This post. It is a little long, but the thoughts had to come out.
I have been away for a month. Summer heat stroke and a visit to the hospital, along with some physically hard work pointing up the barns exterior walls had impinged on my health and being slightly presupposed to depressive moments, I found myself a little homesick for London. The month away was supposed to be a regenerative break, to make some new year resolutions, to ride a few red buses, visit a museum or two – the new Design Museum and the British Museum were on my list – and soak up Christmas taking in the lights on Oxford and Regent Street and present buying in Fortnums and Masons, John Lewis and maybe a curry in Brick Lane.
I was planning not to visit London again for some time, as I really need to be putting roots down here in France. The last three years has been a down tools every October and six months nomadic life back in the UK – living in rental or friends vacant flats – neither comfortable nor relaxing. It was all taking its toll physically and mentally.
I know its cliché, but when a family member, in this case my mother, is diagnosed with an aggressive terminal cancer, my London visit suddenly became an abrupt appointment with mortality and that month became an all absorbing period of stress, of anxiety. Maybe it was fate, but I had booked this way back in September and my mother’s health took a turn a few days before we were due to jump on Eurostar. As it transpired the final trip to the MacMillan nurse was on the day before I had booked my return ticket back to Paris. Coincidence or a premonition? Who knows, but in just four weeks my life changed.
Mother is not having surgery, far too horrific and evasive. It is jaw cancer. I had a jaw operation back when I was 18 years old. My jaw stuck out like Charles V the Habsburg and I got teased mercilessly at school for many years. Finally the tallest girl in the school stopped growing and the surgeon said he could work his magic. He did and I could finally bite slices of cucumber or other thin things and stop chopping all my food small enough to swallow.
The operation wasn’t easy and I was a fit 18 year old. My mother is 84 years old and the outcome not so good. We decided better to have time to see her friends, make her peace with the world and have palliative care at the end – but in one piece.
Now we wait and I am on 24 hour standby with another visit back very soon. Our garage blew down in one of Limousines hurricane moments and so we had to head back to France. Leaving your home unattended for winter just added another layer of anxiety.
During one of my trips to London, a visit to Piccadilly Waterstones got us out of the pouring rain for a few hours. We have been on a financial time-bomb for over five years now. Sore lack of funds was going to make 2018 very hard for us. I know it sounds dramatic, but we were even worried about paying for food. We wandered into Waterstones to the cosy basement café and dripped for ten minutes before I headed up to the business section. I had downsized my accounting practice over the last few years as we came to France more and more. I had also grown out of love for the work I had done for almost 30 years – I mean – mention you’re a tax accountant and the room clears immediately! But lack of money was biting and so I resolved reluctantly to resurrect part of my old business – training and writing about accounting. This could be done online. I headed up the three flights of the store and into the business section. Powerful entrepreneur books, “Make it rich quick” and “You can do it” consultancy guides got my pulse racing. A quick flick through “making money online” and I started to hyper-ventilate. Then the tears came. I just couldn’t do this anymore. I hated my career. I hated that I had been doing this work for so long. As a child I wanted to paint. I went to a progressive junior school where we painted and wrote poetry, studied history, learnt to bind books, weave and create huge murals. We wrote plays and I painted the scenery and made costumes. However the professional family insisted on finance and banking. The paintings were all torn up and consigned to pointless dream drain and gurgled out of site!
Back to London – I panicked and ran back down to find Tony. “I cant do this” I cried. “I just have to stick to what I love or I am wasting my time, I am kidding myself”. He ordered a coffee and in his inimitable style reassured me that this was exactly what I should do. Follow my passion. Ok we didn’t have money, but we had a roof over our head. We would work out what to do. Asked what I would choose if I could choose one thing in life and nothing else I sat and thought.
Nature greatly inspires me, and I love to observe, sketch and photograph my environment. It was why I chose France in the first place. Years of visiting and happy weeks spent here, being creative too, made a lasting impression and why not make it a life choice? I could use the materials I find here to include in the illustrative work I love. I am obsessed about texture, tactile things, about textiles, pattern and product design. On my shelves are notebooks filled with stories, sketches and ideas. Living near the farm has opened up an inspiring range of characters I can explore. I am fascinated how the landscape changes with the seasons and how the light makes photography such a joy here. We built a workshop last year. The machines are waiting to turn, cut and smooth wood. Two industrial sewing machines will be heaved up to the upper floor of the Petite Maison and downstairs printing and painting tables are to be set. This funny little house will be our atelier. It is our hope for a future doing what we love, growing organically and developing what I should have done so many years ago. My trip to the Paris fabric area last year, confirmed that my choice to not pursue the interior design work that presented itself to me back in my twenties, was a flawed decision and I bitterly regretted that. I mustn’t now repeat.
As a seven year old I was mad about horses – aren’t all little girls mad about horses? I never had the chance to ride a horse, but I wrote about them. My best friend was Irish American – Bronwen and she taught me how to draw them. Back in Arkansas, she had a horse, a piebald. I therefore wrote stories about the “Pinto” horse. My teacher annoyingly always red-marked the word as “Pintoe” with an “e” and I would argue with her every time. “It’s simply pinto with no E!!!!”
