Friday, 26 October 2012

Book signings begin

Marcia in The Bookstop with (left) owner Natasha Church and  reader Jean Jones.

Today Marcia is signing books in The Book stop, Tavistock and I am in the Bedford Hotel writing this blog. As many of you will know, it was in this bookshop that Marcia held the first book signing some fifteen years ago. It seems far longer than that.

In the early years, she used to write two 'Marcia Willett' books each year and then there were the four years when there was only one but also another: a 'Willa Marsh' book. She is now working on her twenty-eighth novel (I regret I said yesterday that it was publication day of her twenty-eighth which was wrong - that should have been twenty-sixth: number twenty-seven is in production and will be out next year).

It has been quite a journey: a journey which included the Chadwick Trilogy. In recent years, publishers have been far from keen on trilogies and Marcia was delighted when Clare Foss of Hodder Headline agreed to go along with the idea. Then there was the sequel. How often have these gone badly wrong? You can hear the comments, can't you? 'What a pity she felt she had to write a fourth book about these people. It really is not as good as the first three!'

To make matters worse, when Marcia finally gave in to Jolyon - who had been tapping her on the shoulder for some years demanding that the next part of his story should be written - she was now being published by Transworld who knew almost nothing of the first three books. I hope you will all agree that The Prodigal Wife was a worthy fourth in what is now being dubbed the 'Chadwick Chronicles'.

The 'Willa Marsh' novels were published in the UK by Sceptre and resulted in Marcia having an excellent review in The Times. Considered to be more literary and rather less cosy, these resulted in an amusing exchange during question time after Marcia had given a talk.

'I have just read Sisters Under the Skin,' said this woman. Then there was a long pause.

'And?', asked Maria.

'And I always thought you were such a nice person,' was the rather devastating response.

Although no longer in print in this country, to Marcia's delight one of the most prestigious publishers in France, Autrement, bought them and have built up a cult following for Willa Marsh over there. They talk about her 'tenderness for old people and her spiky black humour'. Having published all four books, they have now bought The Children's Hour but will be publishing it as another Willa Marsh novel. Does this suggest that the two voices are gradually merging into one? I rather feel it does. What do you think?

In the early days, Marcia's books were usually published in May and the cherry trees across the road from where I am sitting would be in flower. Today there is definite feel of autumn in the air with the churchyard covered in leaves swirling around in the chilly wind. Even so, the bar here is full of ghosts: Cassandra and Kate, Quentin and Clemmie, Oliver and Unk, Felicity and many others. Now that The Sea Garden has hit the bookshelves I can say that some of these will be meeting here again where, in some ways, that journey started. It will, not, however, see the end of that journey - of that you may rest assured.
On the way home, we realised there was a need to buy some milk. In the village of Holne on the edge of Dartmoor is a community shop. I first came across this sort of 'village venture' when I was writing a book of that name a couple of centuries ago and, since we thoroughly approve of these shops, we diverted (not very far) in order to buy a couple of pints there. Hitched - using the other end of the rein - to the fence outside was this chap We had a quiet chat whilst Marcia was in the shop and it seems his owner was in there too, enjoying a warming cup of coffee. Note: she must have been riding bare back. Brave girl.
Next week we will be talking about the sad history of a lovely young girl called Jay.
Just thought I would share my frustration with you. This jackdaw is sitting on a neighbour's clothes post but he might just as well have been a cardboard cutout. Oh, or she lest, in this day and age of political correctness, I am accused of sexism.

Friday, 19 October 2012


Another week and more rain. The west county has been hit yet again by flooding. The village of Clovelly on the north coast suffered badly and now the problems are to do with the conjunction of high tides, strong tidal surges (big waves built up many miles away), low pressure (which always means slightly higher sea levels) and – and this is the unusual bit – a huge volume of water coming down the rivers from the moors and high ground.
Clovelly in normal times (library photo)
When that happens, when the tide surges into the river mouths and meets the water pouring down, the lower levels on the banks face what feels like a tidal wave sweeping through them. Places with the narrowest river mouths suffer most: Looe has been inundated by most of the high tides this last few days. Think how depressing it is to clean up only to know that you are likely to be hit again twelve hours later. Most people living in these conditions have flood protection devices: boards to close off the lower parts of the doorways often reinforced by bags of sand are commonplace. Sadly it isn't as simple as all that. Underground, unseen (of course) the soil becomes totally saturated and new water arriving has to go somewhere. All too often, having carefully dealt with all the entrances, property owners find it pushing up through the floor.

