11 December 2018

TuesdayTalk with the Trees. by Helen Hollick

Trees. I think most of us like trees ... to walk in a wood, along rambling, winding paths to see the sun shining through the leaves and branches, hear the wind rustling ... is a joyful, relaxing pleasure. Of course the liking for trees changes somewhat when one falls on your car or house during a storm, or delays the traffic or trains. Obviously I do not want anyone to get hurt, but it is so sad to see these majestic trees stranded, dying, roots thrusting towards the sky when they have been felled, either by natural cause or the hand (axe?) of man.

Two of my favourite scenes in novels are those with trees - when the Ents, the trees in the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy take their revenge, and the tree spirits in the Narnia Stories appear (both these were wonderfully depicted in the movies!)

Did you know that the sounds inside trees have been discovered and recorded? The sap inside the trunk as it rises and falls actually makes different noises. Call it fanciful imagination, but I wonder... are they actually talking?

"Scientists have known for many years that trees make noise, and not from just the creaking that occurs as wind pushes them back and forth. Trees also emit noise that is too high in frequency for the human ear to hear. Past research suggests that the noises trees make change if they're not getting enough water, and at least some of that noise is likely due to cavitation. Cavitation occurs when air bubbles form in the tubes (xylem) that run up and down tree trunks, preventing water from being pulled upward—in some cases it causes the tree to die. What has remained a mystery, however, is how much of the noise coming from trees during times of drought stress is due to cavitation, and how much from other sources, such as cell breakage." click here for more

Listen to the sounds that a tree makes - fascinating video

I grew up on the outskirts of the sprawling London suburbs - on one side of the Borough (Waltham Forest), nothing but houses, shops, offices, warehouses petrol stations, supermarkets, car parks... on the other, Epping Forest, which is where I kept my horses, and later, my daughter kept hers,  It was a joy to ride in the Forest, or walk the dog, have picnics - enjoy the open space. Queen Elizabeth I regularly hunted in the Forest, spending time at her hunting lodge, on the edge of Chingford. Her father spent time there as well: legend has it that he was there on the day Anne Boleyn was beheaded - he heard  the signal cannons at the Tower of London being fired. (Which is possible, it would only be a few miles away, and no modern noises to mask the sound.)  When bombs went off in London during the '80s we clearly heard the 'whoomph'  in Walthamstow. With the wind in the right direction e could occasionally hear the ceremonial salutes for the present Queen Elizabeth II.

Another legend (probably including the firing of more cannons) is that reportedly Good Queen Bess was hunting in the Forest when word came of the defeat of the Spanish Armada - she was so delighted that she rode her horse into the Lodge and straight up the oak stairs! (I wonder how on earth they got the animal down again?)

So what has all that got to do with trees?
I admit I am not very good at identifying trees. I know the obvious ones: oak, beech, silver birch, willow, horse chestnut, field maple, holly, hawthorn... but I do tend to get muddled with hornbeam, larch, alder and such. But I love trees. I love their timelessness, their solidity, their colours, shapes, sizes, sounds. The Sequoia trees in California were awesome - I really felt as if they existed in a completely different time-structure zone from us. An hour in our time is a year in theirs? Everything about those enormous old trees were so different, everything slow and sleepy, like something being played in slow motion. (And, I must add that it was very hot and dry in those Sequoia woods, Fire is a constant danger!)

Since moving to Devon my love affair with trees has expanded. The landscape is beautiful with trees, and I have MY trees - I can't explain how utterly fantastic it is to actually 'own' these beautiful, beautiful living beings! Especially the old, old oaks that are on our land and alongside the lane. In our woods we also have holly, hawthorn, alder, birch...  In the front garden there is a huge old field maple, a giant holly tree,  rowan, lilac, several firs,  and an enormous bay tree (about 20-30 feet high?) I love these trees.

one of the oaks in the lane
And I know I said 'own' - but of course we are just the custodians, the temporary guardians of the environment, and I take my role very, very seriously. The realisation that some of those old, old oaks have stood there since, probably the mid 1800s is - well, awesome! I wish I knew who had planted them.

There's a saying that for every species of mature tree in a hedgerow allow fifty years of age. That makes one of our hedgerow about 200 years old at least. The house was built in 1769... were some of those oaks planted then I wonder? Could they be that old? 

our woods in winter
To see the changing colours through the seasons - did you know there are many, many shades of yellow and green? (Forget the drab 50 shades of grey!) The light changes across the Taw Valley from one minute to the next, changing the colours of the fields and the trees as it does so. Spring, bright, fresh greens which mellow to darker shades in summer. Autumn, the yellows, reds, browns, golds - the berries, the fruits ... Winter when the trees sleep, their branches bare. The wind when a storm blows in from the south-west sounding almost like the sea as it thunders through the branches.

