Blog 85 04/08/2019 A Literary World. An Interview with Jane Dunning.
A Literary World
An Interview with Jane Dunning
My guest today on A Literary World is author Jane Dunning. Jane and I both have something in common – other than writing – in that we are both confirmed Francophiles and love the south of France. Jane, however, has taken her passion a step futher and written two books set in the area. As I know many of you also share our love for France, pour yourself a glass of Pastis with an ice cube or two, imagine yourself on a sunny terrace at the end of the afternoon, and read on. Welcome to A Literary World, Jane.
1. Can you tell us about yourself? Where do you live?
I’m very lucky to live on the south coast of England which is very beautiful in its own right but is also just a ferry crossing away from my very favourite place, France! My home is in the historic port of Poole, with its long sandy beach and famous peninsula of Sandbanks. The Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, is just across the harbour entrance. Poole Harbour is the second largest natural harbour in the world – after Sydney, Australia! I’ve lived in the area since I was six months old when my family emigrated from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. I sometimes wonder if that’s why I love France so much as the islands once belonged to France and there are still many visible French influences – it is perhaps in my blood. I’ve been married for over forty years and was lucky enough to retire from my position at Bournemouth University in 2007. I loved working with the students and lecturers having previously worked in banks and building societies, although my first job was at our local newspaper, on the advertising side of things rather than editorial, but it was a great start to my working life.
2. When did you decide to become a writer?
It was 2008. My husband and I were undertaking our first house-sit near Saint-Tropez in France when an idea for a story came to me. I knew I’d always wanted to write but never had the time or inspiration. I must say at this juncture, that I’m by no means a full-time writer and think that I will probably only ever write books set in France or perhaps about World War II, another subject that greatly interests me.
3. What are your books about?
They are about a comfortably-off English family who live in Provence and Monaco, a family saga really. The main characters own a vineyard, along with a holiday rental house, near Saint-Tropez whilst others reside luxuriously in Monaco. Grandchildren attend university in Aix-en-Provence or work on a super yacht whilst the main character’s widowed sister lives in Juan-les-Pins where she finds love once again. The grandchildren’s up and down love stories also run through the books. The stories travel to other parts of France and Italy, often by super yacht!
4. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I think I’m one of those people who absorb inspiration wherever I go. I might be inspired to include the particular sound of church bells in the story just because they sound so different from others I’ve heard. I have travelled to France every year since 1990 and have a notebook full of little ideas that might find their way into my stories. I’m writing the third book in the Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez trilogy in which there is a World War II element which was inspired by reading a blog post. This has also allowed me to move part of the story to the Luberon in the Vaucluse, away from the Var and Alpes-Maritimes where most of the action takes place.
5. Are your characters based on real people?
Definitely! My character, who falls in love with a Frenchman, is based upon a friend’s friend mixed in with my own dear friend who lost her husband in his early fifties. I’m not sure how it happened but my main character, Richard, has evolved to being a little like a younger version of the veteran, now retired, actor, Leslie Phillips. I’m not quite sure how that happened but I like his slightly old-fashioned values and integrity. Four important characters in the story are the dogs. They are the actual dogs we looked after on the vineyard and they play themselves, with kind permission of their owner. The villain is inspired by the French police calling at the vineyard to ask questions about a grape-picker who had been causing trouble in the area. My imagination took over for his storylines. I love choosing names for my characters and try to select names that fit the era. For example, teenagers are often mixed up French cyclists’ names whilst for older characters, I might mix some French actors’ names.
6. I know you do house sitting. Which areas have you been to and do certain areas inspire you more than others?
Yes, house-sitting has enabled us to spend extended periods in France, Italy and Spain and we’ve carried out over twenty-five so far, although quite a lot are repeats. We’ve looked after dogs near Malaga and near Barcelona in Spain, and in Tuscany and Sicily in Italy, the latter has become very regular and we love the little dog and enjoy the company of the family before they leave and when they return. Next time we go, there will also be a cat! We find it’s easier to house-sit in France as we can pile all we need into the car and pop across the channel as the port is only ten minutes from our house. I have been greatly inspired by our house-sits in Provence, the first one of course near Saint-Tropez but also one in Juan-les-Pins, near Antibes, where we looked after a French Bull-dog who has also found his way into Stolen Summer, my second book. I’ve used his pedigree name, Ernesto, as in the story he belonged to an Italian lady. We also looked after a cat about an hour from Saint-Tropez and some of the villages around there have been incorporated into Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez. Recent house-sits have been in the Luberon, not far from Avignon, and they have helped inspire the World War II element of my latest work. I could often be found photographing information boards about the war, graves in the cemetery or houses where I might like my characters to reside.
