Ghosts – They’re Out There

 

I thought I’d let you know that ‘The Siren and Other Strange Tales’ my book of spooky stories is now available for pre-order or, if you can wait that long, directly available from all Amazon sites from 8th May.

the sirencover

Today I’m offering you some teaser quotes in the hope that they will part you from something just less than three pounds/dollars/euros. I know cash is hard to splash these days.

First up is ‘That Cat’ – care worker Mandy meets a mysterious cat that knows when death approaches. But does Mandy?

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That Cat

We move to France for ‘Toussaint’ when egotistical artist Gavin is given some ghostly marriage guidance.

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Toussaint

Staying in France, rebellious teenager ‘Sukie’ receives one life-lesson too far.

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Sukie

German-occupied France provides the setting for  ‘The Boy with a Harmonica’ – a tale of collaboration and betrayal.

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The Boy with a Harmonica

Back in England in the Roaring Twenties for ‘The Last Word’.  What could be more normal than a genteel game of whist for four middle-aged ladies?

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The Last Word

Finally, in ‘The Siren’ we meet a stranger in a remote seaside village in the middle of winter. Is it grief or guilt that haunts him?

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What’s in a Title?

Those of you who are kind enough to follow this blog may remember that a couple of weeks back I held my own referendum…er straw poll about the title of my collection of short stories. The winner was “Spook Me Out”.

I was not happy with the result. I protested. I argued that the demographics of the poll were skewed (as were the participants after copious amounts of the juice of the grape). I pointed it that it was a meaningless collection of words and that titles need impact. In short, I wanted a recount.

Do you judge a book by its cover? Those who are said to know about these things say yes, the cover and the title are a big part of the decision to buy or not to buy. I tend to look at the blurb on the back but it is usually an intriguing title that catches my eye and preferably one that gives me an idea of the genre as well. Quite often the cover design leaves me cold. I’m never moved by the piccys of impossibly handsome muscle men with fine etched six-packs and thighs like tree trunks, wielding their swords with gusto. Well, not on a book cover anyway! Have you guessed by now that fantasy is one of my favourite genres?

Now let’s be serious. A few days after the results of my poll were in some of the participants sidled up to me murmuring that er…perhaps they’d got it wrong; they didn’t like the title any more and perhaps a rethink might be in order.

Much heartened by this chink in the voters’ armour I rethought. It is, after all my book. I have created and disposed of the characters within. Their fate is and has always been in my hands. Is this not the annual occasion when I assert myself? Yes, it is.

And so, a retitled collection of six short stories. It is a simple title – it describes the content. Let me introduce you to:

the sirencover

I was going to use the word ‘ghostly’ rather than’ strange’. Unfortunately the typeface I’ve chosen makes it look, at a quick scan, a bit too much like ‘ghastly’. I shied away from it. The reader might find the stories ghastly but my amour-propre won’t allow it.

Publishing day is now 8th May in the Kindle Store on Amazon and if any of you dear readers feel impelled to give the book a toot on your own social networks I shall be Uriah Heep-ish in my ‘umbleness and gratitude.

Long Time Passing

Something a bit different for this week. A very powerful and thoughtful blog from one of my favourite bloggers. Made more poignant I think when you consider what is happening in the world at the moment.

Half Baked In Paradise

Some time ago, when we were fledgling lovers, existing in the protective bubble reserved for the newly amorous, Two Brains brought me to a place called Vassieux-en-Vercors. The drive up from Grenoble is littered with sombre reminders of a time, only decades ago when the spectacular landscape played backdrop for the most merciless realities of a world at war – we stopped at various places, never idly. Here it is impossible to forget how cruel and cold humanity can be. Here no bubble is sufficient to protect you from nauseating emotions wrought from the darkest, starkest of realites.

Vassieux sits on the Drôme side of le Vercors. The Vercors is nicknamed ‘the flat iron’ for a reason … it is a high plateau with higher peaks frilling it, thrilling visitors and chilling those that know the secrets that it keeps. Mountains tend to do that. They look, are

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Stormy Nights and Ladies in White

The church clock struck midnight. Outside the rain fell in torrents beating a tattoo on the porch roof. Wind moaned through a gap in the shutters. In my office the chandelier lights flickered and the computer gave an apologetic “huff” and died only to mysteriously self-resuscitate a few seconds later.

I was researching more ghosts, myths and legends for another set of spooky stories and had arrived at the legends of the Dames Blanches – White Ladies. They’re everywhere in France but especially in Normandy and the Pyrenees. There are two around me haunting Chateaux Puivert and Puylaurens. At Puylaurens, the great-niece of Phillipe le Bel, restlessly walks the battlements. At Puivert (click for the full story) their Dame Blanche appears on rainy nights at one of the tower windows and just over the border in Andorra there is one who defended the principality from a huge wolf which was really an angry bishop in disguise. Goodness knows how many more there are lurking in the shadows.

