Wednesday 29 June 2011

Open window: TV film and extract

In the past few days, The TV Book Club has uploaded some edited highlights of the transmission to YouTube - and a lovely job they have made too. (Apart from some less than flattering camera angles of the author...I resolve never again to look down while being filmed...nor eat again, obviously.) The whole programme is repeated on Channel 4 on Saturday at 1.20pm.

By lucky coincidence, the opening shots show the book posed on the edge of the fountain at Saignon, mentioned in the previous post. So here it is, only a couple of minutes long, and there is a flavour of the panel's discussion too. Though not the part where Rory McGrath said rather grumpily that there were "too many adjectives"! The others mostly disagreed with him, though Jo Brand looks as if she's on the point of saying something rude. It's a very short edit of the programme. There was a book group discussion too, and those fine people unanimously enjoyed the book, even the men who were sure they wouldn't when they were told what they'd be reading.

And if that has whetted your appetite, the UK publishers Orion have the opening twenty pages or so available to read on their site here

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Statues in place

Well, these statues did appear on the TV Book Club film, though you had to be eagle-eyed to spot them! But the village did feature quite prominently, and I'm wondering whether any of you who know Provence well recognised where we were...

No more teasing: it was in Saignon, the hill-top village above the town of Apt. It is a very pretty place, and Ceres and the Water Carrier perch atop the fountain in the square, just outside the Auberge du Presbytere.

My gaze rested on the fountain in the square where we sat: black-green with lichen and moss, the water spewing from the mouth of a gargoyle, water as cool and dark as the Styx. 
                                                                    From The Lantern

Sunday 26 June 2011

The covenant of the ARC

So here it is, the summer hat, the draw and my scrawled note of the names in the order they came out of it! I'm delighted to announce that the winners of the ARC of The Lantern in America are as follows:

Lisa of Lesapea Musings
Catherine Stock
Carol Apple
Bunched Undies
Julia Munroe Martin

I will be in touch with each of you to arrange receipt of your books from HarperCollins.

In the meantime, I would just like to write a few words of immense gratitude to all of you who entered, as well as those who couldn't because you don't live in the USA. Since I started blogging at the very end of last year, I've been bowled over by all of you in the book blogging community, your generosity and support, all the wise words, and the great writing on your blogs, too numerous to mention individually. What did writers do to connect before the world wide web? Just sit at their desks in isolation and wish they were part of a literary salon? 

It's been an amazing discovery - you are amazing.  Thank you.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Stone statues

I hadn’t told Dom about the incident on the path. I didn’t want him questioning my rationality. Privately though, I’d been thinking a lot about the objects we’d chosen to surround ourselves with: the chipped plates and bowls; the second hand mirrors and scratched paintings; the crazed broken statues. The way they spoke of a history that didn’t belong to us, even in their inanimate state; the way they blurred the distinction between the living and the dead.
                                                       From The Lantern

At Les Genévriers, the imaginary version of our property, the garden is enhanced by old stone statues, lichen-encrusted and decrepit. No such artefacts are there in real life – such is the fun of literary invention! But, as always, the life of the novel is inspired by reality, and here are two of the figures that provided the images for those scenes: Ceres and the Water-Carrier.

Actually, I’m not going to tell you exactly where they are. But if you watch The TV Book Club, starting tomorrow on More 4 at 7.30pm (repeated on Saturday, July 2 at 1.20pm on Channel 4) I’m pretty sure that they will be in shot…

Thursday 23 June 2011

Publication day!

This must be the best moment of all - going into your local bookshop and seeing your book on the shelves. It's the culmination of several years' work, including the editing process and the months waiting for the right publishing slot for the book. I wrote the first words of this novel in November 2008, and the first draft was finished by spring 2010. That gives just some idea of the timescale involved.

So the day you first see it in the shops is very special indeed. This was in my local Waterstone's in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where manager Mike Cooper and his team are immensely supportive of any local authors, and have always done a fabulous job with my books. So cheers, Mike - and thanks again! Here he is with Rachel who helped me sign all their stock this morning. Sorry, you won't get a copy that isn't signed from here!

The other real buzz is seeing your book surrounded by other books by authors (real authors!) you admire - take a look at the company The Lantern is keeping! There's The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Isabel Allende, Jo Nesbo, Kristin Hannah...

