The Last Baguette …

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in my hotel at Sydney airport. In just a couple of hours I’ll be on the final leg of my travels home to Narooma. And as I contemplate the wonders of the last three months I find I’m yearning for the chorus of bird-song, the susurrus of the sea and the purrs and nuzzlings of a small grey cat. What lies ahead has the allure that the Temple of Hatshepsut and Châteaux Comtal had for me back in April.

So quickly does memory dissipate, that what has passed already seems incredible to me. I’ve visted Giza, Thebes, Karnak, Dendera, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Cairo, Prague, Kutna Hora, Český Krumlov, Munich, Lyon, Toulouse, Narbonne, Trèbes, Moissac, St Hillaire, Sainte-Marie de Villeneuve, Brousse-et-Villaret, Perpignan, Marseilles, Cassis, Limoux, Paris – and, of course, Carcassone. And I’ve written a book.

The whole adventure was so long in the planning that it seems very weird that it’s now over. Reality is about to set in.

Before I turn the final page on the trip, however, I should report that HWB and I managed to cram in a few more extraordinary experiences in our last week. As foreshadowed, Carcassonne put on quite a show to celebrate the completion of my book. What others might have noted as the 14 Juillet fireworks were truly spectacular. La Cité was illuminated, and at one stage appeared to be burning, much as it must have done in the famous seige of 1240. In fact, there was a bit of a contretemps when things got out of hand and an actual fire broke out in the Tower of the Inquisition. The pompiers managed to contain it but there will need to be some reconstruction work.

HWB and I enjoyed stellar views from our apartment where we held a small gathering with our new friends from Mexico, Lainey and Eric. It was a fitting send off.

On Wednesday we took a day trip to lovely Limoux, a small town about half an hour by train from Carcassonne. As previously recorded, Limoux lays claim to being the home of bubbly and we enjoyed a meal in the town square accompanied by a bouteille de blanquette.

Lovely Limoux

But the piece de resistance, of course, was our swansong sojourn in Paris. Ah, Paris!

Hello Paris!

The was my fourth visit to the city of love, but the first with HWB and we galloped around doing all the touristy things – Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge – and an afternoon exploring the works of Monet and Van Gough at the Musée D’Orsay. I also managed to squeeze in a feed of escargots, though my aspiration to eat frog legs remains unsatisfied. I guess that just means that I’ll have to return to France one day.

Yum!

The grand finale of all grand finales was a night out at the famous Lido, where HWB and I goggled at the gorgeousness of long-legged, feather-fluttering young women doing the can-can. and the incredible illusions of a Marcel Marceau-type mime artist.

And so, my French sojourn concludes.

I’m packing up my putative French speaking skills and relinquishing the savour of chevre frais, but most of all I’m mourning the loss of my daily baguette. I will miss Monique’s beaming face each morning as she greeted me, and the taste of the best form of bread known to humankind. For all its splendours, Narooma doesn’t have a boulangerie.

The last baguette …

I’ve been writing of the journey being over, but perhaps it would be more correct to say that Phase One is complete because there’s a whole new world of exploration ahead. I was overwhelmed by the generous outpouring of congratulations I received from family, friends and colleagues around the world when I announced my final full stop, but I know that in fact the writing of the book may have been the easy bit. As I return to work, I am now contemplating the daunting reality of seeking an agent and publisher while keeping my eye on the ultimate goal of holding my printed book in my hand.

The journey continues …

Finis!

Dear readers, it’s done! I have written a book!

After an authorial frenzy this week that saw me produce almost 14,000 words I finally had the exquisite pleasure of inscribing ‘Finis’ at the end of my manuscript.

I can’t quite believe it. Of course, I am conscious of the fact that I’ve been bashing the keyboard for the past eleven weeks. It’s more the finality that’s bewildering me. I’ve been living and breathing my characters so intensely that it seems impossible that they’re no longer going to be my daily companions.

I’ve read about this phenomenon. Other writers have apparently felt the same thing – a sense of bereavement and grief at having to let go of your characters once you’ve typed the final full stop. But it wasn’t something that I’d really prepared myself for. I find myself wanting to go back and stay in their world.

Not that the work is over by any means. I know that before me lie months of editing, polishing, refining and preparing my work for presentation to prospective agents and publishers, so I’ll still be immersing myself in the story. But I won’t be creating it any more.

I think, perhaps, that I’m still too close to the process to be able to write about it coherently. It has been so all-encompassing and I’ve maintained such rigid discipline that I haven’t had room for much reflection – other than that in which I’ve indulged through this weekly blog. I think it’s going to take some time for it all to sink in.

