Location, Location, Location – The Allure of Provence and the French Riviera
Today I have the great pleasure of introducing Jane Dunning, fellow Francophile and author of two books inspired by her extended stays on the French Riviera: Thirty-five minutes From St. Tropez, and the sequel, Stolen Summer.
Here, Jane tells the story of how these books came to life. Enjoy!
Apart from summer holidays in Provence, I really fell in love with the wonderful French Riviera in 2008 when my husband and I house-sat for four months on a vineyard, about thirty-five minutes inland from St Tropez. It was a little crazy when I look back, as it was our first house-sit, we’d never had a dog of our own and there we were choosing to look after four – a Labrador and three Jack Russell Terriers. My family had a Jack Russell when I was a teenager, our dear Jo-Jo, so I had some idea of what to expect.
We arrived on New Year’s Day and, after a hand-over, were left to our own devices in the depths of the incredibly scenic Massif des Maures, the nearest neighbour a good few hundred metres away. The dogs were farm dogs and didn’t expect to be taken for walks but we took them around the vineyard a couple of times a day and out into the surrounding countryside, choc-a-bloc with parasol pines and fabulous views of the area. Apart from falling in love with the dogs, we spent a few days every week exploring the villages and towns of the Var and making the most of quiet winter and spring market days.
It was on one of these exploratory days, that an idea for the novel that I’d always wanted to write, popped into my mind. We were on our way to the chestnut capital of the Var, Collobrières, when a short-cut went wrong and we ended up having to do a seven point turn on a very narrow, rutted track with a steep drop to one side and a rugged cliff to the other. The idea developed, the book was written and was published in 2012, its title Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez.
My connection with the vineyard ended in 2009 after our second house-sit, but the memories lingered especially as the central location for the story is the vineyard, re-named Domaine des Mimosas. It’s a family saga with the chief characters, Richard and Helen, living on the vineyard, renting a second house to tourists, Mas des Oliviers. Out of season, I sent these characters to the markets in St Tropez, Les Arcs and shopping along the coast in St Raphaël. They visit Helen’s widowed sister, Joanna, in Juan-les-Pins and have a few days break in surprisingly low-key St Jean-Cap-Ferrat, including a visit to the stunning Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Joanna features too as she grieves for her late husband before embarking with nervousness on a relationship with charming Frenchman, Alain, who owns a house on Cap d’Antibes. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about Richard and Helen’s grandchildren, twins, Joseph, working on a superyacht, operating from Antibes, and Danielle, at university in Aix-en-Provence, combined with a vacation position at the fabulous Hôtel Hermitage in Monaco. All these places have a few chapters devoted to them along with the ups and downs of teenage life.
By the time I wrote the second book in the trilogy, Stolen Summer, I was more confident to write about places I’ve never set foot in, including two weddings, one near Beaulieu-sur-Mer at coastal Le Cap Estel and the other at the historic Hôtel Belles-Rives in Juan-les-Pins. I loved researching everything from the venue, to the views, to the Art Deco lift doors at the Hôtel Belles-Rives. Sometimes I think I prefer the research to the writing!
When I write about a hotel or restaurant, I always check the reviews first as I would hate to send my characters somewhere that has deteriorated. Danielle’s latest boyfriend, who inherits a house in Vence, takes her for lunch at La Colombe d’Or in arty Saint-Paul-de-Vence. I think he may be ‘the one’ but we’ll have to see what happens in book three – even I don’t know yet!
The so far unnamed Book Three is well under way with a French Resistance element set near Avignon, in the Vaucluse, but my main characters still live on the vineyard and will hopefully have a better year than they did in Stolen Summer!