Claire King

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Claire King Edited Choices (10 of 10)

Posts Tagged ‘France’

The Order of Things

Posted on: January 21st, 2014 by Claire - 17 Comments

As I write this blog post I have the head of a very fluey eight year-old on my lap. She hasn’t wanted to do anything for days – not read, not go out and do this:

Feeling full of energy

 

…not sit on the sofa and watch TV even. Nothing except sleep and be hugged. It reminds me in many ways of when she was very new indeed. We spent hours each day attached to each other, while she fed or dozed or did both. Sometimes, when I’d had all the endorphins going I would use the quiet time to type one handedly and write stories.

It is, of course, lovely to just sit and cuddle your child. Unfortunately there are usually other demands on your time – supper to be cooked, bills to be paid, laundry to hang out, another child to help with their homework… And if, like me, you work from home, then there is also work to be done, and in my case also a book to be edited.

For the last few months I’ve been getting more and more wound up about finishing my new novel (the nth draft – the one I am happy to show my agent and publisher – for more on this dilemma see Emma Darwin’s post here). Partly because it is taking so much longer this time around, partly because I have an exciting new one I want to crack on with, partly because it would be nice to answer this question, which people ask me a lot:

“How’s your new book coming on?”

“I finished it!”

And mostly because recently life has conspired to make writing time even thinner on the ground. Sometimes it just does. And unfortunately there is an Order of Things. Work demands have to be dealt with. When the roof leaks a fix has to be found, and builders have to be chased up and eventually sued (long story). Children have to be taken to school and extra-curricular activities. Christmas must be laid on, or delivered elsewhere in suitcases.

Writing, even though it is absolutely a priority for me, gets pushed and pushed by these other things. And there is only so far you can push it until it tips off the edge of today and into ‘Tomorrow’. My ‘Tomorrow’ sometimes seems to be like the universe –  constantly expanding, with galaxies of edits accelerating inexorably away from me and my very limited gravity.

This week was to be the first of a delicious looking block of three weeks following the Christmas holidays when I could finally be home with nothing (it’s all relative) to do except Finish The Book. Instead, I am being Mummy to a sick and miserable little girl.

“But if you are writing now, why are you writing a blog post when you could be editing?” I hear (some of you) cry. I know! But one thing I have learnt about myself this last year is that whilst I find it relatively easy to use the gaps in between all these demands to write a first draft, I’ve found that I can’t edit properly when I don’t have long uninterrupted stretches of time. I can’t get my head around the whole novel when time is thinly sliced. Cue a blog post on this in the future when it’s all done and dusted.

So, I was feeling frustrated this morning, I’ll admit. Then my publicist sent over a scan of an interview that I did last year, which was published in this month’s Writers Forum magazine. One of the questions was why we moved here, to France. It was nice to be reminded (by myself) that we wanted to create time to have children and be parents, as well as time to write.

We wanted to be there with – and for – our children as they grow up, to ensure there was always one of us at home with them. I feel strongly about that. I remember vividly the way my own mother cared for me when I was sick as a child. No matter how busy she was, or how sick herself, she made time to sit with me and did as much as possible to make me more comfortable. There’s nothing better than being looked after by someone who loves you when you’re feeling sick and miserable, is there? When you’re eight there’s nothing more important than that.

So I am glad today, for being reminded of the Order of Things. And fingers crossed, assuming I don’t catch the flu next, the next blog post will be an excited one.

 

Food

Posted on: August 12th, 2013 by admin - 6 Comments

Summer Food

Food has been on my mind lately. (This is not unusual).

I love food. I love the colour and smell and taste of it. I love how tactile its preparation is and I like eating with my hands too. Food is one of the simplest human necessities that is also one of the finest pleasures, and you can do it three times a day. Sitting around a table to a meal can bring us together and it can nourish us. Of course food can also divide us, make us miserable and destroy us.

There’s little wonder, then, that food slips into fiction a lot. It certainly features heavily in my own writing

In The Night Rainbow, food is central to Pea because she’s having to source a lot of it for herself. She picks ripe peaches straight off the trees, waits for the morning baguettes to be delivered by the breadlady, and is very happy to take the biscuits that Claude offers. Her mouth waters at the pans of paella at the market and she tries to improve her mother’s mood by preparing food for her.

