Wouldn't it be wonderful to visit the setting of your own book as she did?
The Lavender Garden was my favorite of all of her books.
Lucinda Riley is the internationally bestselling author of The Orchid House (published as Hothouse Flower in the UK, more than 2 million copies sold worldwide); The Girl on the Cliff (an instant New York Times bestseller), and The Lavender Garden (published as The Light Behind the Window in the UK). Her fourth novel, The Midnight Rose, will be published around the world in early 2014. Her novels have been translated into twenty-two languages and published in thirty-six countries. Born in Ireland, she lives with her husband and four children in the English countryside and in the South of France.
It’s always a particular location that first fills me with inspiration for my next book. Sometimes it’s a country or a landscape, but more often than not, it’s a house. And when I begin to write, I often get the uncanny feeling that the stories in my books are ‘told’ to me. This may sound far-fetched, but it’s almost as if characters and places from the past are whispering their stories in my ear, and almost always, I simply let them lead me. This ‘feeling’ was brought home to me in quite dramatic fashion with my latest book, The Lavender Garden…
I first came across the setting for Chateau de la Martinieres when my husband and I were driving back through France to England. To break the journey, we stayed overnight at a beautiful old chateau in the Rhone Valley. And it was then, as I sat in the gorgeous lavender-filled courtyard, that I told my husband that a French chateau such as this was where I wanted to set my new story.
I absolutely love France and the French way of life (and their wine, of course!) perhaps because I have French ancestry on my mother’s side of the family. We have a house by the sea on the Cote D’Azur where the whole family de-camp to for the summer and I can honestly say that I’m happiest there. So, a few months later, I returned to France to begin writing the first draft in earnest and decided to move the location of the chateau to Gassin, a beautiful medieval hilltop village close to our home.
One evening, when the book was almost finished, we were having dinner with our friends Anne and Damian at their restaurant in Gassin and I was telling them about the plot and how it was based around a fictional chateau and cave. Anne said to me that I must meet Monsieur Chapelle of the Domaine du Bourriane, the owner of a wine cave nearby. My husband and I both looks at each other in stunned surprise — Chapelle was the surname I’d randomly chosen for Connie, one of my key characters in the book.
A meeting was duly arranged as we drove into the verdant valley just outside Gassin where I’d already set my imaginary chateau and cave, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I literally walked into my own story. The cave was exactly as I’d imagined and written of, with huge, ancient oak barrels lining the walls and contained the original old-fashioned machinery which had turned the grapes into wine for over 160 years. Monsieur Chapelle himself was a sprightly eighty-seven year old — exactly the same age as Jacques, my fictional character, who runs the cave in the book.
He then led us along a narrow path behind the cave and through the trees, I glimpsed a stunning chateau. The likeness to Chateau de la Martinieres in the book was absolutely uncanny, and this one, like mine had not been touched for many, many years. Monsier Chapelle told us it had been in his family for generations, and also related how, during the war when France was occupied, the German soldiers used to come to the cave to commandeer vast quantities of Schnapps. Apart from drinking it, he said they apparently used the highly alcoholic liquor as fuel for their torpedoes!
By this time, shivers of deja vu were running down my spine, as the visits of German officers to the chateau in my book form an integral part of the story. He also told me about Charlotte, the ‘post’ donkey, who trundled up the hill every day to Gassin to deliver the village letters, as there were no roads at the time. Of course, Charlotte duly had to make an appearance in my story too!
The whole visit was one of those truly magical experiences and I’ll be forever grateful to Monsieur Chapelle for sharing his own family’s very ‘real’ story with me. Now all I need to do is sell another couple of million books, so that i can one day buy the Chateau du Bourrian and ‘live’ in my novel forever!