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Archive for June, 2009

With all the talk of Wimbledon and grass (a very important subject if you’re a Wimbledon player, official, or fan), I thought I would post about a very different form of lawn.

If you think “The Camomile Lawn” is the title of a book by Mary Wesley, you’d be right. Out of her novels, it’s my second favourite book of hers and I’m delighted to own a signed copy. The novel was turned into a television production described as very close to the original book. This mini-series starred Felicity Kendal, and Paul Eddington of “The Good Life” fame. It also starred Tara Fitzgerald and Claire Bloom, among other recognisable names.

The story is a dramatic backdrop to wartime England as seen through the eyes of five cousins. The expansive camomile lawn sits at the back of a large house owned by one of the character’s aunts. Being the favourite holiday spot for the cousins they gather there in August 1939 at a time when they are still able to enjoy the innocence of youth, even while facing the imminent prospect of war. The novel moves back and forth from this picturesque setting to the devastation of a bombed London where people fight for survival with all the wit and warmth that is common to the human spirit when faced with such dire circumstances. The cousins suffer through loves and losses, while holding dear to the memory of that more innocent time when they played on The Camomile Lawn. Memories of these sometimes-dangerous games (such as “The Terror Run” on the cliff path) are recalled when years later the family gather for a funeral. They also recall their uninhibited behaviour during the war.

One might well wonder why Mary Wesley chose such a setting as a camomile lawn for the book if one has not experienced “walking with fragrance” a phrase coined by one UK supplier. The scent is such that it could well invoke rich memories, memory being a profound theme of the book. Originating from Greek, the name chamomile, or camomile, means “earth-apple” and although it relates more to the way the plant grows low to the ground and the daisy-like flower some varieties can produce, I liken it more to the scent. Camomile is not a grass, nor related to one. It is a ground-covering plant like many rockery plants. I’ve discovered that it grows and spreads by sending out shoots on all sides from which further roots seem to form and travel down into the soil. Larger plants can have some shoots carefully removed and replanted to fill in barer spots.

Like most herbs, camomile has a long history of therapeutic uses, ranging from skin disorders, cancer treatments, and anti-inflammation creams. Most famously, we associate camomile with its calming influence, particularly with regard to herbal tea. Of the many thousands of people who regularly purchase camomile tea, probably few have heard of growing a whole lawn out of this plant and yet it creates the softest, most springy lawn imaginable. Note: I am not telling you to grow a lawn and make your tea out of it. There are many varieties of this plant and some are better for growing purposes, while others more palatable for tea. Like any plant, do not ingest it unless you are certain it is safe to do so.

A camomile lawn is not only pleasurable to walk on because of its bouncy trait but because of the incredible scent that’s released when the plant is trodden on or rained upon. Elizabethan England knew all about camomile and many poets sang its praises. Buckingham Palace boasts a camomile lawn that dates back to George V.

The one practical advantage of the modern variety of camomile grown for lawns is that the plants require no cutting. You can choose between flowering and non-flowering varieties but I always chose Treneague (available from www.camomilelawns.co.uk). No, I don’t have shares in the company, nor am I advertising for them, but if you’re interested in growing a lawn of your own this is my recommendation, although neither I nor the company can guarantee success. I can only say that I’ve never been exactly green-fingered but if there is one plant I simply “must have” in my garden, it is this.

Here is a picture of the camomile lawn in my last garden.

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I was devastated that I had to leave it behind. In my new home, we have too much concrete for my liking. I have started by planting some areas with camomile this year, and I began with this:

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This photo was taken on the day of planting. They are coming along and I fully expect that by the end of this summer this area will be a full, soft, rich green.

