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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

amazon com link

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.

amazon uk link 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What do you write about anyway?

Fellow writer Joan Fallon asked me to write about ... how I write. I checked out her blog and found a really interesting interview with a writer I thought I knew, J.G.Harlond. I say 'thought I knew' because the interview revealed aspects of Jane and her work that are new to me. So these are some of the blog posts that will have to wait, while I keep my promise to Joan Fallon; I'm not (yet) blogging about

- my new adopted dog, Sherlock, a 'lost' hunting dog who spent 8 months in a shelter. My plumber (a passionate 'chasseur' himself) agreed with me that odds-on Sherlock is crap at hunting and was dumped in August as a clean-out before the new hunting season. In honour of Lou, we adopted a dog no-one else would want (according to the shelter workers).

- or my beekeeping course. Some readers of 'How Blue is my Valley' have been asking me what's new here in Dieulefit, since I wrote the autobiography about our first year living in France. Answer; we did manage to buy the orchard complete with an occupied bee-hive. I've now had three all-day hands-on lessons in beekeeping so I can look after them. I wish someone had told me that the moment you put on a beekeeping suit your nose runs, your hair falls in your eyes, and if you focus on the bees all round you to find one inside your mesh visor, you have to hope that she is calmer than you are. (And of course it is 'she' because all the workers are female). I got away with it that time but went right out and bought the full astronaut suit.

Antique Provencal beekeeping veils

For those readers who want to know more about my life in Dieulefit, the May issue of the magazine Living France printed an amazing 5 page feature, using my photos. It is always a little scary to read about yourself and learn something new (like 'what not to say in interview'!) but the journalist, Stephanie Sheldrake, was very kind to me and I didn't once think of Rita Skeeter...

This is the start...

Among the questions not asked in Living France are the three Joan wanted me to answer, so here goes.

What am I working on?
I've paused in writing the third 'Troubadours' novel (after 20,000 words, which is about a fifth of one of my medieval novels) because I was asked by Jean-Daniel Belfond of Archipel Press to translate 'The Last Love of Edith Piaf' by Christie Laume, from French to English. If something exciting comes my way, I say 'Yes!' and this is the true story of the relationship between a star at the height of her fame and a talented, beautiful man twenty years her junior, told by his sister. Forget the stereotypes about toyboys. I will certainly be saying more about this book on my blog!

The Last Love of Edith Piaf
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I won't bore you with mentioning each of my works! If I just take my medieval novels, they are drawn from research in the original French and Occitan, as well as English, so I think the European historical background is unusual and, I hope, accurate, although I also hope it's the story that hooks readers.

How does your writing process work?
I'm a morning writer and a 3am thinker. I write for two or three hours at a stretch, using a laptop, and often outdoors. I always stop at a point where I know what comes next and - touch wood - never get writer's block. I do 'play' my novel in my head at 3am when I can't sleep and I watch what the characters are doing, hear what they're saying, sometimes from future scenes, sometimes revisiting ones already written that have something wrong or missing. I sometimes think that writing is a form of licensed schizophrenia. 'I hear voices'.

Translating, which I enjoy very much, is very different from writing and I can pick up the thread and translate for half an hour at any time of day.

Three blogs you'd recommend?

Check out 

the entertaining blog of a writer with an interesting background

Paul Trembling

I began making up stories before I could write, and that became a habit that I never got out of.  Over the years I’ve gained weight, lost hair, been a seaman, a stores man, a petrol pump attendant, a janitor, a missionary, and an Admin. Assistant.  Now I’m a CSI, a husband, a father, and a dog owner  - but I am still, and always have been, a story teller!

a funny blog by a writer of zany comic fantasy

M.T. McGuire

humorous fantasy author. The books are quite funny too. MTM is 44 years old but still checks inside unfamiliar wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia. None yet. Boring huh?

and then someone who represents all those writers who blog about what they love, for readers who share that love; bloggers who write so well, whether they see themselves as writers or not. Sometimes we 'writers' are in danger of writing only about writing... instead of writing about bees, dogs, French singers or... Yorkshire, with beautiful photographs taken by blogger

Paula Connelly in Nothing but Footprints

The aim of my blog is to share all the things I enjoy as I walk round the British countryside, including scenery, photography, history and nature. This includes reviews of gear bought by myself and my husband, and places we visit, along with different articles on all kinds of walking related topics. As the old saying goes, I'll take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Game of Thrones - Richard III and the princes in the Tower

Today being the Ides of March - the 15th - (in UK time), it seems fitting to have a Guest Post about one of the oldest, most famous, most vile (alleged) murders in English history.

Guest post from Moonyeen Blakey, author of 'The Assassin's Wife', medieval fiction with a supernatural twist. The story of Nan, a servant girl gifted with second sight, draws the reader into one of history's most famous unsolved crimes through Nan's relationships with those in the household of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III

Love him? Hate him? Richard III still inspires extreme reactions and the controversy over where his final resting place should be rages on. Moon joins me on my blog to give her insights, based on years of research, into the dark crime which labelled Richard a villain, helped along by Shakespeare's 'propaganda'.


Dirty, Devilish Deeds in the Tower

Last year's discovery of Richard III's bones under a carpark in Leicester, raised more than new interest in the history of this much maligned king. It stirred the spectres of two, lost, little, noble boys said to haunt the Garden Tower. Who were these waifs in black velvet, doomed to cling hand-clasped and forlorn, confronting us perpetually with their abject misery?  Who could have abandoned them to such a fate?

