A big thank you to Kath – and Squizzey – for inviting me onto the blog today to mark the publication of my fifth book, A Wedding on the Riviera.
One of my trademarks as a writer is my fondness for glamorous locations. Kath suggested I might talk about the complexities of researching locations when in lockdown – so that’s what I’m going to do.
The chance to visit your locations is, of course, the first choice for creating authentic atmosphere – but the Internet makes a huge difference when you absolutely can’t – and that doesn’t have to be because of a pandemic. First for health reasons, and then because I was finishing my studies for my doctorate, I’ve not been able to travel abroad for some time.
The first in the ‘Riviera’ series, Summer in San Remo, and the first draft of A Wedding on the Riviera, which was completed some time ago, were both written without the opportunity for a research trip. With the doctorate finally accomplished in March, this year was going to be different.
I had a wonderful train tour booked for May, and was also hoping to squeeze in a second journey before A Wedding on the Riviera was published – for photographs and maybe some little extra touches, as tweaks to the manuscript. The chance for some fun and some sunshine. Well, we know what happened to that!
Even without those trips, I hope I have managed to capture the authentic feel of the locations, and provided a touch of vicarious travel and escapism for readers. My starting point for both books was vivid memories of numerous holidays on both the French and Italian sides of the border. I knew how things should look and the places that I wanted my characters to go, based on those holidays. I don’t have photographs from those trips. I made a conscious decision at the time not to take the camera, so that I was looking and absorbing – experiencing – instead of snapping scenes. Some photos would be nice now, but the memories certainly fed into the books.
I have well thumbed guide books and ephemera – maps, train timetables, tickets, business cards, which gave me a nudge if my recollections did falter. I follow appropriate sites on Twitter and Facebook, so I get regular reminders popping up in my feeds, lovely pictures to trigger memory and mood, often involving beaches, sunsets and food. My Facebook feed is regularly full of pictures of French patisseries.
It’s easy to refresh and update the memories too, with all the travel videos now available on the Internet. I’ve never made a trip to Nice without visiting the wonderful Cours Saleya market – flowers, fruit and vegetables, olives, glace fruits, spices. When I wanted Nadine and Ryan to do the same thing in A Wedding on the Riviera it was only a few clicks and I was wandering among the stalls again.
For Summer in San Remo I was able to find a tour of the marriage room in Menton which features in the book. It was decorated by artist Jean Cocteau, and is an incredible space – fantastic wall paintings and animal print rugs. I needed the pictures to check the details, but I knew in outline what was there, from those holiday memories.
Funnily enough, it was not so much the big things as the small ones that proved most difficult in lockdown. Quite a bit of the first part of A Wedding on the Riviera is set in Bath and Bristol, cities I know quite well. I went with a friend for a prowl around Clifton, the part of Bristol where Nadine lives, while I was writing the draft, so that was fine, although I probably would have visited again, if I’d been able.
Scenes at the Bath and Bristol rail stations and the centre of Bristol drew on memory, and some of the locations, such as the arts centre, are from my imagination – as is the villa outside Nice where the wedding takes place. There was one particular detail that took a bit of sleuthing on the internet to solve. I needed to know from which platform trains left Bath station for London.
There was a gap in the draft, which I intended to fill by a much anticipated day trip, once the thesis was done and the manuscript being revised. A train ride, some shopping, lunch, maybe a trip to the theatre – and all in the name of research. I never dreamed that it would be impossible to do it! And to complicate the problem, with public transport virtually suspended, it was difficult to check with a hypothetical journey. I got there in the end.
It’s platform one. I hope.
So – that’s the story of researching locations when you can’t visit. It can be done, if you have an idea what you are looking for. I hope I have managed to convey the magic and glamour of the settings as authentically as possible. The next book is set in Portofino on the Italian Riviera. I have visited, but it was a long time ago. I’m really hoping that before that manuscript is ready to go I will have been able to make that research trip – and visit the French Riviera again as well.
We’re looking forward to escaping to Nice for A Wedding on the Riviera first but Squizz and I are available to carry luggage or wear sunhats at a jaunty angle on that Portofino trip, Evonne, if you need us…
Thanks so much to Evonne for sharing some of the trials and tribulations of researching and writing a book in lockdown. You can find out more about Evonne and her books on her Author Website, Facebook Page or find her on Twitter. Evonne is published by Choc Lit and you can buy her Riviera books from these affiliate links: