Food, Fino, Flamenco and Feria

This was Jerez (‘Sharish’ as the Moors called it), home of sherry. We arrived while Feria was on, a festival of horsemanship, eating and drinking.

Elegant horsewomen
The way to travel!

I felt out of place, drab, not wearing a flamenco dress. These dresses are not just dancers’ attire and the stuff of postcards, but are the ‘posh frocks’ of many Spanish ladies, from toddlers to grandmothers. You have to know how to wear them –  the traditionalists place their fans down their cleavages, younger women carry their mobile phones there! Lack of pockets is a problem although I spotted one lady rummaging amongst her frills for a small pouch carrying a pack of cigarettes.

Better by carriage
Asking for a lift?

All Spanish women know how to dance the flamenco – they teach it at school. And they did dance it – impromptu performances in bars, making the most of the space there was, moving to the rhythm of the music. It wasn’t the emotionally-charged flamenco of a serious dance but was fun to watch.

It was hot. We found a table and ordered drinks. My husband went for a large beer, a ‘grande’. It turned out to be a one-litre jug!  Although he claimed he’d never be able to drink it all, there wasn’t much left.

A ‘Grande’

We noticed many tables had jugs of a clear liquid with sprigs of a mint-like herb in them. It was, we discovered, a mix of fino sherry and 7-Up. Never did get to try it as we had no capacity for more liquid!

Fino sherry – without the 7-Up – is the trademark of Jerez. The Tio Pepe symbol, the bottle wearing a red sombrero, is everywhere so we visited the grand winery. A small train transported us around the place where we heard stories of the family who founded it, saw the photographs of famous people who had visited – with their signatures on barrels – and tasted the products.

Commemorative barrels

We heard about the resident mouse who likes sweet sherry. A glass, with a little ladder leaning on, was left out nightly for him.

The mousy resident

Sherry is often paired with food here, like any other wine. I struggled with that. I’m not really a sherry drinker but, nevertheless, all four tastings (each a full glass) slipped down.

If we didn’t drink sherry with our meals, we certainly drank the local wine. At under €2 a glass, it was good value (and not bad quality), excellent with a selection of tapas. Salmorejo – a local, cold soup, a richer cousin of gazpacho – artichoke hearts with garlic prawns and tomatoes full of flavour.  I could continue…

Typical tapas

We saw the ubiquitous sign, ‘Hay caracoles’, outside restaurants and bars.

Local snails

Caracoles are tiny snails, a local delicacy, eaten with a pin. I like snails, the French variety in a garlic sauce, but couldn’t be bothered with these little things. Maybe I missed a treat. We saw them by the sackful in the fish market. Those and every other fish you could imagine, lined up like works of art on the fishmongers’ slabs.

Jerez fish market

We walked miles and often got lost in the maze of streets. We kept to the shady side of the narrow alleys and it didn’t matter if we took a devious route to the cathedral, the old church of St Miguel or the Alcazar.

Beautiful Jacaranda trees line the streets
The Alcazar

Jerez is a timeless place where a mix of peoples have lived and passed through. There’s always a bar for a drink and a rest, a couple of tapas, and a chat. The locals were friendly and I regretted my forgotten Spanish.

I thought I’d remember Jerez for the sherry; I’ll remember it for much more than that.

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Wet, Wetter, Wettest (adj)

We defined the adjective on the Offa’s Dyke path. We walked on the edge of Wales so it should not have been a surprise. In fact, we had three dry days out of five, so I really shouldn’t complain. But I will.

When the weather was wet, it made a good job of it.

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We left Monmouth on an appropriate road!

As we left our adequate but not fantastic B & B in Monmouth, the rain and our mood started to fall. The greasy breakfast was lying heavy in the stomach. We had our waterproof jackets on (Goretex – the best) and strong boots so felt well-equipped. None of us likes wearing waterproof over-trousers so they were stowed in the backpacks. Five minutes later, they were on our legs and our backpacks had their protective coats on. Heads down, hoods up. Weather is fickle and we strode out, hoping for an improvement. This rain is light and not unpleasant, I thought. I can cope with it.

Monmouth to White Castle was our aim. Possibly the least interesting scenery of our walk. Lucky, as we saw little of it. What started as a tolerable shower became heavier. We got wetter. We searched for some cover to have our mid-morning coffee stop but the barn we found had unwelcoming barbed wire around it. Huddled under a tree, we were a miserable, soggy group.  This rain is miserable but I’ll have to cope with it, I thought. I contemplated a wee but the complexity of performing told me to hang on.

