Suddenly Hybrid—Mixing Trad with Indie

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After eighteen years of writing, eight of those as an Indie author publishing my own books, I have just signed a two-book deal with a publisher called Bookouture—recently cited by Publisher’s Weekly as ‘Britain’s hottest digital publisher.’

Bookouture has been in my radar for a while. The name is so me, I thought. It sounded so chic, somehow, as if the editors were all wearing designer clothes, carried the manuscripts in Prada handbags and walked around in Jimmy Choo shoes. The office would have Chanel no 5 wafting through the air conditioning and they’d only ever drink vintage champagne and eat caviar and croissants for breakfast. Heaven.

Joking aside, when I looked at their website and saw the great books they publish and the lovely covers they design, I thought they might be the right fit for me. I also read some of their books in my genre and loved them. So… why not jump in and have a go? Feeling I had nothing to lose, I submitted The Road Trip, my just completed book, in early December. They made me an offer in early January and the rest, as they say, is history. I signed a two-book contract last week.

It feels like a whole new chapter is opening in my writing life and I’m both excited and nervous. I hope I can live up to the expectations, but with the help of my terrific new editor Christina Demosthenous , I’m sure I will.

Some of my author colleagues might wonder though… Why sign with a publisher when I have been happily (and quite successfully) self-publishing for over eight years? This might look like I am now contradicting all the glowing things I’ve said about self-publishing, all the cheering and being proud to be an Indie and how I’d never give my work away to one of ‘them’ ever again, like a mantra. Was it a case of ‘the lady doth protest too much?’ Or sour grapes about not being traditionally published?

Not at all.  I meant what I said and I still do. But I feel Bookouture is a new kind of publisher—the kind that really ‘get’ e-publishing and the ever changing market. I also think that this new kind of publishing has happened because of what we as Indies have done. We made the market what it is today, and I’m very proud of what we have all achieved.

I will probably mix self-publishing with trad publishing along the way, like a lot of so-called hybrid authors. Exciting times ahead, indeed.

The Road Trip, My first Bookouture book will be published in June. You can read all about it on the Bookouture blog.

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Writing in a suitcase

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My life is about travel. Travelling from Ireland (where I live) to Sweden (where I grew up) and back again. Visiting friends in the US and going for breaks to France (where I spent many happy years). And writing, writing all this time, while I’m in airports and on planes and sitting in strange bedrooms, with my trusty laptop.

The flight back from Sweden today was in quite a small plane. Cramped at the back of a Boeing 717, I put up my laptop and wrote a long scene, set in a restaurant high up in the hills behind Nice. I was there in my head while the plane brought me back to Ireland.

Isn’t that so weird? How, as a writer, you can be somewhere so different. I mean, really BE there and see and feel and hear your characters, while the air hostess goes: “More coffee?” And I look up, momentarily pulled back to the present and smile and shake my head. Then I dive back in and I’m THERE, in La Colombe d’Or, the most beautiful restaurant on the French Riviera, telling the waiter I want my steak ‘a point’ (medium rare) and frites with that s’ils vous plait’ and look across the white tablecloth at the rakishly handsome man, who I haven’t decided if he really deserves the beautiful Flora…

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And at the same time (nearly), I’m co-writing a political thriller with fellow writer Pete Morin and switching from the south of France to the windswept Atlantic coast of Ireland, where corruption is rife and murder and mayhem happen at the drop of a golf club.

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                                               Call me weird. Or just call me- a writer.

Summer is the Season for Shorts

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 Who reads short stories? I do. I love well written short stories. I don’t attempt them because they are notoriously difficult to write. Only a really gifted author can write a good short story. And, to quote some famous authors:

A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger. ~Stephen King

Women want love to be a novel, men a short story. ~Daphne du Maurier

A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it. ~Edgar Allan Poe

The short story is still like the novel’s wayward younger brother, we know that it’s not respectable – but I think that can also add to the glory of it. ~Neil Gaiman

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. ~George Saunders

My friend, fellow writer Pete Morin, with whom I have the pleasure and privilege to work on a detective story, writes brilliantly crafted short stories. He is giving one of them away on his blog. This one, with the title Just Desserts is about an author who hunted down a reviewer and harassed her. Brilliant idea for a short story, which will amuse many writers. I have just read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. And when I had finished it, I wondered why on earth more people don’t read such stories; amusing, interesting and in short (pardon the pun) , true gems.

