Friday, November 23, 2012

The Unkindest Cut

There is a town which used to be known for the making of a particular kind of knife. It had a high quality steel blade which folded neatly into the bone handle. It bore the name of the town where it originated. 

Recently I read that the name of the knife, which is also that of the town, was bought by a businessman, and was now applied to an entirely different product range made in the Far East and imported. The locals are up in arms: if someone owns the name of their town, then where do they live? They can’t (or don’t want to) put it on their addresses, as it’s a trade name. They’d be advertising. They can’t make their own knives under their own traditional marque, because they don’t own it anymore, so their name is now associated with what they consider an inferior product. 

Niort in the Deux Sèvres was famous for the production of slippers. Now, you can’t possibly understand the relationship a French person has with their slippers. These aren’t just things you slip on inside the house to ease or warm your feet at the end of the long working day in clogs or wellies, or to preserve the parquet from your stilettos. A good pair of slippers is to be cherished, lived in, worn in public. One elderly chap drove one of the original silver 2CV vans to the supermarket at Vouillé every week, dressed in his best corduroys (even in summer) and his navy jumper and his beret, and on his feet would be his traditional slippers. He was a happy man from the ground up. Well, you know yourself: unhappy feet can really spoil your day. 

But times change. Even the most traditional item can be made cheaper elsewhere, so a couple of years ago the last slipper-maker in the Deux Sèvres closed down. People check out the ones on the market stalls, and tut over them, and complain about the materials and how they only last five minutes, whereas their old pair did faithful service for ten years and more. 

Back then, people didn’t earn much. They knew the value of what they bought, and expected things to outlive them (which is a mean feat in France, as I’ve mentioned before). A man bought a knife, and could hand it on to his son: the maker might never sell another to that particular family. A chap could go to his grave in his slippers, stepping comfortably shod into the hereafter. 

Now people earn more money than their parents ever dreamed of (well, I don’t: I’m a writer. I didn’t think up the story of a Boy Wizard in time, and am therefore broke); but as the man from the former knife-making town said, young people say they haven’t the money to plant a few leeks in the garden, whilst texting on their mobile phones and cranking up the volume on their mini-music devices. 

There’s no point in making things that last. Why go to the bother of having your old knife sharpened, and its spring replaced, when you can buy a new one for half the cost? Why keep your slippers in pristine condition when you can just chuck them in the bin when they look a bit grubby and pop back to get another pair? 

So the traditional industries close down, and people haven’t got any money, and they have to buy the cheap imports because they can’t afford anything else.  Someone’s been asset-stripping, and thrown out the bit of the product they don’t need – the people behind the name. We can have anything we want, dirt cheap: but at what cost? Ask a Frenchman with a blunt knife and sore feet. 

©lms 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Still wearing my other hat

And it's live and lovely!

The One Word Challenge Anthology by Talkback Writers is now available (e-format only) from:

There - no excuses! Get it on your Kindle, download a pdf, but please buy it!

It is an amazing feeling, you know, to have your words not only published but out there in the real world for sale. There are previously published and hitherto unpublished writers in this anthology, but you won't see the join.

I'd never written Flash Fiction until I started the One Word Challenge each month, and it's quite astonishing how much you can fit into so few words. Rather like Hemingway and his 'iceberg' style of writing, it's what lies underneath, implied, shadowed, known but hidden, that fills out the story. It's a snapshot of a moment in time, but a moment that the character has come to from somewhere, en route to somewhere else.

I'm not poet, but I'd love to try, seeing what can be said by these talented writers in only 40 lines.

One word, but the possibilites are endless.

With many thanks to all involved with the publication - you may now relax!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wearing my other hat

I'm taking a step sideways today to blog about something not to do with France.  

In my other life I’m a writer (what do you mean, you couldn’t tell?) and something exciting is happening there. 

On November 12th, an e-book is being published: One Word Challenge, by Talkback Writers. This is an anthology of poetry and flash fiction written by the members of the Talkback forum of Writing Magazine (UK). The pieces are all written in response to a monthly challenge: a word is chosen, and we have to write about that word in any way we like, within strict limits - 40 lines of poetry, or 200 words for fiction. The winners of each month’s competition choose the next word, and judge the entries. 

We have decided to bring out a collection of some of the entries, with the intention of raising funds for a charity, inspired by a very special little dog. This is Medical Detection Dogs. 

The charity trains dogs – not any particular breed, but chosen for their intelligence and their ability to learn – to accompany people with certain medical problems. Our little friend, Lola, lives with poet Liz, who suffers from diabetes. Her blood sugar can drop without warning, even with all the modern aids available. Lola, with her heightened senses, can tell when it is about to happen and will warn Liz, so that she can take glucose and stop herself from falling unconscious. You can read more about Lola (and Liz) here. 

This is vital work, and could help a lot of people with Liz’s condition. The dogs can also be trained to help with other illnesses, and possibly even to sniff out cancers. We’d very much like to help them, and so 10% of all proceeds will go to supporting them in their work. 

I hope some of you will think of buying the ebook ; it will be for sale through Amazon and Smashwords, but also direct from the publisher at where it will be 99p. I am proud to say that I have four stories in there, which I hope you’ll enjoy. 

If you’d like to read more, there will be an article in January’s Writing Magazine, in the shops on December 6th.

Go on – that’s a good read for under a pound; and it could help a lot more people to live normal lives.