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Plodding on after the coffee break

Lunch was the next challenge and the delight of finding a church with a dry porch can’t be overstated!  We gladly put some money in the collecting box on the door. Thank you, St Michael’s, in an unpronounceable place.

I had unfortunately not put my waterproof gloves on and now my skin was so wet, I couldn’t get them on. So I put up with cold, dripping hands. It was difficult to know just how wet we’d become as everything had a damp, clammy feel to it. I think I was the wettest I’ve ever been. We were not coping well.  The end of the walk, not so far away, was neither a steep up nor a treacherous down.

Just mud.

The path ahead
The path ahead

There was a succession of fields to cross – wheat, potatoes, then something that might have been cabbage. The public footpath was clearly visible stretching in a long thread ahead of us. On a warm, sunny day, this would have been an enjoyable amble, a chance to relax and catch our breath. Time to look around. Not now. Our total focus was to avoid slipping, to stay on our feet. We walked over furrows coated with red, gloopy mud. Eyes down, use your walking poles. Don’t fall over. Lifting feet was a heavy job as our boots became plastered. I managed to splash mud higher than my knees, quite an accomplishment, easily winning the muckiest walker competition. The prospect of a wee in these conditions was nil.

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Looking down…

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…and the rear view

We were being collected at White Castle by the owner of the next B & B as it was several miles away. No mobile signal en route to alert him of our arrival time. And we were worried about the state we were in. What if he arrived in a sparkling, white saloon? Everything was wet. Not just the obvious but underwear, socks, fleeces, the insides of our back-packs, legs, feet. We could remove over-trousers but could hardly take off our boots or strip naked.

A sad cheer of delight when we arrived at White Castle. Walking was done for the day. As we stopped, so did the rain. What timing!

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White Castle

We contacted our next host, who turned out to be a farmer in a Range Rover. Relief. Immediately after arriving at our delightful accommodation, I headed to the toilet. More relief. I don’t normally hang on for over seven hours.

Our lovely hosts helped and by the morning, we had enough dry clothes to continue. Fuelled by a magnificent breakfast and carrying an ample packed lunch, we set off in sunshine to enjoy the next stage of the Offa’s Dyke path. Spirits aren’t low for long.

If every day had been dry, what would I have written about?

I can see into your lives, people of Cadiz

The heavy, wooden door edging the shady street is closed. Then you open it and I see a courtyard, sunshine illuminating the patterned blue and white tiles on the walls, making a glass bowl sparkle. An iron, lattice gate separates the front area from a more intimate space at the back where the fronds of a huge potted plant cast shadows over a table. There is a staircase and someone is sweeping nearby. A child’s doll is abandoned on the shiny floor, the only item out of place. A peep into your life, your home.

When I climb to the top of the cathedral tower, a panorama of roofs greets me. This is a town of towers, built by old merchants to watch their cargo ships arrive. A town of towers and balconies.

A town of towers
A town of towers

I look down on you from my vantage point, like a seagull. I can hover above but all I’ll drop on you is a glance.

Looking down from the Cathedral tower
Looking down from the Cathedral Tower

I see an old man struggling with a walking stick on the uneven cobbles of the square, plodding uncomfortably in the heat. A young man sitting on the ground, hand outstretched. A mother bumping a pushchair down some steps, her child wriggling and waving its arms and legs. Are they heading for the doorway and the forgotten doll? I think I hear the child wail, but maybe it’s imagination; I’m too far away. The child kicks off a shoe and I can’t run to pick it up. It will be an exasperated, angry mother who discovers the loss.

I see life on the rooftops, tables and chairs, promising after-work relaxation, a glass of wine, some tapas. The narrow streets divide the white houses into a grid, but the roads are almost invisible, so narrow their width.

The rooftops of Cadiz
The rooftops of Cadiz

I search for the old cannons positioned vertically on corners to protect the buildings from poor drivers – or those unused to Cadiz. I know they are there, hidden in the tangle of buildings. More obvious is the flapping washing everywhere, the brisk wind knotting and twisting it. There’s a careful person here – lots of clothes pegs to stop the shirts from flying away. And socks lined up like matches in a box, no space between them, barely room to flutter. The hasty owner of the roughly pegged underwear will find her knickers have left her for a neighbour. Or maybe that was her hope? I can see into your lives, people. I can observe your habits.

