Friday, 28 September 2012

Kate's Kronikles

When we first meet Kate, it is her last day at school and she is saying good-bye to her great friend, Cassandra. Although they do not know it then, their lives are to be inextricably entwined. Both appear in a number of Marcia's books. Just for the record, here are the milestones in Kate's life – indicating in which book the events occur. She was born Katherine Beauchamp shortly after the end of the second world war. In 1957 she was sent to a girls' boarding school on the Quantock Hills where she was to meet Cassandra Mackworth.

Those Who Serve

Cassandra invites her to the 1963 Summer Ball at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. Cassandra is going with her fiancée, Tom Wivenhoe, and it is here that Kate meets her future husband, Mark Webster. Both Mark and Tom are studying at the college and both are to enjoy good careers in the submarine service.

Twelve months later both Kate and Cass are married and Kate gives birth to her twin boys in the September of 1965. She is to spend the next few years watching her marriage fall apart, a process exacerbated by Mark's mental cruelty not just to her but, and this is even worse as far as Kate is concerned, to their sons. Inevitably they separate and, in the March of 1976, she is back in Devon and working in a second hand bookshop. An intense affair with the owner of the bookshop ends when she fears that it is damaging her twins. Finally it is Mark who seeks a divorce, which he does in 1981, and for the next few years Kate is not only lonely but has difficulty in making ends meet as she has refused to take anything from Mark on condition that he continues to support the twins who, like the children of most naval officers at that time, are at boarding school.

Thea's Parrot

One of Kate's friends, Felicity Mainwaring, dies and, much to Kate's astonishment, leaves everything to her. Some eighteen months later she is to meet the famous artist David Porteous who is trying to find Felicity. He is taken aback to find a painting that he had given Felicity hanging on the wall in Kate's house. Gradually he tells Kate all about his relationship with Felicity which he had seen as a mild summer flirtation but she had taken far more seriously. To the surprise of both, they find themselves becoming more and more attached to each other. Finally, in 1991 and between books, they marry.

Apart from a passing reference in The Dipper and a brief flash-back in Starting Over, the next time we meet Kate is in Echoes of the Dance. It is 2004 and life has just dealt her two blows and she is grieving for David and her golden retriever.

Roly, whose son looks after Kate's garden, lives on the northern edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. He is fostering a retriever bitch whose owner has died and he invites Kate down in the hope – one to be fulfilled – that she will give Flossie a home. It is during this book that Roly introduces Kate to Bruno Trevannion. We first meet Bruno and the mini-estate called Paradise in The Golden Cup. Included in Paradise is a row of four cottage, once used by boat builder, and one of these is empty following the departure of a tenant. Kate's house is now far too big for her and she has decided to sell but (and Marcia and I both sympathise with this) has no idea what she wants to buy. To give herself a breathing space, she decides to become Bruno's tenant, a move which is, of course, a drastic down size with the result that much of her furniture has to be left in store.

Now, in Marcia's next book, The Sea Garden, we revisit Kate – and Cassandra. You will, however, have to wait until it is published to find out how life has been treating her over the last four or five years. Furthermore, through some flash-backs, we learn more about what was happening to both girls between leaving school and marrying. Enjoy. 

The River Tamar at high tide on a rather nice day.
We are looking upstream from The Sea Garden.

The Jackdaw Jottings

One slight fear we had when we moved into our tree house was that we would miss the birds that had been such an important part of our lives. Certainly there was no evidence that any visited other than an empty peanut holder that hung on a bracket over the railing around the balcony. This we duly filled and waited – and waited – and waited.

Meanwhile the area was echoing to the harsh contact calls of the local jackdaws who spend their time up at this end of the village. They have a 'lookout' in the form of three tall conifers in a neighbour's garden. From there they fly out on forays, perching on roof tops and chimneys, peering into gutters, and dropping down to grab any small morsel that they can find. No one could possibly miss the jackdaws – or so I thought.

Thinking it would be nice to show you another photograph of one of these enchanting (if irritating) birds, I strolled down to the village with camera at the ready. A middle chap came out of his house, looking somewhat puzzled, and asked me what I was doing.

'I'm taking photographs of the jackdaws,' I explained.

'The what?'

'The jackdaws.' Seeing a look of utter bewilderment on his face I added, pointing, 'Those black birds'.

'Birds? Oh, them.'

Yes, them that you see here is two of them.
Sooner or later I shall take a picture which does not show them in silhouette against the sky. 
Now we are beginning to see more than jackdaws. With a bit of judicious feeding on the balcony we have a blackbird, a robin, a number of blue tits, a few great tits, one coal tit and, much to Marcia's joy because she loves them, a small flock of chattering long tailed tits that now call in twice a day – we have obviously become a part of their daily circuit. 


Blue Tit
Coal Tit and Great Tit at rear

Long Tailed Tit
And, of course, jackdaws.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Cafe society

Sorry but we leave the realms of the novelist's wonderfully descriptive writing and go back to the more mundane reportage of your typical hack.