They do 'talk', those trees, believe me they do!

The Taw Valley
And then there are the fruit trees: our apples and pears and damsons. Apple pie, stewed pears and custard, damson jam (I made a super batch this year) and damson gin ... the snag with damson gin, you make it and have to leave it to 'mature' for at least three months,  still, only a couple of weeks to go before I can sample how the 2018 batch turned out. 

Foreground: our woods.
And, for those of you who know my books and characters, it was not by whimsy or chance that I called my pirate Jesamiah Acorne. I have an affinity with oak trees. I collect acorn objects - ornaments and such. No idea why I love the oak above all other trees (Silver Birch is a close second) but the oaks are my 'heroes'.

What is you favourite tree? Leave a comment below, I'd love to know!

7 December 2018

Novel Conversations with Helen Hollick... and a pirate!

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

to be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character...

Claude de la Rue
purchased © from canstock photos

Q:  Hello, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. You are a character in my Sea Witch Voyages aren't you? [looks towards the door] I was expecting Captain Jesamiah Acorne to come... Never mind... Would you like to introduce yourself to my blog visitors?
A: [Touches his hat, then removes it and places it on a spare chairBonjour madame,  'ave you any rum? I 'ave not seen these petit chocolates in a box like this before, they look tempting [takes one, nods appreciatively] I am, 'ow you say? A 'supporting role', I am Jesamiah's quartermaster, 'is second-in-command, aboard Sea Witch. It is I who usually keeps 'im out of le difficulté.

Sea Witch
Q: I perceive by your accent that you are French? Please would you tell us about the novels?
A: Oui, je suis française, The stories, they are about my friend Jesamiah and his friends, moi aussi. We are sailors and we 'ave many adventures at sea in the early 1700s

Q: Hmm [smiles] I thought you were pirates, but we'll gloss over that small fact shall we? No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: [laughs - a nice rich, mellow sound] Oh we are good pirates - we are very good pirates!

Q: Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy?
A: [Rue puffs his cheeks] Who shall I say about? Jesamiah? Captain Acorne, of course, as 'e is l'ero of the tales, or there is Miss Tiola, she knows about medicines and midwifery. She becomes 'is wife in one of the tales of our adventures, and she is the sweetest, kindest young mademoiselle I know - until I met the love of my life, Miss Pamela, but that is not until the fourth adventure, when we drop anchor in the 'arbour of Appledore in North Devon.
[Helen: thinks: of course, Rue does not know that Tiola is also a white witch, only Jesamiah knows that...]

Q: In the series, what is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: [Rue bows his head and takes a while to answer] The saddest is the day I lost my Pamela. Non, forgive me, I cannot talk of it.
[Helen refills his glass of rum and he gulps it down]

Q: Well, let's move to happier things. What is your favourite scene?
A: I 'ave several, one is when I first met Jesamiah. We were in gaol both facing the prospect of 'anging, but God was on our side - I believes you 'ave made this into a little story for your Discovering Diamonds readers' entertainment? A story inspired by a song? Non?
Helen: Oui. It is here.
Rue: A scene that still makes me laugh is one  where Jesamiah 'e was in a dark place, 'e thought 'e 'ad lost everything and spent many days drowning 'is sorrows in strong liquor. I decided to kick 'is backside and sober 'im up. [laughs] Jesamiah, 'e did not appreciate my method!

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as myself, can be helped or supported by readers or groups?
A: [frowns] Jesamiah and Miss Tiola are the readers, not I, they 'ave several books in the Great Cabin aboard Sea Witch, but I 'ave often listened to the things you say, ma'am... I think those readers who do not say an énorme merci beaucoup to you by leaving a très agréable review on this Amazon Interweb thing - well, you should make them walk the plank!
Helen: Oh, I'm not sure that would be a good idea [laughs] it is worth thinking about though!

Q: Finally, Rue, before we must bid adieu, the novels you appear in have all been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does that please you?
A: Oui, certainement, it is le grand 'onour, non? But I 'appen to know that you too are very pleased with these gold medallions? Gold treasure! 'Ave you, per'aps some pirate blood in you? [laughs]. Non, seriously, I also know that you 'ave an affection for Jesamiah - for us all, and your dream is that more and more readers will discover the stories and our adventures, because you want Jesamiah to be discovered by many, many people. I agree with you. To me 'e is like a son, even if 'e can be a prize idiot at times, especially where les dames are concerned. But 'ow to reach these new readers... would you like me to threaten a few with my cutlass? Encourage them to spread the word?

