7 December 2011

Ghostly hopes

We had anticipated a much tighter timeframe but life and work got in the way, for both of us. And as it takes time to make a perfect, healthy baby, it takes time and meticulous planning, writing, editing and rerererereading to produce as perfect a book proposal and as perfect a first chapter as possible.

It is now done and on Monday the first email to the first agent on my list was sent.

It is with trepidation, emotion and anticipation that we are now waiting for a response. Will it ever arrive? Will it be positive?

We will soon send an email to a second agent, and then we’ll tackle the submissions by post, which are quite tricky as agents’ requirements vary enormously. And you don’t want to upset an agent from the word go. You want to do it all perfectly so that they don’t have a reason to reject your submission before they’ve even read ‘Dear So and so’.

It has taken a while to get to this point, but it is better to take your time and be precise and as perfect as you can, than rush and forget something or do things wrong.

Please please please don’t tell me there was a typo or an inconsistency…

6 December 2011

A Writer in Paris

This time last year, I was in Paris on a special trip. A special trip for me.

I mean, just for me.

I left on the Friday morning while my darling husband looked after our daughter and I came back on the Sunday evening.

Two whole days in Paris J

Just before I left, I had bought a little gem, pictured here. A Writer's Paris ­– A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel. A wonderful, perfectly produced book all about Paris and what a writer can do – must do – when coming to write in Paris, whether for a month, three months or a year (or anything in between), on a budget or not (though mostly it’s all about surviving on a shoe string in the City of Light, because ­– ahem – it’s a well-known fact that writers are broke half the time. Because writing takes time, usually time when you can’t work simultaneously, so one constantly struggles between time for writing and time for earning a bit of money). It has pictures and drawings, lovely use of attractive fonts, and the cover and glacé paper… wow! They make you feel like you’re holding a very expensive and very precious book. Which I guess it is.

Three years before that, I had read Eric Maisel’s A Writer's San Francisco (whose looks were unfortunately not quite as appealing – don’t you just hate that, not being able to get two similar books in the same collection?!) and compulsively turned its pages in the streets and cafés of SF. This time, I would do the same in the city where I was born, getting inspiration from reading Eric’s beautiful writing and from his ideas. Writing ideas generously offered by writers always get my creative juices flowing. (Eric’s even spurred me to write this post!)

I was born to write. Whether I’ll ever get published (other than electronically I mean, as will soon happen with my short stories, nearly ready for the iPad J) is neither here nor there. It’s increasingly clear to me that I absolutely don’t care what will eventually happen to my writing. As long as I keep writing (here and privately on my computer or in my numerous notebooks), I’ll be happy.

A Writer's Paris ­– A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul. So much promise.

And it delivered.

I wrote and wrote and wrote:

on the train

in a little café ironically named “Comme à la maison” (if I was going to end up at home, why go to Paris at all?! Or was that a hint – I was at home!? But I knew that anyway. I LOVE Paris. I do feel at home in Paris. But I also feel at home in Oxfordshire, thankfully!)

in my hotel room at the Hotel Acte V, in the 5th arrondissement

It was an idyllic weekend in an idyllic city for a budding writer. It even snowed!

Thank you, Eric. Next time, I’ll do exactly as you say and spend at least a month in Paris and go to all the places you mention and I’ll even try to write a novella in four weeks!

29 November 2011

Eloping to Burgundy

I am writing this post while sitting by the fire. While it is at odds with what I am going to write about, its heat does remind me of the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and arms just two months ago, when we were in France for our yearly holiday, having chosen completely by chance the best 10 days of the year to get away from it all.

As I hinted at in my previous post, my husband and I eloped to Burgundy for three nights, just the two of us. I had been wanting to show this part of France to my beloved for many years. Finally, we had organised a few days away so that he could see an area that you cannot not visit in your lifetime if you are a Francophile! Which is also a region I happen to know very well as my parents took me through and around it many times in my childhood and teenagehood. I even remembered the cellars my husband and I ended up going to, even though I hadn’t seen them for at least 20 years! Memories, memories!

From Chablis to Épineuil, from Marsonnay-La-Côte to Beaune, via villages full of significance if you are a wine connaisseur, for example Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle Musigny, Vosne-Romanée and Pernand-Vergelesses, then to Nolay and back towards Beaune, with one last night in Meursault, it was vineyard after vineyard; red, orange and yellow leaves after burgundy-red, ochre and golden trees; wine glass after wine glass; spit after spit; mmmmhhhh after mmmmhhhh; cash spending after cheque writing (way beyond our initial budget, but then again it did include a few Christmas presents, so…!); delicious meal after scrumptious meal; street visit after museum visit; warm night after sultering day; page after page in our respective books. Carefree, wind-in-our-hair holidays, just as we love them!

Here are a few pictures…

Our chambre d'hôte in Marsannay, "Sur la route des Grands Crus" (and may we recommend the delicious restaurant Les Gourmets, just down the road!?)

The castle of Givrey-Chambertin

Millions of those, close by and in the distance

Beaune Hospices

Collégiale Notre-Dame

Les Halles of Nolay

"Les Charmes" hotel

Our room

Our bathroom

The gardens (with private swimming pool at the back)

The main square

Domaine Bouzereaux

21 October 2011


I have a passion for bookmarks, especially those linked to places I visit. At the end of September, my husband and I eloped to Burgundy for three nights while my parents kindly looked after our nearly-three-year-old-daughter. During our little wine and food tour, we spent half a day and an evening in wonderfully inviting Beaune and I couldn’t resist buying three bookmarks to add to my collection. You will see two of those in the picture (I can’t find the third one – no idea where it may be. I always read about 10-15 books at a time, so I went through all the books I’m currently reading and also through my pile of bookmarks but couldn’t find it!)

Me and my bookmarks…

‘So this trip is a success, isn’t it?’ my husband half stated, half enquired when we left the shop (Athenaeum de la vigne et du vin).


‘Because you’ve found some pretty bookmarks.’

‘Yes. So far I thought it was an awful trip, but now I’m thinking What a wonderful trip!’ I replied in a fake overly excited tone.

You see, my husband always does without bookmarks. He relies on his memory to remember the page number or the passage he last read. So, as I’m sure you’ll have understood, he was taking the mickey out of my strange habit and collection. He doesn’t need these ‘contraptions’, as he would call them.

Yes but when you read 10-15 books at the same time, it’s simply impossible to remember all those page numbers or passages. By the time I found the right page or passage, it would be time to go to sleep/I would be fast asleep (I mainly read in the evening)! But also, even if I read just one book at a time, I would still have a bookmark. I love the various kinds of bookmarks that are now produced around the world – magnetic, long, short, narrow, wide, circular, paper-clip style, covered front and back with beautiful photographs, showcasing a quote or two – you name it. They remind me of brilliant holidays or special days out.

Double pleasure when I open a book – the anticipation of reading and the memory of a place or a moment during a shopping trip. Or simply, a person – many of my friends have given me wonderful bookmarks over the years. Keep them coming!

PS: L, thanks again for the ‘bookworm’ birthday card, featured in the picture ;)

20 October 2011

Day off...

Today is my birthday. I don’t remember ever being so cold on the morning of my birthday. It was –1ºC during the night apparently (I didn’t get up to check the accuracy of the BBC website’s weather forecast). There are icicles on our big bins (it rained yesterday afternoon). I had trouble wheeling them out onto our driveway as my skin nearly got irremediably stuck on the handle of the recycling bin.

Nonetheless, it’s going to be a glorious day. Weatherwise, from a practical point of view and also metaphorically. I’m having the day off, catching up on my writing (including this blog ;)) and my reading (including my writing magazine, Mslexia). I’ll also go for a lovely walk in the park next to my house, kicking the leaves and remembering how lucky I am to have all that I have in my life (including the wonderful people who share it).

Today, I have much to celebrate – way beyond 35 years on this earth:
·     From a writing point of view, my stories will soon be available on the Apple Store and therefore on the iPad, through the app developed by my mum’s friend’s son, Fabien. The website is nearly ready and we will soon finalise the design for each of my two stories, ‘Crimson Shoes’ and ‘The Locked Door’. Watch this space – it will soon be filled with news about and links to the website and Facebook page!

·     From a house point of view, we may redo our bathroom completely – we’re waiting for a quote from a local plumber and builder. Six years after we moved into our house, the bathroom is looking old, tired and shabby. The very least it needs is a lick of paint and a nip ‘n tuck in places. But redoing it and extending it is much more appealing and exciting!