So do go and be ‘kissed in the dark’ by a stranger, enjoy this’ younger brother of a novel’ and come out of it ‘a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you’.

It’ won’t cost you anything but a few minutes of your time. And it will make a summer’s day all the better for having read it.

 

That empty feeling-when you have published your book…

 

 

I have just published my thirteenth novel, Hot Pursuit , the third and last book in my popular Kerry series. (or ‘Hot’ series, if you prefer). It took me about five months to write, including editing, proofreading, proofreading and more—proofreading. You might think I feel relieved the work is done, that the book is out there in cyberspace to be enjoyed by, hopefully, a lot of readers.

Yes, I’m happy. And also very relieved and proud of my achievement. Writing a novel takes a lot of hard work, soul searching and brain bashing. So having finished a novel that is as good as I can make it is very satisfying.

But then… I miss it. I miss all the characters that became my friends during this time. I miss the fun, the heartache, the wrestling with all their problems. Letting go of that world I created and so enjoyed spending time in was a huge wrench. For five months or so, I lived in Rita’s skin for part of the day, created her problems and tried to solve them. She was me, in a way, and I was her. With her, I fell in love with the hero and tried to make their story as romantic but also as believable as I could. I did my best to describe the setting and truly felt I was there as I wrote. I wore the clothes, drank the wine, danced and made love along with Rita. I was sad for her and laughed at her jokes, and got very, very annoyed with anyone who wasn’t nice to her. I loved her little flat in the outskirts of Dublin, furnished just the way I’d like it myself. I enjoyed the long walks she took on the pier and ‘saw’ the beautiful scenery. The peripheral characters were also fun to write and they were as vivid to me as the people I meet in real life. It all became such a fascinating world and I loved spending time in it.

My baby that has just left the nest

My baby that has just left the nest

I often wonder why writers actually write. What makes them put those first words together for their very first book? I know what made me do it. It all happened during a time when I had a lot of sadness. I started writing a story that was full of light and laughter, where nobody was sad or died or suffered from an illness. My escape, in turn, became that of others who, perhaps, read that story in order to get a break from their own hardships. It helped me. I hope it helped someone else too.

As I went on writing, I drew on my experiences and my stories became more serious, hopefully deeper and more realistic. I feel I have grown so much as a writer since that bright, fun debut novel I wrote nearly fifteen years ago. But every time I’m finished, there is that huge feeling of separation—of having had to leave people I love.

Writing a book is like having a baby. Like carrying this person for nine months and actually feeling you know this small creature. While you’re keeping it inside you, it’s yours alone to nurture and love. But when it’s born, you throw it out there, into the big bad world for all to see. Your baby is the most beautiful thing in the world to you. But not to other people. When the ‘baby’ comes out, you have to stand back and wait for the reactions of others, of readers and reviewers who might not like this new creation of yours. Worst of all—they might even ignore it.

I miss my ‘baby’ and the time when it was only mine. But toward the end it was hard and painful, when I had to do all that proofreading and editing and formatting and reading over and over again.

But then… as with having a baby, you forget the pain and say: ah, why not? I’ll have another one…

As my stories are very character driven, it doesn’t take long before another heroine pops into my head and starts having problems I have to solve for her. Right now, there’s Flora, who has just arrived in Antibes in the south of France to take up employment in a real estate agency with a very dodgy staff. She bumps into this dishy Frenchman and then, well, the rest is still in my head.

But parallel to that, in a kind of twilight zone existence, there is also the heroine of ‘Full Irish’, the crime novel I’m co-writing with fellow crime author Pete Morin. Finola McGee, political reporter for the Irish Herald who, with Boston lawyer Paul Forté of Diary of a Small Fish fame, cracks the case of political corruption across the Atlantic,  is a feisty heroine I’m also beginning to bond with.

