Tuesday, 16 January 2018

From Far Off Whisper...

... to printed page
Author, John Jackson
Writing is a lonely business – or it can be.  For an over-gregarious soul like me that can be even more of an incentive NOT to write.
So why did I?
There's an old saying that if you hang around with talented people, then some of their talent might rub off on you.  Whether it did or not is not for me to say, but their keenness to write, and their joy in their successes certainly did.
I got to know several members of the Romantic Novelist's Association.  They were friendly and welcoming, but after a while, the drip started.
"Oh, go on, John. You know you want to give it a go!"
So I found myself up and e-mailing an application to their New Writers' Scheme at midnight on January 2nd.  Much to my surprise, I was accepted!
I had a story in mind.  It was my good fortune to have a couple of ancestors worthy of note (at least for me) lurking there, and one story leapt out at me.   My 5 x Great Grandfather was an Irish peer called Robert Rochfort, and he was a BAD MAN!  Eventually, the story in my mind changed into one I knew I wanted to write.
My first draft was completed inside 6 months, and ran to 95,000 words.  This went through the New Writers' Scheme, where an experienced author in my genre gave it a VERY thorough crit.
So I did a rewrite, and started the eternal search for a publisher or agent, and I have now built up a lovely collection of rejections.  I also had the manuscript edited again by a professional editor.  She was also a tremendous help.
Time passes, but then I had it looked at by an editor with Harper Collins.  She told me what the problem was.  It seems that all readers empathise with the first strong character they meet – and thus they HAVE to meet their hero early, otherwise they will put their emotional investment into the wrong character.
This was easy to understand, and to rectify.  I had to move things round with a good sized structural edit.
I was also advised that the max length for a first historical novel was 90,000 words.  So I cut and slashed about 10,000 words out of it.  This tightened up my writing, and it has meant that the book is a fast-paced read.
I was on the verge of self-publishing on Amazon (as many do), when I was made an offer by Crooked Cat Books.  Crooked Cat are one of the new breed of publishers.  They will publish your book, and provide you with a cover and an editor.  They will also manage your royalties, for a 4-Year period.
I did a lot of "due diligence" on Crooked Cat before signing with them, but heard nothing but praise from their signed authors; I can only agree with them.

Getting a book published is a long, slow process.  Crooked Cat were able to give me a publication date quickly, although this was several months away.  Meanwhile I had to go over the manuscript with their appointed editor.  Happily, an old friend of mine, Sue Barnard.  It was a pleasure working through the manuscript with her, and we got through the whole edit process in about a month.
I had my own ideas for the cover.  I knew there was a large portrait of Robert Rochfort at Belvedere.  Unfortunately, there was no suitable high-quality copy available.  Fortunately, the management at Belvedere were cooperation itself, and told me they were perfectly happy for me to arrange for someone to come in and take a suitable picture.  They didn't even charge for the picture's use.
My proof copy arrived, and I held it in my hands – and at that moment I KNEW I was an author!

Heart of Stone 

You can follow John on Facebook and Twitter

Saturday, 13 January 2018

I'm reviewing Marianne in Chains...

... by Robert Gildea

This book was recommended to me as a 'first class treatise' on France during the occupation.  As I'm not an historian I am not really qualified to comment on the veracity of that particular description and my review will not attempt, in any way, to do so.  But, having had the book sold to me thus, I have to say that I am very glad I bought it and read it.

As an avid reader, a very ordinary traveller through life and France, I am often drawn to books about the life and times of one of my most favourite places.  The country is vast, it's history inextricably linked with our own, the geography is varied and the culture and customs fascinating.  I am still learning about this amazing place.  And Gildea's book has been no small part of my most recent learning.

It is a vast tome.  At over 400 pages of information and comment, supplemented by a further 90+ of appendices and detailed index, it is not a book to picked up in the hope of an easy or quick read.  That being said, once I had accustomed myself to the style of writing and the format, I did get through it in about 7 days as I found the content so fascinating, it was very difficult to put it down.

Focusing on the period from June 1940 to the end of the war, Gildea uses archive material, personal interviews, diaries and eyewitness accounts to set out what life was like, for people across the the social strata of the time, in 3 specific départements during the occupation (in my experience now referred to by the French as les années noires).  The area 'of study' that he uses stretches from the west coast inland to just east of the tiny village of Bléré on the river Cher and north to south from Chateaubriant to Machecoul.  In terms of the geography it represents - I would guess - between 5% and 7% of the whole country.  So it is not a particularly large sample area.  However, it is an area where I have a spent a great deal of time, with cities, towns and villages that I know well.  So, reading about the history of that dark period, as evidenced by the seemingly vast array of records, papers and information that Gildea examined, was a bit like discovering the difficult past of a very old friend.

Tours, a city referenced in the book
It is clear from early on in the book that Gildea is seeking to present a particular view of that time in history.  What I can say is, that I was overwhelmed by the breadth of evidence presented, the detail included and what I concluded was that people, no matter what their background, were doing their best to survive in very difficult circumstances.  A society of people constantly forced to make choices, where the alternatives were frequently 'a rock' or 'a hard place'.  I often found myself wondering how I would have reacted had I been there, faced with the same challenges and difficult choices.  A thought-provoking, and at times very moving, book that I feel has informed and helped me to a greater level of understanding about this period in French history.  And that, in no way means that I agree wholeheartedly with all of Gildea's conclusions.

