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…

Hot, Hot, Hot!

It’s hot! Really, really hot! It’s so hot that friends in Australia are seeing stories on the news about how hot it is in France! The locals can talk about nothing but the extreme chaleur, unprecedented in their experience. The Carcassonaises are particularly frazzled because the only local swimming spot, Le Lac de la Cavayère, has been closed down due to an algal bloom outbreak, just has summer has arrived with a vengeance.

Le Lac de la Cavayère – no swimming!

Before the temperatures began to soar on Thursday, I continued my double regime of French class in the morning and writing in the afternoon and managed to push myself to 74,692 words before my attention was distracted by more exciting developments.

Old-fashioned roses – this week’s floral inspiration

My time as an authorial hermit was drawing to a close, and I was off to Marseilles to rendezvous with HWB. He flew in from Malta and I took the train. I’d love to say that we ran in slow motion towards each other and kissed passionately while he lifted me in his arms and twirled me round, but no. There was certainly some kissing, but it was way too hot to do any running or twirling. Despite the lack of rom-com action, it was a happy moment 🙂

Undaunted by the prospect of dissolving entirely in the heat, we gamely set out to explore Marseilles, the second largest city in France, and one which has a reputation as a gritty and edgy locale. We staggered through the sweltering streets and managed to take in the old port, Fort St Jean, the Cathédral de Major and the modern sea-front MuCEM before collapsing in a waterfront bar for a revitalising beer. Here, and everywhere we went in Marseilles, the vista was dominated by the famous hill-top Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, which is surmounted by a massive, golden statue of La Bonne Mère, the protective patron of the city. We caused significant amusement with our matchy-matchy yellow ensembles 🙂

Notre Dame de la Garde

On Saturday, unable to face another day boiling in the city, we decided to get out of town and visit the small seaside oasis of Cassis, about thirty minutes by train east of Marseilles. This picture post-card spot is most famous as the best place to go on boat adventures to Les Calanques. Plenty of other people had the same idea, and the town was thronged with overheated visitors dying to get in the sea for a swim.

Unlike Marseilles, Cassis is largely unspoilt, not having fallen victim to rampant development and mega population influxes. Its little u-shaped harbour is full of traditional fishing boats, whose skippers still sell their catch each morning on the quay.

HWB and I are both water babies, so of course we headed straight for the boating options. Our choice was a tour of three of the calanques followed by a swim beneath a remote and craggy cliff.

Happy sailors

The Parc National des Calanques stretches along the coast between Marseilles and Cassis and is littered with calangues – narrow, rocky coves or inlets which are accessible only by boat or via long hikes through the Parc. The limestone rock has been hewn into massive coastal cliffs – the tallest in Europe – and twisted into turreted towers and canyons that offer mouth-watering prospects for swimming, snorkelling and kayaking.

Calanque d’En-vau

Plunging into the Mediterranean for our cliff-side swim was heaven. Given that the mega-heat is anticipated to continue for the whole of the next two weeks I’m having my first regrets about Carcassonne’s inland location. More swimming on the Côte d’Azur has significant appeal right now.

Yesterday, HWB and I rounded off our reunion jaunt with another boat ride out to Château d’If, a formidable island fortress just off the coast of Marseilles Harbour. Those who’ve dabbled in French literature may recognise the name. It was the location where Alexandre Dumas imprisoned Edmond Dantès, the hero of his classic novel, The Count of Monte Christo. The 16th century castle did operate as a prison from 1580 to 1871, and was a favourite spot for the government to banish many real life political enemies of the state.

Château d’If

I enjoyed this literary excursion, but was battling with some subliminal authorial guilt. Observant readers will have noted that my previously mentioned word count of 74,692 is somewhat shy of my projected target this week of 80,000. However, due to the extraordinary circumstances of the reunion I have flexed my rules and am aiming to reach my writing summit by COB Tuesday, the day before HWB and I celebrate our wedding anniversary. If I bash away solidly, I’m confident I’ll get there, but I will be without the inspirational view from my window. The shutters are down and the fan is on …

Cranking Up …

It’s been a massive week here in Carcassonne – this whole experience is becoming richer, more exciting and more intensive as I travel along. I haven’t had a dull moment.

