29th May 2016

Suppose everyone has weeks like this.  The French strikes didn't help. Every time we needed to go out, would the petrol stations on our journey have any fuel at all?  And over on the referendum front, Harry Shindler - a WW2 British veteran - suffered another setback when his top-flight lawyers lost the final battle with the UK's Supreme Court of Appeal to allow British expats away for 15+ years to vote.  But no, it was none of these things. Him indoors slipped and fell in heavy rain, breaking his knee and spraining his ankle so severely the whole leg was hot, red and swollen. After several trips to the Urgences in Albi, he now has a plaster cast and must learn to use crutches for several weeks. Didn't help that, on return from hospital, one of our 'wonderful' neighbours left a phone message that our dogs, in the cool cellar, had been barking!  Good thing the annual visit by son Jon has helped to keep me sane. Amazing help. And me? I've learned the French for crutches (cannes anglaises!) and that the nurse wasn't injecting Him indoors against stones (cailloux) but against blood clots/phlebitis (caillots)!  You see how dangerous it is living with another language? Oh well, next week things can only get better.......

22nd May 2016

What is it with the French for strikes?  Takes me right back to the '70s in the UK. This last week there've been scenes of anarchists, incandescent with stoked-up rage, attacking and burning a police car.  And why? Seven French unions are opposed to the elected government's reforms to work laws. Whatever you might think about workers' rights to strike, it's never seemed fair to me that those who work for a large organisation with strong unions have a greater chance to protest against comparatively trivial things than those who work for themselves or for small, private firms. There seems no legislation to curb megalomaniac union leaders who look only for power and glory for themselves. So, as per usual, we the general public will suffer French national strikes this Thursday and 14 June.  Also this week, there was that terrible, tragic plane crash where passengers who boarded at CDG airport in Paris were probably blown to pieces mid-air, whilst the plane was sent spinning down into a watery grave. Now that's what normal, rational people should be protesting about. It's called getting a perspective on life. The French need to grow up.

Wednesday 18th May 2016

Next in my international writings’ blog is the lovely Emma Rose Millar, who writes about pirates and slavery in the historic West Indies.  Can you give us a taster of your book Five Guns Blazing, Emma?

 We were set down at New Providence Island, Bouspeut and I. He had washed himself in salt water and changed into his land attire; stockings and a shirt with puffed sleeves, decorated with a single gold pin. It was a strange sensation being on dry land again; my legs buckled and I could not stand upright for long without swaying. ‘Ah,

Beedham!’ laughed Bouspeut taking my elbow with his strong hands. ‘You were not cut out for a life at sea.’

He led me into the shady forest with the bracken cracking beneath our feet, into a shanty town where pirates lazed drunkenly smoking their pipes. I heard whispers and gasps.

‘It’s Bouspeut; he is here!’ I had no idea he was so infamous.

We carried between us a chest full of our ill-gotten gains; earthenware and cutlery, which was heavy and with which I struggled. In the end, Bouspeut, being of far superior strength, took my burden from me and carried it alone for the last quarter of a mile or so. At the market we opened our coffer and peddled our wares among the stallholders who purchased them cheaply. Such items yielded little profit if bought and sold through legal means; the colonists were forbidden to manufacture anything and any such goods had to be imported usually from England and Spain. Treasures were always turning up on the islands, nobody asked where from, they were weighed and paid for silently by men whose mouths had surely

been sewn up by the devil himself.

‘Did you know this was the place I first met Anne Bonny?’ he asked as he shopped for fabric in the makeshift market. Bouspeut kept his eye out for anything he could use; sheepskin, damask, taffeta. Purples and reds were a favourite for him but in particular he was after some calico for Rackham’s coat; he did so like that particular fabric, rougher than cotton, thicker than linen yet not as tough as canvas. He wove a path from stall to stall, past the food traders peddling their salt-fish and plantain and yam.

‘Is it for Rackham?’ asked one of the black-toothed traders. ‘You’d do better to go to the Jewish haberdasher; you know how superstitious he can be.’ Jack believed that the fruits of piracy were surely cursed; a strange type of logic when you considered that all that he purchased was bought with lifted gold!