Two ‘babies’ this time. I’m sure I’ll miss them both when the stories have reached their conclusion. But the remedy is, as always, starting the next one.

A new (ad)venture- or just a comeback.

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I have just set up an author page on Facebook. I have resisted this move for a long time but now I feel I’m ready. The reason for this is that I recently went back to writing romantic fiction after a long time. I took a little break while I wrote two historical novels, A Woman’s Place and Sonja’s Place and my two virtual detective/romantic suspense novels, Virtual Strangers and Virtual Suspects.

The historical novels are based on the lives of my great-aunt and her daughter, whose life stories were so moving, I just had to write about them. The detective stories were such fun and such a great adventure, co-writing with the amazing Ola Saltin, a well-known Swedish script writer. Those experiences helped me grow as a writer and I believe my writing is now so much better and deeper because I had to really work hard to write in other genres.

I discussed my writing recently with a friend. She told me I my writing should be more ‘commercial’, more ‘popular’ in order to sell. She said the ‘zeitgiest’ out there is what I have to plug into.

But no, I can’t. Because that’s not why I write. I feel I have to be true to myself and not glance sideways or upwards and then write to suit the market, whatever that is. I have to stay true to those who read my books and like them. If that is a very small circle, so be it. I write from my heart and my experiences. My observations of people and my surroundings. Little things fire off ideas. Landscapes, light, nature, sounds, smells, fun dialogue, great one-liners and quirky characters. All of that make up the fabric of my stories.

I’m happy if anyone likes to read what I write.

(and if you ‘like’ my author page, you will find out what all of this is about)

Why self Publishing is Perfect for Me

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I’m impatient, pushy, short tempered and a high maintenance woman. And those are my good points… Oh, and I forgot to say ‘control freak’…

As a published author, I’ve had several agents. If an agent/author relationship is like a marriage, I’ve been married and divorced three times. And all those divorces were my own doing.

But my last agent ( yes, he will truly be my last) and I parted on very friendly terms, so I don’t count that as a ‘divorce’, more like waving goodbye to a dear friend who had my best interests at heart and busted his gut to get me a book deal. He nearly succeeded several times. And was even more upset than me when the deals fell through. Held my hand when I was so devastated. Encouraged me to keep writing.

He was also instrumental in my discovery of the self-publishing e-book market that turned out to be such a perfect fit for me. In fact, when he first suggested it, I threw up my hands in horror. “Self publishing?” I cried, “e-books? How could you suggest such a thing?”

Then I looked around. Sniffed  and searched all over the Internet. And discovered that there was a whole new world out there. That other authors were doing very well, some spectacularly so.

I also discovered the fantastic creative freedom self-publishing brings. The camaraderie between self-published authors. The wealth of experience and the generous sharing of tips and knowledge of the craft of writing.

I started self publishing three years ago. Since then, I have learned more about writing than during the previous ten years working with editors at publishing houses. I have learned to format my own books.  I have grown as a writer and found such joy and challenge in being my own boss.

Now that I’m poised to publish my 11th novel, which will be my 7th self publishing experience, I’d like to say a huge thank you to those who have encouraged and helped me get to the place I am now. First of all to that agent, Bill Jeffrey. Then to my writer friends and colleagues. My beta readers, who  go to enormous time and trouble to give me feedback on my work. And finally, most of all my readers who, in their many thousands, keep reading and enjoying my books.

(I might add that self-publishing is a little like going out in only your underwear; scary, chilly but oh-so liberating)

The Cornflakes that Turned Into Gold- Interview with Roisin Meaney

Today I am thrilled to welcome bestselling Irish novelist Roisin Meaney, acclaimed and much loved author of women’s fiction.

Roisin discovered the power of words when, at the age of 18, she entered a competition she found on the back of a packet of cornflakes. She wrote the winning slogan and won a Ford Fiesta. She then entered every competition she came across that required a slogan and won again and again, from holidays and mountain bikes to air miles and watches. This could in itself have been a career but Roisin was more serious than that, so she became a teacher.

