Saturday, 6 February 2016

Stork in flight

First new blog post for ages, I know, but I wanted to leave the Goodreads giveaway up as the first one on the page, and it ran for almost the whole of January. I've been busy too, trying to get a new book off the ground as well as all the real-life matters that don't seem to stop just because I'd like to sit down and write. As far as the blog is concerned, I think I'm going to do what I did in the lead-in to publication of The Lantern, all those years ago when I started this blog. That is, post little and often, with glimpses into the background of the upcoming novel due out in April.
So here we are, in this picture, on the salt marches in the sea at Faro, on the Algarve coast of Portugal. The landscape is home to thousands of storks that make their nests anywhere you care to look up in the town, in the recesses of church windows and roofs, on the pediment of the Old Town gates. If you look carefully, there's a stork in flight in the top left of the photo, cropped as much as I can without losing too much focus.

The first evening I was here, I started to notice how most of the streetlamps were tufted with dried grasses and twigs. Then I saw more ragged wigs on church porches and high ledges. I assumed it was yet more evidence of neglect, that weeds had seeded and been left to grow in sandy crevices, but as I began to study them more carefully, I figured it out. They were birds’ nests. There was one high on the stone pediment of the gatehouse to the Old Town, a great wheel of grasses, big as a tractor tyre. I looked up as I passed. I was lucky. I caught a movement inside the wheel, then a powerful white wing extended and then folded in on itself.
                                                                    from 300 Days of Sun
PS. Hmm, now I've had another look at the picture, I'm wondering whether it actually is a stork! This one definitely is, pictured from a ferry boat making its way through the maze of marshy islands. Apologies to any expert ornithologists!

Thursday, 7 January 2016


Would you like to be in with a chance of winning an early copy of 300 Days of Sun which comes out on April 12? There is a book giveaway thanks to HarperCollins over at Goodreads, running until January 27. US readers only, I'm afraid.
I'm supposed to be writing another book, but guess what? I've found a diversion - one that has taken me a bit by surprise. Urged by my US publishers to get myself on to Instagram (which I have to say, I wasn't thrilled about, mainly because I didn't know how it worked and thought I could only do it using my phone), I've spent the past few days completely obsessed with looking at pictures online and experimenting with creative ways of presenting my books and interests. Here's this morning's effort, what do you think?
There are tons of bookish and travel groups on Instagram, all with some pretty amazing photography, and needless to say I have not only learned a lot, but frittered away plenty of time too. However, if anyone wants to join me and interact on Instagram - and I will post slightly different photos there, though I've worked out how to make use of the older photos stored on my blog too - then you can find me @deborah.lawrenson and here is the link. Hope to see some of you there! 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Happy New Year 2016!

Happy New Year! Slightly tardy on the greetings front - you may draw your own conclusions from my use of Luis Paret y Alcazar's Muchacha Durmiendo, above. In fact, I'm just about to use a postcard of this detail from his painting to write my thanks to friends for their excellent hospitality on New Year's Eve. I knew the perfect occasion would present to use it - which is why I picked up about ten of them from the Prado Museum when I was in Madrid last year.
It wasn't so much that the dinner was an outrage of excess - although John and Liz did produce some truly excellent white Burgundy and 1985 Rioja (and then some 1991) to which we all did due justice. The comedy fireworks in the garden afterwards may have owed something to their depth and strength. (I know, in the cold light of day, no laughing matter, but it wasn't that bad - just a little surprising how many went off at once.)
More friends arrived, with their dinner guests, and more toasts were drunk. It is a wonderful thing to live in a village where we can all walk between houses. Then it was back to our house, firstly to check it wasn't on fire, and then to inspect the inevitable damage wreaked by Maddy and her old school mates who were having another party chez nous. It was a night of wassail and festivity, including a wedding in the village and a Soul Train 1970s disco in the pub, which it would have been rude to ignore. So it was that we wassailed some more, along with Maddy and her friends. The music was a bit light on Le Freak, C'est Chic and Boogie Wonderland for my taste, but perhaps the DJ looked at the 19 to 20 year olds who hit the dance floor in a wave from our house and decided to ignore his authentic vintage market. Anyway, it was a lot of fun.
I went home at 2.30am, leaving them all there with wedding guests in black tie who were still up for more revelry and had wandered over. At our house the sitting room looked like Everest base camp. Sleeping bags and pillows had been abandoned in piles for the final assault on the year. I went downstairs and stood aghast at the kitchen door. An explosive incident involving popcorn, beer and a vodka distillery had apparently occurred. The floor was pooled with stickiness, and there was an inexplicable purple stain on the ceiling.
So I found myself doing what any woman in evening clothes on New Year's Morning would do in the circumstances: I cleared everything away, picked up the bottles for recycling and mopped the floor. Still in my high heels, I was teetering back to the utility room with the bucket when the party arrived back. Within five minutes - and let me assure you that no one even noticed the restoration of the venue to its former glory - the party had restarted and I crept away from the vodka cocktails and pizza going into the oven.
At about five o'clock, about a dozen party survivors blundered around the house looking for somewhere to roll out their sleeping bags. I slept until 8.30am, then went downstairs and restored order to the kitchen for second time before having a cup of tea. From around 10am onwards, the boys came round from their slumbers, as perky and bright-eyed as when they arrived the night before, needing only glasses of water to snap back to life. Then the girls surfaced and the smell of bacon frying rose, and they all sat around chatting for hours. They've all gone off to universities across the country, but this was a chance to spend time together again. It was just lovely.
All in all, I was a bit tired yesterday, and writing a blog post didn't have quite the urgency of restoring myself, like the kitchen, to full function. The purple stain on the ceiling, incidentally, was caused by the launching of a red cabbage. No, me neither. But I gather it was a tribute to the Flying Pineapple of 2014, which was eventually discovered, like a strange fossil, in our neighbours' garden. 
Wishing you all the best for 2016.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Season's Greetings!

