Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Birth of a novel...

La Flèche
... Since being a teenager I’ve spent as much of my spare time in France as I possibly could.  This has meant that I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the country and then some!

From, more or less, the same time I’ve always wanted to write.  I can recall – now with mortifying and cringing embarrassment – once telling an elderly aunt that I wanted to be the world’s next Shakespeare.  My only defence in making that incredibly rash statement was that I was very young at the time!  So, put those two things together and it seems to me that a novel about my most favourite place was on the cards long before I even consciously took up my quill – sorry, I mean biro - and made that very first brief note about an odd idea that had been circling my mind.

I’m often asked why I set my novel, Messandrierre, in France – there are many reasons.  The country is vast; geographically about 6 times the size of GB, but the population is similar.  There are some really remote places and the scenery is very varied and, in some instances, absolutely spectacular.  France also has a fascinating history, which is inextricably linked with ours.  Then there is the weather.  Need I mention the cuisine, the wine, and the culture?  But, above all, it’s a place where I always feel completely at ease and safe whenever I’m there.

Crossing the Col, September 2007
The very first idea for Messandrierre came whilst I was travelling in the Cévennes in September 2007.  Overnight the weather changed dramatically and the next morning the village where I was staying and the surrounding countryside where covered with snow, so I jotted down a note.  That note was scribbled on September 29th, 2007 if you want me to be precise and it was that white covering that kept my mind exercised until I had formulated the idea of using snow to cover someone’s misdeeds – and the first page of my story was born.

But then life got in the way and it was three years later, whilst I was staying in the Charente before I made any progress.  In the supermarket, I met a lovely couple who lived locally and who invited me for tea and cakes – and who can turn cakes down?  During the course of conversation, a single innocent remark stayed with me and kept circling at the back of my mind.  That was when I finally worked out who the body was, how the death had occurred, who the killers were and who my hero was going to be.  All of which meant a lot of scribbled notes.

It's hard not to be inspired by scenery like this!
The really hard work began at the end of 2013 when I started to actually write the story that had been haunting me.  Some 50 pages in and I realised I didn’t know enough about my central character, Gendarme Jacques Forêt.  I did my further thinking in the Cévennes, Aude and Hérault.  Jacques soon became a fully formed character in his own right along with the other villagers and my heroine, Beth.

Finishing the story was one thing, but getting published was the greatest surprise of all.  Since then I seem to have been propelled on a wind to who knows where and it’s kind of hard to believe, that one year later, I’ve got book 2 (Merle) almost finished and that I’m already making notes about, and jotting down specific phrases and sentences to use in, book 3 (Montbel).



  1. I like your childhood ambition. One of the first ambitions I can remember having was to win the Booker Prize!

  2. Yeah... Although I didn't know it at the timee, it is a bit of a tall order!!! I guess that explains why I'm still working on it! Good luck with your ambition, though.