Summer at the French Olive Grove a Novel by Sophie Claire
Sophie Claire writes uplifting emotional stories with their heart in Provence, where she spent her childhood summers. She is half French, half Scottish, was born in Africa and growing up in England, she felt she didn’t belong anywhere – except in the pages of a book. Perhaps this is why she likes to help her characters find their home, a place in the world where they can be loved for themselves.
Previously, she worked in marketing and proofreading academic papers, but writing is what she always considered her ‘real job’, and now she’s delighted to spend her days dreaming up heartwarming contemporary romance stories set in beautiful places.
Find out more at www.sophieclaire.co.uk.
Why my book is set in Sanary-sur-Mer – but it isn’t!
Summer at the French Olive Grove is the story of an adventurous filmmaker, Lily who suffers an accident on her travels and must return to the quiet French seaside village where she spent her childhood to recuperate. But she can’t wait to escape. Not least because Olivier – her childhood friend and former crush, who she has spent the last thirteen years avoiding – is staying next door . . .
My new book, Summer at the French Olive Grove, is set in the fictional village of St Pierre, but I’ve made no secret of the fact that it was inspired by my childhood trips to Sanary-sur-Mer. My mum is French, but I grew up in Manchester, England, and every summer we used to pack up the car and head south to spend the school holidays with my grandparents who lived near Sanary. I have nostalgic memories of big family gatherings, sunshine and my grandmother’s delicious cooking. So it was no surprise that eventually, the pretty port would turn up in one of my books.
I simply loved writing about the colourful fishing boats in the harbour and the tiny cobbled streets full of gift shops and delicious-smelling restaurants. It felt quite nostalgic to recreate the palm trees growing in the garden and vivid pink bougainvillaea flowers.
Most of all, I loved the sound of doves calling because this is what I used to hear each morning waking up there.
So why didn’t I reference Sanary in my book?
Well, firstly, Sanary in the summer months is a really busy tourist destination. Even busier now than during my childhood, and it was already crowded then. I wanted Lily to return to a village with a strong sense of community, where the locals all know each other, and although that community spirit probably exists in Sanary, there are simply too many tourists during high season to retain that small-town community feel.
Also, Lily’s grandmother lives beside an olive grove on top of a hill and with views of the sea. Don’t ask me why – my imagination simply comes up with these things, and I write them down. But knowing the value of land and property in this area, it’s highly unlikely there are any olive groves left so close to the coast. Creating a fictional place allowed me to play with geography and not feel constrained.
And finally, there are several other pretty seaside villages in the south of France which also feature pretty painted buildings and boats in the harbour. Cassis, La Ciotat and Villefranche-sur-Mer to name a few. If my readers have visited any of these I hope my descriptions of St Pierre will resonate with them too and spark memories.
For those familiar with Sanary, I hope they might recognise details such as the crêperie by the port, the groups of men playing boules near the car park, and the night market with all its exciting displays of artisan goods.
When my grandmother lived in Sanary, she knew the local shopkeepers (especially the bookshop owner!) just as Lily’s grandmother does, and she went to the market every Wednesday morning to buy local fresh produce. I’ve drawn on these fond memories in my book, and although I’ve tinkered with the name and details, I really hope I’ve captured the strong sense of community and the beauty of this special place.
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