How did I find myself sitting at a keyboard wondering what to type? Could I navigate my new webpage to actually write my very first blog?
My book “From Moulin Rouge to Gaudi’s City” gives readers some idea of how I came to travel to France, with a list of places I’d always wanted to see tucked firmly in my hand luggage. Writing about my someday travels in a blog, well then…
I have always loved reading memoirs. I was only 11 when I discovered Gerald Durrells’ books about his life as a boy on Corfu and years later, my mother sent me a copy of “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle which I devoured. As retirement approached, I found myself with more time on my hands and once again I looked for memoirs about Europe, discovering “Driving over Lemons” by Chris Stewart. His tales of establishing a farm in a remote area of Spain’s Andalucia fascinated me and when I had finished his books, I visited Amazon and typed in ‘Memoirs, Spain’.
Immediately I was intrigued by the title “Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools”, Victoria Twead’s first memoir, and loved it. Reading as much as I could of her work, I became part of the worldwide ‘Old Fools’ contingent, waiting for each new book about her life in Spain with relish. My kindle indicated that she had an email address and so I wrote to her. I was thrilled to receive a sweet note thanking me for writing and saying how pleased she was that I enjoyed her books. My kindle also informed me that there was a website founded by Victoria and Alan Parks called We Love Memoirs. As I looked at their Facebook page I knew I’d found a wonderful little corner of the internet.
It’s a closed group and I applied to join. Several days later, I was admitted and entered an amazing world where my jaw literally dropped. Many memoir writers were members and I had already read their books! They weren’t distant, shadowy figures, they were friendly, chatty authors who joined in the activities of the website enthusiastically and were generous with their time. This was rapidly morphing into my happy interweb place.
As I navigated my way around the WLM site and met many of the authors I’d discovered through their memoirs, I began to see that not only were writers and readers a part of the group, but some editors for Victoria Twead’s publishing company, Ant Press, were members as well.
There was a travel competition advertised. Could I write about something that had happened during my travels in 1000 words? Well I did, I wrote about my ill-fated adventures on Le Petit Train Jaune, the little yellow train of the French Pyrenees, and that month I was the winner! I had always wanted to write but to have a piece of my scribbling receive acknowledgement was incredible. I began to jot down bits and pieces about my first trip to France and Barcelona and without realising it, I suddenly had close to 7000 words in Word format on driving in southern France.
Through We Love Memoirs, I’d met a wonderful author who lived fairly close to the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France where my driving adventures were set. Beth Haslam, author of the amazing “Fat Dogs and French Estates” series had been extremely encouraging and supportive of my writing attempts and I sent her my fairly clumsy scratchings for comment. Clumsy? Yes, it was a clumsy document. It was written in present tense, contained woefully incorrect French and focused more on the car than my travel experiences in southern France.
“I think you should let someone read this.” was Beth’s advice. I was given the name of one of the Ant Press editors , Zoe Marr, and timidly sent my document into the ether, but as I was about to embark on a tour of Italy, I didn’t give my submitted writing much more thought. My trip was brilliant. My sister and I loved Italy, especially Sorrento and on our second morning on the Amalfi Coast, I was idly checking my emails when a post caught my eye. It was from Zoe and these words literally jumped off the page. “I’d be interested in seeing a finished manuscript of approximately 80,000 words, with a view to offering you a publishing contract.”
And that’s what I did. I arrived home and began trawling through the pictorial records of my trip in 2012. I tried to write 1000 words a day but I wasn’t always successful. I researched the places we had visited and looked more closely at their history; history that was always an integral part of the bricks and mortar, the trees and gardens, the streets and waterways. I needed to anchor my writing in something more than interesting outings, delicious food and memorable wines.
As I wrote, I walked with Mary Queen of Scots in the French court of Amboise, gazed again with Monet through the windows of his country house in Giverny, grieved for the slaughter of the Cathars of Minerve and stared in awe once more at the splendour and brilliance of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.
I hit approximately 80,000 words in the latter part of 2016 and submitted my manuscript. Then came the obligatory corrections, rewriting, proofreading and re-reading of every word over and over. I needed art work for a cover. I’d also envisioned using small sketches to introduce each chapter and I wanted the artist to capture what I felt when I wrote about my travels. Diane Bendeich, read my manuscript and sketched some ideas. They were perfect and after several brainstorming sessions we settled on my cover design. I loved describing what I wanted and then watching it take shape exactly as I’d imagined.
One of the final steps involved a shadowy group of individuals called beta readers and my book was sent to them for comment. They seemed to like it and so my memoir was slated for publication in early September 2017!
It’s been quite a steep learning curve, but you can now read about my three weeks in France and Spain in the early summer of 2012. “From Moulin Rouge to Gaudi’s City” is finally here!