Continuing our series of “A Letter from…” Mike Kingdom-Hockings has sent us a “Letter from France” in which he describes his life in Limousin as a newly fledged author of children’s books.
My wife Phyllis and I are colonials, both brought up in what was then the Mandated Territory of Tanganyika. I returned to England when Elizabeth II was crowned, completed my education in Hampshire, worked in London for three years, then came back to Hampshire. Phyll spent hardly any time in England, but did nursing training in Edinburgh, then spent most of her working life on contracts in out-of-the-way places including an Indian Reservation in British Columbia, and hospitals of copper mines in what are now Zambia and Zimbabwe. That’s probably why we are not attracted to city life except for short visits.
A foreign assignment to Paris for four years didn’t citify us, either. I worked in La Défense, but we lived on the edge of Marly Forest and probably visited the city less than once a month—although we enjoyed the times when we did, often discovering little gems tucked away in back streets.
I took advantage of an early retirement plan in 1992 and ended up scratching a living in Botswana for 11 years. While we were there, Phyll took an exploratory trip to France one January to get a feel for what parts of it would appeal to us and also be affordable. We ended up buying a house in the Limousin that hadn’t been occupied for 25 years. Its roof had a hole in it, and the dead spiders in the cellar were cocooned in dry rot filaments. Twenty years later, we’re still renovating—sometimes second time around.
Phyll is the driving force behind this and the huge garden. I am her grudging slave, and I like the results, but I needed something else to keep me sane. So I started writing books. They were very short ones—5000 words or less—which I published in Kindle format for 99 cents. I was a little surprised when Amazon told me I’d probably make more if I priced them at $2.99, but they were right.
This year, with ten little books under my belt and my 77th birthday looming up, I felt brave enough to attempt something bigger. While we were living in Paris, our children were taught to sail on a reservoir near Versailles, by a wonderful old Frenchman whom the kids all adored. That, and the fact that my younger son and his family live within walking distance of the river in a suburb of Norwich, gave me the idea of writing a manual for teaching sailing to young children. I was just about to press the ‘publish’ button when I changed my mind and rewrote it as a story featuring two young girls rather like my two lively granddaughters. At 13,500 words, it was a real book at last, although still a small one. That felt much better, and seems to have gone down well with the people who have read it so far.
Now that the Kindle e-book is out there, I’m putting the finishing touches to the paperback (70 pages in 6″ x 9″ format), and even toying with the idea of making an audio book. To do that, I’d have to record something like one and a half hours of narration—a big jump from W S Gilbert’s Yarn of the Nancy Bell, which is the longest tale I have recorded so far.
Meanwhile, I have started collecting ideas for my first full-sized (50,000 words) book—featuring the same two little girls and a holiday adventure on the Norfolk Broads. That should help keep Alzheimer’s at bay for a bit longer.
“Grandpa Mike” (Mike Kingdom-Hockings)
Paperback, 68 pages
RRP: tba (UK); $6.99 (US)