Category Archives: Tree Magic

Extraordinary Ellia:

Harriet thought she’d died in the accident. She was standing in a French library full of English books, and French libraries normally have just one English shelf. A heaven full of books seemed fitting to Harriet, though misfortune had placed the library in Angers, a four-hour drive from Harriet’s home.

I pinched myself and realised I hadn’t died. I wasn’t dreaming. This wasn’t heaven – and in any case I hadn’t had an accident (unless you count what happened in Angers’ English sweetshop, but that’s another story).

If you’re confused here, just read the beginning of Tree Magic, which is free to ‘look inside’ on the Amazon ebook page, and everything will become clear. Ish. Well, it may sound vaguely familiar.

Anyway, back to the library: when I met Phoebe at the St.Clémentin literary festival last year and she told me she worked in an English-Language library in Angers, I imagined a cosy little nook squeezed between two houses in a back street.

So when she invited me to talk to the library coffee morning group about my novel Tree Magic, I presumed the audience would be a handful of people huddled between bookcases.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Let me begin by telling you about this amazing library, which is a non-profit organisation called Ellia (an acronym for ‘English Language Library In Angers’, since you were about to ask).

It has 30 000 English books, 4 staff, 1600 members and 100 volunteers – making it the biggest English language library in the west of France. There’s a catalogue on the website so you can check if the book you want is there before you drive to Angers, and you can even borrow ebooks to download onto your e-reader.

But the library is far more than a series of numbers and a list of services. If you’ve read my blog posts about Le Kairn, the brand new bookshop in the Val d’Azun, you’ll know that I talked about how I believed it would soon become a hub for cultural activities.

Well, the 23-year-old Ellia library is exactly that: a community hub. It’s a meeting place for English speakers who love books, of course, but also a base for a diverse range of activities ranging from French conversation groups and English creative writing circles to gardening, knitting and film clubs.

Phoebe

What has made it so popular, in my opinion, is the warmth of the welcome that visitors receive. While I was having coffee with Phoebe (you get a bottomless cup of tea or coffee for a euro), she greeted the people who wandered in and chatted with each of them.

It’s hardly surprising there are so many volunteers – some of whom I met as they sat around a table covering books with plastic. The other staff and interns – including Mandy, Sandrine, Oksana and Dominique – are just as friendly. There’s absolutely no reason to feel lonely if you live in or near Angers and like books.

Half of Ellia’s funding comes from a combination of City Hall, the two Angers universities (students receive free membership) and Maine-et-Loire county council. The rest is made up from membership fees and fundraising events.

An example of an event is the food stand they’ll be manning at the street theatre festival Les Accroche-coeurs on 8-10 September. The festival’s 2017 theme is ‘So British’, which means discussions at Ellia are currently underway to decide on the most suitable British dish to serve.

If you have any ideas (please, no Marmite or jelly), let me know and I’ll pass them on.

Now you know a little about Ellia, you can appreciate how it was that over 30 people came to listen to my Tree Magic talk. (I stopped counting at 30, as they were looking expectantly at me and I thought I’d better begin).

It’s always scary to stand up in front of people and talk, so I was relieved when it was over. My relief, however, was short-lived.

‘Do you mind if Isma interviews you?’ Phoebe asked me.

‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘It won’t be filmed or anything, will it?’

There was a silence.

Silly me… This was the point at which I discovered that the computery stuff on the shelf was actually filming me for the whole talk. Which means that those scandalous secrets I accidentally revealed…

I sat in the armchair beside Isma and did my best to answer questions that were only difficult because I had to answer them on the spot.

It was decidedly worse that the radio interviews I did when Tree Magic was first published.

Am I the only person whose mind goes maddeningly blank when I’m asked questions in front of a recording device?

The best part of doing author talks is that you meet so many interesting people afterwards. I had a great chat with William, one Anne Woodford’s writing group members.

Anne is a talented writer whom I also met at St. Clémentin. Her short story was placed 2nd in the 2016 Segora International Writing Competition, run by the St.Clémentin festival organisers, and you can read it here (you’ll have to scroll down a little).

