Monday, 9 January 2017

When in Paris ...

In which I visit Paris - and still end up in a bookstore and a graveyard... 

I try not to talk about personal stuff on social media, so let's just say 2016 was not a great year for us and leave it at that. By the time it got to December, my husband and I decided we needed a holiday! Holiday destinations in December are pretty limited, but then we had the great idea to combine a visit to Disneyland Paris, where we'd taken the kids when they were (much!) younger, with a trip to the city of Paris.

My daughter and me - halfway up the Eiffel Tower!

We held a family conference about the 'must see' places to visit. We all voted for the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to go to the Louvre. I was not so bothered about the inside, I just wanted to see the glass pyramid that always features in all the movies. Or as my husband put it, 'You want to visit the Louvre because you once saw it in a Tom Hanks film?' My other vote was for Shakespeare and Company, a very famous bookshop close to Notre-Dame. Fortunately, because it was close to Notre-Dame, and my daughter also cast her vote for it, it was added to the list. My daughter also had a hankering to visit the Catacombs - basically one giant, underground ossuary, but none of us quite fancied being so close to real, er, 'live' bones, so we compromised by visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1889 as part of the Exposition Universelle, to celebrate 100 years of the Revolution. You can buy tickets in advance, online, or just queue up on the day, which is what we did. It was the middle of December and we only waited in line for about 20 minutes. There is also a very good app for smart phones, which acts like a guidebook with lots of facts. We bought tickets for the 1st and 2nd floor, which was cheaper than going right to the top and quite high enough for us! And we took the glass elevator rather than the stairs - there is one in each pillar. Even though it was a misty day, there were great views of Paris. Definitely recommended!

You don't need me to tell you
what this is, do you?

I'd first visited Paris on a school trip, so one of the places I wanted to see again was Notre-Dame. We didn't go inside, just admired it from the outside - it's pretty impressive, as you can see! It's a gothic cathedral dating back to the 12th century, and was one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses (arched exterior supports) after cracks appeared in the walls.

Notre-Dame, cunningly angled to cut
the tourists' heads off

Shakespeare and Company is a quirky bookshop I'd first come across on Pinterest. It's an English language bookstore on the banks of the River Seine, just around the corner from Notre-Dame. Built in the early 1600s, the building was originally a monastery but opened as a bookstore in 1951 by an American, George Whitman. In 1964, the name was changed to Shakespeare and Company on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, and also in honour of another bookseller George admired,  Sylvia Beach, who had opened the first Shakespeare and Company in 1919.

(And my husband, wondering why I'm blocking the door)

I could have spent all day in that bookshop! There are several little rooms, all leading off each other, overflowing bookshelves from floor to ceiling, exposed brickwork and wooden beams, and signs saying things like 'You can find Agatha Christie under the stairs'. But you'll have to take my word for that because, understandably, they don't allow photos of the interior and my memory's not great! I bought my son a copy of The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and my daughter a copy of In Search of Lost Time (vol 6) by Marcel Proust, because she's mad on him (more of that later!). Each book was stamped with the bookshop logo and came with a bookmark. What did I buy for me? I managed to restrain myself and settled for one of their tote bags (although I don't think George would have been impressed!).


We had lunch and then headed to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where my daughter was keen to visit Marcel Proust's grave. The cemetery is absolutely huge, like a mini village, complete with little cobbled streets lined with trees. It is essential to have a map, which can be bought at one of the gates or surrounding kiosks. Unfortunately, when we arrived there were none available, probably because it was the middle of December! We got around this by using a smartphone to photograph one of the large maps by the entrance, along with a key to all the 'famous' graves. If you do this, make sure your photograph is not blurred before you set off or you will get lost!

Marcel Proust's grave

The cemetery is named after Pere Francois de la Chaise (1624-1709) (the confessor to King Louis XIV), who lived in a house on the site. The property was bought by the city in 1804 and the grounds turned into a cemetery. Napoleon, who had been declared Emperor three days previously, declared that 'Every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion'. Unfortunately, because the cemetery was situated so far from the city and had not been blessed by the church, it attracted few funerals. To encourage the purchase of burial plots, the administrators arranged for the remains of Jean de La Fontaine and Moliere to be re-interred here; suddenly everyone wanted to be buried alongside the rich and famous. Today there are over 1 million bodies buried, as well as very moving memorials to the victims of the Holocaust and both world wars.

One of the 'streets' at
the Pere Lachaise Cemetery

But the cemetery is mostly famous for being 'home' to celebrities, including Honore de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Frederic Chopin, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Marceau, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Marcel Proust, Simone Signoret, Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde. It is sweet to see the fresh flowers and little notes that their fans have left at some of the graves. Not so sweet to see how some of the graves have been scrawled over with lipstick and felt tip pen. Oscar Wilde's grave has now been encased in glass - so his 'fans' write on that instead. Jim Morrison's grave has been so vandalised over the years, apparently it now has its own guard.

