Tuesday, 21 October 2014

My French Life - Eating out

We don't often go out for a big celebration in the evening, here in France.  Lunch menus are simple, far cheaper and just as delicious.  But it was a special occasion and we let out our impulsive selves for once.  My husband and I.  'Come to dinner!' we said to his mum and dad.  'Would you like to join us?' we asked our enormous teenage sons. 

The restaurant is local and is run by a fabulous couple.  One English, one French.  The food is well above the quality you would expect from a rural location such as ours.  Lucky us, I say.

I tip-toed downstairs in some ridiculous shoes and a rather clingy dress, the boys lumbered out of their bedroom paradises, unplugged momentarily from their alternative realities, and, keeping to their usual dress code of summer shorts and tee shirts, began grinning at the prospect of being fed.  The in-laws arrived in a burst of Heinz tomato soup, Cadbury's Dairy Milk and explosive joie de vivre.  My husband donned a jacket, shook his mane of very long, very messy hair, and looked his usual delicious self.  We were all set.

Our hostess was there to greet us, as were a handful of bright-faced locals and a small table of international friends, who were having a Sunday apero.  The atmosphere was immediately convivial.  Having kissed and caught up with a little news, we went through to the dining room and were seated, boy-girl-boy-girl. 

I was suddenly very hungry.  I think we all were. 

The menu was interesting, if a little scary.  We made our choices.  For the entrée I had bar mariné au citron vert avec condiment croquant et sorbet poivron rouge. (lime marinated bass with a red pepper sorbet, beautifully presented with crunchy vegetable garnish). I hated it - but it was my own fault for foolishly ordering raw fish, when I don't like raw fish. I blame this oversight on the fact that I am a Midlands girl with experimental tendencies.

Luckily, I was less adventurous with the main course: joue de boeuf braisé avec champignons des bois, carottes et moelle (braised beef cheeks with wild mushrooms, carrots and bone marrow).  Once I'd stopped thinking about the anatomy of a cow, pondering the idea of cheeks, and wondering whether I should be eating meat in the first place, I was more or less okay.  It was, after all, very tender and tasty. 

I had decided early on that dessert would be one step too far for the seams of my lycra dress to bear.  Needless to say, the stolen tasters I got from various disgruntled members of my party were the best part of the meal, for me.  My favourite: Chocolat 'guayaquil' parfumé à la citronnelle, avec marmelade de framboise (chocolat mousse flavoured with lemon, with a layer of raspberry jam).  Exquisite!

Of course, everyone else enjoyed the whole menu.  Why wouldn't they? They were obviously much less squeamish than I am and proper gourmets into the bargain. 

My education in the appreciation of the finer things in life is ongoing, although it has to be said that I have ruled out several delicacies so far, including oysters, snails (including snail jam) and all forms of black pudding, (having seen a documentary about how this is made, featuring a sturdy woman, a wooden spoon, a bowl containing blood and animal fat, and finally, a reporter who made a hilarious unscheduled dive for the door as the mixture thickened).

I have to say, also, that the urge to simplify, as I grow older, is sometimes extremely attractive. With this in mind, and turning my back on the notion of a calorie, tonight I'm cooking fish and chips with homemade curry sauce (à la Jamie Oliver/Comfort Food). Mushy peas, too.  Hands up who wants some!

Happy days.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Monday, 6 October 2014

Peaches in the Attic

My new short story is similar in genre to the wonderful Tales of Mystery and Imagination originally broadcast  between 1966 and 1970 by the BBC.  I used to watch them with my grandfather.  My grandmother had gone to The Dogs with my mother... 

My grandfather and I were free spirits and generally immune to rules about anything to do with bedtimes or suitable television viewing.  I remember dastardly plots, secret rooms, ice-cold characters.  Horror and the supernatural on a Saturday night, with the fire lit and the horse brasses glinting.  I was all of a wriggle, eyes wide and ready to be amazed.

Although Peaches in the Attic is an adult piece, it is approved by my teenage nieces, who rate it as 'excellently evil'.

Bon appetit!


My new story, Strings, is pure science fiction.  At least I hope it is!  Apocalyptic, in a horribly playful sort of way...

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Angels is a metaphysical horror story about a mother's revenge for her daughter's untimely death.  It has received very positive reviews from Amazon customers.


Monday, 29 September 2014

Radar Love

University, 1977 - 1980.  What did I listen to?   

Promotional(?) pic of Golden Earring

Radar Love, by Golden Earring was one of my favourites.  Edgy, sexy, lots of tight trousers and long hair (and that was just me).  Yummy.  But did you know they were Dutch? And have you ever listened to their 1969 smash hit 'dong-dong-diki-digi-dong'?  No?  Well!  Get ready.  Go!

Golden Earring before Radar Love

Now, just in case, like me, you prefer Radar Love, here it is:

Radar Love (with psychedelic special effects)

When I hear this one I think of beer, boys drinking beer, spilled beer, beer bottles... you guessed it - the Students' Union bar.  There it was.  The already out-of-date jukebox with its eclectic selection of music that could brand a person with just one slip of the finger.  Rock chick and cider drinker, blond hair and size 11 jeans (yes, there were in-between sizes in those days), I wouldn't be seen dead listening to David Soul or The Jackson 5.  Oh, no!  I was so cool I almost melted.  (My words, not anyone else's.) 

These days, having donned my sports bra and trainers, I start up a selection of music on my mp3 player that I use for jogging round the garden (every other day - I'm not a fanatic).  Radar Love is for when I've survived the first ten minutes and want to up the ante and do a few random moves to startle my husband (he's usually up to his eyes in JAVA or C++ and not expecting my graceful form to hove into view).  Then I go on to something like Madonna (I favour the William Orbit productions), The Black-eyed Peas (I Gotta Feeling), or Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Relax - of course).  But I digress.

Just in case you were wondering whether Frans Krassenburg's hands are still 'wet on the wheel', I looked  up what claims to be a recent picture for you: 

 I think that's Frans on the left.

And if that's not enough, you can find a complete history of this most wonderful of bands here:

Golden Earring for people much more interested than I am...

I had fun.  Hope you did, too.

Until the next time...

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Humorous books by Bev Spicer

There are three books in the humorous Bev and Carol series:

One Summer in France (just 99p for your kindle and £6.49 in paperback) is the first adventure, which takes place, you guessed it, in the South of France, and is based on the author's experiences during a study break from university.  I wanted to write a humorous memoir about the wonderful sense of freedom and possibility we all feel when we are just starting out in life as independent people.  It's true that I had some very strange experiences but I had a lot of fun too.  What's more, I learned a great deal about France, its language and its culture.
Although Carol is an entirely fictitious character, the friendship we share in the book is real.  We don't always agree on everything, and like to get the better of one another from time to time.  Bev and Carol are certainly very different characters.  They see the world in very different ways.
One Summer in France has received many positive reviews from readers who perhaps remember a similar time in their lives, when they took so many things for granted that, in adult life, seem to have all but disappeared.
You can download a free sample to your kindle by following the link below.  Why not relax for a while in the company of Bev and Carol in One Summer in France (two girls in a tent).  I hope it puts a smile on your face and takes you back to a less complicated, more spontaneous time:

Bunny on a Bike is the second in the Bev and Carol series. This time, the author recounts her real life experiences as a Playboy croupier in London in the 80s.  Bev and Carol are eager to stick together after university and find the prospect of the graduate jobs available too dull to contemplate.  They see an advertisement in the newspaper for blackjack dealers and apply.
I think you will be surprised at some of the realities of the less than glamorous lives they lead, always looking on the bright side even when faced with landlords from hell and stringent training schedules at Victor Lownes' mansion in Tring.
Bunny on a Bike has the same light touch as One Summer in France.  It's a humorous memoir which follows the lives of two girls thrown into 80s London, and gives an impression of what happened behind the doors of the Playboy casino.
Again, you can download a free sample by following the link below, where the Bev and Carol adventure continues:

Stranded in the Seychelles is the third and most recently published volume in the Bev and Carol series, although I do have plans for a further book at some point.
Our intrepid heroines have had a few years apart after leaving Playboy and have met up once more for a new adventure, this time in the Seychelles as teachers.
Stranded in the Seychelles is based once more on the author's real life experiences as a teacher on the tiny island of Ste. Anne in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and includes lots of local colour and cultural insights along the way.  Bev and Carol are older, but not particularly wiser.  They savour this new opportunity to duck out of the lives they are leading in England and jet off to somewhere altogether more exotic.  Of course it's not all plain sailing and, as usual, the girls have to cope with the unexpected, such things as giant spiders, insect infested cornflakes, heart-stopping bus rides and accident prone cleaners.  But they enjoy their experiences and learn a lot about expat society.
Stranded in the Seychelles will make you laugh just as much as One Summer in France and Bunny on a Bike, but this time, Bev and Carol are faced with rather more sobering choices from time to time, in between the absurd and the hilarious.
Follow the link below to download a free sample and find out what they get up to this time:

So, that's it for my humorous books.  If you would like to look at my other books, please go back to my home page and select Novels by B A Spicer.

Novels by B. A. Spicer

I have written a number of novels, all of which are character-driven and involve intricate plots that will hopefully keep you guessing.

My Grandfather's Eyes is my first published novel, although it was not the first I wrote.
I tend to enjoy creating flawed characters, and Alex is probably one of my most complex.  There isn't much to like about her, it's true, but she does have some serious issues to deal with.  Her singleminded approach to investigating the past so that she can move on with her life often has shocking consequences.  What will she do next?  This is the question that drives the plot.
You can download a sample to find out whether Alex is the type of character who you want get inside your head by following the link below:

A Good Day for Jumping follows the lives of Stephen Firth, a handsome, rich, promiscuous young man and Joyce Shackleton, a deeply surprising middle-aged woman. (No, they are not going to have a torrid affair - sorry to disappoint!  Their stories are linked in a much more subtle and interesting way.)
Set in Greece, where I lived for two years, there is a many-layered plot involving characters whose worlds collide in the most disturbing ways.  
There are characters you can really care about and others you may despise.  The world is not full of perfect people, after all.
Follow the link below and look inside - you will find yourself in the small town of Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where Stephen Firth is considering his options.

The Undertaker's Son is quite different in format to my first two novels, with shorter chapters and rather more well-balanced characters, who lead normal lives and whose interactions do not always lead to disaster!  However, there are the usual scandals associated with a close-knit society and there is also Claude Cousteau (the undertaker's son) to add a touch of evil that will undermine the pleasant comings and goings in the small French village of St. Martin le Vieux, where our heroine, Martha Burton, has bought a traditional Charentaise house, and has attracted the attentions of her handsome neighbour.
Follow the link and download a free sample to find out how the idyll of everyday life in a French setting has no bearing on a man who has grown up in an altogether more disturbing environment.

That's it for my novels so far.  My work in progress, What I Did Not Say, will be published soon.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My latest read: Crash by J G Ballard

J G certainly divides the camp with 'Crash'.  Released in 1973, the reviews were uncompromising: ‘Crash is, hands down, the most repulsive book I’ve yet to come across.’ New York Times, Sept. 1973 (the ambiguity of the phrasal verb is almost unbearable).  Martin Amis, Observer, July 1973 wrote: ‘Ballard has a brilliant reputation but this novel’s obsession with sado-masochism via deliberate car-crashing is repellent.’ 

Ballard himself says in his introduction: ‘...the ultimate role of Crash is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscapes.’  That got me.

I read on and discovered that Crash is undoubtedly explicitly pornographic, but there have been many novels that have crossed boundaries and appalled (or delighted) readers in the past.  Crash gets into a territory that is so new that I had to keep reading despite the natural revulsion I felt for some of the most deviant imagery I have ever experienced.  The intimate and devastating bringing together of automobile parts and human anatomy, where gauges and gear sticks leave scars that inspire the ‘nightmare angel of the expressways’, Dr. Robert Vaughan  to perform sex acts recreated from accidents he has witnessed had me squirming and yet...

...I went along with it, in some reassuring way, holding the hand of the narrator, who, although enjoying the kind of sexual freedoms that inhabit the most creative of imaginations, seemed at the same time, recognisably human - he cared about his wife, his friends, but, like me, was intrigued and wanted to know more about the decadent and highly charismatic Vaughn’s nightmare obsessions with the motor car and those injured or killed in crashes happening almost on a daily basis on the highway.

The thesis is extreme: that we are living on the edge of a cataclysmic event in which we will all be consumed.  Technology, and the dreams it ensnares us with, will destroy us.  In the process, it will continue to de-humanise us.

The impacts between metal, glass and upholstery and the human body seemed to blur the differences between what is animate and inanimate, but more than that, I felt that there was an element of sacrificial inevitability.  The many human fluids mentioned that appeared to decorate and mingle with the excretions of the motor car did not detract from this.

Crash caught me up and carried me into a startlingly new domain, which both horrified and fascinated me.  At no point did I doubt the wider aims of the author, who asserts that Crash ‘is an extreme metaphor for an extreme situation, a kit of desperate measures only for use in an extreme crisis.’  Elsewhere he states that Crash is a ‘psychopathic hymn which has a point.’

The descriptions are unswervingly detailed, the images deeply disturbing, the repetition of death and injury on the highways and flyovers relentless.  It’s worse than any bad dream you could imagine.

Am I glad I read it?  You bet.