I had some lovely feedback about how people felt inspired to go off and write after my talk. Some people even bought a copy of Tree Magic!

If you have a chance to visit the lovely city of Angers, pop into the library. You’ll see exactly what I mean about Ellia being extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

Hide and Seek with Bears and Boys

Writing Residency Day 9 (last day *sobs*):

I understand now why mountainy people get up early:

1st photo: from my room at 7:30 am.

2nd photo: from the office window 7:35 am.

3rd photo: from my room again at 7:45 am.

So what does a writer do on the last day of a writing residency at Arras-en-Lavedan?

Easy: instead of doing one research trek, the keen writer does two. Especially when it’s so misty that there is zero visibility at the top of the mountain.

The first trek took me to the Col d’Arras, where I was sure I’d be able to find a path onto what looked like summer pastures under the Pic d’Arragnat. I wanted to know whether Eole, my protagonist, was hanging around up there.

Perhaps he was. But with heavy bracken vegetation and little grass, I didn’t think it was likely. OK, I admit I wasn’t very persistent. Nor would you be if you heard a kind of growly-barky roar in the bushes and you were very much alone on the mountain.

I hot-footed it back down the non-path, got lost, panicked, struggled over a barbed wire fence and landed on my butt in the mud. I felt much better on the other side of the fence, despite the ripped trousers, and even a bit silly. After all, I could easily have defended myself with my swiss army knife. Couldn’t I? That’s what the bloke in the shop said, anyway.

(Don’t tell my sisters about this: they already split their sides laughing the time, aged 10, I was chased by a herd of cows and ended up clinging to a pole in the middle of a field).

As I write this, I’m listening to brown bear noises on Youtube, and I must admit that the noise is exactly what I heard. Though I guess that’s like looking up illnesses on the Internet to check your symptoms.

On the subject of bears in the Pyrenees, the original race of Pyrenean brown bear died out and Slovenian brown bears were introduced in the 1990s. In 2016 there were 39 bears, of which 2 in – omigod – this area… perhaps its just as well I’m leaving tomorrow! And, reading on through my informative source, if you come face-to-face with a bear you should retreat progressively. Not panic and run. Oh dear.

My Col d’Arras mission had aborted but, happily unaware of the real possibility of meeting a bear, I decided to attack the mountain from further along. There was definitely a path from Arcizans-Dessus up to the Col de Liar, and it passed straight through the said pastures.

Arcizans-Dessus is a tiny village that hugs the flank of a mountain – and boasts 22 watermills. Here are a few of them, lining the Anisaous stream and looking like a Pyrenean version of a housing estate. Some of the cute mills have been restored as cottages, while one serves as a demonstration mill.

The photo below resumes my morning’s research.

It took me an hour and a half of walking up steep z-bends to reach the silent, deserted Col de Liar. I did hear the eerie ring of bells through the mist on my way up, and there was a cold bonfire spot in the flat land at the top – but there was no sign of Eole and his sheep.

At least I determined that what looked like lush green pastureland from a distance was actually bracken (animals don’t eat bracken), so I guess that’s why this land isn’t grazed.

Coming back down, I was struck by a change in the mist. High up, its cold fingers creep down your back, soak your hair and drip dewdrops onto your eyelashes. But lower down it feels warm and steamy, like a Turkish bath, and the sappy, green tang of bracken gives way to the sweet aroma of elderflower. I’ve never experienced this with mist before – so my morning wasn’t a total waste of time, after all.

Back in the village I visited the church (Eole’s mum is dead religious) and found this guy sitting outside looking at MY mountain. He was made by Pedro Frémy, who also made the village carousel I mentioned in Day 6’s post as well as the other metal beasties around the Maison des Arts. Cute, eh?

Finally, I went to Le Kairn for my 5pm talk about my novel Tree Magic. Once again, I had to struggle through the crowd to get inside (actually, there was a crowd, but they weren’t interested in me).

