Jo Baldwin talks France, setting of A Good Friend
Author Jo Baldwin has set A Good Friend, in France.
She’s keen to take us there, so let’s head off to Languedoc where the book is set and the whole world smells of lavender.Well, not for the characters in the book.
Why did you choose the Languedoc as the setting for The Good Friend?
I wanted to send my protagonist, Jenny, to an unfamiliar place – somewhere far away from family and friends, where she couldn’t ‘escape’ easily. By doing this, I hoped to create a claustrophobic atmosphere – one where tensions are pushed to the limit. I also thought the intensity of the summer heat and harsh winds that you experience in southern France would contribute to the oppressive mood, which I was seeking to create.
My family owns a house in the Languedoc and we have been visiting this area for more than 16 years. It seemed like the natural location to set my novel.
Why is the setting important to a story?
For me, the setting forms the backbone of a story. It sets the tone, creates atmosphere and serves to drive the behaviours and actions of the characters. I am drawn to stories set in far-flung places – stories where characters are outsiders and struggle at first to settle in. They have to rise to the challenges thrown up by a new location, language and culture. Perhaps, this is because I have had similar experiences myself, having lived in different parts of France and travelled widely throughout in my life. The first few weeks in a new place can be very difficult, yet, with time, you pick up the rhythm, make it your own and soon settle in. If that doesn’t happen, you move on.
How did you research your locations?
I am fortunate enough to have been able to visit the Languedoc frequently throughout the writing of The Good Friend. It is a beautiful part of the world, dotted with picturesque villages, vineyards, lakes and beaches. It changes a lot from one season to the next, so I keep notebooks of the places that I’ve visited during different times of the year in order to capture the way the landscape changes – for example, how the vines grow in height and fullness from the time they are pruned in winter until late September when they are tall, verdant and laden with bunches of bulbous grapes.
A friend of mine told me about a time she took part in a grape harvest (vendange) near Bordeaux when she was a teenager. I remembered this story when I was writing The Good Friend and decided to weave it into my novel. It helped to strike a sharp contrast between the festive atmosphere of the vendange and the darkness that follows in the story.
Any places you remember in particular?
I have visited all of the places mentioned in the book. The beach at La Tamarissière is a lovely place to visit in the summer as is the river at Cessenon-sur-Orb where you can spend the day sitting under a parasol reading, enjoying a barbecue or simply watching the brave dive off the rocks into the fresh water.
Hopefully, by reading The Good Friend, readers might decide to venture to the vineyards and locations where the novel is set, and immerse themselves in them for a short time. I’d thoroughly recommend it!
What places would you recommend we visit to ‘see’ your book?
The Fonserannes Locks in Béziers are worth a visit. It’s so easy to sit for hours just watching the canal boats queuing up and jostling through the nine locks. I would also recommend a visit to Pézenas, Agde and Le Grau d’Agde, but not in high summer when it can get very busy with holidaymakers. What I love about this whole area is that it’s unpretentious. There are no private beaches; the markets sell produce that is second to none; the wine is delicious; and the locals are friendly, especially if you attempt to speak some French to them.
Thank you so much Jo!