What’s with it with these ladies; flitting around in the most inclement of weather wearing little more than some flimsy draperies?

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Jesuit Martin Antonio Delrio writing in the sixteenth century reassures me. He writes that these ladies are generally benevolent towards we mere humans, they are merely feés appearing in the woods and on the plains. They appear to be kind to animals too as he asserts that often the ladies appeared, carrying a lighted candle, in stables. There, they would let a few drops of wax fall on the incumbents’ manes and tails and then proceed to tenderly and carefully comb and plait them.

Another writer, Thomas Keightley makes me nervous though. In his book “The Fairy Mythology” he recounts tales of the malevolent nature of the Dames Blanches where they lurk at cross-roads, narrow bridges and ravines and insist on forfeits. If you want to pass by you may have to dance with them, get on your knees to them or assist them in some way. Woe betide you if you refuse. You may end up in a patch of nettles and brambles. These unkind phantoms are said to be found mainly in the north of France, particularly Normandy. Did I tell you I’m going to Normandy at the end of April?  Me with my cronky knee. Just my luck.

 

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PS Did I also tell you that my collection of spooky stories – “Spook Me Out” will be available from Amazon at the end of March?

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The Editor’s Oscars

The editing of my collection of short stories is now complete and to celebrate I had a little Oscar Ceremony. There were three categories. Are you ready for this?  Here is category number one.

Nominees in the category for The Most Over-used Word in the Collection:

  • Think
  • Wonder
  • Realise
  • Understand

And the winner is:

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This simple word appeared it its various verb and noun forms a magnificent 100 times in the twenty five thousand word collection. Brilliant!

Nominees in the second category for The Most Empty and Useless Word:

  • Rather
  • Somewhat
  • Then
  • Just

And the winner is:

alphabet-word-images-then

“Then” is of course an old friend of the Editorial Oscars and it is reassuring to see its appearance in this collection. An objection made by “Just” on the grounds that it wasn’t fair was overruled.

And finally, the category you have all been waiting for. The nominees for The Best Title award:

  • Haunting Tales
  • Spook Me Out and Other Scary Stories
  • The Haunting of Jacques Ferrier and other Ghostly Tales
  • Simply Ghostly

And the winner, chosen by a bunch of semi-literate, half-sozzled book lovers is – hang on a minute, let me find the right card…

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The judges chose this title for its modern, fresh feel and, as one voter expressed it – “gets away from all that gloomy Victorian stuff“. The author’s protest of “but I like gloomy Victorian” was met with uncalled for mirth and an unprecedented amount of catcalls and jeering. Needless to say, she was overruled.

I don’t know what you think. Does “Spook Me Out” do it for you? Let me know. Drop me an Oscar…sorry, no I mean drop me a line.

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PS “Spook Me Out” (whatever!) will be on Amazon at the end of March at an incredible, unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime little price.

Three Years On

Roll back three years, February 2014. There I was sitting like Dido in the ruins of Carthage amid cartons, packing cases and bubble wrap. The materials goods of my life packed and awaiting transport to France.

I remember the shivers of trepidation as I wondered what the hell I was doing yet a pleasurable anticipation that the move to France would kick-start my life which, truth to tell was a bit stagnant and aimless.

Today a neighbour asked me how it was all going, this adventure of mine and it set me thinking. I’m not going to make comparisons between France and the UK – comparisons are odious as John Lydgate said in a debate about the horse, goose and sheep. So, here are some thoughts.

Life here in my part of France is one of halves (nearly did a John Moxon there and wrote two halves). Spring through to autumn is a hive of activity with festivals, concerts, fêtes, vide greniers and a hundred and one places to visit most of which I’ve yet to see. It seems to be a law of the expat universe that you only get to see your surroundings when you have visitors.

I love the heat of these summer days on my ageing bones and, if the temperature soars over 35 degrees which it did last summer, there is always the cool, freshness of the house to revive me. This is the season when shutters stay resolutely closed during the day and opened at night. At the end of a long hot day I have the choice of two swimming lakes to wallow in followed by a glass of chilled white wine at the buvette.

In case you fear that I spend my life lollygagging around, take heart. I have my routines. Weekday mornings I write. I have my main meal at lunchtime now usually shared with a neighbour and we take turn and turn about for the cooking.  Most days I have a siesta and then work in the house or garden until the sun goes down. It’s a routine… but  not immutable! The weekends I cut loose a bit.

In contrast to these months winter begins with migration; the swallows that have amused  me all summer disappear en masse, the cattle are brought bellowing in indignation off the summer pastures and the foreigners, mainly Brits in this village go back home. This exodus is shortly followed by the appearance of piles of logs tipped in front of the doors of the houses that line the two main streets. These will have to be carried through the houses to the little yards at the back.