It was lovely to catch up with my Lumineuse writing group friend Min, and I was delighted to see Bob from Laguépie, who I met at the Parisot Festilitt last year, and who had driven for 5 hours to see me.

Maybe they’d heard I’d be serving Pineau after the talk?

Pineau is the traditional aperitif in the Cognac area, and I’d brought a bottle for a farewell drink with all the lovely people who have hosted and befriended me this week: Françoise Gourvès, stained-glass artist extraordinaire and also my host at the Maison des Arts; multi-talented Karine from Le Kairn; Dominique Gainza with the strong, cheese-stirring arm muscles from the Val d’Azun sheep&goat farm; and Véronique the costume queen.

Many thanks to you all, and also to those who couldn’t make it: Alex from the mairie & Maison des Arts, Pascal Gainza, Valentine from Le Kairn, Caroline the costume-maker, Charles the Mayor and all the individuals who answered my (sometimes strange) questions.

And thanks to you who have followed these writing residency blog posts and those of you who came to my talks.

I’ll calm down now, and go back to my monthly posting habit.

Bye-bye, Arras-en-Lavedan. I’ll be back to say hello (with more bottles of Pineau) before too long.

YALC 2017

I feel very honoured (to put it mildly) because I have been invited to talk about Tree Magic at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) at the Olympia, London, in July.

Yes, that’s right: The Olympia! London!

This 3-day festival brings together the finest current YA fiction, with talks from best-selling authors such as Patrick Ness, Joanne Harris, Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Emily Barr and many others.

Check out this link to see the full list of authors attending.

I’m going to have such fun meeting these authors, as well as the book bloggers and readers I’ve only met virtually on Twitter chat shows and blogs. When  the schedule is published, I will let you know so that you can come and meet them too.

YALC is part of the London Film and Comic Convention, and the dates are 28, 29 and 30 July 2017. You’ll find more details on Twitter at @yalc_uk and on the website here.

Thanks very much to Sarah, my publicist at Impress Books, for organising this. She must have been very persuasive!

Will it Get my Goat?

Oh no, here I am, back with more puns in my blog post titles. Today I’d like to share some exciting news that doesn’t get my goat at all – though I’m hoping it will allow me to get to know goats better.

I have been invited to be the writer-in-residence for a week at an arts centre in the heart of the Pyrenees.

In case your French geography is rusty, the Pyrenees are the pointy mountains in the south west of France, between France and Spain. They are also my favourite part of the country, which may be one reason why my novel-in-progress is partly set there.

Back in the 1990s, when I was studying French at Pau university, I used to walk along the Boulevard des Pyrénées every day and gaze at the mysterious peaks. Nowadays, I spend some time there every year (and cry when I have to leave).

Houses in the Val d’Azun

One misty day last summer, while my intrepid family were out potholing, I went to the Val d’Azun to research my novel setting. I stopped at the village of Arras-en-Lavedan, a few kilometres from Argelès-Gazost (and 25km from Lourdes), which is renowned as being a village of artists.

There, I discovered the Maison des Arts and met the curator, Françoise Gourvès, who is also a stained glass artist. She told me all about the association Abbadiale, which organises the cultural events and art exhibitions in the centre.

There was a wonderful display of paintings, ceramics and sculptures, as well as a permanent outdoor circuit around the village’s works of art. I was blown away by a video of a contemporary dance group who spent a week in residence there and created a dance on a peak above Arras-en-Lavedan.

I stayed in contact with friendly Françoise and, when she heard I needed to come back to the Pyrenees to research goats and ewes, she invited me to be their writer-in-residence for a week. This corresponded with the opening of the village’s new bistro-bookshop: Le Kairn.

Of course, I accepted!

So I’ll be staying in Arras-en-Lavedan from Saturday 3rd to Friday 9th June. During the week I’ll be researching and writing my novel (which is not only about goats). I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘transhumance’ event on Saturday 3rd June at Estaing. This is when the local shepherds, accompanied by the public, move their flocks from the valley to the mountain tops for the summer ‘estivales’ period.

