Saturday, May 29, 2010

Final Preparations for Hay

The amount of stuff I have to take with me is ridiculous. One overnight case, 6 tins of cakes, 1 bag of (other people's books), 1 camera, 1 computer in case, 1 pair of wellies, 1 coat, 1 handbag, iphone, tom tom navigation computer (and maps), talk notes and my talk on 3 different DVD/CDs as well as my laptop because I am not sure exactly what's going to be available when I get there.

Never work with animals, children...or electronic equipment (I am proud of the DVD of my films though. Hodmandod Senior found out how to do it tonight).

Cup cakes for Hay.

The cakes are done! They took hours, and to be honest not entirely sure they're worth it.

They are a little more intensely coloured than this - the light has washed them out a bit - but the picture on the top is supposed to be a green field with a yellow poplar tree. It's symbolic.

Anyway - there are 46 all told (there were more - but Hodmandod Senior had to taste-test twice) and apparently they taste all right so now I just have to figure out a way of packing them for Hay.

I'm thinking that for my launch I think I revert to the usual fruit cake.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hay Talk - final touches

Unfortunately, the 'little bit of finishing off' I thought would take me an hour or two actually took the entire day and I have only just finished. So the cakes are going to have to wait until tomorrow.

I had a practice-run tonight which caused me to choose different pieces to read out (and vow to write a much better book next time), and for me to abandon my idea of starting with a short illustrated talk, and also abandon the idea of showing stills while I'm reading. The latter idea was too complicated for one person to handle. But now I'm fairly happy with it, the movies are all in quicktime 7 - and I'm just about ready to go. I'm going to practice again tomorrow, and also save my movies as a DVD as backup.

I was also very pleased to receive a phone call from my publisher to tell me that they just received my book from the printer at about 4pm today - so the copies for sale on Sunday will be very much hot off the press.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Planning my cakes for Hay

Since I have now finished the latest spate of editing I am planning the making of some lemon cup cakes for Hay. At last, on Sunday - after a three year wait - I shall actually see my book! It's been a long hard slog over the last few weeks making the films and generally planning everything, but I think it will be worth it. And I want to celebrate!

In the past I have made a big fruit cake for my launch but this time, since it is summer and may be quite warm, I thought I'd have something lighter.

First I thought of the decoration: pale green and yellow fondant icing representing meadows and trees and inspired by the cover. Then, since I have yellow in the decoration I thought the cake could be lemon, with lemon buttercream to 'glue' on the fondant - and I have just found an appropriate recipe on the web.

So...tomorrow I am going to make 36 lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream icing with my book's motif on the top. If this works there will be pictures.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Desired Reading

Sometimes, everything comes at once. Over the last few weeks I have been frantically busy: a little flurry of manuscripts to edit, planning my stuff for Hay and attempting to organise something for a launch. Inbetween times I have been reading SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray and really, really enjoying it - so funny in some places and yet sad and dramatic in others, and full also of satisfying little twists and revelations. This morning, before I ploughed into yet more editing, I allowed myself myself a few minutes more with the book and finished off the second volume so now my book pile of books I want to read before Sunday looks like this:

the last volume of SKIPPY DIES (Ghostland); DIAMOND STAR HALO by Tiffany Murray (I read the first couple of pages of this and can't wait to read the rest); and then these two beautifully produced books: THE NINTH WAVE by Russell Celyn Jones and WHITE RAVENS by Owen Sheers - part of a series of modern re-tellings of the Mabinogion.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

An Interview with Nik Perring

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading Nik Perring's debut collection of short stories, Not So Perfect. Today he has kindly agreed to answer a few questions on my blog.

Nik Perring is a writer from the northwest of England. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3 :AM and Word Riot. Not So Perfect, his debut collection of short, short stories is published by Roast Books on June 2nd. Nik blogs here and his website’s here.

CD: What generally sets you off on a story?
NP: It can be anything but usually I think my stories tend to either come out of those what if? questions or what would happen if ? situations. You know, what if you actually, physically gave your heart away when you fell in love; or who would live in a house decorated in Post-it notes? So I think that’s where the seeds of ideas come from and the next stage for me is looking into the practicalities of those situations and to see how I can make them believable. It’s interesting (for me) to have these fantastic and weird situations and characters and to try to make it all seem normal or familiar in some way.