And as I was walking down Mount Pleasant, I passed the British Bookshops store and was absolutely amazed and thrilled to see this window display (note proximity to the very wonderful Kate Atkinson)... To borrow from the phrase-making Wimbledon commentators on the BBC, what a dream of a day!

A huge, huge thank you to everyone at Orion who has brought The Lantern to this stage: Kate Mills, Susan Lamb, Malcolm Edwards, Jon Wood, Lisa Milton, Juliet Ewers, Sophie Mitchell, Jade Chandler, Louisa Gibbs, Andrew Taylor, Gaby Young, Anthony Keates, Jo Carpenter, Hannah Lewis and Lucie Stericker. And to my superb literary agent in London, Araminta Whitley, who found this book such a fantastic home.

Wednesday 22 June 2011


The Lantern’s first Publication Day is tomorrow, and as I feel even more nervous than usual – there’s a lot more riding on the book this time – I’m too wired to write much. So these pictures from a brocante in St Rémy de Provence earlier this year can stand as a visual metaphor.

First there’s the Medusa-like fountain plaque, looking terrified rather than terrifying, and then there’s this vintage suitcase, which combines the idea of getting ready to go, with being open to allow a glimpse into its contents: delicate lace offered up for scrutiny by discerning buyers…

Sunday 19 June 2011

US bloggers: win an ARC

The Orion edition of The Lantern will be in UK bookshops this week, in readiness for the first transmission of The TV Book Club programme which goes out on More 4 on Sunday, June 26 in the evening. And just so some of my American blogging friends have a chance to read it sooner rather than later, the US publishers HarperCollins are offering the chance to win an Advance Reader's Edition here.

There are six copies of this beautifully-presented special edition available, and all you have to do to leave your name in a comment on this post, with a link so you can be contacted, and consider clicking the book's facebook "Like" gadget on this blog, though that's not mandatory purely because I don't like lots of interblogging rules!

This time next week I'll put all the names into a summer hat, and ask someone else to do a ceremonial draw. First six names out will receive the books. Sound fair? The US publication date is August 9, when The Lantern comes out as a Harper hardback, as well as an e-book and audio book.

Friday 17 June 2011

Bearing fruit...mulberries

Mulberries dropped from a soaring tree by the sheepfold into an obscene river of plenty.
                                                        From The Lantern

The mulberries were just ripening when we were at house two weeks ago for filming, but the gravel and grass underneath the big tree were already spotted with dark pink-purple fruit. By now, they will be a veritable carpet.

They are easier to pick from the weeping mulberry in the garden, though even here the sheer abundance is overwhelming. Longer and thinner than a blackberry, these mulberries have a delicate taste and density, almost like rose petal-infused sugar water.

It’s not that common to find them this side of the great Rhône river. It’s on the other side, in the south-west of France, that the silk industry traditionally cultivated mulberry trees to feed the leaves to silkworms. So we can only guess at the reasons for the presence of these trees around the buildings on our property - another small mystery, along with so many others to set the imagination alight...  

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Red letter day: The TV Book Club

At last it can be told! Red letter day was yesterday when this year’s summer reading selection for The TV Book Club on Channel 4 was announced – and The Lantern has made the cut!

If I say I am thrilled beyond words, I know you’ll understand the magnitude of this for me. It’s what every writer dreams of, but never expects will happen to them. The call came through back in April that The Lantern was on the long-list, and I really thought that was as good as it was going to get, and was delighted at that encouraging endorsement before it was published.

I was in Provence at the time, sitting on a pile of rubble. The building site at the house was reaching a zenith of mess and confusion. ‘So,’ said Susan Lamb down the line from Orion, ‘if you get it they’ll want to come and film you at the house, take some long lingering shots of the gorgeous setting. That’s OK, isn’t it?’

‘Mmm, yes… Of course!’ I replied. It didn’t seem worth worrying anyone unnecessarily at this stage.

For the rest of the month the builders cracked on. The chaos of stones and equipment grew. No further word about the TV Book Club, and as the days went by I just assumed my book had been passed over. Then, a couple of days before I was due to go to New York, the news came through – The Lantern was in!

I went wobbly for a few hours when I realised that not only would we have to turn on a sixpence on our return to England to get down to Provence in time for the filming schedule, but there was the small matter of the scenic quality of our property in question…

Frantic communications between New York and a tiny hamlet in France ensued, followed by intense activity. But the sight that greeted us when we finally arrived there brought a tear to the eye. Everyone, our masons and especially our very good friend William and his family, had pulled together to clear and clean the place up so it was ready for its close-up.

