Wednesday 25 January 2012

New editions, new covers

The summer I was fifteen I went up towards the mountains to Valensole for the lavender harvest. It was Marthe’s idea, she who persuaded our parents to let me go to see for myself how the ridged uplands had been transformed into purple carpets where the scent was born.

                                                              from The Lantern

Two new covers for The Lantern - one for the paperback edition in the US, and one for the Dutch translation - both of which will be available in a matter of weeks. It's always fascinating for authors to see the covers chosen by publishers. Occasionally distressing too, though thankfully that's absolutely not the case with either of these! What is interesting here are the different aspects of the novel the publishers have chosen to emphasize, reflecting not only the book but the current feel and fashion of each home market.

The US version (shown above) is completely changed from the hardback cover, and highlights the book's sensuous involvement with lavender and the sense of place in the French countryside. In the Netherlands, there's greater play on the gothic, personal element.


Everyone wants answers and tidy conclusions, but in life they don’t always materialize. You settle for the best outcome you can manage, and accept that you can’t explain everything. The subconscious mind sometimes makes surreal connections, like the ones in dreams. Tricks of the light were all around. Look how the sun slanted as the sun set in the west, carving blood red clefts in the hills that then turned to black rivulets.
                                                                               from The Lantern

The Dutch is the first to be published of the many foreign editions for which the rights have been sold. In the coming months, I can't wait to see the different cover designs for the Brazilian, the Italian, the Polish, the Hungarian and many other territories. What fun! What do you think?

Saturday 21 January 2012

Winter sharpness

The faҫade and courtyard of our house face due south. On a sharp sunny day the trees etch complex outlines over the stone and render, lifting up all the imperfections that are so much part of the charm here.  One day we might restore right back to the stones – or we might not. It’s a very different view from the courtyard in summer, when the catalpa tree next to the house is in full canopy, and the leaves of the fig, olive and walnut also provide dappled shade.

But I find this winter version energizing: there’s something about the cold and dazzling winter light that sharpens the brain cells too. I’ve been writing all week with the notes made during this sunny time, and they seem to have had a clearing effect on the work in progress as I strive for equal crispness of thought and prose.
This is why I love to write in autumn and winter, barrelling into a first draft so that I get to the stage of playing around with the words just at the time when the warmer weather makes me want to be outside and anywhere but sitting at a desk.

Monday 16 January 2012

Winter in Provence

Last week in Provence the colours of the landscape were mistily beguiling, from first light to wintry sunset. During the day the skies were a cloudless blue with that sharp cold edge that makes everything look crystal clear. The trip wasn't intended as a holiday, as there were plenty of matters to be attended to, but as soon as the plane flew out over the sea at Marseille to make the approach to landing that's what it felt like. The Mediterranean was a mirror-smooth pool of that fabled inky blue and the rocky inlets of the islands in the bay bristled with small yachts.

The sun was out on the drive north, and so it stayed for six days. When you emerge from the general gloom of an English winter, the sun matters. Even just walking around the garden in Provence noticing the changes and pulling out weeds was a spirit-raiser. There's a real sense of the seasons turning here and hot as it gets in summer, it also blows icy in winter on these last southerly ripples of the Alps. I really enjoy the changes, and the small details like the clusters of nuts on the ground close to the almond tree:

The trees are dormant now, but it won't be long before the almond starts to push out its first green shoots and buds, and it looks like this:

But meanwhile, how did this rose manage to appear in January?

Monday 9 January 2012

Lavande de Nuit

I've had several enquiries through my website recently asking whether the Lavande de Nuit scent I wrote about in The Lantern is available to buy anywhere. I've had to write back and say regretfully that Lavande de Nuit scent exists only in my imagination, and that I can only offer the key perfume inspirations.

Obviously there are lots of lavender scents, but my favourite is from L'Occitane de Provence. It's rich and sweet, and authentically redolent of the region. Then there is a perfume called L'Eau d'Hiver in the Frederic Malle range: this has the white scents of almond, heliotrope and spring flowers. The woodsmoke and vanilla comes from Serge Lutens' Un Bois Vanille. It is possible to mix either of these with the lavender (spraying in layers on the skin) - quite fun to experiment with the quantities of each, but if you do, go easy as the last two are both strong and distinct and easily overpower anything in their way!

The closest complex lavender perfume to Lavande de Nuit I've yet found is Absinthe Verte which is one of several scents in a range called A Taste of Heaven by Kilian. It's an unfolding blend of lavender and vanilla and thyme, with oak moss and a hint of patchouli and spices. Very lovely, very very expensive. But I happen to know there are samples at Saks 5th Ave in New York!

And then there's that fabulous old-timer, Jicky by Guerlain. Launched in 1889, it mixes lavender with a zesty sprinkle of citrus which dries into an alluring creme brulee note, but then after a while the vanilla hunkers down into smoky leather with a sexy animal note of civet. Dangerous stuff and a true inspiration for the fictional Lavande de Nuit.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

An exuberant burst of wild flowers to wish you Happy New Year - pure as fresh snow, new as the year. May all your hopes and dreams come true or, perhaps more realistically for most of us, may patience and hard work bring just rewards.

Funnily enough, I'd been saving this photo for a time when it seemed right to look forward to Spring. It was growing on scrub in the garden in Provence, and all last year I tried to find out what exactly it was. No mention in my wild flower books. Nothing to match it on the internet. I was going to ask if anyone knew, but then - a few moments ago - I thought I'd just try again, and lo and behold Google images came up with a match. You may well know this lovely flower already; if not, I can now tell you that it's Star of Bethlehem. I'd heard of the plant, but never realised this was it.

It's officially classed as a weed, but even the entry in the Plant and Pest Digital Library (link here) admits it is pretty and suggests tolerance rather than destruction. We could all take something from that, not least in how we view bald classifications that consign us to think in empty black and white terms like good and bad, the expected and the unexpected, and even success and failure. In creative endeavour, the rewards so often come in the process rather than the end result judged by others.
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