CD: When do you write?
NP: When I have an idea. I’m quite disciplined with the whole writing life and I make sure I’m at my desk at least five days a week. I might not always be writing but I’ll be there doing something.

CD: Do you have a writing routine?
NP: As I say, not a specific one though I do make sure I’m at my desk at least five days a week.

I am consistent in my process though, there is a routine to that.

First drafts are written in fountain pen and into a notebook. When I’m happy with the first draft I’ll type it up, half-editing as I go. Then it gets printed out and I’ll edit and edit and edit until I’m happy. Then it gets printed out again and I’ll read it aloud. More stuff will get changed. When I’m happy with that I’ll read it aloud again, but this time I’ll record it and listen to it back. When I’m happy with what’s on the page and what’s in my ears then I’ll know the story’s about done.

CD: Please tell me a little more about the story 'Sobs' - how did that come about? Is it based on a real place or experience?
NP: Firstly let me say thank you for saying such nice things about ‘Sobs’ in your review. I’m thrilled you liked it.

How did it come about? I think I just found the idea of hearing someone, a stranger, in the room next to you, in an unfamiliar place, interesting. In the beginning I think I was wondering how I’d react to something like that (I’m still not sure!). It became something quite different though once I’d found the story’s main character.

And, no, it’s not based on any particular experience of mine. When I teach I always try to make the point that we’re better off writing about made-up characters than real people because writing about real people is limiting and usually boring – and I’m no exception! I am really rather boring. All that said, at the point of writing it I had had a really difficult year and I had just split up with a long term partner (two things I had in common with the story’s character) so I don’t think I’d be all that self-aware if I said it hadn’t come from something I’d experienced in some way.

CD: Some of the stories like 'When you're frightened think of strawberries' seem to me a little like poems. They may not be as short but they do have a little of the lyricism of a poem and make the same use of metaphor. Do you ever write poetry? Or anything longer that a short, short story?
NP: Thank you! Yes I do write poetry but not very much of it and not very often. And it’s usually not very good. I have written longer things too.

I firmly believe that a story is as long or as short as it is (if that makes sense). Stories are what they are, no more and no less. Sometimes they turn into novels and end up being tens of thousands of words long, and other times they’re no longer than the moment they’re telling. I must say it took a long time for me to realise (or accept?) that, but once I did it felt like it made sense and gave me the freedom to only worry about the story.

I think, also, that I write more shorter things because I’m better at them and understand their shape better; I don’t think I’d make a good novelist.

CD: The drawings inside are an attractive feature and really add to the impact of the book. Did you have much to do with these?
NP: I am thrilled with the drawings and really pleased when I hear that others like them too. Although I’ve secretly always loved the idea of having one of my books illustrated I can’t say I’d ever have mentioned it. All credit there goes to the brilliant Faye at my publisher (Roast Books). Initially the drawings were only going to be a part of the eBook version. And then we saw them! When Faye suggested including them in the paperback I couldn’t have been happier. Interestingly, I’d been reading a proof of Not So Perfect in public when a stranger asked me if I was reading Kurt Vonnegut (because of the illustrations) – you can’t have much better praise than that!

CD: Have you anything else in the pipeline?
NP: At the moment I’m just doing what I always do: writing stories (as well as promoting Not So Perfect as best as I can). I have ideas for lots of projects but I don’t tend to talk about them until they’re done because I don’t know well enough what they are until they’re finished!

General Questions.
CD: Do you have any connection with snails? (or anecdotes, memorable encounters..etc.)
NP: You know, I’ve been trying my best to think of something snail-related but I’ve come up short. I do like snails though.

CD: What is your proudest moment?
NP: I’m hoping that’s yet to come.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
NP: I think I’ve probably had a few. I think every moment we learn something new or see the world differently is a life changing one, even if that’s only in a small way. I’m very aware that I used to be guilty of waiting for Big Moments and they never seemed to come; even something as big and wonderful as having a collection of short stories published is the accumulation of lots of really important smaller moments.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
NP: Personal disappointments and let-downs aside, I saw this [] a few years ago and it has stuck with me. I’m not sure if it’s sad but it is emotional. Does that count? Or am I wimping out of the question?!

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
NP: I wouldn’t mind being thinner. Or more confident perhaps; I worry a lot.

