Thursday, 25 July 2013

"Escapade" in Burgundy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you're driving down to the South of France from England, an overnight stay in a fabulous hotel adds greatly to the pleasures of the open road and sense of a holiday beginning. It's also one of life's happy circumstances that the halfway point lies in the Burgundy region, with its fine wines and rich cooking.

So it was that we turned off the A6, the Autoroute du Soleil, at Avallon, and on towards Vezelay. It was when we made a pit-stop at a country auberge in that village a few years ago that we drove past the moat of the Hotel Château de Vault de Lugny the next morning and thought, one day...

After all the hard work involved in delivering a new book, it seemed fitting for that day to arrive sooner rather than later. The drive down through a sweltering France - including gridlock on the Paris péripherique and various outbreaks of motorway madness - melted away as soon as we arrived at that mysterious green moat and the remote-controlled iron gates swung open to admit us. The seventeenth-century façade of the main building stood across a wide lawn, and a porter driving a golf buggy appeared to take our luggage.

Inside, there's a homely feel to the grand rooms, and the atmosphere is light and friendly - there's none of the stuffiness you can sometimes encounter in establishments that offer something special. It wasn't long before we were showered and changed and drinking a chilled glass of champagne outside on the terrace.

Dinner was served inside by candlelight in a room hung with tapestry. There were some eye-watering prices by some of the vintage burgundies on the wine list, but next time we want to spend 15,000 euros on a bottle of Romanée Conti (ahem, not likely) we'll know where to come.

As it was, we had a superb dinner, including a foie gras crème brûlée, and caramelised onion ravioli, for an extremely reasonable all-in price for an "Escapade Amoureuse": room, dinner and breakfast.

That breakfast was as good as we've ever had, anywhere. There's such pleasure in having breakfast outside, and here it's served on the terrace between the château and the lawns. The croissants and pains chocolats were still warm from the oven and the jams were all homemade. Instead of yoghurt, we were served a kind of pannacotta with berry coulis.

And here's a first - French breakfast tea! It was good, too - rather lighter and fresher than the usual English Breakfast blend.

After breakfast there was time for a stroll around the grounds - though not the hundred acres that comprise the estate - and a look at the tower that once housed a dungeon...

 ...before crossing over the moat again, back onto the road south.

If you'd like to find out more, you can click this link: Château de Vault de Lugny website.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

It was Volterra!

I had a query from New Zealand through my website at the weekend: which was the Italian hill-top village where Tom met Giuliana many years later in my novel The Art of Falling? I've been trying to respond to say that it was Volterra, pictured above. But the mailer daemons keep sending back my reply. And as I hate to seem ungrateful for messages and unwilling to engage with readers who enjoy my books, I'm posting this in the hope that that the answer will get through!

Friday, 12 July 2013

The scent of fear

Before my summer can really begin, there's another edit of the manuscript to be done. In some ways this is the most enjoyable part of the process, the evaluation of individual words and images, the close work of the novel, if you like.

Why the spices? Well, I was trying to describe the scent of fear. It's a subtle but absolutely crucial part of the book, and clearly must be done with both precision and delicacy. According to scientists, the smell of fear is absolutely real and produced by pheromones when the body experiences terror. It's even contagious, in that other people react to the smell - usually subliminally, as this chemical part is very difficult for the human nose to detect.

So what exactly does fear smell of? Wild animals, it seems. Or rather, their bodily functions. A hint of musk and ammonia. Apparently, that old perfume-maker's ingredient civet oil, used to warm and deepen a fragrance, has a touch of it. Which could explain why Guerlain's Jicky, which contains it, can go a bit, well, manure-y, after several hours if applied too lavishly.

There's an element of sweat, obviously, and all I could think of was cumin, the pungent spice that gives Chilli con Carne the authentic whiff of Mexican Armpit. Somehow I don't think that comparison is going to work in a novel...but it's a good excuse to show this stunning display of spices, the fragrance of which rose like a Moroccan cloud (not sure that works either...!). Harder than it looks, this description business.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The French rose

Félicitations to the new French women's singles champion of Wimbledon, the astonishing Marion Bartoli! Watched the match live on the BBC, and before the match none of the pundits, not even John McEnroe - who always likes the idiosyncratic players - thought she could go all the way.
Well, she proved everyone wrong, didn't she, with near-flawless control, clear-thinking and the sheer sweeping strength of her shots. A style all of her own, a little ungainly sometimes, but it got the job done.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Hungarian Lantern

July already - how can this be possible?! The weeks have flown by as I concentrated on the new novel, but The Lantern is still coming out in various translations. Here's the latest, in Hungarian, from the prestigious Budapest publishing house, Gabo.

I know some of you are as fascinated by book covers as I am, the way different countries use different marketing images for the same story, and this is an interesting one. It took me a while to work out that the night sky is actually an inverted lavender field. I do quite like it - it's definitely relevant to the novel, and the effect is weirdly creepy.

They've also played up a fantastic blurb quote from Tatiana de Rosnay, whose books are huge sellers all across Europe. This is what she wrote for the US and UK editions:

“I absolutely adored this beautifully written, modern Gothic novel, set in Provence, full of scents, colors and mystery. It will hook you in from the start and weave its dark, lush magic around you.
—Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah's Key and A Secret Kept 
So, thanks again, Tatiana!
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