Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Another Sneak Preview of...

...Tall Told Tales.  Following on from last months excerpt from my anthology of strange fairy tales, I thought I'd let you see the cover art for the book.  I'm also including an excerpt from the lead story, The Physic Garden, for you to enjoy...

Cover Art by Rosie Jones
Once upon a time, in a place so very far from here, there lived a baker who was lonely.  Although he had a job he loved and owned his own bakery and shop, there’s was no one with whom he could share his life.  And that saddened him.
Looking at himself in the mirror early one morning he decided that he was not so unattractive that he could not find that special someone.  The someone who was meant just for him.  Turning to his right and examining his profile he acknowledged that, perhaps all the cakes had made him a little portly around the waist.  But, he told himself, if he tried hard enough, he could regain his youthful physique.  Well, maybe reduce the roundness of his belly a little, at least.  And, yes, the hair at his temples may be showing the first signs of greyness, but otherwise, he thought he had a lot to offer.  After all, his income from the bakery was very good, despite the hours.
For the next few weeks he scanned the personal columns searching for groups to join and personal adverts from ladies looking for companions or perhaps a little more.
His foray into ballroom dancing was ended before it began.  He had no idea he was supposed to bring a dancing partner with him and was turned away at the door.
A brush with amateur dramatics was equally fruitless, if a little longer lived, as he failed his first audition and had to suffer the ignominy of being told not to give up the day job!
Joining a poker club was too masculine for his requirements and becoming an after-dinner speaker drove him to nervous distraction.  After much thought he decided to take a more modern approach and signed up to a dating dot-com site.
Within no time at all he had found the girl of his dreams, well almost.  Elaine, he had to admit, was not the prettiest woman he had ever seen.  But ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, he told himself.  After all, he thought as he returned to the bakery following their first real date, her hair may be very short, whereas he preferred long, and it may be very black, whereas he prefer blonde, but her large round spectacles did mirror the roundness of her very pale face.   And so Robbie continued to measure her similarities and differences from the real woman of his dreams.
Six months later, as they walked down the aisle together, Robbie thought his new wife was a little portly, like himself and he persuaded himself that this was better than his preference for someone slimmer.  As they stood on the steps of the church posing for photographs, Mr MacDough thought how sweet life would be for him and his new wife at the bakery.  
But the morning after the happy couple returned from honeymoon Robbie realised that his future may not be quite what he was hoping for…

You can find Rosie Jones on Facebook at Rosie Draws Pictures

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

An interview with…

...Jeff Gardiner.  Welcome to the blog, Jeff and thanks for agreeing to be put the microscope!

 AW   What is your current release?
JG  ‘Pica’ is a Young Adult (YA) fantasy about our relationship with the natural world.  The main character discovers some of the ancient secrets and magical powers that have been hidden for thousands of years.  It is the beginning of the ‘Gaia’ trilogy which explores environmental themes.
 AW   What first got you into writing and why?
JG  I’ve always wanted to write – “I write therefore I am”.  My head is full of images, stories and events that I need to express somehow before I lose my mind completely.  As a kid I wrote terrible stories and self-indulgent poetry.  My first real publishing success occurred when an adaptation of my MPhil thesis was published.  This gave me the fillip I needed to write some short stories which found homes in magazines and anthologies in the UK and US.  And I went on from there.  My first novel, ‘Myopia’ was accepted by Crooked Cat, and since then I’ve refused to give up…
AW  You write YA and Contemporary novels.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
JG  Most of what I write is imagined, but ‘Igboland’ is set in Nigeria – where I was born – and that involved lots of research into Igbo culture and beliefs, as well as the Biafran War, which is the historical context of that novel.  It was a fascinating process and when you immerse yourself deeply into a completely new culture it starts to affect your own perspective on things, and your way of thinking.
AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
JG  Yes, I have a collection of short stories called ‘A Glimpse of the Numinous’, which contained a range of genres: horror, slipstream, romance, comedy and surrealism.  Not all my novels are YA.  ‘Igboland’ and ‘Treading On Dreams’ include mature themes and episodes.  And I even have an erotic novel out under a pseudonym!
AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
JG  I wish.  No, I have a laptop on my dining room table, or sometimes on my lap (weird!).  If I ever become more successful then a writing-shed is something I’ll have built (but the dilemma will be: should I include a TV with Sky Sports or do I want to get some writing done?).
AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with anyone, living or dead or a character from a book.  Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
JG  My hero is Gandhi.  We could do with his wisdom and clarity on a number of issues right now.  Whenever I have a discussion with friends about politics I wonder what Gandhi would say.  I’d ask him a million questions and jot down his pearls of wisdom.  I’d also love to chat with Herman Hesse for similar reasons.  The philosophy in his books is inspiring and mesmerizing.  If I could be transported into a book I’d like to visit Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and get lost in the endless walls of the castle filled with hilarious and lunatic characters.
AW  I make that three people Jeff!  A tad greedy don’t you think?  So I’m going to have to press you because the idea is to spend the afternoon with one person…
JG  Ghandhi.


