Wednesday 31 August 2011

They say that time is a healer

They say that time is a healer! Not sure who wrote the quote but Phil Collins did sing it once. And it’s true.
Eight months ago, my sister had a tragic brain aneurism that very nearly cost her life. At the time, full of emotion I sat by her bedside watching the heart monitor and wrote this piece: . It wasn’t exactly a prayer, just a plea, a cry for help to anyone who might listen. I also used social networking to drum up support from her friends, my friends, friends of friends and total strangers! Thankfully they all chipped in. Months and months of hard work followed including vigils, hospital visits, assessments, consultations and family management. The outlook was prescribed as bleak, don’t build up hope, prepare for the worst…. The surgeon shook his head as he told me she would have to be exceptional to pull through, I told her she was. And she is.
Yesterday she arrived here in France, looking gorgeous in her sun dress, and giving me a hug. Yes, she is still a little confused but the progress she has made in the last six weeks since she came out of hospital is nothing short of amazing. We sat and chatted about what had happened, about the doctors and the surgery, her disbelieving some of it, as she sipped her first glass of wine in 8 months. Who knows where it will go from here, but hopefully forwards. She still requires 24/7 supervision, and her daughters have coped with that magnificently, but her independence is coming back and with it that smile and blatant stubbornness that she always beat me with when we were kids. She is sitting beside me now, drinking tea and I am the happiest man in the world. In my blog of 22nd Jan I said I would pay and I gladly will. Thank you.

Friday 19 August 2011

Reading and writing?

Get a job, get a career, stick at it. Advice we all give the youngsters, stability equals happiness, steady income, slow growth, get there in the end. Where did I go wrong?
I think I only ever had one job in my life, for about 3 years. The rest of the time I spent working for myself, ducking, diving, diving even further. Whenever I would find my feet in one section, so I would want to expand the horizon, change my focus, reach forward only to see unfinished things piling up behind me, and eventually falling over.
Most writers tend to stick to one genre and many of those one subject. Read it, write it. Again a simple formula.
 So how did I get here again, writing 3 books, reading 4, editing two, all at once, all different. I didn’t set out to write children’s fiction, it evolved after hearing some advice from someone. I found myself half into a series without really knowing my market. If it’s good enough, “they” will pigeonhole it for me. And edit it, for that matter. They didn’t. “We” can’t sell that stuff, they said. “I am not listening” I said. Then, series complete, I moved from the 9-11 year girls market, to 8-11 boys. “They don’t read that stuff” they said.
And so I find myself looking to move on again. Forget children, the majority of them don’t read anymore, or cant? Go adult.
Sex or money, my friend says, of preferably sex and money, with some crime thrown in, that’s what he reads. Sure, in my chequered past, there are a host of stories I could bring to life that would fit into that mould. But that isn’t what I read. I don’t read or watch what I term as ‘trash’. I don’t read newspapers, especially not the ones that peddle that stuff. And to write it, I would have to.
Vampires, warlocks, werewolves, fantasy, that’s what kids want. Again, let someone else write it then, because I don’t do them either, never have.
So, with ten (good) books under my belt and an improved writing style, it is time to take time-out and look at what the market wants. I have an idea what I can write but, as before, I have to consider whether a) I can write it well enough and b) it will sell and c) most importantly, will I enjoy writing it.
Or do I just believe in myself, say fuck-it and write it anyway?
Yup, that's what I think too! Watch this space...