The ‘camara oscura’ at the top of the Torre Tavira is the real Peeping Tom.

Can you see the camara oscura on the tevira Tower?
Can you see the camara oscura on the Tevira Tower?

A close-up of a green pharmacy sign flashing. I notice a young woman entering but she has no idea I’m watching. Is it a prescription she’s collecting? Is she unwell?  Perhaps it’s sun cream or baby lotion she wants. Ephemeral pictures, disappearing as they happen. I feel guilty; I’m spying. Even if you cast your eyes upwards, I’m hidden. I’m looking into your lives, people of Cadiz.

But I can’t see into your souls.

N is for …Norwegian

 

1981 – an assignment to Norway! Keen on languages, I borrowed a Norwegian course from the library and had reached around lesson four when we arrived in our new country.

As we unpacked our car, a young girl stood and watched. I asked her – in my best Norwegian – what her name was. She looked at me blankly. When my second attempt failed, I rushed inside to check my textbook. The words were correct so I assumed, sadly, that my accent was incomprehensible.

My next language opportunity soon arrived as two workmen turned up to fix a blind. I offered them coffee. They said yes.  Success! They understood me although I noticed their smirks. After they left, I found their drinks – untouched.

Later that day, a neighbour introduced himself in English. I complimented him on his language skills. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I’m American.’ It seemed as soon as I opened my mouth, something went wrong.  The young girl I’d spoken to earlier walked by. ‘Don’t try talking to her,’ my neighbour said. ‘She’s profoundly deaf.’ How unfortunate was she – but how unlucky was I!

Some weeks later, I understood my other mistakes.

Norwegian, like French and German, has two forms of the word ‘you’, a familiar and a formal one. So, being polite, I’d addressed my workmen formally. However, it is archaic. The library course I’d borrowed must have been an antique. Hence the mickey-taking grins. But why didn’t the men drink my coffee? I’d made instant with milk, what we drank back then. No-one takes milk in coffee in Norway and instant is rarely used. They’d barely recognised my offering!

Not a good start but, in spite of it, I spent five wonderful years in Norway. I learned Norwegian ways, the language and how to make ‘proper’ coffee!

Flying Solo

The following article was published in the April 2019 issue of Writing Magazine

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Going it alone is well withing your grasp, says writer Linda Fawke as she describes her experience of self-publishing

I am a self-published author of two novels. I say it proudly – there was a time it would have implied I’d paid a vanity publisher to get my books ‘out there’. Things have changed; the publishing world has changed.

Getting an agent and a publisher, while regarded by many as the ultimate goal, is rarely easy. You may have to wait months or even years. You may wait forever. Publishers are risk-averse and wary of investing time and money in unknown authors. I decided I didn’t want to wait. Self-publishing is achievable, quick and can cost little or nothing.

Who uses self-publishing? It’s used by authors who want total control over their writing, by those who know there is a narrow market for highly specialised work or by writers who want a book for limited distribution, a family memoir, perhaps. And by folk like me.

There are options available if you choose the self-publishing route. You can do it entirely on your own or you can use a company (like Matador or Amazon) who will do the technical stuff for you. The latter is a stress-free, reliable option and there are various services available at a wide range of prices. You need to budget from £1000 upwards – it depends on what you want. Some writing friends told me I’d need to be a computer whizz-kid to go it alone. They were wrong. While the process isn’t without its ups and downs, it’s doable with a minimum of computer knowledge. You simply have to be able to follow instructions.

I chose Amazon’s CreateSpace for my paperback and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for the e-book. You don’t have to publish in both formats but I saw no reason not to do so. The whole process is free. Amazon makes its money from commission on sales. Since I last published with CreateSpace (September 2018), all self-publishing has been taken over by KDP.

 

Getting the manuscript ready

While the actual publishing process is quick, there’s considerable work to put in beforehand. It isn’t essential to have a book edited professionally but I chose to take this route. I considered it a worthwhile, additional cost.

Most people write in Word and the appearance of a Word document, printable on an A4 sheet of paper, is different from that of a book. So, after editing, it’s time for formatting. This includes spacing, choosing a font and font size, adding page numbers (and deciding where to put them), choosing the size of the book (there are various standard sizes), how you want the beginning of each chapter to look (maybe starting each chapter part-way down the page), whether you want a header (the book’s title on each page) and putting in page breaks as appropriate. Because you have to take the binding of the book into account, you need ‘mirrored’ margins, where the inner margin is wider than the outer one. I could continue…

If this sounds daunting, I’m not surprised. But I found by addressing one point at a time, it all came together. I suggest, before you start, you look at books on your bookshelf and decide how you’d like yours to look. Find the size you like, look at the width of the margins, what size font is easy on the eye? Then decide.

