Today I’m very excited and honoured to be invited on that great blog for readers and writers, The Story Reading Ape. Chris Graham is Chief Ape, and here’s how he describes himself:
“My literature Hero is Terry Pratchett who, in one of his Science of Discworld books, postulated that Homo Sapiens Sapiens survived all the pitfalls that made other Homo Sapiens species become extinct, by being story telling apes.
If this is the case, then in order to be effective, for every story telling ape there had to be a story listening ape.
I am descended from them, except I read stories instead of listening to them; and authors are the tellers of the stories I read.
I don’t so much read books as devour them, (sometimes re-devouring them several times), so I’ve set myself a long term task, to list all the books I’ve ever read on Goodreads – trouble is I’ve got the memory of a sieve and I must have read thousands of them!”
Apart from his interviews with authors and links to free e-books, there’s so much more on Chris’s site, including dozens of posts about writing. I’d like to re-blog his article, but as followers of my blog will know only too well, I’m a non-techie, or a ‘TechnoKlutz’, in the words of blogger Loretta Livingstone. So as I can’t figure out how to re-blog the piece, here’s the introductory paragraph, plus a link to the full article.
Merci beaucoup Chris!
Meet Guest Author, Laurette Long…
Hello readers, I’m Laurette Long, author of The French Summer Novels and I’m writing this sitting in a garden full of rosemary and lavender, admiring the sun slipping behind the hilltop village across the valley and waiting for the nightingale to tune up. Before it gets dark I might stroll down the field to pick a handful of figs–making sure to stamp loudly to warn any sleeping snakes. Where am I? Sometimes I have to pinch myself. They say Life’s a journey. How did that journey take me from a council house in west Yorkshire to a hamlet in south-west France?
Writers are notorious for coming up with extremely good reasons to procrastinate*.
“The novella just had to be finished soon, or she would go mad. But events seemed to conspire against her. She had lost an entire day last week when a giant lizard ran amok in the study…”
“Finally she fell into bed exhausted after a long day in front of the computer. The words just didn’t seem to flow. If only she could get a good night’s sleep! Eight hours later she was back at her desk, hollow-eyed, having spent the entire night trying to escape from a dive-bombing bat which had somehow got into the bedroom.”
As a long, hot August draws to an end, another chapter comes to a close in the Tarn version of E. M. Delafield’s ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’.
Guests have come and gone.
Concerts have been attended, classical and jazz.
The lavender has been cut back and peach jam has been made. Life has been good.
And that novella, the one that should have been out in June? Something about desire, and passages? So sweet of you to ask. Currently it is undergoing a full body lift after numerous nips and tucks. Yes, obviously it should now be up on Amazon with its beautiful new cover (more of that later).
But you know how it is, progress has been interrupted by the ‘inequalities of Fate’ as E. M. Delafield calls them in her wonderful book about life in a 1930s Devonshire village.
This gently satirical, extremely funny, book recounts the everyday tribulations involved in running a middle class household, serving on the Women’s Institute, dealing with snobbish aristocrats, trying to get rid of The Vicar’s Wife, struggling to grow a pot of hyacinths and finding time to get on with her writing.
Here is E. M. trying to concentrate on her latest literary project:
“June 3rd.–Astounding and enchanting change in the weather, which becomes warm. I carry chair, writing-materials, rug and cushion into the garden, but am called in to have a look at the Pantry Sink, please, as it seems to have blocked itself up.”
Ah, the famous Pantry Sink syndrome. It manifested itself here last week in different forms on two separate occasions. I had just been re-writing (again) a particularly tricky scene in ‘The Passage of Desire’ when I became conscious of an eerie, scrabbling sound in the region of the bookcase. Suddenly a long scaly creature shot across the study, underneath my desk (narrowly missing bare feet) and vanished behind a cupboard.
‘Help!’ I shrieked.
This was obviously a job for the Maître de Maison (MDM). We operate on a clear division of labour principle. He deals with spiders, crickets and other animal invaders, I make the lavender sachets. This particular animal invader was a lizard. A big, bold Jurassic lizard. Not content with its beautiful home in the patio (why?) it had evidently decided on a move.
One hour later all the furniture had been pulled away from the walls, the rugs had been removed and the bookshelves scoured. No lizard.
“Are you sure you saw one?’
Now, as any relationship counsellor will tell you, that is not a helpful question at times of stress. A terse Franco-Britannique exchange ensued, ending with the unsatisfying (to me) verdict:
“Well it must have got out again.’
