Thursday, 30 June 2016

Local news

Tim doesn't like the pool
While I was saying the haymaking has not yet begun yesterday, the local farmer must have been studying the sky and maybe the calendar, because just around the time Federer faced 770 ranked Willis across the net, we heard the roar of the tractor. That would be about five thirty in the UK, but around six thirty here. (I have to keep reminding myself that I’m an hour ahead of my friends in the UK. Plays havoc with tv programmes!) Anyway, he spent the evening cutting the hay in two of the three fields and I am not suffering the effects of hayfever!

This is pay-out time for Amazon authors and I’m happy to say the electronic transfer of funds seems to be working very well indeed. Once again there is a small payment via Indian rupees, which makes me very curious as to who in that vast sub-continent is reading my books. Though several people in Australia have bought The Gybford Affair, no one has read it yet. It is amazing the way independent authors can keep track of their business.

We are keeping track of the Brexit fall out via the tv, too. As I’m typing this I’m hearing that Michael Gove has just stuck a knife into his pal Boris, metaphorically speaking, by saying he doesn’t think he can do the job. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Poolside reading

I enjoyed The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Like The Forgotten Garden, it had a question that kept me reading right to the end, but it was a lot of words to get through. Rather like tackling a Barbara Erskine book, when the reader needs to block out a week, possibly a fortnight, during which the housework goes to pot and nothing gets done until the last page has been devoured. Worth it, but I was very glad I was on holiday and could sit up late reading without worrying about the morning.

While I’ve been here I’ve written two chapters of The Matfen Affair (which might yet be called The Fenwick Affair by the time I get to the end) and finished a plot outline. I’m glad about the latter, as I was worried about where I was going with it next. The Gybford Affair is doing well via KENP with Amazon, so I’d like to get this one out before the end of the year.

Here in France the haymaking has not yet begun and it is the end of June! Actually, two small fields on a hillside which drains well have been cut, but the meadows on the valley bottom have not. They are probably as waterlogged as our lower field, so our walks with Tim are a tiny bit restricted. Not that he suffers, for there is plenty of space for him to enjoy without restriction. The amazing thing is that I haven’t suffered from hay fever this year – not yet! Last year I could hardly step outdoors and had to get help from a very pleasant chemist in Bergerac.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Referendum blues

If the referendum proves anything at all, it is that the country should not have referendums, because people don’t vote on the simple, yes-no question they’re asked. They vote with all sorts of things in their minds, in reaction to all sorts of things in the past and with no real appreciation of the thing they're turning down. There are many hinting now that they wish they had voted the other way, because they never thought that the outcome would be to leave the EU. Duh! They thought they were the only ones to think like that? Really?

What a mess the UK is in now. The PM has all but resigned and wants no part of steering the country through something he never wanted, and why should he? Those who wanted to leave should be the ones with plans ready to take over, but it seems the Gove-Johnstone pair don’t have a plan between them. Farage is nowhere to be seen, but possibly lurks at his local with a pint in his fist. Jeremy Corbyn shambles around saying nothing much and leading no one to the vexation of his Shadow Cabinet who are resigning in droves – 15 up to this point. Corbyn insists he is staying on, no doubt convinced that the Labour Party loves him and will vote him in again if and when there is a General Election, touted as possibly November. It will be a nightmare come true if he is, because it is doubtful he will be able to form an opposition government.

Lawyers are now arguing over Nicola Sturgeon’s gleeful claim that Scotland could veto Brexit because Scotland wants to stay in the EU. South of the border some folk are saying yes – save us from this mess and keep us in the EU. While I might want that, I find it astounding that such a small population could overturn a decision made by a much larger population. Not much democracy there, is there?

Only George Osborne is standing firm, a steady figure in all this chaos. Come on Ms May, and any other suitable Conservative candidate – don’t let either one of that dreadful Brexit pair take over, otherwise we’ll be the laughing stock of Europe if not the world in having a journalist, who fell into politics by mistake, for a PM.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Supermarkets en France

Supermarkets in France are much more tolerant of misshaped vegetables than in the UK. We bought a basket of potatoes the other day and only two of them would have got into Tesco’s racks, yet everyone was firm, fresh and free of eyes. Keep Tesco potatoes a week, even in dark cupboard, and they have eyes sprouting every which way.

