I’m thrilled that Something Stupid has been picked by the Fussy Librarian to be featured this Sunday, december 8th. The Fussy Librarian, a new website that offers personalized ebook recommendations. You choose from 40 genres and indicate preferences about content and then the computers work their magic. It sounds like another way of adding to the ever mounting TBR pile and what’s wrong with that? Knowing that you’ve got enough books to read is sheer bliss! Their website is www.TheFussyLibrarian.com
…was absolutely terrific. I had a whale of a time. It was really nice meeting Vanessa who’d invited me to speak at the festival – up to now we’d only known each other through our blogs, all the events I went to were super, my hosts who had me to stay for the night were super and I think my part didn’t go too badly either. Put it this way; no-one threw rotten fruit or sighed loudly.
Parisot is a small but obviously very lively commune in the Tarn and Garonne and despite the filthy weather – pelting rain and temperatures that seemed to be dropping by the minute the Parisot library was already filling up when I arrived before Amanda Hodgkinson’s talk in the afternoon. I took Amanda’s novel, 22 Britannia Road, with me to Brussels recently, expecting it to last me the weekend. It was such a good read that I finished it on Sunday morning and had to face the dreadful prospect of travelling back on Ryanair without anything to read. Luckily my daughter arrived with an emergency book supply so the panic was soon over.
Amanda is absolutely charming and gave us a wonderful and funny talk about her writing, moving to France and getting close to concrete mixers, how the germs of the plot for 22 Britannia Road sprang out of stories she heard her grandmother and great-grandmother telling each other, and related one or two of the more unusual happenings on her American book tours. She also read us various passages from her books which was sheer pleasure as she’s such a good reader. My one regret about the weekend is that I didn’t get more of a chance to talk to her.
Amanda was followed by the urbane and witty Martin Walker, author of the Bruno, Chief of Police series set in the Perigord, who talked about his journalistic career, his French holiday house and the personalities in the local area who have shaped the characters in his books, especially the real life model for Bruno. The fictional Bruno is muscular, slim, the flesh and blood version is ahem, a bit more rounded…
As Martin, like Amanda had been, was surrounded by an enthusiastic audience telling him how much they’d enjoyed his talk, I was horribly conscious that I had two very hard acts to follow…
Funnily enough, most of the nerves that bedeviled me all last week had largely disappeared and I was left with a que sera sera feeling of I’d do my best and if it wasn’t that good at least I’d tried. Everyone involved in organising the festival and in the audience was so nice that it would have been difficult to feel nervous in such a friendly atmosphere.
Richard and Anita, whom I was staying with, live in the most gorgeous old schoolhouse. They were looking for something that didn’t need much work, not a near decrepit shell, but when they opened the crumbling shutters in the old schoolroom they fell in love. Not surprisingly: this is the view from outside my bedroom (and it was a filthy day), looking towards NajacAs Richard said, they’ve got all the best parts of a château – enjoying looking at it without having to look after it. The schoolhouse also has a wonderful oak staircase, nothing fancy or grand, but a thing of beauty because it is so perfectly made and proportioned. The bannister rail has been worn smooth by years of hands rubbing it and it so tactile that I felt like going up and down just for the sheer pleasure of feeling it under my palm.
The next morning Anne Dyson, who used to run the Greedy Goose cookery school, gave a demonstration of making canapes. Sadly I couldn’t stay to taste everything as I had to get ready for my own bit but I can tell you her savoury filled choux buns were scrummy and something I’ll be trying myself.
In the audience for my talk was Sally Clegg, the breeder of a magnificent line of Dalmatians, who gave us her retired show dog Jez – one of the best presents ever. Jez died, aged 14, several years ago but her indomitable spirit lives on in her grandson Flynn and great-great granddaughter Desi. I haven’t seen Sally for about five years so it was lovely to catch up, she has a Facebook group for Dalmatians de Puech Barrayre which is sheer dog porn – picture after picture of beautiful dogs!
My speech – what can I say? I didn’t dry up, I managed not to have to read from my cards unless I was quoting directly – naturally I realised afterwards that there was quite a lot I’d missed out though as I spoke for over half an hour it was probably a good thing. Amanda and Martin’s tremendous talks the day before even worked to my advantage as they held diametrically opposing views on writing matters such as how detailed a plot synopsis you need to do before you start and I was able to refer back to them. People laughed a bit, nodded in agreement with what I was saying a few times and as I’ve mentioned no-one threw tomatoes or remembered half way through that they had something better to do. They even asked questions. So yes, I was pretty pleased. Let’s be honest, I was delighted. I hadn’t made a complete T of myself.