Author Bio  Jeff Gardiner is the author of four novels (Pica, Igboland, Myopia and Treading On Dreams), a collection of short stories, and a work of non-fiction. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites.
Pica is the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy of transformation and ancient magic, which Michael Moorcock described as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”
 “Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)
For more information, please see his website at www.jeffgardiner.com and his blog: http://jeffgardiner.wordpress.com/


About the Book  Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.
Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.
Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.
Accent Press
Amazon Australia

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Following Stevenson through the Cévennes

The village of Le Pont-de-Montvert
In 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894) left Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille for a walking tour of the Cévennes.  And in Place de la Poste in Monastier there is a small marble stone commemorating the fact that Stevenson and his donkey, Modestine, left there on September 22nd.  I have a photo of this modest record of a piece of history somewhere, I think.
I’ve spent many days and weeks in the Cévennes myself, following in RLS’ footsteps.  And with my well-thumbed copy of his book, ‘Travels with a Donkey’, I have covered the same journey on more than one occasion.
But it’s Le Pont-de-Monvert that is of interest.  Stevenson reached here on Saturday, September the 27th.  It’s a charming cévenol village on the south face of Mont Lozère with probably around 250 to 300 inhabitants.  It sits at an altitude of around 800 metres above sea level and that’s just about enough to escape the blistering heat of the plain but still enjoy the southern warmth.  The Tarn – which rises due north of here on the Col de Finiels – is a swift flowing stream in comparison with its wider, more developed self as it slices through the Episcopal town of Albi on its way to the Garonne and finally the sea in the Bay of Biscay.
In Montvert there is the one bridge with a single span to take you across the river.  And this is the same bridge Stevenson crossed and it has been here since the 17th century.  I can’t help but wonder about the owners of the other feet that were here before me.  A troubadour travelling north from Provence, perhaps.  Certainly merchants and drovers and perhaps a knight or two, in shining armour maybe, on white destriers...probably not...but I think it's a nice idea!
Le Pont!
The heart of the village is little changed from when Stevenson saw it and, although the place differed from Monastier and Langogne, he was unable to state in what way but to admit only the ‘difference existed, and spoke eloquently to the eyes.’  For Stevenson it was the town’s role in the battles between the Huguenots and the Camisards that was of most importance.  In his journal he recounts the story of abbé de Chayla and his terrible death in the village on July 24th, 1702.
For me there is an earlier connection.  In 1309, or 1310 depending upon which account you read, Guillaume de Grimoard was born in the chateau de Grizac which sits on the hillside above Montvert commanding the fiefdom.  He became the future pope, Urban V.  In Mende, some fifty kilometres from Montvert, the square in front of the cathedral is dedicated to Urban, now with an added letter 'i' to give, Urbain.  And it is in this square, Place Urbain V, that one of the missing travellers in my book, Messandrierre, is last seen alive.

There's more from RLS and me here

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A Perceived Invasion

Jane Bwye
The summer is almost with us and today, author Jane Bwye is providing the first in a series of posts about travel and life in foreign countries.  Jane...

Thank you, Angela, for giving me this opportunity to do what I love most – travel to a foreign country.  Only this time, you say I must link it with my book.  What a great idea!

For most people, Africa is a foreign country, but has anyone thought of the effect tourists might have on those living there?  In my family saga set in Kenya the main character, Caroline, goes on safari to Tanganyika (now Tanzania).  Here is an excerpt which touches on the differences between neighbouring countries.  Even in Africa they are subtle but real.  Many local people, while appreciating the income derived from tourism, nevertheless cannot help feeling resentful at the perceived invasion of their lives.

They came to a sleepy village nestling under a canopy of umbrella thorns.  The yellow branches glowed in the hot sun.  Brian bought them ice-cold sodas at a wayside duka.  A herd of enormous elephants encroached on the road, blocking the way up a tortuous escarpment, before they emerged on a plateau above Lake Manyara.  They stopped for tea at the lodge overlooking the lake, which was lined with a thin border of flamingos.
“Not nearly as many here, as in our Lake Nakuru,” mumbled Caroline, dropping some cake crumbs onto the paved floor of the patio.  She watched as a flock of superb starlings swooped in a mass of glossy blue, orange and white from a nearby thorn tree.  They squabbled over the crumbs, and then stood by waiting for more.
“But those elephants we saw at the foot of the escarpment were much larger than any you can find in Kenya,” Brian reminded her, smiling warmly, his eyes brim-full with humour.
As they were about to leave, a woman emerged from the lodge, dressed in traditional African garb.  Voluminous folds of cotton in bold patterns of red, black, and green, adorned the ample figure.  A red and yellow headdress rose in striking splendour over the chubby face, which was flushed with sunburn.  She swept forwards, her garment brushing the floor. She produced a camera cluttered with lenses, adjusted the focus, and in a loud American drawl tried to direct the African tour guide into position at the door of their minibus.  He was a slight man uniformed in spotless khaki, and regarded her with despair, but posed obligingly.
Caroline could not resist the spectacle.  She caught Brian’s eye and reached for her camera.
“This will be one for the album,” she whispered as she included the tourist and the tour guide in the frame, and clicked the shutter.
She noticed Mwangi watching, and smiled to include him in the joke, wondering what he thought of it all.  His implacable eyes, reduced to pinpricks of black stone, bore into her. They flicked towards Brian, and then he turned away. 

About the author  Jane has been a businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist for fifty years, mainly in Kenya.  Six children and seven grandkids are scattered over three continents.  She developed a taste for travel, and in 2001 'walked' round the world, buying a bird book in every country she visited.  She has written numerous magazine articles and short stories, two newspaper columns and several newsletters.  She co-ordinated a cookbook, 'Museum Mixtures' in aid of the Kenya Museum Society in 1989, and has written a History in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of her local church, St Wilfrid's.  Breath of Africa, which is dedicated to the people of Kenya, is her first novel, published in 2013.  I Lift Up My Eyes, published in 2014, is a novella set in East Sussex.

About the Book  Caroline is a priviledged woman from the highlands, and Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer with dreams of Oxford.  A drama of psychological terror is fuelled by Mau Mau oath administrator, Mwangi, but against the backdrop of Kenya's beautiful but hostile desert, the curse is finally broken.

Information about Jane’s book, Breath of Africa, can be found on her website: http://janebwye.com/mybooks/breath-of-africa
And you can find her Amazon Author Page here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00BOK0NN4/

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

More things found in showers…

Domfront (61)
There was a strange man on the campsite the other day.  And, when I say strange, I mean unknown to me not that he was alien or odd.  Now, one doesn’t expect to see strange men hanging around campsites and in a village this small, he cannot be missed.  I thought about challenging him but James said not to bother.
He was there again today – the strange man – but this time in the shower block.  Fully clothed, I might add.  Which was quite a relief to me following that previous incident with the Dutchman.  Anyway, I couldn’t stop myself.  I had to know what he was up to.  So I asked him what he was looking for.
‘Ants,’ he said.
‘Oh,’ I said.  ‘Well you’re looking in completely the wrong place.  They all seem to congregate under the fourth sink in the sanitation block,’ I said.  ‘And the revellers take their regular party to the corner of the gent’s shower block.’  I smiled triumphantly.  ‘Not that I’ve seen them there,’ I added, just for clarity. ‘My brother, mentioned that he’d noticed them.’
He smiled back.  ‘They’re Turkish,’ he said.
‘Are they really?’  I began checking the floor to make sure I wasn’t treading on any of the poor little mites.  ‘They must be worn out,’ I said.  ‘Walking all that way and on such short little legs too.’ 
Now James and I have travelled in Turkey.  Not quite as extensively as we have here in France, but I do know a little something of the country.  Wanting to make sure he understood how well informed I was I continued with a question. 
‘I wonder, will they be blue-eyed ants from Anatolia or brown-eyed from further east do you think?’
He looked at me oddly.
‘One just needs to know these details for future reference,’ I explained.
‘Ah.  I see.  I’m not sure yet.  That’s why I’m studying them.  The colony here is only one of four in the whole of Normandy.’
‘Oh.  So you must be with the University then?’
Ornamental church masonry, La Ferté-Macé (61)
That was when he moved across to the other sink and started grovelling about on the floor.
‘Yes.  I’m writing my thesis on ant colonies.’
‘And you chose Turkish ants rather than your own home-grown French ants.’
‘Of course,’ he said.  ‘I know all there is to know about French ants.’
‘Then perhaps you could explain to me how they always manage to get into my cake tins?’
He stood and grinned.  ‘Oh they won’t be French ants,’ he said.  ‘They’ll be Turkish.  They have a very sweet tooth, you know!’