Last Sunday I took another of the excellent winery tours organised by the Office de Tourisme and as well as sampling some excellent vin, we visited a paper mill in Brousse which has been run by the same family for seven generations. The best bit, however, was that I met a fellow writer on the tour, Lainey Cameron, and we hooked up later in the week (more to follow).

The very lovely Moulin de Papier

I also began my intensive French language classes. After day one I thought I’d made a serious error of judgement. The assessment for the course was an online test, in which I think I performed pretty well as my capabilities for reading and writing French are reasonable. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for my comprehension and speaking skills and I feared I had been placed in a class far beyond my capacities. As the week went on, however, I gained confidence and ended up having a fantastic time with Dominique, the teacher, and my fellow students.

Ma Proffesseure et mes camarades étudiants

On Thursday we further enhanced our experience by undertaking a çours de cuisine français at a gorgeous boutique hotel called Métairie Montplaisir, about fifteen minutes from Carcassonne. Not only did we learn some secrets of cuisine nicoise with our host and enstructress, Amélie, but we got to eat the products of our labour. Yum!†

Le chef!

All this Frenching was heaps of fun, but it significantly increased the pressure on my writing targets. Despite being in class from 9 am. to 12.30 p.m. each day – and losing all of Thursday with the cooking adventure – I have ended the week only 509 words short of my target of 10,000. Yep, I’m very, very close to 70,000 words – which seems incredible – and am now on the homeward run.

The other factor that seriously disrupted my creativity was that I had bad news from home that my gorgeous cat, Bentley, was having seizures. For a couple of days we feared the worst, but my dear friend Hannah, and our lovely Narooma house-sitters have done a valiant job of caring for him, and we are now cautiously hopeful that he will be OK. It was, and remains, agony being here and not being able to look after and reassure him. Bentley’s illness has triggered my first and only bout of serious homesickness.


Friday 21 June is officially the first day of summer here in France and Carcassone celebrates by putting on a Fête de la Musique, with dozens of acts covering the spectrum from traditional and classical to hard rock and jazz. Lainey and I met up in the Place Carnot and had an excellent time sharing our writing experiences while the music and dancing flowed around us, before we bumped into Dominique and her husband Luc, and fellow student Brigitte. It wasn’t planned but we all ended up in my apartment listening to Edith Piaf, drinking wine and laughing and conversing en français. After so long hermitting in my eyrie, this was French living! My only wish was that HWB could have been there to share the fun. It’s not long now ’till he returns from Malta …

Yesterday, I rounded off a huge week with a day trip to the beautiful small city of Perpignan. This town was the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca during the 13th century, and it has a strong Catalan flavour to this day.

Palais des Rois de Majorque, Perpignan

I had another fix of castles, towers and markets, with a delicious lunch in the Place de République, and came home exhausted but happy. Once again I have to report something that I never thought I’d say, and it’s that I am suffering from spiral, stone staircase fatigue. The hoof to the top La Castillet did reward me with fabulous views over the old town, but I reflected that I was glad to have been born in the age of the elevator. The endurance of the climb, however, remains a strong metaphor for my writing journey. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Spiral fatigue

At the Moulin de Papier, my eye was caught by this citation from philosopher, writer and composer Jean- Jacques Rousseau, printed on a sample of the artisnal paper produced by la famille Durand. It pretty much sums up what I feel right now. I am replete with potent experiences that will stay with me forever, whether or not my literary output sees publication.

The person who has lived the most is not the one with the most years but the one with the richest experiences.

Throughout July, my town has a massive month-long party, Le Festival de Carcassonne. There will be hundreds of concerts and live music pretty much the whole time, and the town is dressing up for the festivities. With only one more week of writing to go, I’m looking forward to joining in …

Preparing to celebrate …

Hitting My Stride …

It’s Saturday night here in Carcassonne and I’m sitting back with a glass of wine feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’ve just clicked over 60,000 words – three quarters of the way up the mountain- and I’m hitting my stride.

It’s been a week of solid pegging away at the keyboard, trying to claw back the two days I lost last week. I’ve got there and can now abandon all care and enjoy the gratifying sensation of hitting my target – before I start up again on Monday.

