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257 – Blogley Rolls On…And On…And On

I once watched a Status Quo documentary entitled Roll On…And On…And On. They kept going on tour because they didn’t know any other way of life. In two weeks I’ll be on the road again. This time to Souillac, about 100km north of here, in the Dordogne. Why? Well, Elizabeth and I are going to be spending the summer giving cycling and canoe tours to holiday folk.

It’s very difficult to know whether this is the right line I’m taking. The line of constantly moving around, doing lots of different jobs while trying to forge a writing career. I’ve lost count of the amount of places I’ve lived in and the jobs to go with it. But it’s probably well over a 100 now.

I have friends and family who’ve stayed in the same job all their lives in the same town. I can’t imagine that life. Not because that life wouldn’t be good – it probably would – but simply because never having led that life, it’s hard to envisage what it’d be like, if you get my drift.

In fact I sometimes wonder what it’d be like to live in the same town where I grew up, do the same job week in, week out, playing footy on a Sunday, downing pints on a Saturday night with the same people I played tiddlywinks with at school. I can see a version of myself in that life, a murky dreamscape of a life in Leeds. But then it vanishes and I’m back to where I am. Which is normally stuck out in the middle of nowhere in France.

The truth is though, going to another town to do another job seems as natural as eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. Even if my cycling colleagues in the Caussade Cyclo Club think it’s totally whacked out to eat eggs for breakfast. A long discussion then ensues over the benefits of the croissant versus the fry-up until they eventually come round to the realisation that they are wrong and I’m right, and we finally get to go cycling.

I’m not quite sure how I arrived in this state of transience (and Elizabeth neither), but we did, and while it’s sometimes unsettling, it’s become a way of life. I recently posted on Twitter (@Blogley1) the following:

I’d never used the term travel writer before, but seeing as I move around a lot and I write quite a lot, the term travel writer seemed appropriate. I had a moment of doubt as to whether I deserved the title, until I concluded that I can call myself whatever I like. ‘Travel writing as you’ve never seen it before…’ it says on the back of my book. So what the hell!

This period in Auty in southwest France has been the best housesit we’ve done. But I think it’s as far as we can take the looking after other people’s houses malarky. We’ve had loads of time to think. It’s been free. I’ve managed to write three books, two of which I’ve published. The other, my novel, is still being worked on. However, the novelty has worn off a bit and it’s time to embark on other things. Like taking canoe and cycle trips in the Dordogne, for example.

I’ve never done it before, but it sounds great, and I even get paid for it. And I can write about it too. I’m thinking the Man in France series might outlast Status Quo. Why not?

A Man in France celebrates his 70th birthday on a canoe in the Dordogne.

 

A Man in France cycles across the Massif Central on a tricycle aged 80.

 

A Man in France flies across the Pyrenees in a paper airplane aged 100…

 

I’ve realised these past few years that I’m capable of more things than I thought I was.  And so on we go to Souillac…and on…and on.

 

phil in country

A MAN IN FRANCE

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256 – Amazing Coincidences and Incredible Lookalikes At The Caussade Monday Market

I was once told by a friend that beetroot makes your pee go pink. ‘Of course, it doesn’t,’ I replied. ‘I’ve been eating beetroots all my life and never once had pink pee. You must be ill.’

Turns out he wasn’t ill, just low acid stomach levels. But that’s totally unrelated to what I want to say. What I want to say is that the man at the Caussade Monday Market who sells me beetroots, is also one of the guys I cycle with every Sunday morning. And I didn’t even know it.

It was only this Sunday, as we passed through the village of Monclar-de-Quercy, that I realised who he was.

‘Oh fuck, it’s you,’ I cried out, nearly cycling into one of the four-foot deep drainage ditches at the side of the road. ‘The beetroot guy!’

‘Ah, oui,’ he exclaimed. ‘L’Anglais, the one who’s always fiddling around with his loose change while a thousand customers wait behind him.’

I laughed. ‘Yes, that’s me. Well, you know what they say, pennies make pounds.’

He hadn’t heard that one before. Probably because he was riding a 5000 euro Pinarello road bike, a bike that would take me a thousand years to buy with the one centime coins I find outside the bar in the village where I live.

