For years I’ve been writing books set in the present day and set in areas I know well, either the Cotswolds or Scotland. So why did I suddenly find myself setting a book in France, set in the 60’s?
My friend and fellow writer Jo Thomas had said to me, ‘you’ve never written about that cookery course you did.’ Instantly I knew what I had to write about. The girls, all on the course, with different backgrounds and different ambitions and I wanted to set it in the 60’s.
The first book, A Wedding in the Country, was about Lizzie. I actually did my cookery course in the 70’s, but I’d spent some of my teenage years in the 60’s and this was a world I was familiar with. A lot of the things (but not everything!) that happened to Lizzie had happened to me. I had a lot of fun writing that book. It was the perfect escape from everything bad that was happening around us in real life.
But the second book was about Alexandra. Now she was a character who arrived in my head fully formed. I knew all sorts of things about her all at once. I had mentioned many of them in the first book so I couldn’t make it easier for myself. Writing her story was going to be hard.
Firstly, Alexandra is quite unlike me. She is brave, a little reckless, full of confidence and gorgeous. Even before I started, when I was describing the cookery school at the beginning of the series, I knew she was going to spend time in Paris on her way to Switzerland. I knew she was going to end up in a chateau. I did book a family holiday in a chateau but because of covid, we never got to go. I was going to have to write it all based on watching endless episodes of Escape to the Chateau DIY.
I don’t know Paris – Paris was important to Alexandra, I had to get it right. A friend of my son’s is a guide to Paris – I had assumed going there and being with him would be possible. But no! Although I have been a couple of times I was by no means familiar with this magical city. I spent a lot of time on websites looking at photographs, reading blogs, watching films, immersing myself in a place I couldn’t visit.
In the past my research had almost always been real. I’ve worked in auction houses, tried my hand at pottery, been behind the scenes at The Chelsea Flower show. (Golly, it was wet!). I even did a Ray Mears survival course when I wanted to write about an explorer. But I only had Google (my new best friend) and films to help me and many, many episodes of Escape to the Chateau DIY.
I really hope when you come to read A Wedding in Provence you feel you are spending time in Provence, in the 60’s with a rather wonderful girl who is so unlike me. And I really hope you enjoy yourself!