Tomorrow I’m off on a winery tour organised by the local tourism authority – a treat I discovered last week when I visited Vignobles de Carsac and Chateaux de Serres. It was a great day out taking in the wineries, two abbeys and a delightful cruise around the countryside beyond the town – something I haven’t been able to do up until now being sans car.

The first abbey we visited was St Hilaire where I discovered a little known but fascinating factoid.

Cloister of St Hillaire

You may have heard the story of how champagne was invented by a Benedictine monk called Dom Perignon. ‘Tis false. One hundred years before the fizz was popping in Champagne, the monks of St Hilaire discovered the secret of the magical brew. They call it blanquette de limoux and it happened in this cellar:

Birthplace of bubbles

It is even said that Dom Perignon visited St Hilaire to learn the secret and exported his newly acquired knowledge back to the north. Such questions raise heated debate in France where each region is fiercely proud of their spécialités.

From Limoux we travelled up to the Cabardes region where we dropped into the Abbey of St-Martin-le-Vieil, a ruined Cistercian house now in private hands. It was delightful, but I suspect that by the end of this trip even I – an inveterate history lover – will finally have achieved a surfeit of abbeys. I’m beginning to become blazé about cloisters.

The biggest treat of the week came on Thursday. I’m a huge fan of the author Kate Mosse whose historical novels are set in Carcassonne. In fact, her vivid descriptions of life in La Cité and La Bastide significantly influenced my choice of authorial location. I knew that Moss usually spends her summer months here and I’d been fantasising about meeting her, having a coffee and sharing my writing experience with her. One night I even went so far as to Google-stalk her, trying to work out a way to make contact.

So I was beside myself with excitement when I discovered she would be in town doing a book signing at Librairie Breithaupt. Champing at the bit, and clutching a copy of her latest offering, The Burning Chambers, I fronted up to meet the object of my adoration.

The very lovely Kate Moss

Our meeting was brief, but I was able to tell her about my Carcassonne sabbatical and my hopes of meeting her. I even confessed that I have a further fantasy where one day we sit on the same panel at a Writer’s Festival discussing the tribulations and triumphs of writing.

The poor woman must be continually pestered by aspiring writers but she was most gracious, even noting the ‘off chance’ of our meeting on a panel in the inscription she wrote in my book. I could see she secretly thought I was delusional but, dear readers, I have the temerity to believe that one day I will sit on that panel and when I do I’ll whip out my copy of The Burning Chambers and watch her eyes bug out.

Her final injunction to me was ‘keep writing’. And I will …

Step by step …

A Social Whirl…

After living absolutely alone in a state of Trappist seclusion for two weeks, I broke out into a round of social gaiety this week. It started with a nice long Skype chat with my fellow aspirational author, Fontella, who buzzed me on Sunday. It was pure pleasure being able to talk through the highs, lows and dilemmas of writing with her, and to hear a chirpy and encouraging Australian voice. Not that I’m not loving my French immersion experience, but there’s only so much conversational satisfaction to be gained from purchasing baguettes, cheese and coffee.

My second treat was a surprise meeting with HWB’s uncle and aunt who were visiting Carcassonne for a day as part of a Lions tour. We had a delightful lunch up in La Cité where I caught up on all the Maltese family news.

Then on Monday I jumped on the train to Moissac, a small town about an hour north of Toulouse, to meet up with dear friends who are walking the Comino. Sue, Jim and Lyn live in Melbourne, and Sue and I find it hillarious that the last three times we’ve caught up it’s been on the other side of the world.

Jim, Sue and Lyn

These intrepid travellers are walking more than 800 kilometres across France and they had just reached their midway point in Moissac. We had a wonderful time recounting our adventures, and realised we were all half way up our respective mountains. I love a nice long walk, and have had my own daydreams about walking to Santiago di Compostella, but committing to stomping upwards of 30 km per day, every day for 40 days boggles my mind. Sue says that writing 2000 words a day boggles hers.

Moissac was thoroughly charming, and the Abbey of St Peter was particularly evocative. It has the oldest enclosed cloister in the world and it remains a key destination for avid pilgrims. The achingly sweet sound of the nuns singing vespers in the cathedral will remain with me for a long time.

