From 2011: The Year of All Things Wild and Woolly

Talking about sad episodes, it’s time to mention our polytunnel. Our earnings were a little healthier now that we were with Angling Lines, but there still wasn’t a lot of spare cash. Now, we’d been mulling over the idea of getting a greenhouse or polytunnel for several months. We ate a lot of tomatoes and lettuces but these didn’t thrive outdoors. Despite digging lots of poop from assorted animals into the area of ground we designated as the vegetable patch, the soil remained poor. The only things that did grow were courgettes and pumpkins, and you can definitely have too many of those. Hence, the desire to grow a wider variety of veggies. After a lot of pondering, we opted for a low budget polytunnel off eBay. Stop laughing and bear with me. It looked good in the advert, and was the right sort of size so we paid up and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t too long coming and we got it up in one afternoon. Given the number of bits of framework and the unhelpfulness of the instructions, that was surprisingly fast. We chose a south-facing spot behind the barn. It was in the female llamas’ field and they were delighted. They had a very interesting time watching us grapple with poles and plastic. Llamas are so wonderfully inquisitive. Once it was finished they seemed very pleased with the new addition to their field and inspected it every now and again. We’d have to make sure to keep it closed, or they’d be in like a shot.

We got to work constructing some workbenches from recycled building materials and quickly covered them with seedlings in yoghurt pots. My inner gardener blossomed. I spent many happy hours pottering around potting things up in there, and Chris likewise. It started to look very impressive and productive. We took the precaution of wiring the framework to two very heavy iron bars that had come with the farm. We had no idea what their original purpose might have been, but we knew they’d come in handy one day and so we left them where they were, on the grass beyond the hangar, and regularly tripped over them. However, all those stubbed toes were worth it as the bits of iron now came into their own.

They, the bits of wire and a few bits of bent framework were all that were left after the first slightly windy night we experienced after erecting the polytunnel. A few moderate gusts of wind and the whole thing fell apart. The plastic ripped and fluttered off around the farm, sending our seedlings flying, only to be consumed or trampled on by the llamas. What a disaster. All that hard work wasted. Evidently the polytunnel was intended for indoor use only. We sighed and collected up any salvageable pieces of debris, and they weren’t many, ignoring the llamas’ giggling.

We learnt our lesson from that act of cheapskateness and decided we would have to invest in a real, proper, heavy-duty polytunnel with thick plastic and a weighty metal framework. It would be worth dipping into our savings if it meant we bought something that would last longer than a couple of weeks and withstand a gentle breeze. And so our new polytunnel duly arrived. This was more like it. It came on two pallets and weighed a ton. Never mind several hours, it took several weeks to erect. The main supporting framework needed concreting in place, wooden doorways had to be constructed and it took the whole family to help with fitting the rest of the frame together and fitting the plastic over, stretching it carefully to fit and cutting off the excess. Leaving a central walkway, Chris built a raised bed to each side which, over a few days, we filled with barrowfuls of llama and chicken poop. The ten-metre long and four-metre wide polytunnel accommodated an awful lot of poop, I can tell you. We were delighted, and, although a bit late, set to on a second splurge of growing seedlings. We hung up a thermometer and marvelled at the tropical temperatures reached in the polytunnel. On a cloudy day when it was 20 degrees outside, the tunnel clocked up 35 degrees. And when it was hot and sunny outside around the 30 degree mark, the thermometer showed upwards of 45 degrees. Surely our lettuces and tomatoes would flourish now.

Word must have got round about our polytunnel because out of the blue, a young man turned up. He explained he was a neighbour, relatively speaking – he lived a good few kilometres away but there weren’t many other habitations between us and him so I guess that did make us neighbours – and that he’d just taken over Les Chapotiers and planned to make a living growing bio (organic) fruit and veg. We’d detected a hint of hippie. He had a polytunnel on order and asked if we’d come and help him erect it when he arrived. We replied that so long as he wouldn’t object to a good bit of swearing going on during the process, then no problem, count us in. We’d found from our few years of heavy labour in France that swearwords are as crucial an ingredient in constructing something as the physical constituents. Cussing concentrates the mind. We weren’t the first to think so. I remember from my childhood Dad going round to help our neighbour, who I knew as Uncle Will, with a car problem. “Damn, I won’t be able to swear so it’ll take ages,” Dad grumbled as he set off. Uncle Will was indeed a gentle soul. We’d often call round as kids and be treated to a biscuit in the kitchen. I only saw the living room once, and the walls were festooned with beautiful embroidered pictures. All Uncle Will’s work.

