Dreaming of Tuscany sets the path for author Lisa Dickenson’s new series.
Last year I poured every millilitre of sparkling snowflakes, mistletoe kisses and Christmas cheer that was inside me into The Twelve Dates of Christmas. I wrote it during the hottest summer we’ve had in the UK since 2006, sat in my garden, wearing shorts, and slurping on icy drinks as I thought about mulled wine. I listened to endless Christmas music to try and conjure up the mood and give me inspiration for those festive scenes I was imagining.
This spring, when I started to write You Had Me at Merlot, the bleak winter weather had buggered off yet again and silky sunshine and thoughts of holidays were already flittering about on the breeze, making the prospect of scribbling a summer book seem all that more achievable.
I started with a title and a setting. You Had Me at Merlot made me smile – not (just) because it’s a wildly hilarious pun, but because it struck me as the kind of line an ageing Lothario would murmur over a pricey glass of red to a rolly-eyed love interest. It made me think of those awful stories of blind dates, which made me think of the dating scene as a whole, which made me think that nowadays, when online dating is so the norm that something like a singles holiday seems old-fashioned, it could be quite fun to lob a couple of leading ladies out of the confines of their comfort zones.
And that’s how they ended up in a beautiful, sprawling vineyard in Tuscany, just like the girls visited in Season 4 of Jersey Shore, and other more cultured references! I wanted to evoke that very special feeling you only get when you’re on holiday, and you suddenly realise just how lovely it is to be on holiday. When you’re feeling not just sunshine, but really warm, stroke-your-skin sunshine, and drinking not just wine, but really delicious, why-do-I-usually-buy-plonk wine, and when you have time. Time when you don’t even care what the time is, you’re just enjoying the gap you’ve found yourself in which can’t be filled with emailing, or cleaning, or watching TV. That’s what I wanted to give my leading lady, Elle, because she’s a bit of a workaholic – which isn’t a bad thing – but even future-CEOs need some time out.
Italy, wine, singles holiday – done. Where do I go from here? Well where better than to flesh out a summer-themed story: the beach! Or a research trip to a Tuscan vineyard but Little, Brown didn’t seem to want to humour me on that one.
So I sat on my beach in my seaside town in Devon, surrounded by Italian holiday brochures and poured over glossy photos of sunrises upon vineyards, icy bottles of limoncello, fruit pastille-coloured Vespas propped against crumbly walls and carafe after carafe of wine. I made notes, I folded page corners, and I stared out to sea like a lost soul/Billy-No-Mates plotting and imagining.
Then I went back to my house and guzzled some wine in admiration for myself and celebration of the book, and promptly fell asleep on the sofa, forgetting most of it. But it all came flooding back, and after a bit more procrastination, of which I am the Queen, ruling over my kingdom of Procrastinatia, out it flowed. BLAHBLAHBLAH. And You Had Me at Merlot was done. And then I allowed myself a little more wine.
Elle and Laurie are the last ones standing: they’re single, they’re not having babies any time soon and their weekends aren’t filled with joyful meetings about mortgages. For Elle, this is fine – she likes her independent life, she loves her job, and she has no desire to walk down the aisle anytime soon. But Laurie wants love and she wants it now.
So when Laurie begs Elle to come with her on a singles holiday to a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany, Elle is reluctant. You Had Me at Merlot Holidays promises crisp sunshine, fun and a chance to stir up some sizzling romance. Elle has no intention of swapping her perfectly lovely life for someone else’s idea of her Mr Perfect, but ten days under the Italian sun with her best friend and lashings of wine? How bad could that be?
You Had Me at Merlot is the kind of love story that will have you crying with laughter one moment and nodding your head in agreement the next. Full of sultry summer nights, hilarious moments and plenty of wine, it will warm even the most cynical of hearts and have you believing in the magic of romance (and the power of a decent glass of Merlot).
Lisa Dickenson was born in the wrong body. She was definitely meant to be Beyonce. Despite this hardship, she grew up in Devon attempting to write her own, completely copyright-infringing versions of Sweet Valley High, before giving Wales a go for university, and then London a go for the celeb-spotting potential. She’s now back in Devon, living beside the seaside with her husband and forcing cream teas down the mouths of anyone who’ll visit. She is sadly still not Beyonce.