Showing posts with label cindy jefferies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cindy jefferies. Show all posts

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Open for Business? By Cindy Jefferies

Cindy Jefferies

What is it about doors?
Well of course they make a rather hackneyed metaphor but the way I've been feeling recently they do seem to have been horribly cluttering up my brain with their clunking of latches, creaking of timber and squealing of hinges. That sounds like a pretty appalling sample of horror writing but maybe you get the idea.

I'm at that stage in writing where I have no idea if what I'm doing is good, bad or something in between and recently I've been struggling with a scene that simply didn't want to behave.

I tried everything and of course the answer was to abandon it, because it wasn't right for the character or the story. But that conclusion took a week or so to find and by then I'd hammered on just about every door in my brain that I thought might be barring the solution I thought I needed.

Brain work is surprisingly exhausting and although I'm pleased to have arrived at what I think (aghhh!) is the right solution to my problem I didn't have a lot of unbruised brain capacity available to write this blog. So I idly decided to have a look through my photographs to see if I had pictures of doors. Wow! Maybe I have a thing about them. Doors, doorways, windows too (but don't let's go there). Open, shut, teasingly ajar, beautiful, forbidding or just silly. I have many more pictures of doors than I realised. So here, as a nod to my recent brain activity are just a very few.

Feel free to take any good ideas that may seep under, flow out or even shout at you through a keyhole. But beware. The path to any door is fraught with difficulties, as the smiling worker above who has excavated, barrowed, shovelled and raked a path to the black door will attest. Be careful, watch your step and don't blame me if things go horribly wrong!

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Search for an Ending

Cindy Jefferies

I wanted something special for the end of a novel. I've been researching and writing this particular one on and off for over five years. I was pretty clear about how I wanted it to finish so far as the plot went. But there was one particular character who needed a special send off, and I hadn't nailed it.

But during this particular afternoon off I was actually thinking about the middle of the story, not the end. While I was enjoying the small, medieval churches of the Cotswolds I was wondering about surgical instruments on board ship after the Restoration, .
To my surprise, there was a model ship in Painswick church, along
with an unrelated and rather touching phrase from Spenser's Faerie Queene, scratched onto
a pillar in 1643 by an imprisoned soldier. "Be bold, be bold but not too bold." He must have been feeling pretty sorry for himself, locked up in the church at the end of a battle, not knowing what his fate might be.

It was tempting to find a place for him in my novel but his story was not mine, nor was the painted effigy of a gentleman, with feet resting on a goat eating a cabbage. These were of no use to me, although surely they all belong in somebody's fiction?

I hadn't thought of a monument. I had wanted something warmer than that, but a monument was what I found. In Miserden church, along with the cabbage eating goat, is an exquisite sculpture on a tomb chest. So many of these effigies are doubly cold in their alabaster perfection so why did this one speak so eloquently to me? With a sudden understanding I realised I had been concentrating on the wrong character. The ending needed to dwell on a person who featured hardly at all in the novel, and never when alive. She was lying here, waiting for me to find her.

Her effigy was beautifully done, carved probably by a local man, Samuel Baldwin. It was much finer than some other examples of his work in greater churches than Miserden. In life, my character had a habit of fiddling with the lace of her collar. In death, this beautiful young woman was shown playing with the delicately carved fabric at her breast. How much easier it would have been to carve her hand praying or at rest, as is usual. Why had Samuel Baldwin made such an effort to thread the carved lace so beautifully through her fingers? There was something so poignant about it, so very human and so utterly my character.

The photograph doesn't do it justice, but I shall revisit it again and again until the book is done. There she lies, totally unexpected. And what also surprised me was that against all the odds she was finally reunited with the husband she loved so much.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Stand up Tammy Bunting! by Cindy Jefferies

Little did the developers of estamet, a sort of light, worsted cloth made in England from as early as 1594 know what they were doing. This fabric was made in Norfolk, and one day someone had the idea of pressing it with a hot iron. The result was to put a shine on the fabric. I wonder if it was done by mistake or on purpose? I certainly remembering using too hot an iron on my young son's school trousers some years ago. The result then was a very unwelcome shine but the cloth manufacturers in Norfolk took a mistake, if mistake it was, and turned it into a great success.

