ten or fifteen minutes. “That’s fine,” I said.

We sat in the shade of the large timber and stone building and it was delightful as long as you didn't look up. Strong wire netting prevents the pigeons from roosting in the eaves and thereby dropping little parcels on your table, or worse, on your plate; but the dust of ages has attached itself to the netting and the lamps that are up there for the evening sessions are covered in fluffy dirt. A housewives nightmare and I don't know what the H&SE would say!

Once the magic hour of 12 clicked by, the waiter was all action with his staccato French delivered in gun bursts; three menus for our delectation, a bowl of water for Tim, and a grande Pression for Bill. I chose Salad aux gesiers, which is duck’s liver and walnuts on a bed of lettuce with a tasty dressing. Bill chose confit du canard I think, and devoured the lot plus some of the liver from my plate. Tim got a fair chunk, too, but there was enough for all.

We debated having dessert, but there is a boulangerie/patisserie across the corner and I opted to select two cakes to take home. “Une mille feuille and a tartlette aux fraises, ce tout,” I said in my school-girl French – and was understood! 4.45 Euros I paid.
We drove back with the air con full on and had coffee and the cakes in the cool of the house. Then we fell asleep. A siesta helps get through the heat of the day in a most delightful way.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Hot Summer Days

Saturday 23rd June

The heat continues, which is great for drying washing in no time flat, but a bit hard on the old skin. Once upon a time I would be lying out there, soaking it up, lashing on the suntan oil and cursing the insect life, but those days are gone. It is also, dare I say, tiring. Even Tim the dog wallows around in the heat. He comes alive early in the morning and late in the evening. He’d happily go for a walk at 11 o’clock, but by then the lanes are darkness itself where the trees overhang. Moonlight makes the hay fields light grey but there is little depth perception in such poor light. Even with a torch I wouldn’t be going out there by myself, especially not after seeing the seventh episode of The Bridge. Scary!

The farmer is out cutting the hay. So far the field on the hillside across the lane has been done, and the funny little field tucked inside a ring of trees, and yesterday the field next to the asparagus plot (seven rows this year) was cut. The hay is drying where it fell, and in a day or so he’ll be back to turn it and then back again to bale it. He hasn’t even begun the bigger fields to the west of us, but they may belong to another farmer who is working to a different timetable. Some days we have the roar of tractors all around us with two or three zipping about. Country living is not always quiet! Nor are the fields easily recognised as belonging to a specific farm. There seems to be little logic to the way it works here; one farmer owns fields that are scattered around the locality instead of being one neat parcel as they so often are in England. It probably comes from marriages and inheritance amalgamating different bits over the years.

My writing continues. Most days I do at least an hour or so of actual writing on the laptop. Some days the writing comes easier than others. One day it was 580 words completed, the following day 901, and yesterday I completed chapter 32, the tricky bit where Matho escapes from a locked room. Soon I shall be at the end, and then will have to begin revisions on the paper version I brought with me.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

First Swim

The last couple of days have been stiflingly hot. 28 degrees on Tuesday and 32 degrees on Wednesday, both with a clear blue sky. I had my first swim yesterday and it is hard to explain the pleasure of a pool on a hot day. Especially a pool that has only one person in it – me! Not sharing my pool with anyone may seem selfish, but dh doesn’t swim, doesn’t like the idea of swimming and can’t be persuaded in. So I enjoy my solitary swim without guilt.

Today it is still hot, but not quite as hot and there are clouds in the sky. Fluffy white ones, but no doubt the thunderstorm will be along shortly.

I couldn’t sleep last night. Still awake at midnight with dh sound asleep beside me, I climbed out of the igloo (as I think of our mosquito tent) and heard Tim get up from his basket to meet me. I tiptoed out in the darkness to the balcony room, opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony, dodging the chairs left anyhow while the rail is painted. It was delightfully cool out there, and there was moonlight from a quarter moon, and so many stars above me! The frogs were having a party down by the lake, judging by the noise, but there was nothing else moving. Nothing that I could see, I ought to add. I collected my ipad, some water from the fridge and went back to bed where I read a good few chapters of the novel I’m reviewing for Discovering Diamonds before finally dropping off to sleep.