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Winter Fuel

The summer attractions are closed and the ski slopes are wakening. The shutter routine is reversed… open during the day and closed at night. But there is always a twilight zone when, if I happen to be walking down the street, I can sneak a surreptitious peep through the windows, lit from inside. Winter is the time when the village wakes late and goes to bed early. The only constant is Carmelite, a very old lady who, winter and summer alike, stands at her doorstep at twilight murmuring to Santa Maria and counting her blessings.

What else is new?

I like the greeting ritual, the “embrace”, a kiss on both cheeks. Once I realised that “baiser” meaning to kiss has an alternative meaning akin to a well-known Anglo-Saxon four letter word, I hurriedly dropped it from my growing vocab.

I have exchanged my smart Ford C-Max for a Nissan X-trail; old but serviceable and hopefully, like me has a few more miles left. It is far more practical for the sort of fetching and carrying I do such as taking home an eight foot solid oak cornice to make a canopy for a bed or using the brilliant search lights, whilst roaming off-piste at midnight, looking for a missing  dog.

I can converse pretty well in French although telephone conversations stymie me now and again as do the very thick accents that some of the older villagers have.

I’ve become an adept at managing my shopping around the midi-break when many of the smaller shops are closed for a couple of hours. I fell foul of it so many times and made so many futile trips before I learned to organise supermarket shopping (because they remain open) at lunchtimes and all other shopping either before noon or after 2.00pm.

The famous or infamous French bureaucracy defeats me from time to time. I am still waiting for my Carte Vitale after twelve months. This is my passport into the French healthcare system. Fortunately I haven’t needed access except for the dentist and I guess “the system” is geared to the long wait since I have two years to reclaim the fees I have paid.

All in all I am content. I’ve completed a novel, currently out for editing and plan to publish a collection of short stories myself in March/April.  The second novel is in planning stage too. Whilst there’s still a load to finish off in the house, ca marche as they say, it progresses.

I’ve been lucky. What started out as a spur-of-the-moment decision which could have gone seriously wrong has turned out to be probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  But if the gods are smiling on me at the moment I know, capricious beings that they are, that they might yet have a sneaky trick up their sleeves to play on me. So I tread cautiously.

PS: If anyone fancies sampling a bit of la vie francaise , my brother has a lovely self-continued apartment in the house available to let, so come on down for a taste.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16714011

A Salting Tale II

A belated bonne année to you all. Again I’ve shamefully neglected this blog for what seem to me to be very good reasons. A nasty virus crept up on me over the festive season and I found it difficult to write when breathing like a pair of worn out bellows and wiping away something akin to mushy cabbage emanating from nasal passages. Yuk indeed!

The other reason, after recuperation was an absolute determination to sign off The Book. ‘Tis done. V6.2 completes about twelve months of indecision, wavering, rewrites and rewrites of rewrites. It is going to lie fallow now until April when the pro editor gets her mitts on it.  I’m happy to bid farewell to inscrutable Oskar, wicked Ombrine and the neurotic Richard…for a while anyway.

That done, it was time to turn my attention to the large lump of pork entombed in salt in the garage. (If you missed the first exciting episode go A Salting Tale immediately!) The time had arrived to lift the lid of the saltière to see what lurked within. Gingerly I scraped off a little of the salt. A dark, sullen red patch appeared. I gave it a poke – firm but still with a bit of give. OK it was still undoubtedly dead. The squidgy smelly mess that I had imagined was still a figment of my imagination. Time to call in the expert, James, or Jams as he announces himself. Jams came, inspected and pronounced. “Parfait, c’est prêt a partir.” Good to go.

We lifted the ham onto a large stainless steel platter and carried it ceremoniously to the kitchen table. There we gave it a dry rub down until all traces of salt were removed and relocated to the kitchen floor. About a ton of freshly ground black pepper was vigorously massaged into the ham’s now liver-coloured flesh. This we followed up with an aromatic dusting of herbes de Provence – a mixture of rosemary, thyme, marjoram and oregano.

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Once Jams was satisfied he prodded and poked at – sorry I haven’t a technical term of this – the thin end to find the hole that the thoughtful butcher had skewered ready to push a hook through. Said hole duly uncovered Jams threaded a cord since the only hooks I possess are for pictures and tied a complex series of knots probably known only to those in the innermost circles of home-cured ham.

Maintenant, le filet” Jams breathed. I produced the net in which the ham will spend its next few months. James slipped it over the ham as though he were encasing one of his wife’s shapely legs into a fishnet stocking.

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That completed all was tied tight and the ham transferred to its final resting place in the barn where it will hang until my brother gets his mitts on it in a few months. The net should keep the nasties away but I have noticed the neighbour’s cat casing the joint…as it were. I wonder who will get there first?