Olga Swan: French Notes from a Broad

Good morning, Olga. Welcome to The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.

olga swan paradis

Tell us about your new book. What genre does it belong to? What inspired you to write it? Is it based on history, or current events – or is it a wild flight of fancy?

My new release ‘Pensioners in Paradis: French Notes From A Broad’ (authl.it/86j) is one of Crooked Cat’s True Cats Non-Fiction Range. It is pretty much autobiographical, charting our hysterical journey from being self-deprecating, depressive Brummies, steeped in life’s troubles, and whisking us across the Channel. Readers will laugh with us as we encounter hilarious situations en France – from troublesome workmen, the infamous bureaucracy, and even sex à la française! You can take notes on this transition from English doom and gloom to la belle vie française, and follow the exploits of this oh-so-recognisable English couple. What could possibly go wrong?

Come to the launch party on its full release day of 29th August 2017 by clicking on facebook.com/events/158998377995657  and join in the fun. There’ll be signed book prizes, music, comedy videos and special guest author appearances: all talking about hilarious cultural differences between the English and other countries.

Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?

 Well it has to be Him Indoors with his own particular brand of humour. Whether it’s selling hammers at knock-down prices, directing customers who are looking to get felt in the market or dealing with French workmen, it’s all written in his own inimitable style. You just have to laugh with him.

What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can you readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?

 It starts in familiar Midlands’ territory, moving to S.W. France, where we lived for 12 years. The book contrasts the urban English working world with the idyllic setting of our first French house on the banks of the river Aveyron, with details of such French delights as colourful market days, local games of pétanque, le bien manger at tasty restaurants etc. 

What’s coming up next? Are you working on a new novel? What else have you written?

olga swan 3rd degree

To date four of my books have been published by Crooked Cat. All have Birmingham characters. 3rd Degree Murder (authl.it/4ia)  is a novel based on my 30 years’ work at the University of Birmingham;  Lamplight (authl.it/4q0) is book 1 in the David Klein war reporter series, covering 1912 – 1938; Vichyssoise (authl.it/52l) is book 2, featuring the Vichy government during WW2, based on original French research. I am also writing a series for children, under my own name of Gillian Green – 3 are published with 4 yet to come (www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B013IBD4PU)

olga swan lamplight vichy

Every Sunday I write a blog on current events, political, cultural or geographical, which draws a regular audience from around the world. Have you read it yet? Olgaswan.blogspot.com.

 Many thanks Yvonne for allowing me space on your popular blog. It is much appreciated. Must dash – I’m currently reading your novel Walking on Wild Air and don’t want to miss the next bit.

Nevil Shute: a Study in Impeccable Writing

RequiemForAWren

I read a lot of Nevil Shute as a youngster – growing up in New Zealand, it was natural that his books should be in the library. I enjoyed them; he writes a good yarn, with plenty of action and interesting storylines, and his characters are strong and memorable, particularly the women. But it’s decades since I last read him, and the one I’m reading now I have never read before.

Requiem for a Wren is an exemplar of Shute’s work, and in particular his skill in purveying vast amounts of background through a few terse sentences. He’s a master at providing information without the reader being at all conscious that he’s doing so.

In the first paragraph of Requiem nothing much is happening. The narrator is an airline passenger, and the plane is beginning to descend. But look at how much information he packs into the first two sentences.

There was a layer of cumulus, about seven-tenths, with tops at about five thousand feet as we came to Essenden airport; we broke out of it at two thousand and we were on the circuit downwind, with the aerodrome on our starboard wing. I sat with my eyes glued to the window looking out at Melbourne, because this was my home town and I had been away five years.

I don’t mean the obvious – cloud cover and all – but rather the great deal of information which is implied. We now know that our narrator is Australian, and that he is an airman (very likely a pilot, given the breadth and complexity of his observations). As the book was published in 1955, the ‘five years’ remark gives us a pretty big clue that he was away at war, so now we know what kind of airman he is.

[The stewardess} smiled and said quietly ‘Would you like any help down the gangway, sir?’

I shook my head. ‘I’ll wait till the others are off. I’m all right if I take my time’

So… an injury or disability bad enough for him to potentially need help, but she is circumspect and he determined to be independent. That makes me think straight away about wartime injuries – and it turns out that’s exactly right. He goes on to meet the foreman from his parents’ sheep station, and discovers that there has been a death at the farm, but even then he’s more interested in the changes in the landscape since the war.

It’s only on page 12 that we begin get a sense of his injury, and this too is in typical laconic style.

Horses were still used by the boundary riders, but … my father drove all over the property in a Land Rover instead of riding on a horse as he always had when I was young. That suited me, for artificial feet are something of a handicap upon a horse. There was a great deal for me to learn about the property before I could unload some of the work from my parents, and I was keen to make a start.

Shute’s style is one I favour, with long passages of narrative interspersed with briefer dialogue and conversation. It’s somewhat out of fashion these days, when we are all being told ‘do, don’t tell’ and ‘don’t infodump’, although in Shute’s case it’s more like info-infusion, and his laid-back style suits the subject. Our protagonist is reluctant to display his disability, or any of the other ways in which war has changed him, and it becomes increasingly clear that this same reticence applies to the other characters in the novel, including the dead girl, whose story rapidly takes centre stage. So much is conveyed in these sparse, careful sentences that by the time he reaches the revelation at the bottom of page 53, it comes with a sense of inevitability. It could only have been this way.