St Peter’s Cloister

Apart from the pilgrims passing through, Moissac is a quiet place, delightfully free of tourists and retaining all of its local, Garronnese charm. Its best gift to me though, was the lavish encouragement that Sue, Jim and Lyn bestowed upon my writing endeavours. It’s impossible to believe in failure when you’re given that kind of boosting. Thanks guys!

Pont-Canal du Cacor

Last night I really lashed out, and made my way up to La Cité once again, this time to see a concert in the Basilica of St Nazaire and indulge myself with a meal at one of the citadel’s restaurants. I may have had a moment of pensive reflection, wishing that HWB could have been there to share the experience, but when you have a view like this one with which to beguile your dining pleasure you can’t remain pensive for long.

Port Narbonnaise

The concert was a performance by the Cosaques de Kouban, a quintet of astonishingly talented singers/musicians who are all alumni soloists of the Red Army Choir. The Russians are the masters of melancholia and I was brought to tears by several of their more mordant laments. But then they’d switch to their roistering, jocular, exuberant alter-egos and I was grinning like a loon and swept up in a hand-clapping, foot-stamping frenzy. It was fantastic.

Check out that bass balalaika!

So, did I find any time for writing amidst this social whirl? Indeed, I did, with one rather significant glitch. On Tuesday, as I was heading back to Carcassonne on the train, I started feeling distinctly unwell. By 7 p.m. I was in the throes of a full-on gastro-spew assault – the less said the better. Since I was completely destroyed on Wednesday I had a daunting 3700 words to make up and though I’ve pegged away solidly and added an emergency Saturday session I’m still 1900 words short of my weekly target. Solution? I’ll just have to crank it up next week to 2500 words per day.

I finished my week with a visit to Église St Vincent, my local bell-chiming church which had a special annual open day allowing access to the bell-tower and roof-top eerie with stunorama views of La Bastide and La Cité. The bell-tower, I learnt, has 47 bells, so it’s not surprising that it can put on such a great show. As I plodded up the 232 perilous steps of the spiral stairway, worn into ruts by the footfalls of the faithful, I was reminded that I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I will reach the top …

Keeping on climbing …

Half Way Up The Mountain …

After four weeks of furious writing I’m thrilled to report that I’ve hit the half-way mark of my writing journey – 40,604 words and counting! Only a month ago I had an idea for a story and a head full of dreams and today I have half a book beaming at me from the computer screen. The only thing I have to do now is repeat the whole process – easy!

Actually, of course it’s not easy. I did manage to recover from my Narbonne-induced melt-down last week by doing extra writing on Saturday and Sunday, but then the wretched lethargy hit me again on Monday. Cue round two of writhing guilt and misery and the need for another big haul on the bootstraps. I’ve had to bash out 2500 words for each of the remaining days this week to get myself back on track but thankfully the spirit moved me, and I have been able to enjoy this weekend off remorse and fancy-free.

With the Ascension Day holiday on Thursday, summer has officially arrived in Carcassonne and I had a perfect day for my Saturday ramble along the Canad du Midi to Trèbes.

Happy camper

The canal, which was built between 1662 and 1681 by one Pierre Paul Riquet with the backing of Louis XIV, aimed to link the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. They didn’t quite get all the way, but today the canal is a UNESCO-listed treasure, travelling 241 km from Toulouse to Étang de Thau on the coast. It is hugely popular as a holiday destination for barge/boat enthusiasts, cyclists and walkers – and a welcome verdant escape for one very happy writer based in Carcassonne.

Port de Carcassonne

The path along the river passed ports and locks, vineyards and farmsteads and each turn of the river revealed new vistas of delight. As a bonus, three hours of steady tramping allowed plenty of time for teasing out plot twists, toying with dialogue and planning out my writing for the next week.

Back at my desk, my view has been enhanced this week by a beautiful fuschia. I’m still indulging in my weekly bunch of flowers from the market, but I’m enjoying tending this living plant that is blooming before me as my book blooms under my busy fingers.

It is still a daily wonder to me that I’m here and living this life in Carcassonne. The reality is every bit as wonderful as the visions I nurtured in planning this adventure. Every day is painted with bright vivid colours, new impressions and experiences and I’m humbly grateful for this incredible opportunity live my dream.

