Hello! Season’s Greetings.
I don’t know about you, but I am winding down from a very busy year.
Last week I was in London recording two of my books for Clipper/W.F.Howes who produce first-class audio books.
The first, A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS, was published as an e-book for Amazon on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of September. If you wish to read it, please download and enjoy it. Here is the international link.
Or if you prefer the audio version, I will post the link next year as soon as it is available.
The second book I recorded is my new novel to be published in print and as an e-book by MJ, Penguin on 11th February, THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER. (In my last Newsletter, I think I mentioned that the publication date is 25th February, but that is an error. Apologies!)
Here is a jpeg of the jacket. Isn’t it gorgeous? I am very thrilled that Santa Montefiore whose books I am a great fan of, read a proof copy of the novel and wrote to tell me that she “LOVED” it. She has given us a lovely quote for the front cover.
I will be making several public appearances to meet readers and sign copies of the book. These are slowly being uploaded to the Events page on this website. We kick off with The France Show, from 29th to 31st January inclusive at Olympia, where I will be in situ each day, talking and signing. I am thrilled to confirm that Penguin are printing up a limited number of advance copies specially for this show. So, if you are in the UK late January, please come along to Olympia and say hello. I will be very pleased to see you there.
If you cannot make the end of January, please keep an eye on the Events page to see whether there is another date from late February onwards – for example, the Bath Literary Festival – that suits you better. It will be a busy year for promotion and for writing. And very exciting.
News from the farm has been both uplifting, sad and hectic…
Here is a selfie of me posing behind a decanted jug of our olive oil pressed a mere hours earlier.
Look at the colour and the viscosity – this year’s vintage is stupendous. I am over the moon with it. We have fewer litres than in previous years and it has proved rather expensive to harvest, but the small quantity we have is exceptional. And it is completely organic so I am delighted that we do seem to be winning that battle.
One of the challenges of having become an organic farm is, of course, that every insect and moving creature has access to our land and can thrive on it because they are not destroyed by chemicals. Unfortunately for us and for stretches of the Côte d’Azur and other areas round the Mediterranean, this has meant the invasion of a real pest. The Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, the Red Palm Weevil, is a beetle that has arrived from Asia. It has been advancing rapidly westwards over the last three decades and sets up home in coconut and palm trees. It is proving lethal to many varieties of palms such as our Phoenix canariensis. I knew nothing at all about this perpetrator until a few months ago when I spotted it at the base of a tree. Since then I have been making a study of it. Both the male and females are large, both are red brown. They have very strong wings so they are capable of flying long distances. The damage to the palms is caused mainly by their larvae. Just as the adult female olive fly lays her eggs in the olive fruit, these beetles lay in the young palm fronds or in any wound or opening in the leaves or trunk. But unlike the infiltrated olive fruits, which can be spotted almost immediately by a pinhead black spot, the beetle larvae is much harder to detect. It is visible only long after infection, by which time the symptoms are so advanced that the death of the tree is almost certainly the result.
When I cottoned on to the infestation on our land, I was devastated. We had planted up our small palm grove twenty-five years ago and I had great plans for constructing a guest cabin amongst the palms where there is a wonderful view to the sea.
So what to do?
There are products, chemical pesticides. None of which we have used on our land for close to a decade. All of the products offered are dangerous for honey bees and other pollinators as well as humans. In any case, in southern Spain where the weevil arrived from Egypt and where terrifying amounts of these costly pesticides have been used throughout the non-tourist seasons, the results have not been very effective.
So we made the decision to burn the beetles out. It is a rather tragic sight to behold, watching the tree go up in flames. We bought all our Phoenix canariensis palms when they were no taller than upright tennis rackets at 25 francs each! We potted them, then planted them some years later and have since nurtured them to towering heights.
So far, we have lost three trees. I haven’t detected infestation elsewhere, so it does seem to be working, burning out the weevils, but only time will tell. I spend a great deal of time peering at those big fat trunks on the lookout for beetles. Fingers crossed.
Other, happier news is that we have bought a swathe of jungled land neighbouring our farm. We have spent MONTHS clearing it and during the process have discovered several all but strangled, centenarian olive trees in appalling condition. These we have been pruned back and they are now bursting with young shoots and full of vigour. Our intention is to plant up the plot in the spring with a dozen or so young oliviers, as well as terraces of almonds and citrus fruits, hundreds of them. Picture the early spring colours when they start to blossom! I cannot wait. The land will be gloriously scented when the flowers are at their best and the fruits will be a joy to harvest. Michel is already looking out recipes for all the tons of almonds we will collect. And almond flowers offer the first nectar for the honeybees after they leave their winter hives.
Due to all this razing of the growth, we were obliged to invest in a new fence that now encircles our entire property. We have repaired the sections where the wild boar ate into the wire meshing to enter the grounds and hence created holes for the dogs to get out. Now that we are entirely secured, I want to bring aboard two more dogs. We are looking for another German Shepherd, a female, to replace our beloved Lola who died earlier this year and to be a companion to Homer and a rescue dog to befriend our little Cardea who was given to us as a Collie but never quite grew into one. The quartet will then have the run of the land. It will be wonderful.
So, these are a few of the joys and challenges of the last few months, of 2015.
Our Christmas will be quiet and simple. Any spare cash we have, we will be donating to those affected by the terrible floods in northern England and Médecines Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). It has been an appalling year for so many. For thousands of families, their Christmas will be cold and they will be homeless. Let us all spare a thought to those who are lonely, suffering or without.
All the more reason to wish you joy, warmth and peace in the company of your loved ones.
And please don’t forget, if you are anywhere near any event I am speaking at next year, please come and say hello. And please download or pre-order THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER. I am very excited about its publication and all that lies ahead in 2016.
If you are looking for presents, all my books can be ordered through this website and will be sent out signed and dedicated, as you wish.
THE OLIVE ROUTE films are also available here. Just sign the form and the process of purchase begins…
Thank you for being here, reading this and taking an interest in my work.
Blessings and bises to you all.