The Big Announcement

Release of Perfume Island: 15th November.

Now, to those who've been following me for a while, that's not a big announcement, as I've set about 8 different release dates over the past 15 months. Like the boy who cried 'Wolf!' But this time, I promise, it's for real! To prove it, here's the link to the page where you can pre-order it.

The cover reveal isn't a big surprise either, as I've posted it many times in various places and forms. But in case you missed it, here it is again.

And here I must thank photographer and graphic artist Alba, who's not only taken an interest in my work since the beginning, but gave me precious advice on the cover, even going so far as to do a mock up which I was able to use to get the final version.

So things have come a long way since I tried to come up with a cover myself for the first in the series, One Green Bottle. No problem, I thought - all I need is a knife, some blood and, you guessed it, a green bottle. All of which was easy to find, though the blood involved a trip to The Magic Joke Shop in Cambridge, where I spent some time admiring the magnificent disguises before heading over to the blood shelf.

I had to ask for help. Blood, I discovered, is like aftershave: spray, bottle or gel? "Oh, bottle, definitely," said the hemoglobin assistant, who clearly knew her stuff. When I got back, I tied some string to the bottle and dangled it from the wall outside the house, observed all the while by the neighbour across the road. He was fixing snow chains to his car, which I thought was odd. It was a cold day in January, yes, but bright and sunny all the same. But then, I suppose, I was hardly well placed to describe other people's behaviour as odd. Eventually, each convinced the other was mad, we sauntered cautiously into the no man's land between us. "I'm getting in some practice," he explained. "Off skiing soon."

"Oh, right. I thought we might be in for snow."

"Oh, no I think we'll be fine." He glanced at the sky. "For the moment, anyway."

I was holding the blood-covered knife. He was too polite to ask, so I came to his aid. "For a book cover."

"Ah, OK." His look of relief turned to worry. "That would be fiction, would it?"

"Oh, yes." I glanced at the knife. "For the moment, anyway."

Bonnieux the Beautiful

I've long harboured a wish to paint. When I visit museums of modern art, I inevitably get a moment - as I suspect many of us do - of thinking, 'Well, I could do that.' Usually, this is in front of a canvas with three or four dots on it, perhaps a squiggle or two, and a title like Infinite Entrails #3. Or else a collection of paperclips dangling from a thread, called Seek And You Will Find. As a result, our garden shed is full of what look like rusty bedsprings, electrical wiring and old bicycle pumps, but which are in fact works of art in the making. My favourite is a glass oven door, called The Discovery of Joy, to which I'll add some drops of paint before taking it along to Tate Modern. Every so often I look at it, wondering what colour the drops should be and how exactly to apply them. The tip of a brush? A syringe? My big toe? Then the door goes back in the shed and the Tate will have to wait a little longer.

So I always admire people who actually produce pictures. One such is Rahim Najfar, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in his gallery in Bonnieux. Perched on the side of a hill in the north Lubéron, an hour's drive from Aix, Bonnieux is one of the 157 Plus Beaux Villages de France. Started in 1982 by the Mayor of Collonges-La-Rouge in Corrèze, the aim of this association is to 'protect and promote the outstanding heritage of these exceptional villages and thereby provide them with an alternative to rural exodus. [...] We aim to avoid certain pitfalls such as villages turning into soulless museums or, on the contrary, "theme parks". Our well-reasoned and passionate ambition is to reconcile villages with the future and to restore life around the fountain or in the square shaded by hundred-year-old lime and plane trees.'

Whether Bonnieux entirely avoids the pitfalls is debatable. On a mid-October Friday (market day), well past the peak season, there were still plenty of tourists, mostly American. Very few market stalls or shops offer anything other than arts and crafts, all so pretty they'll decorate dressers and sideboards the world over, till a few years later a declutter sends them to a car boot sale. And food, of course - there's plenty of that. Cheese, charcuterie, olive oil, herbs, all guaranteed 100% pure and natural. I'm sure most of it is, especially in a place like Bonnieux, but suspicious minds like mine tend to retain the information that half of supposedly local olive oil, for example, comes from Spain, or the 'authentic Provençal' nougat you bought at 69 euros a kilo is made in Hungary.