CD: What is happiness?
NP: Trusting people. Being with people who like you being with them.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
NP: If it’s a weekday then it’s into the routine: Shower, cigarette (sadly), toast, a cup of tea (one sugar) and then up to the office hoping that, just maybe, I’ll make magic happen (and by that I mean clearing my inbox!).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees 1

I've just updated my video introducing my book...


Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees on YouTube

I have just posted my 'commercial' version of my movie on Youtube.

A smaller version is below.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

iMovie Discoveries

I am in the middle of making the last film in what has turned out to be a trilogy, though it is not in a fit state to be seen yet. This one, which is a more personal account of my British research, has a wistful air, and I have approached it in a different way. I started, this time, with the music. I chose something reflective and slow, because I wanted it in part to be about memory and spirituality. I then devised the words and then looked around for images. Since, thanks to this blog, I have taken pictures of just about everything I do, I now have a large stock.

I am grateful for feedback on my attempts so far, and one thing a couple of people have told me is that the images go by too fast, and up until now I couldn't find a way of changing this. I knew there must be a way, and yesterday I found it. By double-clicking on a frame I accessed video clip and on this I could not only change the length of the still, but also choose an effect. I think such things need to be used in moderation, but the 'vignette' and 'cartoon' effects were useful here for the shamanic journey sequences.

One problem with increasing the length of frame was that the music ran out. However, I have now also made another useful discovery, under 'Window' and 'Audio Adjustment' I can gradually mute one track while introducing another.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sunday Salon: Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

I am having an indulgent Sunday. I am reading Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, and just finished the first part (which actually has the form of a physical book since Penguin have published it as three separate volumes in a slip-case).

It is, in part, very funny - with the same sort of humour as Father Ted and Black Books - and in other places has a thoroughly-modern lyricism. There is also one part - describing the sensitive dealing of the swimming coach with one of the main characters in the book - which I found so unexpectedly moving that it almost hurt.

It is, in the main, overwhelmingly masculine - which is understandable given that it is set in a boys' public school in Ireland. The only women have walk-on parts as girl-friends and wives, although Halley, the girl-friend of one of the characters is given her own short chapter. It gives any female reader a great insight into the mind of the adolescent male, and they do indeed seem to think about sex or, more specifically, their penises, every ten seconds (or even more frequently than that). This leads to a lot of humour (in one instance using the male member as a metaphor for multi-dimensionality in M-theory). The general humour of the classroom is also evoked through very well-observed scenes as the boys react to the sexy teacher, the old fogie teacher, the gormless teacher and the tyrannical teacher of French, Father Green (amusingly Pere Vert in French).

There is a new acting head teacher who has ambitions to drag the school into the twenty-first century, a history teacher who lusts after a substitute teacher called Aurelie (which allows for another pun about sexual mores) and a vivid selection of pupils including the eponymous Skippy.

The final section of the last book was a stream of consciousness, which was so good it somehow gave me the sensation of fireworks going off. So far, then I am finding it highly entertaining and so compelling I've picked up book 2 already.

May 9th

A wonderful thing, a tree. How it breathes, how it takes in that breath again and changes it to bark, leaves, branches. How it lasts, outlives us all, feels into the ground and binds it to the air. No wonder, in our primitive shamanic states, we cling to it and used is as a pathway, linking one kingdom to the next. Ydrasil. Banyan. The Bleeding Yew. The pollarded trees of a park I knew -their upper parts beheaded with a Stuart queen. Often I imagine nestling in a bole, or digging down and finding myself in a labyrinth of roots and finding there a dark land with reddened sky. May 9th. Your birthday. I remember you and think of trees, and how a small part of you is locked within them, as we all are.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Song House by Trezza Azzopardi

My review of Trezza Azzopardi's excellent The Song House is here, on Book Munch.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Hay Literary Festival: essential purchases

In preparation for Hay I have made two essential purchases: a pair of wellies (rose and fushia design - yes, I know, I have no excuses, really, except maybe temporary colour-blindness)

and a set of books (Skippy Dies by Paul Murray). I do like to read a book in advance if I possibly can, I feel I get more out of a session. Since the novel is around 600 pages long Penguin have made the wise decision to divide it into three. I have started on the first volume already.

So far it is proving to be a fast, easy read - and highly entertaining. It features a teacher in a boys' boarding school called Seabrook College. It is an odd mixture of the modern and archaic, and even though it does not have much in common with the comprehensives I am more familiar with (as both pupil and teacher), I do recognise some of the teachers.