Not finding the fulfillment she wanted in the classroom, Roisin then went on to work in advertising in London, where writing slogans was very much part of her everyday occupation. She found she was good at this, making anything from butter to teabags sexy and appealing. She briefly flirted with writing at this stage and put together a children’s book but after many rejections, gave up on the idea and decided to go back to Ireland and her teaching career.

It was during this time that the urge to try her hand at writing adult fiction became increasingly stronger. When she won a trip to San Francisco (another winning slogan)  where her brother lived, she decided to take a year off to write her first novel.  This turned out to be The Daisy Picker, which earned her a two book deal and the rest is Roisin’s ongoing history.

Eleven years, eight adult novels and two children’s books later,  she is now a full time author. Some of her books have been translated to several languages and two of them have been published in the US. In her owns words, here is her writing life in a nutshell:

I feel I’m doing what I was put on this earth to do. Starting each new book terrifies and thrills me in equal measure – it’s the hardest and most exciting thing I’ve ever done. When I write, time loses significance. I miss appointments, skip meals, forget to feed the cat or put out the bins. My sleep is seriously disrupted as I tease out a plot or tweak a story line  Because I can’t afford to be less than fully alert when I write I’ve resorted to sleeping pills to get me through the broken nights, and have grown quite fond of warm milk before bedtime. Throughout the process of writing a book I’m extremely focused  I get up in the morning and work at the kitchen table till my brain says stop. I always arm myself with a plot before I start: sometimes it’s quite sketchy and I fill in as I go, and other times it veers seriously off-course and ends up miles away from where I was aiming. I become ridiculously attached to my characters as I write and miss them desperately when the book is finished. I’m devastated if someone I’ve grown attached to dies. I often write through floods of tears.  But really, it’s all good. I wouldn’t change a thing. I love being a writer. I get beautiful messages from happy readers. Truly, I am one of the lucky ones.

I asked some of her readers what they would like to know about Roisin and her writing and here are the questions:

Q: What’s it like having books published in the States. Has it made a big difference to your career?

A: Not a whole lot, to be honest. I was thrilled to hear a US publisher was interested in publishing one of my books, and since then they’ve taken another, but apart from those two books being on US bookstore shelves, life has continued pretty much as before! Apparently they’ve sold pretty respectably, and my royalty payments have improved a little as a result (and I’ve got some lovely messages on my website from American and Canadian readers) but apart from that, no change.

Q: Have you got a favourite out of all your books?

A: Um, very hard to say, but if I was tortured until I caved, I’d probably say it’s a tie between Half Seven on a Thursday and One Summer. I loved writing both of those, got totally emotionally involved with the characters, and hated letting them go at the end. Mind you, I feel that way about all the books, but I think slightly more with these two, for some reason.

Q: I would like to know how you keep the thread of your stories when you’re writing, they interweave beautifully and you can see when you look back the relationships developing.

A: The answer to this one is: with a lot of difficulty! I’m not sure how it came about, but somehow my last few books featured a huge cast of characters (in fact, my US editor asked that I cut a few out of The Things We Do for Love, which as you can imagine was no mean feat.) So invariably I tear my hair out regularly as I write, trying to keep track of where everyone is, and what they’re up to. It’s great when it eventually comes together, but I can assure you a lot of blood, sweat and tears is involved…..by contrast, my next book, which is due out in the spring, has just two main characters, with everyone else very much in the background – a very pleasant change, and a lot less hair got torn out!

Q: How do you set the story out to write….for example do you map it out roughly with stick it notes, or just rough notes written to refer to occasionally…do you know the complete plot when you start or does it evolve as you goes along? When you are writing, does the line of the story change often from the line you had first intended? How long does it take you to write a full book (excluding editing etc), and what time per day is devoted to just writing? Do you ever suffer a block where you just sit and nothing comes to mind to write? Do you write the whole story first then go back and edit or do you edit as you go along like Ken Follett has said he does?

A: Before I begin a book I plot it loosely. I deliberately keep it broad and general, because I like to flesh it out as I go, but I always have an ending in sight – having said that, the ending can and does change sometimes. I keep track of the progress as I go in the form of an overview document that sits side by side on my computer screen with the narrative, and in this document I list every scene, the pages they occupy and a summary of what happens, as in ‘p45-48: Nell and Tim argue about living in the room beside the salon’. It sounds tedious but it’s so automatic with me now that it doesn’t cost me a thought, and it’s invaluable if I need to check back on something, or have to tweak something to tie in with a later change. A first draft takes on average six months, and from start to finish a book would probably take up the best part of a year. When I’m in the middle of a book I sit down with it as soon as I finish breakfast and work away until my brain begins to scramble, usually between 6 and 8 hours. I don’t take weekends off as such, but if something comes up and I need to be away from it for a day it doesn’t faze me. Similarly, if I find I’m having a slow day, where not much creativity is happening, I’ll leave it and go back the next day. So far I’ve met my deadlines. When I’m in the mood, and it’s going well, I can get a lot written in a relatively short space of time, so it gives me a bit of leeway for the things that get in the way. I edit as I go, in the sense that before I begin a day’s writing I generally reread what I’ve written the day before and tweak it a bit, and when I come to the end of a draft I’ll go back to page one and go through the entire manuscript again, tightening and polishing as I go. I like to have my drafts as good as they can be before sending them off.

Q: How do you challenge yourself and your writing skills with each new book? How would you say your writing has developed since you wrote your very first novel (which won the competition)?

A: I think, and sincerely hope, that with each book I develop a little as a writer – partly going on the ‘practice makes perfect’ principle and partly because with each rewrite of a book (following my editor’s recommendations) I feel I learn a little more about what not to do, or what to try and avoid in the next book. I think my first book was very much a learner book – when I open it now (which I try to avoid doing) I cringe at the overwriting. I said much more than needed to be said. Maybe that’s the biggest thing I’ve learnt – not to tell the reader everything, to let her figure it out for herself.  I try to show rather than tell, and to leave a little unsaid.

Q: What would you say is the most challenging and difficult aspect of creating a novel that works?

A: Creating believable characters. If you can do that, I think they’ll help to give you story lines  I spend a long time getting to know my characters before I begin a book – I give them faces and backgrounds and personalities and families. I can’t write about people I don’t know. My characters come first, always have.

Q: How do you feel about this special ability you have to touch so many people’s lives?

A: It’s lovely to feel that something I write might brighten someone’s day – I’m humbled and delighted when I get a message in my guestbook from readers who take the time to let me know that they liked one of my books. I feel grateful to have been gifted with the ability to write stories that please, and I live in hope that I can continue to do it for a long time to come.

Many thanks to Roisin for this interesting interview. You can find out more about her and her books on her website

The next big thing

I’ve been tagged in The Next Big Thing by fellow writer Emily Harvale, who writes terrific womens’ fiction. I’m instructed to tell you all about my next book by answering these questions and then to tag five other authors about their Next Big Thing. So here I go!

What is the working title of your next book?

Virtual Suspects.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is the sequel to my first co-written detective story, Virtual Strangers, that I wrote with fellow author Ola Zaltin. The idea or perhaps, the theme, in our books, came about because we met on the Internet on a writers’ site to be precise. We wanted to explore the connections people make online, how you can become strangely intimate and even fall in love with someone you have never met. And when you do meet, like the man and woman in the story, there is a strange feeling of having met before, of knowing each other intimately, even though you have never seen each other in the flesh.
What genre does your book fall under?

Romantic suspense/detective

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Jude Law would make a great Seabee. And maybe Reese Witherspoon for Annika?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Two former lovers meet after long absence and, being suspected of murder, team up to solve the mystery in the frozen north.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be self published as an e-book.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

8 months

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Virtual Strangers, which is the first of this series.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

As I said above, the intrigue of people meeting on the Internet and online friendships that become real have always interested me.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Possibly the Swedish setting and the Scandinavian crime element.

Here are some lovely authors I’ve tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing!

