Saturday, 18 October 2014

An update

'A Shed in a Cucumber Field' is now available to download to your Kindle, if you have one. It should also be possible to download it to a host of other e readers, and very soon the paperback version will appear on Amazon, I hope and trust. There's already a review, by that most perceptive reader Carol Brown. Thank you, Carol. As time goes on I hope to see other reviews posted. I also welcome your comments here on my blog. It's by hearing what people honestly think that writers can improve both their work and their readership.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A sneak preview

'A Shed in a Cucumber Field', my novel number four, is about to emerge into the daylight. I have my proof copy, and I am busy hunting howlers before any more copies are printed. So it'll be a while before it's available to buy or download. But here's what it looks like:



The cover design was done by my daughter from an original photo, taken by me on a rocky hillside in Majorca. When it's all done and dusted paper copies will be available from the usual internet outlets, and can be downloaded not only to Kindle but also to a host of other e readers. People have been asking me if it's a continuation of my trilogy, but no, it's a stand-alone story. I'll keep you posted with its progress! 

Friday, 12 September 2014

An old and faithful friend

Some of you who've been following the tales of our life in France will already have met our ancient but indomitable mower. We bought it from the previous owners of the house, and despite many mishaps it is still going, and still mowing - at 20 years old. Over the twelve years we have had it it has undergone many repairs, some at the hands of the local mower man, but most by my husband, who, until we recently acquired a mower jack, was sometimes to be found lying on the patio, partly under the mower, battling with the latest collapse. He has, so he tells me, had to rebolt the silencer and refix the engine to the chassis. We have had to buy new blades, belts, battery and tyres. Just this year the cutter-deck bearings had to be replaced. And for some considerable time the engine has had no casing, because the plastic has melted. There have been many occasions when, on our arrival, the mower had to be fixed before it could be used, when perhaps we had a bare week to get the grass down and the weather turned wet.
So far the latest repairs seem to be holding, but I have sometimes wondered what we will do when it finally dies. We look at new, shiny mowers in garden and DIY centres, and not only are they expensive but also we suspect that they wouldn't last more than two or three years in our rugged, sloping, bumpy, tussocky garden where so many banks, stumps and holes lie in wait for the unwary among the thigh-high grass. After all the times he's had to repair it, I wonder if my husband has a symbiotic relationship with the doughty machine. 'What will we do with it when it finally conks?' I asked.

 'Buy a new one,' was the answer. Then he smiled. 'And keep the old one to haul logs and so on.' So it seems he won't  be parted from his rackety old friend after all.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Summer in Normandy

Perhaps this is what we have been waiting for all year: the opportunity to enjoy our French pied a terre in good weather. In fact I love this landscape in all seasons, and it's often winter when we can relax by the fire because the garden is dormant and the weather keeps us indoors. Now there is much outside work to do. There is some colour in the garden: roses, phlox, crocosmia, hydrangeas; but a lot of rampant growth to tame as well. This is also the time of year when we are most likely to have visitors, which is always a pleasure.

One of the joys of rural living in any season is the appearance of wildlife we wouldn't normally see. Over the years we've seen deer and hares, buzzards and slow-worms, and even on one occasion a solitary wild boar! On our arrival here last week I found something in our water meter pit I've never seen before - a fire salamander. I discover that they are found all over Europe, but but not in the UK.
Here's our striped visitor:
Then this morning, a further beautiful sight.At about 8 o'clock I had taken a bag of recycling to the top of the garden for collection, accompanied by Rosie my dog, and when we came back down there was a swoop and a flurry and a barn owl flew from behind the house and perched on the edge of what was once a window into our ruined bakehouse. It had its back to me, but as I watched it turned and looked at me full-face before disappearing inside the building. At this point Rosie cottoned on and raced over. She didn't bark, but clearly the owl was alarmed. It flew out, dived low across the garden, circled the roof and vanished behind the chimney. A couple of summers ago we had a new chimney lining put in, but it couldn't be properly sealed because there was an owl's nest inside. The same owl, I wonder? 
All our visitors were asleep at the time, so maybe seeing the owl was my reward for getting up!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Spring in Normandy  ((Part 2)



Here for another all-too-brief visit, we thought the weather might be friendlier to garden-quelling activities. And for the last couple of days, so it has been. The sun has shone, the wind has blown, and once again all round the house the grass has been mown. Then we attempted the orchard, which has not been cut for many months, and has taken full advantage of the sun and rain to run wild. It's no longer an apology for a garden - it's a field. I like meadows, if they are someone else's.
As soon as my intrepid husband started to creep along the edges of this wilderness, the mower broke. It is, after all, twenty years old and has had a tough life.Over the years he has kept it going with hours of maintenance and lengths of wire, but this time it was beyond his abilities and the tools at hand, so he removed the mower deck and into town we went to visit a man with a 'Motoculture' business - everything to do with garden machinery. He is someone we have come to know quite well, having ordered from him many a mower part. Little did I imagine, in my ignorance, that I would have to learn the French for such things as belts, pulleys and blades.
He looked at the deck, smiled, and said he could  fix it. We discussed our problem. He said he would need to look at our land. So we drove him to our place, and he looked, and smiled, and said, 'You can't cut this with your mower.' He told us he could bring a bigger machine on Thursday evening. 
Today he came with the machine and parked it half under cover among our outbuildings, trees and junk. We watch the weather anxiously. The forecasting website says it won't rain, and he said the same. I felt a few drops just now. Will we get our jungle down before we go home?