Unbelievably, the only element that let us down in this complex scenario was the normally sunny Provençal weather! On the day of filming, it poured with rain. Then it poured some more. Then we had thunderstorms. Zoe and James from Cactus TV could not have been lovelier or more professional, and we all made the best of it. At one point I stood out in the courtyard under a broken umbrella explaining that perhaps these darker interludes were appropriate to the novel - after all, there are gothic elements in it, as the idyllic summer in the South of France fades into winter.

And tragically, the clothes I had chosen so carefully to take pounds off my silhouette as I sauntered blissfully through the property and garden were destined to remain in the wardrobe, just as the blue hills of the Luberon remained stubbornly cloud-bound… Imagination is called for, that’s all I can say. And I’d like you to know, I’d have looked half the size if only I’d been wearing that exceptionally flattering slip of a maxi dress….

The TV Book Club starts on Sunday, June 26 on More 4, repeated on Channel 4 on Saturday, July 2. The first episode is a general look at the books up for discussion, and here’s the full list:

Week One: The Lantern, Deborah Lawrenson (Orion)
Week Two: Moonlight Mile, Dennis Lehane (Abacus)
Week Three: A Visit From The Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan (Corsair)
Week Four: Night Road, Kristin Hannah (Pan)
Week Five: The Book Of Human Skin, Michelle Lovric (Bloomsbury)
Week Six: The Hidden Child, Camilla Läckberg (HarperCollins)
Week Seven: The Radleys, Matt Haig (Canongate)
Week Eight: Grace Williams Says It Loud, Emma Henderson (Sceptre)

As you can see, I’m in some impressive company. I think all the books are very appealing – including a couple already on my TBR list. I’m up on June 26/ July 2, and the episode will be widely available to view online as well. The details are on the Channel 4 website here.

Friday 10 June 2011

Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard

We climbed out and drank in the view. Lines of crimson vines swirled out like a pleated skirt from where we stood on chocolate ploughed earth. To the right a cherry orchard seemed to have been dipped in beetroot juice and there was a custard-coloured lake of wheat to the left. The scene was punctuated in the middle distance by a butternut squash tinted field and three trees in quince green. The slopes of Mont Ventoux rose up behind, a turban of pink clouds wound around its peak.
                          From Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard

As soon as I opened this book by Ruth Phillips, I knew it was special. I’ve read it twice now, since mentioning it in my “Cross-Channel reading” post, and I will undoubtedly read it again. In this extract, Ruth and her husband, the artist Julian Merrow-Smith see for the first time, in autumn, the hamlet where they will settle in Provence. And we see it with them, such is the vibrancy of the description. The term “painting in words” might be overused, but it is precisely what Ruth Phillips achieves.

Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard is a passionate memoir of a painter who followed a dream, a wife who has her own artistic profession as a concert ’cellist yet becomes in addition, by default, his studio assistant, and their life together in an intense landscape of colour and light, nature – and love.

Each chapter is given the title of one of Julian’s Postcards from Provence, the daily paintings that have made his name – and what delights those titles are! Instantly, they give a delicious flavour of what is to come:  Pale Blue Iris; Two Pomegranates; Still Life with Summer Fruits

In October 2008, the thousandth of these small oil paintings that glow with inner life was sold. That milestone was passed while Ruth was away, in northern France playing The Marriage of Figaro by night. Her idea was to write to everyone who had bought one of the pictures, and ask them if they would like to tell her a little about themselves, where they lived and what the paintings meant to them.

From these responses grew the structure of this book, though it is far more a portrait of her and Julian than it is about the buyers. They provide a very short introduction about themselves which gives Ruth the lead to explore the background to each work - how and where it was painted - in vivid personal scenes, shot through with colour and observation, sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, often painfully honest and intimate. This is no wide-eyed idyll. It is lyrical yet moving as she pulls no punches when writing about its darker corners: the days when the painter won’t paint, their struggle to have a baby.

Ruth Reading by Julian Merrow-Smith

This, for me, is what makes this such a rewarding read: it’s a book to lose yourself in, to feel as if you come to understand the personalities involved as well as the setting. Ruth Phillips is a gifted writer, alive to every nuance of tone and texture. I adored the richly-layered descriptive passages in which so much more than the superficial is encoded. 