‘You met Anne Bonny here?’ I asked incredulously. New Providence was a safe haven for pirates; indeed the governor even invited them so that a good stock of fighting men would be ready should Spanish ships attack. The sail-tent city of pirates, buccaneers and privateers sprang up around the banks of Bonefish Pond, sheltered by the forest which allowed for foraging and illegal wood cutting. The existence there would have been rustic to say the least for a woman of Anne Bonny’s birth and reputation; they slept only on raised decking covered with canvas to keep the out the mosquitos which hung silently over the wetlands, hunted water fowl and cast nets in wait for conch and crawfish. Life in the hideaways was notoriously dull; huge quantities of rum and tobacco and frequent visits to the Bahamian brothels were necessities to stave off the boredom which blighted the settlements.

(Five Guns Blazing – Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen)

Sounds so exciting, Emma. Can you give us something of the background to your story?
During the Golden Age of Piracy, New Providence was the capital of the British Bahamas The island was a natural harbour, close to the all major American and Caribbean 17th and 18th century trade routes. The shallow waters made it difficult for large warships to enter. Although the threat of army presence was always looming, local governors were accepting bribes not to prosecute pirates for their crimes. The island became a kind of pirate utopia, home to the likes of Edward Teach, (Blackbeard), Charles Vane and of course my own leading man, John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham. By 1716, over five hundred pirates were operating from the island. But all that was about to change.
In July 1718, Woodes Rogers was appointed governor. His plan was to offer a Royal Pardon to all pirates who would take up the offer immediately. Many did, and were recruited by Rogers as privateers with comissions to plunder and take the Spanish ships, or as pirate-hunters tasked with ridding the island of the pirates who terrorised its seas. Benjamin Hornigold who retired after a yearlong spree of villainy became one of his most faithful servants. In just a few days, the island was entirely pledged from the pirates.
Some pirates however chose to continue with their life of treachery, including John Rackham, Anne Bonny, who Rogers had flogged for adultery, and the notorious Charles Vane who burned a captured ship right in front of Rogers.
Over a three year period, the seas became red as pirates were killed in battle, caught, sentenced and hanged.
Today, New Providence is the most populous island in the Bahamas. It remains a popular holiday destination offering some of the world’s best scuba diving and snorkelling sites.

Thank you so much Emma!  I know that you’re published by Crooked Cat Publishers, but what does the cover of your new book like, and how can we buy it?

Five Guns Blazing is available now on Amazon

15th May 2016

Democracy. A wonderful thing. Yet it's only now we're seeing the risks. The possibility of someone like Donald Trump as US President, and potential war and global economic meltdown with a Brexit. It's the last few days to register to vote in the referendum and in a few weeks I'll be posting my vote, but as with everything it's not easy. Morally, academically, globally the obvious thing to do is to vote In. But economically I have 2 choices. Shall I vote, as I should, to maintain the status quo in Europe?  Seems clear, doesn't it?  Yesterday the Bank of England set out its Brexit assessment: a sharp fall in the £. However, nothing in life is clear. For personal reasons we have our French house on the market to move back to the UK, and looking at the euro:£ exchange rates at present (with money rates' uncertainty) and the likelihood of even parity with the £ after a Brexit, we'd get more pounds for our euro if everyone voted Out!! Some people use songs to register their opinion like Ukraine did in the Eurovision last night. But, like Topol in Fiddler on the Roof, I've always been a '..but on the other hand' kind of person. It's all too difficult. If I were a rich man, just think what I could do.....

Wednesday 11th May 2016

Welcome to the second of my new, international writers', blog series.  How fitting that today is 11th May, which is Yom Hazikiron - Israeli Remembrance Day.  Here's Israeli author Miriam Drori to tell us more about living in Israel, using and working with a difficult language, and how she's used these influences in her writing.

Advantages of Knowing Hebrew

Aeons ago, just before leaving the UK for my new life in Israel, I revisited my old school and spoke to my old headmistress.
“What are you going to do there?” she asked.
“I’ll start off by attending an ulpan to learn Hebrew,” I replied. Actually, I probably didn’t use the word ulpan.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought you Jews all knew Hebrew.”

