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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Don't call me Shirley

I suppose it was inevitable that within minutes of us renaming our adopted dog 'Sherlock', my husband (a big 'Airplane' fan) said, 'Of course, we'll call him Shirley.' Sherlock/ Sherl/ Sherley/ G'boy seems very happy with his new names and life. He has a tail like a cat's and it's usually waving that little white hook at the end high in the air. His hind-quarters have completely regained muscle tone and a bum doubled in size suits him better than it does me; ditto the extra 5kg he gained gradually after he came to us. Read Part 1 of Sherlock's story

A Happy Tale

Sherlock is a griffon bleu de Gascogne, a Gascony Griffon, bred for hunting, abandoned with no ID. My suspicions that he was thrown out by his hunter-owner have been backed up by his behaviour. When we opened a bottle of Clairette (the local sparkling wine), the cork popping sent Sherlock into nervous running round. Purely in the interests of dog-training, we made sure he heard the sound frequently and he has grown used to it over the last eight months but this is not a dog who will cope with gunshots. He's scared when the hunters go past in their SUVs, hounds barking and trailers clattering. Nose glued to the ground as always and ears trailing, he didn't even see the pheasant that pottered into the woods on one of our forest walks. I suspect that he has the nose but not the temperament; or that a hunting accident traumatised him.

I do know that he was treated badly. He no longer flinches when I stroke him unexpectedly and he's no longer afraid if I'm cross (usually with Blanche and he worries on her behalf). He knows there's no hitting here and his confidence grows all the time. Yesterday was a big day; he looked me in the eyes and, for the first time, licked my nose. He seeks caresses now without fearing reprisals. In fact, he'll push Blanche aside to get his share and she's so sure of herself (and of me) that she doesn't mind. It wasn't safe for him to show his feelings and he is a reserved dog, who is taking the risk of expressing himself more and more. 

He is also deeply stubborn. He might have been beaten but he wasn't broken. I see it when Blanche plays dominance games. She is so much bigger that he can't avoid being jumped on but he doesn't buckle and he doesn't give in. He endures it. I suspect his previous training involved commands, stubborn refusal and then him being hit. The shelter reinforced recall as a bad thing (back into the cage if you came when called). That has changed completely with positive training but he still wavers sometimes at the final moment in recall. There's a lot of harm to unlearn. And he has no idea what play means. So motivation has to be praise, cuddles, need to be with me or occasional cheese cubes.

Sherlock sleuthing

I get funny looks when Sherlock is with me. One man waiting with me at the vet's told me he used to have a bleu de Gascogne. The dog got nicknamed 'Inox' the French name for a metallic pan-scraper, because the wire-haired coat is so harsh. The breed website shows a photo of owners; rows of men with guns and Sherlock-dogs.

Everyone knows that it is a bad idea to adopt a hunting dog. Why, I wondered, having adopted a hunting dog. A French friend told me, 'They escape. They run away all the time.' This was not good news. Escaping dogs die. The very next day, I found Sherlock outside the garden fence, running around the terrain that is open to a busy road. A lump in my throat, I called him back in. Blanche hadn't followed him - that time. John and I checked the fence, argued, blocked the hole that hadn't been there before, feared the worst. 

It happened again. I watched where Sherlock went when he was back on the inside, found the new hole. Heavy-hearted, I told John. It was a bad day. We both know from bitter experience what a determined escaper can be like and how dangerous it is. Gritting his teeth, John looked at the fence again. And then looked around inside the big garden. And saw what Sherlock had been trying to tell us all along, looking through the fence, pointing gun-dog style. Wild boar excrement. The holes had been made by wild boar coming down from the woods into the garden. All Sherlock had done was go through the hole and check out his outer territory - and then come home.

When strimming the grass outside the fence, someone had cut through the tension wire at the bottom and that was all it took to allow piggy diggings and a break-in. Acorns and worms in damp soil all attract the boar. Luckily a strand of barbed wire along the bottom of the fence outside stopped the nocturnal invasions - big thanks to the Welsh friend who gave me that tip.

Sherlock has made NO escape attempts so another myth can be exploded; hunting dogs don't all want to run away.

Sherlock on his holidays by Lac St Croix

Apart from the nose-lick, yesterday was a big day for another reason; vaccinations and health check. It's good news. The way I'm treating Sherlock's ears is working so although they are dirty and need wiped regularly, the regime of a week's Zymox, then a break, has prevented any return of infection and can be carried on forever. No talk of operations, nor even of antibiotics. One healthy, shiny, happy dog.  My vet has remained impassive in the past while I've sobbed all over her consulting-room but this time she cracked completely, in a good way. Yesterday, she stroked Sherlock and we agreed that he wasn't the sort of dog who'd attract potential owners but that he was beautiful, 'well-proportioned'. She told me, 'I love this dog. There is something peaceful about him.' The word she used was 'reposant', which carries the sense of 'makes me feel peaceful.' Yes, 'reposant' is a good word.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Moment of Time - Jilaine Tarisa

Welcome to Jilaine Tarisa, author of A Moment of Time and congratulations on publication. How do you feel about seeing the book in print at last?

