I-was THIS close to making a HUGE mistake in the set-up of my new mystery series Stranded in Provence which I would not have realized until it was way too late and my mailbox was crammed full of irate and befuddled readers with the subject line reading WTF??!!
That is because, whether you’ve been to Aix before or never have, there’s a good chance you have a notion of it as being a gorgeous, welcoming city and while that’s true–so true–it’s also an impediment to a particular author attempting to spin a tale set in an intimate French setting.
Let me state it flatly: my new series involves an American woman swapping her natty upscale Atlanta condo for an authentic 1300s apartment in Aix-en-Provence mere moments before an EMP explodes over the Mediterranean and throws everyone functionally back to the 1950s.
Cue the golden age of mystery approaches to crime solving of shoe leather and brain power and say au revoir to CSI forensics, lab work and online criminal databases. It’s kind of like Bridget Jones Meets Hercule Poirot.
My problem though was that my memory of Aix was a tad quainter and a whole lot smaller than it really is. Aix is a city make no mistake. With a gorgeous brand new Apple store that looks like a space ship and a big box store on the perimeter of town. The work I had to do in this series was centered on creating an ambience of quaintness that juggled a new world mentality with old world capabilities.
An Aix was just too big to do this in. 168,000 people? I must have skipped over that unfortunate little fact during my online research. And I wouldn’t have known it unless I’d flown back there, walked around for a week and realized: it’s amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s too big for my purposes.
Fortunately, we have lovely friends outside Aix in the charming–and oh so perfect for what I need–village of St-Cannat. With under 5K people and charm and old-world authenticity oozing from every cobblestone street corner, St-Cannat was to become my new prototype for the village of Chabanel which is where the new series is set. Plus–and hopefully this doesn’t confuse too many readers–St-Cannat (and the fictional village of Chabanel) are both within the Aix-en-Provence commune so I can have all the pleasures (and problems) of Aix in my books while keeping everything to scale.
For my IEG readers, you know I did this countrywide in Ireland and also in Dublin but it was important to me to keep it small and manageable this time. The focus is less on the apocalypse and more on the people getting on with their lives, including an American expat who solves crimes in tandem with the French gendarmerie in Chabanel and Aix.
Whew! So there’s the inside story. And the take away as I’m always telling my husband is that there is always a good reason to pick up and fly to France at the drop of the hat.
To my Maggie readers, I believe spending time in Aix and Marseille will show itself in the next Maggie book that’s on the horizon and I hope you think so too.
On a side note is the fact that I stayed at the Hotel Cezanne this trip.
Some of you
might remember that I used it in Murder in the Bistro but only had whatever details the Internet could provide as a way of describing it. I can tell you now that it’s charming, perfectly located and while we’ll probably rent an apartment next time we’re there (because we’ll be there for several weeks), I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Here are a few more pictures that I took in the process of researching the village of St-Cannat which I used to prototype my new village, Chabanel, in the Stranded in Provence series.