Clovelly is a lovely little village – still privately owned – with a narrow, stepped and cobbled high street which tumbles down to the sea. No cars or other vehicles are allowed into the village and most of the goods which have to be distributed are either taken down on sledges or are carried by donkeys. This high street was turned into a raging river earlier in the week. Not only was there damage to property but many of the cobbles were torn free and carried downhill.
At the height of the flooding (from amateur video via BBC)
We know from your emails (and please keep them coming, we love hearing from you) that this extreme weather is not restricted to the UK. It seems to be a global problem and one that, if the scientists are to be believed, is likely to stay with us for some time.

There is something ironic about the fact that copies of The Sea Garden have been shipped from the publisher and are, as I write, winging their ways to book shops and stores throughout the UK. I say ironic because, as the name suggests, one of the settings in this book abuts the 'sea'. That's not really accurate – it abuts the River Tamar and so this property, too, must have been at risk in recent days. I can tell you (normally I have to remain very quiet about books until after they are published) that flooding does not enter into this story. Snow, yes: fog, yes: floods, no.
This picture of Walkhampton Common was taken about fifteen years ago. Those of you who have read Those Who Serve  will know that Kate walked here a good deal with her dogs. Note the hawthorn tree in the foreground.
We are now in 2004. This is late autumn and the leaves have dropped from the tree which has been partially uprooted. A pond has formed in the hollow where it once stood.
When we drove past this morning, there was very little sign of life. The hollow has gone - no doubt filled in by dust and debris - but the sheep continue to graze on this part of Dartmoor.
There are one or two events that have yet to be sorted out – notably a signing in Waterstones of Exeter – and I will add this to the others in the right hand column as soon as I have details. If you would want to come to that, please keep an eye on the blog.
I suspect that all of Marcia's readers know the story of Jay and her grave. Every day someone puts fresh flowers on the grave but nobody ever sees who does so. When we passed by earlier today,there was a single hydrangea head braving the rather dull day. If you don't know the story, let me know and I will tell you next week. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

In which not a lot takes place.

Just to remind you that The Sea Garden will be out soon. Here we see the tide creeping in towards the saltings as a crow flaps past, wings almost brushing the mud.

Another Friday and practically nothing to talk about. As I have hinted, Marcia has started on the new book. Now it is definitely 'head down' and so we do nothing unless she suddenly realises that she needs to visit somewhere where she feels her characters are headed.

One of the worries that Marcia had has gone: would she be happy writing here, up in the trees? Well, the answer is a resounding 'yes' and now we are settling down into the old familiar pattern – even if it is about six weeks later than it usually starts (blame the move or the weather). Up, dress and breakfast (or, sometimes, breakfast and dress) then she disappears into the sitting room, settles down beside the sliding door onto the balcony, fires up her laptop and away she goes. Meanwhile I retire to my study (now downstairs) and get on until I here a plaintive cry which indicates that the time has come for a caffeine rush which, of course, means some coffee. That may well be followed by some chocolate to keep the energy levels up a bit (and if you follow me on Twitter I am sure you know what follows that).

Lunch follows when Marcia has finished writing for the day and may be anywhere between one and three – and it may be at home (plan A) or at the pub (plan B). Since she really settled down to the hard graft of taking a book out of her head and getting it into the computer, plan B happens less often. If she has failed to appear by one, I start work on Plan A (which means I will wander down into the village, buy some bits and bobs and will be on standby to cook when required). It is very different from before when the distance to the shops was such that we had to plan things ahead for days and days. I must say I really enjoy the spontaneity. Then, after washing up and if the weather is not too revolting, Marcia may well say, “Can we pop into X now?” or, as it may be, “Can we go up onto the moor to Y?”.