I’ve got a pretty good memory for faces and situations – HD quality in fact – but on this occasion I could be forgiven for making a mistake.

At the Monday market everybody wears checked shirts, jeans, boots, hunting caps. On the Sunday morning bike ride everybody wears lycra, streamlined fibreglass helmets, shades, plus lots of snot running down the sides of their faces. It’s the same people, just in costume.

Jean-Paul is no longer the beetroot guy dressed in thick trousers, a wooly jumper and a sturdy coat. He’s Jean-Paul the time trial specialist dressed in luminous skintight lycra and an insect shaped helmet. 

He told me he thought the same. How was I to know that this gibbering imbecile of an englishman who picks coins out of his purse like they’re dead flies was the same guy riding beside me on a thirty year old gold bicycle dressed in a lycra jumpsuit?

‘Appearances can be deceptive,’ I told him. He agreed and we carried on.

The other curious thing about the Caussade Monday Market is that the other guy who sells beetroots looks exactly like my old guitar teacher from Nottingham, Gary Fraser Lewis. So much so that when I first saw him, I was tempted to ask him about that E minor 6th chord I’d always struggled with.

I kept my mouth shut and asked him what the small lightbulb shaped vegetable he had on sale next to the beetroots was.

‘Ah, rutabaga. Very good.’

I’d never heard of them.

‘Sauté au beurre. C’est délicieux,’ he recommended.

‘I’ll take some,’ I said putting five in my basket. ‘And these?’  I asked holding up a black vegetable that looked like a piece of burnt wood.

‘Ah, radis noir. Fantastique, avec du beurre,’ he said, throwing me a big smile into the bargain.

‘Incroyable,’ I said. Incredible. But not the radish. The resemblance to my old teacher in Nottingham was quite astonishing. He started telling me that rutabaga was eaten in WW1 as it’s nutritious and filling,  and it got me thinking that perhaps there was a war connection between the two men. Same grandfathers? Great uncles? Not impossible, surely?

Anyway, that night I took his advice and sauteed the rutabaga and served them with local pork belly and homemade applesauce. As well as red cabbage from Jean Paul the vegman/Tour de France time trial specialist.

‘Wow!’ me and Elizabeth said simultaneously after we’d finished licking our plates for the third time. ‘That was pretty incredible.’ Incroyable, in fact.

And it was. Possibly one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. A meal full of coincidence and uncanny lookalikes. A meal I’ll never forget. Just like I never forget a face (most of the time).

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255 – The Caussade Cyclo Club’s Road To Hell

I’ve done a lot of feats of endurance over the years – cycling from Birmingham to Bristol half drunk in the dark was one –  but my third outing with the Madcap Caussade Cyclo Club last Sunday, was possibly the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done.

I asked the guys halfway round when we were stopping. ‘You know for a biscuit, or a chocolate bar, or even a piss?’

They looked at me as though I’d just asked them for oral sex. ‘Nous sommes le Groupe à Grande Vitesse,’ Michel (the leader) reminded me. ‘We’re like the TGV! We don’t stop. If you want to stop, go with the girls.’

I wished I had. 55km to go and I was already totally knackered. True, we’d just climbed 500 metres in less than 30 minutes, but I was definitely feeling it today. More so than the other two outings with them.

I’d seen a nice roadside restaurant in the village of Milhars just before the climb and wondered why we couldn’t stop and take five. Or even an hour, accompanied by a couple of pichets de vin rouge and a few plates of steak frites. Cycle back to Caussade in style, tanked up on the local Malbec. I mean, why not? It’s not as though there’s any traffic and as for the police. What police? And it’d certainly take away the pain in my legs.

I remembered French cyclist Jacques Anquetil’s famous quote from the sixties, ‘Only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride from Bordeaux to Paris in a day on just water.’

He had a point. Unfortunately, I only had water and a couple of cereal bars, which I had to eat en route as we sailed down the other side of the hill we’d just climbed and on through the vineyards of Gaillac. It was very nice and by the time we got back down to the river valley I felt that my legs had reattached themselves to my torso.

