Friday, June 30, 2006

busy and troubled

Working, getting house ready for visitors, cooking (beef in wine, salmon with maple syrup jus, courgettes in strawberry vinegar, baked apricots - that's for your information, R), working, watching football (what a choice, Germany or Argentina), going to radiology clinic, working, sorting out new stock for market tomorrow, doing tarot to complete my monthly quota of free online readings, working, thinking troubled thoughts, hoping and failing to hear from someone important, working, swearing a lot, trying to decide if I'd really choose the King of Swords over James Blake, working, writing a poem in French, planning a new book with a friend in England, thinking a lot about a friend who is ill, working ...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Athene has deigned to return and we have had a good day's work together on the book she is goddess-writing for me. Fortunately we share a sense of humour, although only one of us has developed the ability to laugh at ourself.
So many tributes to Five of Cups coming in now, I'm feeling maybe I did the right thing to see it through after all and my grim winter was not in vain. What does send ice to my heart is the inevitable 'What's the next novel about?' 'When will it be out?' This is becoming a serious dilemma. I swore never to go down the fiction road again, but into, or perhaps out of, my head fully formed has sprung another in entirety - plot, setting, characters, the lot. I'm scared of the subject matter but also dangerously attracted to it. It may well prove as irresistible as the King of Swords. I'm prepared to put down a mental marker for 2008 but nothing, absolutely nothing and nobody is going to come between me and my canal book. There's a true labour of love.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

'on est content'

France 3 Spain 1.
ZZ - "On est content." On est fière de toi, Zizou.

chemin creux

Took guided walk this afternoon. Good group, nice route including this typically Breton chemin creux. Stopped in La Feuillée, highest village in Brittany, in appropriately leafy square for cold drinks and extraordinary gooey walnut cake superbly made by my friend and neighbour Jeanne. Surprisingly hot on exposed stretches: forgot my hat too, so a bit boiled and headachy now - and that's before tonight's match. Not enough vodka in the house to drown potential sorrows later.

Monday, June 26, 2006

chateau du taureau

I've waited several years to visit this sea fort, despite writing about it in various books and articles and often gazing at it longingly from the shore. It was built to protect the Bay of Morlaix after the English raid of 1522, itself an act of reprisal for corsaire attacks on Bristol. The English managed to sack Morlaix, in the absence of soldiers and merchants, but many hung around to get drunk and were still sleeping it off when the Comte de Laval and his troops swept back and butchered the lot of them. The motto of Morlaix, with a pun on its name, allegedly comes from this event: 's'ils te mordent, mords les!' Too good to be true? Vauban inevitably upgraded the place later, but it finally became the sad prison of a few deluded and/or murderous aristocrats, whose families were happy to pay for their incarceration, before falling into disuse.
The fort has just opened to the public for the first time and I've had to wait impatiently until today because half the world wants to see it. Got the early morning sailing from Carantec, sandwiched between a party of elderly French visitors and about fifty infants plus harrassed teachers. Ten minute trip across the bay and once landed, I ran straight up to the top terrace to get a clear look around before the place was overrun - forty minutes later we were all summoned back to the boat, so not exactly an in-depth study but at least a place of the imagination is now transformed into experience, and next time I'll know what I'm talking about ...

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Lunch for friends today. Was going to produce roasted parsnip and parmesan soup, current favourite, for first course, but parsnips so woody more like roasted treebark, so had to improvise and came up with spaghetti with bacon and sauce made from hummous, tapenade, balsamic vinegar and cream. Definitely going in the cookbook I'll write one day. Then, my famous roquefort tart with garlic and walnut topping, and salads (lentil, tomato, cauliflower and lemon) plus diced roast potatoes with rosemary. Finally, first attempt at chocolate and banana bread pudding, not bad. Cloudy day, only just about warm enough to eat outside. Also inauguration of my sun pond, slightly tardy for the solstice - moon pond next to it still in the crescent shaped hole stage.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

great day

Euphoria last night and then stuffing South Africa in the rugby international this afternoon - que c'est belle la vie! I was in my best Queen of Wands form at the market this morning too, despite absence of K of Sws, and The Five of Cups sold out by midday. Now first letters and messages of appreciation about the book coming through, I'm starting to enjoy the result even though the process was pretty excruciating. Usually the other way round for me, in typical wands fashion - once a book's finished, it's gone, out of my head and heart. On to the next, new projects, fresh creation ... choose another CD. Each book I've written has been accompanied by the same piece of music throughout. It'll be a long time before I listen to the first act of Rameau's Platée again.

le grand soulagement

On continue. On respire. Allez les bleus.