If I’ve used a lot of superlatives in this it’s because I had one of the best weekends in ages; I’m still riding high. I hope that Vanessa, Gina – the powerhouse behind getting the Parisot Literary Festival off the ground, and everyone else involved in it is riding high too because it was terrific. It’s incredible to think that it was the first, everything went so smoothly that you’d believe they’d been doing it for years. And I’d like to thank them for inviting me to take part.
… and shortly about to graduate onto tearing my hair out. I’m juggling getting the International Club of Bordeaux’s monthly newsletter, The Grapevine, ready to go out next week (with practice it’ll be a doddle but as this is only the second issue there’s a lot of glitches to be sorted out) with preparing my speech for the Parisot Literary Festival this weekend. And if that wasn’t enough there’s Life getting in the way too- walking the dogs, food shopping, talking to friends when they ring up,
doing the housework, finding a set of keys my daughter left behind and posting them to her Collissimo…
It’s at this stage of blind panic that I’m starting to wonder why I ever agreed to appear at the Literary Festival – believe me I’ve been wondering ever since I was asked why they wanted me. The other authors appearing are much better known than I am but at least I’m on last. I think (hope) most people will have gone home by then.
I said at the beginning of last year that I was going to start pushing myself. I’ve certainly done that here but actually I’m rather looking forward to it. The idea of the speech terrifies me, I used to give short seminars as part of my job but that was a long time ago and there’s a lurking fear that I might have lost the knack. Let’s be honest here, in the middle of the night it’s more of an absolute certainty. Even so I’m thoroughly enjoying myself doing the planning and the festival itself (apart from my contribution) sounds as if it’s going to be terrific. I’m getting to meet a couple of authors whose work I really like and also meet Vanessa whom I’ve only known through blogging (she’s pretty busy herself right now), stay with someone who runs a creative writing group (lots of picking of brains planned there), get taken out to dinner and it’s all in a really pretty part of France that I love.
What’s not to like about all of that? Apart from my bit of course?
Yesterday was the first meeting of the ICB’s writing group – Writers Inc.
I’ve wanted to join a writing group all the time we’ve been in France, I loved the one I went to in London, but there weren’t any writing groups in Bordeaux or reasonably near. So when the ICB was launched I decided that I’d better offer to start a writing group myself. This was a somewhat foolhardy decision as it’s 20 years since I’ve attended one, so my knowledge of writing groups is, to say the least, rusty.
Consequently the last week was spent frantically searching for ideas to keep a new group going for two hours, cut with blind fear that no-one was going to turn up and it was all going to be a horrible failure (several people have kindly informed me that another club tried to get a writing group going and it died rapidly. Almost worse was the worry that there would be several attendees who’d all be much better writers than me and would be wondering, ‘Why on earth does she think she’s equipped to run this?’
In the event there were three of us – small but enough to get discussions going (we should have been six but two couldn’t get back to Bordeaux on time and one was ill), and after the initial nervous few minutes I loved it. There was an English journalist, much more experienced than I am, who says she should be writing a novel and isn’t (I know the feeling) and a French member of the ICB who declared that for her, coming to a writing group was like going to the dentist, something she felt she ought to do. She’d have been better off thinking in terms of jumping in the deep end and seeing if she could swim. She proved, much to her surprise, that she can write. I think she also rather enjoyed it.
I certainly did. It was wonderful talking writing of course, but more importantly I’d forgotten how stimulating and what fun those short group exercises can be. Spending a minute writing down a list of things that you find boring, then four minutes writing about the activity you find the most boring is pretty joyless when you’re on your own. It’s quite different when you can laugh over how we all selected football and housework. In a group you can’t cheat and take an extra few minutes to polish up what you’ve written either, the time constraints mean you just have to get on with it and that’s very liberating, especially for someone who usually has a critic sitting on her shoulder croaking, ‘You can do better than that.’
Going home I had a distinct buzz of excitement, we need to grow and I’m sure we will, but as far as I’m concerned Writers Inc already hits exactly the right spots; it’s fun, it’s stimulating and it made me push myself a little. And you get to meet new people.
Roll on next month’s meeting!
NB. The illustration at the top is borrowed from Bo’s Cafe Life, the writing life seen through the eyes of an aspiring novelist. Well worth a look. And the mug comes from The Literary Gift Company, a favourite site.
For the first Something Stupid is being offered free on Kindle for three days until Sunday. So if you fancy something light and funny why not go over to Amazon now:
It’s not going to cost you anything!