The young guy never turned up again.

Another #SampleSunday, another extract from my forthcoming ‘Total Immersion: Ten Years in France’. We’re in March 2009, and we get to meet our first home-born baby llama and Chris has a very close encounter with a fox.

We’d moved Gabby, the mother llama, into a stable so she’d be warm and cosy when delivery time came and we checked on her frequently. We coated the stable floor with hay, and counted the days. We were starting to give up. She seemed intent on exploding rather than giving birth, just to spite us.

This cria is actually Sir Winter, born Jan 27 2017. My photos of baby Lulin are on another computer. But he’s equally as cute as she was!

It was a fine, sunny morning during the kids’ winter holiday fortnight so we decided to go for a walk. We did one of our local strolls, the Chambon shuffle we call it (ch = sh in French, so it’s a nice alliterative name). Coming back along the green lane between fields, we spotted a fox in the hedgerow, but it didn’t run away. We peered close and saw that it had a metal snare around its stomach, getting tighter and tighter every time the animal moved. It was probably stupid of us, but we couldn’t leave it like that. Chris had gloves on and tried to free the fox but it bit him, not surprisingly really, and we were forced to abandon the rescue mission for the time being. When we got back, Chris went to put Germolene on his bite and then find thick gloves and wire cutters for a second attempt. I went to look in on Gabby. And there, in a hideous, spindly heap, was a llama cria. Gabby had chosen the darkest, dirtiest corner of the stable to deliver in, studiously avoiding the birth-friendly hay carpet we’d put down.  The baby was cold and grubby. Caiti and I got busy with towels drying the little female down while the boys went off to deal with the fox.

Both missions proved successful. Caiti and I soon transformed the baby into a clean, dry, fluffy cria. She was mainly white with some pretty brown splotches on her face and back. At the time Comet Lulin was visible, and we thought that Lulin was the perfect name for a little llama. Again with the alliteration. Benj and Chris came back, fortunately with no more bites, thanks to the thick gloves. But we still had the one bite to worry about. And worry a lot about, as France was then still officially a rabid country.

We hopped in the car to go to the doctor’s. We explained what had happened, and he asked us if we had the fox’s head. I stared at him blankly. No, he can’t have said that. I must have misunderstood something there. I asked him to repeat the question at a non-Francophone-friendly speed, and the same words came out. Chris and I shot other a ‘what the heck’ look. I warily replied that we didn’t have the head. We’d left it on the fox as it clearly had need of it. There didn’t seem a lot of point in freeing a fox from a snare only to immediately decapitate it, not the thought of doing so would ever have occurred to us.

The doctor sighed and told us, in a long-suffering tone, that if you get bitten by a fox, or any other possibly rabid animal, you’re meant to kill it and bring its head with you for testing. As with so many things in France, you’re meant to instinctively know this. Well, we didn’t, and we hadn’t got a vulpine head with us, so what next? The doctor quickly cheered up and said that Chris would need to go to Guéret hospital for rabies-neutralising shots. These would start at the rate of several a week, then one a week, then one a fortnight and so on at increasingly long intervals for at least the next six months. He might have said years, I was too shocked to listen properly. This really was a blow. We’d been expecting Chris would need a few injections, but not that many or for so long.

Lulin today

The doctor phoned the nearest Department of Information about Rabies and we watched as the smile dropped from his face. Our hearts were in our boots. He must have underestimated the treatment process. But it turned out that Boussac was a rabies-free zone. There hadn’t been any cases reported here for some officially sanctioned period of time, so we didn’t need the injections after all. The doctor was clearly very disappointed about this. I think he’d been quite looking forward to having a case of rabies to tell all his medical chums about. Or maybe, odd as this may sound, he liked seeing English people suffer. All that needed doing was to give Chris some antibiotics. Our anti-tetanus shots were up to date, so no more jabs were necessary. Talk about relief. The incident has, however, left Chris with an intense dislike of foxes. He also vowed he would never try and free another animal from a snare, a vow he steadfastly kept until Christmas when we came across our next case of a snared animal, a deer this time, which, of course, we set free.

