I tried storyboarding once. I laid my story out like a patient on an operating table and fiddled with it until it died. Now I keep everything between my ears and listen carefully while I clean the cooker and pack the fridge. While I ferry food and cheer at football matches.
When the beautiful but fragile first draft is done I let it rest. I leave it to get stronger while I try for a family picnic, or a trip to the beach with cold beer and sun.
When it calls me back I ignore it. Until (I tell myself) I have forgotten it. Then I gently shake it to see what life is left. To see what surgery is needed. And, before you can say 'it's nearly Christmas' a year has passed and the story sits up and smiles.
I loved this story. So well written. So engaging. The only reason I've given it a four-star rating is because, for me, the magic stalled just a little when Simone and Alain were talking about Alain's writing career in the cabin. The rest of the time, I was held in Peter Davey's spell. He really can evoke those feelings we all have of missed opportunities and sinking regret. That's not to say that this is a sentimental story. Not at all. The plot is clever. And the ending has a very satisfying twist.
I read 'Loved and Lost in Lewisham' some time ago and enjoyed it very much. 'Simone Simone', in my opinion, is even better. Highly recommended.
made breakfast together in Blair’s kitchen.
She knew her way around now.
There were lots of gadgets. Blair
loved that kind of thing. He had a huge
coffee machine that made noisy cappuccinos; a juicer that took the whole fruit,
skin and all; and a toasted sandwich maker that looked as though it had come
from the next century. She watched him
making ham and cheese toasties with English mustard. His hands were elegant, like the hands of a piano player. There were tiny crinkles around his eyes
that made him look as though he were always about to smile. Now, with his head bent forward, he looked
vulnerable – the soft down of hair on the back of his neck gently curled, his
long intimate eyelashes fluttered against his cheek. Sarah thought him beautiful this morning. But she kept him back a little, knowing that
she was not in love.
we go out somewhere after breakfast?”
He handed her a toastie.
if you want to.” She sat on the small
sofa, with one leg tucked under her.
She hadn’t planned on staying all day.
about a spot of shopping in the King’s Road?”
skint at the moment. The agency’s
always late with my cheque. Do you know
how much they make out of it?”
disgusting amount, inevitably.” He watched her talking about things that didn’t
matter and thought her all the more enchanting.
wouldn’t believe it! But it’s not forever.
They only get commission until the end of the year. Leeches!” She had the impression he was not listening
to what she was saying. “This is a
noticed. Want another?”
had shoved the rest of the sandwich into her mouth and started laughing because
she couldn’t speak. She covered her
mouth with her hand while Blair shook his head and grinned.
They had more breakfast and drank strong coffee,
sitting close together on the couch, looking out at the leaves of the trees
scintillating against the blue of the early spring sky. Sarah’s mouth was greasy and she wiped it
with the back of her hand. It was
something she would not normally have done, but she knew that Blair would be
shocked, and so she was brazen. It made him giggle like a schoolboy.
took the plates and cups and tidied everything up. Sarah watched him and thought him obsessive. He wiped the sideboard with a new cloth,
lifting the jars and cleaning underneath them.
He unplugged the toastie machine and cleaned it carefully so as not to
get water on the electric cable. He
even swept the floor, twice. Sarah
wondered how long she could stand all this if they lived in the same house together. Did he have equally fastidious habits in the
rest of the house that she hadn’t noticed yet?
Certainly, the bathroom was spotless and the towels were always clean
and folded. Blair folded the dishcloth
and clapped his hands together.
“Finished?” she asked.
to be old?” she laughed.
stared at her, not knowing what she meant.
ever folds the dishcloth?” She
stood up and dangled the cloth in front of his face.
“Oh. Ha! Ha!
Very funny.” He didn’t want her
to make a fool of him.
she dropped the cloth into his hand, bored by his lukewarm reaction.
imagined what Andy would have done in the same situation. Not that he would have tidied up in the
first place. But if she had held a
dishcloth to his face he would have snatched it and chased her, finally rubbing
it in her own face and holding her down until she begged to be let go. She couldn’t imagine Blair doing anything
it’s sunny, lets go out, see what happens.”
optimism was unkillable. But the day
was bright and it would do her good to be in the fresh air for a while. There was no rush to get home, after all.
was springtime in Hyde Park, and there were people out together enjoying the
sun. Sarah wore a red floral dress and
sandals, feeling a little cold in the shade.
The trees in the park were huge and she wondered what kind they
were. They should be something
magnificent, like oak. Blair would know.
He knew a lot of things that she didn’t. She didn’t want him to tell her, though. The trees did not need names.
walked along the path next to the Serpentine. There were boats, ice-cream
salesmen, even a restaurant by the lake.
It had everything.
it had nothing.
was on the outside of this world, where colours were bright and gaudy and
sounds rang out audaciously across the park.
She watched a child throwing a stick for her dog, a group of boys
playing football, a woman reading on a bench. It was like looking into a
fairytale, or a painting, it wasn’t real.
She thought about Andy. Where he
was, there was a different sun that hardened the earth and cracked the skin on
her brother’s face. His heavy boots
blistered his soft flesh and his weapon pressed hard into his shoulder where it
dug in as he moved. The weapon that he
used to fire at the soldiers of the Taliban.
Men of flesh and blood who were themselves sons, brothers, husbands,
fathers. This world was real. It mattered more to her.
on your mind, beautiful girl?” Blair
had stopped walking.
she lied. “I wish I hadn’t worn these
sandals, that’s all. They’re pinching.”
As she said it, she noticed the pettiness of such a complaint.
them off, then,” he said, laughing.
they’re not that bad. I’ll get used to
them.” She looked at him and was
suddenly moved. “Kiss me!”
“Here? With all these people watching?” He was laughing still.
why not?” It was already too late.
looked around and took her hand to lead her away from the path. They sat under the branches of a huge tree
and Blair kissed her. She could not lose herself, but for a moment the sunlight
glinted through the green canopy and made a part of her brain spark. She felt warm and wanted. She felt Blair’s love, even if she was not
able to return it.
kind of tree is this?” she asked, her
an oak,” he said looking up through its branches.
thought it was.” She leaned her head
against his shoulder and felt a shudder run through her.
you okay, Sarah?” He drew back from
“Yes. Yes, just cold in the shade. Can we go back to the path? We could get a coffee if you like?” She was babbling.
stood and held out his hand to help her.
He was a handsome, kind boy. She
could see the damage she would do to him when she left him.
I should go home. I’m spoiling your
day,” she said.
be absurd. Come on, let’s get a
his chest constricted. He knew that she
did not love him as he did her. But it
was a passive knowledge and he chose to keep it unspoken, even to himself. There was still more he could do to win her;
he would not give up easily. He thought
of his own parents. Of how they had
married, not for love, but because their families had brought them together. They were suited to each other. He saw that their love for each other now
was enduring, based on respect and compatibility. It was not what he wanted for himself though, and when he looked
at Sarah he knew that he had found the girl he wanted to marry, only for
you think you’ll stay at Firth’s forever?” she asked him, to break the silence.
don’t know,” he replied.
won’t,” she said.
was glad she had turned her face away from him when she had said it.
was almost dark by the time Sarah got back to the flat. Wendy had gone away for
the weekend and the place was quiet.
She sat in a chair and got out Andy’s letters. He would be coming home at the end of June, in just over three
months. He was almost half-way through
his tour of duty, but this gave Sarah little comfort. She was not at all sure that he would not decide to go back. She would do everything she could to stop
(If you would like to read previous posts, please go to My French Life.)
By the end of January 2009, we still had no house of our
own. We wanted something habitable, in
the countryside, with land and outbuildings for my husband, Al to
renovate. It had to have a nice garden
and it had to have a garage to fill with motorbikes. The list had been growing for over a year! You may notice the total absence of
practical concerns, like schools, transport, shops…
I’d already been to see a fair number of places, and had
gone back to a few with Al and the boys for a second look. There was always something wrong. Mainly low roofs (we are a very tall bunch
of people), lack of original features (ancient fire places replaced with shiny
storage heaters), price (mythical) and condition. We came close with a couple and went so far as to make an offer
on a huge house which had been half renovated and which we would have bought if
the price had come down just a little more.
The other offer was more of an act of desperation – so glad we didn’t go
through with that one!
Then it happened! I
was out with my favourite estate agent and she brought me to a house in Corme
Royal – very posh! It’s a medium-sized
village with all the amenities you could ask for, and elegant buildings around
its own busy market square. I loved it
as soon as I saw it. But where was the
house? Would it be next to a power
station? Would it be big enough for
four giants? Would it have a
garden? On top of all these questions,
it occurred to me that we hadn’t really considered buying in a village.
Just opposite the bakery, Anna took a left into an Impasse
and pulled up in front of the third terraced house along. Terraced! The façade was in need of
attention, its tired paint flaking. And
it didn’t look very big at all. There
was just enough room to park outside and no sign of a garage. I looked at Anna. She was wearing her ‘don’t make up your mind yet’ expression.
Somebody didn't set the date!
Inside, the long hallway had an 80s disco feel, with
enormous swirling patterns of very loud wallpaper and, half way along, a
central heating boiler that looked as though it had been chosen as a feature,
jutting out like a 19th century Dalek. But, the floor was covered in 17th century tiles and,
looking up, the ceiling had its original beams (generously glossed and yellowed by time). After that, it only got better. Two Charentaise fireplaces. Two!
(Although they too had been recently slathered in white gloss). Massive oak beams, solid hardwood floors
and, piece de resistance! I glimpsed a
walled garden of, as they say in every programme about house buying, a very good
There were two large reception rooms: one done out as a
bedroom, complete with open plan toilet, lid up but luckily sans organic
interest. A dining room, a kitchen,
three upstairs bedrooms and, surprisingly, along the back of the neighbouring
house, a utility room, shower room, separate wc and a large chai (store room),
which could be converted into more accommodation (bingo! – Al’s renovation
Outside, the garden was about as big as one and a half tennis
courts, with a couple of small stone outbuildings and a shelter for wood. It was perfect. Stone walls all around and no viz a viz! What’s more, the neighbours’ gardens were
strewn with beautiful mature trees to the right and centre. To the left, there was the enormous 12th
century village church! I couldn’t believe it.
Magnificent. The clock chimed
and I laughed. Anna looked relieved –
she’d shown me a lot of houses by this time.
January 2009! Before we moved in.
Back outside, I was beginning to take ownership already,
assessing the shutters, which seemed in excellent repair. Then I remembered – garage! It would be, as
they say, a deal breaker. I turned to
see Anna unlocking a large double door in a lovely stone built building opposite the house. Thank the Lord and praise the angels! There it was. Big enough
for a couple of motorbikes and plenty of other tools and junk.
Anna drove me back to the gite and I fell upon Al, gushing
with enthusiasm. You have to come and
see it! This is the one!
I won’t give a summary here, as other reviewers have already
very efficiently done so.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Tonia Parronchi’s
practically flawless prose flows beautifully and is at times poetic. The story itself is a mix of fairytale
romance and mystical folklore, which I haven’t come across before. I must say that the enchanted Cypress did
not appeal to me much to start with, but as I progressed with the story, I
understood that it added an interesting dimension to Annie’s new life in Italy.
I generally read two or three books at a time, and The Song
of the Cypress was the one I wanted to settle down with an hour or so before
bedtime because it is so uplifting and positive. Rural Italy comes alive, with fabulous descriptions, traditional
anecdotes and a welcome helping of local produce served up at sunny picnics,
village feasts, or cosy meals for two in front of the fire. Everything is rather perfect, but I
enjoyed this indulgence – it was refreshingly uplifting and a great way to
de-stress at the end of the day.
If I had to mention something negative, I’d say that the
pace did stall from time to time, where there was occasional repetition,
verbosity or inaction. However, if
you’re looking for a nice dose of romantic escapism, coupled with an authentic
overview of life in a Tuscan village, written by an author who knows how to
write, this book definitely fits the bill.