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!