The MDM began to put away his lizard-tackling equipment viz: two tea towels (best quality linen), the dustpan, and a high-beam Maglite. Suddenly (again) there was a scuttling noise overhead and we both shrieked as the wily reptile made a flying leap across our heads and out of the window.
Obviously I was too unnerved to do any more work that day, being forced to lie down on a sunbed with my copy of ‘Wuthering Heights’ (which actually figures in ‘The Passage of Desire’, so you could say I was doing research). Here’s the scene in which Mr Lockwood, forced to spend a night at the isolated snowbound house high on the moors, is woken by a noise at the window. He concludes it is ‘the branch of a fir-tree that touched my lattice, as the blast wailed by’, but finally, unable to sleep, he opens the window to ‘seize the importune branch’ but finds instead… ‘my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand!’
A couple of nights later that riveting scene conjured up by Emily’s wondrous pen was still playing in my mind as I drifted off to sleep.
Tap tap! Tap tap!
Something was trying to get in through the window. As I came out of the dream, I realised that something was trying to get in, through our window.
Horreur des horreurs!!!
Fortunately, the Maitre de Maison was on the case, Maglite in hand, reaching cautiously for the catch.
This time the shriek did not come from me, and it was in French.
‘What is it, what is it, put the light on! Aargh!’
Something whistled past my head, narrowly missing my hair, good job I’d ditched the Kate Bush hairstyle many moons ago.
‘It is a bat!’
One minute later and we’d have been full swing into the ‘moth/meuth’ routine from ‘A Shot in the Dark’. But we hardly had time to get going before the nocturnal Red Baron launched into the series of ultra-rapid, ultra-acrobatic dive- bombing manoeuvres so beloved of The Red Arrows and the Patrouille de France, resulting in the MDM racing out of the room (the reum) to get the long-handled cobweb brush and me pulling the sheet over my head, each of us wailing in different languages.
As I say, it’s been a long, hot August here in the country, with its fair share of Pantry Sinks.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Denise Baer, a gracious and talented lady who kindly invited me on to her blog to talk about country matters and the joy of writing. She has just posted a tempting squash recipe for those in search of culinary inspiration:
This month sees the bicentenary of the birth of one of the world’s greatest novelists, Charlotte Brontë, April 21st 1816-March 31st 1855. Her remains lie in the family vault in the church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Haworth.
The Brontës have been much on my mind in recent months. Not just because of the bicentenary but because I was born in Halifax, in Yorkshire’s West Riding, where the Brontë legend is part of the air breathed in by every newborn. Also, Haworth is the setting for my new novella ‘The Passage of Desire’.
I grew up in a small industrial town not far from the moors. There were still some dark satanic mills about in which my forefathers (and mothers) had toiled, but there was the open countryside nearby, the heather and the skylarks. An ideal place to mooch with your best friend and share the delicious angst of being a fourteen-year-old misunderstood aesthete in a world of philistines.
Obscurely we felt there must be something, some mystical bond, linking us to those three great sisters who revolutionised English literature. Maybe a long-lost relative who—if we could only find the birth certificates in a musty old box in Grandma’s back bedroom—would turn out to be an actual member of the Brontë family, hitherto undiscovered, plunging us instantly into literary fame-by-association?
My family had lots of stories to tell about our ancestors. The legends were usually dusted off for Christmas and brought out with the turkey and the sherry. They caused the usual eye-rolling among the younger generation, hunched in their chairs, waiting for the dreaded moment they’d be called upon to start off the charades or strum ‘Little Donkey’ on the guitar. Most stories involved scandal, at least one bend sinister, and acquired extra bells and whistles over the years. They were long, involved and accompanied by raised voices and dramatic action which sometimes resulted in chairs getting knocked over. A song might be thrown in, a capella, or with piano accompaniment.
But in the 1840s (here, breath would be held) there was one brush with literary fame. Great Great Aunt Mary (or Martha or Phoebe) got a job as a housekeeper in Haworth. Yes, Haworth! Did she ever bump into those famous sisters as she hurried down the cobbled streets, shawl tight against the wind? Maybe even dropped by the Parsonage to give Emily a hint on plot development? Again, history was disappointingly vague on this subject. However, it seems her path did cross that of their brother, as, somehow or another, our family acquired a silver-mounted walking stick belonging to Branwell Brontë himself. (One version of the story had Branwell leaving it behind after too many drinks at The Black Bull Inn. But that was later expurgated.)
The missing link remained missing, alas. But the Brontë influence remained. And so, in this third book in the French Summer Novels series, I wanted to try something different. My thoughts kept returning to the brooding moors and wild storms of ‘Wuthering Heights’, that mythic story of doomed love and violent passion that has seized the imagination of readers since it was published in 1847. When Cathy says: ‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff!’ she is uttering, according to Simone De Beauvoir, ‘the cry of every woman in love.’