One of my father’s favourite quotes was from Tennyson’s Ulysses:

I am a part of all that I have met; 
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ 
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades 
For ever and forever when I move. 

My Carcassonne experience is building new layers of my self, and I am stepping eagerly through the arch each day …

How to Eat an Elephant …

For those of you not familiar with the conundrum question, “How do you eat an elephant?” , the answer is one bite at a time. I always knew that writing my book was going to be an elephant-sized task, hence my cunning plan to break this process down into daily comestible servings of 2000 words at a time.

Consistency and persistence were to be my watchwords, and in order to hold myself accountable I’ve been tracking my daily performance. It’s been most satisfying to see the daily tally add up and I’ve been basking in smug self-congratulation – until things went horribly wrong this week.

It all began with the weather. As previously flagged, I was looking forward to the first of my exploratory French adventures on my Saturday off. However, a consultation with the weather forecaster indicated that it was going to rain pretty much non-stop from Friday through until Monday. Thursday, on the other hand, was scheduled to be a gorgeous day. Why not just switch things around a bit and go to Narbonne on Thursday instead of Saturday?

And so I did.

Narbonne is a small town of 47,000 people, a short skip from the Mediterranean coast, and a cruisy half-hour by train from Carcassonne. It’s most famous for its Roman origins and was a major hub back in the first couple of hundred years AD. In the town square they have unearthed a section of the Via Domitia , an ancient Roman trade route between Italy and Spain, and beneath the modern streets lie a labyrinth of underground galleries, the horreum. Narbonne was also the regional headquarters of the Catholic church and there is a magnificent archbishops palace, complete with tower and dungeons, next to an impressive cathedral.

The town itself is very pretty, sitting on the Canal de la Robine, and today it is know as a destination for wine and food lovers. I lucked out, because Thursday is one of the market days in Narbonne and I had a lovely time wandering through the street market along Les Barques Promenade. and visiting the town’s famous covered market, Les Halles.

Flower market

Between 9 am and 3 p.m. I visited absolutely every attraction in the old city, including spending a couple of hours in the Art and History Museum in the Palais des Archevêques, with plenty of time just ambling through the cobbled streets and sampling some local ice-cream.

Canal de la Robine

It was a full day, but it wasn’t extreme enough to account for the absolute lethargy that struck me on Friday. As soon as I woke up I knew I wasn’t going to be writing that day. No morning walk. No coffee in the Place Carnot. I didn’t even turn on the computer. It was a complete and utter collapse.

And then of course the guilt kicked in. The problem with vigorously imposed self-discipline is that when it breaks down it offers unlimited potential to beat yourself up. I needed to hit 30,000 words by the end of this week, and there I was with only 26,000 under my belt, hiding in bed with the sheets pulled over my head. I writhed with self-disgust.

Perhaps it was the grizzly, grey day which poured with rain, as predicted. Perhaps my body thought it was Sunday after my illicit faux-Saturday the day before, and that I was therefore fully entitled to loll about doing nothing. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.

Perhaps I should add resilience to persistence and consistency in my armoury of writing watchwords. On Saturday I girded up my loins and decided I simply had to get on with it. I was determined to to let one bad day derail the bigger elephant-eating plan. Cheered on by my weekly flowers, a lovely nodding bunch of peonies (charmingly called pivoines in French) I returned to the keyboard with a vengeance, bashing out a gratifying 2428 words. If I can manage another 1500 today I’ll be back on track.


So where does this resilience come from? I think it’s partly the solid work ethic drummed into me by my parents who always encouraged me to bounce back up, dust myself off and try again whenever I was knocked down by one of life’s challenges. And perhaps it stems from early reading influences. My sister Tracy reminded me this week of one of my very favourite books as a child, The Little Engine That Could. Like the little blue engine my mantra is “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And so I do.

I’m also encouraged by the way my story is developing. The characters are really coming alive for me and though I don’t have the temerity to claim that I’m penning deathless prose, I do think its pretty entertaining. Before he left, HWB read the first chapter and I was thoroughly gratified when at one point he laughed out loud. And Rachel of the fierce green editing pen, who is the only other person who has been permitted a glimpse of the Work In Progress, has been pleased to bestow a LOL upon me. I haven’t previously said that I wanted this book to be funny, but I do, and the fact that two preliminary readers have had a giggle suggests I might be on the right track.

