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Escape to France with Ruth Kelly

  • Submitted: 16th December 2023

France with Ruth Kelly’s THE ESCAPE

Today, we are not in BookTrail Towers. Ruth Kelly has done what no other writer has done before. She has suggested a HOT AIR BALLOON ride over the locations in her new novel THE ESCAPE. Well, with my heart in my stomach, I am currently gliding over France. Over to Ruth now, as, quite honestly, I can’t speak…

Ruth Kelly

Ruth Kelly

The Escape Ruth KellyBookTrail Locations in The ESCAPE

Being a destination writer, Location, location, location, is THE most important element of my books and integral to the plotline.

Right from the get go, I knew The Escape would be set in rural France, for the simple reason – it centres around the goings on in a creepy old chateau.

But the question keeping me up at night was – where? Where oh where in France would the drama and the mystery and the murder play out?

It was a trip to Burgundy, central eastern France, in late Autumn that eventually cleared my writer’s block.

BookTrail Locations in The ESCAPE

My boyfriend, Michael, is a photographer and his photos of a vineyard were featuring in an exhibition at a wine festival in Côte Chalonnaise and the very cheerful and enthusiastic organisers had arranged a mystery trip for us.

The Escape to France (c) Michael Potts

The Escape to France (c) Michael Potts

Locations in The Escape

We were picked up from our hotel in the historic city of Chalon-sur-Saône at the crack of dawn and driven to a lake in the middle of the countryside. There were no houses for miles around. It was cold and misty and gloomy and my thoughts were rattling with theories – what were doing here?

Locations in The Escape

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. A 4X4 with a trailer pulled in the carpark and beneath the tarpaulin was a woven basket large enough to fit six people and a canvas the size of a wedding marquee. We were going on a hot air balloon ride.

I squealed with delight and then, then came blind panic as I gazed up to the sky and it suddenly dawned on me, we were going up there. Hundreds of metres above ground – in a basket.

The Escape to France (c) Michael Potts

The Escape to France (c) Michael Potts

Locations in The Escape

I’m terrified of heights but I couldn’t back out; I’d be a fool to turn down an experience like that. So, I grit my teeth and forced deep restorative breaths into my lungs while I watched the burners fire up and the balloon fill out with gusts of hot air.

The process took about twenty minutes and then we had to quickly clamber inside the basket while the ‘man on the ground’ kept us tethered by a rope.

Air Escargot

Air Escargot – their slogan : Take flight and dance with us!

Locations in The Escape

Our ‘pilot’, Pierre, was hot air balloon veteran of Air Escargot with over 5,500 hours of flight time and 43 years of experience. I couldn’t help but ask if he’d any crashes. There was silence, for a beat too long, before he cheerfully replied: ‘just a few bumpy landings,’ in his strong French accent.

The landing. Christ, I hadn’t even thought that far ahead. I swallowed the lump that had wedged in my throat.

The basket rocked from side to side and then we were off. Up, up and away into the sunrise. It didn’t take long to reach dizzying heights. The burner blasting nosily in my ear. I shut my eyes and gripped on tightly.

I felt my stomach drop through the floor my imagination went into overdrive.

‘Open your eyes, come on, you have to see this.’ My boyfriend persisted.

Slowly, I peeled open one eye and then the other, I took a deep breath and peered over the edge of the basket.

Locations in The Escape

It was beautiful. Breathtakingly magnificent.

The mist had cleared and the autumn sun was burning off the last of the clouds and it was still. Completely still. So silent you could hear a pin drop as we drifted across rolling hills and vineyards with vines the colour of burnt sienna. The shadow of our balloon following closely behind.

It was everything I imagined and more.

Whenever we started to drop, Pierre fired up the burner and we would soar to greater heights. We sailed over rivers and fields and villages with picturesque stone walled houses with painted shutters. Our eyes feasting on the famous vineyards of Chablis, Vougeot and Pouilly-Fuissé

Locations in The Escape

Following the wind, we changed direction and speed according to the altitude and contours of the land. In other words, we were in nature’s hands, and she had something very special to show me.

As we drifted in an easterly direction, my gaze was pulled towards the grand medieval-looking building nestled in a forest.

With her towers and turrets and steeply sloping rooves. With her circular courtyard and fountain and stables and a long snaking driveway.

Grander than grand.

Dazzling in the morning light.

Finally, I’d found her – my fairy tale chateau. (could it be…..)

Château Montsymond

Château Montsymond (c) Google

Locations in The Escape

I returned my gaze to the faces of those around me. My boyfriend, the captain, the festival organisers, and chuckled to myself. While they admired the view I was thinking about murder and death and how great a location this will make to hide a body. Ah, the mind of a crime writer.

I was buzzing, electrified by my hot air balloon ride and the fact I’d found the missing piece to my puzzle. No more sleepless nights. I was galloping ahead, painting the plot scenes, bringing in my cast of characters, when the pilot announced, it was time to come back to earth.

His ‘man on the ground’ had been following us in the 4X4, predicting where we might float off to next. It couldn’t have been an easy job. After some searching, pilot Pierre set his sights on a wide-open field near some farm sheds and we began our descent.

Locations in The Escape

My stomach swooped as be dropped and then the wind snatched us, pulling us in the opposite direction. Our pick-up car had to reverse and keep up.

We found a field nearby and the feeling of vertigo returned as the ground rushed up at us. The burners fired up and then cut out. On. Off. On. Off. Tiny bursts of heat to guide us down safely.

It was all going swimmingly until a final gust of wind rocked us sideways, knocking us into a hedge. I stumbled backwards into thick vegetation and that’s where we remained, stranded, until our man on the ground pulled us out.

In true Bridget Jones style, my boyfriend turned and smiled at me and leaned in for what I thought would be a kiss. Ah, a romantic ending to mark to our fairy-tale trip. He proceeded to remove several large twigs from my hair.

I smiled and thanked him graciously and we all clambered out. My legs had tuned to jelly and my knees almost buckled.

The Escape to France (c) Michael Potts

The Escape to France (c) Michael Potts

Locations in The Escape

It was a team effort to pack the balloon away, demanding some very precise folding skills but eventually we managed to get it back in the trailer and then came our reward. The pilot pulled out a hamper filled with French delicacies and a bottle of champagne.

It was a magical moment, standing in the long grass with the morning sun warming our backs, toasting to our virgin flight over one of France’s most famous wine regions.

As the bubbles slipped down my throat, I felt a fizz of excitement. Not only had I conquered my fear of heights but I’d also solved the problem of my book and I couldn’t wait to get back to my desk and start writing.

And with that, the balloon experience is over. Ruth is currently drinking wine and eating cheese. I, however, am flat on my back having kissed the ground and thanking it for being there.

What a ride though! Think I will stay with the book instead of recreating it this time! haha


BookTrail Boarding Pass:  The Escape

Twitter: @ruthywriter    Insta: https://www.instagram.com/ruthywriter/


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