Food is also prominent in my next novel, although in a very different way, and I often use food as a metaphor in my flash fiction. Here are a couple of examples up at Fictionaut:

Anything Again

Flesh & Blood

Here is tonight’s supper, cooked and photographed by Mr King:

Since we moved here to France, our relationship with food has changed, and I was recently asked to write a magazine feature about our experience – the way we shop, prepare and eat French food. This week a photographer was sent over to shoot pictures of me with the family, as we took our weekly trip to the market, made meals and ate together. It’s was quite a surreal experience, and a very tiring day, but at the end of it, seeing how we eat through the eyes of someone else made me appreciate more than ever just how fortunate we are.

Here is a picture my husband snapped of me in the kitchen between shoots, wondering what to make for lunch:

Claire in the kitchen

And here is the photographer, Tom Parker, in our very shabby kitchen, taking photos of our pickles and preserves! You can bet when his photos turn up in the magazine feature it will all look very French and glamorous. (UPDATE: And here they are!)

Food_Photographer

But food isn’t really glamorous at all, is it? Certainly around here, the people who produce it work extremely hard for very little pay. If anything, the attitude we tend to have in our family towards food is one of gratitude and respect. Gratitude because we have such good and plentiful food, and respect in terms of our understanding of how it is produced and limiting waste.

This summer we crossed the Pyrenees over into Spanish Catalunya. We stayed at a lovely gîte there, owned by a family who have a few arable fields nearby, plus a farm with fruit, vegetables, chickens and pigs. They also have a Michelin starred restaurant. The farm is called Tancant cercles, which means closing circles, and their philosophy is that they produce the food they serve in their restaurant from start to finish, including growing the grain for their livestock. The owners were happy for us to take our children to have a look around the farm. There they showed us the harvested grain in the hoppers, which they feed to their pigs, they showed us the vegetables they grow and the free range chickens, and let the children go in and collect eggs. They showed us the pigs out and about, and the pregnant sows and those suckling the new litters. Then the owner took us and showed us the fridges, where they hang the pigs which have come back from the abattoir, the sausage and ham making processes and the cuts of meat, ready to be sold, or to be used in their restaurant. Later, we ate in the restaurant, and our children could point out pretty much everything on their plates and how they had seen it at the farm.

I know that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do feel strongly that when many children and adults don’t have a clear understanding of how the food gets to their plates, seeing the end to end process is an important part of having respect for the food you eat. My children are still young, but they can now make the link between the piglets they petted and the ham they ate. As they grow up, I hope that they can keep that in mind, and never justify eating food produced in a way that they would not be happy to witness for themselves.

If you are ever in the area, the hotel/restaurant is Els Casals and the gîte (which sleeps 14) is La Rovira. They are all within a few minutes of each other, not far from Berga in Northern Spain (Catalunya, about an hour North of Barcelona).

Also, I’m thinking that maybe next year I might run a little writers retreat there, so let me know if you’re interested.

Old farmhouse in Spain



Be careful!

Posted on: January 6th, 2013 by admin - 12 Comments

It’s the 6th January 2013 and it’s a glorious warm sunny day here in the south of France. We took the dogs out to a nearby field we’ve named The Big Meadow, for a run. After the Christmas holidays we all needed a good run.

From the meadow you can cross a fallow field and go down to a stream that comes down off Canigou. In summer it is teeming with water boatmen, tadpoles, dragonflies and pond skaters, but at this time of year the water is low and you have to look harder for waterlife. There are also lots of games to be played with pebbles, fallen branches, shadows and reflections and the nearby cows in the adjacent pasture.

My smallest daughter is just 5, and as she crosses the rocks I stand back, because I know she wants to do it, and she wants to do it by herself.

My instinct is to go with her, hold her hand, tell her ‘Be careful!’ But I don’t. I stand back and wait.

“Please don’t slip, please don’t slip, please don’t slip and hit your head.” (What I think).

“You’re doing brilliantly! You’ve got great balance.” (What I actually say.)

She does fine. She gains a little more confidence in the process and I gain a little more confidence in her abilities.

I’ve been following the early reader reviews of The Night Rainbow recently, and one of the discussion topics is about Pea, who is 5 1/2, and the fact her adventures in the meadows and down by the stream are unsupervised.