I can see that my self-imposed diet of elephant steak has the potential to get a bit wearing. But I’m chewing on valiantly …

Ma Vie en France…

At the end of my first week home alone in Carcassonne I feel like I’ve lived here for ages. I’m a creature of habit, and I like having an established routine, especially now since I have set myself a major task that can only be completed if I plod steadily and consistently forwards each day. So, I thought this week I’d share with you the shape of my days and weeks here.

Each morning I’m woken by the bells of Église Saint-Vincent, the 15th century gothic church which is literally outside my window. The bells, which begin tolling at 7 am. and wrap up for the night at 11 p.m., are setting the pace of my day. On Sundays there is a perfect riot of bells for several hours – they are pealing now as I write.

Because I’m full of the excitement and wonder of being here I leap forth from my bed with gusto and go for an early morning walk. There are several lovely routes to chose from and my favourite so far is the waterside walk along the River Aude which flows between La Cité  and the Bastide. Spring has well and truly sprung here and we’ve had some lovely days. I’m fascinated by the small trilling songbirds here, so different from the avian chorus I’m used to at home. On Wednesday I spotted a grey heron scouting for fish.

Riverside ramble

On my way home I stop in Place Carnot at Chez Felix, an institution which has been dishing up café to the locals for 70 years or so. I had the thrill of being greeted by name and having my double espresso predicted and brought to me without ordering on Friday. I smiled smugly at some tourists at the next table.

Next stop is Les Délices de Je, my local boulangerie, where they are also now able to predict my standard request for une baguette. The smell of freshly baked baguettes is mouthwatering. I think I’m really, really going to miss this daily indulgence when I return home.

Baguette heaven

On Mondays and Thursdays I’m going to pilates at Zen Yoga Studio which is just around the corner from the apartment. Philippe, the instructor, speaks no English so getting myself enrolled there and following instructions has been a considerable challenge for my rudimentary French skills. I’m across inspirer and expirer, jambe, bras, nez, bouche and périnée and picking up more words each class.


Then, of course it’s down to business. Rain, hail, or shine I am determined to produce 2000 words per day and – this week at least – I’ve nailed it. The grand total is now standing at 20,041 – or a quarter of the way there! The magical view from my window continues to inspire and my desk also now features a bunch of flowers from the Saturday market. I don’t know the name of this week’s selection, but the heady yellow blooms were paired with eucalyptus leaves and I’ve been transported, a little, back to Narooma.

Weekly floral delights

Saturdays are my day off so yesterday, after a happy foraging expedition to the market, I took myself for a three-hour hike to see a bit more of the countryside. From La Cité I headed east through rolling hills covered with vineyards and small farms with herds of goats, gazing horses and one belligerent donkey who clearly objected to my gazing over his fence.


A stiff climb was rewarded with panoramic views across La Cité, the Bastide and the Aude plain towards the Montagne Noire in the far distance. I sat on the hilltop for some time, dreaming dreams and recharging my batteries. In coming weeks I plan to intersperse local walking adventures on Saturdays with forays to nearby towns. I have my eye on Narbonne for next week …

Sunday is blog day and will also feature as bath indulgence day. On the corner of my street is a delicious shop selling soaps, creams and bath salts, all organic and made locally. I’m treating myself to a weekly bath bomb – tonight’s is orange scented 🙂 I think that as I wallow in the fragrant oils I can be just a little bit proud of what I’ve achieved so far.

On my hike yesterday I was fascinated by the array of wildflowers growing along the roadsides and in the furrows between the vines. The poppies in particular caught my attention – a poignant reminder of blood-bathed fields of war – evoking a response in a way that the plastic reproductions in Australia never have. Wild jasmine, hedge roses, diminutive daisies, purple pimpernels – it was just lovely. And as I examined some baby grapes I reflected that they will ripen and come to fruition around the same time as I finish my book.