For a short time I did go to Art Classes. A slightly eccentric Jewish tutor who had a house near Wanstead Park where the famous handsome Earl of Essex lived [of Elizabeth I fame]. I adored it. I learnt and felt nurtured. But then they stopped.
At eleven I went to senior school. A horrid state school – a comprehensive. There was no art room to speak of and the children were violent, cruel, self-obsessed and uncreative. My jaw grew and I was a “freak”. I grew isolated and shy. I turned again to painting. I am an only child and with no siblings to annoy me, home time was painting, listening to music [ I liked Yes, Genesis, Kate Bush, Judi Tzuke and Joni Mitchell] and reading – not just literature but books that I really wish now to revisit – Watership Down, Tarka The Otter, A Ring Of Bright water and similar. By the time I was 18, I had started painting commissions for school friends, but there was no art career in sight. As other children completed UCCA forms for university I applied for bank jobs in the City.
I have to thank Osyth – Half-Baked In Pradise, for being a blunt advisor to my blundering and wanderings around what I want to do in France. My renovation project will take a couple of years, along with the wild flower garden and home for the bees and insects. When this is done, I must work. I love business and creating. I think all bloggers have a moment when they need to re-group and find focus. I have reached mine.
I had planned to explore my love of cheese. My time as a distributor back in England had wetted my appetite and now in the kingdom of cheeses, I had started exploring this subject again. Visits to Neals Yard and speaking to the lovely Spanish Maria and then to Paris to visit Quatrehomme and Laurent Dubois [Androuet was closed] further inspired. Tasting and subsequently writing about cheese along with photographing them [I spent most of 2016 studying and working on food photography projects] seemed an interesting pastime. I am about to write a piece for The Good Life France blog and will continue to do so. But it won’t pay my bills. Or at least it wouldn’t without abandoning what I really love.
I am therefore leaving this as an enjoyable hobby, alongside my love of cooking.
That leaves me with writing and illustration. For children. France has an extraordinary selection of books and cartoon comics. Illustration and layout play a huge part in the books designs and I hadn’t seen a “pop-up” book in England for a long time, but in France they abounded. I bought a few for inspiration and ended up spending more time in the bookshop of the Pompidou Centre than looking at the exhibitions. Richard Rogers should be shot for creating such a vertiginous building. I never made it to the upper floors – I just froze with fear.
My notebooks are filled with over twenty stories and folders are stuffed full of sketches. The characters need to come out. They are patient, but not forever. They need fleshing out and will not survive if they do not come up for air. As they say, most writers fail because they fail to write. I do not want to be one of those. I might not be the next JK Rowling, but for sure over the last three years I have been devouring children’s books, studying writing and lately painting again in the evenings. Who knows I might just end up in Waterstones signing my books?
The vicious tongued editor didn’t put me off last year. The St Martins Art School tutor wanted me to continue. She laughed at my serendipitous character and for four hours we sketched and modelled in clay this quirky little person. Her Kew based studio was a delight, full of students work in progresses, printing projects, sculpture, a tea-making corner and a dog basket. It was heaven to me. Tony is very honest. He does not suffer fools. I have been threatened with “washing my hands off you”, if I fail to bring my farm characters to life. So I have been told. My friend Alice is good at copyright. She too is very forthright. She laughed at the third drafts. She tightened up the story line of one, but couldn’t fault another. One story needs a complete re-write. I passed her five of thirteen as the rest need work. I can critique myself, but at the end of the day it will have to be out in the big bad publishing world. I must get on and get over that. Re-writes are good – you learn.
Writing and illustration
If you can write and illustrate, you don’t have to share royalties. You don’t have to wait for the illustrator who can at any time refuse to continue with your project. Handing over your text and the characters in your head screaming to come out, and then finding the illustrator sees them differently would be a nightmare. Imagine if that little girl had ginger hair and big feet, but the illustrator insisted she was blond with turn up toes! Forever more your character wouldn’t be yours. I suppose it’s like shared parenting – it can work if you all get one, but if you don’t…..
So that is the plan. No it’s more than a plan. It’s what I will be doing. Whilst in Paris I also fell in love with sewn toys that popped up in the many little children’s ateliers. Big Stuffy was my favourite but others had dogs in baggy shorts, horses with handbags and I bought a Mouton [sheep] that had long floppy legs and now sits next to George, my pig and Salty my crocodile. My characters might just be re-created in fabric and exist outside the pages of a book. Who knows? That’s part of the fun.
Where my old career had a finite end each year – fiscal returns into the filing cabinet, this time round its only limited to my imagination. I will be setting up a new site to explore my writing work and aiming to put a few sketches up over the next few months. I have one story completed and this is going to be my sacrificial learning curve. I will not cry or stamp my foot if it’s rejected. I will learn for the process. Maybe the publisher will be kind and tell me how it should be improved. Maybe they will groan and stuff it back in the envelope without a second thought.
No rubbish – I will cry and I will stamp my foot. I will shout at Tony and I will give up writing forever. Well for about an hour at least and after sobbing over a cup of tea and breathing into a paper-bag to stop the hyper-ventilating, I will calm down.
If you have reached this far – a big thank you. Your comments are welcome and thoughts.