Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Tale of Two Sides of the Same (Borrowed) Coin


Many things have happened this week, randomly striking notes up and down that emotional keyboard we call life.

I finished the first draft of my new book—a distinct high note; my shoulder is back in tune—a very pleasant sound; Mykonos traffic in August makes Mad Max seem like Mary Poppins—cue the screeching coronets; Barbara is in New York until September (see Mad Max reference for reason), calling up a lonely, solitary note; and yesterday was the 40-day memorial service for the passing at twenty-four of Nikolaos Andreas Fiorentinos, the pride of Mykonos and a universal joy to all blessed enough to know him—a chord I’ve not yet come to understand or process.

But, this isn’t about any of that. 

I read through the newspapers looking for a topic conveying the mood I’ve picked up on among many living in Greece. A mood I think shared by some living in other Western nations. There’s a smorgasbord of topics to choose from, what with Turkey and Greece rattling sabers at one another, Greece and Russia in diplomatic tiffs, Greece and FYROM in a blood-feud over its name, officials engaged in raging finger-pointing stemming from Greece’s tragic wildfire catastrophe, and Greece about to exit its third and final (?) financial bailout on August 20th

But none seemed to properly express the mood I sensed: a resigned melancholic acceptance of whatever fate may bring.

That’s when fate’s fickle finger brought me a surprise. Two Reuters articles published in Greece’s paper of record, Ekathimerini, that I’d read back-to-back. Voila, in that combination of stories, I’d found what I was looking for.

To make my point more clearly, I’ve combined the two as one, with alternating paragraphs taken in order from the two articles.  The article titled, “For Greece’s austerity-hit elderly, bailout ‘will never end,’” written by Phoebe Fronista, is reproduced in the same typeface as I’m using now.  The second article, “Greece faces daunting post-bailout challenges,” by George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas, is reproduced using a bold-italic typeface. 

Standing united I think makes my point, in many ways.  Here we go….


With two euros in his pocket, Yiorgos Vagelakos, an 81-year-old retired factory worker, scouts the farmer’s market in his working-class Athens neighborhood for anything he can afford.

Greece exits the last of its three bailouts on August 20 and hopes to be able to borrow again in international markets after a nearly nine-year debt crisis that shrank the economy by a quarter and forced it to implement painful austerity measures.

Like most pensioners, he was hit hard by Greece’s economic crisis. Over eight years, the country’s international bailouts took aim at its pension system and more than a dozen rounds of cuts pushed nearly half its elderly below the poverty line.

The crisis has proven deeply traumatic for Greeks who had enthusiastically swapped drachmas for euros in 2001. Adoption of the single currency ushered in an era of cheap credit that funded a splurge in private consumption and public spending that sent Greece’s budget and current deficits ballooning.

Since the debt crisis exploded in early 2010, four successive governments have fought to keep bankruptcy at bay, relying on the biggest bailout in economic history, more than 260 billion euros lent by Greece’s euro zone partners and the IMF.

Now, the country is looking to the end of its third and final rescue package next week, but for Vagelakos, there is little to cheer about.

As Athens now eyes a return to normality and reclaiming its economic sovereignty, the scars remain – banks are saddled with huge bad loan portfolios and Greece’s public debt load is still the highest in the euro zone, at 180 percent of national output.

“For the oranges I’m going to buy I’ll pay you next week,” he tells a vendor at the market. Half his money has already gone to a few bunches of grapes.

But sunshine is breaking through the clouds. The economy, which shrank by 26 percent in the crisis years, has started to grow, tourism is booming and unemployment is slowly coming down – to 19.5 percent from a peak of almost 28 percent.

“Two euros next week. Will you be here?” he asks, picking up his bag of fruit. The response is affirmative, and he jokes:

“If there is a lesson that we learned from the crisis it is that, under any circumstances, you must try to protect macroeconomic stability,” said Panos Tsakloglou, chief economist of the previous coalition government.

“Well then I won’t come so I won’t have to pay you!”

“Populist policies that may win some votes today and have disastrous effects some years down the road must be avoided at all costs. Otherwise, sooner or later we will end up in the situation we are in now,” he said.

Reuters first interviewed Vagelakos in 2012, when Greece signed up to a second bailout that saved it from bankruptcy and a eurozone exit. Back then, he was going to the market with 20 euros in his pocket. His monthly income, including his pension and benefits, had been cut to about 900 from 1,250 euros.