Snaring  is legal in France, under certain conditions, and also trapping. Our local friendly farm supply shop, run by incredibly nice people, has a whole rack of gruesome looking devices for these very purposes and obviously they don’t give it a second thought. It’s still a way of life for some country dwellers. We haven’t come across any trapped animals for a long while now, it has to be said. However, I don’t suppose the practice has died out, just that whoever’s setting the snares is keeping them off our usual stamping grounds. The snarer has possibly worked out that the proximity of our farm to the cut-through snares they’d laid was more than coincidental. Because they were quite close to us, the only inhabitants in a sizeable chunk of very many square kilometres. Mine were the only local chickens, or in fact livestock of any kind, that a fox might have helped itself to, so I can’t see the need for anyone to have set a snare in that location. OK, deer eat crops which must be annoying if you’re a farmer, but this snare was on a bit of fencing (erected by the gas board) bordered by scrub land. Unnecessary and unpleasant.

Now that the first draft of Haircuts, Hens and Homicide is in the bag, I’ve been able to return to part Deux of my memoir of our lives in France, Total Immersion. To whet your appetites here’s an extract from the chapter ‘2012: The Year of the Pig’.

The Big Freeze of 2017 is going on as I write about the Even Bigger Freeze of 2012 so it’s helping to put me in the mood. It’s brought back precise memories of exactly how flipping cold it was.

The year started off harmlessly enough. Once New Year was over, the kids headed back to école primaire (Rors), lycée (Caiti) and fac (Benj) and Chris and I settled into our daily routine of this time of years of jobs around the farm, lake maintenance and our online businesses. However, Chris’s inner swineherd was proving hard to ignore. He’d been becoming more and more interested in getting pigs, and talking about them to such an extent that some returning angling clients of ours gave him a book about pig ownership. Perhaps that was the deciding factor, or maybe he just felt ready for a new challenge as by now, between us, we’d mastered llama and alpaca, goat, sheep and poultry ownership. It was time to conquer another animal species.

Chris did some research and found someone who did pig management courses in Poitou-Charentes, about four hours away. He booked himself in on the next available session and sorted out a night’s accommodation nearby as there was an early start to the day’s training. All he had to do now was wait.

January was ridiculously mild, to the extent that the daffs were coming up, the chickens were laying fit to bust and buds were starting to appear on many trees. What a lovely short winter we’ve had this time, we thought with a smile. But Mother Nature had the last laugh.

Chris set off on a sunny Sunday afternoon, waved off by me and the two youngest. Once he was gone we pottered around in the warmth, doing the farm chores and getting some fresh air before focussing on getting everything ready for school next day. For Rors this was just making sure there were clean clothes ready and waiting, but for Caiti it was the usual painful process of packing the suitcase for a week of boarding. We should have had it down to a fine art by now, and we had done with Benj, but somehow every week seemed like the first with our daughter. She always left packing till the very last minute, long after parental patience had been ground down. I’ve never been a late night person and since moving to France and taking up a much more physically exhausting lifestyle, then bed starts calling at nine o’clock, sometimes earlier. So things would tend to get fraught on a Sunday evening. But Caiti inevitably produced the proverbial rabbit from the hat and was all ready for the off, although she regularly resembled the proverbial slow snail and reduced me to a nervous wreck on Monday mornings. However, as it turned out miraculously we only ever missed the bus once.

This particular Monday morning was very chilly but with Chris away I had no alternative but to load a warmly wrapped sleepy Ruadhrí into the car to be taken for the ride when delivering Caiti to the bus stop in Clugnat. The road sparkled with frost and it was nippy. One low, hill-bottom stretch of the road was, as usual, particularly cold. We called it the ‘frost bucket’. This arose from a very young Caiti mishearing us using the expression ‘frost pocket’. Well, since ‘frost bucket’ is so much better we adopted that one as a family saying. The car showed a temperature of minus three or so. Brrr.

