Friday, 28 October 2011

Let the signings commence!

Yesterday The Christmas Angel, Marcia’s twenty-first novel written under her own name, was published by Transworld.
This should, of course, be a great day: the culmination of twelve months work but it isn’t. Marcia was really finished with this book about eighteen months ago when it was accepted by her editor and, since then, has written another book which is on production (The Sea Garden) and is working on number twenty-three. The really great day is the one on which her editor accepts the manuscript. Then we do celebrate!
Transworld, however, never fail to send her a bunch of flowers and so I took this picture as she was unwrapping them yesterday.
As it happened we received copies of the Danish version of The Christmas Angel at the same time. Here is their cover – a very different ‘take’ on this book!
I am told that the title is ‘Time for Change’.
The sun was rising over the Okement Valley on Dartmoor when we hauled ourselves out of bed. This was taken from our bedroom window.
Today Marcia has driven over to Kingsbridge to sign books at The Harbour Bookshop. We felt that it would be unfair for us all to go as it would have meant Jossie spending far too long in the car. It was not the best of days to be making that journey. The obvious route goes through Cornwood but the centre of the village was closed to traffic. This meant a long diversion onto roads that were extremely busy – it is half term and the west country is full of people down for a few days which is lovely but does cause some problems. Coming back was slow, too. In order to avoid Cornwood, Marcia drove up to Buckfast and over the moor from there. As she put it, ‘The Moor was heaving but it was a lovely sunny trip.’ And, indeed it has been a wonderful day. Tomorrow it will be Book Stop in Tavistock: we shall be going together but the forecast is for some pretty dreadful weather.
Marcia and a great friend of ours, Caroline Winterton, enjoying a joke.

Marcia and Pat Abrehart, who owns The Harbour Bookshop, with Jayne: one of Marcia's faithful readers.
Marcia joshing with her brother-in-law, Roger, and Louise, one of Pat's assistants, while she signs the stock

Friday, 21 October 2011

Angel Hunting in North Cornwall

It must have been about three years ago now when Marcia was feeling pretty desperate because we just couldn’t find the location for The Christmas Angel (or, as she titled the book ‛Unpacking the Angel’). The one ‛known’ was that it would be in Cornwall because there was to be a connection with surfing – although a very tenuous one. We had tried the south coast all the way down to the Lizard Peninsula but with no success and the various parts of the north coast had seemed no better until we visited St Endellion for a completely different reason.

Actually it is quite odd how often this happens: when you find what you want it is because you are looking for something completely different. I was talking to a friend of mine who is a retired scientist and he was saying something similar. ‟When we find a cure for cancer, if we ever do, it won’t be the people in cancer research who find it. No, it will be someone else: someone looking for something like, oh, I don’t know, something like finding a new strain of wheat which offers greater yields. Something like that which is in a different field altogether.″

Well, it was something like that. We were in St Endellion because a great friend of ours is buried there. His widow now lives in Bath and she and Marcia communicate by telephone at least once week. So, having visited the grave and put some fresh wild flowers on it, we had lunch in the farm shop just up the road.

Suddenly Marcia realised that this was where two of her characters had met for coffee. It was not quite the centre of things but at least we had a rough idea of where everything would take place.

A few days later we – well I – drove down and, for no really good reason, carried on down the A39 (which more or less follows the coast from Bridgewater in Somerset all the way down to the west of Cornwall) through Wadebridge not knowing where I was going to end up. I was getting a little tired of the main road as we approached to turning off to Padstow so I turned right there and carried on until I was nearly in the village. For some reason that thought didn’t appeal so when the road swung round to the right I veered left onto a lane and then right onto an even narrower one.

Where are we going?’ asked Marcia. There was only one honest reply.

No idea but we can’t get lost down here. Sooner or later we shall see somewhere we know.’

It was, in fact, much later for we found ourselves driving down a steep and narrow lane into Trevone having passed a place at the top where we could have stopped.
This was the first glimpse we had of the area that was to dominate our lives for the next few months. The rooks are foraging in a field recently sown with barley.
We were to watch the barley grow and to see it harvested.
We must go back,’ Marcia had that look so I turned round and back we went. She jumped out of our old camper van and set off down a path towards the cliffs leaving me to prepare coffee. She returned with a big grin on her face and I knew we had struck gold.