The most important thing to consider when choosing to plant a camomile lawn is the scent. Some liken it to apples. I agree but I find that it also makes me think of “citrus” and “fresh”, literally as in a breath of fresh air. I’ve found that the scent seems to clean the air and that breathing in the fragrance for me has a cooling effect. You’ll find this and other information on the camomile site as mentioned above, including that this could be the answer to hayfever sufferers. Choose the non-flowering variety and there’s no pollen! So, green in dry summers, no cutting, a great scent, you can use it to grow a whole lawn or in feature spots (even as a seat!) or as your main path, because the one thing camomile likes is to be walked on! Walk on it and it grows better. You can intermingle it with other plants, with flagstones, with shingle. The only rule is don’t plant it with any form of grass. The grass is too invasive and will take over. Go on. Walk with fragrance. I can’t scream it’s praises enough…although, I doubt Wimbledon would consider it as an alternative for tennis.

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The UK isn’t a particularly friendly place when it comes to small press published and independantly published authors.  All the book fairs are by invitation only, and you only get an invitation if you’re already a celebrity.

So, we thought we would try to start up our own little con.  Start small and grow sustainably 😉  If you’re interested in taking part in or helping to organise a (not too ambitious at present, but with potential) UK writers’ conference and book fair, please either join the yahoo group

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/writingconference2010/

or bookmark the blog

http://britlitcon.wordpress.com/

Hopefully by 2010 we can all meet up at our own event!

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Grass!

Talking of the green, green grass of Wimbledon, there’s a fascinating blog post about lawns, their history and their uses at Mark Easton’s blog on the BBC Website.  It seemed too appropriate not to pass it on!

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Anyone for tennis?

It’s that time of year again: strawberries, rain, athletic young folk leaping about in whites, and the gentle thwack of balls.  Tennis balls, that is.  Yup, Wimbledon is here again.  Two weeks of joy for tennis fans, two weeks of fuming and searching the tv listings for *anything* that isn’t tennis for those of a less sporting persuasion.  But hey, it is only once a year.

For me, it’s two weeks of bliss that bring back happy memories of perching on Mum’s knee and watching the likes of Ilie Nastase and a young Jimmy Connors on a grainy black and white tv.  These days it’s slightly less of an event, simply because thanks to cable television there’s more chance to catch up with our tennis heroes and heroines week in, week out.  Back then, if you missed the action at Wimbledon, you’d have to wait a whole year before you saw tennis again, with the minor exception of the US Open final.  Not the whole tournament, you understand – just the final.

So, for the next two weeks I may not be at my desk much.  Instead you can find me camped in the living room with a tray of sandwiches, and perhaps a laptop, hooked up to the telly and imbibing tennis intravenously.  As long as it doesn’t rain, of course.  Because Wimbledon is played on grass, the matches have to be stopped if it rains, in case someone slips over and hurts themselves.  This year, the All England Club have gone to vast expense to fit a roof over Centre Court, so that at least one match can continue if the heavens open.  Normally the spectators hate rain because it plays havoc with their viewing schedule.  This year, according to a BBC website survey, 80% actually want it to rain so they can see the new roof in action.

Including me, I’m ashamed to say.

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‘Hell is other people’. Of course it is. And that’s not me being existential (although I subscribe totally to that view of the world and especially that interpretation of identity and social interaction), it’s just me stating the obvious. We’re judged by how we look and what we wear. And I’m not just bemoaning the fact that, as a decrepit male, I can’t be photographed standing naked behind a pile of my books and hope it’ll create a sudden boost in sales. Anyway, perhaps most of all, we’re judged by how we speak.

(As an aside, I should add that writers are also judged by their books. After reading a passage from my first book where my detective sits at traffic lights watching schoolgirls cross the road and reflecting on how they look, my wife said ‘Oh. So you fancy schoolgirls then, do you?’)

No, as a writer of both novels and plays, it’s the speaking bit of the equation that interests me. Without wishing to offend anyone, I’d suggest that if you have a character saying ‘The proliferation of epistolary exegesis prohibits the development of arcane terminology to a devastating extent’, he won’t be carrying a hod on a building site. Nor will he be sharing a pint with someone who says ‘Oi, wanker! Shift your arse.’ But, again, that’s self-evident.