The cloth was bought by ribbon makers. This shiny, home produced cloth was probably cheaper than imported silk, and maybe more available too. It wasn't long before the navy saw the possibilities of the fabric. This estamet, tammet, tammy (the name evolved over the years) began to be used to make flags, particularly signalling flags. No one seems to know when or why the name for this fabric became bunt, but for a long time signalling officers in the navy have been known as bunts.

Did that first person who shone the cloth and began the process of creating bunting lose his job or get a rise? Mistake or happy experiment? Probably we will never know, but this summer that unknown person's handiwork is in evidence all over the place, as Britain celebrates the Jubilee, the Olympics and numerous fetes, festivals and parties.

Today, if you go into a shop and ask for bunting you're likely to be offered a string of gaily coloured plastic or paper triangles. For more durable decorations there is also cotton bunting, which, found in various craft shops has become popular as an interior decoration for children's rooms or second, seaside homes. For those who are getting tired of seeing it everywhere at the moment I'm not including any photographs. You all know what it's like!

We don't know who first coined the word bunting, or who made the first shiny cloth, or who decided to take the navy's signalling flags and use a version of them as decoration. As a gift to the world perhaps bunting is hardly significant and yet, how dark and sober our lives would be if we never thought to put out the flags. Royalist or republican, sports fanatic or not, at its simple, non partisan best bunting celebrates what it is to be human and optimistic in spite of everything that life throws at us. That gets my vote.

Monday, 2 April 2012

I protest!

I was having tea in Gloucestershire with a friend, and we got to talking about protesting. I don't mean complaining about bad service, or curly sandwiches, I mean real protesting, the sort that stops councils from closing libraries.

"I've written so many emails, I can't do it any more," said he. "I'm exhausted. It never stops. If it's not libraries it's the unemployed being made to work for nothing, or whales being harpooned, forests uprooted or our health service being wrecked. And really, in the end, what does it all achieve? Once they've worn us out, governments just go back to doing what they want. Protesting never does any good in the end."

I remonstrated with him, but maybe not very much, because I was feeling pretty discouraged myself. Then something
happened that made me think again.

I went to Texas.

I'd never been to Texas before, and no doubt my idea of the place was fairly similar to many another Englishwoman who has never visited. Cowboy hats and boots, tumbleweed, twangy accents and cattle. Of course I knew that there were cities in Texas, and skyscrapers, freeways and shopping malls, but I'm a child of the fifties, and was brought up on Dick West and the Lone Ranger. So of course I looked for signs of cowboys. They were easy enough to find. And along with the whites, in cowboy hats or not, there were of course Blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, the whole rainbow of peoples that makes a place vibrant.

The first evening we were in a packed restaurant. "Years ago that wouldn't have been possible," said my companion, as a young black family came in and was shown to the last empty table. I engaged my mouth before my brain. "Why not?" I said. And then I remembered. Being a child of the fifties wasn't just cowboy films. It was also segregation. So we started talking about protest. We weren't drinking tea. She had watermelon juice and I had rice milk with cinnamon. We were a long way from Gloucestershire and I had a lot to learn.

"It was 1960," said Jo Ann. "I was a student at the University of Texas in Austin. My friend and I were looking for things to join, as students do, and we noticed a poster inviting people to a meeting, so we went."

The meeting was about the civil rights movement. Things were happening. The first black student had been admitted to the university (after a court case) in 1954, but there were still only a few black students by 1960. Martin Luther King was speaking, arguments raging, and people were getting hurt.

It took a lot of courage to be black and to protest, but it happened. Black people staged sit-ins, where they entered segregated drugstores and stubbornly sat there, asking to be served. There were beatings, and attacks by police dogs to endure. Jo Ann is white, but she and her friend saw these things happening, and decided to get involved.