A very Merry Christmas and all good wishes to one and all! Thank you to all of you who have visited my blog, maybe stayed for a chat and shared your reading and travel experiences this year - I've loved meeting you and continuing relationships with my lovely long-time internet friends. I hope you all have a very happy holidays.
PS. A Jo Malone bag has appeared under our tree...oh, yes!!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Dreaming of sun

Weeks have passed and I have been quietly working away at my desk, trying to get another novel off the ground. I can't say much about it yet, as it's such early days and so much can change, but the act of writing brings home, once again, how much I enjoy working under gloomy skies and rain, while the pictures in my head become more intensely vibrant.
Just like these images from Portugal that capture the setting for my new novel, 300 Days of Sun (out next April). So relax and scroll down, and see if you can imagine yourself there, feeling the heat of the sun and the salt water on your skin...while winter does its worst outside your window.
As these are not my photos, I have included the links to the articles and travel websites they came from. The top image is from the London Daily Telegraph, and comes with a great introduction to the Algarve coast:
This is the same view, but taken in bright daylight. I want to swim in that emerald green part of the water!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The source of the Loire

I've had a busy ten days, seeing old friends and newer friends, and trying to keep to my goal of 5,000 words a week while juggling other commitments. Under it all, like everyone who loves France, I've also been struggling to come to terms with the Paris atrocities, though I won't be putting the tricolour over my facebook avatar. I would rather simply carry on, celebrating the strength of the country and its people.

The stately Loire river...most people, when they think it, will visualise the châteaux at Chinon and Saumur, Blois, Angers, Amboise, Nantes and Orléans, those grand stone fairytales rising from the gentle banks. But then, last month, I found myself in the Auvergne region south of the Massif Central, and was amazed to discover that the Haute Loire was on the doorstep. I had no idea the river rose so far south. So, in the grand tradition of exploration, we set off to find the source.

Autumn colours were beginning to take a grip on the hillsides south of Le Puy-en-Vélay. It was cold and a bit grey, but the road wound through some pretty countryside. We hardly passed another vehicle as we headed for Mont Gerbier de Jonc in the southern Cevennes hills within the department of the Ardèche. The temperature dropped fast as we climbed.
There came a point when the road was a white-out in freezing fog, and we wondered whether this was such a good idea after all. Then we emerged, and followed a logging truck for a while along otherwise lonely roads. The sign for Gerbier de Jonc was barely visible, but a café provided a parking place, and the promise of hot chocolate. To the side, steps were cut in the slope:
Leading to this snowy vantage point...
And the first glimpse of the conical summit from which the springs emerge to start a mighty river:
As I say, a very long way from the Loire that we think we know, seen below at the Château de Chenonceau. And a tough landscape in winter. But the French are like that: tough underneath, where it counts.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Autumn escapade II

The second day of our autumn road trip down to Provence and on to the Parisot literary festival took us south past Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne, to the pretty riverside village of Lavoûte-sur-Loire. Who would have thought the Loire flowed quite as far south as this?

The village is hidden away in a valley north of Le-Puy-en-Velay, and we were lucky enough to find the most delightful B & B in an old mill: Les délices de Lavoûte. As the photos show, it was a damp, grey day October day, but the warmth of the welcome from owners Florence and Frédérique dispelled any lingering chill.

The mill sits on the banks of the young Loire, surrounded by gardens, trees and water. Inside, a log fire blazed and the room we were shown was spacious and charming. As in Honfleur, a lot of thought had been put into creating an interesting and quirky ambiance, like these seasonal displays on the walkway into the building.
Best of all, we could stay for dinner, as the ladies offer a Table d'hôtes where guests can eat together in the evening. We had a fine supper with a French/Dutch family, found out that the establishment is also a patisserie, and slept like logs. Breakfast was a special treat, with homemade bread and rolls, as well as jams and delicious fruit salad.
In the daylight, we could see the view from the dining room: the misty Loire meandering north under the bridge. It gave us an idea... (To be continued.)  
Les délices de Lavoûte B & B is a lovely discovery. Highly recommended. Click here for their website.
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