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.

paulyblueThis is a very lively memoir of the author’s younger years growing up with his three older brothers, his one older sister and his dad during the 1970s. Money is tight and times are hard but Paul not only survives but thrives, thanks to his eternal optimism and his ability to make the best of every situation. No new toys? Make up a game with smelly socks. Having to do the food shopping with his sister? Play bowling with tins of beans down the store’s aisles.

He inherits from his father a strong sense of right and wrong. It may not always tally exactly with everyone else’s but young Paul has strong principles and sticks to them. Whilst he does try to play by the rules, he decides that only God has the right to pass judgement. He therefore regularly wheels and deals with his Maker over “minor transgressions such as scrumping, thumping and the occasional fib” and firmly believes in a banana-filled heaven. This is just one example of how the irrepressible youngster navigates his way through his noisy, boisterous, deprived childhood.

Paul doesn’t dwell on the hardships in his life. They’re simply there and he has to carry on regardless. For example, when he and his brothers and sister suddenly find themselves in a children’s home, when their father temporarily can’t cope, there’s no upset, merely a quick adaptation to this new life. And when the children are returned home, then they all just pick up from where they left off with no questioning. It’s this pervasive inspiring, non-resentful attitude that makes this book such a gem.

Nostalgia publishing is currently hugely popular. (For example, there are lots of biographies of erstwhile stars about to hit the bookshops for this Christmas, and Ladybird books and Enid Blyton have been revamped for a new audience.) Books like Playing Out show why this is the case. When done well, as here, this genre evokes a past era that those who’ve lived through can recognise and enjoy reliving, and those who haven’t can get a real sense of what it was like to be there. It would do the Millennials and later generations good to read this book and see that you really can be happy with no phone, hardly any telly and a handful of simple toys and some oranges and chocolate biscuits in your Christmas stocking!

This is a truly enjoyable book written with a sharp eye for detail, lots of humour and an infectious happy-go-lucky zest for life. An absolute must-read.

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This book is an absolute delight from start to finish. But don’t read it – at least, not in a public place. It’ll have you smiling to yourself at the author’s light, lively smile, chuckling quietly at the faux pas, which are a normal part of expat life, that she shares with us and occasionally laughing out loud at the sudden ridiculousness of a crazy situation she finds herself in. And there’ll be the odd gasp of horror at the hair-tearingly-out stubbornness of French bureaucracy, and once or twice of admiration at our narrator’s partying stamina. People sitting in the airport terminal or doctor’s surgery around you shoot you looks of alarm and sidle quickly away from this clearly insane person giggling to themself!
Vicky Lesage shares the adventures of her early years in Paris, warts and all – and that’s what’s so wonderful. ‘Confessions’ is absolutely the right word to go in the title. The author doesn’t spare the French and she doesn’t spare herself. However, she only has a dig at French people when they deserve it, and is quick to admire all their good qualities, of which there are plenty. She’s less forgiving of herself, calling herself a ‘nerd’ now and again and worrying about her language skills. What she forgets to tell us is that Resourceful is her second name. There seems to be nothing she can’t cope with, and she tackles Paris head on – and wins!
We join Vicky as she finds friends, frustrations, places to live, fun, work, more frustrations and, on the way, the love of her life.
I honestly can’t think of anyone who won’t enjoy this book. If you’ve ever thought of going to France either to visit or to live, or even if you haven’t, you’ll get a sharp insight into what it’s like in this country. From the shopkeepers, who regard you as ‘Satan’s spawn’ because you want to pay with a €50 note, or, worse still, a credit card, to the fonctionnaires who always seem to withhold crucial information and thus complicate your life a million times more than it needs to be, to the bewildering number of public holidays, and finally to getting married there. Fabulous!
And as well as being a thoroughly brilliant book to read, it’s a showcase of good self-publishing practice. Here I put on my professional editor’s hat. We have the following:
• a classy, sassy cover
• an extremely well-written and well-presented text
• short, punchy chapters
• acknowledgements and table of contents at the end of the book: I wanted to dance when I saw that! Why? Well, these items take up valuable space in the free sample 10% or so that interested readers download when they’re considering buying an ebook. Given that an ebook opens at the last point you read to, you don’t need a contents list to find your page, so push that to the back. It’s there, but it’s not intruding, as are the acknowledgements. I’ve always advocated this approach but there’s been resistance. We’re too used to having these elements up front. Please, follow Vicky Lesage’s example!
• a chatty ‘about the author’ section, inviting us to review the book in exchange for a bonus story not in the book and to get in touch.