Greece’s economy grew for a fifth straight quarter in January-to-March, the expansion picking up pace to a yearly 2.3 percent, a sign the recovery is gaining traction, helped by net exports. The EU Commission sees 1.9 percent growth this year.

Today it is down to 685 euros and debts are growing, he said.

But skepticism remains, including at the International Monetary Fund which sees the recovery strengthening and growth reaching 2 percent this year and 2.4 percent in 2019, but says that “external and domestic risks are tilted to the downside.”

With unemployment reaching almost 28 percent at its peak, a quarter of children living in poverty and benefits slashed, many families grew dependent on grandparents for handouts during the downturn. Vagelakos can no longer support the families of his two sons and can barely cover his and his wife’s needs.

Post-bailout, Athens has committed to attain primary budget surpluses – excluding debt servicing outlays – of 3.5 percent of GDP until 2022, and 2.2 percent until 2060.

 “I wake up in the morning to a nightmare,” he said. “How will I manage my finances and my responsibilities? This is what I wake up to every morning.”

Debt relief agreed with Greece’s euro zone partners in June, which extends maturities on some loans and softens the interest rate burden on others, will help cushion the country’s return to markets.

Sitting at the kitchen table of his modest home, he goes through a notebook listing debts to the pharmacy and others: “36.80 (euros), 47.50 plus 13... If we add to this the rest of the debt that we have to pay, what is left for us to live on?”

These debt relief measures, coupled with a 24-billion-euro cash buffer, will help to improve debt sustainability over the medium term, facilitating Greece’s access to markets.

Pensioners have staged numerous protests against the austerity measures imposed by the bailouts, but although the Greek economy is finally starting to grow again, albeit modestly, they may face yet more pain. Changes to pension regulations mean more cuts are expected in 2019.

But the IMF says long-term sustainability remains uncertain and a “realistic” rethink is needed on assumptions for primary balance targets and economic growth.

“The memorandum (bailout) will never end,” Vagelakos said. Referring to a plan by Greece’s European partners to closely monitor its finances after the bailout ends on August 20, he said:

“I don’t see a reason for jubilation concerning our exiting the memorandum (bailout) because ... you may be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire,” said Thanos Veremis, emeritus professor of history at Athens University.

 “Even if they end in August, we have the permanent surveillance, which is not a memorandum but a continuous memorial service for us.” [Reuters]

“Most people have been taxed dry, people are completely immersed in paying the tax man, with little money left on the side to put into your business and therefore improve and grow.” [Reuters]


Friday, August 17, 2018

The Skye Boat Song

We have just returned over the sea from Skye.

Me, Michael Malone and Douglas Skelton were up to capers.

More about that next week.

The boys were very stressed so I was singing the Skye Boat song to calm their nerves.

They put me out the car.

Anyway ----

You might not know that it’s called the Skye Boat Song, but if you hear a few bars you think…ahh I know that!  Maybe not if I am singing it.

Among others, it’s been used for Outlander and loads of other 'tartan and claymore' TV programmes.

It’s one  of those songs, like Edelweiss,  that has been taken  to the heart of an nation as an original, ancient folk song; sung from the lips of grannies to the ears of babes for generation after generation.

And it's not.

The Skye Boat Song tells the story of the escape of Prince Charles Edward Stuart  ( Bonnie Prince Charlie)  from Uist to the Isle Of Skye  after the defeat of his Jacobite Army at Culloden April 16th 1746.

The story goes that he was disguised as a female servant ( he was a wee bloke ) and, with a lassie called Flora MacDonald ( of the clan who lived on the Isle Of Skye ), he got into a boat and  managed to get from Uist to Skye and then away.

It was composed  over 150 years after the event and the event never happened anyway. Charlie was never in Skye at that time although he had been there before island hoping to avoid the government troops.

Despite an  ingrained belief that the song is old, it doesn’t appear  in any songbooks before it was written. Obviously.

Versions exist by just about everybody who can sing.
Paul Robeson, Tom Jones Peter Nelson and The Castaways from New Zealand, West Australian artist Glen Ingram, Esther & Abi Ofarim ( of Cinderella Rockefeller fame ), Calum Kennedy, Rod Stewart,
Roger Whittaker, Des O’Connor, Julian Lloyd Webber, The Shadows, Tori Amos,, Barbara Dickson,
James Galway, The Chieftains, The Corries, The Real McKenzies,

Here are the lyrics

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.
Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean's a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.
Many’s the lad, fought in that day
Well the claymore did wield;
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Cullodens field.

Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.

Here are some pics.
More about Skye next week.

Douglas took this. He knows what the buttons on his camera can do.

Skye in the middle of the day, in August.

                                              Eilean Donan Castle, on the mainland, on the drive up.
Some jaggy mountains, by me!

Mr Malone, acting manly.

Scary mist rolling in

Moody, dark.... nobody there..

Picture by Mr Michael Malone

I mean, it's as if we don't take it seriously!

Caro Ramsay  16 08 2018

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Stanley - Thursday

Last week I provided a little help to an old friend who was running in a Democratic primary in southwest Michigan for the House of Representatives. The last time I was actively involved in a political campaign was fifty years ago in Johannesburg, where I worked hard for the only Progressive Party candidate who made it to the national parliament. Her name was Helen Suzman, and she was constantly a thorn in the side of the apartheid-supporting National Party.

Helen Suzman
Having been brought up in a parliamentary system, I have always been fascinated by how different the system is here in the States. A candidate like my friend in Michigan would not have to fight a primary in South Africa or in most (maybe all) parliamentary systems. In those, each political party’s central committee would nominate who would run in each election.

The benefit of that system, is that each candidate is sure to have the backing and support of the party. It also means that no money is spent before the final election. Of course, one downside is that it largely precludes anyone out of step with the party hierarchy from running.

In my friend’s case, there were four Democrats vying to be the candidate to run against the Republican incumbent in November. What has always shocked me about the system is how much money is spent. In this case, the four contestants raised over $1.5 million in total. And this was just to elect a candidate. How much more money will be spent when the Democrat goes up against the Republican in November?

As I went door to door, I found a lot of people saying they would vote in the primary for the Democrats. When I asked which of the four candidates they were inclined to support, many were surprised that there was more than one candidate. They were either ignorant or fobbing me off.

While the idea of a primary appeals to me, my enthusiasm is tempered by the typically low turnout. In Michigan, the turnout surged to 29% from previous insipid totals. To my eye, one problem with this is that an organised minority can win a primary even if the majority of the party’s supporters don’t agree - the Tea Party is an example.

There was a special election in Ohio on the same day, where a Republican was going against by a Democrat in a constituency that Trump won by 11 percentage points. This was for the House of Representatives. The person holding the seat had resigned so a new election had to be held. Because it was such a tightly contested race, the Republicans, desperate to hold onto the seat, poured in $5 million of support versus the Democrats’ mere $1 million. That is astonishing enough, but even more astonishing to me is the fact that the tenure of the winner of this race is only until the general election on November 8, where the two candidates will go head to head once again.  Who knows how much more will be spent then. At the time of writing, Wednesday 15th, the votes are still being counted. The election is too close to call, despite the minority president - Trump - hailing a victory. Balderson, the Republican, is leading Democrat O’Connor by a whisker. I hope they have them tallied before November 8.

To me the biggest weakness of the voting system in the USA is the role and influence of money – BIG money. For example, the total spending for all elections in 2016 approached $6.5 billion, with the presidential race costing nearly $2.5 billion. Yes, those numbers are billions. I always think how much good that money could do, in contrast to the generally abysmal quality of so many people who make it to Washington.

There are two encouraging aspects of this year’s election – I think the turnout will be high, fuelled by Trump’s divisiveness; and many more women are running for office than ever before. I only hope they are successful.

Knowing the stresses my friend and his family have felt over the past year or so of his campaign - the long hours, the fund raising, the constant need to be on - I can only admire the dedication it takes to run. What astonishes me, if my friend had won the primary, then won the election in November, he would have to start campaigning again almost immediately for the next election in two years. I couldn't do it.

For our democratic system to work, it requires as many people as possible to vote. To vote is just a matter of choice. But I fear the tsunami of money coming from special interests is going to overwhelm free elections. And we'll become irrelevant.

Please vote.


Some good news!

Poisoned Pen Press has bought our stand-alone thriller DEAD OF NIGHT, which will be published here in the States in mid-year 2019. It was published by Orenda Press a month ago in the UK.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Princess Only After Death

This is a rerun of a fascinating woman who has stuck in my mind since I first wrote about her. I'm waiting for the movie!

When times are frightening, worry comes easily. It’s much harder to be the one to step forward into harm's way. 

Recently, my attention was drawn back to World War II and one of its greatest heroines, aka the   “Spy Princess.” 

I am thankful for what she did—and I wish more people knew about her.

Noor Inayat Khan was born in 1914, with a background that feels uncannily familiar to my own. She had a father born in India, and a mother from the West. A cross-cultural marriage at that time seems unlikely--but it really occurred. 

Noor’s mother, Ora Ray Baker, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At age 20, Ora Ray attended a lecture in San Francisco given by Inayat Khan, a musician born in Punjab in the Sufi dervish tradition. Ora asked him for an interview, and the two fell in love and married. Inayat came from a fascinating lineage: his own father was Maula Baksh, founder of a famed music academy in Baroda named the Gyanshala, and her grandmother was Casimebi, a descendent of Tipu Sultan, the Muslum ruler of Mysore who died fighting the British in 1799.

Performer Mata Hari with the Royal Hindustan Orchestra

The daring young couple married in London, and Ora Ray took the Muslim name of Amina Sharada Begum and began dressing only in sari to show her enthusiasm for India. She traveled the world with the musical group that Rahmat Khan founded, the Royal Hindustan Orchestra. Their eldest child, Noor, was born on January 1, 1914 in Moscow. After the outbreak of the Great War, the family fled to England. During their years in London, Inayat performed for both Mahatma Gandhi and Indian soldiers convalescing in hospital—as well as for grand opera productions such as Lakme that capitalized on the European interest in the Far East. Inayat came under government suspicion due to his connection to Gandhi and his skill at establishing Muslim and Indian community groups in Britain. He was seen as a risk to the stability of the British Empire. So in 1920, the family shifted to Tremblaye, France, so the musical group and other activities could continue without as much surveillance.

Noor plays the sitar 

Noor grew up with interests in poetry and mysticism, as would seem natural for someone with such a creative family life rooted in the Sufi tradition. Her happy life changed in 1927, when Inayat Khan traveled back to India to see his family, and fell ill and died in Delhi. So it was under tragic circumstances that the fourteen-year-old Noor had her first visit to India in 1928, to pay respects along with the rest of her family at Rahmat’s tomb. Now she had to be the mother leading the family in their existence in France, because her grieving mother retreated in to a life of seclusion. Their Indian uncles living in France supported them financially. Noor played sitar, piano and harp; but she also had the gift of story. After attending a French university, she began a career writing children’s stories and translating Indian stories into English. Then the Germans invaded France. Their way of life had ended. This was a watershed moment for the family who had grown up believing strongly in nonviolence. Would they aid the British, who had been the enemy of their father?

Noor as "Nora Baker" serving with the SOE

Noor understood the the danger of the Nazis. She and her brothers felt called to support the resistance, and they decided the best way to do that seemed to return to England and offer their service. Here she used the name Nora Baker to fit in with the other women workers and not attract suspicion due to her half-Indian heritage. The story of her childhood and the challenge she faced is well-described in a biography by Shrabani Basu. A PBS documentary-drama, Enemy of the Reich, is another take on her story.

Noor was one of the first women radio operators trained in Morse Code—and decoding messages for the government could have been the extent of her work, save for one fact. She was a fluent French speaker, and that attracted the attention of the office of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the famed espionage organization set up by the British to sabotage Nazi operations in Europe. Noor was interviewed by Selwyn Jepson, the British crime writer who became the SOE’s chief recruiter. Jepson asked if she would be willing to travel back to France and transmit messages. He said she would not be protected by international laws of warfare, and only receive ordinary service pay that would be held for her in England and given to her upon return—or to her survivors, if she didn’t.

Despite the danger of job, Noor immediately agreed. While Jepson felt confident about her, other men in the SOE were concerned that perhaps she was too naïve and honest. Her own father had taught her that the worst sin was to lie. While in training as an agent in Britain, she spoke to a police officer who stopped her and said she was in the SOE—a major mistake. She was counseled and allowed to continue, in large part because her speed and skill at transmitting messages was top notch.

Noor parachuted into France in 1943, clinging fast to the 30-pound suitcase carrying all her transmission equipment and false identity papers naming her “Jeanne-Marie.” Her codename, “Madeleine,” was one she chose from the stories she wrote. Just like her own mother--she had changed identity. Noor's first action was to unite with the spy network, Prosper, to which she was assigned; but within a week, all of the members of the group were betrayed and arrested. The rookie espionage agent was on her own. The London office ordered her to return—but she refused, saying that since she was the only information conduit from Paris, she would stay until a replacement came. The government knew her capture was inevitable, but saw her act as the sacrifice of a soldier in the line of duty.

