I’ve just spent a week in Languedoc, in the Corbiere Hills, sitting on the terrace of an ancient stone cottage, sipping red wine and listening to nightingales. It was sheer bliss. Before leaving England I had been tempted to take my netbook but I forced myself to leave it behind. I’d been finding writing hard work and I needed a break.
I spent my mornings reading. For lunch I generally drove to one of the unspoilt little villages nearby where everyone I passed in the street wished me bonjour. I ate truly colossal meals in family-run auberges where the chef came out of the kitchen to tell me proudly how each dish was cooked. In the evenings I watched the sun go down, then built a log fire in the huge grate.
But the main thing I did was look. I spend so much time inside my head, turning over plots, constructing and reconstructing characters, ransacking my own emotional baggage, that I often don’t even notice the world around me. So from time to time I need to get away completely from my familiar surroundings.
The thing is, whenever I do stop obsessing about the internal world and focus instead on the external, I find that the empty spaces in whatever book I am working on suddenly begin to fill up of their own accord.
On the plane on the way back, there was a woman sitting across the aisle from me busily writing on her computer. Suddenly I was hungry to write again. It was all I could do to stop myself snatching her laptop and setting to work. If she had glanced up from her screen she would have seen me looking greedily in her direction. Fortunately she was completely pre-occupied.