   Julian presented the food. A fillet of sea bass with perfect griddle marks and a scattering of fennel picked from a nearby hedgerow. There were caramelized carrots, baby la ratte potatoes and a garnish of roasted tomatoes that had made a brief appearance in a painting that afternoon.

A perfect paragraph. It encapsulates so much unstated back-story: that Julian is an enthusiastic and excellent cook, that they gather wild food, the slow sweetening of natural produce, the conjunction of real life and Still Life in the immortalised tomatoes.

But you have to read it in context, because this vignette takes place amid a foul-mouthed onslaught by the French country neighbours from hell, in which Julian demonstrates that the classic British stiff upper lip is a potent psychological defence.

I highly recommend this engaging, lush, intensely visual yet thoughtful read. It will transport you to sunny uplands, lifting your heart along the way, though never losing sight of the realities of the hard road to fulfilment in any artistic or personal endeavour.

In February 2005 Julian Merrow-Smith started Postcard from Provence, a daily painting project at Shifting Light here. Each day he paints a small still life or landscape inspired by the countryside outside his studio, its fruits and everyday artefacts. All artwork on this post is his.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Wild cherries

When the wild cherries had dried on the trees, too small to pick, too hard for the birds but chewy and delicious and left as treats for us children, we knew it must be close to the fourteenth of July.

                                                         from The Lantern

The unexpectedly foul weather in Provence last week lifted for long enough for me to run out into the garden to the wild cherry trees on the old orchard terrace. The cherries on these are tiny scarlet globules that taste of sour cherry candy, tart yet sweet on the tongue. The boughs were weighed down by fruit, all dancing in the wind.

When the sun came out, it was hot – but torrential rain lashed down only about an hour after these pictures were taken, accompanied by another epic thunderstorm. So much rain fell that day that fields of the region’s famous orange-fleshed Cavaillon melons were decimated and the crops lost. It just goes to show that it’s not only in the past that farming was a precarious livelihood, even in this place of glorious plenty where sunshine is usually taken for granted.

Again, I’m sorry this is such a short post and for my absence from comments on all my favourite blogs. I travelled back to England yesterday in readiness for the UK publication of The Lantern. The publication date has been moved forward – for reasons I still can’t reveal! - and it should be available in the shops in the week beginning June 20.

Meanwhile, the house here in Kent is like the Marie Celeste, abandoned in a state of chaos as we’ve run in and run out again in between travels over the last three weeks or so. For the next few days, this writer’s life will be occupied by the more prosaic mountains of dirty washing, domestic admin, and fixing all the things in this house that have broken down and have had to stay that way - as well as the inevitable fretting as to how my novel, in which so much time and work has been invested, will be received when it finally appears…

Friday 3 June 2011

The catalpa tree blossoms

Unseasonal cloud and rain in Provence...but the beauty of the catalpa tree in the courtyard is undiminished. It blossoms in June with a profusion of orchid-like flowers, delicately veined with rose-red. The new canopy of leaves is a bright acid green while the trademark pods, so reminiscent of vanilla, hang beneath.


Wednesday 1 June 2011

The cover revealed...

Exciting times here, which I am bursting to write about, but I just can’t – not yet anyway. But I can finally unveil the cover of The Lantern which has been under wraps for a while as changes have been made on both sides of the Atlantic. Rather unusually, the two different publishers – Orion in the UK and HarperCollins in the US – have opted for the same image with minor differences in presentation.

I really love it. This is a cover that is absolutely appropriate for the book, with the figure of a woman who could stand for more than one character and the brocante style in the intricate lace of ironwork which might be a gate, or a balcony, or even the fretwork of a large ornate lantern such as we light in the garden at night. Then there’s the flare of yellow, like candlelight. The American version is darker in every sense, more mossy and sombre with that slightly sinister green.

Another lovely blurb has been added on the back, this time from Paula McLain, whose wonderful novel The Paris Wife, about Hemingway and his first wife Hadley in Jazz Age Paris in the 1920s amid the fast-living set that included Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, has been such a huge and well-deserved success.

“Deborah Lawrenson is a master of mood and shadow as she spins this absorbing tale of intense passion and growing dread. Her Provence is sumptuous and forbidding and utterly real. Prepare to be riveted.

—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

And finally, there’s now a Facebook page for The Lantern which I shall do my best to keep updated. To see it, click here. All “Likes” gratefully appreciated!
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