There were a couple of film theatres on Guadaloupe, well patronised by students. The films were good, but no blacks were allowed. And so, at the meeting another sort of protest was devised. Stand-ins. The idea was simple. White and black students would queue up together. When they got to the ticket office the white student would ask for a ticket "So long as my friend can have one too." Of course they were refused, but instead of going away they simply rejoined the end of the queue and asked again. As more people joined the protest and clogged the foyer it became difficult for anyone to buy a ticket. Here is one of the theatres, The Texas. It's not a film theatre any more, but you can see that it used to be one.

Throughout that Spring and Summer the student protest went on. They didn't give up, although the film theatres refused to review their policy. After a while it must have been so tempting to give in. I wonder how many times I would have rejoined the queue, night after night. It can hardly have been a rewarding experience. But the students were determined, and as time went by they were joined by some faculty members, as well as some local churchmen. The students were targeting chain theatres, and in other cities sympathy stand-ins occurred. In Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio protests were promised, and even Boston and New York joined in.

In spite of all this action nothing happened. At the end of the summer term the students went home, having achieved precisely nothing. The theatres were still segregated. Their peaceful protests had failed. But in the Autumn when they returned they had a surprise. Quietly, over the summer there had been a change of heart. Instead of the protesters having been worn down, the theatre owners had given way. Now, everyone was welcome to buy a ticket. Maybe the owners had seen which way the civil rights movement was going, or maybe it was just because they had been hit hard in their pockets. What was important was that the protesters had won.

"I wasn't an organiser," said Jo Ann. "I was just one warm body among many, but I'm prouder of that protest than anything else I've done."

We talked about marches we had been on, Jo Ann against the Vietnam war in Washington, me against Cruise missiles in London. By then neither of us was a student any more, and our efforts weren't always successful. But somehow, it had always seemed worthwhile making the effort.

Students in Austin are still moved to protest about all sorts of things, and that is the way it should be. There can be few things more worth fighting for than fairness, which is one reason I have on World Book Night opted to give away copies of Andrea Levy's excellent novel, Small Island. Her book reminds us on the other side of the Atlantic that we don't have much reason to be complacent about our past.

I came home feeling very glad that I had met Jo Ann. "It matters to speak out," she said. I could see by the tears in her eyes how strongly she felt.

So here's to Jo Ann. Protests may not always be as important as the civil rights movement, but it does matter to speak out on issues we care about. We won't often win. But sometimes, just sometimes we will, and surely that makes it all worthwhile?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

How private are you?

How private a person are you? I assume I'm fairly average. I don't think I have any appalling, dark secrets that would ruin me if they came to light, but on the other hand there are parts of my life I like to keep to myself, or to share with only a few close friends or family. Some of these things are thoughts, some are letters or other documents, and there are perhaps one or two photographs and mementoes that mean something special that I would rather not share with the world at large. Other private things are pin numbers and codes that safeguard my bank accounts. I certainly don't want people to see them.

Until fairly recently it was simple to keep these private things as they were supposed to be...private. An old shoebox in a cupboard in a bedroom is pretty perfect for that collection of personal oddments that are an adjunct to our lives. A locked filing cabinet, if we feel the need, keeps all but the most determined away from our most private papers, while our thoughts... our thoughts are wholly ours.

And true is that today? Some of our storage solutions are looking decidedly leaky. Imagine living in a house with a front door so flimsy that it's hardly worth closing, let alone locking. Imagine if that house was in a city where numerous people were simply waiting for you to go out so they could walk in and sift through your life. Imagine having a private conversation with a group of friends and discovering it broadcast on the six o'clock news.

It used to be simple to be a private person, but no longer. Online information gathering has become ubiquitous. We leak our love of woollen socks, concern about our weight, and interest in Bengal cats through our so called private emails, and see the information gathering evidence in the advertisements that pop up by our inboxes. We gaily delete emails, thinking that they are gone forever, but how many people in public life have found that to be patently untrue? And, as emails give way to social networking, our lives are becoming increasingly leaky.