I’m not sure whether I should be delighted or slapping myself on the head and going, ‘Durrr!’
As I’ve been doing quite a lot of work today (aka much effing and blinding) on setting myself up a Facebook author page, doing a LinkedIn profile etc I thought I might as well check how the sales of my books on Kindle are doing. Normally this is pretty gloomy viewing and needs a strong drink before I have the courage to click on “Prior Six Week’s Royalties”.
Today I noticed for the first time that what I assumed were my total sales were just those for Amazon.com, including India. Since I’ve never been published in either place and all my publicity has been aimed at the UK so far it isn’t surprising that my sales haven’t been astronomic. Now I’ve looked at Amazon.co.uk my general sales are quite healthy, well better anyway.
So while I’m not looking forward to royalties like this for March,
I have a feeling some other people will be going ‘Durr!’ for me.
Seven-Week Itch is finally up on Kindle, something very strange went on with the formatting but it seems to have been sorted out now. Much to my surprise as I’ve barely even told my nearest and dearest that it’s gone live it’s already sold a few copies. Not a lot but every little helps!
I love this cover by Theo Wayte;
the ram has a small but important role to play in the plot so fully deserves his place on the front cover, and he’s such fun too.
In many ways I’m fondest of this book of all that I’ve written because it was so easy. I started it high on the excitement of having a proper two-book contract and it simply flowed out, I was writing 2-2,500 words a day without pushing myself, I’ve never managed that sort of output again. I still like it, it’s unashamedly light and I really enjoyed editing it for this edition.
I’m come across a couple of on-line reviews that give it a thumbs down because it’s about ‘big country houses’ which is strange, as it isn’t. Susie, my heroine, is living in a tiny cottage and while it’s true that her wayward friend has married someone with a big house the story isn’t about the house. I can only presume it’s Owl Criticism (a brilliant idea coined by Charles Baxter here) which goes, ‘There’s an owl in the book and I don’t like owls…’
Oh well, I trust I don’t have too many potential readers who suffer from country-house phobia, sadly there isn’t a specific word for it though a phobia about houses is the splendid oikophobia, so perhaps the mansion version could be called ‘big-oikophobia’?
for the Kindle edition of Seven Week Itch.
Seven Week Itch will go live on Kindle as soon as I can sort out the glitch that’s playing havoc with the paragraph indenting, it doesn’t affect how it reads but it doesn’t look nice.
Theo did worry that people might see this cover and think that it was Vet Lit, all I can say is that if anyone buys the book thinking it’s about a flock of sheep suffering from a mutation of sweet itch – sorry and isn’t about time you expanded your horizons with a bit of romantic comedy?
Many thanks to Vanessa Couchman for tagging me in The Next Big Thing blog chain, which lets us writers blow our own trumpets. Vanessa writes a fascinating blog about French life and customs, she’s a freelance writer and is writing her first novel – read about it here.
What is the working title of your next book?
At the moment it’s French Twist but I’m leaning towards Croissant Moon.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
From a long time back. There were very few crime novels set in France and I thought vaguely that maybe I should write one myself. I realised quickly that I’m not a crime writer so the whole story was put on the back burner, then about a year ago I got the idea of turning everything around so that instead of being a police procedural from the detective’s point of view it became Hebe’s story with added detecting.
What genre does your book fall under?
There lies a problem, it doesn’t fit neatly into any category which might make it hard to market. I hope it’ll be the beginning of a series, it’s got a bit of crime, it’s got humour, it’s got a little romance though not much, it’s about moving abroad – I suppose you could say in general that it’s Women’s Fiction, which sub-section unspecified. Of course if everyone thinks it’s startlingly brilliant it won’t matter that it can’t be easily categorised but I’m not holding my breath about that.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I have a very good idea of what my characters look like, how they behave and can’t imagine any actor in their shoes. In the unlikely event of the book being filmed I’d have to leave it up to the professionals to do the casting. Then I’d do my best not to wince at their choices.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Unemployed Hebe, 35+, jumps at the chance to kick-start her career by project managing a gite project in Les Landes but life in rural France turns out not to be as calm or crime free as she fondly imagined, and she soon finds herself involved with an antique dealer who may or not be honest, a detective who probably isn’t all he seems, a vindictive château owner, a seriously scary crook, chauvinistic police, a cowardly stray dog and builders behaving like builders – to say nothing of the stolen property and the corpse.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Of course I’d like to be represented but I don’t expect I will be.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The first germ, about 40,000 words was written about seven years ago. This completely revised version was started in March and should be finished in a month – it’s been very slow but I haven’t driven myself that hard, I must confess.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Anyone who combines humour and crime is going to be compared to Janet Evanovich and the Stephanie Plum novels. I’d love to think mine is going to be as good! However though we both have extremely attractive detectives, her books are first and foremost crime novels while mine is primarily a comedy with added crime.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to move on from what I was writing at the time, I’d really enjoyed writing romantic comedy and thoroughly enjoyed revising the novels as ebooks, but I was losing my taste for reading that sort of book and there’s no fun in writing if you can’t write what you like to read.