Those primary school-children who studied history during the 1960s might have had some inkling. According to a 'potted' Children's History Book Series published by Unstead and used throughout schools for 7-11 years in England, these small boys belonged to the Royal House of York. They were in fact the sons of Edward IV, the dashing Yorkist king who took the crown from poor, mad Henry VI of the Royal House of Lancaster. Again, according to Unstead, whole swathes of history could be reduced to just a few relevant sentences summing up the entire later 15th century history of England to something like: 'The rival barons fought for the crown and the strongest set himself up as king.' (Sorry, girls, only manipulative, scheming princesses/noblewomen stood any chance of influencing the menfolk - and then probably by using the usual methods!)

It seemed the peasant population drifted along in some thick miasma of ignorance merely 'obeying orders' and benefiting nothing from the various changes on either side. Kings came and went, princesses were bought and sold, nobles swapped sides and embraced underhand deals, and Richard Neville, the wily Earl of Warwick, manoeuvred all the pieces, like a giant puppet-master, in this fascinating Game of Thrones.

Richard III's bones provided historians with a wealth of exciting information. First he suffered from scoliosis--a painful disease of the spine. Here was meat and drink for all who'd believed the tales of the wicked, hunch-backed uncle who'd crept up the Tower steps to murder the innocent children in the dark! My not-so-scholarly school book displayed just this picture - the twisted monarch leering villainously as he trod his solitary way towards the slumbering lads to snuff out their lives!

Of course the Richard III Society, championed by the passionate Phillipa Langley, refused to accept Richard's infamy. Presenting the public with a charming, romantic reconstruction of the king's head, they quickly won huge support. I suspect many who saw the Unstead History Book refused to believe such a man could have smothered his nephews single-handed. Certainly I was never convinced.

But those two boys - Edward, Prince of Wales, eldest son to Edward IV, and young Richard, Duke of York, his brother, disappeared mysteriously in1486. So what became of them?

The struggle for power is never pretty. Whilst 15th Century England's noble cousins battled for the throne, desperate to provide the country with the strongest ruler, to maintain England's powerful position in Europe, and ensure the longevity of the ruling family, various wicked deeds were performed 'for the best'. Doubtless the princes' murder was such a one.

Henry VI's reign demonstrated the disaster of having a minor on the throne. No one wanted a similiar situation. A united family created strength and security. Noble girls proved useful assets in cementing firm alliances. Eventually everyone might be expected to accept what seemed most expedient for such dangerous times. In this case, to exclude the young princes and plump for loyalty, strength and experience. The logical choice had to be Richard III.

Is it possible that people should desert the princes' cause so quickly? No doubt the commons recalled Edward IV --that handsome, courageous, warrior-king who'd sired them, with admiration and nostalgia. But the people were sick and tired of war. His memory faded into a kind of Mills and Boon Romance--a gorgeous image which had been beautifully created and accentuated by the rumours of his secret marriages and dangerous liaisons. But who wanted to begin on another era of warfare and intrigue? Edward's wife, the fabled beauty Elizabeth Wydeville, was never popular. She had proved greedy and ambitious, promoting her own family beyond the old nobility. People feared she would take the real power behind the throne once her son was crowned. Perhaps it was time to make some drastic changes?

People will see what they want to see. Avoiding close examination of the facts allows one to create a kind of vague, rosy glow over the past. Perhaps it was time to let the princes go...? Perhaps the trail of secrets concerning their disappearance should not be unravelled after all? 

Of course many people stood to profit by their removal. Historians argue still as to who might have plotted and schemed for their demise. The first name which springs to mind is probably Henry Tudor, product of Margaret Beaufort's cold, religious fanaticism, the boy on whom she lavished all her` attention, Determined he should be king, Margaret, clever as a snake, wound her coils about all those noble persons who might aid her to fulfill this ambition--an ambition she believed to be a part of his destiny.

And what about Harry Buckingham? Disgruntled member of the old nobility,forced into an arranged marriage with a dreaded Wydeville princess, old friend of Richard III, why did he suddenly turn rebel?

There are so many possibilities when it comes to choosing villains!

But perhaps it was just sheer exhaustion which made the people of England turn their backs on the princes? We all love a change. The new order beckoned. If only the country could forget about fighting and get back on its feet again... A change is as good as a rest?

Sadly, for the boys in the Tower, they were soon forgotten - but not quite. Throughout the turbulent years that followed still people sought for answers. Finding bones under an old staircase sparked yet more curiosity... But DNA testing was still necessary to identify these bones.

Now, with all this knowledge at their fingertips, and the bones of King Richard III in their capable hands, all the scientists need is the Queen's permssion to re-examine those mysterious finds. Why then, is she so reluctant to allow this???!     

Buy 'The Assssin's Wife' on 

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My review

A gripping new take on the princes in the tower

Impeccable research and really takes you into the period

The central, fictional character, Nan, is our narrator, and a very likeable young girl. Gifted - or cursed - with second sight, she is caught up in the conflict between York and Lancaster, kings and their womenfolk, as a servant in various important households. I was impressed by the way Blakey ensured that Nan moved to wherever the story was best served, while making Nan's motives for such a move seem entirely believable. I knew little about this period of history apart from the controversy over the princes' fate but I was completely drawn into the 15th century world and its people, real and imagined. Empathy with Nan made me desperate to prevent the scene recurring in her nightmares and there was plenty of suspense to keep those pages turning. It was even possible to understand Nan's love and compassion for the assassin of the title, so well were the tragic dilemmas of the period conveyed.

Maybe there is a little too much ominous melodrama and obscure prophesy for my taste but this is just the sort of book to read curled up by the fire, on a winter's evening, shivering as the ghost blows out a candle, or the nightmare raven promises blood.