Thanks for inviting me, Jean! It’s been a long journey so I’m thrilled to hold a copy of the paperback in my hands.

A Moment of Time is about the paradigm shift that occurs when belief is replaced by understanding.
barnes & noble
amazon link

Contact Jilaine on twitterfacebook, googleplus
and via her web log

Jilaine Tarisa is a licensed attorney and certified mediator; she also completed a Master of Arts degree in psychology and has studied personality and relationship dynamics as well as social issues concerning the care and treatment of the mentally ill. 

You’ve written a lot of non-fiction material in your professional career. When did you start writing fiction?

When I was twelve, I wanted to write a screenplay about teenagers on a cruise ship. (I had gone to some bon voyage parties in New York City and imagined all the fun—and trouble—teens could have on a cruise without parents!) Before that, my best friend and I wanted to write for Dark Shadows, our favorite television show. (Said friend became a literary agent specializing in horror—and I became an attorney.)
After years of writing about factual matters, I was surprised I wanted to write fiction, but I saw the power of a story well told. I started writing a novel and drafted quite a few chapters. The characters were well developed and I was clear about the themes—but I didn’t know where the story was going or how it would end. Then I started writing lyrics for songs, and the idea for a screenplay came into my head. This time I knew the ending, as well as the main characters and themes, at the outset. So I abandoned the novel and learned about screenwriting.

Did you ever complete the screenplay?

Yes, and I still hope a film will be produced someday. The first half of the story is told in A Moment of Time. (I’m working on the sequel.) I’m calling the series The Red Rose Way.
I also wrote lyrics for the songs that would be featured in a film version, which would be a musical. 

Are your song lyrics featured in the book?  

The story’s heroine, Caitlin Rose, always has pop songs running through her head—foreshadowing her later attempts at writing her own songs. I had wanted to include fragments of familiar songs that she might be singing, but permissions are expensive and copyright law has a lot of gray areas. So instead of having her sing the jingle of an old television commercial, for example, I made one up—for a fictitious product.
When Caitlin’s creativity starts to flow, she writes a poem, and that’s included in the book. The circumstances that surround her earliest lyrics are introduced, along with a line or two of the songs in progress, to show her development as a songwriter. I’m not a musician (I don’t play any instruments) but I’ve studied with sound healers and I love to sing. The healing power of music is one of the themes of the book as well as the screenplay.

How is screenwriting different from novel writing, and why did you decide to write A Moment of Time as a novel?

A novel is a finished product. It may be edited before publication, but the writer’s work is presented directly to readers. A script is read by agents and producers and actors; other professionals take the writer’s words and ideas and turn them into a finished product. A motion picture reflects the vision of the director, and significant changes to the script are sometimes made over the course of production. A screenplay must follow a specific format to comply with industry standards. It’s written in the present tense and is divided into scenes rather than chapters. Each scene includes a brief description of setting (location) and action. What’s happening? What are the actors saying and doing? How do they respond to what’s happening? Lengthy descriptions are unnecessary—and are discouraged.
A novel is a better vehicle for exploring a character’s inner reality. Instead of writing a self-help book about spiritual principles or forgiveness or recovery, I wanted to show what the transformation process looks like.

Is what you are calling the ‘transformation process’ related to what you’ve told me psychologists call  self-actualisation?

Yes, that’s a topic that has interested me since I was a teenager. It just means realizing your potential and being true to your own nature—which is not the same thing as pursuing self-interest and gratification of the senses. A self-actualized person naturally gravitates toward a concern for others and seeks what’s best for the whole, recognizing that each of us is a part of the whole. Self-realization is another term that is often used. The self is not the personality, the socialized self; you have to strip away the labels and limitations that others have used to define you and that you’ve accepted as true. As you move away from a focus on self-image and superficial qualities, you are free to embrace your innate gifts and talents, honor your heart’s desires, and live in accordance with your core values. When you are honest with yourself about what you really want and need, you may look for opportunities to get involved with your community, choose relationships that nourish your soul, and adopt a lifestyle that supports your growth and well-being.
Being self-actualized doesn’t mean you’re perfect; it means you are comfortable in your own skin, free to express your uniqueness, and striving toward greater awareness and fulfillment of your destiny. You may not always see the truth, but seeing what’s false becomes easier—if you are open and receptive. When you are convinced you know the truth about something, you dismiss evidence to the contrary—and may overlook important information as a result.

One of the issues in A Moment of Time concerns a vaccine preservative and the health hazards it might present to children; is that controversy part of the screenplay as well?

Yes, I realized early in the process that if my main character (who is an attorney for the US Department of Justice) was going to confront her boss and take a stand for something she believed in (and risk ruining her career in the process), she needed to be working on a matter that was important enough for her to feel strongly about ‘doing the right thing.’ I researched the thimerosal-vaccine controversy—which hadn’t made headlines yet—for the screenplay.
When I wrote the novel, I added a new layer concerning religion and myth and the early history of Christianity.