We have not only authoring, but indie authoring at its very, very best in this little gem of a book. It’s a self-publishing party in itself!

parispartygirl vickiAnd to finish, here’s a short extract from the first chapter.

 

Sister Mary Keyholder

I would like to say that when I first stepped off the plane and embarked on my new life in France, something memorable happened. Or something funny or amazing or romantic or at least worth writing about. Truth is, I don’t remember. I take that to be a good thing. Considering all the mishaps I’ve had since moving here, “uneventful” nearly equals “good” in my book.

Looking back all these years later, I see myself as a hopeful, naive girl full of energy stepping off that plane. Tired of running into my ex-boyfriend seemingly everywhere around my midwestern American hometown, and having been unceremoniously freed from my IT job, this fearless 25-year-old was ready for a change.
I had dipped my toes in the proverbial European pond over the course of several college backpacking trips and now wanted to experience living there. To wake up to the smell of fresh croissants, to drink copious amounts of wine straight from the source, and maybe meet a tall, dark and handsome Frenchman. Who was, of course, not a wienie.
Oh, to be back in the shoes (or flip-flops, as it were) of that intrepid girl, arriving in a new land, successfully commandeering the Métro and her luggage, triumphantly arriving on the doorstep of her destination.
The smooth sailing didn’t last long.
I had sublet an apartment for the summer from an unseen Irish girl, Colleen, using Craigslist. The photos showed a charming, yet tiny, apartment that I already pictured myself living in. You’d think this was where the story starts to go wrong, but the girl and the apartment did exist! Making it probably the last apartment to be legitimately rented online before scammers cornered the market.
For me, the issue was getting in to the apartment.
First I had to get the key. Colleen had agreed to leave it next door at the convent (Me? Living next to a convent? This’ll be good.) The Catholic schoolgirl in me had an overly romanticized notion of how a Parisian convent would look. I was expecting some sort of Gothic cathedral with nunny looking nuns. So I must have walked past the modern, imposing structure about twenty times, sure I’d been conned, before I noticed the sign. Ahem.
I retrieved the key using a combination of my shaky French and the logic that, c’mon ladies, how would anyone else have found out about this bizarre scenario and come knocking on your door?
“Bonjour, je m’appelle Vicki. Comment allez-vous?” I asked the group of navy-blue-clad, pious-looking women gathered inside the doorway.
The elderly (aren’t they all?) nun closest to me cautiously replied, “Pas mal. Et vous?”
Ack! What did she say? I was so busy forming my question I didn’t plan for her response! Just keep going, you can do it. “Je cherche une clef.” I’m looking for a key.
“Une clef?”
“Oui, une clef.” Now I know that’s not much to go on, but let’s be real. Do lost girls often come to their door? Hrm. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s how girls become nuns? Better speed this up before I get stuck in the nunnery, never to be seen again. “Colleen leave key? It’s for me.”
“Oh yes, a key! For an American girl. That must be you.” Was it that obvious? Was it my blonde hair? Wide, toothy smile? No, it was probably my command (or lack thereof) of the French language.
“You’re friends with Colleen?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that since we weren’t really friends, but then again I wasn’t even sure that was the question. My French wasn’t up to the task of explaining how I knew Colleen, and for sure if I said we weren’t friends, Sister Mary Keyholder would never hand over the precious key.
“Yes,” I said with a smile, then promptly got the heck out of there.
Key and two heavy suitcases in hand, I headed to my new apartment building. The number on the front, 20, was written in the ornate curlicue script that most French buildings employ. The large windows of each apartment were fronted by black wrought-iron rails, providing the perfect vantage point from which to observe the goings-on of the street below. I eagerly punched the five-digit code into the digicode reader to the right of the door and was in.
Next issue: finding the actual apartment. You’d think this would be easy since Colleen had said it was on the third floor. Silly me, that seemed like enough information until I scoped out the situation.
Problem 1: Once inside the front door, I saw two buildings – one that faced the sidewalk (in which I was currently standing) and one past a quiet courtyard containing a few trees and a large, overflowing trash barrel. Which building was it?