Meanwhile Chris was getting up to minus five, which came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately he’d taken plenty of warm clothes with him as a lot of the training was done outside and the day itself was sunny and bright. He had a wonderful time learning about the finer points of pigmanship with trainers David and Lorraine. They specialised in English old breed pigs and so Chris got to meet Gloucester Old Spots, Berkshires and Oxford Sandy and Blacks. He got to eat them at lunchtime too but not the ones he’d just met, obviously! The whole point of getting pigs was to become self-sufficient in pork. We weren’t going to be a pig sanctuary – we were going into this venture with hardened hearts and a love of sausages.  Chris was immediately struck with how much nicer the pork from these old breeds was than what we were used to eating from the supermarket.

Chris learned about fencing, handling and breeding pigs, and about all the relevant legislation. There was plenty of hands-on experience of rounding up and feeding. He was struck with how intelligent the pigs are. You can interact with a pig. Llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep – not so much. The action with them is one way, i.e. from the human, with the creature in question simply regarding you vacantly as The Mysterious Being That Dispenses Food. A pig, though, will come over for a chat. A pig will listen. A pig will scrutinise you and size you up with those shrewd eyes, rather than just gaze dumbly at you. A pig is altogether a different kind of animal from other farm livestock.

Temperatures began to plummet as the day wore on. I distributed extra hay to the animals and took a hat for Rors with me when I walked to Nouzerines to meet him from school. It was the walking-to-and-from school season in the winter, but the rest of the year we cycled him in and out. Despite living the furthest away, and Chris and I being the oldest set of parents by at least a decade, we were the only ones who were able to get to and from under our own environmentally-friendly steam rather than resorting to car or bus. As well as allowing us to feel morally superior to the rest of the world, it kept us all fit and we enjoyed the exercise as a family activity.

Chris got back quite late and reported freezing fog and icy roads all the way. It was by now a good few degrees below freezing, and it was going to be several weeks before it warmed up. The Big Freeze had begun.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. Admittedly we didn’t watch the Météo, weather forecast, regularly. We’d tried and failed to adapt to French television generally. With its love of short and frankly bizarre (‘quirky’ doesn’t come close) vignettes, and its overly-verbose chat and quiz show hosts, it just wasn’t for us. The culturally divide turns into a chasm when it comes to the TV. But we soon started watching it every night. And the news, where ice-bound scenes from around the country filled most of the half-hour slot. However, we were far more concerned with our own ice-boundness, which was dramatic and wholesale.

(The artwork for the cover of Total Immersion is by the incomparable Roger Fereday. The photo is of our own Berkshire pigs, Rosamunde and Oberon.)

The author describes this as a dozy mystery, rather than a cozy mystery, which right from the start gives you the idea that the book is likely to be quirky and fun. And it is. It’s a very enjoyable, well written and easy read.

Ron, our laid back hero, who only panics now and then such as when it looks like he’s been snugly stitched up as the perpetrator of the crime, leads us through the story. He’s determined to find out who did actually sink a machete into Old Pete’s head, and so he sets about the task, very unably assisted by Sam, his colleague at The Jolly Jester. He encounters various other shady but fascinating characters along the winding way. He discovers, as do we, that there’s a lot more going on in the village of Duckley than meets the eye.

Well worth a read, and many thanks to the author for keeping me thoroughly entertained.

Available from all the Amazons.

I came across this book via Twitter (so take heart, indie authors, it does pay to Tweet regularly about your books!) and I’m so pleased I did. As a keen cyclist I was immediately attracted by the inclusion of ‘peloton’ in the title. Actually, I liked all of the catchy title with its alliteration, rhythm and assonance. The cover is also not a run-of-the-mill romcom cover, with quirky artwork and fancy italics for the typeface. This one is fresh and clear,and also intriguing. Why when we have ‘two’ in the title do we only have ‘one’ in the image? The hint is that this is a resourceful, independent heroine, who’s bound to be interesting. I had to read this book.

‘Peloton of Two’ is a light-hearted romantic comedy set mainly in rural France. Catherine Pringle, a journalist, has the chance to write her own column whilst cycling around France with her explorer boyfriend Nick. The tour will further her career, she hopes, and also improve her slightly shaky relationship with Nick. However, the tour gets off to a shaky start and most definitely does not go as planned. But all isn’t lost for our empathetic, well-meaning heroine. Life has a way of throwing up surprises.

We get to see a lot of France and human nature on the way, and there are many entertaining characters to meet. It’s a super read, well written and thoroughly entertaining.

Available at all the Amazons for Kindle and as a paperback.

I was pretty certain I was going to like this book even before I started reading it. First up, it’s a Christmassy romcom that manages not to have ‘little’ in the title! The author could have jumped on the bandwagon with ‘Christmas at the Little Village Pub’ or similar, but thank goodness she doesn’t! ‘Little’ is currently one of the most overused words in book titles, or at least I think so. Instead we have ‘Christmas at the Dog & Duck’, and the novel is as unpretentious and down to earth as the pub’s name, although we get our magic sprinkling of festive happiness at the end which we and the protagonists all deserve.

As well as the title, the book cover is also distinctive. There’s a definite craze for Christmas romcom covers to be shades of blue with a snowy house in the centre. At the bottom of this review you’ll see four such covers that I found within a few minutes of searching! Christmas at the Dog and Dog bucks this trend. We have a striking, unique look for this book, and it’s equally as Christmassy as all those snow scenes.

The book turns out to be equally as impressive. The story is beautifully and intelligently written. I notice some reviewers have grumbled about this not being a very Christmassy book as a lot of the action takes place during the months preceding the festive season. The plot of this novel is such that this needs to be the case, and quite frankly it doesn’t disqualify it from being a seasonal story at all. We see characters and their relationships develop over time, and a chain of events unfold. The action culminates on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a superbly warm and cosy way. This is most definitely a Christmas romantic comedy.

Heroine Ellie is smart and sensible, and taking time after a redundancy to sort herself out. She’s returned to the village she grew up in to housesit for her absent parents and sets up a dog walking business to tide her over. She also works at the Dog and Duck, and the pub is central to the story. The main love interest comes in the form of Max, a local landowner. They first bump into each other in less than flattering circumstances, at least for Ellie, and we get our share of mishaps and misunderstandings that are crucial to the romantic comedy. There are some endearing animals in cameo roles, but we stay well clear of the mawkish cutesiness that’s all too rampant in this genre.

This a measured, classy and immensely enjoyable novel. Three cheers for Jill Steeples, and five stars for her book.

 

Here are those other covers I mentioned earlier:

nineladiesNine Ladies Dancing by Cat Lavoie is a complete delight!

It’s everything you want from a Christmas novella – a seasonal setting (the office party in this case), charming and quirky characters, a handful of mishaps but a happy ending. The bonus is that the writing is sparkling and witty. The author comes up with some wonderful words – adorkable and Quinn-tervention (they’ll make sense when you read the book!) – and gives us, I suspect, an insight into her own creative process when Casey, the heroine, who is a closet would-be novelist, talks about how her characters ‘take on a life of their own … and move on to another story’!

This is a little gem of a Christmas book and your twelve days of Christmas just won’t be complete if you don’t read it.

Available as an ebook from all the Amazons for 99 cents or as a Kindle Unlimited book to ‘borrow’.

I’m chuffed to welcome indie author Nicholas A. Rose to Books Are Cool for a friendly interrogation. Nicholas writes fantasy and is two-thirds of the way through his second trilogy. Markan Throne, Markan Empire and Markan Sword make up the first, and Gifted Apprentice is being followed by Gifted Hunter in the second. I discovered Nicholas through the very enjoyable Gifted Apprentice so that’s the starting point for my questions to him.

 

1. Tell us briefly about Gifted Avenger

This novella continues Sallis ti Ath’s story. Sallis is a bounty-hunter with a strong belief in justice. He is also blessed with the Gift, which means he can “see” where a criminal he’s pursuing has passed. But murder sets Sallis on a path of vengeance and he’s forced to challenge his beliefs concerning justice and the Gift.

 

2. Who’s your favorite character?

In the novellas – Sallis ti Ath.