Why did you feel this extra layer was important to the book?
It wasn’t planned. When I sat down to write the novel, I thought it would take me a month! I was very familiar with the characters and the story, and I’d spent a lot of time working on that earlier novel, so I expected writing the book to be straightforward and simple. The creative process will take you on a journey, if you’re willing to allow the story to unfold (and are not working under any time constraints).
When I finally completed A Moment of Time, I realized that when someone’s life is transformed, every aspect is affected: choices, relationships, lifestyle, goals and aspirations. Our beliefs shape our experience. You can’t grow if you aren’t willing to examine your beliefs and test their validity—and let them go if you find they are no longer true for you. A Moment of Time is about the paradigm shift that occurs when belief is replaced by understanding. If you stop believing what the people around you believe, you may find yourself an outsider for a time. But heroes (and heroines) don’t follow the crowd; they lead the way. Sometimes unwittingly, but they attract attention and influence others.

You raise important questions and I'm sure each of us will have different answers. For me, it's the debate itself that connects people; there is no need to agree on the answers - or even find answers at all.

My aim is not to supply answers but to inspire people to take their own journeys. I introduce ideas that may be new to some people. I hope readers will explore in greater depth the topics that interest them, whether that means reading about mythology or the Gnostic Gospels or participating in a meditation retreat—or taking the first steps to living the life they’ve always dreamed about.

Thank you for celebrating your launch on my blog. Let's open that wine now! And I wish you all the success in the world with A Moment of Time.


A Moment of Time by Jilaine Tarisa published September 19, 2014 by Inspired Creations, LLC.
Chapter One can be read on Jilaine's web site 

The Story...

A Moment of Time
When Justice Department attorney Caitlin Rose investigates claims that a vaccine preservative is causing adverse effects in children, her boss, Neil Morton, fears that his behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry might be discovered. A reporter's daughter, Caitlin is determined to expose the truth—and Neil is determined to protect his interests. They can't both win, but they might both lose. 

Neil pressures Caitlin to take time off while he seeks an overhaul of the laws governing vaccines. Caitlin travels to Ireland, where she meets up with her unconventional friend Kimo, a former client who is studying to be a naturopathic doctor. After an inexplicable encounter with an enigmatic figure causes her to question her assumptions about life and her understanding of religion, Caitlin's paradigm shift begins. But before she can act upon her newfound principles, Neil summons Sam Burns—and disaster is sure to follow. 

A story about finding your voice, speaking your truth, and following your dreams, A Moment of Timeportrays one woman's quest for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

My review for A Moment of Time

Exceptional and thought-provoking

Let’s get the criticism out of the way first because I loved so much of this ambitious book and would rather talk about all that I liked. The first section had enough narrative interest to hook me into reading on, but much of it was a sermon on world religions barely disguised as dialogue. Other readers might enjoy the information for its own sake but for me it fell between two genres, spoiling the narrative and yet delivering nothing factual that was new to me.

From then on, I was immersed completely in the story and, perhaps more importantly, in the questions it raised about ‘right’ and healthy ways to live. I found it easy to empathise with Caitin. Her journey from the competitive rat race of top level legal work to other ways of living, took me with her through every experience, and made me reflect on my own life choices.

When Jilaine Tarisa wants to write realistic and moving dialogue, she certainly can. I found the mother-daughter relationship heart-wrenching, each of them wanting to show that she cares, but caught up in their history of antagonism and misunderstandings. Both viewpoints are extremely well written. I love the fact that Caitlin still can’t deal with her mother, however enlightened she becomes – how true to life!

Caitlin’s relationships with men echo her professional journey from the conventional to choices that are different, even dangerous and abusive. When Kimo, the naturotherapist, re-appears in Caitlin’s life I am prepared for another theological lecture – and I get it – but I no longer mind as I’m so caught up in the lives of the characters. Caitlin makes her own very real choices and is not a mere puppet for the author’s theories.

This novel made me think about my life, my values, my choices and the changes along the way. There is wisdom here and some quotations resonate with me, especially the sharp observations on society’s values, such as The Declaration of Independence could have listed rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of money,” he’d once said while toasting a success at the Club. Despite my reservations about being lectured, the broad view of a spiritual dimension is an honest journey across world religions and mythologies, and the conclusions are attractive.

A book to read and re-read, if only to fully appreciate the kitten.

Friday, August 15, 2014

One Sixth of a Gill goes live!

Publication Date 1st November 2014 

On pre-release order now.

For once, amazon is waving its magic wand to get Jean Gill's new book to the ball, all dressed up and ready to dance. With previous books, I felt like I was relegated to the kitchen half the time, eating the scraps left by the big publishers - and grateful for the crumbs. As a non-US citizen, I could never get to the ball on time and had to press my face against the window,watching, until the tickets - kindle publishing - came to Europe.