Friday, June 23, 2006

writer's blog

Awake at 4am thinking I need to write something down. But what is it? Up at 5 and stroll round the orchard in my wellingtons with a cup of tea in my hand. Brian is ecstatic to have my company so early and rushes about wildly looking for a stick which is in his mouth the whole time. The sky is absolutely clear blue, air as sharp as a sword cut.
Back from 8km hike to check out a new circuit for next week's guided walk. Was intending to write 2000 words today, but my Athene book is suddenly and unaccountably stalled: the change comes down as swiftly as depression and settles ominously over my day. Can't afford to lose the time, so it's back to some mechanical work on The Long Thought (canal book), which is really what occupies my mind mostly. (That and gloomy anticipation of the match tonight).
In response to question from PB about what I read - currently a history of walking by Rebecca Solnit and The Field by Lynne McTaggart. The latter is an investigation into the 'new physics' that seems to confirm that everything in the universe is connected. Some of us already knew that. Fiction off at the moment, I'm having enough of a struggle with my own.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


This morning at 5.40am I was on top of Brittany's highest hill, drenched to the skin and barely able to see the egg and bacon sandwich in my hand through swathes of mist. Being a committed pagan, the solstice ritual is part of my spiritual year, but this is the first time in all my years in France I've failed to see the sun come up over the Monts d'Arrée, flooding the vast bowl of marsh and reservoir with new light. This was also the first time I took friends along for the powerful pleasure of that experience - in the event, we slogged up the track to the summit in driving rain for twenty minutes and then had to wedge ourselves into crevices of rock to avoid being swept off the top by a bitingly cold wind. Even the dogs' shivering misery was not alleviated by crumbs from our soggy feast. After the first five minutes I gave up saying 'But usually ......' and kept quiet, closing my eyes for some silent chat with the sun god who is just as frustrated as we are by these celtic brumes and buggers off to Provence instead.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

wild day

Woke up in the mood for wildness and physical activity. Trekking across the landes et tourbières I could have been the only person in the world. Not a sound did I hear except for the wind raking the heather and a choir of curlews. It's out here on the feral heathland and sweating marshes I feel most alive, most attuned to the elements, most in my skin. Sitting on a rock in an abandoned quarry, I could see the first nuclear power station in France and the signals mast shelled by Breton separatists in 1974, but what fills my eyes are the oldest hills in Europe and the wide emptiness of the Yeun Elez, entrance to the celtic underworld. This land sheds layers of time in a moment, so there is nothing between me and those who left the menhirs; we are united by silence and breath, stone music and sunshine.

Monday, June 19, 2006

en rage

France 1 South Korea 1. Je suis en rage, moi. Rien à dire.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

working outside

Working outside today. Whacked out my quota for the goddess Athene, finished a book review, drafted a new section for the canal book. Also read some extraordinary stories by Dominic Kerriou, journalist on a French daily paper who came to interview me some time ago and subsequently sent me these examples of his own creative writing. Graphic, modernist and rhythmically structured, and so very much in the French literary tradition - the omnipresent narrator semi-detached from his own observations - whilst imbued with a distinctive Breton flavour. Some striking conceits - the sex-obsessed couple where the woman grows fatter and fatter whilst the man gradually dwindles and dies, the experimental scientist who has trained a mongrel dog not only to talk but to speak various languages, including Breton: "qui n'est pas chose facile pour un chien matiné, meme savant." Great writing, interesting mind.
Now off for medicinal vodka before the big match.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Morlaix market

The Saturday market at Morlaix attracts people from all over our region. Up in the old market square are the food and produce stalls - fish, vegetables, organic bread, honey, cider and local cheeses - then a series of flower-sellers and buskers occupy the narrow cobbled medieval streets leading down to the imposing Hotel de Ville. Between there and the huge pink granite viaduct taking TGVs through to Brest the stalls are many and varied - clothes, shoes, bags, crafts and books. This is my patch, just past the bandstand, where I spend every Saturday morning, with one of the best views in the city, selling and signing books. It's an important commitment for me: some weeks it is the only time when I engage fully with others. It took a long time to win my place, to become part of the weekly pageant, but now I am an accepted member of this specialised community, embraced in the warm and humorous good cheer of my colleagues. It amuses them to watch me acting like a tourist office, giving out endless information to non-French speaking Brits who never think of buying a book, but I have lots of good customers too, including many French, and I enjoy all the stories, all the eccentricities, all the giddying range of encounters. An old Breton stops to tell me that Brittany was once a free state and ends by shouting 'Les Francaises sont voleurs' (the French are thieves) at the top of his voice for several minutes. A Frenchman stops to offer me a kitten and stays for a long time to talk about books and history. An elderly couple go by every week and make sure of catching my eye, to be acknowledged by a smile and a greeting. They are like old friends after all this time and I feel their absence on the rare occasions when they don't appear. Memorable today is the delight with which customers fall on The Five of Cups: to think that while I've been cursing and swearing over the refusal of that book to bring itself to a conclusion, some people have actually been looking forward to the moment of its birth. I hope they won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 16, 2006

it's out

My new novel The Five of Cups is officially out on Monday, but courier brought advance order copies for signing today and I've spent a pleasant couple of hours scribbling in crisp new books and thinking about all these diverse people who like my work enough to buy it - across continents too. I hope they each find their personal connection with the Five of Cups and its own inhabitants.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

lovely libraries

Thursday is the day devoted to my canal/identity book, largely due to the very limited opening hours of the historical research library in Morlaix, evocatively named Bibliothèque Les Amours Jaunes (after work by our local poet mordant Tristan Corbière). I love this place, even though it's nothing like as extensive as the Bibliothèque Bretonne at Landevennec Abbey where I have spent many productive days among the monks, apple orchards and weird periodicals, totally happy in my little cell - for it's a real library where you are not allowed to see the books, only to ask, wait and hope. But at Morlaix the library is upstairs in the Hotel de Ville, a vast room with extraordinarily low velvet-covered chairs. My chin just about rests on the table and I have to type blind, hands practically raised above my head, but I like the other researchers, genealogists almost to a man, and the two librarians. My attachment to institutions has grown and flourished since it became an optional relationship with no pricks to kick against.
Today I worked again on the Rohans and the driving force of family identity that sacrificed the Breton cause to self-interest and the dubious merits of Charles VIII. How truly terrifying to have your destiny shaped at birth - it's almost, but not quite, enough to make one sorry for various royal families.
Good day altogether and I just happened to see the sexiest man in the world in passing as well, so if only Trinidad & T had managed to hold England off for those last few minutes I'd be off to bed extremely happy. As it is, I'll have to settle for very.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

tarot deck in progress

Day in southern Brittany working with my brilliant artist friend on a tarot deck we're planning to bring out in the not too distant future. Here's a glimpse.
Added: in response to query from regular viewer, no, he looks nothing like the sexiest man in the world (aka King of Swords) of earlier post. I know which of them I'd rather meet in a lonely place on a dark night...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Allez les Bleus

France 0 Switzerland 0. Post-match depression setting in now. Am in my office listening to divine rocker Steeve Estatoff scraping through Je m'en foutre, appropriately enough. It covers the sound of celebratory Swiss yodelling. The South Koreans must be nodding deliriously with joy and thinking, bring it on, mec! How long and insidious are the shades of 2002 ....... allez les bleus. Zizou, my heart.

chez moi

My red boys: Rufus & Brian

Monday, June 12, 2006

Nostalgia day

I'm having a nostalgia day. Too misty and drizzly to be funny and inventive this morning. The weather's lousy too, can't even see the nearest hill. So revisiting old thoughts and ways, looking at stuff I wrote thirty years ago and wondering about people I once knew, in all shades of the word. With the accessibility of the net this kind of exercise can no longer be a dreamy romantic ramble; the harsh reality of photographs is too hard-hitting. But there are a few people out there ... I can still look into their digitally inscribed eyes and think, yes, I know who you are. And there are quite a few I can't feel that connection with at all, but I'm pleased to see their details, like a German friend who at one time was my closest confidante until a sudden split over religion and sudden marriages on both our parts took her right out of my sphere. It gave me a simple pleasure to read her name today and an uncluttered recollection of what was a great friendship and complicity in its appropriate time. Trouble is I can't help thinking it's the things I can't remember that I want to think about.
So nostalgia day is over for another ten years or so. It's been interesting to engage with the past from a perspective other than that of identity, although I suspect that work on this identity-themed book has been responsible for raising the nostalgia Kraken today. The good thing about looking back is that I realise how much better and better and better life gets. I like now best. And I can keep now forever.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Madness or tennis

Full moon day. French Open Mens Singles final day. Madness or tennis, I just can't make up my mind. Hours later and Nadal has won unfortunately, after an incredibly uneven performance from the great Federer. A more complete and elegant player I have never seen, even so. Not a streak of madness there. Would like to have seen a Federer v James Blake final - if the tennis was crap, there'd still be something worth watching.
Rest of today has involved a tarot reading for a friend and a bit of work to make up for all the missed time taken up by football, tennis, rubgy (French club final), football, tennis, etc. Getting on with Me and the Goddess Athene now - have an end of August deadline, but intend beating that into the ground. Summer in Brittany only lasts a few weeks but those balmy days are usually packed with people - I must hit daily word targets before lunch-time. That's my Sunday resolution anyway.
Suitably for full moon, today finished The Historian, excellent Dracula yarn by Elizabeth Kostova. I'm happy to accept the undead are still with us - looking at the Biarritz front row.