High Street, Chipping Sodbury, England

Friends of ours have a shop outside of Bristol, in the market town of Chipping Sodbury. It’s in a part of England where towns have names like that…. and Old Sodbury, uh, Little Sodbury, and – yes, really – Pucklechurch, among others. A way to shorthand describe the area to outsiders is that it could serve as an excellent setting for an ITV murder drama.

Their shop has a variety of items related to dolls’ houses and other collectibles. Co-owner Stuart has recently authored quite a book too, and because they have sold several to people wandering in off the street, they are considering displaying some other carefully chosen titles by independent authors to see how they do. They have offered to sell my Passports, and are awaiting delivery of several copies.

I’m hono(u)red! I know Passports has been in some bookshops in the U.K., including one in Christchurch, after a former neighbo(u)r of ours there dropped in and asked for it. Bless her, the shop then ordered a couple! While it’s tough to keep track of that sort of thing, it feels extra-good whenever you learn your books are displayed in a shop.

So if you ever find yourself on the High Street in Chipping Sodbury, check out Purple Parrot:

Purple Parrot, Chipping Sodbury.

Purple Parrot, Chipping Sodbury.

There are reasons aplenty to stop in there and have a look and a buy besides, uh, my fantastic novel. ;-)

Have a good Tuesday, wherever in the world you are reading this. :-)

Buckinghamshire

My wife and I went for a walk with her aunt during a brief visit with her yesterday. She is incredible. You’d never guess the woman just turned 80 years old.

And sometimes a photo opportunity also presents itself – as this one did for me:

Farmland, Buckinghamshire, England. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Farmland, Buckinghamshire, England. [Photo by me, 2014.]

It’s always even all the more pleasant when there’s a pub at the end of any walk. ;-)

Just thought I’d post that. Hope you’re having (or had) a good Thursday, wherever you are reading this….

What Happened To Bobby?

Yesterday afternoon, an episode of Escape to the Country came on the BBC. In the background, we heard one of the househunting couple’s children’s names: “Hatcher.” With that, the fun began:

• Me: “There must be an American in this couple. Boys names in the U.S. have become ridiculous in recent years. Only an American would name a son ‘Hatcher.'”

• Mother-in-law: “It is odd. There’s an American golfer with the Christian name ‘Webb.’ So silly.” (Note: she is of the generation that still says “Christian” name.)

As Escape proceeded, we learned I’d gotten it right. They were an American couple, living in London, seeking to move to Surrey. It’s a well-to-do county that might be compared roughly to, say, Loudoun County, Virginia, or Putnam County, New York.

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Their home search had a major requirement: a house needed to be near a train station. Why? The husband admitted on camera that he didn’t have a U.K. driving license, so he had to commute by train.

• Me: [Thinking. There's nothing wrong with the train. But, God, aren't you embarrassed admitting that on U.K. national TV? Pass your bl-ody U.K. driving test, and stop embarrassing other Americans living here by giving British viewers the impression we can't manage to drive in their country.]

While I had become distracted by the driving silliness, my mother-in-law was still on the issue of the boy’s name:

• Mother-in-law: “Over in Ireland, they often don’t have traditional names on children either. [She waves an Irish Independent at us.] Look at this? Apple iCloud. What sort of a name is that?”

• Me: [Thinking: Did I just hear her right?]

• My wife: [After a pause followed by a roar of laughter] “Mum, that’s not a name!”

Seems I haven’t yet entirely “escaped” my personal Seinfeld episode either. It continues on this side of the Atlantic too. ;-)

History Stuffed In A Drawer

Yesterday, at my in-laws, my wife and I went through old family photos and letters. We did so at the request of a distant relation. She believed some snaps of her close relatives might have been scattered in among them.

She thought so because the stash had been held by my father-in-law’s aunt. That aunt had been kind of a “family historian.” She died without children about 10 years ago, and my father-in-law had inherited most of her possessions – including all these photographs.

Well, the historian in me salivated as we thumbed through them. I couldn’t get over them. There are just a few samples. [All photos reproduced, Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello.]

The first two below look like they could’ve worked for Harry Selfridge:

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Very serious:

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Not as serious:

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Posturing (the man on the left has a cigarette hanging from his mouth; the one of the right, a pipe):

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“1941”: that year, and the photographer’s name, are all it says on this photo:

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This last is of my wife’s future great-uncle and great-aunt on their wedding day in 1943 – he in RAF uniform:

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That one immediately above is a rarity: few of the pictures have names, dates and locations written on the back. Arrgh! Don’t you just hate that!

They were taken, we estimate, mostly between about 1900-1950.

My father-in-law was going to throw those photos (and others like them) out because there’s no need to keep them any longer. But just because few, or no one, now living remember these people any longer is beside the point. The photos are amazing and take us back to another era.