On my way home I came across a cluster of superbly fat and fluffy dandelion seed flowers. I made a literary wish of course, and watched the seeds scattering on the wind, but I know that it is going to be sheer grit and determination (along with a smattering of inspiration) that is going to get this book written.

10,041 Words and Counting …

A week and a half into the core writing zone of my journey I’m pleased to be able to report that I’ve hit the 10,000 word marker. It was a mixed week, with massive output on a couple of days, some moderate achievements on a couple of others and one complete wipe-out day when I did a big fat zero (don’t ask!).

You may recall my firmly-stated resolution to produce a standard 1500 words per day, but perhaps unsurprisingly this hasn’t quite translated into reality. I put this down to still being in somewhat of a ‘settling in’ phase, a second and most unwelcome bout of flu, and the competing allure of going out adventuring with HWB while he has been here with me. A jaunt to the medieval walled citadel, La Cité, was obligatory and it’s been impossible to resist several petites exploratory and coffee drinking forays. I’m feeling like a local in la Place Carnot.

Going native …

As I type, I’m home alone and HWB is somewhere in the air between Toulouse and Frankfurt. He is going off to pursue his own artistic and business dreams in Germany, Italy and Malta, leaving me to focus 100% on my writing for the next seven weeks. But before we parted company we had a quick weekend getaway to Toulouse.

Streets of Toulouse

La Ville Rose is the fourth largest city in France and is only a quick 40 minute train ride from Carcassonne. It is famous for its pink brick buildings which glow gorgeously in the sunset and for its local dish of cassoulet (confit of duck, pork sausage and harricot beans in a kind of stew arrangement). Cassoulet is famous throughout the Languedoc region, but Toulouse is its capital so we went in search of the real thing and found it in a fantastic restaurant called La Cave au Cassoulet. As indicated by the name, it is located in an underground cellar, and along with the véritable cassoulet we indulged in pâté de foie gras, tarte tatin and a tasty local Château Laffitte Teston. It was all très délicieux, but not quite as fabulous as Hannah’s farewell French feast 🙂


This morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of crepes under the plane trees in Place St-Georges (the former town execution venue) before exploring the
Musée des Augustins. This fine art museum specialises in sculpture and paintings from the middle ages and is set in the stunning cloisters, church, halls, sacristy and dortoirs of a 14th century monastery.

Musée des Augustins

Aside from being the home of pink bricks, le cassoulet and a regional reputation for excellence in les beaux-arts, Toulouse has also had a long history as a centre of violet growing. The little purple flower is the emblem of the city, and one of my personal favourite flowers of all time. Imagine my delight when we discovered the charming Maison de la Violette, a showcase of all things violet housed in a barge on the Canal du Midi. I resisted the temptations of violet tea and candied violet sweets, and reluctantly pulled myself away from some lovely violet-flowered tea pots, but I couldn’t resist buying a little bottle of violet eau de parfum. I intend to squirt myself with it if/when I find that writing inspiration has momentarily fled.

The scent of writing success …

Tomorrow I shall roll up my sleeves and set to writing with reinvigorated fervour. And just to spice things up, I’ve decided to set myself a new challenge. When HWB returns from Malta at the beginning of July we will be celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary. We have decided to mark the occasion in style with a bang-up dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant in La Cité called Le Barbacan which we confidently expect to be a once-in-a-life-time meal. How much more celebratory would it feel, I thought, if it was also the Completion of the Book triumph dinner? And as an added bonus I would also then have two weeks of fancy-free holiday time with HWB before we return home to Australia.

This revised target means that I have to shave two weeks of writing time off my projections and increase my minimum production to 2000 words per day. Challenging – yes. Achievable – also yes. I haven’t yet found myself in the writing ‘zone’ where output becomes effortless, but it’s been fun and I think the tale is shaping well. And I’m sure that now I am alone and free from husbandly divertisements the words will flow abundantly.

I leave you today with a pic of a stunning rose from the cloister of the
Musée des Augustins which is the exact colour of my wedding dress 🙂

Encore, la vie en rose

Et maintenant ça commence …

Bonjour Carcassonne! HWB and I arrived here on Wednesday after a week travelling by train from Prague with pit stops in Munich and Lyon. Our enjoyment was slightly hampered by HWB succumbing to my Egyptian flu (proper flu, not mere man flu!) but we had a great time despite this setback. I could rave on about the delights of weißes Bier and pretzels at the Hofbräuhaus  and the wonders of the Roman amphitheatre in Fourvière, but as previously established this is not a travel blog, so I will spare you the rant.