Apples are ginormous, with rough, wrinkly skins in some cases, but they taste delicious once peeled. Onions are huge affairs, but bananas are smaller, sometimes greener and come from a French dependency whose name I cannot recall. (I don’t do the shopping – dh does it while I stay back at the mill with Tim, the main reason being that it is too hot to leave him in the car while we both shop. He’d howl if we left him alone at the mill, and though the noise isn’t going to bother anyone, we don’t like to think of him as that stressed because we’ve left him alone in a “strange” place. So I stay and do a general clean up or something until dh returns.)

Meat is different too. French butchers favour different cuts, unfamiliar to us and often in much larger portions than we are used to, with much more fat running through the flesh. I avoid the fish tanks in the larger shops. I appreciate they keep the poor thing “fresh” but it seems barbaric to me to point at one poor crab out of ten or so stumbling around the bottom of a tank and condemn it to death. I’ve never bought one (and never will) so I don’t know if they kill them or give them to you still kicking. All in all it is just as well dh does the grocery shopping.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Goodbye EU

We chickened out on the voting results at midnight and therefore were disappointed this morning when we found the country had voted to leave the EU. Looking at the graphics on tv this morning, it seems that if London, Scotland and Northern Ireland were taken out of the picture, then the Out vote would have been overwhelming. London of course has more foreign than British nationals, so in my view can hardly be counted as representative of the rest of the country. Scotland may have its own agenda and has always clung to the EU. What is surprising is that only 72% of the population turned out to vote.

I don’t blame David Cameron for resigning as Party Leader. Who really would expect him to get the country out of the mess when he worked for the opposite decision? I just hope we don’t find ourselves with Boris as next PM. I can't think of anyone who would make me happy. So the pound has dropped the furthest in 30 years - I wonder how that makes the Brexiters feel?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Lazy life

We wanted sunshine and now we've got it and we keep coming indoors to cool down! It is so hot I can almost feel my skin sizzling like bacon in the frying pan after sitting in the sun for ten minutes. I don't know if it is the heat, but something is making Tim very restless these last couple of hours. He's barking at everything that moves and some things that don't - and when he does it beneath the bolly the sound echoes tremendously. Perhaps another dog has moved into the area with a holiday family. There don't seem to be many holiday folk around, and there isn't much traffic either. No tractors moving except for the local farmer who feeds his cattle and checks on the calves sometimes twice a day. Looks as if the petrol-diesel scare has put some people off coming south.

Last night we entertained ourselves on the bolly having dinner and a glass of wine and discussed what the French farmers went home to eat after a hard day's work. Would it be the French cuisine we hear so much about, or would it be fish fingers and chips? I hope it is the classic cuisine! We have no way of ever discovering which, of course. (We ate well on French sausages, bacon and mixed salad with chunks of baguette dipped in the Olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar dressing. Yum!)

I have found a good book to read from the resident library - The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Immensely long and detailed, but with an intriguing story. Still only half way through. The author has certainly not followed the advice that proliferates on the internet about keeping it pacy and cutting out back story and detail. This one is all about back story and detail!

Two sessions of weeding done this morning before 9,30am. Dh is considering cutting the grass, which is getting rather long. Whipping around my knees now, not quite so pleasant early in the morning when it is wet with dew.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Yes, Blogger, it is me!

For Heaven's sake, Blogger! You made me add a new password because you suspected I was not me! I just hope I don't forget this password when I get back home.

Weather slowly improving. Walked Tim to the crossroad early this morning. There’s very little traffic, but I kept him on the long lead just in case I needed to pull him back. Didn’t see or hear a single vehicle. He’s very protective and rushes out at the slightest odd sound, be it the cattle, the farmer’s tractor or a weird bird call he’s not used to hearing. The stream is too deep now for him and very fast running. More of the lower field is saturated, with big puddles joining together.

We’ve collected a big pile of broken branches together so that when Bill takes the tractor out, he doesn’t hear the heart-shocking crunch of wood on metal. And doesn’t the patio look smart now? Discounting the branches and the cuttings, of course.

I've remembered to reduce the pixels for the pic so it uploads faster. I hope it is still clear. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016


Two hours gardening in brilliant sunshine this morning between 9 and 11 o’ clock. We’ve cleared the lower patio, which was slowly disappearing under the plants there and now our only problem is what to do with the cuttings and weeds produced. (I’ll add pictures tomorrow.) Then the rain came down, so we withdrew into the shady interior of the mill and settled down with a cup of tea while we watched the space craft land somewhere in Russia. A blackbird with a beak full of worms is sheltering under a leafy branch and I don’t blame him, because when the rain comes down it comes with some force. Rain is forecast for most of the afternoon, but promises improvement over the next few days. I’ll get on with writing during these dull spots.