"Jeanne-Marie" worked hard sending messages and running from one part of Paris to the next, evading capture several times. She was doing the work of a six-person group alone. She communicated with a small group of French agents as well as the British. Some of her achievements during her first four months of work were identifying places for British to drop arms, assisting agents in getting out, managing distribution of arms, and insuring the escape of 30 airmen who’d been shot down in France.

The Germans knew of her existence, so she began changing her hair color—first to red, and then to blonde—and went back to the old neighborhood where she’d lived as a child. Former neighbors were willing to take her in, despite the danger she posed.

With the frequent captures of agents all around her, she must have known how close she was dancing to the fire. One day, she went to meet Canadian agents per London’s directions; the problem was, the Canadians had been captured and the people she met were non-German Nazis. Noor worked unknowingly with them for several weeks, but she was ultimately arrested and questioned in a Gestapo interrogation prison set up in an elegant mansion at 84 Avenue Foch. Unfortunately, it took quite a while for the British to understand she’d been captured—they kept sending messages on the radio, and the Germans answered using false information.

Other people held at the same time said that Noor resisted giving information even under torture. She attempted escape at least twice; in the end she was kept in solitary confinement and shackled. I can only imagine how dispiriting this must have been, and I wonder if she turned to the prayers and songs of her childhood for comfort.

The war had definitively turned in the Allies’ favor in September, 1944, and it became crucial for the Nazis to eliminate imprisoned agents who might later reveal their actions during the war. Noor and other women resistance agents were transferred from France to Germany and the Dachau 
concentration camp in Germany. There, Noor was identified as an especially dangerous type—they called her “the Creole” and was given the most sadistic treatment. She spent her sole night at Dachau being kicked and beaten and was ultimately shot to death along with the other women agents. It was September 13, 1944—seven months before the camp was liberated by the Allies.

Noor Inayat Khan was just one of many women working against Hitler who were killed in the line of duty. She is popularly called her the “Spy Princess” due to the longago link to Tippu Sultan, although she was by no means a royal.

Noor never was able to see her family after leaving England for France in 1943--and she certainly didn't get the service pay the British government promised for her service. But she was one of three SOE women awarded the George Cross, and she also received the French Croix se Guerre.

Five years ago, the British artist Karen Newman sculpted her image. Her likeness stands in London’s Gordon Square near her former childhood home. Fortunately, it does not say "Spy Princess," a title she would never have been called, had she lived. Noor's face holds a quiet, melancholy expression--as if she knows this, too. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

mostly France

I'm pounding the laptop keys in foggy San Francisco. Maybe you remember what Mark Twain said about this city during August, 'The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.' True enough and I'm editing my story, set in an unseasonably warm autumn in Paris, consulting my notebooks and visuals.
Here's what's helping me remember that time in Paris.

 Aimée's pink scooter
 Warm, flaky croissants
 Berthillon's famous ice cream cake from Ile Saint-Louis
Oysters at le Baron Rouge
 Playing boules
 Checking out the anarchist cafe la Liberté
 Stopping at Empress Eugenie's necklace styled mansion now given to charity
 The Picpus cemetary where aristo's and commoners, beheaded at nearby Place de la Nation, remains were carted through the gates during the Revolution.
ok back to work,
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, August 13, 2018

Murder As You Like It

Annamaria on Monday

Independent bookstores are the lifeblood of mid-list writers like me.  They are our best hope for having our work put into the hands of new readers.  They were an endangered species in the USA for at least a decade and a half, but now - like the American bald eagle - independent bookstores are making a comeback.

One of my absolute favorites is the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop in central Pennsylvania.  The proprietor, Deb Beamer is a knowledgeable and ultra-enthusiastic mystery lover and a very savvy business woman.  Every other year she runs a small but, from a writer's point of view, very successful conference.  I have had the privilege and pleasure to be invited twice - the second time this past weekend.

Getting to the event in Mechanicsburg more or less on time on Saturday meant taking a very early train from Penn Station.

Here is what I saw along the way, when I wasn't deeply into polishing up my work-in-progress.

From the train: sunrise over central New Jersey

The skyline of Philadelphia.  Forget the WC Fields jokes.  It's one of the best
small cities in the country.