My Hay Installation: Part 5 The Movie

After I was (fairly) happy with the presentation I decided to save it as a movie. This means I can save it onto a DVD and it can be played on the TV which is useful for the many talk venues which have easy access to a TV and a DVD player, but not a digital projector (necessary for a powerpoint presentation). With my newly updated power point presentation software I found this easy - just save as a movie.

I made several movies with different transitions and timings. One thing I have discovered is that the movie is saved at a faster pace than its corresponding powerpoint presentation. Consequently the fade-outs became more obvious in the movie and I decided I didn't like the effect.

The optimum in a power point had been a 'fast fade' with 2 second interval but in the movie this seemed to be equivalent to 'cut' and an interval of 3 seconds.

I tried converting the presentations with music too, but found that the music didn't seem to be saved alongside with the images; I am going to have to look into this - I think I might have to download more software.

Once I had a movie I accidentally discovered that by opening QuickTime player 7 I could save this as a low quality/low memory version using the 'share' option which can be posted by email. This proved useful - because sending just a small clip of the resulting movie in low quality mode to myself by ordinary QuickTime (as an experiment) kept my mail server busy for so long I thought something had gone wrong and had to phone apple support, and the helpful man at the other end told me it is not advisable to send any more than about 10 MBytes.

This low quality version may be useful for uploading to my blog too, I have decided, so, here it is - my first attempt at my 'A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees' installation movie. It is just part of my installation - it is meant to go alongside readings which give further explanation.

(N.B. Although it is black if you press play it will go.)

Next, I am going to adapt this to make a shorter standalone version for my publisher's website and my own.

My Hay Installation: Part 4 - Adding Music

Adding music is more difficult than I imagined. That is I thought it would be difficult, but it was even more difficult than that. First, it has to be copyright free and second it has to match the mood of the film. Although I found an excellent site offering all sorts of little gems, there was only one that seemed appropriate. Unfortunately it was too short, so I spent hours trying out other music alongside, changing where it started, looping the whole thing so it played twice, looping so just the first section did... In the end I gave up - at least for now. I thought again about what I was trying to achieve and decided I didn't really need music at all. Apart from that one piece which seemed to add to what I was trying to do, the rest seemed like musak and seemed, at least to my ears, to devalue the piece as a whole.

I have decided to look at it again later with a view to doing a standalone piece. I am going to design this to fit the music. Given that I have no sophisticated music software (and no excuse, really, to acquire any) I think this is my best way forward.

However, I have learnt a lot through doing this. I discovered how totally inappropriate some music can be, and was surprised at how it changed how I read my piece. Music manipulates us more than we think, at least more than I thought.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

My Hay Installation: Part 3 - powerpoint presentation

I found it easier to plan using cartoons.

I also found it easier in many cases to write the end frame, then copy and paste backwards, eliminating a little text each time. That way I gave an impression of text building up.

I also found it a good idea to eliminate full-stops as much as possible to give an impression that something else was coming up.

But basically it was just a lot of hard work - though I enjoyed it too. I had the basis of a film at the end of day 2, and then spent two complete days refining it - rewriting parts, and also ironing out glitches.

At the moment it is still just a powerpoint presentation. I'm hoping to convert it into a film next with music.

My Hay Installation: Part 2 - Forming an Outline

My first attempt at my installation I abandoned. I realised that I was trying to give a summary of my novel and I think that wasn't a good idea. Instead, what was needed, I thought, was a series of samplers. So I read through my book again (a painful process at this stage because I can see so much I want to alter) picking out short passages which I thought would be suitable for reading aloud. I found eleven.

I then asked Hodmandod Senior to take a look at these and sort them into two piles - ones we thought worked, and ones he didn't. Luckily, the 'worked' pile was bigger. I took these passages and reworked them a little, trimming them so they would make sense on their own. I then thought of a question that each passage answered and then used these as my series of headings:

How we got there.
Why we left.
What we found.
Who was there.
How we found them.
What they did for us.
Who realised.
What happened next.

I thought each of these could form a back- bone of my installation and each short film could branch off from each vertebra.