Needless to say, none of them will end up in the trash if I have anything to say about it! :-)
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Today is September 1. Coincidentally, Nazi Germany invaded Poland on this date on in 1939. Britain and France would declare war on Germany on September 3, and World War II had begun.

And Jenny Paints

We had headed to Bristol on Saturday for a barbecue, to watch the Balloon Fiesta fly by, and to stay with friends overnight. Unfortunately, the fly by was scrubbed due to heavy rain. “Ah, the English weather,” the host dryly (no pun intended) announced.

However, the barbecue did take place thanks to a small garden gazebo. So we still had a wonderful evening with them and friends of theirs whom we didn’t know previously. Twelve of us in total.

Our friends are an Anglo-Danish couple: he’s English; she’s Danish. And they have two absolutely gorgeous, friendly and hilarious cats:

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Mingling, my wife mentioned my novel to one man. Trust her always to know how to work a room. (She’s much better at it than I am.) Moments later, he sought me out.

And he was keenly interested in the smallest of details. How do you write? What time do you start? Do you do it every day?

Others jumped in as we stood around the kitchen island, drinking and eating. Later, general conversation in the dining room drifted briefly to my novel, including the plot and my inspiration. “Why do you think I come to get togethers like this?” I joked. “I need new material!”

Grinning, our Danish girlfriend observed, “I was reading it on the Kindle, wondering, ‘Hmm, am I in here? Am I one of those French girls?'”

“Don’t worry. You’re not in this one,” I smiled. “Would you like to be in the next one?”

By the end of the evening, two of my Kindle books had been sold. “I just bought it,” one woman announced. “Click!”

We also discovered another woman at the gathering was a wonderful painter. I mean superb. She produced an incredible canvas work that our friends have mounted over their fireplace.

The man with whom I’d first been chatting about my book noted to the table, “Rob writes novels. Jenny paints. What’s my talent? I don’t do anything!”

Sunday night, we visited with other Bristol friends I’ve mentioned before: the Maidments. Stu is author of a WWII, Nazi scientists, IRA killers, action/adventure/thriller that’s rather, err, different than my expats/travel/romance tale. At one point, as I related the party to him, we discussed how you don’t just go up to someone and announce, “Hey, I wrote a book!”

I recall reading that Humphrey Bogart (my favorite actor) had once said he hated telling people he was an actor; that it was such a silly thing to be. I don’t feel exactly the same about being a new novelist, yet there is still a sense of awkwardness in saying you write novels. So when others show such enthusiasm about what you do, it is a huge confidence booster. :-)

“Natalie” Meet “Stéphane”

English Natalie and French Stéphane have been mentioned here just once before, and then only while discussing someone else. I’d not included them in my characters’ summaries. They deserve further explanation.

“Stéphane” is a cobbling together of views I’ve heard out of a variety of Frenchmen over the years. One example:

As Natalie focused on Isabelle briefly, Stéphane observed, smiling, “You know, James, a friend of mine works in a big medical research place. You know the language the Germans and Japanese and French and Americans and others speak at work? English! In Paris!” He laughed.

He owes his looks mostly to a one man I’d met a couple of times in Paris. His confident, friendly, outgoing demeanor, and excellent English, come largely from that real man as well. Here’s another bit from an exchange with James:

“My parents used to bring us on holidays to France,” Natalie explained. “Isabelle probably told you I met Stéphane in London. I thought, ‘Oh, not bad for a Frenchman!’”

Stéphane kidded Natalie in turn. “And I thought you were attractive for an English girl!”

“Natalie” comes to us primarily owing to inspiration provided by an English undergrad I knew while working in a Long Island college in the 1990s. Stick thin, thin blonde hair, huge blue eyes, and seemingly always smiling, she greatly enjoyed studying in the U.S. She knew she was exaggerating about England, yet joked to me once in her rather Sloaney accent, “Oh, it’s always raining, and everyone always has a cold.”

She was also a Francophile. And she spoke French well; but she voiced frustration French people she knew were always on at her to speak with them in English because they wanted to work on their own English with a native English speaker. I get that point in too, when Natalie greets Isabelle and Virginie at Isabelle’s fourth floor apartment door:

“That’s some walk up,” Natalie replied, breathing heavily. “May we speak French? I always need the practice.”

“I was hoping we could speak English,” Virginie answered in English. “I need the practice. Isa does too!”

I once asked her, “Why are you here in New York and not Paris?”

She replied, “My father’s company sent him here. Ah, but if they’d sent him to Paris?” [A broad grin and mischievous wink followed.]

