Saturday, August 27, 2016

UPDATE - If you want to see My TV Triathlete Star...

You do  remember my post all about Jon's heroic triathlon exploits. Of course you do. If not, you can remind yourself  HERE.

Only, please ignore the dates I gave for the TV broadcasts. The update is that Sky  seem to have have dropped it completely from their schedules and Channel 4 have changed the broadcast time. The date is the same: Saturday 3rd September but it will now be broadcast  at 6.30am. Please don't get up at that ridiculous hour - we will because it's all about us, well some of it - but you can set or reset your videos if you like.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Off to the French Pyrenees...

All being well; figers crossed and all that, we will be taking our camper-van next month to a place we used to holiday every year when our boys were young. We used to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Normandy and then take a week travlling south and stopping off on the banks of Loire, then catching up with friends who owned a vineyard on the Dordogne and finally end up in our beloved western French Pyrenees, sometimes enjoying the Basque region en fete. (where is a circumflex or acute accents hen you need one?)

We have loads of photos in albums but they all date from before the digital age and so, until we're there next month, I have had to make do for this post with some I've pinched from  public domains to remind myself of why I adore that part of France.

This time, we're doing it the lazy way. We;'re getting a ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain then driving north to the Ossau Valley in France.

Oh and this is our favourite mountain. Le Pic du Midi d'Ossau. It's not the highest  but it is iconic. You can read about it here. It is THE Western French Pyrenees to us. Every year our hearts used to soar as soon as we caught sight of its iconic split peak  on the distant horizon.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My favourite novels of 2016. So far...

Although, we all immersed in the lazy, hazy crazy days of summer, I am still writing; well, dotting the i's and crossing the t's of my re-written (and I hope, much improved) 14th century novel. I've made lots of changes along the way. However. the body and soul longs to be outside in the sun. Jon and I have been out and about, here and there but our main holiday is to come next month in the French Pyrénées. A later blog post beckons...

In the breaks from my own writing, I have been reading some fabulous novels this summer and I would like to mention three of them here. I'm too involved in my own manuscript to write the detailed, appreciative and literate reviews they all deserve. I suggest, however, you don't take my word for anything I say, but find out for yourselves. (Don't look at Amazon. I know that most of the reviews there are democratic but, by golly, some people shouldn't write reviews at all without understanding how to do so!)

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton blew me away when it was published in 2014. I know I wasn't the only reader to love it. Her recently-published second novel is equally good but didn't knock me sideways quite as dramatically . That isn't to say it isn't a brilliant read. It is. But, often a second novel hasn't quite the same magic that is there in a fresh new voice. Those who know me will know I am an absolute sucker, not so much for plot, but for original writing and the evocation of landscape in all its moods. The Miniaturist takes us back to 17th century Amsterdam in winter. Jessie Burton's feel for the tense atmosphere of Andalucia during the tense run-up to the Spanish Civil War is wonderful. How a writer can achieve this so brilliantly by a combination of research and travel is amazing.

Talking of second novels that don't quite match the impact of the first, it happens so often, there is a phrase for it: second novel syndrome. I consider this phenomenon, the fault of the publisher or more likely their accountants and marketing departments and not the writer. These people want the second novel to be published within a year of the last as they assume we all have very short memories and butterfly minds. We readers haven't. We relish but we are prepared to wait.

But here is a case where the second novel is even better than the début novel! Claire King's The Night Rainbow was absolutely original and so, so brilliant. But, take it from me, Everything Love Is is even more brilliant. How on earth does she do it? Whereas The Night Rainbow depicts childhood with a deft touch without being mawkish or sentimental, Everything Love Is examines love, family and memory with equal finesse. Claire King deeply understands both the joy and despair of early-onset dementia, both from the minds of the carer, friends, family but the sufferer himself. Having seen my once-sharp and talented father descend into confusion, forgetfulness, anger and nasty jibes and accusations, I do know how distressing it is. And yet Claire also shows us its joys. She knows her France; both The Night Rainbow and Everything Love Is are  masterful evocations of the French countryside in all its moods. If I hadn't wanted to spend time on the Canal du Midi before, I most certainly do now! Claire shows us this amazing piece of engineering, its people, its flora and fauna in all seasons, all moods, its people, its food and the way the light falls on the water. But it is at the end I emotionally 'lost it.' The last pages are devastating. It's rare for me to sob and sob and sob at the end of a novel. Here I did. But again there wasn't a trace of mawkishness or sentimentality. This is dementia. It happens. I doubt that the judges of the major competitions will even get to read this novel. More fool them. Everything Love Is by Claire King. Remember the name.

The novel also took me towards The Camargue, its water, its heat, wild horses and flamingoes. They also appear in Susan Fletcher' latest novel, Let Me Tell You about a Man I Knew.

This stunning novel tells of the tangential relationship between Vincent Van Gogh, when he was a patient of a small asylum near Arles, and Jeanne Trabuc, the wife of the hospital's superintendent. She is warned to stay away because the patient is reputed to be dangerous but she disbobeys everyone. She is fascinated by him; by the way he paints the olive trees, the sunflowers and the stars over and over again. As in Clare King's novel, this novel depicts how long-past events in childhood and early marriage are only fully understood when evoked in later life and how with this maturity comes the true understanding of self.

It is shaping up to be a very good summer. In this post I have named the three novels I rate the best in 2016. And it's only July and half way through. Do you agree? What are your favourite reads this year so far?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


 Goodness only knows why it took me so long. Livi Michael's three stunning novels began their life a few years ago. The first in the trilogy SUCCESSION was published in 2014. REBELLION followed in 2015 and now ACCESSION has hit the book stores and no doubt rave reviews.

I am so happy to take part in Livi Michael's blog tour today (Sorry I'm a bit late in the day but this was due to circumstances beyond my control but better late than never.)  I have said it before and I will say it again, I will not compromise myself by saying I love books or writers just because I was given free copies. The fact that Penguin asked me to be part of Livi's blog tour was, I assume, that I am an avid historical novel reader and also writer.

Anyway, enough of me. This blog today is all about this fabulous trilogy of War of the Roses novels. Although I have studied the history ans read a few novels set in in those times, I have never understood all the whys and wherefores of the people involved. Livi Michael has done something I have never thought of before. Margaret Beaufort is the lynch-pin of the trilogy. We first see her as a small child and follow her through her life, husbands, and most importantly, her beloved son. She was apart from her son for many years and they were almost strangers to one another but she lives to see him crowned Henry VII, the first of the Tudors Dynasty.

What I love about Livi Michael's writing is that she understands women and the way they were political pawns in the 15th century. I will even forgive here for her bias towards the Lancaster side. (Well, I am an adopted Yorkshire lass and don't think Richard III was any worse than any royal male at the time.)

Not only does Livi make me love Margaret Beaufort, she even makes me care about that other Margaret - she of Anjou, the consort of poor, benighted Henry VI.whom I've always disliked as well. Poor ladies. How history has viewed your sex.

My advice is: please read these books. You may well totally disagree with me. Tell me if you do. I would love to know. I will remain grateful to Pegiun Books without whom I would never have heard of Livi Michael. And what a loss that would have been.

She is probably ready to move on from the War od the Roses now, but I would love her to write about the reign of Henry VII and his dealings with his second son and heir Henry VIII.

Please continue following Livi's blog tour here:


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter.  Although this blog has b...