I will be visiting Tours at the end of the month.  If you would like to join me, there will be more about this city's role under the occupation.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Relationships... We all have them...

Not necessarily the girlfriend/boyfriend type.  I’m talking about the relationship a mother has with her son, a grandchild has with their grandparent.  Even the close relationship between best friends.
Family doesn’t always mean flesh and blood.  I know that blood is meant to be thicker than water but you hear too many times about parents turning their back on children, and siblings stealing each others wives.  Sometimes it’s the family we choose for ourselves that stand by us thick and thin.
But what is it about family?  I have a very large family.  Myself, I grew up an only child as my brother passed away when I was only two.  Him being just a few months old.  But my mum is one of six and my dad is one of eight, and with that comes cousins and second cousins and first cousins once removed etc etc.
I don’t think I’ve ever met all my cousins.  I’ve certainly never had them all in the same place at the same time.  I have a few I know well.  The ones that used to visit often when we were growing up, and the one that grew up just down the road.  I grew up in East Sussex and Liverpool was so far away, but that is the beauty of family.  These people that in normal times would be complete strangers, are part of our lives and we love each other even though we barely know each other.
We’ve had a couple of Long Lost Family moments of our own in the last few years.  It turns out that mum doesn’t have six siblings, but six and a half as her dad had a baby not long before my mum left home.  So, now all grown up, I have an Aunt who is only two years older than me, and guess what… three more cousins!
Our family has had a big hole in it since way before I was born.  My mum’s biggest sister moved to Australia when my mum was only three, and they lost contact with her when their mother died when my mum was only eleven.  Aunt Bernadette has always been spoken about but non of us ever thought we would see her again.  How is it so possible to miss someone you’ve never known, but I have.
We tried writing to Cilla Black, Davina MacCall and trawling through records to find her with no luck.  I even searched Facebook for people with the same name as her and her two children.  Not one lead to anything.  Then last year, on Boxing Day, we got an announcement we never expected.
Aunt Bernadette had been found.
My auntie Teena gave us the news.  We being so far away joined by skype as many of our other family members crammed into their utility/computer room.  There were tears of joy and laughter.  The news we had all been waiting for was finally here.
The six siblings all journeyed to meet her, in Venice of all places, and finally after 46 years they were all together.
On the 23rd December 2017 I finally got to meet my long lost aunt.  It was amazing.  She had travelled all the way from Australia to spend Christmas with us all and cook us Christmas dinner with Teena.  Her thirty plus hours of travel put our six and a half to shame.  It was an amazing few days, going round to their last remaining aunts and uncle and hearing them all share stories of the past.
Watching my great uncle, who is 92 and partially blind, look at his niece and say 'I never thought I would see you again' broke my heart.  We spent days each of us in turn crying, sometimes setting the other off.  We are a very emotional family it turns out!
But the strangest thing is, even though I had never met her before and even after five days of speaking, I barely even know her.  I love her.  She is family.  It is like she’s never been away.

about the book...  What if you’re in love with another woman’s man?  Casey Turner finds herself sad and single again after a seven-year relationship.  Having suffered multiple miscarriages, she is adjusting to the realisation she will never be a mum, just as all her friends are getting married and having children.  Feeling alone, she finds herself drawn to a man she can’t have: her ex’s best friend.  Although he has a girlfriend, she can’t stay away.  But does he really care for her, too, or is he just having his cake and eating it?  Torn between her feelings and her morals, is Casey destined to follow the wrong path, or will she see sense before time runs out?  Available now on Amazon  and the launch party is on January 12th... Join the party Book Launch

about the author... Carrie-Ann lives in South East England with her three children, her cats and her dog with her mum just a short drive away.  She is never bored.  She fills her time with reading, writing, tv series binge watching, amateur dramatics, dog walks, dinner with friends, the park, taking her children to clubs and the odd glass or three of something alcoholic.
Carrie-Ann is a self confessed Social Media addict who can normally be found somewhere floating around the World Wide Web.  However, learning to use it for marketing has been a trying experience.  She would love you to get in touch by connecting to her on Facebook or on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other sites. All can be found at http://www.carrieannschless.com 

as well as her blog.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

What's coming up in 2018...

...... welcome to another year of blogging...

It's a new year.  That means there will be new opportunities, different challenges, new
Rose window, cathedral Tours
people to meet.  It is also an opportunity to reflect on the old year.  Last year, h
ere on James et Moi, I took you to some of my favourite places : Montbazon  Le Puy-en-Velay and  Argentat .  And 2018 will see me taking more strolls around the streets of various towns and villages in France.  Please accompany me towards the end of January, when I will be making a visit to Tours.  It is an amazing city with a fascinating history.  Later in the year I will be spending some time in Villefranche-de-Rouergue, Tence, Yssingeaux and Le Chambon.  I also have no doubt that there will be interesting little places that I happen upon by accident and that they may also feature in a post. Watch this space! 