You also need to think about the additional information you’ll need. This includes a title page, some details about yourself as author, a copyright statement, ISBN number, a list of acknowledgements, maybe a dedication or a contents page. Again, look at a few books and see how this information is laid out. Then add them into your Word manuscript.

 

The Self-Publishing Process

You need an Amazon account to use their process. Beyond that, it’s a case of doing as you are told – this is not the place to be creative! I found it helpful to work with someone, my husband in my case, as a second pair of eyes is useful. He was also a calming influence and scraped me off the ceiling when things went wrong!  The ‘going wrong’ was usually because I’d done something silly in the formatting rather than a problem with the process itself. I suggest if you are producing a paperback and an e-book, you do the paperback first. This is the more complicated of the two; the e-book process follows on. Amazon will instruct you clearly at each step, will prompt you to upload your formatted document and will check the book is in a suitable format to be published.

You can review the book online as it will actually look using Adobe Flash Player. You see your text as a book and turn the pages. It is an excellent way of judging whether you’ve got all your formatting right, whether the book looks just as you want it to. You can go round the loop as many times as you wish before you actually publish. You simply make whatever changes are necessary to the formatted Word document and upload it again. You have to wait a number of hours for the online checking process but the system keeps you informed. There is a free ‘help’ service which is useful and responsive if you get stuck.

You can do your final proof-read online before publishing. I, however, wanted a paper copy in my hands. Somehow, proof reading demands that! It cost around $5, plus postage. It was worthwhile – I found errors I’d missed on the screen. From embarking on the publishing process to completion took less than two weeks – but this was from the point of having a fully and (almost) correctly formatted book.

Your book does, of course, have to have a front and back cover. Amazon provides a Cover Creator tool but I decided to be independent. I knew what I wanted and needed my covers to be unique and professional. I therefore commissioned a graphic artist to design, produce and make them suitable for publication. (Costs are from £100 upwards.) I worked on my ‘brand’ – the fonts, layout and colours are similar for both novels. I’m a firm believer that a self-published book should look as good – and read as well – as a traditionally published one. I believe I’ve achieved this with my books.

For my e-book, the process was straightforward. The manuscript was already formatted. I took out page numbers (not required) and put in a contents page with hyperlinks to each chapter. The KDP process looks after everything else.

There are a few other matters to be sorted, like price and distribution, but the online prompts make this easy.

I spoke to two fellow, self-published authors about their experiences. Mariana Swann, whose autobiographical novel, Pachamama, was self-published using CreateSpace, chose a different route from mine. As a new author, she feared the book’s appearance might not be as good as it could be so she chose to pay Amazon for formatting, cover design and three rounds of editing. She said the cost was ‘steep, very steep’ but considered it worthwhile. The final product is certainly professional.

My editor, Jonathan Veale, a writer himself, whose 2018 novel, A Chateau To Die For, is available in Kindle format, chose self-publishing as a rapid means of getting his writing into other people’s hands. His view is that while writers should be aware of the technical and promotional aspects of publishing they should concentrate on the writing itself – the better the product, the easier it will be to sell – and purely oversee the business aspects, paying for them as required.

 

Marketing

I’m not a sales person. I’ve never worked in marketing. So I found book promotion difficult. However, even in the traditional publishing world authors are often now required to do much marketing. Although the main outlet for sales is Amazon, self-published authors can buy books at a special author rate and I’ve done that so I have my own stock to distribute and sell.

I put together my plan. I liaised with my local library where the librarian offered to host a book launch for me (a short talk and a reading, a book signing, some refreshments). They also put up posters and sent out press releases. Social media are important. I used all my email, Facebook, Linked In and Twitter contacts, sending out regular communications before and after the launch. I contacted my previous workplace and my old school, both of which provided some publicity. This magazine has featured me in its ‘Subscriber Showcase’ and its website. I’ve put up posters. I did a writing course a while ago with the ‘Writers’ Bureau’ and they publicised me. As I write for our local county magazine (Berkshire Life), they published pieces about me. I’ve been interviewed on local radio and featured in several local publications and newspapers. I give talks to local groups, notably the Women’s Institute, on ‘Becoming a Writer’, where I sell books. A local bookshop is stocking my books.

