Saturday, 26 January 2019


I’m celebrating an anniversary this year that if somebody back in the 1990s had suggested would happen I would have laughed and told them not to be ridiculous. 

This year Richard and I will have been living in France for twenty years. 20 years!! Still find it hard to believe.

It was not a conscious decision on our part to move to France - that is, we didn’t sit down and make plans for a new life in a foreign country back in 1999. We simply decided to take a longish break and cycle the western canal paths down through France taking our old collie, Holly, with us in a trailer behind Richard’s bike. By taking her (aged nearly 15) we knew we couldn’t return until the promised relaxation of the quarantine laws happened or Holly succumbed to old age. 

So on May 28th 1999 our French adventure started on the Plymouth - Roscoff ferry and two months later, having cycled approximately 800 miles we were living in our tent in a new friend’s garden in Antibes. Nine months later found us living in the foothold of the mountains behind Nice looking after 6 dogs and a villa. Fast forward another 14 months, Holly had died, the quarantine laws had finally been abolished and Richard had a job as the guardien of a villa near Cannes. The time to return came and went almost without us noticing. When eight years later we managed to buy a small quirky cottage in Brittany, the like of which we could never afford in Devon, we slipped even further into a French life.

The above is a picture of the terrace outside our little cottage in a tiny hamlet taken a year or so ago. I think I was celebrating the publication of Summer at Coastguard Cottages when it was taken. I’ve certainly done more writing here in France than I ever did in Devon - 12 novels published, innumerable short stories published in the UK and internationally and a new novel currently out on submission.

Although I struggle with the French language and have to admit I’m ashamed that after all the years I’ve lived here, it is as poor as it is, I do find myself responding to certain situations in a typically French way these days. I certainly shrug a lot more than I ever did. I accept without question that shops, hairdressers, pharmacies, tabacs, will close for two hours at midday - even some of the larger supermarches do this on certain days - and I’ve learnt to time my day accordingly. I’ve also learnt that not all branches of the same supermarches keep the same range of goods - food shopping invariably entails visiting a couple of supermarches to buy everything we want. I always remember to say a bright ‘Bonjour‘ when I walk into a shop - or the doctor’s waiting room! The French are polite like that.     

But now we are faced with the shambles that is Brexit - which has us living in a kind of limbo land and has raised several questions. Including: Will we have to return? Do we want to? The jury is out on the answers to both those questions.

Saturday, 19 January 2019


After the fun of the festive season, mid-January can feel dreary, which is probably why, traditionally, it is a busy time for travel agents. And so in the spirit of remembering that summer isn’t too far away, I’m offering a sunshine filled post.

Hemingway's House, Key West

A couple of years ago I had the absolute joy of visiting the Florida Keyes, travelling to the very tip of the peninsula to spend time in Key West. It’s a city I’d long romanticised and longed to visit – the palm trees, the sunsets, the melting pot of cultures - but the attraction that inspired me most has a literary connection. It’s a beautiful plantation-style property, surrounded by cool wide verandas, where from 1931 -1939 the Noble Prize winning writer, Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote.

The Writing Studio

Hemingway’s life as an author couldn’t have been further from that of the lonely writer, tapping away in a garret. First as a war journalist, reporting on both WW1 and the Spanish Civil War, then as a novelist and short story writer, his life was filled with adventure. Whether he was fishing for giant marlin (read Hemingway’s account of what inspired him to write The Old Man and the Sea by clicking on this link), his propensity for falling in love (he had four wives), his love of a tipple, or his battle with mental illness and the sad end to his life, drama marked it all.

Hemingway's Typewriter

So it felt right that seventy percent of Hemingway’s work was written during his nine years at such a striking property.

He wrote daily from 6am until noon, producing 500-700 words at a sitting. He enjoyed a short commute to his writing studio via a catwalk that once spanned across the gallery roof, connecting the master bedroom porch to his writing den. He set up a boxing ring in the garden, where he would famously spar with local amateur boxers. His house was one of the first in Key West to have indoor plumbing and a pool.

Me, longing for a dip in the pool...

And what a pool! – If only every writer could have one. Legend has it that the installation of the swimming pool (digging into solid coral) didn’t go smoothly and, according to Hemingway, cost him his last cent. Visitors are encouraged to search for Hemingway’s infamous ‘last penny’ embedded in the cement of the pool’s patio.

Polydactyl cats asleep on Hemingway's bed

I couldn’t write a post about Hemingway’s House and not mention the cats. Signs for visitors not to touch the museum artefacts are all around but more than forty cats enjoy free reign of the house.

Captain Harold Dexter was a highly respected salvage captain, who sailed to Key West with a white, six-toed cat named Snowball. Hemingway was intrigued with the polydactyl (six-toed) cat, so Dexter gifted him a kitten from Snowball’s litter. Hemingway named many of the subsequent six-toed kittens after his famous friends. It was interesting to spend a moment at the cat cemetery, tucked in a leafy corner of the garden.
Kitty relaxing at the pet cemetery 


So, where do I plan visiting next? Well Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is at the top of my reading pile. Can you guess where I’m headed?

I’d love to hear of your travel and reading plans for 2019.

Keep in touch!