Last year, I featured posts and interviews from guest authors and they took us to places further afield, such as Portugal with Isabella May on one occasion, the Auvergne with Marie Laval and I took some time out to visit  Edinburgh and indulge my love of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. There will be new authors appearing on the blog in the coming year, established authors making a return and lots about books for you to enjoy.  Coming up this month, you will be meeting Carrie Ann Schless and John Jackson.  There will be lots of other author posts in the following months too.  

Last year I featured book reviews for the first time and I included my thoughts on a variety of books - not all of them fiction.  I think that, of all the books I read last year - 42 according to Goodreads -  The Unfree French and Marianne in Chains (review to feature later in the year) were the two that had the most impact.  They were both thought provoking and provided two very different viewpoints on the same period of history.  I will be continuing the reviews throughout the year.

And, as always, there will be some fab photos to illustrate the posts. I hope you will be able to join me and that you will enjoy the journey!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Diary of a Provincial Jack Russell

Diarist, Author and mischief-maker,
Judy Good-Dog
December 28th :  I am strutting down my Old Retainer's drive keeping a leery eye open for the appearance of that smelly hound next door when Rosie and her owner pass by.  Untruthfully, I wag my tail in greeting at her, but it is only the doggy treat that I know her owner has in her pocket that interests me.  However, I can only get to wag number three before I am dragged by my Old Retainer (OR) down the street for my walk at a pace that was unbecoming and certainly far in excess of any speed that my OR can reasonably expect to maintain without the severe possibility of apoplexy on his part.
(Query : will Chippie, the hound next door, be available for his putting in his place this afternoon I wonder?)
(Note to Self : investigate all that stuff in OR's spare room because I suspect that he and his Trainee are up to something and my time here may be cut short.)

December 29th :  I was right!  After my walk yesterday I was bundled into my basket, put in the travel cage and thence into the car.  It was a long journey and I had to amuse myself with the shape of the passing clouds, the appalling colour scheme of a car we passed and the prospect of new adventures.
(Memo : must instruct OR on the need to consider every blade of grass during the course of an adventure.)
We are now here at the holiday cottage.  Good!  At least I’ll have another opportunity to sort out that Black Labrador across the road.  The Trainee Retainer keeps on complaining that the place is cold.  I could not agree more and I decide to settle into my basket with my duvet.

December 30th :  Leisurely morning reading the Daily Telegraph.  A stroll down to the sea front and back, followed by a late morning snooze which is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Lord and Lady H.  Nevertheless, I make them especially welcome, but get nothing for my pains. 
Port Mulgrave
(Note to self : must remind OR to instruct his visitors to have doggy treats with them at all times.)
Lord and Lady H stay for lunch.  Then more travelling - but to the shops this time.  Of course I am left unceremoniously in the car park.  What a relief that Rosie, Chippie, Meg, Soda, Gem, Anna and that flea-ridden piece of mange at the bottom of the street at home are not able to witness my abandonment.  However, I rise above my deplorable situation by feigning guard duty.  My dignity is saved, eventually, by the return of my OR and we are off again, travelling.  Back at the cottage I stretch out on the best rug in the best room and watch my OR and his Trainee dashing in and out.  I also find, to my surprise and without any prior consultation, that Lord and Lady H are staying for the duration - so that's two more waifs to guard for goodness knows how long. 
(Memo : have overheard a conversation between Lord H and OR about putting a Kitty together.  Must find the cat. Even more intriguing, must determine how they managed to break the animal in the first place!)
Evening spent by the fire as the four waifs went out, presumably to eat as there was no kitchen activity and therefore no tasty titbits in my dog-bowl.  I do wish the OR would keep me informed about such changes in routine - how can I possibly be expected to maintain my diet and figure otherwise.

 December 31st :  Stroll into town today.  Regrettably there were no other canines that needed to be informed of my status.  Equally regrettable, there were no other canines to impress with my sleek coat, lithe figure, beautifully shaped patches and matching collar!  But there was more conversation about this dratted Kitty. 
(Further note to self : undertake a more thorough search of the property and devise a trap for the cat.)
A lot of frenzied activity in the kitchen this afternoon with Lady H and the Trainee rushing
Oneself, beating a hasty retreat
about.  Also a lot of talk about a large porker.  First a cat to find and now a pig!  I decide that discretion is the better part of valour and retreat to the fireside.
The waifs are busy eating in the dining room so I have been able to conduct a thorough and detailed search of the cottage.  Have not been able to find the cat.  Also, have noticed that there are no feeding bowls for the cat and have come to the conclusion that the cat must have been put back together again and shown the door.  Still not able to locate the pig.  Have a theory that I should be able to find it soon as it will need to use the lavatory - so am mounting a constant guard outside the bathroom door.  It really is a dog's life!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Crooked Cat Sale

Want to find a bargain???

Then visit the great Crooked Cat Sale, loads of titles - including Messandrierre and Merle - for 99p/c or international equivalent

There are romances, mysteries, crime, thrillers and lots, lots more. Treat yourself whilst you have the opportunity!