I’d often been intrigued in the past by an ad in the LRB inviting me to spend some time in a large old country house near Girona, in Catalonia, with the author Charles Pallisser, working on the art of fiction-writing. How pleasant it must be, I used to think, to be able to sit around in the sun with like-minded people and a writer who was not only published but had actually written a book I much admired (The Quincunx), not to speak of cooling off body and brain in a convenient swimming-pool, eating local foodstuffs and drinking local wine. It was the stuff of dreams.
And then I published my own first book, and then my second and I began to wonder if it wouldn’t be even more fun to go as the writer, and sit around in the sun, etc. This year, to my joy, that’s exactly what happened when the ad, in a sense (and through Sandra – thank you, Sandra!), got in touch with me to tell me that Lee Pennington, a man of many and considerable talents, and the brains and heart behind the operation, had invited me to be one of the guest authors on his Seven Day Wonder book-lovers’ week in early September. When I heard from an earlier guest that she’d had a great time, I was even keener.
I wasn’t disappointed. I was one of four people to be invited. Clare Dudman was the first, to talk about her most recent novel, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees. It’s a fine book, honest and beautifully written, and I’m sorry I missed her. Next up was Adam Nevill, currently reinvigorating British horror with Apartment 16. He was there when I turned up late from Girona airport, to be greeted by pasta, wine and general conviviality, and seemed far too sunny and simpatico a man to have conceived such a dark and disturbing work. Someone once asked me how I managed to live with my imagination, and I may have asked Adam that same question.
The final author to be invited, Ann Cleeves, arrived while I was talking to the group and stayed, as I did, until the end. It was a joy to have time to talk a little shop, and discover, among other things, a shared admiration for Fred Vargas. You can see me here on the left, momentarily distracted by the view from the latest and possibly last of Ann’s gripping Shetland novels, Blue Lightning.
Events like these may be built around books, but they live or die by the energy and good will of all those who take part. I have everyone to thank for the welcome we received. Lee, Debbie and Rob, who made sure that the food played as central a role as the reading, and to all of the book-lovers, whose interest and enthusiasm, and discretion, made it a pleasure to be read, and discussed, and finally, with the softest of kid gloves, given the literary equivalent of the third degree. They couldn’t have been kinder, or more generous. Now all I have to do is write another book in time to get invited back…