 

Follow the rest of Vicky’s tour.

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Today, my first ever cover reveal on Books Are Cool. And I’m starting with a real bang. Here’s a fantastic cover for a book that you must read when it’s published. It’s honest, gritty, funny, startling, moving… but I’m jumping the gun. For now we focus on the cover.

 

paulygreen

I talked to Paul about his cover.

OK, so why this cover for Paulyanna: International Rent-boy?

I chose this cover firstly because out of all my attempts it really was my personal favourite. I simply liked the colours. It was also created organically and without much outside influence, meaning I didn’t blatantly copy any other book.

I allowed the layout, colour scheme and font to develop as I went along. Trial and error and this was made up of many errors. A bit like myself and therefore a very apt choice.

 

What does the cover tell us about your book?

I am not glossy or over produced, I’m simple,perhaps a touch plain, therefore so is my story. I think it truthfully reflects the content.

Symbolically I am one among many and ALMOST like every other rent-boy, only red.

 

What were you trying to achieve with this cover? 

I wanted to grab attention, draw the eye to my book. I think it is also more special if the author creates their own cover – it inserts an additional personal touch, a nice completion to the whole creative process.  I am no designer and these things are taste preference anyway. I am aware that some people simply don’t like green.

 

Was is it easy to design?

To design, yes to lay-out and implement my ideas, no. But that turned out to be a good thing. As I said this cover developed more out of the things I couldn’t do, Mistakes I thought looked OK and then played around with.

I used a basic drawing program that was very limited, sometimes insufficient. I searched online and used another program when mine fell short.

 

How many other cover designs did you discard on the way?

Nine, I got right into the designing process and could have continued on and on. My first was terrible and I got a bit better along the way. The only image I kept throughout was the royalty free clip art of the lone figure.

I’m not even entirely sure if I did get better. I enthused about all of my covers. But seemed to like the latest one more than the previous. I get bored easily so perhaps it was the new and the different I liked.

 

Did you ask for other people’s opinions and was that helpful – or confusing?

I did ask for opinions which was VERY confusing. Online you don’t know if the person you’re asking is colour blind, abstract minded or a top notch graphic designer.

Working for two hours on a design to get the response “I don’t like green” is not helpful, especially when another comes back saying, “Oh green, how lovely”.

I found it better to create a straight-forward photo poll with my shortlist. A poll with the simple option to click your favourite leaving no room for discussion.

 

Having been through the process, what tips can you pass on about designing a cover?

Scroll a book site, see what sticks out or appeals to you and start from there. Chances are your product with morph into one of your own making and not particularly like anything you initially spied. Keep it simple whenever possible and try to consider the content at all times, it is amazing how quickly you can get carried away.

 

pauly photoFinally, tell us about Paulyanna: International Rent-boy in 100 words.

A quick decision that steered me down a rather dodgy path.

Without added glamour and grit this is the tale of a 1990s British rent-boy. Risk and danger mixes with fun and thrills in my twelve-year career as a male prostitute.

A precarious existence on the streets of London and Los Angeles boulevards.

May not have been pretty but I had the audacity to succeed. This is not an erotic tale, more an intimate portrayal of day-to-day life as viewed from my quirky perspective. What goes on behind a glassy-eyed smile.

A road-book adventure in search of happiness.

 

Thanks Paul!