I'm not sure that we ought to become paranoid about these potential intrusions into our lives. After all, those fragments of conversations we read on a forum, twitter or facebook when the wrong button has been pressed don't matter, do they? Aren't they just like overheard bits of conversation on the bus? Well, mostly yes, but not entirely. If you are so minded you can often trace these fragments back to a careless person who doesn't understand all the ins and outs of online privacy. (And let's face it, that's most of us.) You may keep your own sites personal, but does everyone you communicate with do the same? No. Of course not, and so your words can spread like the water from a leaky washing machine.

It used to be so easy. If you wrote something a little indiscreet, not only were few people able to read it, but as time passed it got forgotten. Not on Facebook timeline, which makes it simple to find out what was said in any particular year. Just as we're encouraged to communicate the minutia of our lives, giving our hastily thought through opinions on this and that throughout the day, we also have to be careful of what we say, for we know not who will read it, or what they will do with what they read. Mostly of course nothing; sometimes comments or photographs might be used by 'friends' to embarrass us, which doesn't much matter if we don't have a public reputation to guard, but if we do, then the potential damage could be more serious.

Big Brother may not be watching us, (though he often is through street cameras and the like) but he is constantly collecting data about us. Some of this is government led, but much of it is fuelled by big business, wanting us to buy. And as well as that invasive, annoying advertising there's more. Some prospective employers are now using social networking sites to research interviewees. If you don't shape up on facebook you don't even GET an interview. In the old days a company would have had to employ a private detective to pick up some of the information that is available now in a few clicks. Do we want our employers to do the digital version of sneaking up to our windows and listening to our conversations with friends? Well no, I don't, but many of us are sleepwalking our way into this new world. Why? because social networking is fun, and addictive, and internet security is terribly tedious.

So is there nothing we can do? Will those unkind comments made five years ago remain for ever to embarrass us? Well maybe not. Word from the wise is that there is a law being discussed. It's the 'right to be forgotten'. Well hurray to that. But make no mistake. There is no going back. We can't un-invent digital data collection, and like many inventions it has good uses as well as bad ones. Society is changing, like it has done many times. Not every culture regards privacy to be vitally important. Maybe we should relax, and learn to value our privacy less. After all, most of the comments we make will be like digital pebbles on a vast beach, and will never come back to haunt us,

will they...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Not enough hours in the day.

I'm certain that when I was a small child there were far more than sixty seconds in every minute. Or, if you like, that every second lasted much longer than they do nowadays.

Of course, the world doesn't speed up as we get older, but we have more responsibilities, sometimes more than we can humanly fit into the working day. Clock time, being a human invention can mean different things to us, depending on what we're doing. A week is a long time in politics. My whole life flashed by in an instant. Every minute felt like an hour. A watched pot never boils.

Over the Christmas holiday, time seemed to slow down because there wasn't so much we had to do. Now it's speeding up again. There's the school run, going to work and visiting the gym to fit in. How are we to make time for the other, enjoyable things we got used to doing during the holiday? I was grumbling about this when my son said "Ever heard of the uberman sleep schedule?"
Well, no, actually I hadn't. Seemingly it goes something like this. REM sleep, the sleep our brains need, takes only a fraction of the time we spend asleep. It's possible to train ourselves to get by on REM sleep alone, and still to function adequately. There are various ways to limit your sleep, uberman being probably the most extreme. You can read more about it here

My son decided to give it a go, purely out of interest. It wouldn't be easy to fit into a normal working day, as uberman demands that you sleep for twenty minutes every four hours. He needed to try it before he went back to work. There is a lot of information on the internet about the possible health risks, so it's not something to undertake lightly, or for too long, but he felt that a short experiment wouldn't do too much lasting damage.

I was cast in the role of interested observer, although in the first stages (from midnight until 8am) I left him to it while I maintained my own usual sleep pattern. By morning he'd had three twenty minute naps, and had been awake for the rest of the night. How did he feel? Okay. Surprisingly un-sleepy. And what had he achieved during those extra waking hours? Well, actually not a lot, but if he kept it up he'd have about eleven extra years to do it in!

