Tuesday, 31 July 2012

View of the Olympics from France - and David Walliams's new book

The south of France is usually heaving with UK visitors at this time of year. But in sun-baked Avignon I didn’t spot any British tourists at all (apart from us, that is). The newsagents’ stack of English newspapers looked untouched and there wasn't a whisper of an English accent at the historic Palais des Papes.

I suspect most people are at home glued to the Olympics. And come to think of it, maybe the French are too. 

Our neighbours at the House With No Name popped across the field to say hello yesterday and told us they’d been watching the Games avidly.

“What did you think of the opening ceremony?" my daughter asked them, wondering what on earth they’d made of Mr Bean, Mary Poppins, the Queen apparently parachuting out of a helicopter and hundreds of children jumping up and down on luminous hospital beds. Serge, our neighbour smiled benignly. ‘C’etait bon, mais très bizarre,’ he said.

Good, but strange. Hmmm. I reckon that just about sums it up.

PS. My review of David Walliams’s wonderful Gangsta Granny is one of the best-read House With No Name posts. So loads of readers will be thrilled to hear that Walliams’s fifth children’s novel will be published on September 19. Ratburger, illustrated by the inimitable Tony Ross, promises to be a treat. It’s the tale of a lonely little girl called Zoe and her ice cream loving father who battle to save Zoe’s newly adopted rat, Armitage, from the clutches of a villain called Burt. Walliams is the fastest growing children’s author in the UK and publisher HarperCollins describes his new story as “packed full of zest, jeopardy and classic Walliams wit.” Walliams himself says it’s his “scariest and funniest book yet.” Watch this space for a House With No Name review.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Shopping for bargains at the brocante

Sunflowers, lavender, long lunches, delicious wine – there are so many heavenly things about life in the south of France.

And browsing for bargains at vide greniers (literally, empty attics) and brocantes is yet another. Every town is full of posters advertising flea markets, car boot sales and salvage yards and when you’re renovating an old farmhouse they are the perfect places to snap up old furniture.

Last week we went to a brocante in Valence and it proved to be a real treasure trove. The first item we spotted was one of those freestanding metal lockers, the sort you find in old schools. They sell for hundreds of pounds in Shoreditch but this one cost 30 euros, an absolute steal. Sadly someone else thought so too because the locker had a sticker saying vendu. The man running the brocante told us they always get snapped up in a trice.

But despite our disappointment there were still bargains galore to be had. We bought the distressed table above, a retro dining chair, a set of shelves and a huge kitchen table. Our only problem was how on earth to get it all home in an average-sized saloon car. Then the man in charge of the brocante stepped forward – and guess what, they delivered too. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Lunch under the plane tree

I adore eating outside. My family is so hardy that we’ve been known to have lunch al fresco as early as March and as late as October - through wind, rain and freezing temperatures. And we don’t use one of those environmentally-unfriendly heaters either.

But in France, eating outdoors is even better. Breakfast is on the terrace, which has a stunning view but is currently too full of bikes, rubble, weeds and an old fridge for my liking. At lunchtime it’s too baking hot so we move round to sit under the plane tree, where all the old farmers used to drink Pastis and watch the sun go down. And then in the evening we’re back on the terrace for a glass or two of Clairette de Die, the local sparkling white wine.

Sometimes we drive to my favourite town (above) and treat ourselves to lunch at a café in the village square. The restaurant has a huge awning to shield everyone from the fierce mid-day sun and we sit there for hours, watching the world go by.

There’s also the added advantage of strolling across to my favourite shop (below) afterwards. It’s piled high with stunning china of every shape and hue. I buy a new mug or teacup there every year, and swear that drinking a café crème out of them every morning is one of the pleasures in life. Especially when it’s on the House With No Name terrace.

Pictures: Emma Lee-Potter

Thursday, 26 July 2012

How self published author Nick Spalding became an Amazon bestseller

“Kindles and eBooks are changing the landscape of publishing. You can reach an audience and create a buzz online. I think publishers are still important in terms of editing, marketing and getting into bookshops, but self publishing can be another route to that.”

Those were the astute words of crime writer Stephanie Merritt (aka SJ Parris, author of detective novels like Heresy and Prophecy) at a recent Red magazine event on how to write a crime novel.

