Champagne, Cheese, and Writing — A Retreat in France

Bonjour, mes amis! It’s been so long since I’ve updated, but I’ve been busy writing. Since January, I’ve finished a draft of a YA sci/fi manuscript with Laura Lam, a secret novella, and a short story that will be published next year in an anthology from HarlequinTEEN called Toil and Trouble.

Last week I was travelling around France, taking a much needed break from distractions to focus on my writing. And by distractions I mean dumpster fire politics and by focus on my writing I mean cry a lot about my words.

Before anything, and because I often get asked: My trusty camera for this trip was the Olympus OM-D, which I purchased for travelling because of its size. Look at how cute and little it is!

The Olympus turned out to be a fantastic travel camera, much lighter than my Mark III, and easier to transport with my heavy luggage (I am not a light packer, I admit it. And shout out! to those two ladies who helped me lift my suitcase to be scanned, and neither one of them asked, “What the hell do you have in this thing?” like my husband did).

I took the train from Edinburgh to London and stayed there until my train left to Paris from St. Pancras. Which gave me just enough time to stroll about like a creeper and take a few photos. It’s been years since I’ve taken the train to King’s Cross (I usually fly into London, because avios!) and I haven’t been here since they finished their lovely renovation. I was able to get cheap seats on the Eurostar, so train it was. Plus, did you know they serve champagne on the Eurostar? Now you know!

I rented a car and drove through Paris (I want to get a t-shirt that says, “I survived driving in Paris!”), and ended up in Reims, where I stayed the night and had one of the best dinners of my life, with the best (and biggest) oysters I’ve ever had. I realize oysters are very much a love-them-or-hate-them food (I know, I know, the texture), but give me all the oysters, please!

Plus the champagne! Oh, the champagne! When you’re in the champagne region of France, bubbly is vital! It started on the Eurostar and then there were more glasses involved. Thank goodness Reims is walk-able, because I indulged. When in France.


My next stop was a writing retreat with a bunch of other YA authors to sequester myself from politics (which I discovered was impossible, even in a small French village, but I tried valiantly and failed gloriously). I stayed at a place in Saint-Erme-Outre-et-Ramecourt called PAF (Performing Arts Forum). It’s a former convent turned into an artist’s retreat, and in the invite’s description of its history, all I heard was, “Something something something, nuns set fire to things, something something, probably haunted.” Pyromaniac nuns? Probably haunted? Holy shit, count me in!

PAF is slowly undergoing renovation as they get the funding, so some of the massive place is still in need of love and care. I adore old things and partially ruined things, so I was obsessed with PAF’s atmosphere and buildings. Plus, probably haunted.

Author Amy Plum, who organized our stay at PAF, described it as “camping, but indoors!” and when I got there, I thought it reminded me a bit of the college where I attended undergrad (with its bare-bones, no-nonsense, community-oriented, but pick up your own shit kind of atmosphere), so I immediately felt overly comfortable and basically kicked off my boots and lounged in the garden on day one. No, I did not get any work done that day, but I thought a bit about it and decided the weather was too nice (I came from Scotland).

PAF has crumbling interiors in some of its wings, and is a massive maze that you can spend hours exploring. It also has beautiful gardens, peacocks, an old chapel, dozens of rooms to dance around in, pianos all over the place, a library, several kitchens, and beautiful forest trails.

Everyone who came had a project to work on, since we were all trying to get away from family and other stress (in accordance with the three PAF no’s: no kids, no spouses, no pets!).

I went to get in the mindset to work on my short story for Toil and Trouble, which was a very difficult story for me to write, and once you read it, you’ll see why! And I also went to work on my manuscript with Laura Lam, and we finally figured out how to fix our broken manuscript. Retreats work! Et Voila!

This was the view from my desk at PAF. Not a pretty room, but that view was incredible and that’s all I need!

And this was my first sunrise during my stay. It was warm enough to sleep with the windows open and the birds woke me up almost every day just before the sun came up. The colours!

Here’s some of the interior around the different wings of PAF. It’s such a huge place, and I definitely didn’t end up seeing or photographing everything.

And, of course, there was the unforgettable garden. It was so beautiful and fully in bloom, with cherry trees and roses. There are two cats (Buddha and Enzo) and two peacocks on the property that I named Sir and Lady. I was pretty sure Sir adored me.

And because a retreat isn’t a retreat without a little storm, we had a great thunderstorm that passed by one night at dinner. Look at those clouds!

Thank you so much for the lovely stay, PAF and France! Au revoir!






(and a goodbye from Sir and Lady, too!)