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Oh England, my Lionheart ~ the land beneath the land.

Most days I walk down to the stream in the village a mile or two from where I live. I walk through fields farmed for mainly arable crops, though one large field (I’d estimate around a hundred acres) is currently planted up with roses being grown for the garden centre trade. Each walk is slightly different even though I take the same route; the daily changes and the seasonal changes mean it’s never the same twice. I stand at the bridge and I watch the water; sometimes if I am lucky I see a kingfisher or a dipper. Sometimes, if I go later in the day, I see barn owls and bats.

I live in a country that is deeply beautiful and historic. It’s jam-packed with legends, stories, myths and mystery. There have been humans here since before the last Ice Age and the evidence is everywhere, from white horses (“It’s an ad for mead; they don’t call them the Beaker People for nothing”) carved into hillsides, through medieval churches right the way to tower blocks and factories. Dig anywhere and you will find something. I sometimes field walk, for fun, and in half an hour in an average field, I’ll find a dozen items. Most are trash but some are not.

More than this, I am so immersed in the mythos of the land I live on, I can feel the presence of those who came before me. I feel the tug on the tiny web of threads that connect us. When I see the kingfisher flash upstream in a blaze of brief glory, I think of the Fisher King, of the Grail, of Arthur and his court, of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, trying to scrape at the layers of the years to reveal the origins of the modern Wasteland; I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins, battling his own demons of existential angst and trying to make peace with who he was. When I see a gathering of oak and ash and thorn, I think of Kipling, of his Puck of Pook’s Hill, and of all the ancient tree lore of the druids of old.

When I visit a city, I see the clues to the past among buildings and parks; sometimes lost completely but perhaps a ghost of a memory locked into a street name. I look upwards in old churches and cathedrals, seeking the faded residue of once-brilliant paint, and I look in hidden corners for masons’ marks and sneaky graffiti. I look for the past reaching into the present, holding out hands of loving connection.

Amid a wild landscape, I can see the phantoms of what once was there. I lived once in a village where a ruined village, abandoned in the time of the plague, hummocked and hidden, lurked just beyond the bounds of the modern village. I can look at the under-storey in a wood and I can tell you whether it is original ancient oak woodland or whether it’s modern plantation.

Why does any of this matter?

The living land is an ever changing thing, always moving and shifting, but it is the past that gives it permanence. What once was is always there, if only as post-holes and scorched flints. When an artist, a real artist like the old masters, not dilettante dabblers like me, painted, they painted in layers that meant the work in progress looked nothing like what they were painting. Layers of paints, piled one upon the other, produce a depth of colour that is impossible to reproduce with a single layer of what is technically the same colour. There is a richness, a power, that cannot be produced by short cuts.

It’s the same with a land. The older the land, the deeper and richer the history and the surer the foundations. If you try to sweep away the past, whether personal or national, you sweep away what makes it strong.

Oh England, my Lionheart, with your stories and your landscape etched and carved and eroded and forgotten corners, with your heroes and your kings and queens, and the fair folk and the winding roads the Romans hated so much and then fell in with: you are what made me, and I love you.

Last night, and for a brief time only, my Amazon author page was adorned by a number one best-seller badge:emeralds number one bestseller

 

This is the first time I’ve ever hit the number one spot in any category, so it was a big deal for me. However short a time it lasted, I was number one in women’s poetry in the UK.

emeralds number one top of ranking

I’m pretty chuffed about it.

Will it bring any benefits? I don’t know but it brought a much-needed smile to my face.

It’s available in paperback or Kindle, anyway.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Accidental-Emeralds-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00LM890TG/ref=zg_bs_4542855031_2

Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! Me and Poltergeists

I’ve been skipping down Memory Lane a lot lately; probably a sign of middle age if not worse. A good deal of the events in my books have their roots in real experiences, and real heart-break too. Some have their roots firmly in events that would have most of us humming the tune from the Twilight Zone or possibly reaching for a rosary.

I lived in a Victorian terraced house as a student in Liverpool; it had been divided into four neat bedsits of varying size (each with a fourth share in the bathroom and hot water). During the two years I lived there, I occupied three of the four bedsits. I started in the ground floor front bedsit, moved to the back of the house on the ground floor six weeks later (it was a temporary occupancy) and a year later, following two break-ins that had made me feel unsafe, I moved to the upstairs back bedsit. Like most student digs it was down at heel and scruffy but it was extremely cheap to rent and my landlady was a decent sort. The other girls I shared the house with didn’t give me much cause for complaint (one is a good friend to this day) and given the issues many faced with damp, dangerous properties and uncongenial flat-mates, I was on to a winner.

Except for one thing.

The house had certain problems that are very hard to explain. Things as nebulous as atmosphere are notoriously easy to dismiss as being either figments of imagination (I have quite a good imagination) or the result of old, poorly maintained houses rife with damp and draughts. Small items within each self-contained flat-let went missing, only to reappear in places it was improbable if not impossible for them to have ended up. On one occasion, my door keys vanished from my kitchen table, only to reappear on a shelf so high I had to stand on a chair to reach. If you have read Away With The Fairies, you’ll know the kind of weirdness I am talking about. Had it just been me, I could accept it might have been a sequence of coincidences or imagination, but over the two years, all the other girls mentioned odd things happening. Lights would dip and electrical things would falter; you might hear footsteps and there was no one there. Eerie but not terrifying. Counter to what you might expect, I wasn’t that bothered about any of it, though missing items did make me get very cross.