With these in mind I then looked through the collection of pictures I have assembled during my research for my novel - pictures from my trip to Patagonia, Wales and a lot of archival material - to compose my films. I then constructed a series of short sentences which I could illustrate with pictures - each one leading up to passage selected from the book. I then opened a powerpoint file.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

My Hay Installation: Part 1 - an Introduction

Over the last few days I have been preparing my installation for the Hay Literary Festival. Since I have an non-ticketed slot, where people can just drop in, I thought I'd design what I'd do with this in mind.

A talk or an interview would be inappropriate, I decided; because people really need to be in at the beginning for that, and stay until the end. What I needed was something more casual, where it wouldn't matter what time they came. They could listen to a short section and then come and go as they wished.

In Chester Writers last meeting a friend of mine wrote a circular poem - it didn't matter where you started reading - and I've been thinking ever since why this worked so well. I've decided that it was probably because it was an interesting and elegant list. So I decided to attempt to do something like that and call it an installation - as I've seen in art exhibitions.

So my installation for Hay is going to consist of a series of short films - just a minute long - leading to a single frame which I use as a background to my reading. The reading will also be short - about 5 minutes in length - and then there will be another film. There will be seven of these sequences - film then reading - altogether. About 45 minutes altogether. Although the whole thing tells a story it won't be necessary to see the whole thing to make sense of a particular section. Each will stand alone. I suppose another way of putting all this is to say it is modular.

Monday, May 03, 2010

NOT SO PERFECT by Nik Perring

Not So Perfect by Nik Perring was kindly sent to me by Roast Books. I read most of it soon after it arrived and finished it last night. There's lots of good stuff here, and it is a pleasure to read. It consists of 22 sort pieces, some so short they are akin to poetry: 'When You're Frightened Honey Think of Strawberries', for instance is just one page long and yet for me was one of the most successful pieces in the book.

Another I think works particularly well is 'Watching, Listening' - a creepy tale about a man watching a mother read in a library and explores that narrow area between curiosity and the obsessive interest of the stalker.

Nik Perring also shows he can swap gender convincingly in 'The Lump' - as well as play around with the reader's expectations. It's well written and surprising.

I also very much like 'The Other Mr. Panossian' in the way the story is hinted at but not said, but I think in terms of story it was Sobs that was my favourite. It was unusual, atmospheric and particularly well structured - quite an accomplishment for a story of six short sides.

There are other stories too, many based on marvellous ideas full of potential: 'The Shark Boy' who can't stop moving; the woman who actually spits fire; another woman who vomits animals - and Nik Perring goes running with them, rather like Tania Hershman did in 'The White Road'.

The collection is beautifully presented by Roast Books - everything that this publisher produces is a little gem and I think any author published by them is a fortunate one.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant

Today I finished reading The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant. I've been summarising them in sets of three, but here are all my summaries of all the stories and therefore contains SPOILERS. In fact this post is just one big spoiler.

Boule* de Suif
The Boule de Suif is a corpulent courtesan. She travels with an assortment of other people who are patriotically French and regard themselves to be respectably married. When they run out of food only the Boule de Suif has thought to bring her own and she shares this willingly. They are detained by a Prussian officer in a village. It turns out he will only let them go if Boif de Suif gives herself to him. She refuses. When her fellow-travellers find out they resent this and eventually persuade her to go to him. The next morning they are allowed on their way, but now all her fellow-passengers, except one, Cornudet (who is Boif de Suif's client and, maybe, lover) refuse to speak to Boule de Suif and even slight her. When they are hungry they bring out their own food, but this time Boule de Suif, is the one without. She is offered nothing and cries. In the meantime Cornudet hums the Marseillaise...

Although set in late nineteenth century France this story, I believe, is timeless. As social apes we have an imperative to form hierarchies and one of the worst things that can happen to us is to lose rank or find ourselves ostracised by those we respect.

*Corrected later. Thanks to Nora who very kindly pointed out idiotic spelling error.

The Two Friends.
Paris is beseiged and the people starving. Two old friends accidentally meet again. They used to go fishing outside the city and decide they could go again since one of them knows the Colonel guarding the city. They are given a password to get back in and eventually reach the canal and start to fish. The Prussians and the French start firing again and shortly afterwards they find themselves captured by the Prussians. The Prussians tell them that if they divulge the password they can save themselves. They don't, even when separated. When they are brought together again they say good-bye to each other and are shot. The Prussians then eat their fish. It's very sad because just over a couple of pages I have become fond of them. I was expecting them to escape.