It was weird, seeing him doze off for twenty minutes every four hours. To my surprise he awoke each time looking quite refreshed, although he'd needed the alarm to wake him. And he was alert enough to do his tax return towards the end of the twenty-four hour experiment!

Of course twenty-four hours isn't anything like long enough to establish a pattern, or prove anything. And it's doubtful if he actually did achieve much REM sleep because he didn't report any dreams, which I would have expected. However, he decided that although not something he'd want to make a habit of, in special circumstances uberman could be very useful. And he didn't need vast quantities of 'catch-up' sleep. At the end of the experiment he woke naturally after nine hours. Not enough hours in the day? How about twenty-two usable hours out of twenty-four?

Seb Goffe's latest book, Zero to Hero is out in February with A & C Black. Although possibly ubercool it was not written while he was being an uberman.

Cindy Jefferies

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Power of Words

I live in Gloucestershire, and recently the courts told my county council that they needed to rethink their library policy on equality grounds. The excellent Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries fought long and hard to get this result, which was won on the very thing that was closest to our hearts. Now, for a little longer the elderly users of the mobile library van service, and the many children in deprived areas of this diverse county will still be able to enjoy their local libraries. For how long we don't know, and recent developments aren't exactly heartening. We don't want more precious money thrown away on court cases, but we do want the vulnerable protected.

In a city in the USA my granddaughter and her parents recently joined their local library. At the entrance were notices asking the customers if they'd like to vote for a few cents more to be allocated from the local council budget to the libraries in the area. Usage was steadily growing, and the extra money would enable the service to be improved.

I was quite taken by the idea of voters being able to make such choices. It's interesting to speculate what the outcome would have been if our local council had asked the electorate the same question. Funding comes from several sources at my grand daughter's library. State and county both contribute, and the library isn't too proud to ask for donations either. In fact, they explain on their website which of the libraries they run will accept what sorts of books, and in which languages. But it's not all good in the US. We in the UK aren't the only country with library funding problems.

I don't know enough about the system in the US, but it seems to me that we in the UK need to look at more than one model of provision to give libraries the best chance. A US company ISS, which runs some privatised libraries in the States, has just announced that its stated intent of doing the same in England had been put on the back burner, because it seems we in England aren't ready for privately run libraries. Probably not, even if they would still be 'free'. But maybe we ought to consider more possibilities. I don't think volunteer run libraries are the answer either, but then maybe there simply isn't a suitable one size fits all.

The members of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have fought a wonderful rearguard action, to force the council to deliver on its statutory duty, and deserve high praise, but the library service has been underfunded for years. I am hoping that the committee to look into library provision, which was at last announced by the government, will consult and consider as widely as possible, but I'm not hopeful that it will come up with any exciting ways in which libraries can become the vibrant, well stocked places they ought to be, with wide appeal. The very real threat is that councils will tidy up their act, do just enough to be legal, and still find ways to close them.

Meanwhile, across the channel too, books are under threat. I recently signed a petition to the French government asking them not to raise the VAT on books from 5 to 7.50%.

The VAT levied on ebooks in Britain has me worried. How long will it be before some bright spark in government decides that if you can tax digital words without anyone objecting, why not printed ones? And as the French experience shows, once a tax is applied it becomes very tempting to raise it when times are hard. The written word is having a difficult time, and I don't think we can relax yet.

Yet it's not all bad. Libraries are being supported by a vociferous, well informed group of people, many of whom don't actually need to rely on the service, but still understand that for a nation to be fully inclusive, information must be freely and easily available to all, from the smallest child, through the homeless, and unemployed, to the elderly, and everyone else in between. And with youth clubs, pop in centres and other valued places at risk, where better than local libraries to take up some of the slack?