The problem was, how to relate a Yorkshire family to the characters of the two preceding romantic novels?
The answer came in the form of Alexandra, the mother of Caroline and Annabel, killed in a car crash when her daughters were little. What was her story? In ‘The Passage of Desire’, we take a step into the past and meet Alexandra in her mid-thirties, on her way north to spend a holiday with her best friend Juliet. What happens during that summer will have dramatic repercussions on the lives of both the women and their families.
Now that it’s almost time to say goodbye to the characters, the anxieties have come rushing in. The usual suspects—is the book a load of rubbish? Will anybody like it? Is it too much of a departure from the first two? ‘Maybe I should just scrap it’—along with other minor wobbles. Context for example. Have I got the details right? We’re back in the early nineties, people didn’t have mobile phones or Skype, the Internet was in its infancy. What did people wear in those days? What did they drive? This is always a tricky one for me. ‘What sort of car do your neighbours have?’ Answer: ‘A grey one’. In ‘Hot Basque’ I had my hero behind the wheel of a Renault Picasso. It was only thanks to eagle-eyed best friend and beta reader Elizabeth that I changed ‘Renault’ to ‘Citroen’, thus escaping scorn and ridicule from autophile Amazon reviewers. Then there was the time I decided to change a character’s name after the entire manuscript was finished and ready to upload. No panic, easy peasy, click the command on Word and tell it what to do. Find ‘Mark’ and replace with ‘Liam’. Go! It went. Fortunately I did yet another read-through before clicking the Publish button:
‘What beautiful weather,’ Margaret reliamed.’
‘They decided to take a trip to the liamet town of Liamet Harborough.’
Oh no! Oh yes. Hundreds of them.
Why did I decide to change Mark to Liam? Names have always been a problem for me. Faced with a myriad of possibilities, my imagination freezes. The heroine. Her name is pretty damn important. Charlotte, Emily, Anne, Catherine, Jane, Emma, Elizabeth, Scarlett. Been there done that cross them all off. Peaches, Brooklyn, Hilton, one day they’ll be stuck in a time warp, like padded shoulders and big hair. Sigh. How about…Eleanor? That sounds promising. I like Eleanor. Wait, there was that woman at work, years ago, the one who used to chew with her mouth open, you can’t give your heroine the same name as someone whose back molars you were once intimately acquainted with. Gwendoline? Hang on, didn’t you just see a Gwendoline in a book you read a few weeks ago on the Kindle? Or was that Gwenllian ? Anyway too risky, plagiarism, quelle horreur. Films! Not the big Hollywood stars at the beginning, fast-forward to that endless list of names that rolls up when the DVD is finished and you’re just putting your slippers back on and brushing the biscuit crumbs off the sofa. The Clapper Loader, the Gaffer, the Best Boy, all those five zillion special effects people…That’s handy, the Maître de Maison has left a disc inside the machine…just a minute, why are all these names Hungarian? What’s he been watching now? Oh. ‘The Martian’.
Inspiration strikes. The bookcase! Elementary cher Watson, millions of names on those shelves…no, not ‘Beowulf’, move along, how about ‘Moll Flanders’, hello, this must be my student copy, did I really write those cringe-worthy notes in the margin? ‘Moral sense, ‘uncertainty,’ ‘resigned acceptance of hard truth’? That can go back for a start.
Dickens! There’s my man! A thousand and one unforgettable characters! Names galore! Mr Snawley, Master Wackford, Sir Mulberry Hawk, Lord Verisopht, Miss LaCreevy, Miss Knagg, Miss Snevellici (was he on something, our Charles?) Smike…oh poor tragic Smike! It’s the bit where he’s just leaving Miss LaCreevy’s house and heading off to Bow….oh no, he’s been caught again by the loathsome sadist Mr Squeers who’s going to haul him back to Dotheboys Hall! He’s boxing his ears and slapping his face!
‘Poor Smike ‘warded off the blows as well as he could’…‘stunned and stupefied’ with ‘no friend to speak to or advise with.’
Don’t you just love Dickens? In fact maybe I’ll take a wee break and read what happens next. In fact maybe I’ll just leave the name-search till later. Tomorrow is another day.
And that’s another story.
For the importance of stories in our personal and professional lives check out ‘Story for Leaders,’ written by writer, actor, singer and business innovator extraordinaire , David Pearl. All proceeds go to the non-profit making social business ‘Street Wisdom’: