Thursday, 27 November 2014

My French Life - un Jeu de Foot

 Guardian extraordinaire!

     Football is rife in France.  Every village, no matter how petit, has a pitch equipped with floodlights and somewhere to buy a (very drinkable) coffee (bring your own milk) or a beer. 
I have two sons who live for the beautiful game and need to train twice a week, come rain or shine.  Corme Royal has two pitches.  Impressive.  But there are not enough players in most age categories to form a local team.  This means (you guessed it!) joining another club in a neighbouring village.
     Last weekend (no rain - many thanks to the Management), my eldest played against Marennes. 

     The players jog onto the pitch in formation, lining up then passing along to shake hands.  The referee has sorted out a startling selection of gear, this time in and ecstasy of red, turquoise and baby blue.  The players take their positions.  The goalkeepers raise a hand.  The scene is set. The whistle blows.
     Dressed in layers, I shun the stands and observe the action from behind the barrier, joined by other hardcore football aficionados.  Today, there is a restaurateur, recently retired, a local Papi (grandfather), and his much younger wife out for an afternoon constitutional.  We converse, tentatively at first.
     Apparently, Federer (le Suisse) has just beaten their very own Gasquet in the final of the Davis Cup.  Now, here they were, in the company of an enemy supporter, with their team already losing 1:0 on its home ground.  Should I be afraid?  On the contrary, we are civilised, jovial, even philosophical.  I dare to cheer (je m’excuse!) when St. Georges scores against Marennes. 
     At half time, the Papi indicates the need for a roller.  Opinions vary.  We are joined by the linesman, who senses the chance to air his views and assures us that the ground is too soft for such a delicate operation.  We study the peaks and troughs, lost in a dream of perfect pitches.  The rather handsome restaurateur mentions the unusually long grass for the time of year and we nod, admitting that a judicious trim might be in order, were it not for the need to convince the Mairie to perform an out of season duty.  We laugh.  Ah, la France!
     The whistle blows for the second half.  I have three Tic Tacs and there are four of us.  Ah, les Tic Tacs!  I shake one into each of their palms, insisting that they are welcome.  As I look up, my son (the goalkeeper) performs an elaborate step over and lets in a corner.  1:1.  I clap politely.
     "Allez les jaunes!"  I call from the sidelines.  
     Moments later, just as I have asked about the excessively noisy frogs and am listening to a minute description of one, we score from a free kick, just outside the penalty area, through a chink in the five-man wall.
     “Hooray!  Bien joué! Allez les jaunes!”
     “Allez les blues!” calls the handsome restaurateur, entering into the spirit, at last.
     “Allez les verts!” I reply, going for ‘all inclusive’ with a glint in my eye.
     We move to a new level of understanding.

     2:1 and all is well.  But only for the next fifteen minutes.  After an untidy scuffle in front of the goal, the ball slips in and once more there’s all to play for.  
     My companions are discreet.
     “C’est un bon match – pas de bagarres (no fighting)”,  says the Papi’s wife.  Her hair is fabulous, in a ‘Back to the Future’, kind of way.
     I smile in agreement.
     I grumble internally.  Our team needs a win.  If we descend any lower, my son tells me, it will be difficult to find officials willing to referee or run the lines.  The game will become a brawl.
     We watch intently as the time ticks away.  The referee gives out free kicks at an exponential rate.  There is increasingly colourful language, including a phrase which I’d taken to be a figment of my old French teacher’s imagination:
     “Ta mère aux shorts!” shouts one of the opposition. 
     The Papi chuckles. 
     I consider the implications of such an overtly sexist remark (at the same time, I like to think I still look good in shorts…).

     Then, from the centre line, our most corpulent player – a beer-bellied thirty-five-year-old (my son is 17 yet plays for the seniors) steals the ball and advances in the style of Ronaldo, dancing, dodging, ignoring the coach, who is screaming, “Lâches!  Lâches! Donnes! Donnes!” (release/pass the ball!). 
     For God’s sake, I think, what a terrible show-off.  But he beats one defender, then another.  Do we dare to dream?  The coach murmurs, “Putain…”   One more defender is outclassed and the goalkeeper adopts the stance of a protective kangaroo (technical name: shot-stopper).  Our quick-stepping hero pauses and directs the ball  into the back of the net with a nonchalance that brings the crowd dangerously close to a communal cardiac arrest.  I clutch my phone as I regard our linesman turn purple, and try to remember the number for Samu:  is it 15, 16 or 17?
     The cheering dies down and the last five minutes seem like a lifetime.  The opposition does score, but the goal is given off-side.  I suppress a churlish whoop.  The final whistle blows and I relax.
     I shake the hands of my tolerant new friends and wait for my son, who will give me  a blow-by-blow account of the match on the way home.  He is jubilant, yet, as always, critical of his mistakes.
     I pull out a magic ham baguette and he grins. 
     "Thanks, Mum.  You're the best!"

Happy Days!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Goodreads giveaway - Bunny on a Bike (Playboy croupiers in 80s London) Only 99p/99c for your kindle until 20th November.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

bunny on a bike by Bev Spicer

bunny on a bike

by Bev Spicer

Giveaway ends December 01, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

So much better unplugged!

This is one for the headset.

Hits me right in the nucleus.

Alice in Chains - Down in a Hole

Layne Staley (the one with the voice)
1967 - 2002

Occasionally there's a song that is so haunting that even the first time you hear it you get that feeling.  The one that reminds you that your skin is an organ and that each individual hair on your body is a sensor.  'Down in a Hole'  is charged with an almost unbearable dose of emotion.  It's dark.  But it's exquisitely beautiful, too. Love it. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Short Stories

I recently published two of my short stories Strings  and Peaches in the Attic.  I was pleased that so many people chose to download them. 

A short story is not everyone's idea of fun. 

But good short stories can be intense, mesmerising.  They can take over a coffee break, or make us sit too long in the sun.  Every word fits nicely into our sudden distraction from routine. Every sentence leads somewhere, connecting us in someway with the plot, the characters, the place.

A  favourite of mine was and is 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'.  Not a particularly catchy title, I'll admit.  But the author, Ambrose Bierce, had me with the first few sentences:

A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees.

What follows is as irresistible as the swift water below and the slack rope hanging to his knees. I won't spoil it for you.  If it grabs you, download it and read it.  You won't be disappointed.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - Amazon link 

Another great read is 'Through the Tunnel' by Doris Lessing.  A bit more intrigue in the title, this time. The story is a call to our childhood selves.  To those moments we endured with shame or pride as we battled through difficult situations which must be won at all costs.

Going to the shore on the first morning of the vacation, the young English boy stopped at a turning of the path and looked down at a wild and rocky bay, and then over to the crowded beach he knew so well from other years.  

A choice is to be made, in a foreign place.  A challenge to be faced. The writing is superb. Being in the water has never felt so terrifying.

Through the Tunnel - Amazon link 

I've read hundreds of short stories, but these two were the first to come to mind.  They both deal with extreme situations.  They both build to a fabulous climax.  They both satisfy.

A short story is not everyone's idea of fun.  But ideas change, and fun comes in many forms. 

Happy reading.

Friday, 24 October 2014

My interview with Hajira Amla of Seychelles News Agency

 Bev Spicer, author of Stranded in the Seychelles

Can you start off by explaining a bit about the Bev and Carol series in general and why you decided to write them?

Like most things in my life, Bev and Carol were sort of accidental.  I was talking to a friend who also writes, and when she found out I had worked at a London Playboy casino as a croupier in the early 80s, she said I would be mad not to write about it. People would be interested to know what it was really like dealing blackjack in the not so glamorous world of Playboy. That was the beginning of Bev and Carol, two friends with larger than life personalities and not a great deal of common sense.  So, Bunny on a Bike (Playboy croupiers in 8os London) was the first humorous memoir I wrote, but the second in the series.  Confused?  All will become clear... 

Are there any more Bev and Carol adventures in the pipeline since they were last seen jetting off towards Bangkok?

Aha! Well, there are three so far: One Summer in France (two girls in a tent)Book one, Bunny on a Bike (mentioned above) Book two and Stranded in the Seychelles (teachers in paradise)Book three.  I’m very, very tempted to go off piste with Bev and Carol next time.  Perhaps a hilarious sci fi adventure: Black Holes and Poptarts for example.  If you remember the 70s and 80s, Poptarts were a kind of mass produced flat cake with synthetic jam in the middle.  These delicacies were responsible for many a toaster fire as young people everywhere fed their addiction for sugar and animal fat.  Yummy. They do feature in the Bev and Carol books.  Perhaps Seychelles was lucky enough to escape them?

Stranded in Seychelles is a very tongue-in-cheek look at the islands back in the late 1980s - what would you want Seychellois readers to know before they pick up the book? 

