Friday, December 26, 2008


This famous, long-published English magazine, one of my favourites, has set off on a great new adventure in recent weeks by publishing an Australian edition. Not only does this new magazine have 12 pages of exclusively Australian contributed material each week but we can now buy in it both Australia and here in New Zealand in the week of UK publication and at the bargain price of A$6.95/NZ$7.95. I am delighted and now instead of buying a copy once a month or so I am treating myself every week.

The story that follows by Aussie author Virginia Duigan, is from the absolutely splendid Christmas Special issue. Give yourself a post-Christmas gift and go out and buy a copy, I promise you will not be disappointed. To get a taste read on..........

Biographies by day, Scrabble by night
Virginia Duigan, (pic left), writing in The Spectator Australia
Special Christmas Issue 20-27 December 2008.

Virginia Duigan and two fellow ladies of letters turned a cottage in rural France into their own writers’ retreat
The single-storey ancient stone farmhouse is surrounded by rolling fields, several miles from the nearest town. It is long, narrow, charming, with more lamps than I have ever seen in one small house. The sleeping quarters are at one end: two bedrooms, and a third double bed in the sitting room. I must walk through Anne’s bedroom and past Caroline’s bed to the kitchen to reach the bathroom. But we are old friends, and this is the third successive year that the three of us have gathered in a wintry landscape to write.

We are in the heart of rural France. South-west of Paris, only 90 minutes away by train, it might as well be a far-flung province. The region is called le Perche; tourists come rarely and certainly not off-season. When de Gaulle spoke of la France profonde — provincial, quiet, inward-looking — he might have been describing le Perche, with its sleepy capital Nogent-le-Rotrou, our nearest, Internet café-free small town.
Writers are impractical. It is our first morning and we can’t get the stove to work. The name Monsieur Malherbe is on the fridge as wood carrier and general factotum. M. Malherbe is slight and taciturn. He adjusts the portable cylinder; a gas jet sputters into life. We have coffee, make a long list of supplies. But alas, it is Sunday in Nogent: the main supermarket closed at 11.45 a.m., the other one at 12 as we drive up. The streets are deserted.

But writers are imaginative and optimistic. We have the perfect, cosy auberge in mind for Sunday lunch. Its stone wall is covered in creeper, and it serves simple yet delicious food sourced from local farms. We scour several villages in search of it. The villages are pretty but deserted, the inns few, somewhat utilitarian and tout complet. Back in Nogent we locate the sole open shop, which is run by Arabs, and before it shuts grab whatever is to hand — bread and wine, lettuce, cheese, eggs, fresh figs. That evening we have tomato omelettes, figs, cheese, and rather a lot of wine.

Read the full and delightfully entertaining piece at The Spectator online.

Virginia Duigan's second novel, The Biographer was published earlier this year by Vintage,Random House.While in France she was working on her third novel, The Precipice.

1 comment:

Lisa, WA. said...

Virginia Duigan is the most entertaining and acerbic writer I've encountered in a long time. I read about 3 or 4 books a week (generally literary fiction). I'm in the midst of The Precipice and can't believe I had not come across her earlier two books before now. The one liners in The Precipice are classic, particulalry those aimed at the Gilda Lily character, e.g. that she probably thinks that Madeliene is a character in one of Proust's books. The interchange between Thea and Greg re her advice to him to not let Gilda cross his threshold, etc is hilarious. I enjoy the way the Thea character, although apparently fond of her friends, regards them with a jaundiced eye e.g. when she refers to Sandy having a Pygmalion period coming on. I can't wait to read her earlier two books once I've finished this one.

Lisa, WA.