Slept late courtesy of dh letting me lie in after he got up, and rose at 8am. Set out to walk Tim at around ten minutes to ten. He’d already been around the lake and back again before breakfast, but this time we set out on a lead walk towards the two bridges and the crossroads. The trees along the bridge stretch gave shade and it was a delightful tunnel of cool and quite a shock as we emerged into the full glare of sunshine at the other end. We set off up the hill towards Fouleix and the Lambert farm, but soon turned back. My goodness, it was hot and continuing uphill with it getting hotter and hotter was not appealing, no matter how pretty the view with its vast sweeping curve around the field planted with sweet corn still only a foot high.

We turned round and got back at 10.45. If I want to walk Tim on the roads, I need to be up and out by nine at the latest. At least we only saw one white van, and that was after we got back home! (Tim hates white vans. Here in France the roads are so very narrow that when a van goes by at high speed, as they so often do, it is very close to us and he hates them with a vengeance. From the barking that erupts I don’t doubt he would tear the white van wheel from wheel if he could get at it.)

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Spiders, wasps and the rest!

Sunday  17th June
Several grey days with little breaks of sunshine now and then have passed slowly by. We have had rain, but not too much, so the tractor came out yesterday and cut the drive, the “garden” and a trackway around the lake that does a big loop because DH refuses to take a new tractor across the boggy patch where the spring runs down. He remembers two eight wheel diggers vanishing into the mud never to be seen again when the M1 was built between Durham and Darlington. So the slope up to the house remains uncut and looks gloriously wild.

I put on an apron yesterday (to avoid splashing my clean top) to cook dinner and discovered several little cylindrical shaped things attached to the right breast – just like a brooch. Made out of mud, obviously the work of some insect or spider, I called DH and they were hastily despatched to oblivion. Sitting on the bolly later I looked up and saw two wasps upside down on the oak beam doing something that could have been mating. 

DH has better eyesight than me (I need new glasses) and said they had started building a nest and he wasn’t having that over his head while he was eating, so once they flew away, he got hold of a broom and knocked it down. Inside were little golden ball things, which I took to be some kind of tree flower or berry. Huh! Later I spied one of the golden balls under the chair and curiosity got the better of me; I scooped it up on a piece of kitchen paper and put it on the table and really looked at it. Quelle horreur! It was a tiny golden spider with six almost translucent legs and a red spot on its body. I have no idea what kind of a wasp turns into a spider, or vice versa, but it was soon got rid of into the long grass. (It was already dead; I didn’t kill it.) The wasps came back, couldn’t find their nest and haven’t returned.

Doing some washing yesterday, I stuck my hand into a plastic bag of Persil non-bio capsules and found a sticky soggy mass. Ugh! Withdrew hand rather swiftly and saw fingers covered in blue goo. One or more of the capsules had burst, and instead of being tight and hard, the rest of them were limp, squidgy things that degenerated into blue goo as I watched. I don’t know if one had accidently been burst, or the heat had been too much, or they had simply been there too long, but something had caused them to degenerate. Maybe they froze in the winter? I know it can get pretty cold, as low as minus 12 degrees C. I suppose if they froze they would expand and burst the bags? Anyway, washing powder is now on the list for our next shop.

Thursday, 14 June 2018


Here we are in France again. Although we had no hold ups or hiccups of any kind I found the journey tedious this year. Newcastle to Folkstone, with a break at Hatfield Forest (NT) near Stansted airport, is around 300 miles. We had booked into the Ibis at Abbeville where we had dinner and Tim behaved like an angel. Next morning we gave him a good 7.30am walk in the parc, then set off for another 450 miles with several short stops for him and us to stretch out legs.

Getting near our destination, We stopped at the local Intermarché and bought a few essentials so that DH would not have to get the car out on the road again the very next day. Once we left the main road for the almost single track leafy lane that led down into our valley, the sun came out and the world changed. I forgot the journey and started enjoying the greenery around me. It was 5.30 in the evening so we did little more than unload the car, eat pizza and drink a couple of glasses of wine while we enjoyed the view over green fields sitting on the balcony in the sunshine.

The fun came later. We had purchased a netting mosquito tent to save us from being bitten as we sleep, and we struggled to put it up. It sort of “pops up,” supported by four bendy canes placed one at each corner. They are an integral part of the structure, so no sliding in canes or anything that might bring back memories of putting up a tent when camping in the great outdoors. For a few seconds we had our structure up, and then one “leg” bent and sagged. It took us a good half hour of snapping the poles rigid and trying to hold them all in situ before we finally got it right. We unzipped and climbed inside and then realised we couldn’t put out the light! Worse still, we thought of trying to leave the tent for any reason in the dark and even worse than that, trying to get back in.

We managed, though we had the lights on again at one in the morning. Since we’d retired at something like half nine, that wasn’t at all bad, and we weren’t bitten. We woke at first light, around half five, and decided to get up. All in all we’d slept well, even if the tent was sagging in one corner.
Since the day is grey with only fleeting bursts of sun and much more frequent threats of rain, we have confined ourselves to snipping the greenery around the house, saving a lizard trapped in a pot it couldn't get out of and a frog that  appeared on the bolly - we had to stop Tim attacking it. Everything is hugely overgrown due to all the recent rain, the stream is full and the corner near the water is waterlogged. We can hear the weir from the drive, but it would take a machete to reach it and see what it looks like. Tim is having a grand time rushing through the grass, running in circles for the sheer joy of it, and we’ve spotted some big fish in the lake. So the coypu hasn’t got them all.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Big Trip

Took our walk early this morning and though I avoided coming back home to get changed because of
the heat, I didn't manage to avoid the pollen. Itchy nose, and sneezing or wanting to sneeze. Not good.  We hosed Tim down with running water to get the pollen off him, because he is running through tunnels of grass higher than he is. In some area, the flowers are chest high on me - those white ones - cow parsley? and shake the grasses and dust clouds of pollen fly up. Still it is pretty and lush in the old sense of the word - abundant, succulent, voluptuous and we had it all to ourselves.

The blackbird chicks have fledged. The cuckoo abandoned its nest in the blue cedar, but the blackbird continued to fly in and out of the ivy trellis by our patio window, almost zonking us in the face as it whizzed by. Now the nest seems to be empty, but there is loud cheeping coming from the undergrowth and Tim finds something in there most interesting. We're keepng him away as best we can, though the poor dog has to go out and pee!

We are slowly gearing up for going off to France and our wellies are the first things going into the car. The rain clouds over the Dordogne have been almost constant for the last three weeks, so the stream is going to be full and the fields soggy. The stream under the mill might be running higher than usual. Still the temperature has been in the low twenties, and that is forecast to continue, so we won't be cold when we're outside. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Amazon Author Academy

Amazon held an event in Newcastle yesterday in the newly built Crown Plaze Hotel in what is fondly named the Stephenson Quarter. (Because of the railway Stephenson, I presume, since the hotel is very close to the railway tracks. Behind it, in fact.)

Scheduled as 9am-3pm, I arrived at 8.50 and spent 40 minutes kicking my heels until the event began at 9.45. I saw no one I knew in the milling crowds, almost too many for the space allocated and I kept moving around the halls and corridors as I knew I would be sitting for a long time.

Darren (I never knew his surname) kicked off and introduced panelists - Louise Ross, David Leadbeater, Paul Teague and Margaret Skea.
Paul represented The Alliance of Independent Authors and Margaret the Society of Authors. David and Lousie represented highly successful authors to tell us "how they did it."