And she’s clearly right. Her views are borne out by the news from Amazon.co.uk this week that a self published novel by UK author Nick Spalding has become one of its ten bestselling items over the last three months.

Southampton-based Spalding has published a string of “comedies with adult humour” through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So far he’s sold 245,000 copies of his books and earned up to 70 per cent in royalties from his sales.

Spalding’s Love… From Both Sides is currently riding high in the top 25 Kindle bestsellers list while two of his other books, Love… And Sleepless Nights and Life… With No Breaks, are in the top 100.

As Spalding says: “KDP is a fantastic opportunity for writers to get their work into the hands of the people that actually count – the readers. It's never been easier to publish an ebook thanks to Amazon's progressive and forward thinking attitude. They've given many more writers a voice - writers who would otherwise have remained silent. I can't thank them enough for providing me with the means to become as popular as I am.”

Not surprisingly, Gordon Willoughby, director of Kindle EU, is delighted.

“Nick Spalding joins international bestsellers such as EL James and Suzanne Collins in our top ten bestsellers of the last quarter at Amazon.co.uk,” he says. “That’s a fantastic achievement for a KDP author. KDP enables independent authors to compete on a level playing field with the giants of the literary world and we’re excited to see it succeeding for both readers and authors.”

Nick Spalding follows in the footsteps of Kerry Wilkinson, a debut novelist from Lancashire who was the number one selling author in Amazon.co.uk’s Kindle store during the last quarter of 2011. Wilkinson didn't have an agent or publicist - just the determination to write the very best book he could. And it worked a treat.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Even Kirsty Allsopp would be impressed

Seven years after trundling up the potholed track to view the House With No Name, we’ve just spent our second holiday there.

It’s far from luxurious but the place is definitely starting to feel like home. Take the attic. When we first climbed the steep stairs up to the top floor, one room was propped up with steel girders. Why? Because the walls were so dodgy they had to be pinned together. Literally.

The stunned notaire accompanying us kept muttering “tout à faire” as we stomped up and down. Another attic room was filled with a lifetime of rubbish, including a spooky-looking trunk covered in cobwebs. We never discovered what was inside - but at least it had gone by the time I signed on the dotted line.

Fast forward a few years and even though there’s so much work to do, the attic is now an oasis of calm. Well, by day at least. It’s slightly more raucous by night because the dormouse has crept back into the roof and scrabbles about like crazy in the early hours of the morning.

But to give an idea of the attic’s transformation, here’s what my daughter's room was like before…
And the picture at the top shows what it’s like now.

I reckon even Kirsty and Phil from Location, Location, Location would be impressed!

PS. “Why aren’t you at the Olympics?” asked the puzzled man at the garage as we filled up the car near Avignon. He blithely assumed that everyone from the UK is in London to watch the Games. But like countless others, I’ve spent hours online attempting to buy tickets and ended up with absolutely none. 

PPS. If you're keen to get into the Olympic spirit, my novella, Olympic Flames, is set at London 2012. It  follows a talented young showjumper desperate to win her first gold medal in front of her home crowd. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bike fever at House With No Name

Bike fever has hit House With No Name with a vengeance. The bike rack on the car grows more sophisticated by the day, the house is full of giant tubs of carbohydrate protein and my son’s bought a bike computer that maps everything from time and speed to altitude and heart rate.

But most surprising of all is that his obsession is catching. His dad took him to Oxford’s brilliant Beeline Bicycles to buy a puncture repair kit and came home with a ton of cycling gear. For himself. Next, my daughter declared she was going to cycle to the boulangerie every morning to buy croissants so her bike was duly strapped to the roof too.

A few days later they all embarked on their first bike ride together. First up was a speedy lesson on bike cleats, then they were off. Actually they had to walk the first bit of the way, terrified that the weed-infested bumpy track might damage their precious tyres. The next-door neighbours looked stunned at the sight of les Anglais trooping down to the road in their garish Lycra and bike helmets.

My husband and daughter sensibly chose shorter routes but my son returned two and a half hours later, dripping in sweat and beaming. He’d done a round trip over the hills, cycled up a mountain my old 2CV would struggle with and got back just in time for a carb-loaded supper.  
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