Thursday, 4 December 2014

Closing down for the winter

We have just spent a week at our house in France, and with all that's going on and all our commitments as we approach Christmas that will be the last visit of this year. There's little to do in the garden now, but I did plant another tree: a white poplar, so that when the trees are in leaf we will have a range of colours, from shades of green (apple, catalpa, willow, oak, hazel)  through deep reds (plum, redbud, flowering crab) to almost black (physocarpus) and now silvery white (birch, poplar.)
We took down with us a massively heavy log-splitter, in an attempt to save my husband's back as we chop up chunks of tree for our wood burner. In a very short time he amassed four barrowloads of usable logs from huge trunks which had been lying around for years, too big to go on the fire. This impressive machine works with a resounding crack as the log splits apart.

This was our second visit with no landline and no internet. In our experience getting things fixed in France is not a speedy business, and so it proved this time, despite my attempts to get someone out to repair the fault in the line. I realise just how much time I spend (one might say, waste) on the internet! However, it has had a fruitful effect, because without its distractions I have made good progress with the first draft of novel number 5. The finishing post is in sight, and this is the part of the whole process I find most exciting as all the plot-strands, so carefully laid down, start to come together and draw tight. It is also often one of the points where characters start to behave in unexpected ways and the story takes a turn I hadn't envisaged. A good story is a living thing - maybe that's why (for me, and I'm sure for many others) it's so engaging and engrossing. I'll report on progress here from time to time.

Our next visit to France will probably be in late January or early February. As plants grow from bushes into trees they need to be shaped and pruned, and I'll do it before the sap starts to rise in the spring. One day we'll have to give up our house and garden across the Channel, because it'll involve too much work for two creaky old-timers, but I hope to leave behind a park, however rough, dotted with beautiful trees.
Almost the last of the autumn colour- a berberis.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A Shed in a Cucumber Field is launched

I held a bit of a party last Saturday to celebrate the 'coming-out' of my new novel.  It was a good evening following a long day and I am tired, but what really stands out for me is the realisation of just how blessed I am with loyal friends:absolutely priceless.

With fellow-author Susan Pope ('Lighter than Air.')

Friends and supporters



Saturday, 8 November 2014


As it happened, happily my books vanished from the internet for only a few hours. A rescue package was made available to affected authors and I hope and trust the books are now safe and available around the globe. It was certainly a bad few hours. Bad for longer, sadly, for the company and its loyal employees: no quick fix for them.
This episode made me think about the worst things that could happen, and in what order of  devastating effect. For me, it came to this: first  would be to lose my faith; that would be a disaster of immeasurable proportions and eternal effect. Then, like most of us, to lose a family member or close friend - or my dog, come to that. Perhaps next might come some physical disaster, such as the chimney falling off our house in France, or one of the big trees coming down and taking the roof with it. But clearly losing years of work would be up there too, very close.
We are sometimes asked to consider what would be our dream come true; more rarely what our worst case might be. I wonder how you would answer this rather sobering question.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Important news

I have just heard that the company which has published all my books has ceased trading, owing to competition from a well-known internet giant. This of course is a disaster for me and many other authors. I hope in due course to have my books back in circulation and available online but this will take time. Meanwhile you will as of now find me nowhere on the internet! I do not plan to stop writing, nor to making my books available, but patience will be needed. I will post any progress here.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

An eye-opening trip

My husband and I have just returned from a week's tour of Cappadocia in central Turkey, what was once called Anatolia. It was a very different experience for us in a country we have never visited before. We travelled everywhere by coach, and two of our journeys were very long: twelve hours on the road, counting stops for coffee, shopping and lunch, driven by a man perhaps not naturally gifted with charm, but safe and steady, including in some quite challenging conditions of weather and topography. By contrast our guide was a gem. His knowledge was wide and  his English very clear, though sometimes unwittingly hilarious (speaking of a questionnaire he said, 'If you haven't got enough room you can write on the backside.') His enthusiasm for his work led him to make room for trips not on the schedule so that the last drop of experience was squeezed out for us in that one short week. The majority of the party were old enough to be his parents; perhaps that accounted for his consideration and helpfulness. He also had an impish sense of humour, and he said he had fun too. We certainly did, even though the trip was very full-on and somewhat tiring with frequent early starts ('On the bus by 7.30!') We were, I think, most fortunate, not only in the usually kindly weather and the  excellence of our guide, but in the rest of the party, who seemed good-hearted and good-humoured people, not  a difficult or fault-finding one among them.
We visited a number of interesting sites, including the ancient city of Aspendos with its huge and beautifully-restored amphitheatre, near the modern city of Antalya.

We crossed the majestic (and sometimes frighteningly sheer) Taurus Mountains to Konya, familiar to me as Iconium in the Biblical narrative of St Paul's missionary journeys, and there we visited the museum and shrine of Mevlana, more often known in the west as the  C13th poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic, Rumi.
We visited an underground city, hewn out of rock by the inhabitants of the town above to escape from invasion or persecution.

Finally arriving at our destination, near the central city of Nevsehir, we explored  extraordinary rock formations, cliff-face dwellings and ancient frescoed Christian chapels in valleys with rock-faces striped in sulphur yellow, iron red and copper green.

And I met a local inhabitant...

We also visited a carpet centre, where we saw an ancient treadle-type machine for drawing the threads from silkworm cocoons, women at work on looms not for weaving but for knotting, and of course glorious carpets of many sizes, patterns, colours and materials.

Yes, it was a fascinating trip, with many good memories. But it also gave me much to think about. I remain convinced that Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of the nature of God, and in him is summed up - however mysteriously - God's purposes for our race. Nevertheless, I could not help but be aware of the devout Muslim pilgrims - all women, as far as I was able to observe - praying in Mevlana's shrine, and the social outworking of the piety of the order of dervishes, for example. Since returning home I have done a little reading and reminded myself of something with which I was already acquainted, but which this trip has brought home: the profound wisdom, knowledge and humanity of  Mevlana and others of his kind down the ages. Then I look up at our world and the things that are happening today, and the polarisation of opinion and belief. I have come to no clear insights about all these things, and maybe I never will: perhaps it's all too big. But if anything comes of these churning thoughts, I'll share them here.

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 - 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 and 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Thoughts to ponder

I am sitting at the desk in my study, the spring sun lighting up the window, and listening to a CD of Elgar's 'The Apostles.' I particularly love the opening to this work, a Prologue which is an anthem all by itself: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.' The words come from Isaiah 61, and are quoted by Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue in Luke 4. Of course the prophecy is about Jesus himself, but it seems to me that the words apply (in a small way, and in all humility) to every disciple. Are we not called, wherever we are, to '...give unto them that mourn a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified?'
We have just returned from a few days in Barcelona - our visit there last year was cut short by my mother's illness, so we decided we would go back. In the cathedral of Sagrada Familia, still under construction with cranes among its slender ornate spires, it came to me that whatever our human failures, whatever our individual frustrations, God will have his way, in his time. Our human life, even for those of us whose lives are very blessed with freedom and opportunity, is beset by restrictions and restraints - time, health, ability, many obligations. No doubt we all feel this to some degree, and I am certainly someone whose vision far exceeds her capabilities! But from our tiny mustard seeds, sown in faith, God can cause great trees to flourish, and his vision is as far above ours as the sky is above the earth. To paraphrase St Paul in 1 Corinthians 3, 'One sows, another waters, but God gives the increase.'
We were told that Sagrada Familia's architect, the visionary Gaudi - ('Was he a genius, or was he loco?' asked our guide. 'You decide!') - knew when the building was begun that some of his ideas could not come to fruition in his lifetime: the technology was not yet in place. But he believed that future generations would be able to bring his designs to life,and so it has proved. Gaudi was not only a genius (maybe loco as well)  but also a man of faith, and his belief is a great encouragement, especially to those of us who are trying, with whatever degree of success, to leave some kind of message. Few of us are called to build a great cathedral; for some a family will be their legacy, and for myself I hope it will be my words. If we sow in faith to the glory of God, using such gifts as we have been given, God will give the increase, making of our half-baked efforts something mightier than we can see in this circumscribed present moment.

Some images of Sagrada Familia.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Maisie - the latest

'Maisie' went into hospital last Monday to have her second knee operated on. You may recall that she said, 'If I don't make it I'll have had a good innings.' She did make it, thankfully, and according to her son was sitting up in bed after the operation enjoying all the attention she was getting. She is now back at home, looking forward to the day her revamped knees allow her a bit more mobility - even, dare I say it, a dance!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Winter in Normandy (part 2)

Today we took Rosie for a walk round the lake on the outskirts of our nearest small town, a lake fed by the normally diminutive river See which is nevertheless noted for salmon fishing and which, with the river Selune to the south, winds through orchards, forests and farms until it drains into the bay of Mont Saint Michel. The walk was by way of consolation for the routine trip to the vet prior to taking the ferry home. The river is narrow, shallow and fast-flowing, but now after all the rain it is grossly swollen and has begun to spread beyond its banks. The resident mallards were cowering in the fields along the river's edge, joined today by a stray goose. On the way home I noted more signs of spring: tiny clumps of primroses showing beside the road,

 and more evidence of normal February activity, with wayside trees being cut for next year's firewood, logs and brushwood tidily stacked awaiting storage. Everything is very seasonal here, betraying the lingering influence of the rural rhythms of life. If you want to buy a plum tree, don't go to market in April - you'll be too late.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Winter in Normandy

'What, off on holiday again?'
Some people say this, perhaps a little incredulously, when we say we are going to France. Admittedly we do come here nine or ten times a year, but it isn't what I would call a holiday, and certainly not in winter.
Here in Normandy the weather has been, and still is, very like what people in UK have been suffering for weeks: strong winds and interminable rain. Thankfully we ourselves have avoided flooding, as many have not, but here in France too we can see the evidence in swollen rivers and submerged fields where, in drier times, horses and cattle graze.
In February I aim to prune trees and shrubs, and we have a fallen tree that needs logging - but not in torrential rain. There are tiles missing from the garage roof that need to be replaced - but not if it's blowing a gale. So perhaps it is a bit of a holiday after all, as we huddle by the fire, or go shopping for friends' commissions.
Even at this bleakest time of year the valley is beautiful with its muted shades of brown, grey and green. The signs of spring are there in catkins waving on bare hazel twigs, crocuses pushing up through the sodden grass, primroses studding the banks, and the first daffodils opening their sunny petals in sheltered spots. Great tits and chaffinches are visiting our bird table now that I have supplied fresh food, and buzzards perch on the telephone poles scouring the verges for prey, even as the wind ruffles their feathers.The last photo is of a pile of manure in the field next to our garden - farmers find plenty to do whatever the time of year.