Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Cover reveal: 300 Days of Sun

Ta-da...isn't it glorious? I am very happy indeed. The picture shows the dramatic rocks on the Algarve coast in southern Portugal, where the novel is set - and I hope it makes you want to plunge into the book as well as that sea.

The scratchy, scuffed effect and the lettering reminiscent of the 1950s is perfectly in tune with the story, too. Central to the action is a book published in 1954, written by a young American woman married to a foreign correspondent, based on her experience of wartime Lisbon, her travels in the south, and the aftermath of a time when the Allies and the Nazis faced each other across the casino tables and restaurants of supposedly neutral Portugal.

It's a story about borders and the transforming effects of crossing them, either willingly or unwillingly; the way altered geography and shifts of power change our lives. As I wrote, the story took on a thriller-ish feel, which made it exciting to write. Above all, there's a strong sense of place and atmosphere, with an evocation of a dangerous yet fascinating era.

Before publication - which is not until April 2016 - I will post up the start and various extracts, but for now I will leave you with the HarperCollins catalogue introduction. Fingers crossed it leaves you enticed.

Combining the atmosphere of Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins with the intriguing historical backstory of Christina Baker Kline’s The Orphan Train, Deborah Lawrenson’s mesmerizing novel transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past—where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes.

Traveling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But beneath the crumbling façade of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.

Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro -- where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger. 

Barnes & Noble: 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Sanary - so not St Tropez

I've been away the past week, a working break on the Côte d'Azur, if that doesn't sound too implausible. An old fishing village on the shores of the Mediterranean is such an old cliché that these days it almost always means millionaires on yachts and bronzed stick insects dripping in bling. But not always. Sanary-sur-Mer is still a working fishing town as well as a jolly holiday place for the more down-to-earth French.

I really was working. The page proofs of the new novel, 300 Days of Sun, had to be painstakingly checked, mistakes hunted down and sentences forensically assessed. With the house full of visitors again, I couldn't see how it would get done, so this was my answer. Work in the morning, sun in the afternoon.

It was great! I've never been away specifically to work on my own before, and I like it. Rather too much, perhaps. Previous brief visits to Sanary had intrigued me. It seemed friendly, with a lovely atmosphere, and is pretty as a picture. It has some lively literary connections, too, which are always interesting. Thomas Mann lived here in the 1930s, and Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World just out of town along the coast. D H Lawrence found some easing of his tuberculosis here, and Sybille Bedford - a wonderful writer who deserves to be better known - wrote Jigsaw, her "unsentimental education" among the wild and eccentric bohemians in the twenties and thirties in Sanary.

A short walk down a tree-lined, almost suburban, street to the west of the port was the pretty Portissol beach, where the water can change colour from pale grey-green to deep blue.
I even took the train along the coast to La Ciotat one day, as I've had the glimmering of an idea for yet another novel and wanted to do some research. Another afternoon, I took a boat trip to the calanques at Cassis and beyond.
At night, there were unpretentious restaurants by the harbour where I felt perfectly happy eating on my own, watching the world go by and the night market being set up. After that, there were various bands and other free entertainments that sprang up along the esplanade. As I told the family when I got back, having completed my list of changes to the proofs and sent them off to New York yesterday morning before I left: it was a full week's work!

Thursday, 13 August 2015


Heavy rain at sunset in the Luberon. After weeks of searing sunshine and sweltering heat, it's perfect. The ground soaks it up and plants revive. And the cloudbursts damp down any remaining danger from the embers of forest fires. The hotter the summer, the more welcome the grey and the showers - always in the knowledge that tomorrow will almost bring the return of cerulean blue skies.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Château la Verrerie – wine and art

The pale peachy rosé wine from the Château la Verrerie at Puget-sur-Durance has been a summer favourite chez nous for some years. We almost certainly tried it first in one of the many restaurants in these parts, and starting calling it Château Ver-rer-y Good to distinguish it from the Château Verrière, which is also good but not our preferred choice. For special dinners, we normally buy a half-case at the excellent V Comme Vin shop in Apt rather than do what the Provenҫaux do, which is to buy direct from the producer.