But that's enough cynicism. Bonnieux is a delight to stroll around, and when you enter Rahim's gallery, what you see is authentic art. By which I mean there's a personal quest - tourists' expectations come second. He paints the surrounding countryside, but often adds borders where you see an influence of Iran - Rahim left his native country after the 1979 Revolution, and though he's never been back since, some of his pictures hark back to Persian miniaturists. 'That was at art school,' he explained. 'Three days a week it was free expression, so I'd go off and pretend to be Gauguin. The rest of the time, we had to study the miniaturists, imitate them. I hated it - such a constraint! It's only later you realise the discipline was so valuable.'

I told him we'd been in Iran too, before the revolution; we brought back an enamel box with miniature men on the lid, darting this way and that on miniature horses. I didn't say we're decluttering - the box is now in a drawer marked 'car boot sale'. I would have liked to buy one of his pictures, but we're not decluttering so far as to empty our bank account of 800 euros. Thoughtfully, though, Rahim prints cards for those who don't have that sort of money to spend. We bought a dozen, which seemed to delight him as much as if we'd snapped up the whole gallery. And when I got back home, I retrieved our little box from the car boot drawer and restored it to its rightful place on the dresser. Whether it can compete with A History of Casual Telepathy, currently on display in our garden shed, I leave for you to decide. Alternatively, you can view more of Rahim's beautiful artwork here.


 

 

 

Lou Messugo

The Women of Mayotte

Flying back from Mayotte once, I was sitting next to an elderly woman whose daughter and two grandchildren were on the other side of the aisle. We got to talking and I asked her if she'd gone to Mayotte for a holiday. 'No, I came to rescue my daughter,' she said, and went on to explain, 'She's been married to a local inhabitant for eight years. For the first six years, they lived near me in Grenoble. Everything was fine. Then they went to Mayotte - for him, it was going back to his roots. That's when it started - drinking, womanising, beating my daughter every time he got back. If I hadn't come out to help her escape, there's a good chance he'd have killed her.'

Her story, transformed, made its way into Perfume Island. 'Nature reclaiming its own' was how she put it. But how common is it? I don't have figures, but Valérie Tomas, a doctor in Mamoudzou Hospital, interviewed more than 1000 women and concluded that violence against women in Mayotte occurs more often than in Metropolitan France (where it's already far too common).

When she visited the women in their homes, Tomas noticed that they spent a lot of time watching telenovelas made in Brazil - the audiovisual equivalent of the frozen battery chicken wing they also import from Brazil. And this gave Tomas an idea - why not make a TV series in Mayotte? Chababi Project, produced in Mayotte with local technicians and actors, is entertaining but educational, focussing on the issues facing the island, and especially the woman, but with an upbeat, positive message. The sort of approach encouraged by the Constructive Journalism Project, but applied to fictional dramas.

For all sorts of reasons too complex to go into here, it was rare in Mayotte to come across anyone optimistic about its future. Which I why Valérie Tomas's initiative is all the more welcome, laudable and brave. And proof that with enough enthusiasm and energy, such projects will not only see the light of day but have a positive effect. The series is now in post-production and will hit the screens next year.

We Are The World Blogfest

Thanks to  Shilpa GargSylvia McGrathMary Giese, Belinda Witzenhausen and Guilie Castillo  for hosting this month's WATWB.

 

 

 

Story Statistics

travel

I’ve always been something of a numbers nerd. I was once upbraided at school by Mr. McCartney, the maths teacher, for not doing his polynomial equation. In its place, based on a complex formula of my own, I was trying to calculate the position in the following week’s charts of You Really Got Me by The Kinks. It was obviously going to hit the top ten but the crucial question was in which spot? If I remember rightly, I was only out by a couple of places, which I considered very good. You’d think that with a name like McCartney, the maths teacher would be excited, but sadly he took no interest at all in pop music.

Anyway, the publication of With Our Eyes Open, 34 stories based on the theme of ‘a journey’, gives me a great opportunity to share a few statistics. Because you’ve obviously been wondering where and how the journeys were undertaken, so here is the breakdown for you.

Twelve are in the UK, no doubt reflecting the fact that most of the authors are British. The US has six and France two, with Italy, Poland, Kenya, Zambia, Iran, South-East Asia and outer space each getting one. Seven are unspecified. Regarding mode of transport, seven are by car, four by train, four on foot, three by bus, two each by boat and plane, and one by spaceship. The remaining eleven don’t involve a vehicle as such but describe a journey through life. There appears to be a correlation between ‘unspecified location’ and ‘journey through life’, but further research is needed to determine whether this is significant.

Of course, you may take Mr. McCartney’s view that my love of pointless statistics only says something worrying about what goes on in my brain. I beg to differ. It’s fascinating to see that 34 authors can take the same prompt and interpret it in so many different ways. There are some who take a broad perspective, with characters reflecting on life’s crucial issues, and others who focus on a specific time and place. But despite the differences, all have something to say about what it means to be human. Which is why, in fact, they were selected for the anthology. The shortest journey, incidentally, is about eight yards, the longest 2.7 billion miles. All of which goes to show, I think, that it isn’t the journey itself that counts but the story we choose to make of it. The authors here have all made stories that open our eyes as they take us travelling with them. And not even Mr. McCartney could argue with that.


The stories in this anthology were selected from submissions to the second Book a Break short story competition.  The proceeds from this book go to the Against Malaria Foundation.

The 2017 Book a Break short story anthology is available for now on Amazon as a kindle ebook in colour or directly from this site by clicking below. Alternatively, you can donate directly to the Against Malaria Foundation. Forward their thank you email to me (curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com) and I will send you the PDF file straightaway.

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Collecting the prize

Sherry Sept 17

At the end of last month, Sherry Morris came to stay with us, together with her partner Phil. I suppose you could say she came to collect her prize as winner of the 2017 Book a Break short story competition, though there wasn't actually a ceremony like they do at Wimbledon. Maybe next year I'll manufacture a cool trophy which the winner will hold aloft before making a speech.

Living here, I sometimes forget what a splendid place it is, notwithstanding certain discomforts of modern life such as the ever-increasing volume of traffic and rising levels of pollution. But Sherry and Phil weren't bothered: they live in a remote part of Scotland, so it was an opportunity for them to observe some human beings. Though apparently in summer they get a lot of them up there too. There are human beings all over the place.

Apart from Aix itself, they visited Avignon and Marseille, where Phil went to see a Black Madonna. For some reason, he developed a sudden interest in Black Madonnas whilst over here, so now he'll be trekking the world in search of them. Or else he might just write about them - he's a playwright, so maybe at some point there'll be a new nativity play starring Beyoncé.

After reading Green Tights, Sherry's story in With Our Eyes Open, one of the contributors said it was 'very David Lynch', which I thought nailed it perfectly - the same blend of startling imagery and delicious, twisting storyline. I'd imagined her rather similar -  eccentric, intense, prowling the garden in a creative bubble of her own. In fact she's perfectly normal, which reassured me that you don't have to be extraordinary yourself to produce extraordinary writing; you just have to roll up your sleeves and work at it.

My own company, of course, isn't part of the prize, but inevitably it's in the package, at least for part of the time. So I tried to keep on my best red carpet behaviour, though I stopped short of the bow tie, or indeed of any tie. Come to think of it, my dress sense - no, better not go there. Let's just say I'm better at cooking. On the whole, that is, though I managed to make a mess of Sherry's tea. I'm not sure how. I think it was George Orwell's fault - I was following his recipe. I'm a great Orwell fan, but maybe when it comes to tea, I should seek inspiration elsewhere.

The Book a Break competition is singular in that the organiser gets as much pleasure from it as the winner. Like Ingrid Jendrzejewski last year, Sherry and Phil were charming and interesting guests - my thanks go to both for making this year's edition so enjoyable.

The 2017 Book a Break short story anthology is available for now on Amazon as a kindle ebook in colour or directly from this site by clicking below. Alternatively, you can donate directly to the Against Malaria Foundation. Forward their thank you email to me (curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com) and I will send you the PDF file straightaway.

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The New Book a Break Anthology

With Our Eyes Open

Fancy a trip to Pluto? Or a fearful drive along a stretch of country road? Unless you prefer to go to church with a strange woman in green tights, her hair alive with electricity. Here you have 34 stories, each one a journey, whether funny or frightening, real or figurative, shared or dreadfully alone. ‘They had a long journey ahead of them’ was the prompt: the writers here, from award-winning authors to exciting new talents, took it and made it their own. Sit back and enjoy the scenery, then, as the stories open your eyes to destinations you’ll want to go back to again. Bon voyage!

The stories in this anthology were selected from submissions to the second Book a Break short story competition.  The proceeds from this book go to the Against Malaria Foundation.

