Sunday, 30 March 2014

Paris Book Fair

Last weekend I went along to the Paris Book Fair. I thought it might be somewhat of an education for me, as I'm self-publishing a book on moving to France. I imagined I might learn something. This was a delusion. I also thought it might be a good opportunity to network, make some contacts, hand out some business cards I'd made specifically for my book, for this fair. Wrong again.

Having read as much as I could on the event website, in English and in French, I had erroneously assumed it might be a bit more international than it is. It's strictly for francophones, French authors and French publishing houses. Almost no one spoke English. Various regions of France were represented, as were French overseas territories, and a few other countries such as the guest country for this year, Argentina. The only international publishing flavour present was a small exhibition area by Amazon - a smart move on their part. Their display space concentrated on their print-on-demand division CreateSpace and their ebook division Kindle Direct Publishing, plus e-reader devices such as the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Fire HD tablet.

Publishing must be booming for Amazon, as for 98% of writers, finding an agent and publisher is an impossibility now. Agents and publishers are mostly only interested in what they consider a sure-fire hit by a known writer or celebrity, or something that's the latest fad. Good writing has nothing to do with it; much as good screenplays and films have nothing to do with Hollywood backing. Amazon is filling the market void, enabling indie writers, like myself, to avoid the rip-off publishers known as vanity publishers.

With CreateSpace I can publish my book and take a much higher percentage of royalties while retaining all my rights to my own material. I have to do all my own marketing but that would still be mostly the case if I had a traditional publisher doing the rest for me.

I've paid to have my manuscript professionally edited. I've paid to have my book cover professionally designed so that I have total control over how things look. It's not cheap, but it's cheaper than vanity publishers, without all the disadvantages of those. Everything else I must do myself, such as formatting interior design, uploading, tax issues etc. It's a learning curve where I take all the risks and most of the benefits, IF I can sell copies.

It's the same with KDP. I have total control over my ebook version. In order to reach readers using different e-readers not compatible with Kindle, I'll also publish on Smashwords. Each option gives me international coverage.
 So, apart from a couple of tips gleaned from a speaker at the Amazon stand, I learnt nothing. I spoke to one other print-on-demand business but he was small, gave tiny royalities, locked in rights for two years and had limited knowledge of Amazon's business. I suggested he bone up on it, as he'd have a hard time competing. I've little time for businesses that don't see the need to understand their competitors.

It was also a bit of a surprise seeing the obsessed fans of certain authors queuing forever to get a signed copy. These authors' names meant nothing to me because most were strictly French. Most of the congestion in the exhibition was due to these book groupies.

I don't have the means to visit the London Book Fair. Maybe if I can have modest success with my book Follow My Heart it might be worth me doing that next year.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The little silver lining amongst the storm clouds

It's always been a great sadness to me that I am not able to do real gardening here in France because all I have right now is an urban apartment. Sure, I have a balcony and I furnish it, stuffed to the gills, with flowers and vegetables in summer but it's so limiting. I need a parcel of land. The state of things at work being what they are, I don't know if I can keep my apartment much longer because it's unclear if my contract will be renewed for its second and final year.

I've just found out that my bankrupt employer will be cutting staff (teaching staff) by 20%. An administrator has told me I should look for something else now, in case of the worst. That's bad and I know who is to blame for this apalling state of affairs. I hope something extremely nasty happens to that person for hurting so many innocent people. But so far, all my efforts to find work, the hundreds of hours spent in applying for jobs, filling in online forms since November 2010, when I realised the awfulness of the job situation I found myself in, have resulted in a big fat zero. How can someone with all my various industries experience, education and application find herself effectively unemployable in both France and NZ? Clearly, whatever efforts I am making are not meant to bear fruit and there's no alternate path I can see, other than my writing and that's unlikely to provide a reasonable income one day. I need a miracle so I'm trying to remain hopeful while psyching myself up to lose everything I've tried to build up in France. It's getting harder and harder to deal with this while keeping a cheerful outlook.

JC knows what I'm trying to deal with and I think he has finally realised just how serious things could be for me. He's trying to help pick up my spirits and give me something to work towards. As I arrived at his house this weekend I just burst out laughing. He had made a sign; in his own way he was trying to show me I had a place a little closer in his life.

I also think it's pretty romantic in its way. Why? Because despite for years telling me he would never have a conventional garden (bare earth) and especially not a vegie garden (too much work and too risky if a fox pissed on the vegies) he has decided that one day after he has had the land tidied and levelled that I can have some of it for myself. I'd be able to choose all my favourite flowers and vegetables and even have raspberries and grow them. I could have a real garden at his place one day. And if I become unemployed I could live with him until I can find a solution to my residency issues, if I can find a salaried job somewhere.

He made sure I noticed the exact wording: It's Kiwi's Land (his nickname for me is Kiwi because I'm a NZer) and it's for me. "It's not Kiwiland" he said. I'm touched by this as he's such an independent person (I am too) but it's a very sweet gesture with a message that he sees me in his life in the future. I'm doing all I can not to wreck his independence or mine (at our age it's rather important to have this) so I continue with my frustrating job search in a country with rules that go against me.

We had a bit of fun with this as you can see; Baika the hunting dog guarding my 'territory' with me and JC's hunting rifle. We later added the barbed wire. So, no trespassers. This might be as close as I ever get to having a little bit of France on loan.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Life as a Poem

This week I had my Modern Literature students study a famous American poem. It has special significance for me these days and is about making choices in life; between two paths which seem a little similar but we choose one and hope to try the other another day, knowing that we are unlikely to. We choose a particular path and this makes a huge difference in our lives. Yet, we think about that Road not Taken so what is this difference between them, in the end? We don't know.  I wonder how it came to be that I inadvertently chose this poem for my class. It was unknown to me a month ago.

Looking back I can see there have been instances of diverging roads and I've tended to take the one most travelled, a false 'safe' path, until 2010. Now, here I am. Recently I've taken another path through the wood, I'm trying to become a successful author and I'm taking the self-publishing route. It's a difficult path where most people sell only 100 copies. I want thousands of my books to sell (at least) and that's going to take help from friends and networks and a truckload of effort on my part.

What's down the path where I don't try to become an author? I assume it's more of the same right now and no hope of advancement, a slow decay fed by disappointment at a lack of options, so I'm giving myself an option. There are no guarantees but it's more open that what I see right now. I need income to survive into old age and I want to help others consider issues and 'feel' their own lives through my writing.

However, the Poem is called the Road Not Taken and so maybe we look back with 'what ifs?" Human nature tends to provide justification later for what decisions we make, especially if the choices are not really clear at the time. We put a positive spin on them.

Choices are frightening, risky things. Sometimes we feel like they aren't really options, just a sort of life or death decision. That's how it is for me these days. The things I decide now at this stage of my life feel as if they ring of 'life or death'. I'm living more on the edge than I have ever done but for me the option of sitting back and doing nothing to move the wheels of the universe is a  slow death. I don't know where this path will lead but along the way I'll be writing books and doing things I haven't yet imagined, and living.

These issues of life choices rang a bell with some of my students as we got to grips with this poem. Some of them have some hard decisions to make themselves and for some of those it was emotional. Here's the poem for you to enjoy, as they did. The video's lovely too.

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost 1874-1963

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Kiwis in Paris

I sat in the train that was taking me to work, rolling through sun-drenched French countryside. Two strong emotions swept over me: gratitude and happiness at being where I am right now.

For the past 48 hours I have, for the most part, managed to let go of my fears for the future and just occupy my space in the present. Those two wonderful emotions were my reward. Perhaps warmer temperatures and sunshine helped. Maybe it was the encouraging comments from my matter-of-fact book editor. It doesn't take much to 'pick me up' and give me a better perspective on things. It also helped having more social contact with interesting people, especially expats and more especially fellow kiwis.

I've tended to avoid expat groups as I've really wanted to be integrated into France but lately the idea of chatting in English to fellow New Zealanders has seemed more inviting, so Jean-Claude and I went along to a France New Zealand Association meeting in Paris at the Brooklyn bar near the Pompidou Centre, fourth arrondissement. It's a bilingual group and this was my first time there. I met organiser Claire whom I had only corresponded with on Facebook and I met those completely unknown to me with such interesting backgrounds.

