16 June 2011

Gadsby not Gatsby!

That’s me - June Gadsby - and not so great, but since I moved to Gascony in France in 1991 I’ve had to correct the French who instantly relate me to The Great Gatsby
The fact that I am a writer is just a coincidence.
With my photographer/ornithologist husband and two miniature Yorkshire terriers I live in a small rural village of 360 inhabitants and over the years I have acquired three very different “hats”.  Madame the writer, Madame the white witch and, by most as Madame the artist.

Our house is apparently the only one left still with its original Gascony design, built in 1808, and we have managed to keep most of its original features. Opposite our main gates we have the very pretty view of the village church and the old ruined chateau.

On a clear day when the leaves have left the trees we can look out onto the snow-capped Pyrénées.  In winter the snow can be a foot deep forty minutes down the road, but it generally only manages a good hoar frost here. 
I’ve written all my life from the age of eight years, but apart from travel and nostalgic articles and one or two short stories on radio, I remained unpublished as a novelist until 2001.  Now, I have something like 25 titles under my belt, novels and novellas, most of which have also appeared in Large Print format. They are, for the most part, romantic suspense, very often in exotic settings. 

My latest, “The Raging Spirit” out in May 2011, has attracted some superb reviews, for which any writer would be thrilled. All thanks to publishers Robert Hale.

"Gadsby's fluent style of writing and propensity for drama bring the characters to life" Accent Journal.
"Spiced with the fresh air of originality and realism" Myshelf.com.
     "The book's ring of authenticity" Shields Gazette.

Years ago, I was told to give up writing as I would never manage to get published. The collage above of just some of my books is proof that “they” were wrong and I was so right to persevere. 
If you believe strongly enough in yourself and follow that dream, it’s half way to success. 
The rest is hard work and lots of luck.

My French neighbour named me Sorceress of Labatut-Riviere some years ago – this is where the white witch bit comes in.  I dabble in aromatic herbs. This came about when we were pretty new here in France and found ourselves without health cover either by England or by France.
To take out a full health scheme policy cost more than our meager incomes put together, so I started experimenting – first with the only herb we had growing in our half-acre plot – sage.  It cured me of an 18-month long digestive problem in ten days.  From there I started growing more and more herbs until I had a well-established plot of aromatics. I studied herbs and spices and eventually came up with what everybody calls my “magic ointment”. This has been known to cure or at least ease everything from psoriasis to a burnt finger and muscular pain. The local French have been known to trundle up our drive and ask for more as it’s the only thing that works on their ailments. The recipe is secret, of course, but no animal products or artificial enhancers are used in the making of it.

And speaking of animals, my two little canine buddies are also my children and, in the evening, when I relax in front of the telly they snuggle up to me like a couple of pannier bags. Candy is the sweetest little lady at almost 12 years old, but is somewhat intolerant of Toby, who is just 18 months and full of mischievous energy. They are with me now as I write – mascots and lucky charms. It was Candy who inspired my first novella to be published and she was immortalized in that story. I’m sure Toby will get into a novel somewhere. 
It will probably be a very humorous story.

On the art side, I’ve recently been lucky enough to have some friends build me my own studio where I can relax, paint, listen to music and thoroughly chill out.  
Art has been a great part of my life since I was 21 months old – yes, I have some original sketches to prove it, found among my mother’s effects when she died a couple of years ago. 
I hasten to add that my work has improved greatly since then. People always ask what I specialize in. Well, I paint just about anything in all different styles, but I have recently taken up painting pet portraits as animals are my first love.

I also paint landscapes and flowers. In the village I have been allowed to use a hall in which I give painting lessons to beginners and the group meets twice a month over paint, coffee, cake and a good laugh. The medium I use is ChromaColour – it’s magic. Far better than water colour, gouache, acrylic or oils. I’ve painted animals for years, but I’m quite new to still life and flowers. 

The painting of the figs was my first attempt at still life. I sold it to someone who wanted it as a wedding present for a friend. The friend took it to get it framed and it was stolen from the framers. It’s the second time I’ve had a painting stolen.