There have been some wonderfully imaginative celebrations of libraries, witness this in Scotland, and appreciated far beyond our shores. Sometimes it's hard to be optimistic, but people like the library phantom raise my spirits, and remind me that we can't give up now. One battle has been won, but the war is still being waged. And the weapons we have are words.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


Over the past twelve months I've been doing a lot of travelling. I've been moving around a bit within my own continent, and making forays into a couple of others. I've travelled into a new decade too. Psst! Don't tell anyone but I'm now in my sixth.

Visiting other countries is fun, slightly scary when done on my own, and keeps me on my toes. I'm very lucky that I'm fit and able to do it, and have had the funds. But what if I was unable to physically travel?

Arguably, the most important journey of all is in our minds, and where better to broaden our knowledge than to use a library? Books, music, the internet; it's all there, in a warm and safe environment for everyone to freely use. When times are hard what could be better than to preserve such a resource? In common with many others, I have been vocal in my anger at the closure of libraries in my country. The argument isn't over yet, with a myriad of legal challenges being heard.

Even during WW2 the government saw the huge importance of such an institution, and in spite of all the difficulties, libraries stayed open. Publishers printed as much as they could for sale too, on bad paper, which was all they could get. You can occasionally find these books in secondhand shops, with the request printed inside to pass them on to others, particularly members of the armed forces. The war was characterised for many by bursts of highly stressful action followed by long tedious hours of inactivity, which can be just as stressful in a different way. It was recognised that it can be very healing to lose yourself in a good book. We may not be at war like in 1940, but the need for libraries is certainly still there, for adults, and for children. Stressed out through lack of work, or happy and innocent at the beginning of learning about the world. We need libraries.

There's another sort of travelling that I've been doing as well, and that is the great journey of self discovery. Fortunately, you don't have to buy a ticket, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home, but it can still be scary, especially when delving into the depths of your feelings with a close relative, as I recently did. Thanks to my sister being so open we both ended up feeling enlightened, with lots of useful discoveries made.

Knowing oneself well can be fraught with danger. It can change the way you think about yourself forever. It can make your head hurt when trying to put into words why you feel in a particular way, and where those feelings have come from. It can feel like stumbling around in a dark field, without knowing if there's an angry bull in it, or a row of sunflowers waiting for the sun to come up. But it's a journey that I suspect a lot of novelists are rather good at. We're a nosy lot, poking our pens into what makes ourselves and others tick. Without such insight, how could we come up with some of the characters that live within the pages of a book? They are only interesting if they seem real, and they only seem real if they are based on a certain sort of reality.

So this is a celebration of journeys. Trains, and planes, and relationships, and into the depths of our minds. All slightly scary, but I wouldn't want to miss out on any of them.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Time for a tea party?

Tea. Is any other drink so adept at being acceptable in all walks of life, at any time of day and in so many parts of the world? I'd venture to speculate that tea was the first hot drink ever made by man (or some form of tisane made from leaves, fruit or flowers and hot water). Most houses I know have some form of tea worship paraphernalia. This is my everyday form. A kettle, and several pieces of mismatched crockery, depending on my mood. I do love a cup of tea, especially taken in the company of friends.

The most basic method relies on me dunking the teabag straight into a mug, so bypassing the teapot altogether. We all have our most sluttish...and most stylish way of serving tea. The smartest tea pot I have is an inherited silver one, which I use just for the hell of it, when the fancy takes me.

But receptacles for tea can be very basic indeed. Here are some little clay cups, sometimes still used by tea sellers at railway stations in India. They are the best of throwaway cups, much more ecologically friendly than paper or plastic, and far more elegant.

I'm sure I have read somewhere (to my horror) that sales of tea in the UK are declining, and have been for a while. Coffee, that altogether more sophisticated beverage is in the ascendancy, and soon we poor Brits will have totally turned away from our so called national drink. I don't believe a word of it. Have you seen the tea section in most supermarkets recently?

Besides, a lot of our literature depends on it.

How would the dormouse have fared if the Mad Hatter had dipped it into a coffee pot, and then presumably depressed the plunger? Get rid of tea and you immediately lose one of our finest mealtimes. Rupert Brooke knew that in 1912. Honey for tea, tea and biscuits, tea and sympathy...You can bet your life that in the background of all the Streatfields, Nesbits, Blytons and Cromptons, long suffering parents or guardians were busy drinking a reviving cup, while their offspring got into ever more alarming scrapes.

