Writing at the Maison Bleu

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In 'Writing in the Maison Bleue' veteran writer Francine Costington joins six writers of all ages at the idyllic Maison Bleue by the Canal du Midi.Francine' own story - reaching right back to her girlhood in wartime France – unfolds among the every different stories of her companions. And she herself makes a special bond with nineteen year old Joe who a year ago was living in a hostel.Past tragedies and present dramas merge as their experiences at the Maison Bleu changes the lives of the writers at the Maison Bleue retreat. 'You can't have rules for writers,' says crime-writer Ruthie Dancing. 'That would be like herding peacocks.'Ruthie suspects that her plan for a Writer's Retreat at the beautiful Maison Bleue on the banks of the Canal du Midi might be a monumental folly. There is conflict, drama and sexual tension in this hothouse of writing, where the magic of the writing process rubs off on all the guests, bringing healing to some, injury to others, for one writer a great new start in life and for writer Francine Costigan the space and time to write of her experiences as a girl in World War Two when she carried messages for the Resistance..Comment from authier Laurence PhillipsMeeting Francine at La Maison Bleue was a longed for treat, having been first teased as to her arrival in Agde some months earlier. We had chatted online about my encounter with the “Real Francine” the elderly woman I had seen remembering the Resistance. So I had looked forward to allowing myself some time alone with the book.However, this novel proved much more than a wartime memoir, it is a billet doux to a place and a time and a time in many lives. I looked with fresh eyes at places I thought I knew and was wooed and won by descriptions of sounds and sensations. Much as by your evocative blog celebration of the sounds beyond the hedges of our Villa Louis earlier in the summer. Birdsong and old streets in Ruthie's Agde were brought vividly to life.I had expected to visit my geographical world, the streets and lanes and waterside paths I know so well, but as the shutters opened at the Maison Bleue, I was led through a another world even closer to home. This was a love letter to the spirit of the writer, the exhilaration, release, balm and blame of writing itself. I had fun in recognising the diverse writing styles within the story, gentle teasing of genres, your poetic respect for the “list” as well as the diary element. I finally closed the book feeling the sense of renewal shared by so many of those who spent those special days at the Maison Bleue, who had left their words on the table.In Agde then and now, just as in wartime Paris, Francine's story had a gentle truth, and the jumping through time never feels like a literary device. It flows between past and present just as what we see today rekindles and refreshes a memory. Lives and stories fold gently and the other characters never feel unwelcome, their developments never became interruptions.Ruthie's journey is a calm and secure progression. Her relationship with the house and her business partners and guests is a comfortable ride. Kit and Joe fell into the rhythm of the Maison Bleue and I found their stories provided a gentle counterpoint to the main events of the novel. Just like Tom, they each have a present-day coming of age, an unruffled contemporary mirror to a colder world in which the young Francine had faced the world. The idealised oppression of the stage Irishman, contrasts with the realities of Francine's knowledge of true oppression. And with Abby, Felix and Mariella we find the grit that prevents the Maison Bleu become too much of an ideal, too much of a fantasy.I approached the book as a Francophile, I was led through the pages as a romantic, and I closed the book fulfilled as reader and writer. I wanted to be in that house with (most of) those people! Laurence Phillips