Tuesday, 27 May 2014

What's in a French Priory?

Recently I had the opportunity to have a small tour of the priory of Saint-Thomas d'Epernon. Amaury (a noble) and his wife Bertrade founded it with the consent of their son Simon. The charter is dated 1052/3AD.

I'm not a religious person but I was curious to see what had become of this priory which dates back 1000 years. One of the Sisters of Christ took us around. I didn't understand everything, it being in rapid French, and me not having the historical or cultural background but I picked up enough.

You can see from the photos that the buildings have been very much changed over the centuries, with demolitions, ruins and renovations all taking their toll. Part of the oldest section is still recognisably from the crusades. It has remained of a religious persuasion all it's history and still is.

These days it's a spiritual retreat where people can do bible studies, deepen faith and be religiously educated, partaking in culture and art at the same time. It's run by an association and offers meeting rooms, accommodation and dining facilities. The complex is set in a park of 4 hectares.

The priory started life as a benedictine monastery sponsored by the lord of Montfort-l'Amaury. Montfort-l'Amaury is a commune in the Île-de-France region. It's located in the south-western suburbs of Paris 20 km north of Rambouillet. The name originates from Amaury I de Montfort, the first dynasty of the Comtes de Montfort.

Montfort-l'Amaury was the stronghold of the Montfort family from the start of the 9th century. King Robert II built a castle in 996 in the hills of Montfort. Amaury I built the ramparts. The castle was destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years' War.

The Comté de Montfort was related to the Duchy of Brittany after the marriage of Yolande de Dreux-Montfort to Arthur of Brittany in 1294. The crown returned to France when Brittany became a part of France under Francis I.

In these photos you can see the different architectural styles of the dining room, a refectory, the chapel, the gardens, walls from the crusades...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

My world is blue

When I'm feeling down I can hop into my car and drive a few minutes out of town to where nature can give me a pick-me-up. Unlike NZ, the countryside in France changes frequently because the crops change and I am often surprised at what I see.

This week I stopped by fields of blue flowers between Epernon and Gallardon. In these photos you can just make out the church spire and the remains of a tower from the hundred-years war. I've never seen this field in blue before and I've never yet seen the magnificent lavender fields of southern France. I have no idea what these flowers are. Can anyone enlighten me? Clearly they must be a crop.

I stood on one of the farm tracks and breathed in the sunshine, warmth, breeze and beauty. It helped give me some tranquility and reminded me of one of the reasons I like living in this country. After having fun with photographing my little French car beside the French fields I took off to check on what had last year been a field of beautiful red poppies.

Oh no! Not a one to be found. The farmer had sprayed herbicide, destroying everything that was natural and not wheat, for miles to the horizon. There was just...wheat.

Yes, I know we have to feed people but this destructive monoculture is so bad for the French environment. Biodiversity is being eradicated, along with the insects and animals that once had those habitats within that biodiversity.

Last year I'd had such pleasure from those 'impressionist' poppy fields. This year there were only the blue fields. What'll be left for next year? Only the vivid yellow of commercial colza? It felt sad as I remembered the two hares crossing the road beside the poppies to have a deep conversation together. Last year that was possible. Would it ever be again?

I'm hoping my daughter and I might catch a glimpse of fading lavender fields when we visit Provence in a little over two months. It'll be a bit late in the season but maybe some will remain.

I'll leave you with these blue moments. Beautiful, precious. So much is temporary, I just want to catch it and keep it in photographs, because these days will never come again.

Final photo is bluebells in a French wood.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Self-publishing: It's not so easy with images

The decision to self-publish was partly forced on me and partly an active decision on my part. The chances of a new author getting picked up by an agent or traditional publisher are infinitesimal now and after sending out query letters to agents, I decided to spend my time teaching myself how to have more control over the publishing process for myself.

Hmm. That notion of control is a strange one. The self-publishing world touts the advantages of deciding your own price, distribution, royalties and cover, and inside layout. All well and good but that takes a lot of time, frustration, and often money. There are many technical obstacles to hurdle, especially with a book that contains images. If I hadn't included photos my difficulties would have mostly disappeared and I'd have saved a lot of money. However, my readers would have had a less pleasurable experience. If you're reading about beautiful France you should be able to see some of it, shouldn't you? The interior of the book has to be in black and white due to costs in producing an all-colour printing (prohibitive for me and most readers). Readers with tablets, e-readers that cope with colour, and computers will see the photos of France as they should be seen, in colour.

So what's the problem with including images?
1. They make WORD files enormous. This leads to an unstable document and problems in uploading to CreateSpace. Images must be inserted using INSERT. Do not copy/paste or they and their captions will float all over the place when creating a pdf or other file to be used on Amazon's internal book previewer.
2. Word's Save As for creating pdfs compresses the photo quality down to useless for printing purposes. I downloaded a free pdf maker after trying several that couldn't give me the file size I needed, so now my pdf version is 54Mb (acceptable)
3. I had major problems creating an HTML filtered file of my manuscript. No problem with the text, but the images wouldn't appear in order to be zipped. Odd, useless things were happening and I was tearing my hair out. I needed the HTML because my WORD file was way over the specification size. and for ebook conversions pdfs are a no-no.
4. I had to be careful (ie I was very limited) to choose photos where people couldn't usually be identified since in most cases I didn't know who to contact to get permission. Landscapes don't mind appearing in books.
5. Images behave differently depending on what file format you are using and converting to. I got so fed up wasting days trying to get files to work I had to hire a conversion company to produce my mobi and epub files.

I've read many posts on forums concerning file conversions and difficulties uploading Print on Demand and eBooks. Some of us get very stressed by digital programmes that don't do what we need, how we need. A text-only book is visually boring but easy to publish. I know, this is Frances... she doesn't usually end up on the easy path. But I was just wanting a good experience for my readers. I can't say it's been a good and entirely happy experience for this author. I've learnt heaps, painfully.

I now know even more about using WORD and pdfs
I know how to correctly format the inside of a book for print and digital distribution (and the costs)
I know what's involved in getting a professional book cover done (aside from lots of money)
I know what's involved in having a well-proofed and organised story (aside from lots of money)
I know how to upload a book to CreateSpace and order a proof copy
I know what's involved in organising tax requirements via the US in order to receive future royalities.
I know which companies are good to work with as partners in the publishing adventure.

Many people can self-publish a book for almost nothing. That hasn't been the case for me. I wanted professional proof-reading and cover design, and good interior look too (though the later required me to do the work) - that costs a lot. I'll also have all the marketing to do myself but I'm putting in gobs of hours preparing for that. There's no money to hire anyone.

This self-publishing journey isn't over yet. Future posts will talk about converting word and pdf files for ebooks, and legal implications and consequences for memoir writers.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Henri Cartier-Bresson on display

 The Pompidou Centre in Paris is holding a major exhibition of the works of famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Having limited knowledge of both place and person I decided to investigate.

Bresson is considered the father of photo-journalism. He took an interest in street photography, travelled the world recording important events and indulged himself at times in socialist/communist ideas. Some of his photos might look candid but they are actually staged, early days of spin-doctoring.

He came from a very wealthy background and never struggled in his life, doing exactly what he liked to do. He tried to be in the right place at the right time. One of his techniques was to find an interesting spot, set up his camera and just wait for something to happen. Another technique was to look at the geometry of the scene in front of his lens. This is quite evident in some of his photos. It's nothing new these days.

His fuzzy early photos left me uninspired. Some of his photos are good and probably trend-setters but over-all I went away thinking he was a guy lucky in life who found a talent he could indulge in and thus benefited from it. Some of his photos I found artistically pretentious, especially the contrived ones. You can't tell what's 'fabricated' unless you know the story behind them. Of course, this sort of photography isn't new, it happens all the time but when you consider the length of his career and the hundreds of thousands of photos he would have taken, the really worthwhile ones are, in my opinion, rather sparse.

He didn't bother to do the developing of his photos himself, he paid others to do it. In the 1930s he became interested in film-making and worked alongside Jean Renoir. He was also keen on drawing and painting. Again, I wasn't impressed with his efforts here either... call me a philistine if you must.
When colour film arrived he steadfastly refused to use it unless absolutely necessary. He stuck to black and white. This made me realise that if his photos had all been in colour they would have been less interesting.

He did only a few portraits, including those of Picasso, Matisse and Colette. He gave up photography in the 1970s and concentrated on drawing. He died in 2004 aged 95.

I was disappointed (as is often the case at French expositions) by the careless English spelling and grammar evident on the exhibition display panels. This is a worldwide and expensive exhibition. Wouldn't you think someone would spell check, especially since it was obviously written by a francophone? 

As for the Pompidou Centre itself, it was a disappointment. Maybe it was expensively and architecturally trendy when built but I couldn't miss the rust everywhere, the filthy windows and tunnels. Everything was worn-out industrial and inside the cavernous reception, more like an old factory. The photos of Montmartre are the best I could do through the dirty plexiglass tunnels. The views are great but if only one could access the roof.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

An echo of NZ in a French spring garden

One of my pleasures is to wander around a plant nursery, anywhere. In France the displays are always well done. They put a special effort into Easter, so I'd like to dedicate this 1st of May post to all you gardeners and lovers of beautiful growing things with a post of mostly pictures.

A surprising highlight for me recently was when I popped into the section for rose bushes. Most of the names I don't know - they're new or French. Sometimes I see a classic appear and a little forlorn and nostalgic sigh escapes for the memories of gardens I've had in the past and may never have again. The climbing, bush and floribunda roses all perfumed for a heady and sensual engagement with nature each time I stepped outside my door in summer.

So, I was startled to see a name on a rose that was quintessentially saying "Coucou, I'm from NZ." The rose was named Akaroa. Of course, this has special significance for me since my french ancestors helped establish the town of Akaroa, NZ in 1840. I stood there, bemused. JC said, "Well it's clearly a symbol, a message, I'll buy it." It's now happily planted in a pot at his home.

I went on the internet to discover some background to this rose (a floribunda). It doesn't seem to be available in New Zealand - I tried Bob Matthews website. Maybe this is an export only rose. If so, what a shame. It has a fresh and spicy perfume with shiny foliage and is disease resistant, growing up to 80cm high.

Ce remarquable rosier à fleurs groupées rose fuchsia, au somptueux feuillage brillant, est l'oeuvre de Bob Matthews, un nouvau créateur de rose Néo Zélandais. Son parfum est frais et épicé, diamètre fleurs 8 à 10 cm, nombre pétales 30 à 35.
Feuillage vert foncé brillant, résistance aux maladies excellente. Floraison en grappes de 5 à 7 fleurs.
Hauteur 70/80 cm.

Ce somptueux rosier au feuillage brillant est l’œuvre de Bob Matthews, un nouveau créateur de roses Néo-Zelandais. Afin de célébrer cette première Franco Néo-Zélandaise, il fallait un symbole: AKAROA est le nom d'un village Maori de la côte Est. On l'appelle aussi "Le Village de Français" car les baleiniers du XIX° siècle y avaient établi une colonie.

I'll leave you with images from one of my favourite garden centres, and the colours starting to burst forth from JC's garden.