When it comes to writing a novel, sometimes writing about what you know is the best option, according to author Jane Dunning…
My first novel Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez is a contemporary, fictional story set in Provence, London and Italy spanning three generations of one close-knit family. It also incorporates tales about the main characters’ four dogs, a classic sports car and a teenager’s life on a superyacht.
I actually started writing a screenplay but soon realised that I could develop the characters and their lives into a novel. I knew that the story would culminate with a specific incident and a wedding anniversary party, and found it to be a fascinating and unexpectedly enjoyable experience reaching that point.
As this is my first book, I felt the need to ‘write what I know’, which is common advice to writers. Consequently, many of the settings and scenarios are taken from my own experience of life but adapted to suit the various personalities. The characters are entirely of my imagination but the family groups have been inspired by my own friends’ families.
Although they have embraced French life, the main characters are slightly ‘old school’. I hope I have given the impression that the rest of the family are strongly influenced by their values and their living in Provence has provided them with opportunities to work and study in France.
My husband and I stayed in the Var for four months, looking after a large house and four dogs – they became important canine characters in my story. We have holidayed in many of the locations depicted but, sadly, haven’t yet been on a superyacht!
I was inspired to write the story by the beautiful landscape of the Massif des Maures and an un-made road on the way to Collobrieres from La Garde Freinet. It was one of those occasions when I realised too late that I should have been more insistent about turning back. It was also great fun to write about the dogs and adapt some of the situations that we experienced when living thirty-five minutes from St Tropez.
On a vineyard in sunny Provence, Richard and Helen make plans to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary. Meanwhile, romance is in the air for Joanna, Helen’s recently widowed sister, and for their teenage grandchildren. Grandson Joseph is enjoying life as bosun on a huge superyacht while his twin sister, Danielle, continues her language studies at university in Aix-en-Provence. In Monaco, Richard’s brother and his wife live the high life but are brought down to earth when they dog-sit at the vineyard. As they enjoy the peace and quiet, and the company of the four friendly dogs, they wonder if they should perhaps move to the country. Richard and Helen travel to Italy to see about buying a classic sports car and spend a few days in vibrant San Remo and stunning St Jean Cap Ferrat before returning home to make final preparations for the family’s arrival and the anniversary party. As summer approaches, life-changing plans are being considered when a potentially tragic accident becomes the catalyst for one of the biggest changes.