Madame Tellier's Establishment.
It is apparent from the outset that Madame Tellier runs a house of disrepute - there is the implication that elsewhere people would not admit to running such a house, but in this area of Normandy it is just another business. However, this suspicion is soon quashed and all seems quite innocent, at least to me. There is a downstairs and two lower class waitresses serving the working men, and a posher upstairs with more vividly-described women. Madame Tellier herself is a widow.

Then one day her patrons arrive at her door and the place is locked. It is mysterious and no one knows where they've gone. Without her the businessmen are bereft and ill-tempered. Fights break out.

The next section explains what has happened. Madame Tellier has gone to her niece's first communion and taken all the girls with her. The journey is well described - they are jolly and unrestrained. The women seem glamorous to this little village and they are treated with reverence. One by one they start to cry 'just like the sparks from an engine set fire to dry grass' as they remember their own communion until eventually the whole congregation was crying and 'something superhuman seemed to be hovering about their heads.' It seems to be a turning point. Madame Tellier's brother flirts with one of Madame Tellier's girls and Madame Tellier takes pains to make sure they all catch the train and go home.

News of Madame Tellier's return to her establishment spreads quickly and her usual clients celebrate their return. If it wasn't a brothel before it is made quite clear that it is now; but although the women are loose it is clear also that they are held in high regard and the overall atmosphere is that of joy.

I think the success of this story lies in the way it plays around with the expectations and prejudices of the reader. What is Madame Tellier's Establishment: a rest-house or a whore-house?

Mademoiselle Fifi.
This is the nick-name given to a young, boorish Prussian officer who is unpopular with his men. The Prussians have occupied Normandy. In a small act of defiance the local priest has refused to sound the church bell, but the Prussians don't much mind. The Prussian officers have taken over a French chateau and have wrecked the place; Mademoiselle Fifi being one of the main people responsible. Part of the reason for this behaviour is boredom and, in an attempt to alleviate this, one of the non-commissioned officers is dispatched to procure a group of women to entertain the four officers in charge.

They have a dinner together, during which they become more and more drunk, and the senior officer assigns each officer a woman in order of rank. Mademoiselle Fifi is assigned a young Jewish girl called Rachel. He treats her roughly and somewhat contemptuously - biting her lip when he kisses her, and she tells him he will pay for that. As Fifi becomes more drunk he also becomes more jingoistic, eventually telling Rachel, who is on his knee, that as victorious Prussians they have a right to all the French women. Feeling threatened, she stabs him in the neck with a small dessert knife and runs off. Fifi dies and Rachel is never found (although three more Prussians are killed in attempts to find her). For Fifi's funeral the church bell rings - the apparent capitulation in fact masking a French victory - Rachel has been hidden in the bell tower.

This is a satisfying story in which right (for once) wins out - and although de Maupassant concentrates mainly on the men in his descriptions and view-point it is the women and the way they are treated which seems to me to be point of the story.

Clair de la Lune.
Greatly atmospheric tale about an arrogant priest who loves and knows God but detests women. He wishes his niece to become a sister of charity but she is an irrepressible romantic sort of girl who is not interested in God and spirituality but wants to hug things like insects and flowers. One day he hears she has a lover whom she meets every night between ten and midnight and becomes determined to put an end to it. However, when he opens his door that night he sees nature by moonlight which overawes him. He is so affected that when he encounters the lovers they seem part of the miracle of God's world so he decides not to interfere after all. In fact feels ashamed at his audacity of even thinking of it.

Miss Harriet.
A very interesting story for several reasons, but notably for giving an insight of the French view of the English, in particular the variety of English old maid who toured mid-nineteenth century France.

A young artist is fascinated by an English woman twice his age who shares his lodgings. At first she ignores him and indulges in her eccentric behaviour of protestantism and nature worshiping. One day she sees his painting of a viewpoint she loves and after this they become companions. However, when he compliments her looks she seems hurt by him and doesn't bother with him. In an effort to get her back he gives her a picture and their hands touch. He feels what he calls a 'love tremor' run through her. Knowing that she loves him he then announces he will leave, and then, that night is caught kissing a young servant. That night he hears weeping and someone pacing. The next day Miss Harriet is nowhere to be seen. She is eventually found in the well. He then dresses her body and kisses the corpse on its cold lips.