Gratuitous knight pic – just because …

And what is my verdict on my creation? Sincerely endeavouring to set aside maternal partiality, I think it’s good. As previously stated, I never set out to write the great Australian novel. Under New Management is not literature, but I do believe it’s entertaining, and quirky, and quite funny in spots. Now I just have to convince a publisher to feel the same way.

There is now only one more week until I fly for home. Before take-off, however, HWB and I will be scooting up to Paris for a final fling. At this moment of completion, I feel compelled to record my heartfelt gratitude to HWB. Not only has he always believed in me as a writer, he’s been a fount of unfailing support on this extraordinary journey, and he’s borne valiantly with my authorial abstraction over the last two weeks. A while back we made a pact that when I sign my publishing deal we will take a trip on the Orient Express. I hope it’s not too long in coming 🙂

My gang of enthusiastic family and friends also deserve a jolly good thanking – Jean, Rachel, Hannah, Julie, Fontella, Bronny, Stephanie, Imke, Heather, Amanda, Tracy, Mariella, Anna, Raphael, Sue, Natalia, Mirela, Jeanne, Moz, Gabi, Claude, Judy, Donna, Marie. Your belief in my endeavour and your regular supply of kind and encouraging words has lifted me up throughout.

Tonight the good city of Carcassonne is putting on a fireworks show for me. The locals think it’s got something to do with Bastille Day, but I know better …

Celebrations!

I did it! I cracked the 80,000 word barrier! I reached the summit!

Woo hoo!

Only to find, like so many early explorers, that when I crested the peak there loomed ahead of me a further summit, a mist shrouded, rock-strewn crag that means I can’t yet put down my carabiners and ice-picks. I have my 80,000 words, but the novel is not quite finished. I estimate that I may need to squeeze out about another 10,000 to wrap things up, so I’m girding up my loins and aiming for full completion by the end of this coming week.

That said, 80,000 words has been the primary objective over the past two months, and I deemed that hitting this target was sufficient cause for significant celebration. This was also the week when HWB and I marked our wedding anniversary, so it was time to break out the Veuve Clicquot.

Wednesday was another day of sweltering heat in France – there is no sign of la canicule letting up any time soon – but we were off to an oasis. Carcassonne’s sublimely sumptuous Hotel de la Cité was our destination for 24 hours of ultimate indulgence.

Location, location, location

The revels got off to a magnificent start when the uber-charming réceptioniste dazzled us with a surprise upgrade to a suite, complete with private terrace overlooking the Chateau Comtal and bastions of La Cité, and finished with panache as we were presented with two glasses of pink bubbles and a round of congratulatory applause from the assembled beaming staff at breakfast. These people really know how to look after their guests, and clearly deem that an anniversaire de mariage is something worthy of maximum honour.

But the crowning glory was the dinner that we had in La Barbacane, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant.

Happy day!

Chef Jérôme Ryon is nothing short of a culinary wizard. His food is so gorgeous that you fear to disturb it with your fork. So dazzling is the beauty and artistry of his work, that I sat gazing in mute awe for a full five minutes when our waitress, Mathilde, reverently placed this salad in front of me.

Too beautiful to eat!

And my jaw dropped when it was followed by this astonishing caviar and quail egg creation.

I could rhapsodise about each salivatingly supurb offering but I won’t. HWB and I revelled in this once-in-a-lifetime meal, knowing how extremely fortunate we were to be able to have this experience. It’s not a style of dining to which I would ever wish to become accustomed, but golly it was good.

Our day of delight was made more special because we had also received happy news from Narooma. Bentley has been released from veterinary care and is back home and doing well. Our dear friends Terence and Di who are now house-sitting for us sent us this lovely pic of him snoozing in one his favourite sunny spots. Thanks to all of you who sent messages of care and support – I’m delighted to report that the prognosis is looking good 🙂

This week brought one more lovely surprise, in the form of a visit from my fabulous friend Stephanie. This wonderful woman and excellent artist has recently emigrated to the UK and took advantage of our proximity to hop across the channel. We’ve had a great time catching up on months worth of news and enjoying more modest samples of French cuisine.

We plan to round off her visit this afternoon by attending a medieval joust up at La Cité. It is part of the wonder of living here that we can just pop up the road and check out chevaliers in full regalia tilting in a tournée.

Preview pic – thanks Tourisme Carcassonne

When I posted my 80,000 word achievement on Facebook on Tuesday I received so many lovely congratulatory responses from friends around the world. Thank you all for your generous encouragement – I hope to reward you with a report from the ultimate pinnacle next week…