What both of us found fascinating about this part of the coastline was all the tiny things that we found – tiny things that we could not remember seeing in other places. I will let the pictures explain what I mean.
Hundreds - and I mean hundreds - of snails lurking in crevases in walls.
More snails clinging to the stalks of various plants.
The air in this part of the country is so purse that lichens and mosses are commonpalce.
Not quite so welcome was the swarm of these little fellows that we encountered one day towards the end of April although I spent an interesting half hour trying to get a picture.
Meanwhile Marcia was on the cliffs brooding...
... and listening to the gulls nesting on the cliff below and they do make a surprising amount of noise
This 'doorway' through one of the walls on the coastal footpath was to play a part in the book.
This is the Roundhole. Technically this is a collapsed sea cave. You can see where the sea flows in and out with the tides. The collapsed debris is gradually swept out to sea leaving a round hole that drops from the field above Harlyn Bay down to sea level, a drop of a couple of hundred feet. This, too, plays its part in this novel.
A real surprise was to find these mallows scattered about.
They were in flower for only a week or two and so would have been very easy to miss.
There are many wild flowers on these cliffs as this posy that Marcia pickled demonstrates.
It seems such a long time ago but, as I am sure you all realise, from the time when Marcia starts brooding about a book to the time it finds itself on a bookshelf waiting to be bought is usually over two years. Anyway, publication day will have come and gone before I post my next Friday blog. I think you are all in for a real treat.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Christmas Angel and clouds with silver linings

Pete (our regular postman) dropped off a parcel from Transworld the other day containing the advance copy of the hardback edition of The Christmas Angel. This moment always takes both of us back to the time we spent researching the landscape in which the book was set. Here are some of the photographs that I then took, many of which I turned into montages which Marcia had beside her while she was actually writing.
The book is set on the north coast of Cornwall a few miles from the village of Trevone which sits above a beach which is typical for this area.

Like so many of the beaches in this area, this is a favourite for all: from those who wish to lie around quietly snoozing to the more energetic who wish build sand fortifications or have come here for the surfing.
Take the coastal footpath north from Trevone and you will be walking above spectacular cliffs, home to hundreds of sea birds, If you are lucky you may see seals on the rocks below.

Once on the tops, it is as if sky and sea stretch to infinity. The imaginary village of Peneglos which tumbles down to the sea in a narrow valley is set in the cove you can see in the centre of the photograph.
Although Peneglos is an imaginary village it is, of course, typical of the area. These pictures of Port Isaac may give you some idea.

 One of the hard facts of life these days is the speed at which small - and some not so small - bookshops are being closed down. This came home rather forcibly because two of the shops on the preliminary list for Marcia to visit in order to meet her readers and sign some books have or are about to be closed. The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth closed last month. Putting aside this is my home town, it was for a time owned by Christopher Robin Milne who was our near neighbour for a while and one of the nicest men you could meet. However, the real shock was when Waterstone's announced that they would be closing their Tiverton branch in the near future.

Quite a few of the shops in which Marcia has signed books are no longer with us including The Mitre in Newton Abbot, Ivybridge Book Shop and the one in Bovey Tracey.

On a somewhat jollier note, the weather over the last few weeks has been extraordinary. One morning about ten days ago it was so lovely that the sun streaming into the bedroom forced us to rise a little earlier than usual. While Marcia was making the tea, I took this picture from just outside the kitchen.
The sky is not always so benign - here is one taken as a front was crossing over Dartmoor from almost exactly the same spot.
I must admit that I have a thing about clouds and taken well over a thousand photographs taken in all sorts of locations around the south west. Here, by way of contrast, is an evening sky - this one taken from our terrace.
That's it for this week. I hope to see you again next Friday.

If you want to leave a comment and do not have one of the accounts that are listed, you can always comment as 'Anonymous' but it is nice if you then sign the comment with your name.

Friday, 7 October 2011


Having decided to head this blog with the title of my favourite western it will be interesting to see whether dividing it up like this actually works. Well, nothing ventured – nothing gained. So …


The sun has been shining and for a couple of days we were able to have our breakfast outside on the terrace. That seems almost inconceivable in October but then it has been a very strange year weather-wise. Some are suggesting that we are in for another hard winter but we shall just have to see. Certainly the holly trees in the garden are full of fruit – and ivy. They say that a heavy crop of holly berries precedes a hard winter but how can the holly trees think ahead like that? I suppose it is that a certain weather pattern during the spring and summer both creates the heavy berry crop and a cold winter but in that case you would have thought that the weather men would know about the connection but they appear not to. 