Until one morning when things took a turn for the worse.

It was about eightish and I’d just woken from the alarm clock and was lying there thinking about getting up and making some tea. I’ve always needed plants and green things around me, so I had a few potted spider plants and that year I’d grown a hyacinth bulb. The flower was splendid that morning, emitting one of my favourite scents at that time. It was growing in one of those glass pots shaped so you can grow the bulb without soil; the reservoir is filled with water and the roots grow into it. I’d put the thing on the chest of drawers across the room from the bed.

Without warning, the plant, glass pot and all, rose up and hurled itself across the room at me, missing my head and hitting the pillow, drenching me with water. I lay there stunned (and wet) and was unable to move. I lived entirely alone in that tiny flat; my fiance lived a few streets away and visited most evenings but went home to bed.

The room felt unusually cold and not just because I was soaked with hyacinth water. Something sort of clicked and I leaped out of bed, dressed rapidly and exited the flat at high speed. I was so spooked, I didn’t stop for a cup of tea or breakfast or even a wash. All I wanted was to get out of the building and among other people. I stood and shook at the bus stop and eventually, a bus arrived and took me in to the university. Over the course of the day, I went through every rational possibility that could perhaps explain what had happened, and nothing worked. In the end, I concluded that something of supernatural origin had hurled that hyacinth at me. Later research suggested a poltergeist; I simply don’t know. We were all slightly too old to be triggering classic poltergeist activity. I was at that time the youngest in the house, and was around twenty one at the time.

Some years later, I saw something that defied explanation. A shop in Guisborough (a small market town in North Yorkshire) had weird things going on; the owner was a pal of mine and she was genuinely worried by it all. Candles that lit themselves at night are causes for worry. I was in the shop one day; my friend’s youngest son was at the till. We had been chatting when he went white and pointed to a shelf near where I was standing. The shelf held a selection of china oil burners; one at the back of the shelf had risen in the air, all by itself, and hovered for a second before hurtling across the room at the lad, only deviating at the last moment to smash on a wall rather than on his head. I can promise there were no fishing wires or booby traps.

You may wonder what I did about my flat. I did nothing. I went back that evening, and carried on as normal. I was unnerved for a few days, slept with a light on and a crucifix under my pillow. I’ve always been a pragmatist and scary as it sounds (and indeed was) it wasn’t scary enough to make me quit a decent flat where I paid around half the rent usual for such a place. But I have often wondered whether the girls who lived there in the years after I left ever had the same sort of uncanny goings-on.

There is one coda, though. It took me about two decades before I ever grew hyacinths from bulbs again. I didn’t want to take any chances.

For the next week, I am running a Countdown offer for Square Peg.

For 80 hours it will be only 99p.

Then it goes up to £1.99 for another 80 hours, before returning to its original price.

I’m sorry but this is a UK only offer. I can only run the offer in either UK or US but when I did a Countdown offer for another book in the US there was a pretty dismal response.

The Countdown ought to start later today, so keep checking until the price changes:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Square-Peg-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00K1D4VGA/ref=la_B00766135C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408690876&sr=1-1

On why I am not a brand

On why I am not a brand

I’ve been struggling hugely lately. Familiar story, I guess, but I’ve got too preoccupied by distractions and one of the distractions is the plethora of information about how to be a writer. Stupidly, I have read dozens of articles (only some of them spoofs) about how to run your life as a writer, get a million book sales, write perfectly and build your writerly platform. It is inevitable that it has only increased my depressed mood and done nothing for either sales, skills or productivity. It had however given me the most massive boost of low self esteem, self-doubt and even self-loathing because I feel incapable of the majority of the changes apparently essential to my “career” as a writer. Indeed, after a while I have begun to think that perhaps I cannot write. It would seem that not only have I been doing all the peripheral things wrong (like my blog) but also I simply can’t write at all.

One of the earliest pieces of life advice I was ever given was by the landlady of a local pub who also worked as a bar-maid in the club run by my father. She wrote it in my autograph book when I was about nine, when autographs were a bit of a craze at school. It was simply this quote from Shakespeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day,Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

At nine, I had no clue what it meant but it has stayed with me.

At ten I began my first novel. My earliest books were what might now venture into the avenues of fan fiction, though I never used characters from books or TV, but rather the styles or subject matter of favourite authors like Agatha Christie and others. I wrote a number of mysteries, using the concept of a killer employing nursery rhymes as clues for some hapless detective. I have one or two still, taped up in a big cardboard box. I don’t think I will ever look at them but I can’t bear to destroy them. In my teens I wrote more “hard boiled” than “cosy” and when I got one of my teachers to read the latest one, it changed my direction though I didn’t know it at the time. Leaving aside the rest of the conversation, which encompassed the book, he told me this: “I don’t see you writing detective fiction for the rest of your life. You’ll move on to something that is quite different. But it’s up to you to find it.”