I met Rob who'd spent years in the French Foreign Legion. The first things I noticed about him were his very easy kiwi accent and his gentle smile. He's seen a bit of life many of us wouldn't want to see. He misses the beaches of his youth in NZ but doesn't seem to miss a lot else. I met Alistair who does project management and has lived in France for quite some time. Sankar was born in India but moved to NZ. He chatted away to me about all sorts of financial and immigration matters as he works for the OECD. Then there was Roger. To my amazement I discovered he is the retired publisher of the Harry Potter books. He's such an unassuming guy but with a lifestyle we can only imagine.

It's interesting to meet these talented kiwis who fly, pretty much, under the radar but who work and contribute in this fascinating country. I think I'm developing a taste to do more of this networking.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Paris International Agricultural Show

I'm so used to A&P shows, being a kiwi, but I haven't been to one for decades. The last would have been in Christchurch. My childhood included being dragged around the annual show, getting animal poo on my shoes and being assailed by excremental odours. But there was a charm to it; watching horse and cart races, ladies in fancy hats, sheep dogs demonstrating their skills. The difference with the one in Paris is that everything is indoors and it happens in winter.

It's huge. It covers several giant pavilions and there are four sections to it: livestock breeding; products and gastronomy; crops, plants, nature and lifestyle; agricultural services and professions. there was also an area for cats and dogs, I don't know why.

The mascot for the show this year was Bella who belongs to the Tarentaise breed of cattle. This site provided information in English

Her personal information

  • Date of birth: 7 May 2006
  • Place of birth: Haute-Loire 
  • Mother’s name: Leila 
  • Father’s name: Notaire 
  • Her children: 5 daughters! Douce, Etna, Fushia, Gaillarde and Hella

Bella, like the other members of the Tarentaise (or Tarine) breed, has eyes framed by black rings, as if she’s had her makeup done! Her coat is tawny in colour, uniform and light. Her hooves, mucous membranes and extremities are very dark, protecting her from the ill-effects of the sun. Finally, she has lyre-shaped horns, the tips of which are also black.

Bella has an easy nature, and is gentle and curious.

We started with the pavilion displaying food specialities from each region of France. Chocka with people, we just had to have patience. I tried a pineau wine from the Poitou-Charente region (my ancestral home). This is not to be confused with a Pinot. A pineau is a wine mixed with cognac, from the same region. I quite liked it but then I quite like ruby ports, muscat grapes and late-season dessert wines- sweet stuff!

Chocolates and other confectionery, meats, wine, artisan ice-creams, more wines, cheeses, jams and other preserves (especially duck products), even more wines, perfume products from Grasse, it just went on and on and we barely scratched the surface. One unusual product was the tourteaux fromage, 5euros each. They were cheese cakes which looked a bit like canonballs because the cheesy top is cleverly burnt to look like metal. My feet were killing me from my poor choice of boot for walking around so we headed off to see the animals.

Sheep of every kind, races I'd never seen before, dear old Rambouillet sheep who helped NZ's fledgling merino wool industry, hello Southdowns (I recognised you). Most of them had had enough of people and had their backs firmly to us. Cattle were chained and had handlers to protect them and the public against any interspecies conflicts.

I liked the engraved cattle bells many of them wore. Goats of every imaginable type of horms. Pigs in all colours, there was even a performance area for animals to ponce about in, doing their thing like rolling in the dust. The show is equally interesting for children, especially the chicken-hatching, right before our eyes. Such a struggle for some to get out and clearly there were the strong and the weak.

JC was much taken by a giant tractor, quite the Rolls Royce of tractors. Too big for most farms it nevertheless won admiring glances. This show is worth a visit if you're in Paris for a few days while it's on. Wear comfortable flat shoes and allow 4-5 hours minimum.

Beware traffic. On the day we went Paris was at it's worst and it took 3.5 hours to make a 1.5 hour journey and the parking problem was evident, even with a parking building nearby. Take the train if you can.