This doesn’t mean I have a best-seller on my hands – but I do sell books. I’m constantly looking out for new means of promotion.

 

The Bottom Line

What are the pros and cons of self-publishing? The obvious advantage is speed and ownership of the process. The costs can be minimal. Anyone can do it. As my books are ‘Print on Demand’, there is no stock to be paid for and kept in a warehouse.

The disadvantages include not having editorial input from an agent and publisher but you can pay for editing, as I did. If your books are printed outside the UK, there is also postage to consider.

And should you go it alone or pay a company to do it for you? A personal choice. Both work and it may well be a financial decision. If you commission many services, it can become expensive. Either way, I recommend self-publishing. I’m pleased I did it myself, at reasonable cost – and my marketing skills are improving!

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My article

KD08_Linda-Fawke_APFM_cover-web

M is for Madeira – Have some, M’Dear!

I visited the island, a pleasant destination full of folk who had been there many times. The climate pulls them back. I was a beginner, a tourist, doing the tastings, learning about the wine and its history. Did you know it matures in heat, not in a cold cellar? It is gradually moved up into the attics. People buy it as an investment. I learned that Shakespeare spoke of ‘a cup of Madeira’ and that Winston Churchill, Goethe and Napoleon enjoyed it. I joined their ranks. When I got home, I looked up the famous Flanders and Swann song, ‘Have some Madeira, M’dear.’ Bits of it had been floating around in my head.

I was shocked. I’d half-remembered an amusing ditty with a catchy title. I think when I first heard it, years ago, I was amused. But it’s a shameful story of the seduction of a young girl by an old, vile man, a roué, presented as entertainment.  Although it initially seems the young girl escapes the clutches of her predator, running away from his flat, the last line implies she wakes up in bed with him. The warm feeling that a glass of Madeira gave me went cold. How could I have enjoyed such a song?

The song is clever. It has witty wordplay, it introduced me to the device of ‘syllepsis’, it lends itself to performance. If you play a You-tube version, there is much laughter in the background. It’s been described as a ‘novelty’ and ‘darkly comic’. A well-known journalist described it as a ‘hilarious song about date rape’. Can date rape be hilarious? Really? Our ideas of acceptability have changed since the song was released in 1959. Hilarity implies approval.

It’s not the fault of the wine, of course. I’ll still drink it.

 

 

Optional extra

For other grammatically-oriented folk who want to know what syllepsis is (if they don’t already know).

The song contains three  examples:

“And he said as he hastened to put out the cat, the wine, his cigar and the lamps”

“She lowered her standards by raising her glass, her courage, her eyes and his hopes”

“She made no reply, up her mind and a dash for the door.”

 

L is for Lavatory

The lid rises majestically as I approach, like a giant jaw yawning. The pressure of my bottom activates the water flow which stops and starts as I wriggle, getting used to the heated seat. They are a meticulous people, the Japanese, especially concerning cleanliness of the nether regions. A key pad allows me to select both the force and the direction of a water jet. Two rounded buttocks indicate the anal wash, a spurt of warm water that is remarkably – and eyebrow-raisingly – accurate considering the range of rear-ends around. Another button indicates ‘front washing’, for female use.  Luckily I know the kanji symbol for ‘Stop’, as the jet does not decide when its job is done. I’d heard stories of unwary Brits washed from head to foot in their attempt to quell the water monster. The warm air blow-drier finishes off the job as an automatic deodoriser perfumes the air. Who needs toilet paper?

To my surprise, these elaborate constructions are found not only in smart hotels but also in ‘western-style’ public toilets. However, when away from home, the locals prefer the ‘eastern’ stoop variety where no part of the anatomy touches anything porcelain – a spotless version of old-fashioned French loos.  That’s fine for those who have spent all their lives bending their knees. For the older Brit, where not only the upper lip is stiff, getting sufficiently low is a problem. And if the knees don’t flex enough, splash is an issue. Enough said.

After hand-washing, another problem presents itself – an absence of any means of drying. Far too unhygienic. I resort to waving my hands in the air as I don’t carry my own towel, unlike the Japanese.

‘Being in the hot seat’ has taken on new meaning. I emerge, cleansed, dried, perfumed and amazed.