That incident was a pretty seminal one for me. It knocked me off balance and also off course. I stopped writing for a while. I stopped seeking to emulate the authors I’d enjoyed, the genres I’d been reading. The teacher (Mr O’Callaghan, for what that’s worth, as more than thirty years on, I suspect he has gone to his rest a long time ago) wanted me to read more, and read so widely that even now, while I do enjoy the odd thriller, there are few genres I will not explore even in passing. (I dislike romance, and erotica intensely, though). A degree in literature meant I read some amazing books and it brought me up short as an aspiring writer because with that much brilliance in the world already, what had I to offer, with my shabby and shoddy attempts at already over-subscribed genres?

On an unconscious level I think I began to move away from the rigid lines of established genres and when I began to write again as an adult, nothing has ever fitted neatly into a slot. The nearest has always been that catch-all of literary fiction, stories that don’t fit conveniently into a comfortable category and focus far more on character than they do on plot (as a general rule). But that has meant that in the days when I was trying to find a publisher or agent, it was an impossible task, and now as an independent author, literary fiction is pretty much up there among the hardest genres to sell.

This is where my rejection of being a brand comes in. I’m not selling a product; I’m selling something that has emerged from my creative unconscious. There is a kind of unspoken contract with the soul in this sort of case: you agree to accept and work with whatever comes out of the interior process, and should you start rejecting it as not being commercial enough, there is a real risk of the whole flow simply stopping. In theory I could still write a thriller, according to the market at the time. But I am convinced it might well be the last thing I write for a long, long time. My writing process has fragile wings and a vulnerable heart; I let things emerge, follow them and see where they go. I have little conscious control of where a story takes me. And that is me, a part of my journey into who I am created to be.

It means I change and shift and develop. If I were to obey the dictates that insist that I continue to write the same genre, the same sorts of stories, to give my covers instantly identifiable “look”, to seek the same reader-market, I would become paralysed. The voices in my head would cease. I’ve often thought that the very term branding is a painful sounding one; the brand it makes me think of is that burned into the hide of an animal bred for consumption, simply marking it as the property of one person. Such animals rarely have personal names and identities and they conform to precise specifications. I’m all for the quirky, non-conformist, hand-crafted and unique, where the stone rejected by the builders becomes the capstone. In some hard to define way, my stories are ME, and I am not a steer with initials burned into my bum. Like my stories, I have my themes and recurrent issues, but part of my journey is sharing those and while I suspect I may never sell millions, I may touch thousands of souls.

Desert Journey

Desert Journey

In the wild places, life loses its confusion
And shines instead with the brilliant clarity
Of fresh-hewn crystal, sparkling with light
And edges so sharp they would draw blood.
The final tent is lost in a shimmer of heat,
Long miles behind me in the sand;
I cannot see my destination
Though mirages try to distort my vision
And lure me from my straight path.
I lay the compass on the baking ground
Follow where the arrow points me
Even though I can see nothing ahead
But sand, sand and yet more sand.
It will be cold tonight, surely,
The ice glittering in the moonlight
Mirroring the hard stars in velvet sky
Singing with high voices like distant angels.
Tomorrow, the sky will be too bright
But I will remember the stars
With their haunting piercing songs
I shall walk to that rhythm
Till I reach the other side.

Do excuse the excited tone but I wanted to share the fact that almost two years after it first appeared as an e-book. The Bet is now out in paperback.

I did a fair bit of hair tearing because it proved a bit tricky to get the print size right and the cost as low as I could. I wanted to make sure that the print was of a size that didn’t mean reaching for the magnifying glass but my first attempt, though glorious, was too big really and therefore cost more.

Then I discovered that the title and my name on the original cover picture done for my by the talented Andrew Meek wouldn’t work as the cut-off point where art gets trimmed when the book is produced was well into the lettering. Thankfully I had both the original picture and an earlier version of the cover. I am considering whether to find a new cover as I’m no longer sure this one gives the right message about the book, but for the time being, I’m content with this one.

The Bet is available from Amazon UK  and all other Amazon stores, just change the UK in the URL to .com, . de etc.

Jenny likes a challenge and Antony is the biggest challenge of her life….

“Boys like you get preyed upon,” Antony’s father tells him in a rare moment of honesty and openness, but Richard can have no idea just how vulnerable his eighteen-year-old son truly is. From a family where nothing is quite as it seems and where secrecy is the norm, Antony seems fair game to the predatory Jenny. Her relentless pursuit of him originates in a mean-spirited bet made with her colleague Judy, Antony’s former history teacher, who has challenged Jenny to track him down and seduce him.

Jenny is totally unprepared for Antony’s refusal to sleep with her or to have any sort of relationship other than friendship. She’s never met anyone quite like him before and her obsession deepens the more he rejects her. She’s no idea what he’s already been through and as far as she’s concerned it’s irrelevant.

Pretty soon, for both of them it becomes a much more serious matter than a mere bet and the consequences are unimaginable for either of them.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1500430315/ref=la_B00766135C_1_5_bnp_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406802442&sr=1-5

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