I live on the French Riviera, in a town called Menton, nestled between Monaco to the west and the Italian border to the east. Menton became famous in the nineteenth century when it was advertised as a place where the bronchial and those suffering from consumption could be cured. The latter proved a delusion but it did not stop people coming here.
Many of the people who visited Menton were artists and writers. The painter Ernest Lessieux came in 1884 at the age of 36 because of his poor health; he painted many memorable paintings of the town and died here in 1925, aged 77.
Robert Louis Stevenson visited several times, Graham Sutherland had a house here, as did Lesley Blanch. The Spanish writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez built a spectacular villa. Aubrey Beardsley died here, William Butler Yeats in the next village along. But the two artists most associated with Menton were the multi-talented Jean Cocteau who worked here in the 60s and Katherine Mansfield.
Katherine Mansfield lived in the Villa Isola Bella in 1920 and produced much of her best work here.
One of the rooms in the villa has been acquired by the Winn Manson Menton Trust and every other year a distinguished New Zealand writer wins a Fellowship to come to Menton and write.
I was lucky enough to make friends with the 2014 Fellow Mandy Hager who let me work in the writing room when I was on a tight deadline to edit A Love Most Dangerous.
It was a peaceful, harmonious place which was fortunate as the process of editing was perhaps the most demanding and pressured work I’ve ever done. There was something both humbling and inspiring at working in a place associated with one of the giants of 20th Century Fiction.
Where else do I write? This all depends on what I’m doing. I tend to think of my writing as occurring in several phases.
First comes the dreaming, windmill-tilting phase. I tend to do this lying down, on the bed when it’s chilly or on the balcony when it’s hot. Staring up at the heavens seems to open my mind to ideas.
Then I pore over the ideas, keeping some, discarding others and gratefully seizing on new ones. I sometimes do this on the dining table but I prefer to get out of the house and visit a café. Fortunately, Menton, like any French town has scores of cafés to choose from. I love the buzz and life of them and it always helps me think.
And then there’s the writing itself. I do this where I’m sitting now, at a small desk in the corner of our living room.I’ve often had a study but I usually found that I preferred to move into the living room which is ridiculously contrary of me.
Here’s a picture of my writing desk.
Since moving to France most of my books are on Kindle and I make extensive use of the internet for research. Nowadays we’re so lucky to have all the resources we have on the internet. I couldn’t easily manage without it.
I only had access to the Katherine Mansfield room once. Now when I edit I either do it in my work-alcove or decamp to the library just across the road. It’s a fantastic place, light and cheerful with a silent reading room where everyone looks at you as you enter, daring you to make a noise.
The advantage of this is that I don’t have access to the internet. I take across my dictionary, thesaurus, specialist maps and research notes. And then I just edit.