People from my books: Debbie



She was a skinny little thing.  Scrawny.  She never put on weight.  As she grew in to adolescence she remained basically lanky and thin.  She had miles of legs.  When she tried ballet, as all little girls do, she was already taller than most of the others in her class and, although she had a grace of her own, it was nothing like what the teacher tried to coax out of her.

Oddly enough, Jasmina at this same age, was chunky. No, not overweight, just strong and chunky.  The French call it “bien plante” (well planted).  Mark you, Jasmina had horses and that made her immensely fit, so one can’t compare.  Odd, when you think what a muscle-maniac Hussein was.  I wonder if he ever thinks about Debbie and the children ?  And, if he does, would he be pleased that Jasmina has that same muscular physique …?

Extract from “A Call from France”:-

When we watched Debbie whizzing down the pistes, all her cares forgotten, we knew we had made the right decision. She skied well, with an instinctive elegance. She was cautious but fun-loving, and both she and Max braved the black pistes with no bother, invariably meeting us at the bottom. We rapidly gave names, as I daresay most families do, to the meeting points.

“We’ll meet for hot chocolate at Grizzly Bear café” one of us would announce, or perhaps “when we get to the end of Red Apple piste (named after Bernie ’s cheeks) we’ll go for lunch.”

Two weeks tripped by on the snowy slopes. We were both extremely conscious of Debbie and we did everything we could to make sure she really enjoyed it. Max had to pretend to be over sixteen (easy enough when you’re tall) in order to get in to the disco with Debs every night. We didn’t dare count how much we were spending, but they returned in the small wee hours full of fun, and Max told me there was nothing of any note to report. Debbie danced a lot, he told me, she chatted a lot.

“She can be SO EMBARRASSING!” he declared.

Girls are, I replied.

Ironically the café we skied past on our way to the first lift had to be called …. wait for it – Costa. It couldn’t possibly have been “The Coffee Shop” or “Café des Pistes” or something like that. No, it had to be called Costa. I don’t know if Debbie noticed – I certainly didn’t draw her attention to it.

A couple of times during day time Debbie and Max met friends they had made at the disco, but of course most people were there only the one week.

“Does Debs show any interest in the other boys?” I asked Max .

“Yes – in all of them!”

“Does she dance with them? Is she having fun?”

“Oh yes! She dances a lot. She’s quite good at it. She dances with all the boys. She’s having a great time.”

“And you, Max ?” I asked, looking up at his young face with just the first hints of a bit of hair on his chin, “are you having a nice time too?”

“Brilliant!” he grinned at me.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “but Debs has forgotten about Costa. She’s looking forward to going to college in Brighton next year. She told me so.”

Sometimes he was so wise for his tender years. He was certainly reassuring. I looked at him. Dressed almost entirely in black he still had the figure of a boy and I suspected he was extremely pleased at being able to go to the disco because of Debbie …


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Illustrations for my books



Extract from “A Call from France” by Catherine Broughton


I was happier at Les Cypres.

I was physically, if not mentally, considerably less isolated. It was only once we’d moved in that I realized just how much the distance between Tulips and everything else had added to my work load, just in sheer driving time. I hadn’t even been able to post a letter or buy a stick of bread without getting out the car and, worse, any form of entertainment or relaxation – beaches, restaurants, cinemas – were all miles away.

Les Cypres offered us more and at closer proximity. As the months flit by we tried a variety of things from jazz sessions to yoga, from archery to Amnesty International. It may be that we asked too much of life, but we were never able to become immersed in any way and remained permanently sitting at the edge. One of the things we got involved in was the village committee for saving the patrimoine – the local heritage – and we attended several village meetings where the restoration of an ancient bread oven was discussed. I suppose the problem was that it was not our country, not our village – hey, not even our language! – and we found it difficult to take any realistic interest in renovating a bread oven, not least because we had an ancient bread oven of our own.

I can’t say I actively enjoyed the proximity of the village shops or the supermarket in Arabor, but I was aware it was an advantage. St Sylvain , the village, offered the basic essentials, despite being closed half the time, and Arabor was at least a town with real live people around, if not very many. It’s funny how you just don’t see French people in the streets in a French town, the way you do in England.

On a Sunday morning, particularly in winter, Euan and I went to the supermarket in Bourcefranc, some five minutes in the car. Afterwards we walked on the beach. I loved looking out over the sea to the island of Oleron opposite, seeing the boats bobbing about in the estuary and the cars passing by over the bridge.

