Where have the days gone? The week has passed in an instant as I went back to the work-in-progress, the long-awaited return to desk punctuated with visits from pleasant chaps, old favourites all, who keep our domestic show on the road: the electrician, the plumber, handyman and chimney sweep.
The house glitches have been mended and secured. A new bookcase has been installed in my study so that I can see my current research books clearly in the shelves instead of having to hunt for them in the piles on the floor. From now on, there’s no excuse for not putting my head down.
You know you love what you do when work, no matter how intense, never really feels like work. All week, I’ve been in a good mood. I haven’t even achieved that much yet, what with all the interruptions and chats over cups of tea, but as the decks have been cleared I’ve been assessing and reorganizing what I’ve already written.
In response to the lovely messages - and curiosity about the subject matter - both in blog comments and privately, here is a little taster of what’s on the desk. There’s
France, and wartime, but also , secrecy and romance, a Mediterranean island and an impossible task. The working title for the book is The Night Flight. England
I’m intending to take a bit of a risk with the structure of this novel. Regular readers of this blog who are interested in writing might recall that I began writing this book last autumn. About 30,000 words in, I decided to concentrate some of the material into a novella as it seemed too much of a diversion from the main narrative.
The novella took shape, and the original idea – agreed with agents and publishers on both sides of the
– was that it could be published as a free e-book, a marketing come-on for the
new full-length novel. By the time I’d done the story justice, this novella, The Lavender Field, was a bit longer
than intended but I was pleased with it and had some lovely reactions from my
usual early readers.
Then came a long wait to hear back, during which time I hesitated to get back to the main novel in case I was on the wrong track. During the summer I was contacted by the
publishers. They loved the novella and
thought it was too good to give away (hurray!) - would I consider expanding it
into a full-length novel? (hmm…) I thought about that for a while, but decided
that what made it work was that it held the right amount of story in the right
number of words. It’s fairly fast-paced with a dash of adventure and anything more would
just be padding. London
So here’s the solution, and I’d be very interested in your reaction to it: it this appealing or not? The idea is that the new novel will be ‘a novel in three stories’, each the length of the novella (which is about a third of a normal novel). Each story will focus on a different character who has been introduced in the previous one, and although there will be a satisfying, self-contained plot and characters in each, they will add up to a whole picture, from the past to the present.
The Lavender Field would form the first part. It’s the story of Marthe Lincel, the blind perfume creator in The Lantern: what really happened to her in wartime Manosque, omitted from her sister Bénédicte's narrative – perhaps because she never knew. Here’s a short blurb and the prologue as a taster:
"When Marthe Lincel leaves the school for the blind in Manosque for an apprenticeship at the local perfume factory during the Second World War, she has no idea that the Distillerie Musset is at the heart of a Resistance cell operating in Nazi-occupied
As secret messages are passed in scent and planes land by moonlight on a
plateau covered in lavender, danger comes ever closer." Provence
From THE LAVENDER FIELD
Not a word should be said. The scent was the word.
Each week it was the same routine with only minute variations: the girl caught the bus coming down from Digne, no different from any other nineteen year old with a job to do. The bus drew in under the plane trees in the
and she alighted. By a bench
where she placed her baskets for a moment, she reached into her shoulder bag
for the perfume bottle and carefully dabbed her wrists, rubbing the scent up
her arms just to make sure. Nothing suspicious about this, simply attention to
detail; a charming advertisement for the Distillerie Musset, makers of soap and
scent. A blue scarf secured her hair and she wore the lavender print apron she
would wear to serve in the shop. Then she picked up her two heavy baskets and
made her deliveries: one to the hotel, one to the doctor’s surgery and one to
the general store. She walked purposefully but would stop for a few minutes to
pass the time of day with occasional customers. Then, when her load was
lighter, she went on to various houses around and beyond the village and
finally arrived at the café. village of Céreste
She would order a small glass of weak wine, a little food perhaps, and greet the regulars. Acknowledge the Gestapo officers or the Milice at the best tables. Drink the wine, turn to leave and then hesitate by the man reading the paper. Go over to the Germans to ask if they had any special requests, a present for a girl perhaps. Give them a heart-lifting smile. Take a few paces back to the table where the man sits with his newspaper. He’s always there, a little unkempt, smudging his glass with dirty hands. Sometimes he reads, sometimes he stares into space. They all know that his spirit is gone. He drinks too much. Ignore him. Let the scent give the message. It has warmed now on her skin thanks to all the walking, and is released in sweet pulses. Lavender: come to the farm. Rose: we have more men to move. Thyme: supplies needed urgently.
Stand there to take a note of any orders from these men who enjoy their new powers so much. Be pleasant though all instincts are to spit in their faces.
Then a walk across the road to wait for the return bus. She times it well, glancing up at the clock on the front face of the Mairie to check her watch is correct. She does not want to hang around too long, does not want the eyes of the men in the café to linger on her face and body. On the other hand she will not risk cutting it too fine and missing the bus. Just a nice normal pace, all the way there and back.