Friday 5 August 2011

Grilled farmer

I am not entirely sure when the French equivalent of St Swithin’s day is? But, assuming it was sometime in July, it would be an educated guess that it probably rained that day. It has rained for most of July, though we cannot complain since  it was desperately needed. We are now having the Spring we didn’t get in Spring. I have dusted off the lawnmower and summoned it back on duty. The dormant weeds love the warm rain, clambering for sunlight as they battle through the gravel stones with renewed vigour before I can zap them with Round-up. The sheep at last have enough to eat in their field without them breaking out into the garden to eat the grape vines. The lush grass has also brought forward the tupping season so we will have lambs born around Xmas. All good as far as I am concerned. 
Not so good for our guests who unfortunately endured a full week of wet days with temperatures dropping to 12 degrees. Thankfully they were from west Scotland so this still constituted a heat-wave to them; seemingly our downpours are just considered as a light shower where they come from.
There is one thing this damp weather does revive that I could do without, that tiny sadistic malevolent b**t@^d, the mosquito. I have a theory about mozzies, let me share it with you. Mosquitoes make no sound. They flit around, brutally seeking out their prey, usually pale and cleansed flesh, in utter silence. Then, choosing their moment, they stealthily settle, drill a tiny hole, fuel-up on copious amount of red blood, leave some poison in its place and then leave silently too. Then, and here comes the really vindictive part, they organise a fly-by, right past the victim’s ear, screaming out their terrifying buzzing sound which would awaken even the heaviest of sleeper. I am not skilled as an animal noise translator, but if I were, I reckon that buzzing noise actually says “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-gotcha!” Incidentally, mozzies do not have red blood in their veins so, when you squash one and it leaves a red stain on the wall, that is probably your own blood. What a horrid thought!
While on the subject of translation, I would like to congratulate Google for making me laugh-out-loud this month. On Wendy’s (significant) birthday we chose a nice restaurant to visit for lunch. To enlighten our guests before the event, I pointed them to the website for this establishment. Said guests, not being French-speaking, decided to translate the restaurant’s menu into English using Google’s built-in website translator. The results were listed in English as follows:
For starter: Tricandilles of pig farmer grilled over a wood fire, with fresh salad
For main course: Tournedos of beef fillet on a sofa with morel sauce
Or: Duo of tuna foie gras served with crushed rat
For Dessert: Tarte Tartin with hot young ladies and vanilla ice cream.
I kid you not, I have witnesses. Obviously I enjoyed the dessert the best!
            One thing that a few wet days will do is to send us inside in the evening and then, inevitably, on goes the telly. Generally, during the summer months, we watch very little TV apart from major sporting events, but last month the usual array of hogwash adorned our dusty screen. On Sunday night I was hoodwinked into watching Countryfile, believing it was about farming. That couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact I think there is probably more farming truth in the fictitious Emmerdale that on Countryfile. A token farmer was interviewed who bred Hebridean sheep and Red-poll cows. What? These things are near extinction. Why? Because they are non-profitable breeds, that’s why. Ancient breeds from a by-gone age. Cut to another farmer. Some bloke cutting a field with a scythe. I ask you? A highly irritating presenter (he is standing in for the real presenter who has just had a baby and named it after a Ford car!) congratulates a farmer for turning hay with a pitchfork. Yes, Adam Henson has done wonders for saving some near extinct breeds of livestock, but he is not a proper farmer, is he? He doesn’t need to earn a living from agriculture like farmers are supposed to. He probably even smells nice. So, where are the real farmers? Why don’t we see Andrew Nott cutting wheat with his new combine or John Whiteman complaining about the price of diesel or, heaven forbid, Nick Frazier talking delightedly about the price of wheat or mule-x lambs? Why? Because, despite all the hype, the TV watching masses don’t give a flying-fig about where their food comes from, that’s why. As long as it’s CHEAP. Countryfile? CountryPhony more like!
            Compare this to France. You can’t keep the farmers off TV here, there is always one of them on there, usually complaining and waving his arms. In the supermarket, just about everything is produced from within a 20 mile radius and it is always fresh, because it is demanded that way. At the market last week, there was a stall selling Limousin beef and it looked fabulous, much better than our local Blonde d’Aquitaine product. The reason I know it looked fab was because I could get to see it without queues of buyers obstructing my view. You see, fab it may be, local it wasn’t. Beef from 100 miles away? ‘Non merci’, said the locals as the lonely butcher stood there, his sad moustache drooping in shame.
I couldn’t let this month pass without commenting on that modern everyday phenomenon that is known as ‘phone hacking’. A sticky subject? Well it was for that nice Mr Murdoch who had a plate of sticky foam thrown over him and his nice suit. But he is all better now, since that nasty man who did it is locked up in bad-boy’s prison. What? This Murdoch monster roams the land ruining people’s lives on an hourly basis, controlling the whole world by the scruff of its keyboard, while someone with enough guts to stand up to him gets put in jail for a minor offence. Come on world, wake up and smell the roses! Once more it is left to me to provide a simple solution to phone hacking and sleaze-ball newspaper reporting. STOP buying his daily rubbish! It’s not news, it is lies and confabulations. You really don’t need to read it and, if you didn’t, Murdoch and his henchmen would be finished, overnight. Why can’t the world vote with its feet anymore?