Wednesday 30 July 2014

The Real Francine: A view from Marsiellan

Here is a post -script to my post about bicycles in this town (scroll down!) 

In that post I included an extract from my new novel  Maison Bleue. You will see that the work-in-progress extract from this novel is a fragment of a memoir of a woman who as a girl had worked for the Resistance, who escapes on a bicycle.

How very nice for this writer, then, to receive a note from Laurence Phillips, author of - amongst many other books - of the definitive and engaging (How to be very, very lazy in) Marseillan.  

Laurence writes:  'La Vraie Francine'.
'... Four weeks ago, . S. and I walked  to the Spring war memorial (Marseillan has 3 memorials) on the allees  Roques for the annual service of remembrance for the Resistance. Some surviving members were there laying wreaths to their comrades and one of their number, an elegant grey-haired woman in a light blue coat, made a very strong impression on us both. As we listened to tales of sabotage and sacrifice, We imagined her as a teenage girl in a summer frock and straw hat cycling through the vines  around the village, along the canal path to the now abandoned railway line. Just seeing the modest dignity of that woman, and knowing that she could be any of the ladies I nod to in the market or the boulangerie  week after week, well, I am sure you know how we felt. So soon after we stood just yards from her, singing the Marseillaise,  and feeling so strongly the presence of the brave brave girl she had been, those paragraphs from your new book are greatly appreciated....'

Thank you, Laurence, from one storyteller to another. This convinced me yet again that in fiction we dip into some kind of conscience collective and illuminate some enduring truth.

This is true of 'fact' as well as fiction. So I so identify when, in his book, Laurence Phillips says,'Those villagers who shared their inherited gossip would be first to shrug off a request for back up and even the most respected historian would admit that the events of such a century in such a place might have occurred somewhere quite different at another time altogether ...  Each time in its place; each place in its setting; and each personality recalled wherever life was lived at its best...'

Tomorrow (too soon) we are away. I hope you have enjoyed my Postcards from Marseillan.

... à bientôt ...W.

Friday 25 July 2014

P/C from Marseillan: On Your Bicyclette & W.I.P

A family of bicycles.

Postcard from Marseillan. 

I am noticing so many people here who ride  bicycles - workers and holiday makers, boys, girls, men and women of all ages.
Whatever their age they are brown and fit and a very good advertisement for their vehicle of choice. I regret now that I can't ride a bicycle. (I can't swim, either. Put both facts down to the restricted childhood.)
But here in this sunshine on this flat coastal plain I wish I could do both. This bike riding looks free and healthy and wonderfully innocent in a way.

So I have been thinking quite a lot about bicycles - and this brings me to my Work in Progress. 

Francine's window at 
the Maison Bleu

While I'm staying here in this place next to Heaven  I am editing the completed manuscript of  'At the Maison Bleu'
This is a novel about a group of very different writers who meet (not far from here) at the Maison Bleu, on the banks of the Canal du Midi.
Central to the novel is Francine, now a venerable and successful novelist. And here  she is remembering her wartime experience in South West France. She thinks about how her teacher helped her to flee perhaps to safety.
And here, historically, the bicycle is significant. Francine aged fourteen - like other teenagers - has worked as a courier for a local Resistance group and is now in danger.

Extract from 'At The Maison Bleu'

 '...At the refuge I choose a small case from my mother’s collection and in it pack my schoolbooks, two suits that I cut down from my mother’s, the shoes with rubber  tyre soles that Auguste made for me, my red scarf, the little black and white photograph me and my mother at the door of this house in the Rue de la Ville. And a photograph of me on my bicycle, taken by Auguste. And the little package with my mother’s cherry red dress. On top of them I put a cardboard folder with my butcher’s paper stories on them. And there are more empty sheets where I will write of my life out there in the country. I will hold in my head the images of Auguste’s harmless kisses and loving touches behind the scenes at the Blue House.  And the dangerous things that went on there.
I wedge the suitcase on my bicycle and walk it down to the harbour. Madame Griche is there outside the laundress’s door, now closed and locked. She has her heavy bicycle with her, which sports baskets back and front, not so uncommon these days.

