Tag Archives: quark soup

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Quark Soup

Quark Soup

Yippee! 3rd place in the Segora International Short Story competition for my ‘Quark Soup’. The competition was judged by Amanda Hodgkinson (who wrote the bestseller ’22 Britannia Road’) and organised by Gordon and Jocelyn Simms. Congratulations to Fleur Smithwick (1st) and Anne Woodford (2nd), whose writing I admire enormously. I feel honoured to have my name alongside theirs on the Segora website announcement. You can download and read Quark Soup here.

Amanda said:

“Third place goes to QUARK SOUP. This is a lyrical and emotional look at the life of a couple dealing with illness and changes in their lives. The writing is rich and detailed, and satisfyingly full of emotional depth and wisdom.”

I was lucky enough to meet Amanda in Bordeaux last year, when she spoke about her work. You can read my blog post about her here.

There is also a review of Quark Soup on ‘String To My Bow’ website

“Springbett starts with an assault of flavours and textures and quickly hits the reader with a one-two punch that completes the metaphor of the opening paragraph and literally takes the breath away.

The timespan of this short story is a mere couple of minutes, yet in that time the protagonist feels, remembers and tastes every aspect of her love for her husband.

With a bombshell happening in the third paragraph, it is hard to see how the author will resolve this emotional story. And yet she does with a sleight of hand that is as natural and beautiful as the prose.

Quark Soup was recently awarded third prize in the Segora International Short Story competition. A real deserved plaudit for Springbett’s approach to the genre.”

Write or Live?

It’s the school holidays in my part of France. Every holiday, I think, ‘Yippee! No work: plenty of time to write.’ And every holiday unexpected clouds shroud the blue sky of my writing time. I’m left with a couple of hours of serenity in the morning before my kids stir up the air currents with their waking calls of ‘Maman!’

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Am I complaining?

Of course not. My children bring meaning to my life. I count myself lucky.

In Joël Dicker‘s novel, ‘The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair’, one character says that life has no meaning, and that writing brought meaning to his life. This resonated with me when I read it (there are lots of other thought-provoking ideas for writers in this book, by the way).

Writing brings meaning to my life, too. Every morning I get up, go to my story setting and have a cup of tea with my characters. They confide in me. I listen and try to help them achieve their aims, though I know they can’t all get what they want because they’re in conflict with each other.

Having a story to tell and decisions to make about the plot – i.e. playing God in my fictive world – brings meaning to my life. It gives me a reason to be needed (even if it is only in my fictive world!). And being needed means I have a role to play, which is a great reason to live. As long as I don’t just live in my fictive world.

What’s difficult is finding a balance between writing and living real life. Most writers aren’t paid for their work – not at first. We have to decide what we’re prepared to sacrifice in order to make time to write.

When I was in my early twenties I took part in a Raleigh International expedition. To raise funds for the trip, I sold a written account of each day of the expedition, to be delivered on my return. This meant that I had to find time each day (lying under a makeshift bivouac in a wet sleeping bag, wearing wet socks, in flickering torchlight) to write notes. When the expedition finished, I continued travelling with a friend. I wrote up the daily accounts from my notes while he met people and had fun. He told me that I was missing out on life while I wrote. Little did I know that his observation would stay with me for so long.

Writing is a lonely task. When you sacrifice time that could be spent with family or out discovering life (or earning a decent salary), you’re not only missing out on experiences: it can feel as if you’re being selfish. You ask yourself whether the sacrifices are worthwhile. You ask yourself what the point is, when nobody reads what you write. You’re not sharing or contributing anything to real life.

People often think that getting published is about ego, about being able to say, ‘I’m a published writer’. It’s true that recognition is important in any profession, and having your work chosen for publication is a form of recognition. But it’s also a way of being able to give something to other people. Publication transforms a selfish action into a contribution to society. It allows you to reach people and communicate with them.

Of course, writing doesn’t always mean neglecting real life. A few years ago I was commissioned to write features for a magazine. I interviewed people I’d never otherwise have met, and took guided tours of places I’d never have bothered visiting. I realised that the goal of producing a written piece of work made me take notice of my surroundings. It demanded investment in real life. It was great fun as well, especially when I took the kids along.

I’m not writing magazine features at the moment, but I do sometimes pretend that I am. It makes me pay attention and want to explore. It brings meaning to life. Suddenly, the science museum becomes a source of ideas. Out comes my notebook. In it, I write: ‘L’univers se compose d’une soupe de quarks, gluons etc.’ I’m sure there’s a story to write about quark soup.