Tag Archives: France

Diary of a hopeful author: Rolling with the punches in a pink tutu…

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

Hey there. How was your summer? Long-time no see. Well, I’m back. You may (or, most likely, may not) have noticed, I’ve been unusually quiet over the course of the summer. And now, like a fairy in a pink tutu (?) I’m skipping into autumn, humming a tune and it’s all systems go. The reason I’ve been away is, to be honest, I needed a break and wanted to have some family time. My kids are getting bigger and I have a sinking feeling in my heart that this may have been the last summer they truly want to spend the whole of it with me. I know. I am a lyrical drama queen, but then I guess I am Irish.

Anyhoo, the great thing about having a break is that it gives you time to think. And read. And I do love a read. A writer can’t write if she doesn’t read. Right?This year, we went to France camping (rained so heavy one night the tent nearly caved in – me and hubbie drank neat Cointreau out of the bottle while we guarded the tent. Slept surprising well after that…). France was followed by Centre Parcs in Holland and that was where the real reading began, um, for no other reason than I could actually see the page at night (turns out camping torches don’t work so well…). With the iPad Kindle app thingamajig loaded up, I turned to one book that may surprise you. It was the autobiography of Bear Grylls. Mud, Sweat and Tears, it’s called. As a writer (of sorts), I always go everywhere with my Moleskin (get me) note book and pen to scribble ideas on. Turns out I needed it a lot this time, because Bear gave me a fair bit to ponder. For those of you who don’t know the big Bear, let me shed some fairy dust on it for you. He’s a British adventurer who was once in the SAS, climbed Everest (at 21!) and is now a huge TV person type man who, as the Stranglers say, is Big In America. Oh, and he fronts a show called Man vs. Wild (or Born Survivor in the UK). You’d think a fellow like this – old Etonian, posh voice – would be a bit of arse. But turns out he’s not. Just goes to show you, we must never judge. The delight is in the discovery, as they say. Bear has wise things to say – and I ended up spending every night of our first few days in Holland reading his book. I even got up at 3 a.m. unable to sleep – and read his book.  What is it about certain autobiographies that make us look at our own lives and question them?

Grylls scribbles down pearls of wisdom, some passed down to him from older generations, some learned from his own experiences. How could I ignore that? ‘Dig deep’ is a phrase of his that sticks in the mind. Along with ‘Who dares wins’ the SAS motto. Other phrases stick too. Like ‘roll with the punches’ – a phrase from his mum. This one made me really think. Rolling with the punches means excepting whatever comes your way, don’t always fight it because you never know where it may take you. I repeated the phrase to my kids. It didn’t quite go to plan. ‘Why do I have to roll?’ asked the youngest, frowning. ‘Do we roll down the hill?’ said the eldest. ‘’cause that’s fun!’ I guess I need to explain metaphors a little more. Reading a couple of other books on holiday helped all round. I got through While I was Asleep by SJ Watson, a debut novel and well worth the hype. Cracking writer. Also read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ book, News of a Kidnapping. Highly recommend it – the man is a Nobel prize-winning genius.

Anyway, now I’m back in Blighty, rolling with the punches is the new me. In fact, the new me is soon to be a new weekend columnist for another local newspaper. I know! What were they thinking? I’ll let you know next week which paper it is, but what I can say now is that I’ll be writing a regular column for the re-launch of their new glossy weekend magazine. Nerves, woman. Control the nerves. I have to do new pictures (aargh!), and an interview sort of thing to introduce myself. Gulp. I am really looking forward to it – and it will all be alongside my weekly Gazette column. Happy, happy days.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with it all. I don’t even know if it will all work out. But as Bear says (alright, well, his mum), I’m going to roll with the punches. I’ll have a laugh and see what happens. In the meantime, I’m going to keep editing my next novel in which I am knee deep (still no bloody title, mind) and I’ll also be changing the blog post line up, just to enhance it a touch. Think of it as a blog makeover, if you will, but with just the same amount of wrinkles. It’s like a fairy in a tutu skipping into Autumn. New season, new look.  Let’s roll with those punches then and see where it takes us. Put ’em up!

Links: Bear Grylls Twitter, Mud, Sweat & Tears autobiography

**Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about why our town shop fronts should be better**

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Win a copy of The Boy Who Played Guitar – now out in paperback

It’s Media Monday where I post my views on the latest writing and publishing news: The Boy Who Played Guitar is now out in paperback…

Oh my giddy aunt! I don’t normally pop a post about my own Media Monday news, but I’m off on my holidays so what the heck! My book The Boy Who Played Guitar is now out in paperback and to celebrate – and because you’re all so nice – I  I have a free copy to give away .