Here's the problem:


And here, I hope, is the solution:


Not all is horticultural gloom, however. While we have been away the second wave of lime-haters has burst into glorious bloom. Here are just a few.




Saturday, 26 April 2014

Spring in Normandy

The online forecast predicted 'averses orageuses', and unfortunately for us, thundery showers was what we got. For a while the sun shone, the wind blew, and we hoped the long, coarse, sodden grass would dry out enough to mow. But as soon as there was fuel in the strimmer, ready for me to release my smaller shrubs from the entangling grass, the dark clouds gathered, the thunder rumbled, and down came the rain. It lasted only ten minutes before moving off to soak someone else, but of course now all that drying is lost. Such are the delights of typical Norman weather. We should be used to it by now. When we drove to the supermarket this lunchtime - after a long drive down from Calais last night mostly in the dark, arriving at 1.30 in the morning - the views over the fields and across the valleys were seductive, everything greening and budding, fresh and luxuriant. Behind all that sumptuous growth is, of course, the quantities of rain. I mustn't complain; rain makes grass, grass feeds sleek brown-and-white cows, and cows make the cheese for which this region is justly celebrated. But when you have a tiny window of opportunity, rain, frankly, is a pain.
We haven't been here since mid-February,which is far too long to be away, but till now other things have prevented us, and we are paying the price in the form of rampant wet growth. I swear I could win prizes for the size, succulence and sheer virility of my dandelions.
There are compensations: the lilac, purple and white, is in flower, there is still  apple blossom on the trees, and even a few late tulips and irises showing their colours. There are wild orchids - all mauve - on the roadside banks and we have half a dozen in the garden again. And my rhododendrons and azaleas, which love the acid-rich soil here, have begun their annual flaunting which lasts for about two months. The pink rhododendron, now at a peak of brilliance, was bought for my birthday in our first year here, twelve years ago. Such beauty is balm to the soul, produced from much toil. Is there a metaphor lurking somewhere?


Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Monday Blog Tour

That fine writer Claire Dunn - whose blog can be visited at http://www.cfdunn.co.uk - is the author of the ongoing series 'The Secret of the Journal'. Volume 1 'Mortal Fire' and volume 2 'Death Be Not Proud' will soon be followed by the third volume 'Rope of Sand.' Claire has invited me to continue the Monday Blog Tour with a few thoughts on my own work, past, present and future. 
What am I working on?
Currently I am writing the first draft of a new novel, working title 'The Yoke of Babylon.' My titles are all Biblical, some direct quotations, and all my stories are openly Christian. This last one is a bit different, however - while it is not strictly a crime novel, the plot hinges on a murder.The unravelling of the circumstances leading up to the murder reveal more and more of a dark past. I shall say nothing further at this point!
'The Yoke of Babylon' is my fifth novel. The fourth, 'A Shed in a Cucumber Field', is not yet published but I hope it will be available some time this year. This tells the story of two estranged sisters, their disparate lives, and their search for reconciliation.
Novels 1, 2 and 3 are a trilogy. I didn't plan a trilogy at the outset more than a decade ago, but the story grew. It covers five years in the life of Eileen, through some of life's trials that will be recognisable to many people.
'Leviathan with a Fish-hook' was published in 2009,
'The Monster Behemoth' in 2010
 and 'The Land of Nimrod' in 2011.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Compared to such Christian fiction as I have read - admittedly not a vast amount, but spread across a number of genres - my work lacks both triumphalism and sentiment. In some novels the Christian content is covert, preferring to present a general worldview.In others the story takes place in a period when Christian observance was the norm (even if it was nominal for some.) Mine is different on a number of counts: it aims to be realistic, facing the world as it is and fallen human nature within it, whether believing or not; the action takes place in modern times - my trilogy covers 1996 to 2001, 'A Shed in a Cucumber Field' is set in 2005-6, and 'The Yoke of Babylon' in 2008; and in a genre dominated by American writers my settings are British. 

Why do I write what I do?
That's difficult to answer! I could say that's just the way it comes out, which would be true, but perhaps not very satisfactory. I started by writing with a background of things I knew: village life, church life, the spiritual journey. It's grown from that, but I do feel called at some level, and with all due humility, to write about aspects of the Christian life in the real world. The bottom line has to be the use of my gifts (such as they are) to the glory of God.

How does my writing process work?
A novel often starts with a single idea, or an image. Characters grow out of this, and a plot evolves from an initial premise. I do a lot of imagining and cogitating, as I suppose every writer does, constructing scenes (not always in the right order!) living with my characters, visualising them in circumstances which may never appear in the finished story. I sketch out a rough plan, honed and trimmed as the twists of the story demand. I write whenever I can, very fast and with many mistakes, on a laptop, line-editing as I go. If I come to a plot-knot or a dilemma or a fog, I run it past trusted and helpful friends (a reader and a writer.) Even if I don't always take their ideas on, their contributions often stimulate new ideas and pathways in my brain.  One friend is very good at seeing the wood when I am lost in the trees. The other is sharp on what is and isn't psychologically plausible, and has a good nose for holes in the plot. I have a wall-chart with what's happened so far, so that I can keep a check on structure and sequence. Otherwise it's all too easy for things to run out of control! Once the first draft is in place and edited I ask a number of friends to read and critique - honestly. I put it away for a while. Then there are many more edits before it's ready. And even after it's out there, I'll see things I could have done better.

To continue this mini-blog tour I'd like to invite two gifted writers very different  from myself to give us their thoughts next Monday April 28th. They can be found at http://www.lucy-mills.com/blog and http://www.davidgrieve.blogspot.co.uk