Wednesday was May Day and as we set out from Lyon train station we came across dozens of vendors selling small bunches of lily of the valley.
Apparently, it is a tradition on this day to offer a sprig of muguet to loved ones as a token of luck and prosperity for the year ahead, so of course HWB felt impelled to present me with a small posy. It is sitting now on my desk along with my other items of inspiration (more later).

Bouquet de maguet – a May Day tradition

Carcassonne, and our apartment, are everything we could have imagined. The view from my writing desk is every bit as stupendous as anticipated. Today it is very clear and I can see the snow capped peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance as well as the nearer and even more breathtaking prospect of La Cité (the walled citadel). It’s been freezing cold and we’ve both been sniffing, shivering and sneezing so we haven’t yet explored this wonder – a delight to be anticipated. I understand there will be jousting tournaments in July …

Oh yeah …

We have made a few exploratory forays around the Bastide Saint-Louis, the old town which is our home, and the most fabulous feature so far is the farmer’s market held in the Place Carnot each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It is here that I have most tested my rudimentary French which seems to be sufficient for commerce if not yet for conversation.

Place Carnot – farmers’ market

The market is jam-packed with mouth watering goodies and we have launched ourselves on the local cuisine with gusto! I’ve never seen so many varieties of heirloom tomatoes (in fabulously wonky shapes), asparagus with the girth of a broom handle, mountains of artisnal baguettes, vats of olives prepared to old family recipes, honey scented with the herbs of the garrigue, a plethora of mouthwatering sausages and hams and strawberries that actually taste like strawberries. And don’t even start me on the cheeses! We came home with a satisfyingly bulging bag of treasures and some irises just for pure spring pleasure.


And so, being unpacked, well-stocked and acclimatised, the long-anticipated moment arrived. It was time for the writing to begin (insert slowly intensifying drum-roll here).

My first act was to create the requisite ambience and set up my desk with all of my aides to creativity. In addition to my Inner Critic, mocked-up novel, lapis lazuli egg, Thoreau mousepad and writers’ notebook I’ve added two new items garnered on my travels.

The first is a small statue of the Egyptian god Thoth. This ibis-headed deity was the god of writing, magic and wisdom and he is often portrayed with stylus and papyrus in hand. Very sensibly, writing in ancient Egypt was considered a sacred profession and there was a Prayer to Thoth that writers intoned to call down his inspiration. It opens thus: “Come to me, Thoth, O noble Ibis. O god who longs for Khmunu, O dispatch-writer of the Ennead, the great one of Unu. Come to me that you may give advice and make me skillful in your office.” I don’t anticipate intoning the prayer of Thoth, but I like his poised pen and beaky face and the reminder he brings of the higher purpose I’m striving to achieve here.


My second treasure was found in an obscure manuscript shop in the back streets of Vieux Lyon. It is a hand-tinted 1880 engraving of a falcon and it leapt out the stack and insisted on coming with me. I’m still devoted to my eagles, but my protagonist Tessa Falkner has got a bit of a falcon thing going on, so it’s really for her.

My falcon

And now for the question hanging on everyone’s lips. Have I written?

Indeed I have! I am proud to report that the word count currently stands at 3919 – or almost 5% of my projected output for an 80,000 word novel. When the moment came to put fingers to keyboard I suffered no existential crisis. My lost voice was found and the words bubbled forth in a happy and abundant flow. I’m not writing deathless prose, but I’m quietly content with what I have achieved so far. It’s only the first step in what remains a quite long journey, but I my intent and focus are strong and I’m eager for more.

And she’s off!

In closing today, I’d like to add a sound track to today’s blog. Since arriving in France I’ve had Édith Piaf’s immortal song swirling in an endless loop in my head. I’ve sung it, whistled it, hummed it:

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose

I’m deeply thankful, profoundly conscious of how lucky I am, and brimming with hope and possibility. La vie en rose indeed …