Long Time No Blog!

I thought that you might like to see the cover for my book The Weave – yes I know my Facebook followers have already seen it but it doesn’t hurt to remind you! Hope you like it. Should be out in November.

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However, I could really do with some feedback about the proposed ‘blurb’ to go on the back cover. Bit of a cheek I know considering I’ve had six months away from the blog but sometimes life just gets in the way. Anyhow, this is the proposed wording. It was harder to write than the book itself and this is the fourth version.

1598: When Oskar, Comte de Tréville asks the witch Ombrine to save the life of his son, she demands a high price. Oskar must leave his family and his lands and travel with her, as a servant, to Barbaria in search of the deadly Amerello spiders.

On his return to France five years later Oskar finds he is wanted for the murder of his wife. Unable to prove his innocence he allies himself with Ombrine who persuades him to take the Jouance – a life-prolonging drug made from the venom of the Amerellos.

He and Ombrine embark on a career of crime using Ombrine’s witchcraft and her Szellem – creatures called up from the dead.

Three centuries later, Oskar, now wealthy and leisured uncovers the truth about the fate of his family and has only one remaining ambition – to exact a long slow revenge.

2013: Debut author Richard Pease suffers from writer’s block. He is also broke and bedevilled by fears of his own inadequacy. He has just six weeks to complete his second book or lose his publishing contract.

A chance encounter with Oskar takes Richard to the Nonesuch Club, a writer’s retreat in France run by Oskar and Ombrine. There he finds the block to finishing his book lifts.

The mysterious disappearance of a fellow club member and the discovery of a drug laboratory in the Club plunge Richard into a centuries-old tangled web of deceit leaving him not only fighting for his career but also for his life.

So what do you think? If you saw the cover and read the blurb in a bookshop or on-line would you rush to buy or give a great big yawn and move on?

All ideas, suggestions, yah-boo-it-sucks welcome. Leave a comment below and thank you.

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Getting in touch with the Thirteenth Century

I have been taking a sabbatical from social media as I was finding it extremely difficult to promote my books  and continue with the research and writing of the next one. In the end I took time out to try to create a more sensible regime for book promotion. This has freed up a bit of time for research and allowed my mind to wander around the thirteenth century (the era of my next book).

One question I was trying to answer was how would some of my characters react, feel and think about some of the natural phenomena that occur on this beautiful planet? Phenomena that we now understand and can explain. How would things such as meteors and comets, whirlpools, fossils, disappearing springs and ‘petrifying’ cascades be reasoned and explained? There are few eyewitness accounts but a wealth of folklore to pick through that give us some insight into the average medieval man’s mind.

Taking examples from my own environment here in France – how would my characters react to the disappearing spring at Fontestorbes? Regularly, throughout the day the water appears gushing out of a cave in the mountain-side and then it vanishes leaving the cave dry-ish  – all done in the space of half an hour. Did they really believe in fairies? Did they think that it was some sort of magical launderette and the local fées took all the water to do their washing and woe betide any human that got in the way?

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Now you see it – the stream making its appearance

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Now you don’t!

Then again what would people have made of Les Cascades de la Turasse tumbling down thirty metres of steep wooded hillside at Roquefort les Cascades? We know that minerals in the water created the petrified objects lying in the stream and the basins of tufa. Would they wonder who created this tufière and how? Did my thirteenth century peasants fear that they would be turned into stone and so whispered a little prayer as they passed by? Or is that some later folklorique aimed at the passing tourist trade?

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The Cascade – all the green is moss in various stages of ‘petrification’

 

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Part of an old tree getting petrified

However, above all, we have the pronouncements of churchmen and monks who interpreted these phenomena for their less-educated flocks – albeit within limited parameters: God or Devil; Good or Evil.

For example there are springs of Belesta and Celles. In both instances events took place that were quickly attributed to the Virgin Mary and the church took control.

At Belesta a poor shepherd tormented by ulcers on his legs came to drink at the spring known as the Amourel. There he was allegedly visited by the Virgin Mary who instructed him to wash his legs in the spring and he would be healed. Overcoming a natural (for the time) reluctance to bathing he did as she bid him and the next day…not an ulcer to be seen. The news got around and local folk made a simple shrine by the spring. Then the churchmen took over and  built a chapel on top of the spring itself.  Pilgrims from far and wide travelling there to be healed, now had to descend into the crypt to drink the water  leaving their offerings of gold and silver .

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Just my luck – on the day I visited the spring had run dry.

The spring at Celles was the scene of another Virginal visit.  Appearing as a white dove before taking up a corporeal form she had a wee bit of a chat with local boy Jean Courdil. She warned Jean that the inhabitants of Celles had to change their ways and asked him to spread the news. (There was at the time much discord and dissension about religious matters throughout France and allegedly four of the local women had beaten up the curé). There was, the Virgin said, a greater likelihood of all the villagers going to The Other Place rather than Heaven unless they all repented. A procession of repentance was duly held and calm and order returned to the village. It was then that the spring where Jean met the Virgin was transformed into a source of healing and relief of suffering. As at Belesta, the pilgrims flocked there to a little chapel that was erected alongside the stream.

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Chapel at Celles

Turning away from watery subjects to stony ones. When I lived on the Holderness coast in East Yorkshire I regularly came across fossils on the beach.  My medieval characters held a host of superstitions and beliefs about fossils. What they were; where they came from. In particular they endowed many of them with magical or curative properties.

The Ammonites were known as Snakestones (it is not by chance that this is the title of my next book) and were thought to be headless serpents that had turned to stone. William Camden in his work Britannia describes them as:

“Stony serpents wreathed up in circles but eternally without heads.”

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Ammonites aka Snakestones

Attributed with several useful properties Ammonites were believed to provide an antidote to snake bites, cure blindness, barrenness and impotence to say nothing of warding off lightning and evil spirits.

Echinoids (sea urchins) some of the most common fossils, were considered to be fairy loaves because of their bun-like shape. In Medieval homes one was often placed by the hearth to ensure there was always bread in the house. If there was a week when the house was bread-less, it was thought that witches had been at work and blocked the fairy loaf’s protective powers,

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Echinoid (Fossilised Sea Urchin)

Gryphaea (bi-valves) were believed to be toenail clippings from Old Nick himself and acquired the title of the Devil’s Toenail because of the curved shape and growth bands. For some strange reason they were often worn as a cure for rheumatism and arthritis.

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Gryphaea

Sadly, although I have several in my little fossil collection and they ain’t done nuffink for me!

 

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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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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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!