A certain “class” of the English tend not raise their voice during an argument, or when angered; instead they become cooler and cooler. She fit that stereotype. Here’s one sample of how I portrayed and fictionalized that aspect of the character: Natalie quietly complains to Isabelle about her cousin Maddie’s American roommate’s appalling behavior during summer school in Italy:

“She managed to get a part-time job in a club,” Natalie continued. “Maddie says she’s sure the girl’s got no work visa, so it must be an illegal cash job. She comes home with losers and smokes cannabis with them too. Bible-waving Americans think Europeans have no morals? A load of old tosh.”

Fictionalizing an Anglo-French couple having met in London and now living in Paris was aided by my encounters with several French in Britain. One person in particular unwittingly helped: a Frenchwoman in an Anglo-French marriage. “Simone” and I worked together in London for over five years.

Flags of France (l) and England.

Flags of France (l) and England.

We had lunch a few times only the two of us. (It was normally a small mob.) I always hate talking shop over lunches. So when provided with any one-on-one opportunity, I usually sought to get her to share a bit about her life in France.

In turn, she’d sit in the pub with her glass of red wine (seriously; but never mind about that), and angle instead to talk with me mostly about England and us foreigners living in the country. She once observed wryly, “I came to London to get a Ph.D. I ended up with an English husband, and no Ph.D.”

Unsurprisingly the U.S. normally also came up. She had visited America – Florida – only once, and had never been to New York. Nevertheless, she knew a great deal about the country, and was intensely interested in it. Maybe that was why hearing details about my life back in New York was also of interest to her?

Take a wild guess. Which of us regularly prevailed when it came to the choice of pub lunch conversational topics? Hint: it sure as heck wasn’t me.

In writing these novels, I’ve come to feel the entire concept of “fiction” could itself be termed “fictional.” F. Scott FitzgeraldErnest HemingwayHow many others? Locales may be altered, names are changed, individuals blended together, facts rearranged and repositioned so they best suit a narrative, but novelists certainly derive characters and plots from their own real life experiences.

I readily admit, I have. ;-)

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See related:
Quick Take 8: (Our Leading Lady) “Isabelle”
Quick Take 7: “Maki”
Quick Take 6: “Mark”
Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)
Russians
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”

On Lexington

We met up Friday with a college friend of mine from my time at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. (Don’t ask.) He and his wife had been touring Ireland, and were finishing their vacation with a week in London. Via Facebook, we had arranged to get together.

I’d last seen him in person twenty years ago. Yes, two decades. But he hasn’t changed… well, save for a few gray hairs, but we all end up with those. We had never met his wife. (We had been invited to their 2003 wedding, but could not get there.) It was great to grab the chance to do some catching up while we had a lunch at Mildreds:

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I wouldn’t normally note a restaurant here, but this one is worth a mention. It was full for lunch, and had a buzz; yet you could also carry on a conversation without yelling. The staff we encountered were friendly too.

I wanted a Stella Artois (that’s my favorite), but since they didn’t have that, I settled for a Budweiser – brewed in the Czech Republic. My wife had a glass of red wine, of course.

Oh, and the restaurant is vegetarian. I don’t mind eating vegetarian now and then. But I don’t think I could eat vegetarian all the time.

It’s my friend’s wife who is pescatarian. My friend joked – when his wife was away from the table briefly – that he is a meat eater. But he’s learned to eat lots of non-meat.

There are plenty of places to stop for a meal between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. But this one will more than do if you ever find yourself looking for somewhere tasty (as long as you are happy not to have meat), and reasonably priced.

Thus ends this, uh, “Trip Advisor” blog entry. :-)

Oh, and my wife told him about my book. A bit of a slip. Now he wants to read it.

I had no choice but to let him in on it. I also warned him that if he tells my parents, I swear I’ll unfriend him on Facebook. ;-)

Day At The Beach

West Wittering Beach, in West Sussex, this afternoon…. 20140429-191338.jpg

…. with a brother-in-law’s Golden Retriever (we were “dogsitting” for the day), and our beloved hound, our “Springador,” Dino.

We were killing time there because we had driven my in-laws to a reunion. My father-in-law had been a banker on Atlantic Ocean passenger ships (such as the Queen Mary) for about two years in the early 1960s. (Before he and my mother-in-law married, he crossed the Atlantic at least three dozen times between Southampton and New York. He likes to refer to those years as, “When I was at sea….”) He and former liner veterans and their spouses get together every year not far away for a luncheon. Sadly, with age, their numbers are of course dwindling inevitably year by year.

Oh, and before you ask, that is not our boat.

As the wife also asked when she posted this photo to Facebook, “Where’s France?”

Answer: Uh, I suppose, behind us, thataway. ;-)

North London Flowers

Morning today, in north London:

Bluebells, Trent Country Park. [Photo by me, April 16, 2014.]

Bluebells, Trent Country Park. [Photo by me, April 16, 2014.]

A gorgeous day. Sunny English spring days always feel just a bit more “springlike” than elsewhere. I don’t know why that is.

But, I admit, I’m a bit biased. :-)