Oscar Wilde's grave

Most of the tombs are built like mini-mausoleums, with a door at the front, although the bodies (usually more than one) are buried beneath the ground. The idea is the mourner would go inside to pray and leave flowers on one of the shelves inside. The cemetery is definitely worth a visit, not just to see the famous graves. But if you do go, allow a good couple of hours and make sure you have a map!

Time to go home ...


The Eiffel Tower (official website)
Notre-Dame (official website)
Shakespeare and Company (bookshop) (official website)

Related Posts:

A Writer's Holiday (in which I visit Italy)
A Grave Obsession (why I love churchyards)
More Ramblings About Tombs (in which I visit an ancient Welsh burial chamber)

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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year!

How do you feel about New Year's resolutions? Do you ever make any? Do you stick to them?

When I was a teenager, I would make three resolutions every year without fail. And every year they would be pretty much the same: (1) Lose weight, (2) Save money, (3) Write a book. Every year I failed to keep them but at least it saved having to think up three more. And if that sounds familiar, I gave the same trait to Marina in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - my first novel, published fifteen years ago this month.

I think it's about time my resolutions had an update! So, what is it that I'd really like to change if I could?

Well, I'd like to

Be more organised ...

As you may have noticed, I'm not the world's most organised person - and then last year my phone died, taking all my contacts and my calendar with it! Disaster! But I've learnt from this! I have a new phone - and I've now got back ups! All my contacts have been updated in a proper address book, everyone's birthday is listed in a birthday book and I have a back-up diary. So, fingers crossed!

Write more ... 

I'm a professional writer, that's what I do all day, right? Yes - along with critiques, reviews, blog posts, guest blog posts and social media for both myself and other authors, somehow the actual book writing is getting very squeezed. JK Rowling talks about how important it is to 'guard' precious writing time, and she is right. What can I do to fix it?

My friend, Trisha Ashley, belongs to a writers' group called The 500 Club with Elizabeth Gill and Leah Fleming. Every day they agree to email each other once they've written 500 words. Isn't that a great idea? It's certainly easier to achieve than 1000 words, and the words soon mount up. I'm going to give it a go - and record my progress in my back-up diary!

Try to leave the house occasionally ...

It is easy when you're self-employed to forget to have any 'me' time. A couple of years back I was working from 7.00 am to 9.00 pm, seven days a week, and all I achieved was to make myself ill. Besides, if I don't meet new people, visit new places and have new experiences, how will I find anything new to write about?

Yes, that's me,
halfway up the Eiffel Tower with my daughter

So there you have it. Those are my resolutions for this year, how about you?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Once More Unto The Bookstore (or, how I accidentally ended up with a book blog)

I've always loved books. I started with my mother's Enid Blyton collection and some great big books of fairy tales from the 1920s/30s, which I originally believed had belonged to my father but now I think they were probably my grandmother's. (You can read more about the books which influenced me as a writer here.)

I devoured every book I could find, some quite unsuitable for my age; I read Shirley Conran and Jackie Collins while I was still at school. On one occasion I remember borrowing a book from the school library and taking it back the next day, and the teacher refusing to believe I could have possibly read it so quickly. I felt quite offended!

Of course the thing about reading a good book is that I immediately want to tell everyone about it - how great it was and why they really should read it themselves right now. Although the drawback to that is I'd end up having to loan out my own precious copy and, as you know, I've never been great at sharing. The other drawback is that most of the people I know in real life don't read the kind of books I like. So here I am, reading all these great books and having no one to tell ...

During the summer one of my Twitter friends, Terry Tyler, told me about her idea to encourage people who would not normally write a book review to post one on Amazon. You didn't need your own book blog, or be any kind of professional or regular reviewer, to take part. To help spread the word, the reviews were hashtagged on Twitter as #August Reviews and promoted by other book bloggers, including Rosie Amber. And I gave Terry a whole load of reasons why I couldn't take part:

(1) I'm a writer.
(2) I know too many other writers. 
(3) I could never give another writer a one star review (which I might be likely to do, as I'm far too honest for my own good).
(4) I've never been able to get on with Goodreads.
(5) I love reading books and having to write a review afterwards would be too much like doing homework.

Ironically, last month I needed to teach myself Wordpress for another project. I had to set up a new blog and blog about something. What could I blog about? Books, obviously!

September turned into October and I went through my Kindle to dig out all the spooky books I could find, intending to read them in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Mainly because I have a really bad habit of downloading cheap and free books, and then not reading them. (Any author reading this, and thinking of running a free promotion, bear that in mind - people are more like to read your book if they've paid for it!) 

As I read each book I wrote a review - and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. When the Wordpress project came to an end I was loathe to let my new blog go. So I moved it over to Blogger and carried on for a bit, just to see if I could.

If you want to check out the new blog, it's called Once More Unto The Bookstore. I'm only reviewing books I've enjoyed and that I've bought myself, because I'm a writer not a book blogger. If you're interested to know what I'm reading, I'd love to see you over there. And if not, this blog will still carry on as usual with me talking about myself.

Some things never change.

Related Posts:

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Images Copyright: Shutterstock (girl reading) and Fotolia (book)