Glad you asked this one!  Stranded in the Seychelles, like all the books in the Bev and Carol series, is meant to be entertaining but also interesting.  Hopefully, readers will see that the laugh is generally on one or other of the protagonists rather than at the expense of other characters who appear in the books.  The portrayal of Seychelles is from the point of view of two young women who are exploring a new and exciting culture where, for the first time in their lives, they are exposed to a society which is evolving at a fantastic rate.  There are aspects of Seychellois life that Bev and Carol find charming, laudable, refreshing and, at the same time, they come across social practices that test their moral and political yardsticks, sometimes leaving them baffled or overwhelmed.  During their time on the islands, Bev and Carol are delighted, challenged and terrified in turn.  Above all, I hope that the deep affection and pride I felt for Seychelles and its people will come through loud and clear.

What kind of person was Bev Spicer in those days?

Incorrigible, unstoppable, dozy, blonde, less wrinkly, and on the lookout for adventure.  I remember never wanting to settle in one place for too long because I might miss something.  The world seemed like a huge treasure chest and I wanted to dive in and pull out as much sparkle as I could.  I suppose I was lucky to have received a free university education, trained to be a teacher and to have had a father who only wanted me to follow my heart and be happy.  And so, in those days, I was a traveller, first and foremost.  I’ve lived in a lot of different countries and feel privileged to have encountered so much that is new to me.  Wherever I have been, I’ve always found amazing people.  People who smile no matter what life throws at them.  I had very little in terms of possessions in those days.  I felt free and unafraid of the future.

Have you been back to the Seychelles since your departure from the NYS? If so, what can you say about how the islands and the people have changed since then?

No, I’ve never thought about returning. Do you know how rich you have to be to holiday in the Seychelles?
I’m so pleased to have found your site, though.  Now I can keep up with what’s happening at the click of a button.  Amazing!

You say that the book is partly fictional and partly a true account of your experiences in Seychelles - how much/what parts of the book has been embellished with fiction and why?

Now this is a very leading question!  I would say that practically all of the events are based on my own experiences, with the occasional exaggeration for dramatic effect.  Fiction comes into play with the characters, who have been made as unrecognisable as possible from the real people I met.  ‘Carol’ is an entirely fictional character in all of the books.  The person who accompanied me to France, London and Seychelles, was nothing like Carol.  What is absolutely real, and what I have endeavoured to convey is the profound and treasured friendship that comes from knowing someone well and enjoying their company in a way that is effortless and genuine.  I sometimes think that Bev and Carol are probably more like two sides of my own rather strange personality.   

Are you still close to Carol (is that her real name)? How did she react when you told her you wanted to write this series?

I am in touch with my friend, yes.  Her name, as you’ve probably guessed, is not Carol.  How does she feel about the books?  I think she is quite impressed, and very happy for me.

Is the book only available on Amazon or do you have print versions available as well? 

All three memoirs are available on Amazon as kindle versions or in paperback.
Are you self-published?

Yes.  I like being self-published.  I have total control over content, cover, pricing and publication dates. 

 When was Stranded in Seychelles released?

The kindle version was released on February 27th 2014.  The paperback version on October 17th 2014.

How has the book and the series in general done in sales and have you received any interest from publishers?

All my books are gradually reaching a wider audience, which is very exciting for me. I try to spread the word using social media, but I try not to overdo this.  Most readers who buy my books do so after reading reviews on Amazon or by recommendation from a friend.  Interviews like this one generally help too!  I am always thrilled when someone chooses to buy a copy of one of my books and I’m lucky enough to have received excellent reviews for all of them.

Publishers?  I’ve had a great deal of interest, but nothing concrete, as yet.  I’m quite happy being an independent author for the time being. 

How many other books have you written in total and what kind of genres do they cover?

Apart from my three humorous memoirs, I have three published novels and three published short stories, all kindle versions.  I’m aiming to get all my work into paperback by the end of the year.  Wish me luck! 

My Grandfather’s Eyes is a psychological drama featuring a strong female protagonist who some readers have described as evil.

A Good Day for Jumping is set on the island of Crete where I spent two years teaching, and is more of a character driven mystery involving a multilayered plot, a handsome libertine and a glamorous woman who has led a very unusual life.

The Undertaker’s Son is set in France, where I now live, and is rather more of a soap opera, with lots of local detail and a collection of rural and international characters.  There is romance, deceit, croissants, and a terrifying twist at the end.

I have also published three separate short stories: Angels is a metaphysical horror story, Strings is an apocalyptic sci fi and Peaches in the Attic is a rather disturbing tale about a grandmother and her granddaughter.

You now live in France with your husband and children - would you say your days of adventure, binge drinking and reckless abandon are over? 

I don’t binge drink any more, although I do have a glass of wine with dinner - this is unavoidable given where I live... and very enjoyable, too.  Would I give up adventure and reckless abandon?  I don’t know if I could ever do that!  

To go to Seychelles News Agency's online journal, click here: