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  • Lynne Shelby

A Sense of Place


It’s market day in the small French town. Writer’s notebook and camera in hand, I edge through the crowds gathered around stalls selling fish and meat, flowers, vegetables, fresh herbs, and spices.

I browse through leather handbags and brightly coloured dresses.

I make notes, descriptions of the sights, sounds and scents of the marketplace. I buy myself a coral-coloured linen shirt. I wish I spoke French so that I could talk to the stall-holder. I imagine how this scene might appear to a character in my WIP.

Back at the three-hundred-year-old house, where I’m spending this week in the South of France on a writers’ retreat, I join my fellow writers in our sunlit writing room. Inspired my morning in the market, I write a piece of flash fiction from the view-point of my WIP’s heroine:

‘Leaving Owen still sleeping soundly, I creep down the stairs and along the cool, dim, stone- flagged passageway, and open the heavy front door. Last night the narrow street had been deserted, now it’s filled with market stalls, and a jostling crowd of early morning shoppers. I step out into the throng, relishing the warm caress of the sun on my bare arms. Voices come to me, friends greeting one another, snatches of conversations, and I realise that I can still remember my schoolgirl French.

I walk further along the street, stopping to buy salad, shiny red tomatoes, and bundles of string-tied asparagus. I buy a hunk of lamb, smiling when the stall-keeper calls me Madame rather than Mademoiselle. There is a stall selling herbs and spices, where, in a haze of scent, I buy rosemary and garlic, to flavour the meat, when I prepare our evening meal. I take a moment to picture Owen eating the meal that I have cooked, his very blue eyes bright in the candlelight, his white teeth tearing at the meat, his strong fingers covered in oil from the asparagus…

I walk on until I come to a stall selling dresses that hang from rails like brightly coloured flags. I try on a cotton dress the colour of flame, its fabric sliding softly over my head, and falling to the floor. I look at my reflection in the stall-holder’s mirror, and again I smile.

I will wear this dress tonight, when I have dinner with my new husband.’

I was spending a week on a writing course at beautiful Chez Castillon (www.chez-castillon.com) in south-west France – part of my prize for winning the Accent Press and Woman magazine Writing Competition.