The opportunity to pre-release books is so important that amazon has withheld this in what I think of as their Axe-Murder Attempt, also known as the Hachette War. Not only is amazon denying pre-publication to a big publisher but it's giving it for the first time to thousands of small and self-publishers. All right, amazon - you have 90 days to show me what you can do for One Sixth of a Gill with KDP, your exclusive programme.

I will let all my blog-readers know how this new adventure in publishing goes. And - fanfare - here's the belle of the ball. One Sixth of a Gill, my book of shorts. Publication Date 1st November. I'm hoping everyone will get into my shorts for Christmas. Did I really just say that?

Order your copy here and let's see if we can get my 17th book showing up in the charts and staying there. The first reviews and book details are below...

Pre-Release reviews so far

‘It is like having a conversation with a group of friends over dinner, where the topics wander and morph quite organically as occasions and images are recalled by the guests. The result is an eclectic mix which is quite unputdownable.

More than anything I liked the way it was put together in a way which allowed for grazing or an all-out feast. I expect folk will keep returning to the table for a while after the final course.’
B.A. Morton, author of prize-winning crime novel ‘Mrs Jones’

A rare treat.
'I dipped into your One Sixth of a Gill at the breakfast table, during siesta and sometimes before night-time sleep, which is how I think many readers will ‘use’ your book. And I do think it is a book to be ‘used’ – for its thought-provoking content, for some of its images that require scrutiny and interpretation. Some days I opted for a more superficial reading because daily life had its own measure of minor stresses and I needed no extra. On those days I loved the photographs, the dog tales, the knowing sub-text about marriage and parenthood.'
J.G. Harlond, author of ‘The Empress Emerald’

A superb collection – so much variation in style and all equally brilliant. Thank you.
'What leapt out at me was the strong sense of colour in all your writing, especially the poems and stories. I wonder if that is because you are a photographer; you are very aware of it, pick up the nuances and you use this to brilliant effect in shading the writing with feeling. Your collection reminded me of a box of scarves we had in ballet class when I was young, all different shades and hues. I loved hunting through them and I guess that's what I'm trying to say about your collection. There is something for whatever mood you find yourself in.'
Karen Maitland, author of ‘The Vanishing Witch’

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sherlock - another dumped dog

By popular request, the story of Sherlock. His ears already have a fan club so it's time I let you meet him properly.

We wanted to motivate Blanche's recovery from her operation (stomach torsion) so we decided in February to get her a new friend. I had promised Lou that his successor (not replacement) would be, like him, a sweet-natured shelter dog that no-one else would want but who could cope with the somewhat brutal friendship of a Great Pyrenees. Hunting dogs are not popular for adoption because hunters assume they were useless at hunting and their background gives them the reputation of being unsuitable as family dogs and liable to run away. So we chose Rudy, who'd been found wandering the countryside in August 2013, with no ID. He was probably thrown out before the new season.

Rudy's prison mug-shot
Here in France, some hunting-dogs are loved all the year round, all their lives. Many, however, live in packs, in cages, exercised only during the hunting season and with no experience of homes and families. We were told that Rudy hadn't known what a caress was but was starting to enjoy them. That he was quiet but showed enthusiasm for outings, in his own way. We already knew what 'outings' meant from our adoption of Lou: a five-minute toilet break on waste ground, 3 to 4 times a week. The surprise with Rudy was that he didn't pull on the lead but he'd been trained (unintentionally) not to come when called. He'd be let off the lead for his five minutes, called, grabbed and taken back to the cage. Obviously, he preferred not to come when called. So we filled in the paperwork and changed his name to Sherlock.

When I went to his cage to spring him from the hellhole, he didn't even get up he was so depressed, and he barked just once, a big hound bay, fit for a Baskerville. I swear he knew I'd come for him and he didn't think he could go on much longer if I hadn't. The breed was new to me and I didn't realise till I got him home that the muscles of his hind-quarters were wasted from lack of exercise and he was far too thin. I thought back to the dish in his cage, piled high with pizza (restaurant left-overs) and untouched. The first night, he cried from the pain in his ears - yes, once again, and worse than with Lou, another floppy-eared dog with the most horrific, untreated ear infection. Dogs are so stoical and they put up with ear infections during the day when there are distractions but they can't sleep at night and the pain drives them crazy.

The vet fell in love with Sherlock and her good work, combined with a healthy diet and daily exercise, has restored his health. His bum is double the size it was and, in his case, that's great news. He's gained 5kg - a big percentage of his 35kg. Thanks to a Blog reader who emailed me, I had a new treatment to try for long-term ear maintenance and we seem to be managing the ear problems by using Zymox regularly (products you can order from the USA and that work miracles).