I suppose I should feel flattered that someone should think they were worth breaking the law for. 
My life started out as pretty dull by anybody’s reckoning, lviing in my grandparents’ small miner’s cottage overlooking the River Tyne with grandfather, grandmother, aunt and mother. However, as I grew older and wiser it got a whole more interesting, though at the time when certain events took place it was more traumatic than funny. I can only now look back with a smile and a chuckle and put it all down as experience, lessons well learned and great fodder for a writer.

I was, for a time, personal secretary to one of the country’s most notorious politicians and ended up giving evidence against him in a bribery and corruption case at Leeds Crown Court. Desperate for a life of my own, home, family etc., I married in haste and came close to losing my life at the hands of my schizophrenic doctor husband. I’ve travelled widely to places such as South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Patagonia, Argentina, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon jungle – and, of course, many places in Europe too. All this has given me great backgrounds for my books.

Through my present husband, Brian, I was involved in his work at the Washington Centre of the Wildfowl and Wetlands trust where we lived on site at the edge of the park with 1200 different species of wildfowl, many of them endangered. Many was the time I would open our door and be presented with a foundling bird needing TLC. 
My favourite was a young kestrel. An old man pushed it into my hands saying that his grandson had found it. The bird clamped itself to both my thumbs, the door closed behind me and I had to sit on the step for two hours to wait for my step-daughter to come home from school to let me in. 
My least favourite event of this kind was spending hours trying to clean oil off birds caught in a local oil spill.

Through my husband I met, on more than one occasion, Sir Peter Scott and his wife Lady Philippa, and the Trust’s Patron, Prince Charles along with other notaries.  And worldwide best selling writer Catherine Cookson called us in to solve the mystery of her “childless ducks”. 

 I spent a wonderful three hours chatting with her and, at the end of the day her lovely husband, Tom, served us tea and cake, which he had made himself.

Most of my working years were spent as Medical Secretary and Administrator for Newcastle University and the NHS where no day was ever the same and the work enjoyable though hard and stressful. I saw life from every angle, met some great and some not so great people and had lots of laughs. Working in a hospital situation you have to see the funny side of everything. Being too serious and getting upset over sick and dying patients doesn’t help anybody. 

In Endocrinology I dealt with many abnormalities and learnt to keep an unflinching smile on my face because I never knew who or what to expect walking through my office door – acromegaly giants looking like James Bond’s “Jaws”, dwarfs, homosexuals, transsexuals, hermaphrodites and sexual deviants. In Psychiatry the patients looked okay, but you never knew what was going on in their minds and the psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers seemed to think that my office was where they gravitated to if they needed someone to talk to.
So, there you are. So many changes in one life and I have the feeling that there are more to come. I’m that kind of person.

Who would I like to invite as Dinner Guests?

Goodness, that’s difficult. Of those who are no longer with us in the flesh I would certainly want to invite Leonardo Da Vinci for his artistic brilliance and technical genius long ahead of his time; Catherine Cookson so I can thank her for her wonderful hospitality and inspiring advice; Barbara Cartland (just for the fun of it and the fact that she was the author of the very first romance I read at the age of fifteen),  Sir Peter Scott for his beliefs in conservation and his eccentric humour and T. Dan Smith (my notorious employer) who was not nearly as black as he was painted and was an artist and a poet with great charisma.
Those who are still on this planet – Prince Charles so I can talk to him about gardening and blots on the landscape; Barack Obama because he is a great writer, great philosopher and will probably go down as one of America’s greatest Presidents; Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest men that ever lived; David Attenborough, because he’s lived the life I would have loved, given the opportunity; and Alan Bennett for his enviable real life humorous story-telling.

There are so many more people I would like to invite, but as I’m restricted to ten, let’s leave it there. 

Next Time: author Paul Bailey 


  1. June, your life is a story in itself. I really enjoyed reading this blog post.

  2. wonderful post. I love reading about interesting people and Helen definitely has many of those on her guest blogs. Where does she find them all? I loved the bit about June's herbs and remedies and would love to know more!

  3. Excellent guest blog, June. And what a life you've led! I hope it's all grist to the mill in your fiction.


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