I’m not going to tell you the story. Not all of you will want to read the book, but you can read the first few pages online. Have a look, and see whether you have anything to learn from this master of understated prose.

5 Surprising things about becoming a published writer

When I started submitting my manuscript to publishers and agents back in 2013/2014, I have to admit that my only focus was on getting “the call” (or email) to say that someone loved my book and wanted to represent me. What I didn’t think about at any point during that process – or even at […]

via 5 things that have surprised me about being a published writer by Jessica Redland — thewriteromantics

Why read Jane Austen?

{2017 celebrates the life of Jane Austen, and her death 200 years ago, on 18th July 1817}

I suppose most of us were made to read one or another of Jane Austen’s small output of novels while we were at school, and many didn’t enjoy the experience. Something about the combination of old-fashioned language and compulsory reading can be off-putting. Still, haven’t we all watched the TV or film adaptations, and enjoyed her portrayals of the high life in Eighteenth Century England? But it’s all a far cry from the modern world, where’s there’s surely no place for essays in etiquette, or comedies of manners.

Au contraire. For in Jane Austen, we have someone who may have danced at balls, guested at fine mansions, and observed the behaviours of high society, but she didn’t belong to the upper echelons. Jane was a vicarage child; her parents were would-be gentry without the means to achieve gentility. Due in part to her brother’s Edward’s adoption by genuinely wealthy people, Jane frequently visited and stayed in the smart and expensive households of the era, but she never belonged there. She was always the observer. And as she was clever, and witty, and enjoyed writing about her experiences, we are graced today with some of the best observations on human behaviour ever recorded.

You don’t have to plough through Pride and Prejudice, or suffer Sense and Sensibility, to see the truth of this. If you hated the novels – or simply didn’t get on with them – you can get a quick and clear sense of Jane’s wit from reading her letters. Here she is replying to her niece, Fanny Knight, who has forced her boyfriend to read one of Jane’s books, only to discover that he didn’t enjoy it:

Do not oblige him to read any more. Have mercy on him, tell him the truth, and make him an apology. He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked: but there is some very good sense in what he says, and I particularly respect him for wishing to think well of all young ladies; it shows an amiable and a delicate mind. And he deserves better treatment than to be obliged to read any more of my works.

A pithy sentence deals with the poet Byron – she gives the clear impression she doesn’t think much of him.

I have read [Byron’s] The Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.

On the other hand, if you read between the lines of her apparent complaint about Sir Walter Scott, it’s clear that she likes his writing very much. This is the writing style seen in the novels, where keen observation of humanity’s follies is delivered in a droll and humorous style, with the wit carefully concealed in words that can be read two ways. Does she ever write straight? Or is her view always slightly slant?

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair. — He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it — but fear I must.

She can be just as tart in making non-literary references. To her sister Cassandra (with whom she kept up a long and extensive correspondence):

I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.

And in another:

Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend.

This is both amusing and poignant. As Jane’s income was limited, and she wished to continue to move in the wealthier circles frequented by members of her extended family, such a comment is both a joke (we know perfectly well she is too intelligent to take more than a superficial happiness in material goods) and heartfelt – the hat represents her need to present herself well, despite her circumstances, and it therefore stands for her material condition, which well might affect her ability to feel happy.

One of her most famous quotes – now enshrined on the new English £10 note – simply says:

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! 

(It continues, How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.)

On the surface, and particularly if you haven’t read the book, this is a straightforward comment. Of course Jane Austen feels this way about reading. How lovely. However, she puts these words into the mouth of Caroline Bingley, a woman who most definitely does not enjoy reading, but pretends she does in order to impress her wannabe beau, Mr Darcy. Wicked Jane. We know she believes this – but in the novel it actually means the opposite of what it says. Do you feel manipulated? So you should – that is her intent – and the disjunct between the superficial meaning of the words and the intent of the character who speaks them is deliberate. It has caused much discussion online, as Janeites and literary scholars weight out in favour of, or against, the quote on the bank note.

How nice to see Jane getting lots of free press in this, the bicentenary of her death!

Sources:

Quotes came from the wonderful Pemberly.com, a tremendous resort for Janeites of all stripes.

Some of the information came from Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home – a well-written and very entertaining biography which gives us Jane for our age. Previous biographies have been quite different, and this new take is well worth reading.

 

 

Review: Treacle and Other Twisted Tales

Karen Eisenbrey

Treacle coverTreacle and Other Twisted Tales by Yvonne Marjot (Crooked Cat Books, 2017)

The stories in this excellent collection consist of familiar tales retold in new settings, or new tales inspired by familiar folk tale patterns. They are told in language that feels timeless and exactly right. As promised in the title, each comes with a twist: of humor, of horror, of unexpected magic.

“Aurora in Tatters” presents an Arctic Cinderella who makes her own choice. “Treacle” presents an apparently cozy and humorous situation, but watch out for that twist! “Imago,” set in an entomology lab, uses the language of moth life cycles to illustrate the end of life. “Maryika’s Journey” and “Maryika’s Christmas” follow a contemporary woman into Russian folktales. (I first encountered “Maryika’s Journey” in Paws and Claws, an animal-themed charity collection from Cake & Quill, in which work of mine also appears.) “Five Stay…

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