‘Is that realistic?’ readers ask.

The truth is I don’t know, because I don’t let my own children go wandering off down in the meadows and by the water on their own. When they get to a certain age then of course I will; I just don’t know what that age is yet. I’m hoping I know it when I see it.

But once upon a time young children, some as young as my daughter, were allowed to go tadpoling, or hunting for sticklebacks without adult supervision. It used to seem normal. It doesn’t any more, does it?

**UPDATE**: I’ve been directed to a couple of interesting websites that talk about this topic.

Here is an article called ‘Please don’t help my kids‘ : “I don’t want my daughters to learn that they can’t overcome obstacles without help. I don’t want them to learn that they can reach great heights without effort.”

Here’s Free Range Kids : “Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers, Ivy League rejection letters and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

Prepare for Re-entry

Posted on: September 3rd, 2012 by Claire - 11 Comments

rentree

In September 2002, after our first summer here, people began to ask us “Êtes-vous prêt pour la rentrée?”

We were confused because:

a) We didn’t have any children back then and

b) Our French wasn’t very good.

We were missing the huge cultural significance of La Rentrée which goes far beyond the ‘Back to School’ idea of September in the UK (where we came from).

La rentrée in France is a re-entry into the rhythms of day to day life after a general slow down that has lasted all of August and much of July as well. Many businesses close completely, politicians go off on long holidays, schools shut for 9 or 10 weeks…things just don’t get done over the summer and everyone knows that.

September is back to business. A new year begins. Life seems like a fresh notebook. Things get done that people have been putting off over the summer –  “I’ll take care of it à la rentrée” - and routines fall back into place.

For book lovers there is also the excitement of the literary rentrée - la rentrée litterraire - which sees the mass publication of new books between August and October, including 646 novels this year. 

Ten years on from that first summer and it’s time for la rentrée once again. We now do have children and, since my husband and I are both self-employed, we don’t work during the French summer-time, spending it at home together.

Today, after a summer of bare feet and at most sandals, we are putting our feet into socks again and for the girls there are new shoes and satchels. I’ve just dropped them off at their new school and I’ve a bouquet of sharpened pencils up here in my garret. The air smells of ripened grapes and it’s cool enough to let the morning air in through the windows. I’m all set.

And you? Êtes-vous prêt pour la rentrée?

 

A canicular, French, late summer morning.

Posted on: August 22nd, 2012 by Claire - 10 Comments

There is a canicule in France at the moment – a heatwave. Municipal Lidos are full of people trying to cool off. Only the bravest, or the most determined holidaymakers take to the shadeless beaches between 11am and 4pm. Meanwhile the countryside is parched and forest fires are regularly taking hold, even in the higher mountain areas.

There are two weeks left of the summer holidays, and just as with the end of season peaches and nectarines – although we have already had our fill – we are gorging on the remainder, while it is still good, before the time has passed.

Even as dawn broke this morning the air was hot and by mid-morning it was pushing 35°.

I made pancakes (crêpes) for breakfast, to cheers of delight. We ate them with fresh lemons, syrups and jams and cold watermelon from the fridge. It’s amazing how pancakes for breakfast can make an ordinary day seem like a holiday.

Then the neighbour came round, as he does most years at this time and brought us tomatoes. They have stewed and frozen as many as they can, and still his plants keep on giving. He tours the neighbours with baskets and boxes and bags of the ripe-to bursting fruit.

My 6 year old and I took our dogs out for a walk, to let them cool off in the irrigation canal that keeps the fruit trees and fields watered on our side of the valley. We also took a bag in the hope of hunting down some blackberries. My daughter, who is enthralled by insects, spiders, lizards and in fact any kind of local flora and fauna, found this little creature on one of the bramble bushes. We think it might be a crab spider.

 

As we walked home the farmer was turning hay in the fields. The air was heavy with its sweetness and the warm scent of figs from the trees nearby. We dillied and dallied until we were parched with thirst, then ran home fast for cold water.

This is late summer, in the canicule, in southern France. This place is inspirational.

 

 

The landscape inside a single man.