We did a nice 30km along the D964 towards the famous hilltop village of Bruniquel, until the real pain kicked in, about 20km from Caussade. The guys were on the final push now, salivating at the mouth as they thought about their Sunday meal. Either that or they were terrified of getting a whipping from their wives if they were late back. It was probably a bit of both by the speed they were going. Laying down a fierce 35kph pace through the scenic Aveyron Gorge as though approaching the Champs-Élysées on the last day of the Tour.

I was keeping up. Just. I’ve watched the Tour de France on telly since I was a kid and until now never realised how important the group (or peloton) is. The difference is incredible. Cut adrift even for a few seconds, especially in strong wind, and you’re pedalling backwards. Like cycling uphill in a wind tunnel on a road covered in grit. Bloody hard. But when you’re tucked away in the middle of the group, it’s like cycling on a tandem on a still summer’s day along a pancake flat road.

Michel had told me at the beginning of the day to keep in the peloton, save energy. ‘Even if you have to work hard to get back, it’s worth it, otherwise you’ll get cut loose and today is going to be hard.’

I’d said I would try. And now I was trying, but every time I caught up with them, they seemed to speed up as though playing a trick on me. They weren’t, I suspect they were just hungry.

By the time we reached Montricoux, 10km out from Caussade, I’d found some energy from somewhere – probably the massive pork belly I’d eaten the night before – and finally took up the front position in the peloton. ‘Actually doing some work now, Anglais,’ Michel joked as I passed him.

‘Je me sens bien,’ I said. I feel better. I even thought of offering him out for a sprint finish at the end. I decided not to. The guy was 61 and had been cycling all his life. Funnily enough, he looked like the roofer I used to know in Nottingham years ago, drink hammered face, overweight, smokers neck, sunken eyes. I forget his name now. Roy? Ray, maybe? The comparison stopped there though. Michel would mince me in a sprint, plus I didn’t want to overdo it. I’d done well. I’d done over 100km in four hours over hilly terrain. I didn’t want to ruin it all by trying to be some dumbass English superhero and give myself a heart attack.

After Montricoux, we gently ambled back into Caussade, and as always, everybody quickly disappeared back home for their gigantic Sunday nosh-up. Maybe one day, I thought, they’ll all stay behind and we’d go for a couple of jars and a bite to eat. Discuss the ride, talk about this hill and that hill, taste the salt in our mouths and wonder why we all race around on 9kg cycling machines every Sunday in freezing cold wind and rain, grouping together like geese on a voyage to the North Pole.

Cycling

After The Cycle

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254 – A Man in France

cover imageAfter the phenomenal success of my short story collection, The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd (or TSOMT), there’s been quite a few enquiries as to where The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France went to.

For those in the dark, The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France (or TRROMIF) were my favourite blog posts shoehorned into a book and flogged on the open market.

Some people (who’ll remain nameless) argued it was a bit cheap, shoddy even, charging for a book that was blatantly ripped off a free-to-read blog, albeit his own.

I agreed with them. It was shoddy. But you’ve got to try these things for God’s sake! And anyway, you try navigating round four and a half years of a man’s life on an old PC with a slow internet connection. Not easy, huh? Best pay for the pleasure of it being nicely bound up in a book for your consumption. Think of the cost as a service charge.

The truth is, I originally did it for my own pleasure, a sort for personal memento. A souvenir, in case I died and didn’t have anything to show for it.

Luckily I lived, so I decided to sell it, calling it The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France, for no other reason than it was quite ridiculous. It sold quite well. But then my subscription to the e-selling website ran out and I decided to pull it off the market.

However, I can now proudly announce that TRROMIF is back and completely updated to include my adventures in Bordeaux, The Arcachon Basin and South West France. 71 rip-roaring journal entries, anecdotes, observational pieces and travel articles spanning four and a half classic years in France.

If you’re planning to renovate a farmhouse in Provence, or set up a cheese farm in the Ariege, this isn’t the book for you. If you’re looking for something a little more offbeat, unique even, this is it.

Informative, rich and at times quite bizarre, this is travel writing as you’ve never seen it before. And better still, it’s not called TRROMIF any more – too long. Simply AMIF. A Man in France.  Available as an ebook or paperback (click links to order).