·     From a health point of view, we’re all fine and healthy, apart from the usual cough and cold that plagues at least one of us throughout the autumn and winter. Which is more (or less, depending on which way you look at it)  than what my friend A can say, as her cancer has come back, and this time in her bones, liver and lungs… I ran the Race for Life 5k for her back in June. I will run it again next year, for her, for me, for us, for all that are affected by cancer in one way or another. Go A, you’re a fighter, you’ll beat it again!

PS: Carla Bruni Sarkozy’s daughter could have had the graciousness of waiting a few more hours to be born – we would have shared the same birthday (35 years’ difference –­­ doesn’t count, does it?!)

28 April 2011

A day in an Oxford College

About a month ago, as part of my research for the book I’m ghostwriting, I had to spend the day in an Oxford College.

Such a drag…

A writer’s life is so boring


I had to pinch myself several times.

Me, a French woman from a tiny little village in France, now here in Oxford, interacting with the biggest brains of Oxford and Cambridge, discussing theology, psychology, psychotherapy and spirituality (both in its religious and non-religious sense)?!

Yes, I was dreaming, surely.

No, I was wide awake!

It was so interesting, it was so fascinating, I just wanted the day to go on and on and on.

I arrived early and my bus stopped just opposite Christchurch College, my favourite college. I couldn’t resist – I had only 10 minutes but I knew it would be worth it: I crossed the road.

I feel at home whenever I go up the few steps that lead to the sandy, gravelly, sun-coloured path in front of the imposing building and take in the fabulous views of the college itself and then of the long alley of trees and, far into the distance, the Isis*. The air was getting warmer already, yet it was only 8.45 a.m. on 21 March – Spring Day + 1. There were only a few people, walking or jogging or standing still, admiring the views or snapping away. If you want to photograph Christchurch, come at about this time of the morning on a sunny spring day: nobody will spoil your picture and the sun illuminates perfectly the whole façade. Also at this time, you can hear the birds chirping and the wind in the tall trees, no students about and not many tourists. You can sit down peacefully on the grass – nobody will want to grab the space right next to you, or even 10 metres away.

My time here was limited, so I made the most of it. I filled my lungs with the Oxford air and my eyes with the stunning landscape surrounding me. Then, far too soon, I had to say goodbye and go to Campion College, just across the road, down in an alleyway that I wouldn’t be comfortable walking through past 7 p.m. on a summer solstice.

The silence inside the thick walls was eerie. I was greeted by the master and shown to the dining room, where the other people who were attending the meeting were having coffee and tea. I felt slightly out of place, but the person I’m writing the book with, whom I shall call X, was there so within minutes of sitting down I knew I would be all right and well looked after.

The morning went very quickly, and although the big brains of psychology and theology were there, it was all (as one may expect in an Anglo-Saxon world) quite informal. There was laughter, there was humour, somebody (who worked in the college) had turned up in his slippers, and I sat between an angel and a psychotherapist-priest-editor (of all people!) who spoke to me most naturally, as if I belonged absolutely. By then, I felt quite at ease, scribbling away, listening intently, not missing a drop of what was being said, entranced by the whole event and all the discussions flying around the room.

At lunch time, I sat down next to X and a psychotherapist, who turned out, later in the afternoon, to be the person who had the most interesting things to say, and with such ease and panache as well that I was spellbound once again. Already at the dining-room table, over a slice of quiche and salad, he managed to captivate me, and the fact that he’s written several books on various subjects means I can go back to his printed words should I ever feel the need to.

I then took a little break away from the Big Brains and went back to Christchurch College. Once again, I couldn’t resist the lure of this famous English college, where many scenes of Harry Potter were filmed… It was significantly busier than earlier, and many people were picnicking on the grass and sunning themselves. Still, it was worth going there, even though it was just for a few minutes.

The afternoon flew by, more questions asked than answered, the ideas and concepts and postulates all as fascinating and illuminating as one another. At 5 p.m., it was all over. I had to hurry up to catch my bus, but I took the time to walk to the college master, expressing my sincerest thanks for a most enlightening day.

I then ran back to St Aldates and just 100 metres up the road was my bus stop. (I still couldn’t get over how convenient this was – my bus stop happened to be just a stone’s throw away from Campion College!) My bus arrived 30 seconds later and I went back home, in some sort of trance, a myriad of words coming back to me, giving birth to thoughts and ideas for the book.

One of the best days of my life. Not so much a day of research as a day of ‘immersing myself in X’s world’.