That has happened twice this week and so we have had afternoon tea in both the Two Bridges Hotel and the Moorland Hotel near Haytor. I suspect that both may well get a mention.

The problem this time is that the writing process is going to be interrupted by the various events that accompany publication day. The ones that have been agreed are listed at the top of the column to the right but I suspect there will be others so do keep an eye on the list.

Now, whatever am I going to write about next Friday? I really do not have a clue.

Jackdaw Jottings

These guys are driving me gently mad. All I want is a decent picture that shows you the details of their colouring. To date I have failed miserably. The problem is that when they are outlined against the sky, they end up as silhouettes and could just as well have been cut out of cardboard.
Perched on a television aerial as the sun sets, these two appear to be discussing the neighbours. 'You would never believe this, dear, but young Harold has started to fly out with that Chloe and we both know she's no better than she ought to be'.
What is infuriating is that there was one playing around on some guttering – swinging upside down and then hauling himself (herself?) back up to peer (seemingly short sightedly) into the gutter, grab something which looked like moss and then started swinging again. The problem was that for once (and this is so rare) I just didn't have a camera with me. We shall have to see what happens next week.  

Friday, 5 October 2012

An ice cream on the beach

Before looking at the week that was (does that ring a bell with any of you?) may I thank those who have sent us emails recently but who have not had a reply. We do get a bit overwhelmed by the numbers that we receive and sometimes it is just impossible to respond to them all. This does not mean that they are not appreciated. Writers fall into two groups – brash and over confident on the one side and needy and under confident on the other. We fall into the latter group and really do need your input to keep the fears and insecurities at bay. Keep 'em coming, please.

We have started to look for the location of the new (to us) book. As you probably know that is not the book scheduled for publication this October, it is not the book scheduled for publication in October 2013 (this is beginning to sound like a skit from a pantomime) but it IS the book scheduled for publication in October 2014. Whenever we have to go somewhere we turn it into an exploratory trip if we can and it is in the right area. Thus, since we had to visit Kingsbridge Hospital so that Marcia could have her three monthly check up – all clear, I am delighted to say – and she has been muttering about Dartmouth recently, we came home via there.

The journey took us over Torcross Line (where we stopped for ice creams). The weather was not that good but I thought I would take a shot of the entrance to the River Dart as the one I usually use was taken back in the 1950's. Not that it really matters: nothing much has changed.

Dartmouth also has a small hospital. Both my parents died in that hospital, in beds that looked out over the River Dart which they both loved so much. I hate it when I hear that a small hospital is to be closed. They may not have all the mod cons but they are so much better at providing the basics – proper care, cleanliness, decent food – than the big multiplex all-singing and all-dancing complexes so in fashion with our governments in recent times.

Unlike Torcross, the river is now very different. There are a number of pontoons just off the Embankment to make it easier for people to tie up alongside at all stages of the tide and on both sides of the river marinas have been built. I have no idea how many boats now use this as their home port but they are obviously very important for the town's economy.

I had just taken some photographs of classic sailing craft of the 1920's and 1930's that were moored near the hospital (you will meet boats like this in The Sea Garden) when we turned to see a man looking at us with a somewhat quizzical expression. I suspect our faces carried the same message. It was an old friend we hadn't seen for many years. David Griffiths is a well known local figure. For many years he was the River Dart Pilot with responsibility for the safe navigation of all ships inside the river and harbour limits. When not acting as a pilot, he would be involved in the Castle Ferry which plies between Dartmouth Embankment and Dartmouth Castle. Probably twenty years ago now, when I wrote a regular column for the magazine 'Yachts and Yachting', I travelled with David out in the pilot boat to meet an incoming freighter carrying from Norway to the Baltic Wharf in Totnes and accompanied him up the river, taking photographs as we went. As well as providing me with material for an article, it was a fascinating experience best described as threading cotton through the eyes of a series of needles stuck randomly into a piece of wood and having only one shot at each.

Will Dartmouth appear in the new book? We don't yet know the answer but Marcia tells me that while we were there she had some interesting thoughts.