There is something undeniably exhilarating about walking along a beach, even in the winter when that wind whipped in off the Atlantic, searing like a knife through our cagoules and thrashing my hair into a tangled nest. We always parked at the eastern end of the beach, at that time little more than a dirt road and utterly stinking with seaweed and shell fish, and walked directly along the shore line as far as the little sailing club at the far end. We walked briskly, breathing deeply, trying to counteract the stress and strains of the punitive week we had terminated. Big Harry always came too and would charge along that beach barking and leaping through the waves. We still walk on that beach, quite regularly. Sometimes we see Big Harry’s shadow, his ghost, still leaping joyfully in the sand. Bernie joined the little sailing club in the summer and spent many a sunny day out in the estuary, sailing sometimes beyond the bridge and out in to the huge ocean.

Our move to Les Cypres coincided with my little estate agency fizzling out. That is the only way to describe it: it just fizzled out. That last summer at Tulips I had made many sales and had had clients almost every day; by the following spring it was over. At that time the expression “burn out” hadn’t been coined but, looking back on it now, I realize I was all burnt out. Competition was greater, of course, for the proximity of civilization also meant not only proximity of other agents but sparsity of properties available: the abandoned little farmhouses simply didn’t exist, people moved house less frequently, abandoned their houses never, and there was generally little of any interest on the market. My great strength as an agent had been that I was willing and able to drive around all the isolated little hamlets in the countryside, spotting the potential for British clients in the huge old beams and stone fireplaces, which at that time were the very things the French were abandoning. I had seen how to play the market. But it wasn’t just that: somehow the energy and enthusiasm had gone. The need to earn money kept my agency limping along for a while, perhaps six months.

“I’m not doing this any more,” I said aloud as I drove home one day, “I’ve finished.”

And that was it: I finished.

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Guest Blogger= Karen Laurence-Rowe



“Harmattan King”  …. against the wind – like so much of our wildlife!


With the steady destruction of the worlds wildlife species I think the depiction of these wonderful beasts has almost become a personal obligation!   How tragic is it going to be, when one day, one of my grandchildren looks at a painting I have done of an elephant or an African lion and says to me “Granny – whats that?”    With the danger of this being so very real,  I now no longer sit in my studio daubing with complacency… I complete every painting almost as a matter of urgency!

I need to record it – before it is lost to this world forever!

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People in my books – Manolo


Manolo was of Italian extract, with smouldering good looks.  Unusually, his eyes were a startling blue.  He oozed a sexuality that women of all ages found attractive … and he knew it.  He also had a manner to him.  It was a reassuring, wholesome manner.  He created a feeling of confidence and honesty – till you got to know him, of course.

He was probably quite clever.  Certainly, he knew how to manipulate people and get them on his side.  Had he been a  gangster he’d have been a multi-millionaire, one of those good-looking but ruthless characters you see in films.  As it was he was a down-and-out jail bird who had run out of luck … but who hoped more luck was coming his way.  Well, he was wrong about that.

Extract from “A Call from France” by Catherine Broughton:-

The double oak front door, thick with flaking navy paint and street dust, opened on to what had once been a fine entrance hall with unusual Eastern floor tiles in a faded red and gold, and a dado running along the wall and all the way up the stairs which must have been installed in the days of Napoleon III. The wallpaper had long been ripped off and painted and re-painted in dark yellow gloss, but at the far end of the hall a fine stained glass window survived, and in the centre of the ceiling, surrounded by exquisite, if very dirty, ceiling moulds, a wonderful example of an art deco glass lamp shade, echoed in the wall light fittings on either side. A traditional Charentais staircase, littered with empty fag packs and empty beer cans and emitting a strong stench of urine, led up to a first floor that had been divided and sub-divided so that nothing remained of the original landing where once – a long time ago – children had played and maids had swept. Now cheap hardboard doors led through to three little bedsits, seedy and smokey and reeking. Our girl shared one of these bedsits with a couple of old men and Manolo.

“There you go!” I said cheerfully as I dumped her boxes on the floor. I raised a hand in salute towards Manolo who was lying on the bed and who tried to leap to his feet when I entered. An old man leant against the far wall, nursing a cut lip.

He was wearing an ancient pair of baggy trousers, almost black along the thigh fronts, and old shoes through which protruded sockless toes.

“Stay!” cried Manolo grasping my hand.

I remembered his warm handshake from when I’d seen him outside the café earlier that summer. You can tell a lot about a person by their handshake, but with this man you could tell nothing. It was a firm grip, the accompanying eyes and smile were sincere. He was very good-looking. I seized the opportunity.

“I’d love to stay, Manolo, but I can’t right now. I can come back later, however. Deborah’s papa wants to get you to taste English beer!”

Ah bon! Oui, oui, d’accord …!

Click above for “A Call From France”, considered a must-read for mothers of teenagers.  Available from Amazon/Kindle, or can be ordered from most leading book sotres and libraries.

