Warm sunshine and beautiful places to sit and enjoy it; good wine, good food, and the occasional bad-for-me-but-what-the-hell treat; an outing or three to interesting places; and books stacked high enough to last the entire fortnight. What more could anyone ask of a holiday? Or vacation, depending which language you’re speaking?
On which subject, I even spoke a little French, and was told I spoke it very well. It probably isn’t true; I think people were being kind because I tried to speak it at all, and I certainly didn’t make a great fist of understanding what was said back to me, but we got by.
It wasn’t just sunshine, wine and time to read. We visited a domaine which produced pineau des Charentes (another name for nectar of the gods); tasted wine and wobbled down steep cobbled streets in St Emilion, not necessarily in that order; got lost outside Bordeaux; gazed at the harbour and walked round the aquarium in Saint Rochelle; and even caught up with an old friend who upped sticks and moved to the Charente Valley a few years ago and has never regretted it for a moment.
But mostly there was a lot of sunshine, not a little wine and books, books, books.
First up, my lovely daughter, who volunteers in a charity secondhand bookshop once a week, had unearthed a rare copy of a YA book by my very dear and sadly departed friend Douglas Hill, but he wrote fantasy, not crime, so I’ll just say it was great fun and I shall treasure it.
Then I decided I’d better stop hogging The Thrill of the Haunt, the most recent Haunted Guesthouse Mystery by your friend and mine, E J Copperman, since it was much in demand by two of my fellow vacationers. Reading that took a couple of days; I like to savour E J’s wit and neat hand with a turn of phrase. When I’d finished it and passed it on, lovely daughter came up trumps again, with An Open Spook, an eBook novella in the series which she’d stowed on one of those dinky little mini-computer things which we non-techies don’t know how to switch on. (No, it’s not a K*****. It’s MUCH cleverer than that, and even got us out of trouble when Bordeaux threatened to turn adventure into nightmare – see above. Besides, she feels much as I do on the K***** score.)
After that box, or possibly electronic device, of delights, I embarked on The Critic, by an author I’d never sampled before, though he’s been out there for years: one Peter May, who seems to have settled in a wine-producing area of France, and in this case had written about... a wine-producing area of France. And since we were staying in, yes, you guessed, it all felt quite cosy. Not that the book was in the least cosy; there were elaborate and occasionally gory murders, code-cracking, a great protagonist and a lot of detailed wine-related research by the author, which enriched the background and didn’t hold the action up at all. So of course I felt I owed it to him to do some wine-related research of my own, and it didn’t hold up my reading pace either.
A week or so before we set out, my good friend Zoë Sharp had filled a gap on the S shelf of my extensive book collection with Die Easy, the latest full-length adventure for her brilliant kick-ass heroine Charlie Fox, and another not-too-slim volume containing six short stories and a novella called Absence of Light, all also featuring the mettlesome Ms Fox. They kept me on the edge of my seat, and lasted – just – till the night before we arrived home.
So if you still have holidays, or even vacations, to come, and are looking for reading matter to fill the free hours, I strongly recommend each and every one of the above. Preferably the print editions where available, to maintain a centuries-old tradition that really shouldn’t be allowed to die. Thanks, Zoë, E J, Peter and Douglas – a real collection of treats.
Thanks also to my good friend Chris Nickson, who had far more important things to do while I was away, but still found time to post in my place last week. Not only is he permanently writing, reworking and gestating about five projects at once; he also organized a hugely popular launch event last week, for the first in his new series.
And now, three days after we returned, it’s business as usual, and feels as if I’ve never been away.