No, the real problems arise when you want to convey accents. If someone has a strong regional accent of any sort, that’s part of who they are. Take the accent away from them and they cease to be the same person. The trouble for the writer is that he/she needs to convey the accent in such a way that the reader doesn’t have to stop to ask ‘WTF’s that all about?’

I encountered this with that first book. It’s set where I live, in Aberdeen. I come originally from Plymouth, so you can imagine the disparity between the accents I heard when I was growing up and those I hear nowadays. In a pub in Plymouth (and I know because I lived in one) you’ll hear ‘Wobbe gwain ev?’ The same question in an Aberdeen pub might be ‘Fitchy for?’ Both are asking you what you want to drink. In ‘correct’ English, the first is ‘What are you going to have?’ and the second is ‘What are you for?’

So when, naturally enough, I made some of my fictional local coppers speak with an Aberdeen accent, my editor in London put me straight right away. ‘Fa ye spikkin till?’ (To whom are you speaking?) and ‘Fa’s ‘e loon?’ (Who is that boy?) would mean nothing at all to anyone south of Stonehaven and her suggestion was that I should restrict myself to letting the characters say ‘Aye’ to indicate that they were Scots. In the end, there had to be a compromise, so they weren’t incomprehensible, but they did retain some of their accents.

The annoying thing then was that, in an otherwise very enthusiastic review of my second book, the local paper wrote ‘Some of the Scots dialogue is a little suspect and inconsistent’.

See what I mean? Hell really is other people.

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My Latest novel, Kissed by a Rose, has hit the virtual bookshelves, priced at $6. At ninety-thousand words long, it’s my longest to date and, if I do say so myself, my best. (Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Kissed by a Rose is the story of an ordinary student, Adam Smith, living an ordinary university life in Westmouth, a small town on the South Coast of England, until he stumbles across the girl of his dreams. Quite literally in this case as the girl he stumbles upon is teen-idol movie star, Chloe Goodman.

Chloe is the very definition of a young English Rose – Beautiful. Charming. Intelligent. And folks in Hollywood are tipping her as the ‘next big thing’. But Chloe’s life on campus isn’t all wine and song, as Adam discovers when he finds her alone in the library, crying her eyes out.

Is Adam just what the young starlet needs? Is Chloe the best thing to ever happen to the young undergraduate? Or will one of them get hurt? Or will they both?

The only way to find out is to read the book. You can get it (and my other books) direct from the Phaze website

If you’re looking for a romance novel that is a little bit different, Kissed by a Rose is for you. It’s told entirely from the hero’s point of view. It’s through Adam’s eyes that we see events unfold. It’s Adam’s thoughts, feelings and fears that we experience. And you’ll soon discover that Adam isn’t a stereotypical romantic hero. He doesn’t have a perfect body. He doesn’t always make the right choice or do the right thing. But he’s a real man, with real feelings – and he can get hurt. But he’s no wimp. When Chloe needs him – he stands up for the woman he loves. Just like a real man should.

People who’ve already read Kissed by a Rose are showering it with praise.

Lourenza Adlem said…

I want to congratulate you on a wonderful love story. Every single one of your characters had the ring of truth. You make it all seem so effortless. A very smooth reading experience.

Barbara Elsborg said…

It’s a tightly written novel which explores the pressures of stardom and celebrity and keeps the reader guessing until the very end. The sex was steamy and got hotter and hotter.

And Cassie Exline said

Kissed by a Rose is a must read for the summer. Sizzling sex blends with tender moments. With his deftness for detail, he has a way of making characters come to life and leap off the page. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen next—you’re wrong.

Interested? Want to know more? Check my website or blog, or search Twitter for the hashcode #KbaR. You’ll find excerpts, one liners and interviews with the cast.

And after you read Kissed by a Rose why not tell the whole world what you thought of it via Twitter? Just sum up your thoughts in 130 characters and append them with the hashtag #KbaR.

Kissed by a Rose – His Power. His Pleasure. His Pain.

Available now!

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