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Your ability to communicate in a foreign language does not simply depend on your prowess with the language.  It also depends on the ear of the listener.  Like giving directions – some people are good at giving them and others are not, but also some people are good at listening to and absorbing them, and others are not. – See more at:



Your ability to communicate in a foreign language does not simply depend on your prowess with the language.  It also depends on the ear of the listener.  Like giving directions – some people are good at giving them and others are not, but also some people are good at listening to and absorbing them, and others are not. – See more at:

People in my books- Euan



First and foremost, and before anything – anything – Euan was a dad.  A husband and a father.  He was totally devoted to Catherine and the children and would have moved heaven and earth for them.

He was an old-fashioned Englishman, born and raised in the south-east. He liked bread-and-butter pudding, custard, bangers and mash, Yorkshire pud. Gravy. Lager.  Mint sauce. He liked straight-forward honest-to-goodness things. He read the Telegraph and watched the News and loved the Carpenters and Abba.  He never told a lie and never expected anybody to lie to him.  He always saw the best in people, was always kind, thoughtful, tolerant.  He believed in the old-fashioned values his grandfather had taught him.

He had always worked, and worked hard.  At 6’4″  he was a big, strong man, willing to tackle most chores – and good at it too.   His workers respected him totally and recognized a good boss who was always fair and who knew how to get his hands dirty – more dirty than theirs often enough. In many ways he was a fish out of water in France.  It wasn’t just that he couldn’t speak French … it was more that he was totally English … and, despite all efforts to fit in to the French way of life,  would remain English.

When his world started to topple, he was ill-equipped to handle it.

Extract from “A Call from France” :-

“Honey!” he exclaimed, seeing me sitting there, “are you all right?!”

I so loved this man. Big, tall, strong, smelling of warmth and comfort, I rose and fell in to his arms and he rocked me gently, quietly, waiting for the tears to subside.

“Auntie Dulcie has died,” I sobbed.

“Oh my honey, I’m so sorry …”

“And Debbie is pregnant!”

“Oh my honey, our stupid daughter …”

“And I feel upset!” I blurted suddenly, red face spluttering stupidly as I looked up at him, “really REALLY upset!”

He kissed my face. He didn’t need to say anything for he knew we both felt the same way. We stood for a long time in the big stone hallway and the light in the room quietly changed, darkening imperceptibly; we held our arms round each other, rocking silently as the same thoughts went through our minds.

I didn’t go to Auntie Dulcie’s funeral.

But I used it as an excuse and I knew that my old auntie would willingly forgive me for doing so.

“I can’t go by myself!” I exclaimed tearfully to Debbie, “Bernie and Max are in school, daddy is working and the only person who can come with me is you!”

“Hussein says no,” she replied, a slight tremor of hesitation in her voice.

“Whatever has he got to do with it?” I asked innocently, trying to look totally perplexed.

There was a moment of silence, so I added, equally innocently:

“He can come too if he wants. Could he take the time off work? The flights are about £200 each, tell him.”

“No,” Debbie replied, “he can’t afford that. But I’ll persuade him I’ve got to be with you …”

I’m not quite sure what I was hoping for. Of course, first and foremost I was hoping she’d ask for an abortion. Once away from Hussein it was likely she would feel totally differently. On the whole I was against abortion – certainly in cases like hers – but when it’s the future of your own child that is at stake it is different, and your values change. I tried to broach the subject a couple of times, without actually saying the word “abortion” – but it fell on deaf ears, so that on the last day in England I said to her:

“Debbie, you don’t HAVE to go back to France or to Hussein if you don’t want to. You are in charge of you …”

It sounded so weak. I was trying to give her a chance to change her destiny. I was trying to hold doors open for her, when they were slamming shut all around. Also I was hoping that seeing her cousins and her grandparents – the people who loved her the best – would help her to change her values, re-evaluate her situation and re-think her course of action. But girls of seventeen rarely have a course of action.

While in England I encouraged her to spend time with the family. Gran – who at this stage knew nothing about the pregnancy – took us out for a meal. Debbie was very animated. If she suffered from the waves of nausea she claimed to be having (one could never tell with her), she hid it very well. I tried to avoid the subject while not ignoring it. I battled constantly against blurting out to her that she was a total idiot. I wanted to tell her how disappointed in her Gran was going to be, I wanted to tell her how disappointed I was. When I told my father his mouth fell open in astonishment.

“Grief!” he searched my face for signs of tears, “you certainly are having a time of it with that girl!”

I nodded dumbly.


“A Call from France” by Catherine Broughton is a true story and considered a must-read for mothers of all ages:-

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