Tuesday 25 February 2014

Tiles of desire

Right, that's it. Got soaked in the rain again today and I've had enough winter now. I want to be magically transported into summer and the places where these French tiles might signpost. You can just imagine them now...the garden of delights...a shady spot for a siesta under the trees...the little cabin...the cistus farmhouse...mimosa...the herb-scented garrigue...the perfect place for an aperitif... 
Not that I've ever actually seen these tiles cemented into walls of houses and gardens in Provence - they're a tourist thing, really. But they make such an evocative display all together, such colours and images conjured by a few resonant words, that you can't help but stop and dream awhile of sunnier days. 


Wednesday 19 February 2014

Stormy weather

More ferocious storms here at the end of last week, and this was the scene when the rain finally stopped. But the flood water over the fields pointed up something I had never noticed before in this location...the wartime pillbox in front of the line of trees.
During the Second World War these squat, thick-walled structures were insinuated into the landscape as a last-ditch defence against an invasion from the Channel. They would have been manned by snipers and machine gun operators shooting out of slit-like openings. Built of brick and concrete by soldiers and local labour, they remain, hunkered down by streams and hidden in clumps of trees, damp and dark inside but too strong to be ruined.
This part of Kent was known as Hellfire Corner. Not only was the Battle of Britain fought in the skies above, but it was notorious for being on the receiving end of any spare bombs from Luftwaffe planes hastily fleeing south from London after a raid. There used to be a map in the village pub showing the local sites where these bombs had fallen, as well as crashed planes, and the black spots were surprisingly dense. If anyone had assumed that the countryside was safer than the cities, they shouldn't have ventured here.
I've sometimes wondered why I should be so interested in writing about the war - as indeed I have in The Sea Garden. Perhaps the sight of so many of these pillboxes half-hidden in the countryside, glimpsed from the paths I walk almost daily, has worked its magic on the subconscious and the imagination.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

The Sea Garden: UK cover

Here it is...the Orion cover for The Sea Garden, to be published in a few months' time. I think it's beautiful, and that old house is almost exactly what was in my head as I invented a villa on the southern French island of Porquerolles, with its garden on the cusp of running to wilderness above the sea. 
There are some very clever detailed touches, and I particularly like the painterly effect in the sky and the bay behind with background hills. It seems to me to have just the right atmosphere of slight foreboding despite the sun and bright blue, with that dense bank of trees and bushes casting shadows all the way up the path. The grey band around it seems to give the impression of looking into an old bevelled-edged mirror.
But over to you...what do you think? Are you interested, as I am, in how it reflects the differences between the US and UK markets? (The US cover is in the blog's column to the right.) Will you be intrigued and want to pick it up in a bookshop, even if you knew nothing about it? Perhaps this blurb from Sarah Blake, who wrote one of my favourite reads of recent years, The Postmistress, might clinch it: 
"THE SEA GARDEN weaves a double spell, and honestly, it got me right from the start. Lawrenson steeps her story of the invisible heroes of the French Resistance crossing borders - and here, crossing time - deep in the eerie beauty of the South of France. The result is a marvellous strange fruit: think Graham Greene served up with a dash of Poe."

Monday 10 February 2014

Writer's unblock

Monday morning, rain is lashing down as it has done for months, I can see again (and I'm still at the stage of really appreciating it rather than taking it for granted) and I'm at my desk trying to get down to some writing. But I'm just not in the mood.
I keep looking out of the window, and going downstairs to check on our leaks and drips. The countryside here is a bit flood-y, but nothing worse than saturated ground and controlled holding of water in the valley. On the television news are awful pictures of the West Country and the Thames Valley where villages are sinking in the rising water. People are angry and upset, and they have every right to be.
In the hope of inspiration, I've been looking through my photos of Faro, taken last summer for local details that might help the new book along. This one got me thinking. It's not just the bright light and shocking pink of the flower, but the way the tree has grown too big for the pot and the front part has been broken off leaving a cross-section of what normally wouldn't be seen. I like the sense of looking inside. The point is, that we can contain nature for only so long.
One of the themes in the Faro novel will be the shifting sands of the outlying islands that are constantly being redrawn by the force of the Atlantic drift along southern Portugal. I'm wondering now whether the south-westerly storms have had an effect there too. Time to do some internet research. I think I'm ready to start work.

Monday 3 February 2014

Sea turquoise

"...water so clear the rocks at the foot of the cliffs looked like clumps of turquoise flowers growing on the sea bed."
                                                                    from The Sea Garden

The modern French painter Olivier Boissinot captures that turquoise by the shore, the brightness and heat of the sea in the South of France in his Calanque de Port Pin, above. A native of Provence, he is a master of strong colour and atmosphere. I love the way he composes a scene so cleverly, then seems to dive straight in with no-holds-barred vibrancy.

I've used his brilliant pictures from the start of this blog, to illustrate elements of The Lantern, and I'm only sorry I can't get to his latest exhibition at the Salle Cézanne in Meyreuil, near Aix-en-Provence. It's on now until February 7, and if anyone is there this week, it will be well worth seeing.

An if that's an impossibility, but you'd like to brighten your day, take a look at this: an online notebook of Olivier Boissinot's seascapes.
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