 

nick photo3. Which character is most like you?

In the Markan Empire Trilogy, there is a sylph scout named Neptarik. People who know me and have read these books assure me that he displays a lot of my own character traits. Basking in sunshine and a weakness for chocolate, to give two examples.

 

4. What makes Gifted Avenger stand out from the crowd?

That it is part of a trilogy linked to all the other trilogies that are, or will be, written by me. In many ways, the Gifted Trilogy is a prequel to the Markan Empire Trilogy, but is also completely independent from it.

 

5. Why did you choose to write fantasy, or did it choose you?

Probably because I read so much fantasy as a youngster. I loved being able to escape this world, and wonder what if? I suppose writing fantasy is just a natural progression from that.

 

gifted apprentice6. How did you come up with the cover design?

Joleene Naylor does all my covers. I just give her the rough outline of what I’m looking for and leave the rest up to her. I said I wanted Sallis on Glyder riding through a forest, pretty much what I’ve got. I leave the detail up to Joleene and she often surprises me with what she comes out with.

 

7. What are you working on now? Will it be out soon?

When people contact me about characters, the two they mention most are Sallis ti Ath and the ship’s sylph Cloudy. The next trilogy covers the ship Flying Cloud in her early days, how Cloudy came to be the ship’s sylph and some of her early adventures. I’m halfway through the first draft of The Ship And Her Sylph and finished the plotting and set pieces for the second in the trilogy, The Ship and Her Dolphin.

Fingers crossed, I’m hoping to have these two out in 2014.

I’m also (slowly) working on the next Markan Trilogy, following on from where the first left off. There may also be more Gifted books, if more plots present themselves.

 

8. What are you reading at the moment?

Factual books. The Ship (Landstrom), Seamanship (Harland), and The Age of the Galley (many contributors, published by Conway’s).

All dry stuff, all bought for research, but also fascinating (to me).

 

9. Do you write every day? Is it hard to find the time?

Every day, though I sometimes miss the odd day here and there. It can be hard to find the time, but more a matter of self-discipline and sacrificing other things I perhaps ought to be doing. One must keep the creative thoughts flowing!

 

10. What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

Keep going, never give up. Learn from your mistakes. OK, that’s two.

 

11. What ereading device do you have? And why did you choose that one?

The ubiquitous Kindle. I bought that one because it was the only one available in the UK at the time. I also have an ipad.

 

12. Do you dress up or dress down to write? Or maybe you don’t dress at all?

I write in whatever I’m wearing at the time. Though I always am wearing something at the time. Jeans and t-shirt usually and often barefoot.

 

13. Where can we find your website? And other social media?

My website is at: http://www.ilvenworld.com/

My blog: http://ilvenworld.blogspot.com

On Twitter I’m Nicholas A. Rose

And I’m nickandyrose on Facebook

 

14. Anything else we need to know about you?

Happiest outdoors, where I’m free to think. Love mountains, the sea, good company and real ale.

 

15. Your favorite “knock knock” joke?

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Me.

Me who?

Seriously, me, I’m just telling a knock-knock joke!

 

For those of you who don’t know, i.e. anyone not based in the ever-extending and loosely defined Eurozone, Eurovision is a huge annual song contest for European nations plus a few friends to join in. It began in 1956 as a way of strengthening the ties between countries in Europe, which was still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War. It’s grown and grown since then and as far as I’m concerned is an unmissable spectacle of national pride, fun and lots of talent. As ever, I was watching last night and enjoying every minute.

Now, a lot of people love to rubbish the Eurovision Song Contest, saying it’s naff and amateurish, so that immediately suggested a link to me with indie authoring. Too many people, including a lot of mainstream publishers, are all too quick to denounce all self-publishing writers in the same condescending way. And when you start to look, there are a lot more similarities between this joyous, optimistic musical event and today’s enthusiastic indie authors.

ryannolanLast night, poor old Ireland came last. That was tough, and was felt strongly in our Anglo-Irish household. Ryan Dolan gave a brilliant performance – polished, professional, pleasing – but didn’t pick up the popular vote. That happens so often with indie authors. They do absolutely everything right and have a good product but can’t seem to find readers. Ireland had plenty of points in common with the winners, Denmark, namely a good looking singer, catchy music, a prominent role given to drummers and a well-choreographed stage show. Similarly, an indie author can produce a book that is every bit as good and worth reading as one by a best-selling paperback author but can’t get the recognition it deserves. However, Ireland will dust itself down and try again next year, and that’s what indies do. They don’t give up.