I also love books set in France, especially the ones that manage to be lighthearted and avoid casting the French as Pastis drinking, sex obsessed, Gauloise smoking, garlic smelling yokels, and thought I could have some fun here. When I’m not stuck on a scene I’m having a whale of a time writing French Twist.
I had a major loss of confidence a few years ago and practically stopped writing, my youngest daughter has never ceased to badger me about starting writing again, she even bought me a Writers Block from New York to put on my key board, so a lot of the credit that I’ve nearly got a manuscript finished must go to her.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
It isn’t about lazy French builders.
And here are the writers I’d like to tag. They all live in France too which is sheer co-incidence not an attempt at a gathering of ex-pats. I haven’t actually met any of them, maybe one of these days, but I do enjoy reading what they write.
Susie Kelly has lived in France since the mid 90’s and writes a wonderfully diverse blog, she takes a mean photo too. She’s published four books, The Valley of Heaven and Hell, Best Foot Forward, Travels With Tinkerbelle and Two Steps Backwards, wry and humorous books about her travels in France.
Deidre Borie lives in Normandy, teaches English and sells books (now that’s a good job to have!). She has a book review blog and describes herself as a ‘novice writer’ but if her novel is as good as her reviews that’s not going to be a problem.
Steve Bichard is a man who wears several hats; he has a French advertising website, he has a tomato growing blog (he was called the Tomato King when he lived in Portugal) and he’s written and self published Vantastic France, the trials and tribulations of a White Van Man moving to France. He’s particularly generous about passing on hints to other authors about ways to improve sales and publicise their books.
Up To No Good is now out on Kindle at a very modest price and much to my surprise I didn’t have any of the problems uploading it that I had with Something Stupid, so what they say about practice making perfect must have some truth in it!
Yet again Theo Wayte has come up trumps with the cover;
It’s even more gorgeous than the one she created for Something Stupid and that’s saying something. And credit and thanks must also go to Roger Porter, Theo’s neighbour, who dealt with the complicated technical stuff.
Up To No Good is my French book, most of the action takes place in a holiday cottage in the grounds of an English owned vineyard and the setting is quite like a place that used to belong to my brother but I have to add that none of the characters are based on real-life ones except for the Dalmatian Lily, who was modeled closely on Plum, our first dog in France.
I have loved all my dogs but Plum was one of the special ones, the dog of my heart, perhaps of my lifetime. She was very beautiful and had a huge amount of charm, whenever we took her out we’d be stopped by people asking to pat her and when she was happy or pleased to see you, like Lily in the book, she’d wrinkle her nose up so much smiling that she’d make herself sneeze. You always knew when the first person had got up in the morning because a series of sneezing explosions would come from the kitchen door as soon as it was opened.
When Plum was nearly 5 she had her first epileptic fit. We didn’t get internet until Plum had been ill for nearly a year, if we’d had it when she was first ill I’m sure she’d have had a normal lifespan. Vets can’t be expected to know all about canine epilepsy, there are a whole range of different causes for it and treatments, and the information and help from the canine epilepsy websites was incredible. Our vet was very open to trying out anything I suggested as a result of my internet researches, even if he thought they probably wouldn’t work, and between us by changing her diet completely, juggling her medicines and putting her on thyroxine we cut her fitting down from several a week to once every two months.
A year of fitting violently, often with one following another in quick succession had left her damaged, not badly, her spark had gone but she was still my loving friend, following me around so closely that she became known as the Dogstacle because I couldn’t step backwards or I’d tread on her. She was always in the chair in my office when I was writing and occasionally I’d have to stop to leap up and catch her if she started to have a fit so she wouldn’t fall out and hurt herself.
Then an idiot locum vet gave her the wrong medicine and destroyed her immune system. She began to get one infection after another. I corrected the proofs of Up To No Good sitting in Plum’s basket with her head on my lap because my presence seemed to calm her. She died two days later aged nearly seven.
That’s why Up To No Good is dedicated to Plum, it really is her book.