The 2017 Book a Break short story anthology is available for pre-order now on Amazon as a kindle ebook in colour ($2.38) or at the reduced price of $0.99 from this site by clicking below. On 15th October, when it will be released, the price goes up to $2.99. Alternatively, you can donate directly to the Against Malaria Foundation. Forward their thank you email to me (curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com) and I will send you the PDF file straightaway.

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Short Journeys

The Book a Break anthology 2017 has arrived!
Pre-orders open: http://rxe.me/XJ6FKG
Debz is a great writer – I’m currently reading her excellent novel, While No One Was Watching. To get a taste of her work, read her story in With Our Eyes Open. Proceeds to the Against Malaria Foundation.

It Makes A Difference

journalists

Will this be my last contribution to the WATWB? By the time the next one rolls around, I should have my new website up, looking so much like this one that you’ll wonder why I bothered. But in my own mind, which is the one that’s kept me company over the years, it’s far more professional and focused. So no messing about with random odds and ends, no matter how positive. Because after all, does it make any difference? Is the world a better place because once a month, I post a good news story?

Well, yes, it turns out that it is. A teeny weeny bit, anyway. According to Jodie Jackson, a research associate at the University of East London, the positive news about positive news is that it works: ‘Readers say that positive news changes the way they see the world and generates feelings of optimism, hope, self-efficacy and a restored faith in humanity.’ It isn’t, she says, a matter of ignoring the bad, but of presenting it in a different light, showing not just the problem but also a possible solution. The important term is self-efficacy – reading about solutions strengthens the belief that as individuals, we can be part of the solution too.

That’s a big contrast with a comment I came across on the Guardian website, following an article about deforestation. The average reader gets up, listens to news/reads paper over breakfast (hit of helplessness) goes to work (no doubt shackled to perpetuating calamity), tries to fit in survival basics during breaks (shopping, ablutions, personal business), then home to the quick dinner and news whilst endless documentaries about shock and horror in the world complete a day that has been subject also to continuous advertising and charity appeals (hit of helplessness). Wow! And that’s the sort of news we’re fed every day. Time, I think, for the average reader to be given some reason to hope.

Hence the Constructive Journalism Project. If you happen to be in Aarhus, Denmark, next month,  you can go along to a two-day conference on the topic, where among the speakers will be Steven Pinker. Failing that, you can read my blog. Because I can’t really stop now, can I? Not now that I know it makes a difference.

Thanks to  Michelle Wallace , Shilpa Garg,  Andrea Michaels,  Peter Nena,  Emerald Barnes for hosting this month’s WATWB.

Lovingly, he held

pics

One of my duties used to consist in making up vicious grammar exams. Students would have to translate a sentence like, ‘The prize-winning, short-tempered, recently divorced municipal employee, who was given a standing ovation at the well-attended ceremony, couldn’t have been the one who was made fun of at last week’s meeting, because if he had been, we wouldn’t have been expected to show him so much gratitude.’ Sometimes, to be kind, we looked for sentences that sounded like real English, so we read books in search of a juicy nominalisation or a big, fat adjectival phrase. That was difficult though – after a couple of paragraphs, I’d start getting into the story, completely forgetting I was supposed to be in vicious examiner mode.

So it is with proofreading. I’ve just had the honour of checking some of the stories to appear in Dan Alatorre’s forthcoming anthology, The Box Under The Bed, and I had to read them three times: once for the story itself, then to appreciate the writing, and only then could I focus on fiddly things like extra spaces and commas.

The punctuation, I’m told, will be standardised to US usage, which is fine by me. Except for one thing – the habit of putting a comma after ‘and’ or ‘but’ at the beginning of a sentence. Perhaps there’s a logic to it. But, I really can’t see it. And, it bothers me.

Still, not to worry. When you read the stories, you won’t be looking for wayward commas or fiendish relative clauses, but enjoying them for what they are: good, spooky and entertaining. I particularly liked Juliet Nubel’s, called Lovingly He Held Her Head Underwater. Now you might argue that we should have a comma after ‘lovingly’, but it won’t bother you unduly, because the story then begins: His large, work-roughened hands shook hard, however, as he pushed down on her grey-tinged hair until the bubbles from her nose and mouth finally stopped rising. I think you’ll agree that not even the most malicious examiner could fail to get drawn in  by such an opening.