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.