Today, on our tour of locations that have inspired Prime Writers, Terry Stiasny explores some hidden corners of Provence in the south of France that inspired her forthcoming novel, Conflicts of Interest.
I knew that I wanted to set Conflicts of Interest in an area that I know well — in northern Provence, the area around Vaison-la-Romaine. It’s the south of France but inland from the coast; not the kind of destination that people helicopter into. It’s beautiful, of course, a place full of vineyards, sunflowers, fields of lavender. The Mont Ventoux, the mountain legendary to cyclists and known as the Giant of Provence, looms over the landscape.
It’s somewhere, though, where I always feel there’s more going on than meets the eye. The hillside villages are fortified, with ramparts and narrow streets that coil up towards their centres. They were built to repel invaders and they’ve seen conflicts from the Crusades to the second world war. It was a wealthy place as far back as Roman times and remains of grand Roman villas still exist. On the outskirts of the villages there are large houses, many shielded behind walls and hedges. Summer visitors arrive from across Europe. I didn’t want, though, to buy into an entirely romanticised view of the beautiful South; here there are long histories and secrets.
I started to construct, as my setting, a fictional village that combined elements from many locations; it needed a café, a bakery, a fountain in a central square. I’m not usually one for mysticism, but as I was travelling around, a map of this virtual village in my head, I drove into the village that I thought I had only imagined. A huge plane tree stretched over the square, an archway led through the ramparts to where I imagined my main character lived. The café was busy with locals and tourists. I borrowed some of its traditions from another village nearby. The bakery had closed down, but I could imagine it still existed. I had found my place.