It being many years since I have enjoyed café society, it has been a great joy to wander into Totnes every now and then and to chill out in bistros such as Rumour or Woods and to meet old friends in pubs like the Bay Horse Inn.
A very old photo of Marcia with Trubshawe (left) and Bessie.
Rumour holds a very special place in our hearts. Many, many years ago when it was still owned by Jenny and Phil, we used to take our Newfoundland dog in with us. Dear old Bessie was a great favourite with everybody and there were no problems for a long time. Then the idea of taking dogs in became attractive to some whose animals were less conducive to the social scene and one evening the atmosphere was somewhat damaged when two such decided to determine which one was 'top dog'. This fracas led to all dogs being banned and you really couldn't object: it is not possible to say 'yes' to some and 'no' to others. There is always a danger in going back after a gap of eleven years: places can be so disappointing. Not so here: the atmosphere remains much the same, our old friend Chris still works there and there is even a Jenny: a delightful and lovely girl.

I do find that sitting in Rumour gets the juices flowing and I have been writing some of my political pieces in there. That has been in an old fashioned reporters' notepad and so they have had to be typed out again when I get back to the computer. Dragging myself kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, I have ordered an Acer tablet with a 10” screen which divides, one half being a full size touch keyboard (but without the number pad) and the other the bit where what you type is displayed. I will let you know how I get on with it and what other things I can do with it.
The Narrows in Totnes
Woods is new to me although Marcia used to go in every now and then. It is up in the “Narrows” as the top end of High Street is called where, yes, you've guessed, the houses are built very close together. They all pre-date the motor car but even so I can imagine it was a pretty tight squeeze whenever two pack horses going in opposite directions met there.

Most tourists and visitors never go into the Bay Horse Inn because it is right at the top just before the old road, Cistern Street, meets the new which goes by the glamorous name of Western By-Pass. Thus it retains much of the character of a true pub where you will find well kept real ales and cider, some of the town's great characters and a deal of folk singing, jazz and so on.

The town has great literary connections: the bookshop there is owned by nearby Dartington Hall where each year the literary festival, Ways With Words, is held and famous residents included the late Mary Wesley and Joan Brady whose Theory of War was the first winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award back in 1993. Both of them were very kind to Marcia when she was first published. It was Mary Wesley who said, on hearing that Marcia had received her first contract, “Many congratulations. You will never be happy again”. She went on to explain that on the completion of the second book the questions would hover in the air. Will my agent like the book? Will my publisher like the book? What sort of reviews, if any, will the book get when it is published? Will my readers like the new book? All very true, and just as true of book number twenty-eight as book number two.

Before I 'sign off' I would just like to wish Gillian, one of Marcia's readers, many happy returns of the day. The sun may not be shining today in Yorkshire but at least it should remain dry.

* * * * *

Jackdaw Jottings

Well, I said I would give this a go. No promises. First up is from an email that Marcia received from in response to my last blog. Here is a small extract.

The weather has been quite autumnal of late with the expected wet weather. We managed to get a second cut of grass & that’s all baled & waiting to be brought in from the fields. Paul’s tractor decided to go on strike (must be a male tractor as it’s very temperamental. . .) but is now back on form & seems willing to oblige with the said bales. The rooks & jackdaws love to sit on top of them, I think it must be a good vantage point for them, but they also like to peck at the wrapping thus creating holes which then lets the water in!! My job is to go round & put tape over all the holes.

Thank you for that. I look forward to receiving other jackdaw stories as I am not sure that the ones we have here will provide enough news to see us through the winter.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Living upside down

This week's blog was written for you by Marcia.

Living amongst the treetops is a new and wonderful experience. Two ash trees grow just beyond the high stone wall outside the kitchen window; their leaves glimmer green and gold in the early morning sunshine, shivering in the breeze. A group of long-tailed tits swing and flutter amongst the branches a few feet from the kitchen table. The sitting-room balcony is hung about with honeysuckle, which holds late flowers and scarlet berries; the slender trunk of a crab-apple tree pushes its way between the wrought-iron railings and its rosy ripening fruit arches above our heads.

...ash trees grow just beyond the high stone wall outside the kitchen window .

...honeysuckle, which holds late flowers and scarlet berries.
...crab apple...its rosy ripening fruit...
 A feeder containing nuts hangs near one of its sturdy twigs and, at last, birds are beginning to investigate: a few blue tits, two great tits and a solitary coal tit. 
...a few blue tits...
A robin hops in to snatch some crumbs and a pair of blackbirds are becoming braver. Jackdaws abound here. 

They peer inquisitively into chimneys and strut stiff-legged along the gutters, discussing life between themselves in harsh voices. One balances anxiously on a roof-ridge, silhouetted against the sky, like a stand-up comic who has forgotten his lines.

Leaf-shadows tremble across the balcony and the Virginia creeper, whose tendrils twine from the west wall across the balustrade, is beginning to burst into flames of bright colour. 

From each room we look across the village roof-scape to the high shoulders of the moor – much closer here – and see early sunlight slipping down the steep eastern slopes and a new moon setting in the west. Rain polishes grey slate roofs with a soft sheen, mist drifts and gathers on the hills until they vanish in thick fleecy clouds. Then the west wind races in, shredding and ripping the clouds apart, and sun slants in through the many windows: roof-lights, dormer windows, the big sliding windows to the balcony, so that the house is full of light.