* The Isis, for those not familiar with this corner of the planet, is the name given to the part of the River Thames that flows above Iffley Lock through the city of Oxford.

20 April 2011


So I said below that I was finally getting somewhere with my lifelong passion – writing. I told you briefly about the children’s stories that I have written and that will soon be published electronically.

Now I would like to tell you about my ‘other writing life’.

I’m a ghost.

It’s something I had not considered ever possible until Saturday 15 January. It all happened through a friend, yet again.

Never underestimate the power of friendships.

A friend of that friend is an extremely busy bee but has a story to tell. A very important one. However, that friend has no time to put it all down and edit it and polish it and send it to editors and agents.

‘Would you like to help my friend write it?’ my friend asked.
‘Are you kidding?! Yes, of course! This is my dream job!’
‘Oh really? I was so sure you’d say no, because I thought you wanted to write your own stuff.’

Never underestimate the power of being clear when talking to your friends about your writing.

Within 24 hours, a new friendship developed between the busy bee and yours truly, a now budding ghostwriter.

Based on our first interview and on some material that the person has provided (including a 20,000-word document already written, which is, as it turns out, a far cry from what the book will be), I have now come up with a structure for the book, a synopsis, selling points and a chapter breakdown, which I’ve put together in a book proposal. We’re now in the process of writing Chapter 1. When this is finished, we will send it, along with the proposal, to a number of agents and keep our fingers and toes crossed over the next few months.

Again, watch this space… My name may not appear on the book cover (at best, it will be preceded by that very short, but full-of-meaning word: ‘with’), but yes, if we ever get a publishing contract, it will be me who will do the lion’s share of the writing (and all of the polishing!) before it gets to be seen by the publisher’s editor. And I can’t wait!

Children’s stories

My love affair with writing ebbs and flows. Sometimes, I hate writing, sometimes I love it. Sometimes I resent the amount of time it takes to just come up with one paragraph, sometimes words pour out of me and I can’t stop writing for five hours. Sometimes I think That’s it, I’m not writing ever again!, and sometimes I think I know, let’s do it this way!… The fact remains that, after 25 years, I’m still writing.

And at the tender age of 34 (Did she say ‘tender’?!), it looks like I’m finally going to get somewhere with this lifelong passion of mine.

Let’s start with children’s stories. Back in October, the son of a friend of my mum’s contacted me as he had heard, through our mums, that I had written a novel and a few stories for children. He was very much interested as his latest venture was to publish this kind of stories on the iPad and iPhone, with a few twists which of course I won’t mention here as it would spoil the surprise! We’re still building the website* for this, and a developer is working on the app, but soon, my stories will be available on these fabulous pieces of technology (first I need to edit them, though…!)

Watch this space…

* On that website, there will be a link to my blogs. It's high time I came out of my shell. Ahem (aka 'I'm terrified').

2 September 2010

The warmth of a daughter’s hand

I never expected to feel love for my daughter in such a physical way.

You know how your heart jumps in your chest when your new boyfriend calls you, or when your husband comes home with a single red rose or a huge bunch of lilies, or when your best friend announces that she is pregnant?

Well, holding your daughter in your arms and getting that hug back from her feels just the same – it’s the feeling of love. Physical love.

It also happens when she caresses your face, or your arm, or your hand as she suckles your breast or as you give her her bottle.

Then there is also the times when all you want is kiss – no, eat! – her tummy, her legs, her feet, her cheeks, her nose, her neck. That also comes from a place of physical love. You just can’t resist it. Just like when you want to kiss your new boyfriend all day long, and then again all night long, or just like when you want to kiss that precious space in your husband’s neck.

But what always takes me by surprise is the warmth of her hand in mine. Not when we’re about to cross the road. No – in a quiet moment. When we’re looking at a book together, or when she is upset or ill and I am about to take her in my arms to give her the biggest cuddle to make her feel better. That tiny hand provides so much warmth, I can never quite believe it when I feel it.

PS: The picture is from when my daughter was 2 weeks old!

The ‘croooounch’ of chocolate

One of C’s tiny pleasures is to make a piece of dark, 70% cocoa piece of chocolate go ‘croooounch’ between her teeth.

I give her the piece. She puts it half in her mouth. Her top teeth clamp hard on the square of heaven, her bottom teeth apply a counter-pressure, and ‘croooounch’ – the piece of heaven breaks in two.

C smiles.

Her eyes twinkle.

I laugh.