No. I did learn some biblical Hebrew when I was much younger. I knew the letters of the alphabet and a few words, but I certainly couldn’t speak or understand modern Hebrew.
I spent six months at ulpan, but all my fellow students there spoke English, so I really only started to become fluent in the language when I began work and had to use it.
Knowing the language has been very important for integrating into Israeli society. Immigrants who don’t learn the language keep with others who know their language and can’t interact with those who don’t. I was lucky, of course, in coming when I was fairly young. Older new immigrants have a lot more difficulty with language acquisition.

Is that the only advantage to knowing Hebrew? No. There have been others. When abroad, we’ve come across tourists speaking Hebrew and got into conversation with them. But the main advantage of Hebrew when abroad is that most people don’t know it.

When we go abroad with a group, we find it a convenient way of discussing things, knowing the guide can’t listen in. There are always such secrets to discuss. The guides also do this. In India and Japan, for example, they can be sure their tourists won’t understand their private conversations. So we can do the same.

In Mexico City, the member of our group chosen to translate added his own opinions. “Monica claims that… but I think…” Monica must have known this was happening. The translations were longer than the original explanations and there was too much laughter when her version contained nothing to laugh about. But there wasn’t much she could do about that.

There are other benefits to speaking more than one language. It apparently keeps dementia at bay. This article says it also improves memory and specifically suggests people who speak another language are better able to put a face to a name. I wish that one worked for me!
And here’s another advantage. You know those strange signs caused by the use of automatic translations, like this one that says, “Correction instead of Fast Service” but should really say, “On-site Repair, Fast Service”? Well, they’re much funnier when you can work out how the errors came about.

Miriam Drori is the author of Neither Here Nor There,

a romance set mostly in her home town of Jerusalem and partly in London, the city in which she was born and brought up. In the story, Mark, a recent immigrant from London, meets Esty, who has just left the closed, haredi community in which she was raised. Both have to get used to a new way of life. Esty, in particular, finds she has much more to learn than she bargained for.
Neither Here Nor There is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes and elsewhere.
Miriam Drori can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Wattpad and on her website/blog.

8th May 2016

8th May. A special date in France, the signatures at Reims declaring the end of hostilities in Europe, 1945. Today in Gaillac a posthumous medal 'citoyen d'honneur' will be awarded to the family of a very brave lady, Renee Taillefer.  Born nearby in 1927, Renee joined the Resistance at 15, distributing secret information to letter boxes, sabotaging German trains and not hesitating to transport explosives, hidden under a kilo of plums in a bag dangling from her bicycle! She is also remembered here for her part in attacking Gaillac prison where 44 prisoners were held before being sent to Germany.  She was quite rightly awarded the Croix de Guerre at the age of 17  plus the Chevalier de la legion d'honneur in 1957. This year a ceremony was held at Gaillac's salles des spectacles, and to symbolise her homage there's a giant portrait of her on the balcony of Gaillac's hotel de ville. As the Gaillacoises gather today in the Place de la Republique, we all ask ourselves: would we have been as brave as young Renee?

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Bienvenue a tous!  Welcome to my new, occasional, international Wednesday blog, where I hope to feature authors writing about various countries. Today I'm delighted to welcome fellow-Crooked Cat author, Angela Wren. 

Stirred on by the release of my own latest work, VICHYSSOISE, about WWII, Angela reminisces about Her Grandfather’s car…