7. House sitting sounds like fun but does it leave you time to explore the surroundings and write?
We have found house-sitting to be great fun especially if there’s a dog we can take along with us when we go out for walks or visit local villages and towns. We take looking after the animals very seriously and follow the owner’s instructions carefully but there’s normally time to get out and about and also write, especially without the distraction of TV.
8. Are there any special places you have discovered that have found their way into the books?
Definitely! I love including places I know well but have become more confident in writing about places I have never been. Special places I have been to include Saint-Tropez, Vence, near Nice and the vineyard near La Garde Freinet. The house I visualise in Vence is one I house-sat in in the Var – I just moved it to the adjacent department. Also, Portofino, the Bay of Poets, Genoa – all in Liguria. I’ve only driven through Genoa so the Internet helped with my research regarding that particular city.
9. Are there are writers or books that have inspired your own writing journey?
I would have to say Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence and many other stories set in the south of France. I love the work of Victoria Hislop and Carol Drinkwater and also lesser known authors like Deborah Lawrenson, Helen Pollard and Fiona Valpy. I particularly enjoyed Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong and Charlotte Gray. Years ago I read Noel Barber’s A Farewell to France, a story that mixes France with World War II – a good combination for me. Another novel that stands out is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, set in Paris and St Malo. You might be able to see a pattern forming…
10. Favourite art piece?
I love French Impressionism so I would have to say one of Vincent Van Gogh’s flower paintings. When in Philadelphia in 1997, we wandered into the city’s museum and were astonished to find several paintings by the Dutchman – it was an unforgettable surprise. I’ve also visited his museum in Amsterdam and, fairly recently, the Musée D’Orsay. I think I can safely say his work is a favourite.
11. Favourite music?
I consider myself very lucky to have grown up with pop music since the late 1950s when my sister played Cliff Richard on her tiny record player. I would listen to Radio Luxembourg in my bedroom and then Radio 1 when it started in 1967 – I still listen to it now! In my teens and early twenties, I loved reggae, soul and Motown and I then moved on to punk and the New Romantic era such as Duran Duran, Heaven 17 and Spandau Ballet. On my iPod, you’d still find Stevie Wonder, Paul Weller, Cat Stevens and David Bowie along with fairly current bands. I can safely say pop is my favourite music.
12. Favourite food in the regions you have stayed?
My most memorable foods include moules au gratin (mussels in garlic, parsley and butter) in Corsica, a ham and butter baguette more or less anywhere in France, the cakes of Sicily, the patisserie of France. The last two, sadly, are more looking at than eating. I had the most delicious duck in Saumur in the Loire Valley and a memorable venison casserole in San Gimignano in Tuscany, cooked with in-shell walnuts. The first time I had a goats’ cheese salad was in Carcassonne. The cheese was grilled on top of slices of baguette and the salad sprinkled with walnuts. We were handed a bottle of runny honey to pour over – delicious, and something we make regularly to this day which is probably why I can only look at the cakes and patisserie!
13. What’s next for you?
We’ve just booked a trip to the Peloponnese in Greece plus we have two house-sits lined up for later in the year, one in Brittany, France and the other back to Sicily. We’ll probably add a few days either side to explore somewhere we haven’t been before. I am a few thousand words into Book 3 of my family trilogy and I think I now have enough good ideas to keep the story flowing. I’ve been able to add a few new characters due to the World War II element and maybe a couple more will sneak into the contemporary part too. I can’t wait to get stuck in again after a few weeks off due to a trip to Norway and Jury Service which didn’t provide the inspiration I had hoped for!
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Jane. As a food lover, your choices makes my mouth water. Goat’s cheese on slices of crusty baguette with walnits drizzled with honey! Heaven. I also love your choice of music too. On behalf of my readers, I wish you many more years of happy travelling and continued success with your writing life.
My first novel Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez
The sequel Stolen Summer
My colourful Facebook Page featuring information about my books, France and Italy
My listing on the house-sitting website, Trusted Housesitters