Sherlock at home
I'm sure from his behaviour that Sherlock had never been in a house before and the stairs up to the front door were a giant step for dogkind. It took a couple of tries the first time but he followed us and the big blonde into the house and into the living-room. He even fell asleep for a while until the T.V. was switched on and then he was completely panic-stricken, ran outside and wouldn't come back in. We left the T.V. off. It took a couple of days with gentle sound and his strong desire to be with us as motivation, and then he was watching Premier League football with everyone else. He still fled from Metallica videos for a while but, now, his favourite place to sleep is right in front of the television.

This is my third dog adoption, I have read hundreds of first-hand accounts from other people, and I have a theory about what I've experienced with all three, very different dogs. They have all been traumatised for the first few weeks and as the effects have worn off, their underlying personalities and experiences have started to show, in some unexpected ways. Sherlock was so numb that anyone could do anything with him for weeks; when he showed dislike and even fear of strangers, I think this was a sign that life mattered to him again and that he wasn't just accepting whatever happened. I know that I have not encouraged his fears in any way (my training is good enough to know that) and yet he is now nervous about situations he didn't care about at first.

Sometimes, trainers make the mistake of assuming that the adoptant is creating fears in the dog. Often, the debutante dog-owner does create fears in the dog! Reassuring and stroking a scared dog is classic reinforcement behaviour. But what I'm suggesting is that awakening from trauma can bring with it all those fears a dog has, based on past experience - or ignorance - and show its own personality, regardless of whether the owner does everything 'right'. Sherlock got over how scary the T.V. was and he has the intelligence and trust in us to learn confidence in other situations he hasn't met before - we are working on it.

We discover new things about him all the time. Training with treats hasn't been possible until now. I thought he'd probably been trained not to take treats and yet he would take little bits of chicken or soft cheese from my hand, and he will eat soaked dog kibble but not dry biscuits. Yesterday, I looked properly at his teeth, which the vet had declared to be good. They do look good when his mouth is closed, but the four middle bottom teeth are eroded, filed away? damaged? ground down on cage bars? I shall ask my vet next time I see her. But I'm now sure that he can't eat hard treats - not won't - and he's been happily accepting little soft cheese cubes today. I know there are other ways of training but I think this is going to help with communication. There are four of us in this marriage :)

After two months with Sherlock, we felt confident enough to take him on holiday for a week and I am very proud of how he behaved: he has been perfectly house-trained (despite never being in a house!) not destructive in any way and he copes with the princess. They are unquestionably one pack although he is not willing to play with her - yet. You will laugh at his one irritating habit. He is a bit of a whiner, especially if we leave the room and he wants us there. Especially first thing in the morning, at first light. Yes, I now have a dog who insists on giving 'A Song at Dawn' outside my bedroom window!!

John, Sherlock and Blanche, the princess, on holiday in Provence

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jacket make-overs

Many of my books were published three years ago and the jacket designs are showing their age so it's definitely time for a re-vamp. Also, the books are gaining ever more readers so my own knowledge about how the books fit into the marketplace has grown, and that changes what I want the jackets to look like.

I know the designer won't mind me canvassing for comments and opinions on the new look so I'd appreciate any reactions to 'Faithful through Hard Times'. Fellow-writers might be interested in some of the choices I'm making and why, before you comment, but I know some of you just like the pictures, so here they are.

One practical point about the text on book jackets is that amazon will only let you use words in a title which actually appear on the jacket, and all the title words show up in amazon searches, giving you some freebie extra search words. That's why I added 'a WW2 true story' to the ebook cover. If you want to know more about the book itself and whether the new cover represents it effectively, in genre and appeal to likely readers, check it out here




It is widely agreed that writers will be more successful by sticking to one genre, building a readership and having 'a look' to all of their books. Publishers have always done this; self-published authors are well-advised to follow suit. But I'm not going to.

Call me mad or call me multi-faceted but I write in many genres and I think the 'genre look' of the jacket is more important than the 'Jean Gill' look. Quite honestly, I married the only person who's ever going to read all my books because they are just so diverse

Which fonts?

I plead guilty to underestimating the artistry of fonts - never again. Thanks to sites like the Book Designer and its recommended link Fontsquirrel I know what's trending and why it matters. The fonts suck on my 3 year old book jackets. But then they also suck on my books which were conventionally published over the last twenty years. Things change. But thanks to designer input, I'm looking at fonts, and the way they're mixed, as a way of keeping a 'Jean Gill' look, despite the range of genres. 

Which art-work?

As a photographer, as well as an author, I have strong opinions on this. There is, however, nothing to stop me giving the designer instructions and then looking at options on layout, background, textures,colours.. detail and fancy-work. I wasn't happy when I found exactly the same jacket as one of my books, just a different colour - the publisher (yes, a 'proper' publisher) had used one stock photo, straight. Stock photos of all qualities exist and my own don't always meet my requirements but I want enough of a twist to the design to keep it different from someone else's in more than author name and title.

I know that one of my many failings is that I love complexity and clutter - too clever by half, as my mother always said. Jackets need room for


Part of my lack of respect for fonts was due to the old-fashioned thinking that blurb is on the back of a book. In today's one-click or forget-it world, the front jacket wins or loses readers. Even though amazon now allows readers to view the back jacket, (for those publishers smart enough to figure out how), that is still one more click. I want commitment after the first kiss. 

I've always agonised over the right title but now I want pointers to go with it; an indication of genre (to double as search words on amazon), a killer quote. One advantage of becoming established as an author is that I have wonderful quotes to choose from. In fact, I'm starting to worry about offending someone by not using his/her great quote - the problems of success!


Oh, yes. Every time. I want a jacket that I love, passionately. Even if I want a better one after three years... We are talking about books here, right?

Over to you...

Any thoughts on my new jacket? On book covers in general? What decisions do you make? How often will you spend precious time on improving the books already written - instead of writing new ones?

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Last Love of Edith Piaf - Interview with Christie Laume

You read it here first! I'm excited at bringing you a sneak preview of an amazing true story due out with Archipel Press later in 2014 and to welcome the author Christie Laume to my blog. This is the first time I've 'met' Christie but I feel I know her already because Jean-Daniel Belfond of Archipel asked me to translate her book 'Le dernier amour d'Edith Piaf' into English... link
It was a dilemma for me. I've written 20,000 words of the third novel in the Troubadours series and it's going well so it's painful to break off with 80,000 words still to go. On the other hand, some opportunities don't come twice - or when it's most convenient - and I'm not one to say no to an adventure. To help me decide, I read the book. After that, I had to say yes . Who can resist the intimate detail, told for the first time, of a 46 year old French superstar's love - and marriage - with a beautiful man twenty years younger? This mature woman was hooked.

So I hope my readers waiting for the further adventures of Dragonetz and Estela will forgive the extra wait and consider my foster-book The Last Love of Edith Piaf, instead. When I read the book, I was struck not just by the love of the central couple but also the love of the author for her brother, the young man who was Edith Piaf's last love. I've translated a third of the book now and it's the perfect time to ask the author some of the questions that have come to mind, while I've been reading in French and writing in English.

About the author
Chryssanthi Lamboukas was born in Paris in 1942. When she was twenty, she was invited by her brother Théo and Edith Piaf to live with them and experience ‘the lifestyle of a star’, even though she herself was an unknown.  Prompted by motherly affection, Piaf wanted to launch the young woman as a singer and thought up her pseudonym, Christie Laume, under which name she made a number of records during the 1960s. She has lived in the United States since 1970.

Christie's first language is French but she has answered my questions in English, her second language. She also speaks Greek, which was the home language of her family. Her parents emigrated to Paris to escape war in their homeland but they never forgot their roots. 

Christie Laume photo by Eric Fougere
Bonjour, Christie. Your book is the true story of the love affair between Edith Piaf and a beautiful, talented man twenty years her junior – your brother Theo Sarapo. What made you decide to tell their story?

Many people ask me questions and they tell me because I lived with the couple, it would be good for me to tell the truth.  Also, I knew it was something I had to do in my life.

You show in the book how Theo was changed by his military service in the Algerian war and how your whole family lived in fear of losing him. What are your thoughts now, looking back on that time?

Theo changed in his military service during the Algerian war . Theo saw horrible things during that time and life had a different meaning for him .  When he finally could talk about it, I felt he wanted to live his life to the full, the way he wanted and not the way my parents saw it.

My parents loved their children so much and they knew Theo was in a terrible danger. It was a nightmare for them,  I understand them, I am a mother and a grandmother

On the surface, Edith and Theo seem mismatched; she’s a 46 year old superstar and he’s a 26 year old hairdresser when they meet. You lived with the couple so you knew them both well. How would you describe the relationship?

Edith was 46 and Theo 26, it was a big difference in age. They loved each other very much, they completed each other.  There love was above their age and above their physical appearance.  There love was so strong that they lived in their own world.

 How did people at the time react to them as a couple?

People had different reactions to them as a couple, some good, some bad. But after they saw how much they loved each other and how Edith was happy with Theo, people changed their minds.

When you describe your parents’ disapproval of the marriage, I was caught up in the realism with which you write. These are real parents, worried for their son’s future. Do you think they would have felt the same if the genders had been reversed?

At the beginning my parents had the same thoughts as other people about the age difference. Yes, they worried for my brother's future. If the genders had been reversed they probably would have accepted it better.

I love the way you show ‘behind the scenes’ and reveal so many realistic details of Piaf’s life, from eating habits to preparation for a concert. Where did you get all this inside information?

I had all this inside information by living with them in the same big apartment in Boulevard Lannes and also being with them during their concert tours.
Photo of young Christie Laume by Gerard Neuvecelle 

I get the impression that Edith had a profound impact on your life. In what ways did she influence you? 

Edith had a profound impact on my life at that time, she influenced me in many ways.  I was young and naïve.  I was raised in a very traditional  way.  I admired her great talent like every one.  But she knew my personality and she was very kind to me.

You had a career of your own as a singer. Did Edith give you any tips about singing?

Yes Edith helped me very much.  She told me how to be on stage, how to sing and how to pronounce each word. She took time to instruct me.

Do you think the USA, the UK and France have different attitudes to singers? It seems to me that French culture values the ‘chanson’ and its ‘interprete’ more than songwriting and the lyricist. I think it is more common in the UK and the USA to be a singer/songwriter and we don’t refer to a singer as an interpreter. What do you think?

I think the French have their personal ways to interpret  La Chanson. With their different ways of interpretation,  France, UK, and USA all have very talented people.

Edith herself did write some of her own songs but it’s not clear to me which ones. 

Edith wrote some songs.  Among these songs are  La Vie en Rose,  C'est l' Amour... But Michel Emer wrote  A Quoi ca Sert l'Amour .

What better way to finish the interview than by reading the extract from Christie's book that tells how this famous love song was born and by watching the two of them together performing their signature song.

PRE-PUBLICATION Extract from The Last Love of Edith Piaf 

When the spectacle at Olympia was in full swing and playing to a full house every evening, I found myself one afternoon at Boulevard Lannes in the company of Edith, Théo and Loulou Barrier. Michel Emer arrived. Michel was a well-known singer-songwriter, in Edith’s circle since before the war and already the composer of many of her songs. He seemed carried away with enthusiasm. He went straight to the piano and sat down, saying, ‘I have a song for you!’
He meant, ‘For Edith and Théo.’ He was already putting a sheet of paper on the music-stand. His fingers ran across the keyboard. He began to sing.
We listened to the whole song. It was absolutely perfect – at least in my opinion, even if I kept that to myself for the time being. Michel was right; the song told the truth about their life together. I could see that Théo and Edith were also excited. Loulou Barrier too.
Edith said straight away, ‘Stay at the piano, Michel. We’ll give it a whirl right now.’
Without further ado, they began to sing:-

A quoi ça sert l’amour?
On raconte toujours
Des histoires insensées
A quoi ça sert d’aimer?

What is the point of love?
We hear so much these days
Of mad and stupid ways
What is the point of love?

It was truly a wonderful song, which would soon be on everyone’s lips and on all our radios. The most extraordinary thing for me was to see its birth, in the emotion of an unexpected discovery. After a few attempts, Edith was so happy that she said, ‘We’ll put it into our repertoire.’
That was the beginning of a famous number that was to be repeated until the end of the season at Olympia. Edith would stop in the middle of her repertoire and wait for silence. Then she would turn sweetly to the wings and call, ‘Théo.’

Théo would reappear, moved, elegant, happy. He would come close to her and they would sing as a duo, ‘A quoi ca sert l’amour?’ Edith and Théo would be forced to give encore after encore. The fashion for duos was launched in Paris!

Copyright Archipel/ Christie Laume/ Jean Gill 2014

See Edith and Theo perform 'their' song

Thank you, Christie,  for being my guest and I hope you’ll come back to my blog for a virtual celebration when the book comes out later this year.


Théo Sarapo’s sister tells his story…

At the age of 26, Théophanis Lamboukas meets Edith Piaf, in January 1962. He is to become her second husband and the duo will perform her last big hit, ‘A quoi ça sert l’amour?’

When the star’s secretary, Claude Figus, introduces them to each other, Théo is so dazzled by ‘the Little Sparrow’ that he is speechless with emotion.  Smitten, Edith confides to Figus, ‘I want to see your friend again so I can find out whether he’s as smart as he is good-looking, because he hasn’t said a word all evening.’

They are driven to see each other again and Piaf encourages Théo to take up a career as a singer. She invents his stage name, Sarapo (‘I love you’ in Greek). They form a couple in life and on the stage, until Piaf’s death on the 10th October, 1963. Théo, her last love, joins her seven years later, victim of a car accident.

Their wonderful and tragic story is evoked here by Christie Laume; the singer’s last months as they’ve never been revealed before.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A taste of honey in Provence

Smoking the last of the bees out the old hive

First you buy a plot of land in Provence, complete with an old beehive. Then you go on a beekeeping course, where you meet people whose idea of fun is turning up at an emergency swarm alert. Like fishermen and hunters, they tell you horror stories to check whether your testosterone level is high enough to pass the test. So I've heard about the man who suddenly became allergic after twenty years - died. And the man who tried to speak after swallowing a bee - the swelling closed his respiratory channels. Died. And don't ever ever go in with the bees during a storm - they are 'mechant'. Despite all this, I have now enjoyed 4 days of hands-on beekeeping lessons. Gloved hands-on, as far as I'm concerned.