Summer wildflowers were everywhere along the tracks

And lovely views of the beautiful Pennsylvania farm country.
This convinced me that I want to watch the film, The Witness again.

For reasons never explained the train was delayed for half an hour in Lancaster

The delay meant that I was late for the start of author speed-dating, the first event.  I had to hit the ground running when I arrived.

Photo: Bill Peschel

My panel was called Author Appearance Weirdness, in which we discussed strange and funny things that have happened to us at book signings.  I stuck to ones that would make people laugh.

The crowd at Murder As You Like It is much smaller than at larger conferences and minuscule compared to extravaganzas like Bouchercon, but the fan to author ratio is very favorable and the book buyers very enthusiastic.  The atmosphere is warm and relaxed.

I had seen the sunrise that morning.  The train was passing through almost the exact spot on the way home when New Jersey (my native state) treated me to a lovely sunset.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Farewell to France

Zoë Sharp

Leaving France, where I spent just about the whole of July, was hard. Not only because it was beautiful, but because it was also a place that seemed to inspire creativity. Had I realised how distracted I would be once I got back to the UK, I might have been tempted to stay on another month or two! Just until the latest Charlie Fox book was finished, anyway.

Of course, it had its downside, like the flying ant invasion that suddenly appeared in my bedroom one night. The problem was, they disappeared during the day and you never quite knew when they might pop up again. I’m not particularly squeamish, but I was feeling severely outnumbered.

Yup, those are flying ants making a highway along the skirting board...
Despite France being mooted as the country of excellent cuisine, the restaurant meals were generally very disappointing in quality, although the fresh food – particularly that available at the weekly Thursday market at Villefranche-de-Rouergue – was exceptional.

Fellow author Libby Fischer Hellmann, who shared part of my writing retreat in France
I’ve tried buying apricots and melon since I returned home and it definitely doesn’t have the same flavour. I did not, however, quite have the courage to try A Fish Called Colin.

Even the promotional price couldn't tempt me to try Colin
Food was not the only thing on sale at the market. I bought a dish for grating garlic in, as well as having my trusty Swiss Army Knife sharpened. You could also buy a variety of clothing.

All things are for sale at Villefrance market
And all kinds of other stuff that defied description, really. The brown velour phone cover was particularly fetching…

Brown velour phone cover the height of '70s chic
In Albi, the Catholic cathedral of St Cécile was a staggering sight and must have been even more so when it was first finished in 1480. The interior was stunning and the exterior – built almost entirely of brick as there was no suitable local stone – looks more fortress than church. I particularly liked the stone gargoyles protruding out from high on the walls. Must be quite spectacular when it rains!

the amazing brick Cathedral de Sainte-Cécile in Albi

The interior was stunning, especially the seat for the bishop
A proper gargoyle high up on one of the towers of St Cécile
Elsewhere in Albi, the detail on the houses was a delight to discover, such as the door knockers and catches for window shutters.

Door knocker detail in Albi

window shutter catch detail in Albi
Back in our rural writing retreat, the insects kept us company – fortunately, other types than just flying ants – such as the bees and this enormous stag beetle.

beautiful bees in the French garden

sizeable stag beetle in the French garden
And, of course, the two cats acted as constant muses. Here they are in consultation about plotting and character development.

the cat muses, Inky and Spatz

It was on the trip back that I got to see one of the most amazing French buildings, though, with the Château de Bonneval, not far from Limoges. This fabulous castle had been in the same family since the site was first developed in 930 AD by an ancestor of the Bonneval family. There is still a Marquis de Bonneval in residence today.

the Château de Bonneval

when Bonneval was no longer required to be a fortress,
the windows were added and this section of the moat turned into a terrace
Sadly, my stay in France, as with all good things, came to an end. After a long drive up-country, past field after field of sunflowers, we eventually made the ferry from Calais to Dover. Back to traffic jams and overcrowded roads. And, somehow, not quite the same sense of flow with the writing that France seemed to encourage.

French sunflowers

the White Cliffs of Dover

This week’s Word of the Week is aposiopesis, meaning to break off in speech and leave unfinished, and is usually denoted by an em-dash or ellipsis. It comes from the Classical Greek meaning ‘becoming silent’. It is said to occur when the ‘if’ clause (or protasis) of a condition is stated without an ensuing ‘then’ clause (or apodosis). It should apparently never be followed by a full stop to result in four consecutive dots.