But we finally made it to the Château la Verrerie the other day because, as part of the celebrations for its 30 years in the trade (a blink of an eye compared to the grand vignerons of France) an art exhibition was showing the work of one of the first local artists I featured when I first started this blog and I couldn't resist the chance to meet him. 

I first saw Olivier Boissinot's vibrant paintings of the calanques while trawling the internet looking for an illustration for an excerpt from The Lantern. When I found his website, I found he had captured exactly what had been in my head when I wrote - the searing brightness of the sea against the grey cliffs and the consequent sharpening of sight:

I sent him an email asking for permission to reproduce some of his work, he replied, and - thanks to the wonders of the internet - contact was made. Each time he had an exhibition, he would let me know, but until now, I hadn't been here at the right time.

As I walked into the Château la Verrerie, there was no mistaking I was in the right place!
And then I found the artist himself, enjoying a glass of excellent rosé, naturellement. Here he is, in front of one of the paintings in another of his subjects: the jazz clubs of New Orleans. He and I and Rob were soon chatting away like old friends, or as he put it: an artist, a writer and a musician - why wouldn't we have lots of interesting thoughts in common?

We didn't come away empty-handed, either. A case of wine, of course. And a painting, too. I owed Rob a birthday present, and we'd vaguely talked about a picture. And suddenly, there it was, just perfect for his music room here in France - The Jazz Group.

We both loved the reds, yellows and oranges, which seem to be the colours of jazz, and the thick, slick quality of the paint on the canvas, as well as the composition. As it turned out, we are so delighted with it that we decided to hang it where we can look at it all the time in our living room. It's a big canvas, and makes quite a statement, but perfect for the kind of music we like to play here.
And the music room still has its Boissinot - one of many posters that Olivier generously gave us:

You can see more of Olivier Boissinot's work by visiting his website Olivier Boissinot.
And for more information about the wine and the château, here is the site: Château la Verrerie. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Quintessential Provence

After sweltering heat, a cool breeze is playing and the days are rolling by. I will try to write something more interesting soon, I promise, but for now I have been pottering around the garden. This pot of very fragrant lavender from Roussillon is perfect on the table under the olive tree in the courtyard.

In years gone by, the glossy-leaved Diamantina, with its never-ending profusion of white bell flowers has always done well up sunny walls here, and so I have high hopes for this one. On evenings when we have guests for dinner, I'll light the lanterns in the courtyard. It makes a magical setting.

One day, I fantasize, I will have a garden beyond as luxuriant as this one at the Chateau La Verrerie at Puget-sur-Durance.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Two for the Road, driving through France

Driving south through France in summer. For a certain kind of British holidaymaker - Francophile, wine-drinking, book-sun-and-food-loving (I am all of these) - the popping of the car, like a cork, from the ferry or tunnel terminal onto the northern French autoroute is the start of another adventure.

And every year, as Rob and I barrel through Amiens, or Rouen and have the inevitable "Are we going to avoid Paris?" debate (we usually end up doing battle with one or other of the capital's gridlocked ring roads because he says the road to Chartres and Orleans is "too boring" and too far to the west to have any chance of finding a perfect hotel for the night in Burgundy) we recall other journeys, other years.

When was that first disastrous stay in Versailles? It was 1997; our daughter was one year old; and I don't know why, but I just don't like the atmosphere at Versailles, no matter how grand the hotel we stayed at. But wasn't there another time there? Yes, in 2005. We'd had a tyre blow-out, in the faithful old silver BMW convertible we kept for sentimental reasons, viz: 1991 (Dordogne, Aveyron and down into Spain), and 1994 (unforgettable stay at the Chateau Eza above Cap Ferrat, followed by a farmhouse in the Tarn). Which was the year we drove down with my old friend Chris, stayed in a weird old hotel in Tonnerre and spent rather longer than intended tasting wine at the Chateau de Pommard? (Answer: 1986, and a wine-themed relais is beginning to emerge.)

Remember that old film, Two for the Road (1967), in which the married couple drive from England to St Tropez, remembering other trips over the same ground, other stages in their marriage? Well, we're getting to be a regular Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn (in an ever so slightly less Hollywood great, elfin beauty way) bickering our way through the dull northern fields and industrial estates.

But it's actually quite useful, having the marital spats about, for example, which hotel it was where our friend Richard reduced us to tears of helpless laughter at breakfast with his observations about his sleepless night in a room next to two antique dealers. Several kilometres pass as I persuade Rob that it was the Hotel de la Gare near Macon, and I remember the name of the hotel because Richard began his account, with ominous pomposity, "I realise that, as this is the Hotel de la Gare, one should be prepared for a certain amount of noise, let us assume of shunting on the tracks..."

I should make it clear, just in case anyone wants to be over-sensitive, that the source of our hilarity was not so much Richard's ever more lurid tale but his Victorian Englishman abroad delivery of it, as he calmly spread jam on his croissant, having expressed disappointment at the lack of Oxford marmalade. We were all about 24 at the time. The good news is that Richard is one of the few people I know who has become less pompous with age.

Actually, I have an authentic memory of being driven the Dijon-Lyon-Montelimar-Avignon route more or less contemporaneously with the making of Two for the Road. The Sixties may have been swinging for Audrey and Albert on their drive south, but my family on the road from Brussels to the Costa Brava in Spain cut an altogether less fashionable picture.

We were Four for the Road: Mum, Dad, younger sister Helen and I, in a Ford Cortina with suitcases lashed to the roof-rack. It was May 1968, and while students were manning the barricades for the Paris revolution and strikers disrupted the rest of France, the imperturbable Lawrensons of the British Embassy were setting off for Spain come hell or high water. Dad had done some calculations and worked out how much fuel we'd need to get to Spain if no service stations were open in France. The jerry cans full of petrol were in the boot. As a concession, Dad took the hard decision to stop smoking his customary Rothmans while he was behind the wheel and we set forth at dawn smelling like an oil refinery. My sister and I were both sick before we crossed the border. No doubt, these days, our parents would have been arrested - on any of several counts - but we made it in one piece, though rather green around the gills.

What all this accumulated experience - Rob has his own decades of family trips in camper vans and back-up tales of horror - means is that we have quite of directory of tried and trusted hotels and stopping places for the first night of the journey.

Sometimes, the joy is in booking a treat for ourselves, like the Chateau de Vault de Lugny, in which case there will have been pleasurable discussions beforehand and a reservation made. But this time, we decided to take pot luck, like we always used to. It was getting fairly late, when we arrived at the town of Auxerre in Burgundy, one of those time-honoured halts for the British hurling themselves south from Calais. We weren't particularly hopeful - we've stayed in Auxerre before, and neither time was a great success. But we were later than normal, as we'd taken the four-hour Newhaven-Dieppe ferry due to all the disruption at Calais. It was past eight o'clock, and even the chain hotels on the outskirts had packed car parks.
The first hotel we saw close to the centre was the Hotel Normandie, a solid, ivy-clad hotel, of the kind you always hope to find. I went in. Not only was the welcome warm, but we were lucky: they had had a cancellation. Up the staircase, just like the staircases always used to be in French hotels, we were shown a spacious room overlooking a quiet garden.
There was no restaurant, so we walked out into the town for dinner. We could have gone into the main square, but - perhaps because of Two for the Road, and because we'd been playing Joe Stilgoe's New Songs for Old Souls jazz album in the car, featuring the gorgeous Gold On Silver about an old cinema and classic films - we noticed the Bistrot du Palais, in what was once a cinema.

It was our second piece of luck. Not only was the interior a cinema-lover's delight, with what looked like original movie posters all over the walls, but the food was fantastic: again very traditional French, the kind that makes you wonder whether you haven't just walked into a dream. (If you go, try the tarte poireaux et chevre - it's heavenly.)


After dinner, feeling replete and slightly tipsy - Auxerre is very close to Chablis - we wandered around the town for a while, lingering under the fifteenth-century clock tower, originally built on the Gallo-Roman town walls.

It hardly needs saying, given that this was one of those times when everything worked out beautifully, that we slept like logs, and woke relaxed for another day on the road, heading into the sun. Definitely an evening for the archive, to be recalled in the future - and to be revisited.
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