The Necklace.
This is a tale with a twist. A poor woman, Mathilde, yearns for a day at a ball. Her husband manages to find her enough money for a gown but she has to borrow her necklace from a friend. She goes to the ball. She is a sensation but she loses her friend's necklace. Since they cannot find it they search town to find a replacement, but the replacement costs so much they have to sell everything they own. They become poor and work hard and they both age. Ten years later she sees the friend with the necklace. The friend looks young and has a child, and is aghast at how Mathilde has aged. When she hears the story about the necklace she laughs. The necklace was paste and not expensive at all. It's quite a conventional story, almost like a moralistic folktale, and very satisfying.

Mademoiselle Pearl
A young man visits a family he has known for some time. On 12th night a cake is divided and the person receiving the token buried within has choice of 'bride'. Usually it is the host that finds the token and he chooses his wife as bride, but this time it is the guest who bites on something hard. He looks around the table, apart from the wife and three daughters there is only Mademoiselle Pearl. Since he would feel compromised if he chose one daughter over the others he chooses Mademoiselle Pearl. She is 40 and attractive and, he realises, he doesn't know anything about her. He asks his host who explains (via an extremely well told and atmospheric story) that Mademoiselle pearl is a foundling. His family adopted her after finding her, as a baby in the middle of a snowstorm - led to her carriage by the howling of a dog.

Mademoiselle Pearl was wrapped in much wealth and this was kept for her dowry. However she never married. The host explains she had many suitors but rejected them all and seemed especially sad around the time the host married his cousin after an engagement of 6 years. The visitor then accurately surmises that the host loved Mademoiselle Pearl which causes the host to break down in tears, and then, later Mademoiselle Pearl to faint. Nice work. He then scarpers feeling oddly satisfied with what he's done. This tale is haunting me for all sorts of reasons - most of all because I keep thinking of that mess the visitor has left behind. Sometimes it might be better if some things are better left unsaid.

The Piece of String.
A very sad tale. A man sees a piece of string on the road, and ashamed that an enemy sees him do this pretends to be looking for something else. Later, it transpires that a pocket book has been lost on the same piece of road, and the enemy of the man says that the man had picked it up and stolen it. The man protests his innocence but no one believes him. Even though the pocket book is later handed in everyone believes that the man still stole it and induced an accomplice to hand it in for him. The man becomes so obsessed by proving and protesting his innocence he eventually wastes away and dies. Again, a universal tale and a great advertisement for the life of a hermit.

Madame Husson's Rosier.
A man finds himself in a small provincial town in Normandy and locates a friend who invites him to breakfast. They eat well, and this is described in loving detail. He is then shown round the town by his friend and they encounter a drunk or, as the friend puts it, a 'rosier'. He then tells the tale of where this term comes from.

Madam Rosier, being impressed at Paris's election of a pure maiden of virtue decides to start a similar contest in her own town. She sets her servant on the task but the servant is unable to find an uncorrupted maiden. However, she then learns of Rosier, a shy and innocent man, and untouched by any vice. He is duly elected and celebrated, and rewarded with a silk purse of 25 gold coins. Unfortunately, he returns to his shop alone, looks at the coins and runs away. He is not seen for a week or so, and then is found, stone drunk against a wall and broke. After that there is no hope for him. He has become an alcoholic.

The friends continue around the town, taking pride in the history. It's an old-fashioned moralistic tale of the power of the rich to corrupt, with added multi-layering spice.

That pig of a Morin.
A tale of hipocrisy. Morin, a middle-aged man, finds himself in a train carriage with a beautiful woman. She smiles at him and he fantasises about her as the train travels through the night. The next morning at a train station, unable to resist any longer he purses up and goes to kiss her. She screams loudly and Morin is charged with attempting to molest her.

A young man and a lawyer are asked to try and get the young woman to withdraw her complaint. They go for walks with her and her uncle, and on one of these walks the young man finds he too is drawn to her and tries to kiss her. She doesn't object as much to this since he is good-looking and young. They are invited to stay the night and the young woman finds several reasons to visit the young man in his room. The young woman withdraws her claim and since the lawyer has to go back to town, the young man has to return too.