Donna Fasano
Sean Sweeney
Mary McDonald
Heikki Hietala
Pete Morin

The House That Time Forgot

A few years ago, when my husband and I were touring France, a happy accident took us to a place of pure magic.
Our trip, which would take us by car right through France, starting in Normandy and ending in Provence, was to include a few days in the Loire Valley, taking in a château or two. As it was late September, we thought we would avoid the usual hordes of tourists who flock to that part of France in high season. But when we walked through the gardens of Chenonceaux, the most beautiful of the châteaux in the Loire Valley, we realised how wrong we were. We had to practically elbow ourselves into the château, and push through the throngs in order to go from room to room. It didn’t take us long to change our plans and we decided to head further south, down the less popular departmental roads. We travelled through Tours toward Châteauroux, having no idea where we were going to end up but that was part of the fun.

South of Châteauroux, we took the D943 toward La Chatre. This road led us through an area of France called Le Berry, less known than the Loire Valley and therefore, in my view, much more attractive. There are châteaux here too, less imposing and not so impeccably restored, which only adds to their charm. The rolling countryside has kept its old fashioned atmosphere and the little towns and villages don’t appear to have changed much in the past 150 years or so.

I read in the guidebook that Le Berry is the birthplace of George Sand, the nineteenth century author, of whom it is said that she used to dress up as a man in order to shock society. I later learned that she was just being practical as trousers are much more comfortable when walking or riding in the country. She is also rumoured to have counted some famous authors and composers among her lovers, such as Alfred de Musset, Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. Her home was Nohant, a small château south of Chatearoux, on the outskirts of Saint-Chartier, a sleepy village on the shores of the river Indre. We decided to stay the night there and visit the château the next day.

The late autumn sunshine and still air added to the romance of the countryside. As we drove in through the gates of Château de la Vallée Bleue, the hotel we had come across in the hotel guide (another happy accident), I felt as if we had been transported back in time. This house is not really a château but a big manor house, former residence of George Sand’s doctor. The hotel, lovingly restored to its former nineteenth century glory, has 8 comfortable bedrooms furnished with antiques of that period. We dined to the sounds of Chopin softly wafting through the hi-fi system and looked forward to our ‘rendezvous’ with Georges Sand the following morning.

The mist lay in grey veils across the fields and woods as we made our way to Nohant. When we arrived at the castle, we found a small group of locals waiting for the first guided tour to start. We were the only foreign tourists and we chatted to the other visitors who told us that, even though they were from the area, they had never visited the château and were looking forward to it as much as we were.

The tour guide arrived and we entered the château. What followed was an hour or so in a most magical place. Georges Sand, whose real name was Aurore Dupin, was the sole heiress to the château, the origins of which date back to the 15th century. It was rebuilt and extended through the years and is, in its present form, exactly as it was in the mid nineteenth century when Georges Sand lived there. She was a remarkable woman and counted among her houseguests the crème de la crème of writers, composers and artists of her period. Her dinner table would host such names as Franz Liszt, the authors Alfred de Musset and Alexandre Dumas and the painter Delacroix. Chopin wrote most of his music here and his bedroom and study exude his presence.

Georges Sand spent an extraordinary amount of effort and money to make her château the most up to date and comfortable house in France. The kitchens are remarkably modern and there is also a theatre where she and her guests would be entertained with puppets made by her son Maurice. The bedrooms were furnished and decorated with exquisite taste and the beautiful garden reminded me of the one described in my favourite childhood book ‘The Secret Garden’.

The visit was drawing to a close. The last room was the drawing room. There was a piano which, to our disappointment, was not the one Franz Liszt used, but a later copy. The tour guide invited anyone who could, to play a tune. A lady in the group reluctantly admitted she could play ‘but was a bit rusty’. She sat down at the piano and launched into a piece by Franz Liszt. Rusty she may have been, but to my untrained ears, the music was wonderful and as I looked out through the open window, into the pale sun shining through the mist floating around trees and shrubs, time stood still. For just a moment, I felt the presence of all those who had lived and loved and played there once upon a time.

My memory of this visit was so vivid that I promised myself to set a novel in this part of France, and it was fulfilled in ‘Finding Margo’.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this area of France and especially the Château de Nohant . The hotel is nearby and can be found on their website: http://www.chateauvalleebleue.com/.
Do go to Nohant on a late spring or autumn morning and maybe, if there is a piano player in your midst, you might also conjure up the spirit of George Sand.

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