Helen: Thank you Rue, you are kind, but maybe using encouragement with a cutlass is not such a good idea? Readers telling other readers about good books to read is the best way to thank an author. Shall we toast Jesamiah with another glass of rum and wish the Sea Witch Voyages good fortune? Where is Jesamiah by the way?

Rue: Salute! It was 'is birthday the other day, 'e was born on 4th December 1693, so 'e is very old in your time [laughs heartily] though in 'is mid-twenties in ours. I think 'e imbibed too much liquor when 'e was celebrating, so 'e sent me to talk to you in 'is stead.

Helen: Oh he is often disappearing because of that reason... shall I find the scene you mentioned above about the cure for hangovers? I think the Novel Conversations visitors might enjoy it!
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Excerpt Sea Witch (Voyage One)

Waking several hours into the fore noon to a thundering headache, Jesamiah staggered to his feet. He tottered to the door, peered out, squinting at the brightness of the morning sun. He dipped a wooden cup into the bucket beside the door, the water warm and brackish, but sufficient to slake his thirst. Not bothering to go into the bushes, directed his urine against the outside wall.
   “You would ‘ave threatened us with a flogging if we ‘ad been so lazy as to do that aboard ship,” Rue observed wryly from where he stood some yards away.
    “Well we ain’t aboard,” Jesamiah grunted adjusting his breeches. Wished the fellow would not shout so loud.
   Rue stepped forward offering a pewter tankard. “Drink this.”
   Hesitant, Jesamiah took and it wrinkled his nose at the foul looking liquid. “What is it?”
   “Old French recipe. Brandy, ground garlic with ‘alf a pint of ale. Deux œufs – fresh-laid is that cackle fruit – a pinch of gunpowder and melted pork lard.”
   Jesamiah sniffed again at the concoction, gagged at the stench. He poked a finger into it and picked out a piece of floating eggshell. “I don’t care for raw eggs.”
   “Just drink it.”
  Doubtful, Jesamiah raised it to his mouth. Changing his mind, offered it back. “Later perhaps.”
   Folding his arms, Rue ignored the tankard. “Isiah and me we are getting the Sea Witch ready to sail. You ‘ad ‘er refitted when first you came, she ‘as cannon and swivel guns, all of it wasted with ‘er sitting there in the ‘arbour. Isiah ‘as beached ‘er this morning and is already scraping ‘er keel. We ’ave got a crew volunteered as well. Très bien, good men.”
   He encouraged the tankard upwards. Jesamiah was staring at him, his expression blank. Sea Witch? To set sail?
   “Ecoute, mon gars,” Rue said finally losing patience. “Look, my friend, you ‘ave a choice. You lead us like the brilliant capitaine you are or we leave you ‘ere in this cursed-forgotten emptiness, with as many bottles of rum as you please. You can drink yourself into oblivion, with only this wind for company.”
   Jesamiah looked from Rue to the tankard. He hated the wind. Hesitant, he raised the drink to his lips. “It smells foul.”
   “‘The fouler the medicine, the quicker the cure,' or so ma mère used to say.”
   “What was she? The village poisoner?”
   “One gulp. Straight down,” Rue advised.
   Taking a deep breath Jesamiah drank, much of it trickling down his chin into his scruffy, untrimmed beard. Rue held a finger against the bottom forcing him to finish it.
   Swearing as he pulled away, Jesamiah wiped his hand over his mouth, grimacing, gave Rue the empty tankard then swallowed hard. One hand went to his belly the other to his mouth.     “You sodding…” He doubled over sinking to his hands and knees, retching and vomiting up the contents of his stomach. When nothing more was heaving from him, rolled on to his back, eyes closed, his hands covering his face. Managed to croak, “That was bloody disgusting.”
   “Cured your ‘eadache though, non?”
   Opening one eye Jesamiah glowered. “And how d’you figure that mate? It’s still thumping away as if three ‘undred crew of buccaneers are bouncing about in there, hankering after a Chase.”
   Rue offered his hand to pull him to his feet. Jesamiah accepted and stood, unsteady, the world wheeling past.
   “You will be so busy puking your guts up this next ‘alf ‘our, you will forget about your sore ‘ead.” Rue guffawed heartily at Jesamiah’s murderous expression.

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