Rae x

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Dear Diary ... by Victoria Cornwall

January is a strange month. It can have the aura of optimism (new beginnings) or dread of what is to come. It is also the best month to start a diary.

I kept a daily diary between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. Although I have rarely looked at them in detail, I still keep them safe in a battered cardboard box that has seen better days. The diaries vary in size and quality, ranging from a tailor-made book (with a lock to keep out prying eyes), to bulky A4 notepads which threaten to fall apart at the seams.
Each diary bears my thoughts and my hopes for the future – one even has a message to my adult self. The scribbled writing matures as the years pass and I now realise that the daily ritual also helped me to hone my writing skills in a way that I did not appreciate at the time.
Of course I am not the only one to keep a diary. Queen Victoria was a prolific diary writer. Her detailed journals eventually filled more than 100 volumes and give us an intricate insight into the woman beneath the crown. Surprisingly, the public now has access to her candid thoughts as they are now available to view online here.
Anne Frank’s diary became the most famous diary in the world. Although Anne fervently protected its contents from prying eyes when she was writing it, it was eventually read by millions. Anne had always wanted to publish a book about her time hiding from the Nazis during WW2. After learning of her death, her father considered granting her wish by having it published for her.  The decision to go ahead was not an easy one for him to make, but after seeking advice, he did. Anne Frank - The Diary of a Young Girl gave Anne her voice back and brought her to life for millions of people – a voice and life Hitler had tried so hard to extinguish.
Anne’s diary was an eyewitness account of a major event of the time, Hitler’s persecution of men, women and children of the Jewish faith, but it was not the first diary to be a witness to a memorable period in time. Samuel Pepys was the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty and a Member of Parliament, but it was his ten year diary, which he kept as a young man, which brought him the fame which still lasts today.  His diary is considered the most important primary source for the English Restoration period as it details eyewitness accounts of major events of the time, including the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.  Today, the public can follow each diary account in real time should they wish to experience the Restoration period for themselves.
My diaries will not delight historians, as Queen Victoria’s and Samuel Pepys's have done, or educate future generations about exclusion, discrimination and antisemitism as Anne Frank’s diary has. The 1976 summer drought and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations were probably the only newsworthy events to make it into my childish jottings. The receipt of a souvenir jubilee mug pales into insignificance when compared to Samuel Pepys’s recollections of the Great Fire of London. However my diaries, which are stored away in the shadows of our loft, are special to me and helped me to fall in love with putting words onto a page. They may never be read in their entirety, but they might just raise a surprised eyebrow from my descendants who dare to open the covers and read a short extract from the pages within …

Have you considered writing a diary?
What stops you if you haven't?

Fiction by Victoria Cornwall

Sunday, 6 January 2019


I don't make New Year Resolutions ..... not since the time I bought a very expensive, leather, diary vowing to write something in it every day and didn't get past 11th January. But I do have a little homily for a bit of forward-thinking. I call it my BECAUSE I CAN principle. I apply it to all sorts of things ..... having to face the dreaded dentist's chair I tell myself that my now no longer with us next-door-neighbour, Judy, would love to be in that position, so I sit there and grimace and bear it 'because I can'. And I have more reasons now to apply this theory/homily/principal .... call it what you will. The first week of January is not yet over and already I've had more sad news than I normally get in a year ..... two (late) miscarriages, one stroke, one serious illness, two deaths .... and all close to me. I won't go into detail about them all but my BECAUSE I CAN voice will be loud and clear this year. The news that has hit me the hardest is the news I was expecting .... the death of the French friend I've had for sixty years, since we were both eleven - she learning English, and me learning French we became penfriends. She came to stay with me and my family many times but I think we visited her and her family far more. Our photograph albums are sprinkled with photos of us together. One that we both kept was taken when we were both seventeen, sitting on my boyfriend's - now husband - Norton. When Marie-Claire came over when we were both in our late sixties we re-did the photo shoot, as it were.
I've not been on the back of that motorbike much in recent years but this year I will ..... 'because I can'. The last time I saw Marie-Claire her sister, Agnes, and children were on the cusp of finding permanent care for her. Marie-Claire, Agnes, and I spent a day in Rouen reminiscing about the time I went to the lycee with them for six weeks and stayed at their home. It was a bittersweet day - sometimes Marie-Claire forgot who I was, and sometimes she forgot who she was, but then she would suddenly correct my French - as she had always done! - and we were back together again.
I'm not the greatest fan of air travel but it's the quickest way to get to Normandy where Agnes lives and now I feel it's important that we keep the connection open. So this year I'll fly over ..... 'because I can'. I've always been fairly active but when the weather's not so great it's all too easy to stay in that chair and not venture out. But there's no such thing as bad weather, so the joke has it, only the wrong clothing .... so I'll venture out whatever the elements are throwing at me because I live in a very beautiful area, and 'because I can'.
Sometimes, when we're hit by sad news it can be difficult get our mojo back. I'm not far off finishing my third book for HarperCollins but the joy of writing isn't, well, quite so joyous after all the above sad news. But already the cover of THE LITTLE B&B AT COVE END is up there on Amazon, if not for pre-order yet .... which is a mercy because it isn't finished yet. But I will finish it ..... 'because I can'