Ebook (£1.99)

Paperback (£4.99)

Or visit Blogley Books

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253 – The Caussade Cyclo Club

 

It couldn’t have been a worse day yesterday for my first group tour with the local cycle club. Hammering rain, droplets the size of marbles, the moment I stepped outside my house. Swirling dirty grey clouds overhead making the sky look like the palette of an artist who hates colour. A real shitfest of a day that would make death by firing squad more preferable to cycling 85 km in freezing cold rain.

I love cycling. I could cycle anywhere, any distance, at any time. So long as it’s sunny. Or at least vaguely warm. Even cold is bearable. Just not rain or wind. Yesterday morning, I had both.

But I couldn’t let the team down or myself. Especially as I’d gone all the way to Caussade on Friday evening to attend their monthly meeting so I could get the go-ahead from the club secretary to join them on Sunday.

That was a fag in itself, especially as I’d got the wrong Salle de Reunion and ended up gatecrashing a Mixed Martial Arts demonstration instead. When I asked a tough looking teenager where the cycle club met, he looked at me as though I’d asked him out on a date. Eventually telling me after releasing me from a Korean headlock, that he didn’t know and didn’t care. He was a fighter not a poofy cyclist.

I thanked him for his time and wandered out onto the street looking for clues. I saw a woman carrying a tray of crepes wrapped in cellophane, so I followed her. Not because I have a weak spot for crepes (although I do – dripping in creme fraiche, lemon juice and brandy), but because I remembered the cycle secretary telling me on the phone something about there being crepes at the meeting.

The woman I could tell was terrified about being followed by a guy dressed in a grey hoody, black gloves and blue trainers, but after 15 minutes we arrived at the correct Salle de Reunion, where I explained to her who I was. It turned out she was the secretary I’d come to see.

After a brief discussion about crepes and the weather she told me I could come on Sunday. ‘Nous partons à huit heures,’ she said.

‘I’m sorry,’ I replied. ‘I misheard you.’

‘We leave at eight o’clock,’ she repeated in English.

‘Yes, I understand,’ I continued in French. ‘But you said, eight o’clock. On a Sunday. Are you serious?’

Her eyes narrowed. ‘You don’t have children, do you?’ she asked.

‘Not the last time I looked, no,’ I replied. ‘I like my sleep.’

She smiled, ‘In summer, we leave at seven…’

So there I was outside my house yesterday morning straddling my bike saddle that felt like a lump of wet clay, getting ready to cycle the six kilometres to Caussade for Le Grand Depart.

When I arrived in the town to meet up with the team, they laughed as I approached. ‘Il est en short!’ I heard (He’s wearing shorts!). I replied by telling them that I didn’t feel the cold. Two hours later, I was absolutely freezing and they suggested I should buy some longjohns. I said, ‘I was fine. Next week will be sunny and warm.’ They all laughed again.

Doing leisurely cycle tours as I’m used to, with a carafe of red wine wedged in the bottle holder, is a million miles away from road cycling at speed with fifteen others on a slippery wet road. One lapse in concentration and you’re cycling into somebody’s back wheel, waking up in hospital four days later after a surgeon has pinned your mangled body back together. (Read Blog 65 on Frederic Moreau’s accident for more details on that).

The day was hard for sure, but exhilarating. And I didn’t disgrace myself one bit. I even impressed them by taking the climb up to Mirabel by the scruff of the neck and proving you don’t need a two grand bike to perform well. My vintage 1985 Peugeot PK10 serving me well throughout the day, and when we got back to Caussade after 85 kms of rain soddened cycling, we said goodbye and disappeared as quickly as we’d arrived. Until next week.

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252 – The Final Supermarket Trip of Jesus of Nazareth

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‘In the name of Jesus Christ. Stop!’ Judas heard a voice cry out behind him as he entered Hussein’s Mini Mart for his daily shop.

‘Oh hi, Jee,’ replied Judas turning to greet his old friend and picking up a basket. ‘What’s up?’

Jesus popped a fig into his mouth from the free-to-taste section, swallowed it and spoke. ‘There’s word on the grapevine that you’ve been saying the wrong things to the wrong people.’

Judas looked troubled. His eyes scanning the shelves trying to decide whether to buy pasta or rice. He was having a few friends over later and couldn’t decide on risotto or tagliatelle.

‘It wasn’t the Pharisees was it?’ continued Jesus.

Judas was astounded at the range of products on offer these days in the town’s supermarkets and in truth wasn’t paying attention to his irate friend. ‘It was the Romans actually,’ Judas finally answered, dropping a packet of Mr. Pharaoh Arborio rice into his basket. He had decided on risotto.

‘The Romans!’ cried Jesus. ‘Do you know what they’ll do if they catch us?’

Judas wasn’t bothered. ‘Look Jee, to be honest, I’ve got rather a lot on today,’ he said heading towards the deli counter with a bedraggled looking Jesus in tow.  ‘Can it wait until tomorrow?’

Jesus stared at Judas in disbelief. ‘Well I hate to be such a crushing bore old chap, but no it can’t wait until tomorrow. This!’ exclaimed Jesus, holding up a three minute boil-in-the bag salmon and chive tortellini, ‘could be my last meal.’

He’s right, thought Judas. Maybe it should be pasta. We had rice last Friday. A creamy mushroom tagliatelle infused with a few lightly roasted peppers plus a few olives on the side might go down better than a heavy risotto, especially in this heat.

‘Jee, old buddy,’ said Judas facing Jesus. ‘I’ll tell you what, why don’t you stop by for supper this evening and we’ll talk about it over a few light ales and the odd bottle or two of red wine. What do you say?’

Jesus stared at the unappetising three minute pasta meal in his hand. The thought of eating plasticky tortellini again for the fifth time that week made him almost gag.

‘What time?’ asked Jesus unenthusiastically.

‘Oh, say seven to seven thirty,’ replied Judas smiling.

‘Can I bring somebody?’

‘Of course. Bring whoever you want. Bring that bird you know. Or those hippie dudes you hang about with. The more the merrier, eh?’ said Judas slapping Jesus on the shoulder before disappearing off to the booze aisle to look for some good red wine. Leaving the Son of God holding a bag of salmon and chive tortellini, wondering if he should have simply said no to Judas and stayed in and watched the golf.

(Taken from The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd, available as an ebook or a paperback.)

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250 – A Final Word on The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd

To celebrate 250 posts of Blogley, I’m pleased to announce that there is now a paperback version available of The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd. This is probably the last time I will talk on the subject, so if you have no idea what The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is, read this:

The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is a collection of 24 stories by Philip Ogley influenced by 15 years of dreadful jobs, strange adventures and extraordinary people. A madcap journey through the modern world featuring an unforgettable cast of characters in some of the strangest situations imaginable. An angry postman in Bristol. An elderly couple addicted to bad French food. A boxing match on a cricket square between two public servants. The man trapped in a bookshop over Christmas. The holidaymaker who takes sunbathing to the extreme. Plus many more bizarre tales taking you on a fascinating trip through the curious imagination of the author. Nomadic, zany, poignant and funny. The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is definitely worth a read in any weather. (Just don’t leave your sunbed at home.)

To order the print version click below:

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To order the ebook version, click below:

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249 – Why Kindles Are Great!

I never thought I’d buy or use a Kindle. I once ran a secondhand bookshop and have always loved the ancient feel of books. So it came as a shock to me this Christmas when I opened my stocking Santa had brought me and found a Kindle tucked away next to a satsuma. Since then, it’s been great. Here’s why:

1. When I write a story (or any prose), I can send it to the Kindle and read it instead of printing it out. I can’t proofread on a computer – my eyes go blurred – so this is a valuable aid. Sounds geeky and boring, but true.

2. I can read French books and look up tricky words quickly. Lazy perhaps, but incredibly useful.

3. I live in the middle of nowhere in rural France. If I want to read any book, I can. Again, useful.

4. I move around a lot. I have limited space. Books weigh shit loads. Obvious point.

5. I can read in the dark. No more reading under the covers with a torch! (‘You’re not at school, Oggers!’) OK, good point, but what I mean is, you don’t need the light on to read in bed, which might disturb other people around you (partners, children, dogs, cats etc…).

I’m not giving the thumbs up to Amazon, in the same way I wouldn’t give the thumbs up to Bill Gates or Dell Corporation, just because I use their operating systems or laptops. I’m simply stating a fact. The Kindle is a good invention, partly because it isn’t a tablet, which means you actually read and learn something, rather than wasting your time surfing the internet.