Entertaining, informative and interesting. A lot of people were already published but many were not. I met some people I know at the coffee and lunch breaks, observed far more men in the audience than I expected and happened to be sitting next to someone for 5 hours who never volunteered a word, never shifted from her seat and made copious notes in miniscule writing on a clip board. Some authors are just loners. I first saw her sitting  on the floor in a corner, writing on her clipboard and that was at 9am while everyone else milled about talking and scoffing breakfast.

It seems that to be mega successful a writer also needs to ne a technical wizard these days, or be prepared to pay lots of money for outsourcing. £800 pounds sounds a lot of money to me for editing, and I hate to think what might be paid out for designing and establishing websites. There seems to be an industry following indie writers now. Cover artists, web designers,  societies that charge a joining fee; ISBNs, formatting charges to convert an ms into a Kindle book; some people claim several different kinds of editing are required, all at a cost.There are pitfalls, too. Some editors charge £200 and are not good at what they do. I suspect that cost is as much a gatekeeper these days as agents ever were. Not everyone can afford such costs when there are no guarantees a book will ever sell.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Promote your title

Amazon are putting on a day in Newcastle and have offered me a free ticket. Naturally, I shall attend, but I cannot help wondering what it is all going to be about. 

I've been with them since my first venture in self-publishing way back in 2011 when I put Fair Border Bride with them. I had four books published by then, but for different reasons each of the two American publishers closed their doors and disappeared. Having got my rights back for the four titles, it seemed silly not to try and get them onto Amazon Kindle. How hard could it be? I seem to remember a steep learning curve, but I achieved my goal and since then the process has certainly become easier.

I've got out of the habit of approaching agents and publishers, but lately I've begun to wonder if it wouldn't be easier to let someone else take the strain of publication and marketing. My good friend Shirley Dickson has got a contract with Bookouture this week, and all congratulations to her, for I know she has worked hard on her two stories for such a long time. Obviously, her success stirred my thoughts on the subject. One hears that promo is down to the author these days unless you are one of the very top level authors - who probably don't need much promotion! 

The only way I know is using Twitter and Facebook, but those  seem to be in a process of change. Perhaps the Amazon day will tell me what I should be doing.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Boring Facebook

Disheartening to see how boring Facebook is these days. Old posts are being recycled so most of what comes up I've seen before and have no wish to see again. The link between Twitter and Facebook seems to have gone awry - or possibly it is me that gone awry!

 Most of twitter is adverts for books unless the hashtag topics are investigated and then interesting conversations can be found among the garbage. I wonder what is going to happen in the next few weeks. Will Fb/Twitter recover their
verve, or simpy dwindle into nothingness?

Just read the first Peter May Enzo files book, got right to the end and remembered I'd read it before. I think the only one I have not read is the third one, but if I read them in order, the whole plot might become clearer in my mind. So it is on to nmber 2.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Everyday things

Tomorrow Roland Garros starts in Paris so I'll be watching that as long as Rafa continues to play. I'm also concentrating on finishing a first draft of my wip, the fourth part of what has turned out to be a quartet featuring Matho Spirston, humble man of the land turned courier to a Scottish queen.

 I wrote the first half two or three years ago and then lost steam and deviated onto the Affair series.(The Gybford Affair The Craigsmuir Affair, The Matfen Affair.) This spring I picked up where I left off and continued writing, hoping to complete the draft, print it out and take it to France with me. I think I shall manage to achieve it. The writing is going faster now, because I'm not editing, as I was with the stuff I'd written previously.

Last night I went a bit beserk and downloaded half a dozen titles for my Kindle in anticipation of having something to read in France. I shall also take Sarah Dunant's latest paperback, because I'm struggling with it. Lack of Interest, basically, which allows me time to admire her writing style. I may well leave the book there for Jenny to read. She might enjoy it.