To win a copy of the book, simply answer this question:

What was the title of my short story that won the Wotton Arts & literature 2012 Short Story Prize? Was it:

a) The Woman Who Had a Limp

b) The Woman Who Had Piles

c) The Woman Who Walked to School

You can find the answer (if you haven’t guessed already…) by taking a look through my blog posts. To send your answers, just use the ‘contact me’ section to my blog – that way no sneaky answers will appear in the comments section….

The competition closes Monday 6th August when I’ll pull a name from the hat to chose the lucky winner.

If you fancy ordering a copy of The Boy Who Played Guitar, if you know, you feel like it, you can on Amazon. For the UK, click on this link. For the USA, click on this link.

The book’s already received rave reviews, with review site FacE-Bookers saying: ‘It was a flowing story…that had them giggling in some places and crying in others.’

Here’s a bit more about the book…

What do you do when life hits a rut? Stuck in a failing secondary school in Cheltenham, ageing Assistant Principal, Dan McClean, is fed up. His 16-year old pupils won’t learn; the school’s changing to an Academy; his wife can’t have a baby; and his middle is growing faster than Facebook. So when one day the school Principal tells Dan to get his pupils’ grades up or they’re off the higher exam paper, Dan hits on an idea: he’ll start a school choir. But what Dan doesn’t know is that by setting up the choir, he’s starting down a road where life will never quite be the same again.

From columnist and debut novelist, Nikki Owen, a heart-warming, poignant tale of courage, loss and what it really means to find out who your friends are –even if they do like Lady Gaga.

Thanks for tolerating my shameless plug! Have a great week – and thanks so much for following my blog. It’s great us all getting to know everyone.

I’ll be taking a little blog break now, so see you after my holiday. France – here we come!

Nikki

**

Friday fact or fiction: How to wear shoes in Paris…

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with another of my travel articles for The Guardian newspaper.

Paris – the city of love and sore feet…

‘Shoes?’ says hubbie. ‘But we’re off to Paris. The city of love,’ he cried. ‘Look, Mister,’ I say.’ If we’re going to wander around Paris, love or not, I’m going to require suitable footwear.’

And with that, grateful that we weren’t flying pay-as-you-carry, we set off on our 4-day, 10th anniversary break to Paris. With the weather predicted 24-7 sunshine, we decided to see the city by foot. Having done the tourist sights 5 years before, this time we wanted to potter through the side streets of Paris thankful that: a) we had no kids to entertain; and b) we had no bunions (yet).

Arriving at 4-star Les Jardins du Marais, we high-fived each other when we saw our room (i.e. large – Parisian hotel rooms are notoriously petite). Having jumped on the huge bed and checked out the marbled bathroom, I took one whiff of the heat from the window, opted for Birkenstocks (comfort!) and off we set. Walking around the district of Marais was bliss. A warren of cafes, high-end shops and museums, it was once the place of the Royal residence and is now, as we discovered while on our third cafe noir of the day, the centre of the Parisian gay scene. Oh yes, for the first time since parenthood, we felt hip. Donning our shades, we crossed the Seine into the Latin Quarter, bustling with Sorbonne students and tortured artist types, where we stopped for a petite bierre followed by some second-hand French book purchasing. ‘But you can’t speak French,’ I said to hubbie. Handing the man the Euros, he said, ‘They’ll look good on the coffee table.’ Hmmm, good point. We ended the day with swollen ankles and tapas at a Spanish restaurant, Caves Saint Gilles, frequented by locals where the chef was grumpy, the food cheap but good, and not a Laboutin in sight.

The next three days were a sun-soaked meander of walking and Metro rides. We ambled through the expensive streets of St.Germain (think Gucci, Armani), had our breath taken away in the Opera district (by two things: one, the view of the Opera National as you come out of the metro station – wow; and two, coffees at 9 Euros a pop in the Cafe de la Paix.), wandered the Champs Elysees by night (busy but exhilarating), gawped at the Pompidou centre, and relaxed in the enchanting Jardin de Luxembourg. Our anniversary meal (pre-booked on-line) was at Le Petit Bordelais, a restaurant run by Michelin-starred, and jolly friendly, Phillipe Penecote (choose the ‘Degustation’ menu with wine – yum). My pearl shoe clips fell off on the walk back, but with the Eiffel tower lit up behind us, the last scent of summer in the night air – and French wine in my system – it didn’t matter. I turned and gave hubbie a kiss. ‘What was that for?’ he asked. I linked his arm. ‘The city of love, right?’ He grinned. ‘Shall we head back?’ I nodded. ‘Please. My feet are killing me.’

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday fact or fiction: A travel article for The Guardian on a spot of French cricket…

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with my travel article for The Guardian newspaper competition. *I accidentally posted this on Monday. Don’t quite know how. Either way, hope you still enjoy. I am going to check my fingers for butter right now…*

French cricket, but not in the USA…

Boyhood’s a funny thing. When my husband was a boy, he used to play French Cricket. If you’re saying, ‘French what now?’ – a quick synopsis. Player one stands still with a tennis racket by their legs while the fielding team chuck a tennis ball at them with the aim of trying hit the racket-holder’s legs. You hit the target, you’re up next to hold the racket, and so on. Not a cricket bat in sight, but you get the idea. Well, with school out for another summer, it was French cricket and other assorted childhood memories that were on our minds as we arrived tired but buoyant at our gite in the Brittany village of Lintivic.

Cottage
Our gite in France – we hid round the back…

Magically named “Little Orchard”, we smiled as we parked under a plum tree to see grape vines draping the windows and a farmer puffing on a Gauloise, batting away flies in the adjoining field. This was France circa 1950. At the sight of all the grapes, our 8-year old shrieked, ‘Ooo, can we eat them?’ While the 6-year old took one look at the apple trees, and piped up, ‘Cool! Grenades.’ Oh to be a tomboy. As I cracked open a bottle Brittany cider left as a welcoming present by the gite-owners, and checked out the 18th century fire hearth and open-plan living area (so clean!), hubbie sighed as he gazed through the window. I took a swig and narrowed my eyes. ‘Pelted with a plum already?’  He shook his head as he took his glass. ‘No,’ he said, his arm levitating forward. ‘Look.’

 I followed his eye line and stopped. The garden, all ours, was almost as big as a football pitch, with a pool, also ours, tucked in its sidelines, blue water winking in the sun. ‘Wow’, I said, wondering where the inflatables were. ‘The girls will love that.’ But, as I began the search for swimming cossies, my husband simply grinned and said, ‘French cricket.’

 Games with tennis rackets were just the start of our two-week trip back to childhood. The gite garden was stocked full of delights such as petanque (tricky), football (mum as goalie – ouch), badminton (monopolised by us grown-ups) and hoops (a kid winner), to name a few. Five minutes drive away was the zip-wire Adventure Forest in Camors, suitable for even the 6-year old, who promptly declared it ‘awesome’. And it was. We hit the 3km beaches in Carnac,  ideal for rock pooling, and the town of Auray, with its hilled streets and sweeping river that caused our 8-year old to declare –whilst scoffing Moules Frites, a Brittany classic- France to be her favourite because, and I quote, ‘it’s looks nice, has good music and good food.’ Well said. Perhaps apart from the music.

Such a blast to our childhood past did we have, that we’re now planning a road trip up the Californian coast, to which the girls asked, ‘Do they play French Cricket there?’ Hmmm. French cricket in the USA? Pass me the racket.

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Next Friday I’ll be posting another Guardian travel-writing piece of mine. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday Fiction post: Our family holiday to France

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with my article written for The Guardian Travel writing competion… 

Boyhood’s a funny thing. When my husband was a boy, he used to play French Cricket. If you’re saying, ‘French what now?’ – a quick synopsis. Player one stands still with a tennis racket by their legs while the fielding team chuck a tennis ball at them with the aim of trying hit the racket-holder’s legs. You hit the target, you’re up next to hold the racket, and so on. Not a cricket bat in sight, but you get the idea. Well, with school out for another summer, it was French cricket and other assorted childhood memories that were on our minds as we arrived tired but buoyant at our gite in the Brittany village of Lintivic.

Magically named “Little Orchard”, we smiled as we parked under a plum tree to see grape vines draping the windows and a farmer puffing on a Gauloise, batting away flies in the adjoining field. This was France circa 1950. At the sight of all the grapes, our 8-year old shrieked, ‘Ooo, can we eat them?’ While the 6-year old took one look at the apple trees, and piped up, ‘Cool! Grenades.’ Oh to be a tomboy. As I cracked open a bottle Brittany cider left as a welcoming present by the gite-owners, and checked out the 18th century fire hearth and open-plan living area (so clean!), hubbie sighed as he gazed through the window. I took a swig and narrowed my eyes. ‘Pelted with a plum already?’  He shook his head as he took his glass. ‘No,’ he said, his arm levitating forward. ‘Look.’

            I followed his eye line and stopped. The garden, all ours, was almost as big as a football pitch, with a pool, also ours, tucked in its sidelines, blue water winking in the sun. ‘Wow’, I said, wondering where the inflatables were. ‘The girls will love that.’ But, as I began the search for swimming cossies, my husband simply grinned and said, ‘French cricket.’

            Games with tennis rackets were just the start of our two-week trip back to childhood. The gite garden was stocked full of delights such as petanque (tricky), football (mum as goalie – ouch), badminton (monopolised by us grown-ups) and hoops (a kid winner), to name a few. Five minutes drive away was the zip-wire Adventure Forest in Camors, suitable for even the 6-year old, who promptly declared it ‘awesome’. And it was. We hit the 3km beaches in Carnac,  ideal for rock pooling, and the town of Auray, with its hilled streets and sweeping river that caused our 8-year old to declare –whilst scoffing Moules Frites, a Brittany classic- France to be her favourite because, and I quote, ‘it’s looks nice, has good music and good food.’ Well said. Perhaps apart from the music.

            Such a blast to our childhood past did we have, that we’re now planning a road trip up the Californian coast, to which the girls asked, ‘Do they play French Cricket there?’ Hmmm. French cricket in the USA? Pass me the racket.

 © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting another travel writing article next week.   Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday Fact or Fiction: My short-listed Guardian travel article

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with an article I wrote for The Guardian newspaper which was short-listed for their travel writing competition…

 

It’s all sick bags and champagne on the road to Disneyland, Paris…

Holiday checklist: 4-year old throwing up in a plastic bag whilst sat-navigating the M25? Yup.  4am start? Check. High School Musical soundtrack on loop? Affirmative.  We were off – two shattered parents, two non-shattered 6 and 4 year olds- to France chez Eurocamp and a static caravan, a fortnight’s hols stretching ahead of us like a string of garlic. Our destination: 90km from Paris; close enough to Disneyland for the kids, and to the Champagne houses for the grown-ups; far enough away from work (no Blackberry), bad weather (please, no) and, hold your breath, the telly.

There is something quite alien about living in what is essentially an oversized tin can for two weeks. Dishwasher? Nope. Microwave? Ditto. Luxurious bath? Dream on. But with 4 pools to hand, pedalos, lake, kids crèche and, hurrah, babysitting, things began to feel more familiar. Relaxing though was another matter. ‘Are you chilled out yet?’ my husband would ask on our morning meander to the on-site bakery (oh the smell!) for our ‘see-how-much-we-can-eat-this-time’ run to pick up croissants, fresh baguettes, pain au chocolats. ‘I feel sick now.’ Me. ‘Mum’s letting us have chocolate for breakfast!’ Kids. ‘I just can’t relax.’ Husband. And so that night, using the girls’ felt tips, we drew up a timetable – chilling out time included.

After a day’s blissful me-time at the onsite spa (a massage, heaven!), first up on the chart was Paris. We booked a round-trip coach, thus avoiding hubbie driving around the Arc du Triumph swearing at French car-owners. Perfect. Actually, not quite. Because, Paris is, well, quite grown up. ‘It’s all very fancy,’ declared our six-year old, ‘but it’s boring for kids.’ Cue deep breaths. We thought trips on undergrounds would bag it for them, counting steps up the Eifel Tower ditto, but no.  Hallelujah that Disneyland Paris was a better hit, the plan to stick to one park and get there early meaning minimum queuing. Phew. The eldest cried on the Small World boats: ‘I’m so happy,’ she sighed, and the Buzz Light Year ride was a family favourite. ‘Shoot Zurg!’ yelled husband. The night parade was stunning, fireworks too. The verdict? Worth it.  But, the surprise holiday hit was a tour of the Champagne region. Mummy, as the non-driver, was happy. ‘Moi? Five glasses?’ I protested. ‘You had mine,’ came the reply.  Ah. Good point. The kids were wowed by the panoramic grapevine fields; the electric train ride in the Mercier cellars was fun;  and – as we’d arrived lunch hour (oops)-  in the time we had to wait we found a good, full-of-locals restaurant that served food other than ‘frites’. The only problem? My husband selecting calf’s tongue thinking it might be veal. ‘Oh my god,’ he said half retching. ‘It feels rough!’ I glanced up. He’d gone white.

Mercifully, despite nightmares of bloated tongue, we came back relaxed, void of sickness or M25 traffic jams.  Would we go back? Yup. Already booked.  Now, where are those felt tips?

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  In next Friday’s ‘Fact or Fiction’ it’s the first part of my new short-story ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn.’  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**