La Guerre des Demoiselles – The War of the Maidens

This is one war that you are unlikely to find in the history books. It took place in the Ariege Department of France in the 19th century but was at its height in 1829-32.

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In 1827 the government brought out a new forestry code to be applied by 1829. This code prohibited what local people regarded as their long-established traditional rights in respect of how they accessed and used the forests around them.  They used wood for building, collected firewood, hunted, fished and gathered food and used parts of the forest for pasturage for their small herds and flocks.

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The implementation of this code was a disaster for them and anyone caught breaking the new laws was subject to a heavy fine and/or imprisonment.

To make matters worse growing industrialisation also created a need for charcoal and deforestation started to take place on a grand scale. The charcoal burners, the forge masters and the forest wardens (known as ‘the salamanders’ because of their yellow and black uniforms) became the most hated classes of men amongst the mountain people.

Les Demoiselles (the Maidens) made their first appearance in Saint-Lary in May 1829. Twenty forest guards found six trespassing shepherds and their flocks and tried to seize them. They were quickly surrounded by around a hundred Demoiselles who hurled insults, threats and stones until the forest guards were forced to beat a hasty retreat. Other bands of Demoiselles began to form in many of the villages and from this point a type of guerrilla war broke out, confined at first to the Couserans and western parts of the Ariege but eventually spreading throughout the Department.

The name Demoiselles derived from the disguises the groups of men adopted – blackened or masked faces, a sheepskin or veil over their heads, long white shirts worn over their trousers like a dress. They commanded huge local support and the different village groups communicated either by horn toots or by smoke signals.

The king and his government marched in thirteen companies of infantry and eight brigades of gendarmes to quell the uprising but to little effect. The reason was simple. The Demoiselles knew the wild, mountainous terrain and the soldiers did not. Of those Demoiselles who were arrested most were quickly released as there were no witnesses to speak against them.

The ineffectiveness of these measures prompted the government to take more severe action. The fines for incursions in the forest were substantially increased and payable on the spot which for many was impossible. For good measure there was also a huge increase in taxes.

Nothing daunted the Demoiselles continued their resistance and from 1830 they marched and protested – these protests turning increasingly more violent. They targeted in particular the forge masters who took wood in great quantities to feed their forges and the ‘Salamanders’ who were supposed to protect them.

Finally a Commission was established to find a solution. In 1831 a ministerial decree restored the grazing rights to the people and a second decree cancelled the code of foresters which started the war in the first place. As an additional act of benevolence, the government gave a general amnesty to all imprisoned and called a halt to any further judicial proceedings.

Over the next thirty years the rebellion never quite died away; rather it smouldered sullenly, bursting into flames every now and again and the Demoiselles would rise again to harass charcoal burners and forge masters.  However the arrival of the railway and the discovery of iron ore in the area reduced the need for charcoal, put the brakes on deforestation and the Demoiselles disappeared quietly back into the forests.

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Writing, Waiting & Wondering

This blog will be reporting me for neglect before too long but I assure you I’ve not flown off on my broomstick to pastures new and green.

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However, I do feel like I’m in limbo land at the moment. After the build up to launching  The Siren and Other Strange Tales;  – all the editing, formatting, checking and double checking – once it was over I felt rather flat and a bit lost.

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Then the reality of marketing and promoting set in. There were sites where I needed to upload/update the book’s details; social media to manage, guest blogs to write. I understand that I need a fan base, a platform from which to launch my wares but I struggle to find creative, diverse and subtle ways of saying ‘just buy the bloody book will ya?’

Somehow through it all this Blog got put to one side.

Following on from The Siren’s launch I drafted a plan for loosing my first novel ‘The Weave’  into the world. I had approached a few agents, more in hope than expectation, all of whom said thanks but no thanks. Then I had one more try and the synopsis and first three chapters duly landed on the agent’s desk. I forgot about it until I got an email asking to see the whole mss. I sat looking at the email, my mouth so far agape I began to drool on the keyboard. Now this might not seem like much but for me who has never had a foot over the threshold of trad. publishing, it seemed like a huge step forward.

But then the spanner hit the works. Do I go ahead with my own publishing plan anyway? Do I commission the cover? Do I send review copies out? What if (wild imagining here) the agent wants to represent me, everything will change, won’t it? And at that point, just as my ancient PC does when I give it too much to consider and organise, I froze; hung up; went into stasis and will not unfreeze I suspect until I have a reply from the agent.

In an effort to  break loose I began book number 2 set in the 13th century. I got about a quarter way through the first draft and then lost the plot…literally. I am back to my old nemesis – I know what the beginning and the ending are going to be like but what happens in between…??? I may have mentioned it in earlier posts I have a disc full of novel sandwiches without their filling. I am determined that this one will not join them and have decided to take a break from it for a wee while. Instead I am researching and pitching some magazine articles just for a change of scene.

So there’s a quick update for those of you wondering whether I’m away travelling on my time machine. I would say watch this space but I won’t because it may only be a blank screen.

Oh and did I mention that I’ve quit smoking, the cartilage in my right knee has gone awol  so I need a new knee and I’ve acquired a gorgeous seven-month old Alsatian/Husky dog called Petra?

10 Beautiful Things That Can Come From Writing Failure #MondayBlogs #Writers

Something we all have to face up to – not just writers

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I have done all sorts of things with writing failure; experienced it, avoided it, ignored it, buried it deep inside of me, tweeted about it, written blog posts about it, moaned about it, cried about it, drank too much wine whilst thinking about it, got down about it, laughed about it, had sleepless nights about it, written lengthy emails to writing friends about it and filled out hundreds of diary pages on it.