Anyway as I said, this isn’t a plug for Amazon. But it is a plug for my book, which in case you’ve forgotten goes something like this (extract from the Amazon website):

“The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is a collection of 24 stories by Philip Ogley influenced by 15 years of dreadful jobs, strange adventures and extraordinary people. A madcap journey through the modern world featuring an unforgettable cast of characters in some of the strangest situations imaginable. An angry postman in Bristol. An elderly couple addicted to bad French food. A boxing match on a cricket square between two public servants. The man trapped in a bookshop over Christmas. The holidaymaker who takes sunbathing to the extreme. Plus many more bizarre tales taking you on a fascinating trip through the curious imagination of the author. Nomadic, zany, poignant and funny. The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is definitely worth a read in any weather. (Just don’t leave your sunbed at home.)

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248 – The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd: A Short History

I first started writing short stories in 2003, the result of my six part sitcom, Crushed Soup, being rejected by the BBC comedy department. Gutted by their total lack of vision and foresight, I decided to shun script writing and pen short stories instead.

The first one I wrote, Capital Household, was about a father who ran his house like a business, employing his children to do chores in return for food and water. If they refused, or were sick, no dinner!

I sent it off to the Bridport Prize thinking it would win, such was the simplicity and brilliance of the story. It didn’t. Not even a mention.

However, not too perturbed, I wrote another story, and another and another. Two years later, living in an old house in Starcross near Exeter, I had the idea of putting them together into a collection. Maybe ten stories and call it The Road to Starcross. I even had a cover, a picture of me at the railway station in the village.

I did nothing with it and instead went off to waste a year studying writing in Falmouth. A year when I could have been writing more stories for my book, instead of listening to lectures about writing. But such is the mind of a thirty year old who’s only just started shaving.

After Falmouth, working as a postman in Bristol, I continued writing stories, but totally forgot about the collection idea. When I moved to France in 2011 to schlep my ass around Lyon as an English teacher, my short story writing career was in effect over, as the only thing I wrote during this period was this blog – see Blogley posts 1 to 113.

The idea only resurfaced last year when I started writing some new stories. I enjoyed it and after some coaxing from Elizabeth’s mum and Elizabeth herself, I decided to rekindle the idea and publish it as a Kindle (book). Why not, I thought? Every other fucker is doing it! The Road to Auty (where I now live), perhaps? As a kind of belated homage to Starcross.

In 2005, I had about 20 stories written. Ten years later in 2015, I had about 120. I couldn’t publish them all, the reader would die of boredom by number 31, so it was a case of narrowing the list down to 20 or 30. This was the difficult part. I wanted a balance of old and new, straight and weird, funny and sad. I had all of these, but which ones should I leave out? Some were too personal, some were too nuts, some were simply rubbish.

I got my longlist down to 40 and started re-editing them. This took ages. Ten years ago, I found writing incredibly difficult. I still find writing incredibly difficult, but back then it showed and the old stories needed a lot of work.

By mid January 2016, I had a short list of 25 for the final collection, which I cut down to 24 the day before my self-imposed deadline of 1st February.

I decided not to use The Road to Auty as the title for the book in the end as it sounded silly. Instead plumping for the much saner sounding title of The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd. Hope you enjoy it.

Drinks Please! (2004)
The East Street Massacre (2008)
The Need to be Nice (2015)
The 25th Bookshop Escape Plan (2003)
Smokers World (2005)
Lunar Whites (2015)
The Merrill Diet (2004)
The Supermarket (2006)
Reality At Last (2015)
The World’s Greatest Writer (2007)
Lotto (2009)
Shop Until You Drop (2003)
The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd (2006)
Six (2005)
The Mailman Milkman Affair (2010)
Four Knots and Back (2005)
The Last Christmas Tree On Earth (2010)
Paperweight (2005-6)
The Great American Bookshop (2009)
The World Famous Señor Domingo (2005)
The Writing Room (2009)
The Final Supermarket Trip of Jesus of Nazareth (?)
Postman Bastard (2007)
Where’s the Fish? (2008)

The book is available as a Kindle download. Click the cover below to buy it.

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