Patricia Sands: Her Love Affair with France
April 28, 2020
In her guest blog, Patricia Sands writes: Location is as important to me as the plot and the characters, and this aspect of writing has only solidified with each novel.
The sense of ‘place’ is often vital to the heart of a novel and, speaking from a personal perspective, it’s absolutely essential to the stories I want to share with readers.
When I began to write The Promise of Provence. I knew I had two primary goals. One was to write a meaningful plot with complex characters, to which women over fifty would relate. The other was to share the love affair I have had with the south of France all of my life. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted the reader to feel they were in settings with the characters in every respect. I hoped they would see, taste, smell, feel (as in touch) and even hear everything, just as the characters did. In other words, all senses were employed.
I was given my first camera, a Kodak Brownie, for my sixth birthday … a long time ago! Since then, photography has been an essential part of my life, as has travel. To my surprise, these days I use the camera on my iPhone as much as my beloved Canon Rebel XL. How times have changed.
Location is as important to me as the plot and the characters, and this aspect of writing has only solidified with each novel. To be honest, creating a strong sense of place is part of what makes writing the books so pleasurable for me.
For the past twenty years, my husband and I have spent extended time in the south of France. As we traveled, I drove my husband crazy with sudden requests to pull the car over so I could leap out and take a photo. And, to his credit, he always pulled over. Well, practically always! He frequently finds himself walking alone as I have stopped further back to capture more visuals. Trust me, I appreciate his patience!
That Promise of Provence turned into Book One of the Love in Provence trilogy, in good part because of the love my readers felt for the setting. Of course, they became engaged with the characters as well, but it became clear that the majority of my readers are devoted Francophiles.
All three stories are set on the sun-kissed Côte d’Azur and in the pastoral countryside of Provence. Readers write and tell me they are transported by the stories and that’s my greatest reward. (I’ve since also published a follow-up Villa des Violettes series.)
When I wrote Drawing Lessons, the location changed to a different, but equally beautiful, part of the south of France. My husband and I spent weeks in Arles and the Camargue region as I photographed and researched. Roman history and the vitally important last few years of Vincent van Gogh’s life come alive in this region.
When a woman living on a remote farm in Iowa writes and says, “Thank you for taking me somewhere I know I will never go in my life,” I know my work is done. My readers travel without packing or passports!
It never occurred to me during those earlier years of travel, that all of the photos I took would become a vital part of my writing life. As I evolved into a novelist, I realized I had been telling stories through photography all of my life. Eventually, I began to turn those images into words.
Details are important … from ancient doors and the peeling paint of shutters and windows to fields of lavender, sunflowers, and lavender, to the shimmering turquoise gleam of the Mediterranean or the rocky hilltop outcrops from which medieval villages cling.
Finding the right balance in just how much description or information to include is vital. At this point, I tend to err on the side of too much rather than too little. That’s all part of my ongoing learning process.
Meticulous research goes into getting the facts straight. I take photos of everything. Eating the food, drinking the wine, meandering the picturesque cobblestone streets and absorbing panoramic views from hilltop villages is all part of that … the most enjoyable part! Equally as important, the other part requires reading extensively, interviewing residents, visiting and studying local life such as markets, vineyards, fishermen, farmers, shepherds, cheesemakers, etc. Organizing copious notes goes along with all this. But it’s the visual of the photos that is my greatest resource.
Learning to craft history, along with geographic, architectural, and cultural details, into enjoyable prose is a work in progress as I write each novel. Time and place are two of the essential ingredients of any story that allow the reader to envision the world they are entering. It’s imperative to get everything right.
It goes without saying that an author can write a story in a simple back yard and create a setting that captures a reader. There are settings all around us just waiting for stories to be written.
Receiving emails on a regular basis from readers asking for more fuels my inspiration. There’s no question I will continue to take photos that will bring my stories to life.
To enjoy my photography, please follow me on Instagram. Just click here and I will be happy to follow you back!
The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself…
Sixty-two-year-old Arianna arrives in the South of France for a two-week artists’ workshop full of anticipation but burdened by guilt. Back home in Toronto, she has been living with the devastating diagnosis of her husband’s dementia and the heartbreak of watching the man she has loved for decades slip away before her eyes. What does her future hold without Ben? Before her is a blank canvas.
Encouraged by her family to take some time for herself, she has traveled to Arles to set up her easel in the same fields of poppies and sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh. Gradually, she rediscovers the inner artist she abandoned long ago. Drawing strength from the warm companionship and gentle wisdom of her fellow artists at the retreat—as well as the vitality of guest lecturer Jacques de Villeneuve, an artist and a cowboy—Arianna searches her heart for permission to embrace the life in front of her and, like the sunflowers, once again face the light.
An unexpected bonus of all this is that now I also co-host women’s tours, for groups of 12 to 16), of the south of France that are based on the locations in my stories. (I have a big smile on my face as I share this with you). This September would have been the seventh tour and I am now joined by my good friend, Deborah Bine (aka Barefoot Blogger), as a co-host.
Deborah lives in Uzès, France for most of the year and we love to share our passion for France with others. Most of the women who are on the trips have read my novels and take great delight in knowing they are exactly where they read about in the story. Somehow, experiencing this with readers adds yet another dimension to having written the story.
Who knows where our craft can take us?
Please click HERE to find Drawing Lessons on Amazon.