I checked my blog for last year and found that the farmers had cut the hay by 5th June, so they are well behind this year. The fields are waterlogged in low-lying areas and none of the local meadows have been cut. The grass doesn’t even look as high as it should be. Walking down the drive to the road the sound of the water pouring over the dam is quite clear – usually I can’t hear it at all. Tim has given up splodging in the stream because it comes well up his chest and he doesn’t like that. He likes it at ankle or knee level!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Promised to be a fine day today, so we’ve been in the garden pulling up weeds which grow with terrific energy here. By half eleven all the black clouds we saw yesterday, which disappeared mid-afternoon to give a brilliant sunny evening, have reappeared and at midday the rain began in earnest. It was soon all over and I didn’t bother to get the newly washed clothes off the line. I’ll count it as an extra rinse!

Rush hour in Rouen
In a way it is refreshing to have these cooler interludes. Too much high heat all day long is so tiring I don’t know how people endure it all the time. You may ask why I'm washing clothes on day 2 of our holiday – but we’ve travelled light this year with one week’s supply of underwear and we’re already more than halfway through our supply! (Left home on Monday, remember.) Given the weather there is a distinct possibility it might take several days to get anything dry, which could leave us going commando.

I’ve started on my new story. This one has a title first – The Matfen Affair, and it will, if I follow my plan, involve an old house, a wedding and a ghost. Probably what comes of reading five Barbara Erskine novels one after another.  I was disappointed with the ending of the last one – Whispers in the Sand – because there was no conclusion. It was made plain that the mystery was going to continue down through the generations and personally I did not find that satisfactory. I wanted an ending!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

France 2016

My affinity with France seems to be centred around mice. After a tedious journey with holdups for traffic accidents not involving us, and as far as I know concerning only brpken-down vehicles, we arrived at the mill around 4.30 on Tuesday to discover three of the little creatures floating in the swimming pool. Happy to report that I have not seen one since - alive or dead!

The weather is changeable. We've had reports of wet weather, and the hayfield is still uncut, the stream is running higher than I've ever seen it and there are muddy puddles beneath the trees in the lower field. So far today we've had sunbathing weather and torrential downpours, so it's a case of being flexible,

DH went out early today, around 7am to visit the local baker at St George only to find that the bakerwas not open. A car arrived at the little grocery opposite and the driver got out. "Ferme," he called.
"Ouvert? asked dh, looking at his watch. "Finis," said the man. "Du Pain?" he asked. "Oui" said dh.

 Both men of few words, especially when foreign words are involved. It turned out the man was delivering bread to the grocery, and opened up his shop early for dh. The delay was because he had to telephone his wife to discover the prices for the bread he sold dh! Back home by eight clutching warm parcels of three different lots of bread, and we really enjoyed our warm pain du chocolate with coffee.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Historical dialogue and Versailles

Every now and then I see an article about language in historical novels, and can't resist reading them. Lindsey Davis says we can be pretty sure that people in 1st-century Rome didn't speak like one of Cicero's speeches when they were talking to their friends, arguing with their landlords or chatting up a girl.  Equally I'm pretty sure people in Anglo-Saxon England didn't talk over the morning pottage as if they were reciting Beowulf. 

Formal records and poems avoided slang and colloquialisms back then just as they do today - but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. Some authors think colloquial modern English gives a much better 'feel' for the people and their world than the stilted dialogue you sometimes see in historical fiction. I'm somewhere in the middle on this. I like a "timeless" feel if that is possible. I think it can be achieved by avoiding modern  slang and using the odd phrase that has a ring of the time about it, as long as it is not overdone, can add the "historical" feel.

The same can be said about dialect. If American novels get by writing in what I call modern "New Yorkese" then what's wrong with me adding a touch of my local Northumbrian or Geordie to the pot? I don't understand many of the "New Yorkese" references (I still have no idea what Nora Roberts is thinking of when she writes of a character wearing a watch cap) but I try and ensure that readers can understand the dialect phrases I use - and I try not to use too many!

Tried the new tv historical Versailles last week, but didn't like it. Lots of little niggles - actors I did not know, no attempt via the dialogue or its delivery to indicate it was all happening in France - lots of characters who looked very similar. (OK, I'll allow that brothers often do look like each other). All that hair was such a turn-off - I kept thinking of head lice and leaning away from the tv set.  Raging venereal diseases was very likely judging by the amount of sex portrayed in almost every possible permutation, in the first half hour of the programme. Plus which, not much actual story. A pity. Must see what Kate Williams has to say about it -

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Celts are not the Celts?

As I grew up I admired the Celts and aspired to be one. They coloured my reading up to the age of ten or so, but as I headed towards twelve and thirteen I began to suspect that all was not as it seemed. Instead of the brave, heroic characters I'd read about, I began to see the Celts described as war-mad and quick to battle, a race that inhabited most of Europe and described as barbarians. It was suggested that they were the barbarian hordes who poured into Europe from the Asiatic plains. They seemed to be essentially nomadic, and warlike, liked alcohol and imbibed rather too much, and fought naked - something I've always found hard to believe when Men are so precious about their bits they refer to them as "the crown jewels."

Then the picture of naked wild people rushing into battle began to change. Ceasar was impressed by tribal groups in Gaul with towns and stable government, Druids went to Rome and gained respect, but then there is a huge chunk of time when Celtic peoples and things sank into obscurity. Not until the linguist Edward Lhuyd published Archaeologia Britannica in 1707  were the languages of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany recognised as belonging to the same family and lumped together under the name Celtic. He too speculated the peoples had moved into Britain from central Europe.

From the mid-1960s, evidence began to refute such claims and  a new theory was formed: the "Celtic" languages were a common language family that fronted the Atlantic coast from the fifth century onward. Ceasar said that the land between the rivers Seine and Garonne in France (think of the city of Bodeaux, on the Garonne) was known as Celtica. There is no mention of any ancient writer referring to the Britons as Celts. The island was known as the isle of the Albiones and Ireland inhabited by the Hierni, though the more popular name was Prettanika or Pretannia. Prettanika may come from the term "painted peoples" but was not used by the people themselves; it was more likely the people of Gaul who used the term of the people who lived in Pretannia.

It would seem the inhabitants of the islands were not immigrants, but indigenous peoples who shared their culture along the seaways with their continental neighbours. This superficial description of ongoing research can easily be explored in much more depth by tacking papers written by people like Barry Cunliffe, emeritus professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford. He wrote Britain Begins (OUP, 2013)

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The blood royal

Marie de Guise
Queen's Courier is a stand-lone story that follows on chronologically from Abduction and Fair Border Bride. The main protagonists include three real characters - Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, Mathew Stewart, fourth earl of Lennox and Marie de Guise, Queen Dowager of Scotland,

None are particularly well known, and yet it is Mathew and Margaret's off-spring, Darnley, who sired the child who would one day rule both Scotland and England, and whose blood has come down to every sovereign since.

The year 1515 was the year all three were born, though in Mathew's case there is some evidence that he was a trifle younger than the two ladies. Marie was born in France and brought up almost as a French princess, part of the illustrious de Guise family. Mathew was born in Scotland, great grandson of James II of Scotland. Meg was born in England, in the remote castle of Harbottle on the southern side of the Anglo-Scottish border, daughter of Henry VIII's elder sister Margaret Tudor and her second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus.

Archie and Margaret divorced in 1527 and Meg moved south into the English court where she was accepted as a princess of the blood. Mathew's father was killed by a member of the Hamilton clan, forcing Mathew and his brothers to escape to France. This was the cause of the constant hatred between Governor Arran and Mathew twenty years later. Marie de Guise married the 2nd Duke of Longueville, but became a widow at a very young age and was then chosen to become the second French bride of James V after the death of the fragile Princess Madeleine. Marie and James produced two sons who both died in childhood, leaving only a daughter - the daughter who married Darnley and added her blood to the royal line.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Author earnings report for February 2016 is a lengthy document with many graphs and figures, which I have not read from end to end yet - but I will, I will! - which concludes that e-books are on the up saleswise. Good news for all self-published authors. I think it is claiming that traditional publishers have the smallest slice of the market these days. It also recommends that paperback copies should be published where possible. Something to think about as my latest story nears completion.

The Queen's Courier is a continuation of Matho's story after he recovers from his adventures in Abduction of the Scots Queen. A new adventure as an employee of Sir Thomas Wharton, English West March Warden in which he travels alone across the border into Scotland with the threat of war looming between the two countries. It seems easy enough - a swift trip, deliver the letters Sir Thomas has given him, find Phoebe and bring her home to Aydon as his wife. But the Earl of Lennox, the English king and the Queen Dowager of Scotland decide to interfere and cause tragedy in his life.

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...