Posted on: July 4th, 2012 by Claire - 5 Comments

“Le paysage est si vaste à l’intérieur d’un seul homme que toutes les contradictions y veulent vivre et y ont place.” Christiane Singer, in her book “Où cours-tu? Ne sais-tu pas que le ciel est en toi?”

I wanted to share something with you. An inspiration, a piece of wisdom that I came across recently and found perfectly beautiful.

Christiane Singer was a French author, who wrote prolifically until her death in 2007. Her works include much exploration of spirituality and philosophy. I had never heard of her until last week, and I’ve not been able to find English translations of her work, sadly, but here is my translation of the quote above:

“The landscape is so vast inside a single man that all contradictions must live there and have their place.”

It is taken from her book “Where are you running to? Don’t you know heaven is within you?”

Isn’t that an amazing image? That inside every one of us – every one of our characters – is a self-contained, vast universe, where raging storms, parched canyons, soft rolling hills and tidal seas exist together. Doesn’t that inspire you to write?

It’s also perfectly in tune with the novel I’m editing at the moment, which asks a lot of questions about what really lies within us. It’s a big question for a writer. Indeed, for anyone.

Who are these photos of?

These photos are of the theatre/circus company Cielo who introduced me to this quote recently in a local nature reserve, and so inspired this post.

 

 

A writing retreat with the whole family?

Posted on: June 26th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments

Our travelling companion  - Jung.

So, I’ve been working away from home a lot for the first six months of this year. It’s my job, it’s a good job, maybe one day it will give way to actual income from writing but for now that’s how it is.

Summer, though, is about spending lots of time with my family. That’s the payback. And summer is here and we are all very happy about that. We never go away on holiday, because summers here are very smashing, so we do things in the region instead: visit places, have day-trips, that kind of thing.

But…summer is also the time when I can really get into the zone with writing. And this year that means editing the manuscript of my second novel – Candice – which I want to have with my agent by autumn.

The Canal du Midi and a houseboat upon it feature prominently in this novel, and whilst I had done plenty of research I had not actually set foot on a houseboat in over 20 years. And never one in the south of France. I was missing something – the smells, the textures, the sounds, the sensations, the peculiarities that an author needs to know about if you are really to transport someone into that world.

So, somehow I had to combine my need to get myself away onto a canal boat for a couple of days (and be inspired and make notes) with my need to spend time with my family (and just having them in proximity while my husband babysits doesn’t count)…

I needed to organise a writing retreat with the whole family.

Cue the Magical Mystery Surprise Family Weekend Away.

List of things required:

  • Internet to find suitable boat owner willing to accommodate leggy, exuberant family of four.
  • Own chequebook and email account for secret booking of smashing weekend on the canal.
  • Teasing build up to surprise trip, including maddening hints and knowing smiles.
  • Something for everyone to do:
  • Claire – Pencil, Paper, 5 senses.
  • Husband – Camera.
  • Small daughters – pencils, paper, puzzle books, reading books, travel board games (draughts, chess, back-gammon, cards etc)

And off we go.

It was brilliant! We had an absolutely wonderful and relaxing weekend, taking the boat down the Midi and onto the étangs (salt-water lakes) of the Mediterranean where we moored in a little port for the night, and back again. We spent much more time with the children than we would on a normal weekend, and yet I got much more writing done too. Our hosts were friendly and laid on wonderful food and good conversation. We all came home inspired, zen and somehow exhausted. I declare a success!

What are you writing about now, and how do you fit in research with your other commitments?

Want to see our photo album?

5km an hour is fast enough. You have to imagine the cicadas and the smell of the pine.


Yes, I am writing.

Like mother, like daughter.

Fresh water on one side, salty water on the other!

Arriving at the étangs.

Moored in a port for the night, playing hangman and drinking aperitifs on deck.

15km of oyster beds on the étangs.

Nothing to see here.

Captain Jean-François allowing a 4 year old to take the wheel.

And the 6 year old!

(In fact, the forty-somethings also got to drive, but we’re not quite so picturesque)…

Thanks to the photographer!

Note: If you’ve come across these photos through a search and would like to use any of them, please ask us via the contact page. Thanks.

Note 2 (tiny plug): If you like the look of our region, come and stay. We run gîtes, excellent for writers wanting to retreat, discounts given to readers of this blog.

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