Sunday, July 29, 2018

In Full Retreat: Writing in France

I went to France at the beginning of July planning to get a start made on the new Charlie Fox book. I’m happy to report that the tentative 15,000 words I’d hoped for morphed into 20,000 once I got into the writing, and I’m even cautiously pleased with the way it’s going so far. I promised myself I’d have a break when I hit that point, and do some driving around to look at locations for later on in the story, but at the same time, I’m anxious not to lose too much momentum.

No chance of getting out of practise with the writing itself, though. I also had a last-minute Q&A to write for the #BlogTour I did at the start of the month for the launch of the new crime thriller standalone, Dancing On The Grave. Thank you so much to everyone who took part or supported me along the way.

And then I was reminded that I’d promised to provide a short story for a proposed anthology earlier in the year. The editor contacted me and asked for a brief sentence or two about the story, and particularly the setting of it. Within a week, if possible.


My mind was a complete blank.

Me and fellow crime thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann at
the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach in Normandy
When I came out to Aveyron in southern France, I had with me my author friend, Libby Fischer Hellmann. She needed to finish a book just as I needed to start one. Incredibly useful to have someone else along on the 1100km drive south, though, as trying to drive a UK-spec right-hand-drive car through a French toll péage, where all the payment booths are set up for left-hand-drive vehicles, can be a bit of a problem.

French toll péages can be tricky in a right-hand-drive UK car!
We did quite a bit of touring about in the afternoons, having spent the mornings dutifully scribbling. And when I picked up another visitor, who arrived the afternoon following Libby’s departure, I had already seen one or two of the nearest and most popular.

Chateau de Bournazel with medieval crane in evidence...
So, I found myself sitting with my notebook outside a fabulous French castle on a baking day, waiting for them to finish sightseeing, and suddenly a short story came floating by. Needless to say, I grabbed it with both hands. By the time my visitor returned, I had the main points mapped out, and I finished off fleshing it out sitting in the garden, with one of my feline muses for company.

Spatz, one of my muses
So, I’ve been trying to work out what it is about being here in in the Aveyron valley area that’s been so good for my inspiration. It can’t be the weather per se, as it’s been similar weather in the UK.

It can’t be the presence of the feline muses, either, as I have two on hand back in Derbyshire. (Who would be mortified if they knew I’d been unfaithful to them by sleeping with other cats on my bed here!) Perhaps it’s the lack of distraction. Good internet for research, but no TV. Friendly locals, but no close friends except on the end of a phone line or Skype call. And no other purpose than writing except to keep the place running—easier said than done after an ant invasion, near-miss lightning strike that knocked the power out in the house, and neighbouring dogs chasing the cats around the garden, at which point Inkypuss went and hid in the rafters of one of the outbuildings. We spent ages searching for her and fearing the worst.

Inkypuss, showing there is Something of the Night about her...
French road signs are entertaining to me as a Brit—particularly the fact the Stop signs have ‘Stop’ on them, rather than ‘Arrêt’, but are still the distinctive octagonal shape as at home and in the States, so they are instantly recognisable even if obscured by snow. And whoever designed the signs warning of the approach to a pedestrian crossing must have been a closet fan of The Beatles

Abbey Road, anyone?
 This area is very arable. It suddenly becomes understandable, if the French farmers object strongly to some aspect of government policy, why it creates a serious problem for their politicians. The chestnut-coloured and cream cattle are beautiful muscular animals in the fields. Every garden is full of hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas are everywhere in this part of France, both pink and
blue ones often growing alongside each other.
 By the time you read this, I will be on the way up-country heading for the ferry home from Calais on Monday. We have several side trips planned for the journey, so expect to hear more about that part of the trip very soon.

Me driving over the famous Millau Bridge (the Bridge in the Clouds)
Meanwhile, I exceeded my cautious target of 15,000 words by another 5000, I’m well into writing the short story. I plan on making lots of notes for both novel and story while on the road—or during the overnight stops, at least—so I can leap back into my August workload of writing as soon as I get back. Hopefully, still thoroughly invigorated by my time away.

Vive la France!

This week’s Word of the Week is deracinate, meaning to uproot (usually a person) from their natural social, cultural or geographical environment. It comes from the 16th Century French déraciner, from dé (removal) and racine, meaning ‘root’, from the Latin radix.


  1. For me the inspiration was a freshly baked baguette and some brie. Better yet, Goat Cheese brie. Well done, Zoe!

    1. Thanks, Libby. The bread was one of the delights, wasn't it? I shall miss that most of all.

  2. Going through a French toll booth in a UK car is easy, just do U-turn and then go through the booth in reverse...

    Little known fact: deracinate also means "to pull radishes from the garden." True story. I wouldn't lie to you. Now, about that Bridge in the Clouds: I just happen to own a controlling interest in it, and I'm looking to divest...

    1. Hi EvKa. Of course I believe every word you say, and you're selling a bridge? Ooh, as soon as the Nigerian Minister of Finance who emailed me the other day launders his $5m via my bank account, I'll be right in there...

      A friend of mine grows radishes between other veg on her allotment as a sacrificial offering to the slugs.

  3. Wow, Zoe, what a delightful sojourn. Funny. I find that same ease of creative flow when I am in Italy. You have it 100% right I think. Life is simpler in those ancient surroundings. And though I own the place in Florence, unlike in NYC, I don't look around and constantly find things for my to-do list. I truly believe that being in the midst of all that beauty helps too. I have to imagine that your sitting and gazing at the castle--it's interesting but pleasant shape, its strength, the geometric regularity of the lovely garden! That sort of view, I believe, puts the human brain in order. Makes insight easier. Anyway, I am so glad, this Sunday, to look at the pictures and draw what I can--especially since that anthology editor is my own personal slave-drive.

    1. Thanks, Annamaria. I'm hoping this creative flow will continue when I get back to the UK, as I've a lot of book -- and story -- still to write. But one of the châteux I visited a few days ago has inextricably written itself into the new book. Should be fun when I reach that part of the story...

  4. Glad to see that your admitting to sitting outside a French castle on a baking day didn't lead EvKa to some comment about Mad Dogs and English. I guess that's progress.

  5. lol, Jeff, yes. It was a tad warm, but after this summer in the UK, we're used to it!