I’ll also be reading from my novel Tree Magic and giving a talk about the journey to publication. This will be held on Sunday 4th June at 3pm at Le Kairn. As I’m there for a week, I can also make myself available one evening for readings and writerly discussions – so let me know if you’re interested.

Why not come and meet me and get your copy of Tree Magic signed? I’ll have some copies to sell, and we can share our experiences of writing, reading (and goats).

While you’re in the Val d’Azun, why not make a day of it (or even a weekend if you fancy the transhumance festival on the Saturday)?

Yes, I know they’re not goats – but they are Pyrenean sheep.

In the morning you could visit the Pyrenean trekking and traditions festival ‘Eldorando’ in the nearby village of Arrens-Marsous. You could have a lunch of local products there – or come to Le Kairn bistro for a meal – and then visit the permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Maison des Arts. As well as the permanent exhibition, Roxane Lasserre will have her ceramics on display and Raphäel Paya is exhibiting his photos until 5th June.

Then, if you’re not too tired, you could come and meet me at Le Kairn. It won’t get my goat if, after all that activity, you fall asleep during my talk!

Please let me know if you’d like to come, via my Facebook author page or blog contact tab, in case the arrangements change. I hope to see you soon.

Here are some practical details:

La Maison des Arts (next to the church at the bottom of the village): open Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday from 3-6pm.

Le Kairn (route du Val d’Azun): open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 7pm (open every day in the holidays).

Eldorando: 2nd-5th June. Nepal is the country of honour this year. Entry 2€ / day.

Tourist Office Val d’Azun (Place du Val d’Azun, Arrens-Marsous) Tel: 05 62 97 49 49

Sing for the Trees – Guest Post

The 22nd April is Earth Day, a moment to celebrate our long-suffering planet. Have you heard of this before?

Susan and her husband Ian

I hadn’t. Not until I was told about a children’s novel about trees called Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation. It was written by Susan Elizabeth Hale, the American who founded ‘Sing for the Trees’ as part of the Earth Day celebrations – and who came to France last year to sing to a special tree in Bagnères-de-Bigorre.

Now, I can’t sing – so I’m not sure I would be doing any trees a favour by singing to them. But I was intrigued to learn more about another lady who appreciates trees. I contacted Susan, read her fun story for 9-11 year olds, and asked her to tell me more about ‘Sing for the Trees.’ Here are her answers to my questions as well as some links to find out more about her work.

  1. What is ‘Sing for the Trees’?

‘Earth Day-Sing for the Trees’ is an annual global celebration for trees that began in 2010.

  1. How can we take part?

On 22nd April, at noon. Wherever you are in the world, just sing for the trees you love!

  1. You were the founder of ‘Sing for the Trees’. Where did your original inspiration come from?

In January 2010 I was already at work on my juvenile fiction novel Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation. I felt discouraged, as I knew the message I had to deliver about trees would take a long time to come to fruition.

What could I do now? I woke up with an idea. I heard a voice in my mind say Earth Day-Sing for the Trees. The 40th anniversary of Earth Day was coming up on 22nd April, and I had attended the very first Earth Day in Northern California. How could I let people know about my idea? I was new to Facebook and decided I would create an event.

I thought I would be lucky to get 100 or so of my friends involved and was astounded when the first year over 3,000 people signed up to sing for their trees. This included a man in England named Ian Woodcock. He sent me a lovely email with pictures of three trees he sang for: the Great Oak of Eardisley, Whiteleaved Oak and the Much Marcle Yew tree.

I came to the UK in the spring of 2011 and we met. He took me to the Whiteleaved Oak. We are now married and live ten miles from this tree. The trees brought us together!

  1. That’s a lovely story. Do you have a background of working with trees?

No, but I have a life-long appreciation of trees: from the fig tree in my grandmother’s back yard to the California redwoods. My father was on the tree committee in our hometown of Hanford, California.

