Posted by: grannyjen3 | August 13, 2010

Rivers, Robins, Rants and Writing ~ Jenny Sullivan

A warm breeze is wavering down the emerald length of the Vallée du Blavet:  the river is a bolt of blue silk and the trees shift uneasily, like people waiting  in a hospital corridor.  The baby robin seems to have adopted me.  He’s so young that he still has a punk tuft of feathers on top of his head, and at the moment he’s sitting on the hydrangea outside my office window shouting at me to deliver his scraps of baguette, and…

…and I’d love to carry on like this, but (a) it’s a bit self-indulgent and (b) I’ve one book almost written, one nearly finished and one I need to research and they’re all clamouring for attention.  I used to begin a book, hurl myself at it and racket through to the end, but as I’m getting (just a bit) older I need to write down my ideas as they occur, because otherwise I forget, and because I never make a story plan I need to write a couple of chapters to fix it in my mind.  So, the sequel to “Mad as a Box of Frogs” is just started, and my first bash at an adult fantasy novel is about 25 chapters done ~ that one stalled first because of the arrival of my first grandchild in 2006, and when I picked it up again, blow me, there were two more on the way.  So, three grand-daughters later I’m about to rev it up again and guess what?  Yup!  Another grand-baby gestating!  However, in the meantime ~ and in between visitors because it’s August ~ I’m at last able to write.

France is wonderful (although it isn’t, and never will be, “home”) ~ the Breton people are welcoming (especially to the Welsh, Irish and Scots!) and this week the Festival Interceltique began at Lorient, a celebration of everything Celtic.  Two years ago I took on the running of the Welsh Books Council stand there (it was the Year of Wales) and had ten wonderful days communicating and talking about Wales and the Welsh and the books on my stand ~ though sadly I wasn’t allowed to sell them, which seemed to defeat the object a bit.  I spoke bad French, worse Welsh and got so confused by it all, probably bad English, too, and ended up speaking a variety of FrEnglelsh…  I was interviewed by a reporter from the local press who asked me what sort of books I write.  ‘Oh,’ I said, unthinkingly, ‘les sorcières, les magiciens…’  Her face cleared and I knew, too late, what I’d done.  Sure enough the headline on the Gazette article read “La “Harry Potter” de Pays de Galles”.  This was unfortunate,  because the following day I was besieged by young people convinced that I was J K Rowling, bearing books for her to sign, and somewhat puzzled by my grey hair and wrinkles and reluctance to cooperate.  If I earned 1% of her income I wouldn’t have minded so much, but.  I did once suggest to Pont that when my latest “Magic Apostrophe” book came out they might put out a press release on the lines of “This book will not be held in bonded warehouses guarded by machine gun emplacements and rottweilers;  it will not be embargoed until after school hours;  there will be no children having sleepovers in Waterstone’s and chapters will not be “lost” or “stolen” and turn up in a dustbin in Downing Street two days before publication”, but sadly Pont wouldn’t cooperate.   Maybe next time, Pont?  Please?

This year’s Interceltique, when we visited, was disappointing.  Last year the Welsh stand was minuscule and had some “shop-bought” Welsh cakes and bara brith, a few stuffed dragons and a Felinfoel Ale outlet.  This year it wasn’t minuscule, it was invisible.  I know the National was on last week, but surely Wales could do something ~ especially as the Isle of Man and Cornwall both had cracking stands.

Before we moved to France I’d spend two or three days most weeks work-shopping in schools, but Welsh schools are rather a long commute these days, so nowadays I hop on a ferry three or four times a year and spend a week or ten days indulging myself.  There’s no profit in it any more because of the cost of the ferry and accommodation, but I love that contact with kids so much ~ and it sells books, too.  Unfortunately schools’ budgets have been so massacred that there’s not much money to spare ~ but I hope there may be some who can afford to invite me.  Like Phil (see last post) I too was told by a teacher (lovely Miss Thomas at Lansdowne Road, Cardiff) that one day I’d be a writer, and I love being able occasionally to repeat these words to some of the talented youngsters I meet.  These trips are like blood transfusions:  an immediate lifting of the spirits and energy levels ~ until I get on the ferry home and collapse (usually into the restaurant:  I do so enjoy Brittany Ferries’ buffet meals!)

Baby robin has got fed up with waiting and just decided to do a grand tour of the ground floor, in one window, perch on the back of my office chair, through the kitchen, into the sun room and out again.  Not in the slightest bit panicked, just sightseeing.

And it’s lunchtime for both of us…



  1. Next year we should all come over, sell our books, and make a real festival, with Celtic music too! How about that?

    • ~ we should. There’s actually a “writers’ row” at the festival, with authors sitting with piles of books in front of them. All French ones usually, but if we ganged together and nagged the WBC, who knows? This year’s Welsh stand was invisible.

  2. Yes – a tax deducable jolly sounds pretty good from where I’m sitting!

  3. “I used to begin a book, hurl myself at it and racket through to the end…”
    I haven’t written as many as you have, Jen, but I had a similar hurling approach when I first started writing. I wrote “Rewind” in six weeks (first draft, anyway).
    I’m not “cooking on gas” anymore. I started something a few weeks ago, wrote about two chapters but I’ve now abandoned it in favour of something else. Cant seem to concentrate at the moment. Very frustrating.
    Really enjoyed your blog

  4. Fascinated to hear about the Interceltique festival – sounds a great idea.

    Welsh cakes… reminds me of my last year at primary school when our (Welsh) teacher Mr Sheen let us all dress up in national costume, make our own welsh cakes in the classroom, and take them round the whole school. This was down in Devon, so he was clearly feeling homesick.

  5. I went to the Interceltique in Lorient at the start of the 80s, roadying for the Welsh exhibit, which was pretty good that year. We had a lot of fun. I was learning Welsh at the the time and had a lot of Franco-Welsh translation to do! But I’ve never recovered from the endless bagpipes!

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