The same experts who swop these stories, handle bees without gloves and leave their face masks down, while we debutantes naively - and cheerfully - avoid getting stung. My beemaster - we'll call him OBee (because I feel like I'm being taught how to use the force) told me, 'No-one ever forgets the first time he (or she) goes in with the bees...'
bees, honey and brood on old frame

My first time was on a windy day, when an old hand said she wasn't touching the bees in that weather. It wasn't so much that my testosterone levels were up as that I didn't want another fortnight 'looking forward' to it. I had no idea how I would react mentally, although physically I'm not allergic (in theory - there are always the horror stories...) We were doing the spring check so I took my turn to lift up each frame in turn, check for the brood cells, honey and pollen. Later I would learn to distinguish between the cells; workers, drone and queen (sign of swarm preparation); young and old.

Advice I wish I'd been given before going in with the bees? Wipe your nose - it will run, the minute you're trapped in a bee jacket and mask. Tie your hair back. Your hair gets in your eyes, your glasses slip down your nose and prodding at your face through the mesh is likely to draw blood or squash a bee against your skin. The funniest thing I've seen is someone answering a mobile phone through a bee outfit.

The bees were in a filthy mood from the wind and when I was holding a frame, one stung me through my glove - welcome to beekeeping. I was too interested to be scared and if I focused on the activities round me rather than individual bees flying by my face, I could just ignore the angry dive-bombing and tapping at my mask. Until my instinct told me that a bee was inside my mask, not outside . 'Paranoia,' I thought. 'Fact,' my more sensible perception told me. 'Yikes,' I thought, as I focused on said bee hitching a ride on the inside of my face mask. I walked a long long way from the angry hives and luckily my pet bee was calmer than I felt and flew off when I took off the jacket and released her. Then I did a real 'Yikes' dance. And another one when I was given the advice on not opening your mouth when a bee can go into it. So that's what could have happened, I tried not to think.

Another piece of advice that came too late for one of my classmates was to check very carefully for unwanted company when you remove your protective clothing. It's a bit like climbers falling off a mountain on the way down; beekeepers get stung when they've finished working. Your guard is down, you're a long way from the hives and you don't notice the one bee sitting on your shoulder/head/glove. They're attracted by the lovely smells you've acquired while raiding their hive and they travel with you a long way. When OBee turned up at my house in his battered 2CV, I noted the one obligatory bee in the back of his car - like taking your dog out with you.

I came off lightly from that first session compared with the lively 9 year old who'd insisted on accompanying his father, didn't sit far enough way from the action and was stung several times on his bare head. Health and safety is different in Provence. Sheltering in a car after that, the little boy was sharp-eyed at spotting bees still clinging to clothes, but as he screamed 'Kill it!' every time he saw one, I feel that the lesson was counter-productive for his future as a conservationist.

Since then, I've made progress with my own bees and will give you all the gen on that, next blog post. I also bought the full spacesuit outfit, after my moment with interior bee. My face could be improved, but that is not how.

I love saying MY bees. Readers of 'How Blue is my Valley' will remember the old beehive on the hillside, here in Provence.Since I wrote about it, we scraped together enough cash to buy the orchard, complete with truffle oaks and bees, but lacking truffles (or we could never have afforded it)

Jean's old beehive in winter

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From Ch 15 'How Blue is my Valley' amazon No 1 bestseller on Provence

oversexed foreign bees

There are now dozens of bee orchids and I am disappointed with modern British sex education which tells you how to roll a condom onto a plastic penis, and nothing whatsoever about the birds, bees and flowers. This means that I don’t know if what I read is true, and whether Mediterranean bees will try to mate with bee orchids whereas British bees will not. You can imagine it, can’t you, the British bee bumbling along, zinging to itself as it checks out a sexy fake-bee-on-a-flower; ‘Sex toy huh? We Brits don’t do that sort of thing’ and onward it? he? she? flies. Whereas your Mediterranean bee now, high on sun and flowers, enjoys what’s on offer and doesn’t look too closely.  Do you have a better theory?

Despite frequent dog-walks among the bee orchids, we don’t see one amorous Mediterranean bee; instead we see approximately twenty thousand in their annual reproductive ritual. I scramble down from the woods, attached to a Pyrenean, and spot a shimmering black cloud hanging from a branch a dozen yards away. It is shaped like a rugby ball but bigger, about two feet, and it is not far from the old beehives. I know that at least two of these are active and I suddenly register what I am seeing. It is strange how you can suddenly perceive more detail once you have identified what it is that you are looking at and I now see individual bees around the edges of the dense community ball. Dogs in tow, we take no risks, but head off in the opposite direction. It is only later that I want to go back to investigate.

Although I explain to him that bees are at their most docile in a swarm, gorged on honey and contented in the company of their old queen, John disappoints me by refusing to dress up in the antique beekeeping outfit (still in the garage). I was hoping to get one of those photos, ‘Man with bee-beard’ but I suspect I would have been lucky to snap ‘Man running away very fast.’ By the time we go back without dogs and with camera, the swarm has moved on, so presumably the scouts returned and gave the all clear to move into the new home. In the old hive, the new-born virgin queens are fighting to the death until the sole survivor can get on with the job – breeding.

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