  1. So what is at the origin of your concern for the wellbeing of trees?

In 2007 I travelled for a full year. Everywhere I went throughout the USA, UK and France, people told me stories of how their local trees were dying. Hemlock trees were dying in North Carolina, juniper trees were dying in New Mexico. I heard stories about olive trees dying in Spain. In 2007 I lived briefly in Peachtree City, Georgia. Many streets there and in Atlanta are named after peach trees. But where are the peach trees?

Trees do so much for us. They give us the very air we breathe. The bottom line is that if there are no more trees, there’s no more ‘us’.

  1. Why sing?

The voice is a way of making connection. Singing creates a connection through the heart, and when we sing to someone we add the special ingredient of love. Indigenous societies have always offered songs to the earth as a way to give thanks. England has a pagan tradition of singing to apple trees in January through wassailing to wish good health to the trees in hopes of an abundant crop in the new year. In Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation, Emma’s special tree, Annie Oakley, tells her: “Your singing nourishes us. It is sweeter than the sweetest honey. The song spreads through Aaouma’s root system to all the trees on the Earth.”

  1. Yes, I remember that line. What made you want to write Emma’s story?

When I was in the 4th grade I told my teacher I wanted to be a writer. Later, as a young woman, my father said, “Susie, some day you ought to write a book.” I wrote my first book Song and Silence: Voicing the Soul in 1995. My second book, Sacred Space Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places was published by Quest Books in 2007.

Nina Winge Earth Day

As a music therapist and voice teacher, my life’s work has centred on and around the healing power of singing. Most of the people who came to my workshops were my age. I don’t have any children and wanted to find a way to bring my message about the importance of singing and trees to children.

  1. Do any trees have a particular significance for you?

Yes, Much Marcle Yew and the Whiteleaved Oak do. I believe these trees brought me to my husband and to the UK. The story is told in full in a Valentine’s Day article published by the Woodland Trust here: Valentine’s Tree Love

  1. And what is your favourite species of tree?

Yew. The largest concentration of yew trees is in Wales and some are thought to be 5,000 years old, making them some of the oldest trees on the planet. Yews are considered to be candidates for the Tree of Life due to their age and their ability to regenerate themselves.

  1. Which season do you prefer for admiring trees?

All seasons offer a unique experience of trees. I love winter for revealing the bones and bark of trees: bare branches against the sky. Spring gives buds and blossoms. Summer offers us trees with full leaves and fruit. Fall dazzles us with colour and change.

  1. Which organisations support ‘Sing for the Trees’?

The College of Sound Healing, Sound Travels and The Woodland Trust in the UK.

  1. And will you be in France again for the 2017 edition?

No, I will be in Sedona, Arizona. The red rocks are calling me. There are many special juniper trees with twisted trunks from the vortex energy in the land.

  1. Finally, are there any tree stories from around the world you’d like to share?

I love it when people share pictures and stories about their events. A few special ones come to mind:

– The first year a kindergarten teacher in Switzerland took 30 of her students to the forest and they sang for the trees. Afterwards, every time they went to the woods, they spontaneously burst out singing. They even sang for their Christmas trees.

– A bedridden woman sang to the tree outside her window that gives her comfort. She wanted to thank the tree for the way it brought healing to her.

– A group of people on a Peace March through the site of the first atomic blast in Nevada sang to the Joshua trees as they walked.

– Children sang around a Native American Prayer tree at the Cabin Path outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

– A man sang to a tree near the ruins of the Berlin Wall.

– Last year a young woman in Ireland created an event to sing for the Fairy Tree at the Hill of Tara.

Thanks, Susan, for taking the time to share your passion for trees with us. And thank you, readers, for reading this rather long post. I’d love to hear which tree you’re going to sing for on 22nd April.

***

Some Useful Links:

If you’d like to find out more about Susan, singing, tree-hugging or ‘Earth Day – Sing for the Trees’, Susan has added some useful links below:

Contact Susan on her website: Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation

All about Sing for the Trees

The Facebook event 2017 with lots of tree suggestions.

Buy Emma Oliver on the UK Amazon website

Scientific studies on the benefits of tree-hugging

Studies on singing: 6 Ways Singing is Beneficial, Singing Changes your Brain, Eric Whitaker’s video on Why We Sing.

And, to finish, here’s Susan’s biography:

Susan Elizabeth Hale M.A. is an internationally renowned music therapist. She circles the Earth with song, teaching how to find and free the natural voice. She is creator of Earth Day-Sing for the Trees. Since 2010, over 10,000 people in 45 countries have participated in this annual global event. Susan is the author of Sacred Space Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places (Quest Books, 2007). American born, she now lives in the Malvern hills with her husband Ian. Her newest book is Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation, a juvenile fiction novel published in 2016 by Our Street Books.

 

Temporary Offer: Tree Magic ebook only 99p

I couldn’t resist sharing this publicity picture with you. My publisher Impress Books created it and chose their favourite endorsements. Write a review on Amazon and you may see your name in print too! The paperback version comes out in 3 weeks (1st March).

ebook-99p-plus-endorsements-feb-17

The Secret Cure for January Blues

ski-hut-treeIt’s a cold, clear day. The winter sun casts long shadows and the sky is frigid blue. Spring is aeons ahead and Christmas was aeons ago.

You could be sad. You were sad until a minute ago: you were staring glumly out of the window and trying to remember the hope of summer.

But you’re not sad anymore because you’ve just noticed the tree.tree-angouleme-jan-17

It’s the same old tree that has always been there. It seems it’s been there forever. You never really looked at it before and you don’t even know its name.

But today you’re looking because – check this out – it’s undressed. Its sleeping branches are silhouetted against the blue sky and you can see every detail of its structure, every woody member of its body. It is stunning! How come you never noticed it before?

Hang on: it’s not alone. There are naked trees everywhere. The countryside is an exhibition of natural statues, each one unique, each individual beauty an open hand stretched towards the sky.

dscn1751Look at them: go on. Get outside and admire them. Because this mass nudity won’t last forever. In a couple of months they will wake, dress in lime green leaves and hide behind them, like Eve in the garden of Eden.

Once you start looking, you won’t be able to stop. You may pull out your phone and take a couple of photos. You might even push your morning schedule to one side, go out with your camera and start collecting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before you know it, you’ll be out there in the early morning fog; in the freshly fallen snow; at midnight under a full moon. You’ll rush indoors for your camera when you’re walking home at night and spot a silver birch, its white bark reflected in the moon.

You’ll be dashing from field to field, from park to park, eager to add to your collection before it’s too late – before green spring arrives and your eyes turn to the flowering ground bursting into pinks, blues and yellows.

January blues? Huh, the only blues you’ll see now are those of the sky.

dscn0940I feel a little like those undressed trees this month: bared to anyone who cares to look. That’s what it’s like when your debut novel is out there for anyone to read, for anyone to criticise.

I’ve been lucky so far. The radio interviews and twitter chat shows featuring Tree Magic have all been positive experiences. As for the personal messages I’ve received – well, they’ve made all the hard work worthwhile.

I’m amazed by the glittering 5-star reviews posted on websites. These reviews make a big difference, even if they’re only one sentence long. So thanks enormously to those of you who have enjoyed Tree Magic and posted a comment. This has also helped with January Blues.

It is no doubt thanks to these lovely comments that I now have some exciting news to announce: *drumroll* my publisher has decided to publish a paperback version of Tree Magic. YIPPEE! My dad will be able to read it!

The paper book will be out on 1st March 2017 and you can pre-order it on Amazon here. My publicist at Impress Books is having lots of brilliant ideas for publicity projects.

But don’t worry: I’m not going to witter on about Tree Magic forever. I have lots of plans for blog posts this year that don’t mention writing at all, including interviews with three people who contribute in their own particular ways to our local culture here in Poitou-Charentes.

I hope Tree Magic will continue to inspire readers as much as naked trees inspire me. You can find updates on Tree Magic’s progress by clicking on the Tree Magic News tab at the top of this blog. And if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you thought.

Meanwhile, open your eyes and go tree-hunting to chase away those January blues.