It was a sultry August afternoon at the archives.  The tedium level at ceiling height until an elderly lady walked in.
‘That’s my grandfather in his chauffeur’s uniform,’ she said shoving a faded photograph into my hands.  ‘He drove all the big stars to the film premiers in the thirties, you know.  Kay Francis, Myrna Loy and he even drove Gregory Peck once.’  I was lost in a sea of satin, silk and fur and expensive perfume as I pictured her grandfather driving through the most fashionable streets of London…photographers’ flash bulbs as he drew up at…
’Montgomery,’ she said shattering my daydream.  ‘He drove Field Marshall Montgomery during the war, when he was in London.’
I was sceptical.  ‘Surely not.  Montgomery would have had his own batman, wouldn’t he?’
‘General De Gaulle too,’ she continued with pride.  ‘And I was wondering if you could find the car and the proof for me.’  She smiled sweetly as though the task were as simple as popping out to the corner shop.
 With nothing other than the photo, the registration number (GU1909), a name (William James Norton), dates of birth, death and marriage, and an address in Colliers Wood, I had very little else to help me.
The DVLA website responded with ‘Not recognised’.  A second email prompted a bald : ‘Try sending the photo to a car magazine.’  So I did.  Christmas came and went without a response.  A cold February day and I decided I needed a different approach.
I spent the next month at the newspaper archive looking at articles about De Gaulle.  There were many covering his time, June 1940 –1944, in London.  But I couldn’t spot William Norton in the background of any of the pictures in the papers.
Then a phone discussion with Amy, his granddaughter, led me down a new path and a myriad of emails to all the car museums in GB.  The response?   ‘That registration is not in our collection.’  However, I was able to narrow the make to Trojan, Wolseley or Austin.  I phoned my client, but there was no reply.
It was April when an unexpected email turned up.  William Norton’s car was ‘a Wolseley E4 12/32 hp, probably a 4 cylinder saloon with a coach-built body and registered in London between March and May 1929,’ it said.  I read further and my euphoria dissipated.  ‘Sorry we can not help with the registered owner – vehicle registration would have been undertaken by the London dealer.’
I called Amy but again there was no reply.  So I was left to think out what to do next. More Internet searches and three weeks later I was in Teddington browsing through the archives of ‘Autocar’ – the oldest surviving car magazine in the country.  Four hours later I knew that William’s vehicle was coach built with a fabric interior, non-dazzle lights, electric horn and the latest in vibrationless suspension.  It retailed at the time for £315 and for an extra £12 10s you could have Triplex Glass and, the sole London dealer was Eustace Watkins, Chelsea.
Files at the National Archives confirmed that the registration was issued in July 1928 for use from August 1st that year.  A tube to the London Metropolitan Archives and the registers for the licensing and taxation of vehicles and...the register for the GU series was lost.
Home again and I phoned Amy, but her son picked up the call.  His mother had died the previous month, he explained.
‘All that about my great-grandfather,‘ he said.  ‘They're just stories you know.’
Perhaps they were, I thought as I looked at the photo of William James Norton for the millionth time.  But the journey’s been fascinating.

I was delighted when Angela's own novel was published by Crooked Cat. It's a novel featuring France, where I live, and so a subject dear to my heart.

Here's Angela, in her own words, telling us something about herself.

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.
 I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Can you give us a taster about your wonderful novel, Messandrierre?

Sacrificing his job in investigation following a shooting in Paris, Jacques ForĂȘt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a rural gendarme.  Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim? 
But, as the number of missing rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way.  Steely and determined Jacques won't give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.

I've already read and reviewed Messandrierre, so can tell all readers that it's a lovely, atmospheric read about rural France.  How can readers buy it Angela?
A mystery novel set in France, available in e-book format from :
Amazon : Amazon
Thanks Angela for being the first guest on my new Wednesday, international feature. Good luck with your writing!

1 May 2016

Bank holiday. Need a breather. Friday I launched my latest novel VICHYSSOISE, about the Vichy government during WWII.  Unlike the Nazis and Hitler, not much is known about the motives of Philippe Petain, the old French leader at that time. Why did he sign that infamous armistice with Hitler? As a writer it's important to me to write about that which I know, and clearly all this happened before I was born. So, soon after we moved to France in 2005 I set about delving into original, French historical texts for accuracy.  It soon became clear to me that Petain was no Hitler, simply the wrong man to be leading France back then. As French friends Gerard and Monique agreed with me yesterday, Petain was too old, too weak, in pain, so chose the 'easiest' option in a misguided attempt to salve the suffering of his people. Do you agree? Get your copy by clicking on the VICHYSSOISE image on the right. Looking forward to reading all your reviews on Amazon in due course.
Blog Extra. All those in the creative arts like to depict what's real to them. So, I've decided that this blog, as well as my usual Sunday slot, should develop an extra wing each Wednesday, covering the work of those who write about different countries. I'm kicking off next Wed with writer Angela Wren who wrote Messandrierre about France.