Although the ivy is doing our holly trees no good at all it does provide a fantastic habitat for all sorts of reasons. It provides shelter for innumerable insects, invertebrates and spiders as well as birds and bats – which also roost in our roof. At this time of the year the ivy flowers are an important source of pollen and nectar for wasps, butterflies, bees and flies. Later, during the spring, it is the berries that matter. They are slightly poisonous so cannot be eaten in large quantities but they have a high fat content which gives our birds invaluable energy when they need it most. Woodpigeons, starlings, blackbirds, thrushes and blackcaps (newly arrived having spent the winter on the continent) all feed on them. Other birds such as the tits (greater, blue, brown, coal and long-tailed), firecrests and other insect eaters also use the ivy as a handy larder.

Some people ask why there are two sorts of leaves on the ivy. The well known lobed ‘ivy shaped’ leaves (lower photo) are adapted to living in low light conditions. These are the one on the ivy found creeping along the ground or climbing up walls and trees. As the plant matures it throws out branches which include flowering shoots. Here the leaves are ovate. This only happens where there is sufficient light.

These holly trees grow on the bank between our garden and the field to our north east and shelter us from the worst of the bitterly cold winds that blow from that direction. I have a rather horrid feeling that the remaining two with their swathes of ivy are about to fall down as one did last winter. Fortunately some young hollies, some hazel bushes and a blackthorn growing on the old hedge line and we are doing all we can to encourage these.


Following our trip across to Holne, Marcia was beginning to think that we had found the location for her next book but when we paid a visit to Ashburton which would then be her people’s nearest sensible town, they didn’t seem to want to shop there. So, it seems unlikely that they are over on that side of the moor and that we are back to square one. This has happened many times before – and I shall keep you posted.

 The River Ashburn, from which the town takes it's name, can change from a gentle stream to a raging torrent following heavy rain up on the moors.

 There is still a rather lovely old fashioned feel about Ashburton.
Hard to imagine that it was not that long ago that this was the main road from Exeter down to Plymouth.

One thing that is quite surprising, and I think comes under ‘bad’, is that many of Marcia’s books refer to shops, caf├ęs, restaurants and even pubs that no longer exist. This is not surprising, of course. The loss of retail outlets as a result of out-of-town and internet shopping is a universal problem. I suppose that the fact that these places have a record in her novels is a good thing but readers who have visited the west country often email to say how disappointed they were to find that they could not find such-and-such.


An email arrived the other day. It was in the form of a comment left on the web site. This is what it said:

I am incredibly disappointed! I was on a website recently, trying to fill in book titles of yours so that I would have all that you had written. The website offered Amazon or The Book Depository. Turns out that I ordered 6 titles from the Depository, that Amazon did not have, and now I realize that I already have some of them, just with DIFFERENT titles. What a miserable trick and a horrendous expense. I have a library of over 2500 titles and love reading but you just lost a reader who was totally devoted to your work. Nasty, nasty. My family is from England and Wales and I have sent word across the pond not to purchase Marcia Willett books. How sad that such a dirty thing has been done!

I emailed straight back:

Whilst understanding your problem, it should be understood that the author has no control over the title that is used by publishers. This is explicit in all contracts. Unfortunately St Martins Press in the USA decided to use a different title from the one used by Marcia Willett's UK publisher. This is made as clear as possible on the web site.

Do not blame the author as that is unfair. Blame the publishers.

Thank you.

PS This message has NOT been passed to Marcia Willett as it would cause her great distress and there is no point in that, is there?

This message bounced back as the address the person had put on the comment form was wrong. This means there is no way of putting her right which I find rather distressing. We make quite a thing of this problem on the web site to try and stop people being disappointed but to underline it once again here are the books in question.

 'Those Who Serve': published in the USA under the title 'First Friends' and issued in two editions with different covers.

 'Thea's Parrot': published in the USA as 'A Friend of the Family'

'Forgotten Laughter': published in the USA as 'A Summer in the Country'