Living upside down. I love it.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Books and ebooks and book titles

Unpacking boxes of books has become a bit of a pastime recently. I had not realised that there were quite a few that I packed before we left this side of the moor which remained unpacked for the whole ten years or so that we were 'up north'.

That meant there were a few pleasant surprises and none more pleasant than coming across a publication in German which featured two novels: Die Mühle am Fluss (Hattie's Mill) by Marcia and Liebesnest mit Ausblick (Every Woman for Herself) by Trisha Ashley. Anyway, I thought you might like to see the cover so here it is.

Another forgotten book was also published in Germany. This was a Willa Marsh book Die dritte Schwestter or Sisters Under the Skin. The cover is, I think, wonderful so here you have three different “takes” on the same book: English, French and German.

* * * * *

Marcia had gone off to enjoy a reunion lunch with some of her old pals and so, after I had unpacked as many boxes as the old back was willing to tackle, I popped over the the pub for some grub. Being constitutionally unable to eat alone without reading, I took my Kindle with me. As he was leaving, a chap who had been sitting at the next table came over and asked, 'Is that a Kindle?'

Anyway, that chat made me realise that a lot of people may not understand how ebooks and Kindles work so I thought I would explain. If you know all about them, skip the rest of this section.

The Kindle is really a very specialised hand held computer designed to enable you to carry hundreds of books with you in a piece of equipment about the size of a paperback book but very thin.

You can buy a Kindle from Amazon or from Waterstones. You can download 'Kindle for PC' onto your computer (PC or laptop) and then register your Kindle to your computer. That way you can order books from Amazon as you usually do but now you would order the Kindle version of the ebook and it is 'delivered' straight to your Kindle. If you want to be able to read it on the computer, you can do that as well. You will find your 'library' (list of books on your Kindle) on the computer and by clicking on a title, the book will download to the computer and (this is quite clever, really) your computer will know how far you have read it on your Kindle and ask you if you want to go to the last page you have read. Then, after reading some on the computer, when you go back to the Kindle you will have the same option: your Kindle and your computer are 'synchronised'.

What does all this cost? The main outlay is buying the Kindle in the first place. There are various options: the basic one is £69. With that you will also find you can download for no charge (or pence at the most) old books which have long since gone out of copyright: all of Dickens, Conan Doyle and so forth. Books still in copyright (such as Marcia's) will cost you almost the same as the paperback and, yes, Marcia will receive royalties on the sales of Kindle books in the same way as she does when you buy a normal book.

There is no regular subscription: once you have bought the Kindle you pay only for the books you download – which are also available from Waterstones if you prefer to deal with them.

So why did I buy a Kindle? The answer is simple: when I was having problems with my eyes I was unable to read books without using a fairly powerful magnifying glass which was, to say the least, a bore. With the Kindle you can choose what size the text is which made reading once again a pleasure. Now, even though things have settled down and I have reasonably good reading glasses, I prefer reading from the Kindle as it is easier than reading a book. The trouble is that I still love books and absolutely need to be surrounded by them but now quite a few of my collection are duplicated on the Kindle so that I have the best of both worlds – at a cost, of course.

The downside to ebooks is that this new technology is making life even harder for the small independent bookshops who are struggling against cheap offers from supermarkets and online stores such as Amazon. We do all we can to support them and we hope that you will too.

* * * * *

More emails in this week from people very upset – and rightly so – who buy what they thought was a new Marcia Willett only to find that it was one they already had but with a different title.

Poor Marcia gets equally upset but the title is up to the publisher. If two publishers, both publishing in English but in different countries decide to use different titles, there is nothing that can be done about it. We try to make it very clear when this happens but there is another dodge that you might find helpful. Except in the case of an author's primary publisher, you will find that on the copyright page (just inside the front of the book) the name of the primary publisher and, most importantly, the title of the book under which it was first published must be printed.

The same thing applies to sites such as in the US where Those Who Serve was published under the title First Friends. If you go to and search for Marcia Willett and then click on the cover of First Friends there will be nothing on that page to warn you. BUT, underneath the book illustration will be a link: Search inside another edition of this book. Click on that and to the left you will see another link: Copyright. Click on that and scroll down and there it is: First published in Great Britain by Headline Book Publishing, a division of Hodder Headline plc, as Those Who Serve.

I know it is a bore but if you live in the US and are thinking of buying any book first published in the UK – or the other way round – it is worth checking out as above before you buy. If the first link (Search inside another edition of this book) isn't visible then there isn't a problem.
There is no real reason for this picture except that this is Sea Garden country. It was taken late one evening looking over the River Tamar from the Devon side with the village of Cargreen, in Cornwall, sitting in the shadows. The tide is creeping in and it is as if everything is holding its breath for there is a deep silence: a silence that was broken by the call of a lone gull flying overhead. Seconds later a tractor drove along the road behind us and the moment passed.
Time for a mug of rejuvenating coffee. Marcia has said she will write something for you next week.