Recently I have started to see it in a new light. Once you remove the emotion from a writing failure; literary rejection, a shelved draft novel, a piece of flash fiction which only attracts negative comments, a failed literary course assessment, negative feedback which breaks your heart, blog posts which don’t set the online world on fire, a podcast which nobody listens to and a beloved main character who beta readers dislike, you will start to see…

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And Now for Some BSP: Blatant Self-Promotion

Latest from Amy Reade – The House on Candlewick Lane. Grab your copy for 99c and start reading.

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My latest release, The House on Candlewick Lane, is on sale for 99¢ and I’m trying to spread the word far and wide. If you’ve read the book, thank you very much. If you’ve read the book and left a review, you are awesome.

And if you haven’t read the book, this is your chance!!

Here’s a quick summary of the novel:

It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Greer Dobbins’ daughter has been kidnapped—and spirited across the Atlantic to a hiding place in Scotland. Greer will do anything to find her, but the streets of Edinburgh hide a thousand secrets—including some she’d rather not face.

Art historian Dr. Greer Dobbins thought her ex-husband, Neill, had his gambling addiction under control. But in fact he was spiraling deeper and deeper into debt. When a group of shady lenders threatens to harm the divorced couple’s five-year-old daughter if he doesn’t pay up…

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Writing – How Hard Can It Be?

I am pleased and honoured to have been asked to contribute to the lovely Helen Hollick’s Tuesday Talk on her blog.

If there’s anything you want to know about Arthurian England or Pirates, Helen is the lady to ask. She is the author of King Arthur: The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, The Sea Witch Voyages Series and more recently Amberley Press have published her non-fiction book The Truth and the Tales – Pirates.

All her books can be found at www.helenhollick.net

She is also incredibly brave and generous in letting a complete unknown loose on her blog.

Follow the link to read what yours truly had to say about the rumblings of an embryonic writing career.

https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.fr/2017/06/writing-fictionwell-how-hard-can-it-be.html

 

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The Stories Behind the Stories

The Siren and Other Strange Tales is my first foray into writing fiction. The stories were inspired as I suppose all stories are, by a mixture of experiences, events, reading, people I have met and places I have lived or visited, all helped along with a dollop of imagination and occasional dark humour. I thought you might like to know a little about the stories behind the stories. The photos are just teasers for what you might find within each story.

That Cat is a story sparked off by a newspaper clipping about a stray cat that visited a care home to sit with the dying.

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That Cat

The character of Mandy is a figment of my imagination. Thankfully, the staff of the care home where my mother spent the last years of her life provided a loving, respectful environment. However, from time to time scandals do emerge. Further elements came from a story my mother told me. When I was a baby she put me in my pram in the garden. As she was hanging out the washing our next door neighbour’s big black cat crept up onto the pram and snuggled down, almost on my face. She was scared of cats and had to get the neighbour to come an remove it!

Toussaint – set in France where I live. The bones of the story come from two sources – an Australian report of a car accident where the driver of a passing car is said to have picked up, telepathically, the cries for help from the driver of a car that had skidded off the road. The second element was my meeting at a gallery exhibition with the wife of the featured artist. After several glasses of Chablis, she had a lot to tell me about life with an artist.

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Toussaint

Sukie – This is a story based on some of my experiences when, at fifteen, I went on an exchange holiday to France. On my own for the first time, without the security of family around me, I found it a daunting experience but, with hindsight, a formative one. However, my early life bore no resemblance to that of Sukie’s except that I did love my Granny Grapes and the eyebrow raising trick did irritate my mother.

Ste. Maxime is near St. Tropez on the Cote D’Azur and, when I was there, it teemed with the overspill of the young and beautiful who couldn’t quite swallow the cost of being seen in that celebrated town. There was a Sean Connery look-alike but alas he had no eyes for a gauche teenager teeming with a heady mix of hormones and unrequited lust.

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Sukie – and no, that’s not the name of the car!

The Boy with a Harmonica is loosely based on an incident that happened in a village near me during WWII.  This part of France was known as the Free zone and governed by the Vichy government on behalf of the occupying Germans. The Maquis were very active in this Zone and in my area there are numerous tales of derring-do and heroism.

 

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Boy with a Harmonica

The character of the Boy has elements of a child I knew, labelled “autistic” by the medical profession. He had a remarkable ear for music and could pick out and create the most beautiful melodies on the piano. Clearly a piano was of no use to me in this story but an old guy playing the harmonica outside a cafe in Toulouse gave me the instrument that up until then had eluded me.

The Last Word 

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The Last Word

My parents together with my Aunt and Uncle held regular Sunday Canasta nights. Their play, just as in the story, would be punctuated with cries of “Why did you play that card?” or “Freda, you’ve frozen the pack again.” I used to like to watch and listen to the interplay between these four.

When my mother moved into a care home I visited her regularly and nearly always found a group of residents playing whist. One of them, Alice was a passionate but rather ineffectual player. As I passed by the lounge where they sat I would often hear her girlish giggle as she cried “I’ll beat you all yet, if it’s the last thing I do.” She was a lovely lady and I wrote this story for her.

The Siren

Wartime observation post tipped over the edge at Mappleton beach

The Siren

Inspired by the landscape of the Holderness Coast in East Yorkshire – a 32 mile stretch from Flamborough Head to Spurn Point, it is a fragile, sometimes desolate landscape subject to regular cliff falls through erosion. With the cliff falls come stretches of gloopy mud and fossils. A snippet in the local newspaper about a young girl becoming stuck in one of these mud patches as the tide came in and the efforts to rescue her sparked off the idea of the story and my imagination supplied the rest.

There you have it – the weird convolutions of a writer’s mind!