He sees the young woman many years later. Her husband reports that she always speaks fondly of him. Morin, however, never recovers from the trauma, is despised by everyone and dies two years later. It's a sad tale and reminds me of the 'The Piece of String'. In both cases the nervous distress brought on by being wrongly accused is enough to kill.

Useless Beauty
A beautiful woman tells her husband that she resents, at the age of thirty, that she has been kept in motherhood for eleven years, and that it is his attempt to disfigure her because he is jealous of her. She says she had been forced to marry him because of his wealth and the poverty of her parents. He is shocked because he thinks of himself as a model husband and father. She says he only loves his children because they symbolise his power over her. She then asks him to come to church with her and there confesses that one of his seven children is not his own. She then rushes away. Later that day a maid brings her a note from him saying he is going on a long journey.

The next section features two men discussing he woman at the opera. She is now thirty-six although she looks a lot younger. The husband, though, has for the last six years had played wild and loose and looks much older.

The last section returns to the couple. The man has been punished and feels tortured that he cannot love any of his children because he is plagued with doubts about which one is not his and pleads with her to tell him. Convinced he has suffered, as she has suffered, she tells him she was lying before, and when he is convinced that she is not lying, they become friends - at last.

The Olive Orchard.
A story which is modern in structure with a few good twists, especially one at the end. First the curate is introduced in his village. Even though he is fairly old he is strong. He has a sad history. His parents died when he was a young man and he subsequently fell in love with a woman who then betrayed him. News of her betrayal sent him into a murderous rage, and to save herself she told him that the child she was carrying was not his. Although he would kill the product of their liaison he could not kill another man's child. He then told her to go away and that he never wanted to see her again. The effect of this betrayal was profound. He became a priest and then a curate in a village where he has been ever since.

Later in the day on which this story started the housekeeper tells him that a vagabond has come to the door asking for him. The vagabond eventually turns out to be the curate's son. They eat dinner together. The son was called after the other man, and lived as his son until it became apparent, from his looks, that he was the curate's son. The son then 'kicked against the traces' and was sent to a reformatory. There, through playing tricks, he accidentally drowned several people and was sent to prison. After he was released, he was went back to his mother. Just before she died she told him who his father was, and would have gone to the curate immediately had he not branded his stepfather with a hot poker on the day of his mother's funeral.

By now the curate can see all that he despised about his mistress in his son. He proposes that the son leaves him in peace in another village where he supports him as much as he is able, but the son is not happy with this. They fight.

The next morning the housekeeper, who has been sent away while they were eating together, finds them both. The son is in a drunken stupor and the curate has had his throat cut. Everyone assumes murder, but in fact it was suicide.

A Sale.
Two men, a pig farmer and a bar owner, are accused of attempting to murder the pig farmer's wife in court. The wife explains what happened - they promised her 1,000 sous if she did what she was told: first fill a large barrel with water, then strip off, then finally get into the barrel. They then shoved her head under the water. She ran off and escaped.

The explanation is that pig farmer needed money and so proposed selling his wife to the inn keeper who was a widower. They agreed on a price per volume and, because they were both drunk, used Archimedes's idea to measure her volume.

The two were acquitted after the pig farmer was reminded about the sanctity of marriage. It's a short tale with excellent descriptions.

An exceptionally poignant tale about shooting game. The narrator shoots down 'a teal with silver breast' and its companion gives 'a little heart-rending wail' and circles watching its companion. The bird, the cock, cannot continue without the hen and is eventually shot down too. The narrator then returns to Paris - the start of his distaste for 'sport'.

Two Little Soldiers.
Two Breton soldiers take Sunday lunch in countryside that remind them of home and befriend a milkmaid. After a couple weeks one of the soldiers. Luc, asks for leave mid-week and on the Sunday it is clear why - Luc and the milkmaid embrace and Luc's companion, Jean, ignored. On the way back to barracks, Jean leans over a bridge so far he topples over and is lost. Whether it is through being deserted by his friend or loving the milkmaid too is not made clear. A sad story.

A traveller comes across a poor couple in Corsica and lodges with them overnight. It transpires the woman is from his village and he remembers the scandal in which she, a rich and handsome girl, eloped with a hussar. The old man is the hussar, and although they have been poor and led a hard life she has, she says, led a happy one. It's a very simple story, making the point that money can't buy love, which each generation seems to have discover for themselves, again and again.

In conclusion: a great selection of stories. I enjoyed each one, and the writing excellent.