Some countries go for a safe approach in the Contest and jump on the current popular bandwagon. Germany’s song was very heavily inspired by last year’s winner by Sweden, ‘Euphoria’. A musical version of fanfic perhaps? In their case it didn’t win, but they didn’t do disastrously. For some writers, following the trend is enough. Think of all the erotica that’s appeared in the wake of 50 Shades. It may not be what the authors really wanted to write, but they knew it would probably sell, so they had a go. That makes commercial sense, if not artistic sense, some might argue. And by all means, be like Azerbaijan and Georgia and play safe; go for something a little predictable and non-ground breaking but still thoroughly commendable and enjoyable.

Other countries don’t want to fit in with the herd. They go for originality and dare to be different – extremely and dramatically different in Romania’s case yesterday! You don’t get many male contraltos in vampiric oufits. Cezar had incredible talent and an astounding vocal range, as well as showiness, and really shook things up. Fabulous. This is precisely what many indies do, and is why they’re indies in the first place. Their books will never fit in with a conservative ‘traditional’ publisher so they take the responsibility for launching themselves and their unconventional ideas. But they have to write is well worth reading and makes us think. Who wants to be stuck in a reading rut?

Greece gave an energetic performance that defied any categorisation. What else would you expect from a group of men, each dressed in what looked like a sports shirt and a pleated skirt (a traditional podea, I believe)? Many indies are like this. The appearance of their books may be a little unconventional and not very slick, but there’s a lot of heart and soul inside. These authors give you their all, and you can take it or leave it.

Which brings us full circle. Take it or leave it is the Eurovision Song Contest’s robust attitude. And that’s shared by indie authors. Love them or hate them, they don’t care, but at least give them a fair chance. Like the Song Contest, they’re here to stay. They make a valid contribution to culture with their genuineness and the fact that artists who might never make it in the mainstream of their art form get a chance to surprise, shock, baffle, delight, horrify and maybe gobsmack, but above all to shine.

 

giulia cover I always enjoy discovering writers from other countries and so was delighted to come across Italian novelist Giuila Beyman whose novel Words in the Dark, the first in the Nora Cooper mystery series, has recently been translated into English.

When Nora’s husband Joe, a soon-to-be-retired cop, is shot inexplicably during a bank raid when he’s not on duty, that is only the beginning of her troubles. She discovers that he’d sold the dream cottage they’d only recently bought to see out their twilight years on Martha’s Vineyard. She’ll have to move out in a few weeks’ time. Once she’s over the shock, she realises that there has to have been some sort of mistake. Joe could not possibly have done this to her. And with the help of some Scrabble letters she starts to work out what’s going on.

Nora isn’t the only one who’s dealing with what looks like betrayal. Her daughter Meg, now separated from her husband, has met a charming man but he’s not necessarily dating her for the right reasons.

This book is about seeing below the surface and uncovering the truth, however unlikely and unwelcome it may seem. Nora realises, like Hamlet, that there are more things in heaven and earth than we might realise.

Nora is a tenacious person, who doesn’t falter from confronting the difficult and disturbing truth. She makes new friends along the way and begins to fully value a lifelong one, Steve, who worked with Joe. Meg is also a strong character, stubborn and proud, but also very vulnerable. All the people we meet in the book are complex and believable. Many have dark or sad memories that they are trying to deal with. Occasionally these almost overwhelm them but, as we do, they keep doggedly on.

There are plenty of lighter moments in the story. Nora in particular can see the ridiculousness of her situation at times, and her love for Martha’s Vineyard and her friends and families never ceases to shine through.

The book has been newly proofread to deal with the errors in tenses that a reviewer on Amazon referred to so this is now a very polished and extremely enjoyable novel. It has an excellent cover and is very well presented.