Neither his mother nor Auguste are there. I will not be able to kiss him goodbye.
Madame smiles slightly when she sees me. Then she makes me empty my case and share the contents between her baskets and mine. ‘No point in letting people into our secret, Francine!’ she says, wrapping the books and paper in an oiled kitchen cloth and putting them at the bottom of her back basket. We throw the case itself into the broad river where it bubbles and sinks like a body.
Then, side by side on our bicycles, we make our way out of the town, keeping to the narrow lanes away from the coastal paths where the soldiers lurk. They are so afraid of the sea and just who or what might emerge from its pulsing waters. Already there have been secret American landings here.

‘The sea is our friend,’ says Madame Griche. ‘Now we know that the Americans are firm for the end-game alongside the poor old English and they may turn up anywhere. And the Boches know this.’

 As we ride along she explains to me that in the beginning everyone thought the Boches would march straight into England, just as they'd marched straight through France, so why should we have any faith in the English?

She goes on: ‘Love them or hate them, though, the English are dogged. They hang on, Francine!. Those English do hang on!'


A sturdy working bicycle in Marseillan,

Wednesday 23 July 2014

P/C from Marseillan: Holiday Reading Rachel Cooke

The random nature of reading on holiday is part of its charm.

I gave up on a book which began with three people improbably drinking neat gin from jam jars. Instead I plumped for a book on Licked Spoon’s pile: Her Brilliant Career by Rachel Cooke.

 The Book and its Themes

‘Her Brilliant Career’ consists of biographical pieces about ten women, who  characterise what Cooke sees as a neglected feminist feature of women’s experience in the 1950s. These women are proto-feminists before the high octane feminist splurge of the latter 1960s. (As I keep saying - nothing comes from nothing.)

These ten women - having experienced the shortages, losses and the heightened awareness brought
on by world war - inhabited lives of equality with their male cohorts, determinedly ploughing their own furrow and subverting the powerful post-war instinct to return to a conservative male-driven domestic ‘normality’
Each of them, in her different way, succeeded in this by being and sustaining her often ‘different’ self with her ambition, her self worth and determination to achieve the life aims she has set herself.

These women are distinctly different from each other and colourful in different ways. But, reading Cooke’s essays here, I have the feeling that they share three qualities: confidence in their importance of their central idea, self belief involving a habit, that the controlling world could call ‘selfishness’, of putting their own ideas before cultural expectations.  The third quality has to be courage - either instinctual or deliberate – as they flout the taken-for-granted view of what women’s lives should be and subvert the sacred institution of the family in post-war Britain.

Presaging a ‘feminist’ future even before that term was common parlance, the lives of these women, taken together, weave a complex picture of the changing nexus of being  a woman in the 1950s. (Declaring an interest, I grew up in the 1950s and can vouch for some of the truths here.)

The Women

Three of them were married, three of them were lesbians; six of them had children, three of them were divorced;  one of them was separated. Extra marital affairs seem common among this group and attitudes to children and the mother’s role vary.

 Who are they?

Patience Gray (Food writer); Nancy Spain (Writer and ‘personality’); Joan Werner Laurie (Magazine Editor); Sheila Van Damm ( Rally Car Driver and Theatre Manager); sisters-in law Muriel and Betty Box (pioneers of popular film); Alison Smithson (Future oriented architect); Jaquetta Hawkes (Archeologist) Rose Heilbron (QC and High Court Judge). 

It was great to read about the highly original, talented Alison Smithson* - a new name to me, now sunk below the horizon. In reading the book I learned a good deal about the others, about whom I thought I knew a lot. (I would urge you to read the book to discover more the differences and delights  in the lives of these women.)

The Writer

Rachel Cooke's voice is clearly that of a woman who inhabits the cultural certainties of 2014. Her style is elegant, intimate, sometimes quite matey. But in her deceptively informal style she delivers a beautifully written, very accessible book. The considerable depth and breadth of research of these biographies pins the accounts to the historical moment, to the culture of theatre and film, to the literature and architecture of the day, to the nature of civil society and the subtle politics of family and workplace.

Cooke achieves this feat with readable ease. Her footnotes illustrate the depth and breadth of her research and add colour and context to the lives of these women whose names echo in our memories: women who lived equal lives in psychologically more difficult  circumstances than women face today.

If you are at all interested in the 1950s, the wide-ranging introduction to Her Brilliant Career is worth reading alone. If you are interested in any individual woman, the following essays can be read each on its own. But to read all of them is to become familiar with the feeling of what it was like to be a woman in that very significant decade.

In my view the Brilliant Career of writer Rachel Cooke should be much enhanced by this first class book.

*In an earlier version of this post I mis-named this excellent woman. Apologies to Rachel Cooke, I put it down to mis-reading my own notes;  according to my perceptive daughter it's a thing called 'holiday brain'. Never suffered from that before. The name is correct now. wx

Thursday 17 July 2014

Listening to Sounds at the Port

On holiday in  Marseillan in Herault. Our house is in the middle of the town - a few steps from the port with its lines of boats in one direction and a few steps from the town centre in the other -
I find myself ...

 Listening to Sounds at the Port 

Town bus grinding
Builder’s truck brumming
Small car purring
Scooter buzzing
Swallows chirruping
Small dog barking
Family voices -
father deeper, children higher,
mother somewhere in between
Guitar playing
Drummer drumming 
Church bells ringing
Skate-board growling
Rigging clattering

In this summer life
So very much to listen to ... 

'Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.'

Postcards from Marseillan on my Facebook.

Monday 7 July 2014

Editing Your Book For Independent Publication

Having now edited and published ten novels using the Createspace facility I thought it might be good to share some helpful points for writers out there who are embarking or struggling with this process.

I have writer  friends who are independently publishing with the technical help of their tech-savvy partners or co workers, I’m not so lucky so I have done every stage myself.

I must say if I can do it then so can you. I  I have become comfortable with the Createspace process but there are other printing/publishing enterprises out there which you may choose.  The principles will be similar.

This is the first of five posts about First Principles of  Independent  Publishing

1. Editing Your Book In for Independent Publishing.
2. The Cover
3. Uploading the interior and the cover.
4. Proofing
5. Selling

 Editing your book  for Independent Publishing

1.       Make sure your manuscript in Word is as good as it can be by assiduous line editing, proofing and manual spell-checking. Also do a mechanical spell check to back this up.
2.       Read through and ask yourself it this core of the book says truly what you want to say. You feel the need to alter and amend even at this stage.
3.       Now is the time you insert the front pages that are in any book. (Check half a dozen books and note the pages that occur before the book begins. These pages should include.
4.       Two blank pages at the beginning
5.       Facing Half Title page with just the title (no author)  
6.       Blank page
7.       Facing Title Page with Title and Author, perhaps a quotation or phrase as appropriate, and the publisher at the bottom of the page. (Give your publishing enterprise a name…)
8.       Copyright Page. Take a published book and copy the form of the copyright page. Leave a space for the ISBN which you can insert when you have uploaded the manuscript.  Createspace will assign you an ISBN number.
9.        Facing page – Dedication and Acknowledgements
10.    Blank page
11.    Facing page - If you want this. (Essential for the Kindle version) - A summary of the story. If you are doing Print in can copy  and paste this onto the back cover.
12.    Contents Page (if necessary). Or leave page blank,.
13.   Facing Page: Beginning of your story. Leave a ten line gap at the beginning of every chapter.

14.   In your word document  created a page break between each chapter
15.   First paragraphs in each chapter should be on the margin.
16.   If, within a chapter, you leave white space (double-double click)to indicate to the reader a change of time of place then the  first line of the new paragraph should also be un-indented.
17.   At the end of the ms you might want to insert pages with :
-          Information about  you and contact details
-          Blog, Twitter and Facebook links if these exist
-          Information about earlier or other publications
18.Leave two blank pages again.
I know it’s a bit fiddly but if you do it step by step you will be OK. Your manuscript should now be ready to upload to the Createspace template.
 More about that next time . 

Creating your cover and uploading your prepared manuscript.

On this page  are three of the books I have published using these processes.

Forms of Flight: 

Lines of Desire


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