I suppose all this is why I'm so offended that the words tea party have recently been usurped. A small part of me rages when those most agreeable words are put together to describe political values that are far from my own. To begin with I hoped that the label wouldn't stick, but with the Republicans in the US beginning the long road to choosing a candidate for president, it seems that tea party is going to be used used more and more frequently to describe a certain kind of republicanism. And do any of them even drink the stuff? Surely there must have been a more recent, all American tax event that could have been used, rather than objections to the tea act in 1773?

But I'm not going to react by stamping my foot and behaving badly. No. I'm going to boil the kettle, select an appropriate tea for my mood, and sit it out, preferably at a tea table in an English garden, wearing a hat, with some good friends. So spread the word. A tea party is not an offshoot of a foreign political party. It is a British institution, the most irritating aspect of which might be the occasional visit from a wasp. Reclaim the tea party and put it back where it belongs! Bring cup cakes if you must, but with the weather turning cooler, crumpets would be better. So fetch the cake stands, man the tea tables and repel all usurpers of our wonderful institution, the tea party.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Battles, kings and elephants. Cindy Jefferies

One thing you can depend on for a writer is that if you ask them what they're thinking , whatever they reply you can be pretty certain that at least a part of their mind is thinking about a story. It might be no more than a slight itch at the back of the mind, but it'll be there.

So, being a writer, it is hardly surprising that when I was in Paris in the Spring stories were taking up a corner of my mind. After all, even a desert can be fertile ground for a story, which makes ideas for fiction seep out at every turn in Paris.

Fortunately, the friend I was staying with understood, and on the last day of my trip came up with something for me to take home. It was a quote in the frontispiece of a novel by Mathias Enard called Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'elephants.

Puisque ce sont des enfants, parle-leur de batailles et de rois, de chevaux, de diables, d'elephants et d'anges, mais n'omets pas de leur parler d'amour et de choses semblables.

Here's a translation:- Because they are children, tell them about battles and kings, horses, devils, elephants and angels, but don't neglect to tell them about love and things like that.

Not being able to find an attribution I assumed the author must be Mathias Enard, but I wished that I knew for sure.

I loved the quote. It seemed to sum up exactly what I thought was important. Yes, of course a fast moving plot is paramount, especially in the sort of fiction for the 8-12's that I usually write. But, and I think this is particularly important for boys; love, and things like that is also vital. Girls tend to be better at talking about feelings, while some boys, I think, can find it harder. Of course, both boys and girls can feel pretty lonely at times, when what they're feeling is muddled and difficult. I believe that one of the best ways of understanding that you're not alone in your feelings is through a good story. So the quote resonated with me, whoever had written it. But the story doesn't end here.

Some while later, a review from an American newspaper fell into my inbox. It was a glowing review of a new novel that had been in the final selection for the Prix Goncourt in France. It was being translated, and would soon be available in America. To my delight the book was the very one that had contained my favourite quote, and at last I found out what I wanted to know.

The reviewer wrote that the quote came from one of my own countrymen, Rudyard Kipling, in a collection of stories published in 1915 called Life's Handicaps. It's a little known collection, but I tracked it down, and found those wise words in the preface of that book, which takes the form of a discussion between two storytellers, one an elderly Indian who speaks his stories, and the other an Englishman, who, like Kipling writes with pen and ink. The discussion is about the art of storytelling, and the wise words come from Gobind, the holy, one eyed Indian.

And so, the quest for an author led me on a long journey, from England to Paris and back again, and across the Atlantic, with a nod to India, only to find that in true and pleasing storybook form, the answer lay in my own land.

I'd love to hear about your favourite quotes, and why they are special to you. I have mine pinned up by my desk, and my eyes are drawn to it often, as I ponder the twists and turns of the story I am conjuring from behind my eyes. And I will try never to forget to include at least something about love, and things like that.