Our French vacation rentals began with our simple, typically Burgundian village house in Magny-les-Villers - La Maison des Deux Clochers. It happened to date back to the same year the Revolutionaries in Paris stormed the Bastille, but it waited for us until 1998.
We were in no position to buy a house in France, especially not one built in 1789 that undoubtedly held a bouquet of surpises for us along the lines of ancient plumbing and a leaking roof (and nesting snakes in the cellar, as it turned out).
But we visited it anyway. We discovered the cheese fridge built into the thick stone living room wall and the two cats that, as far as we could tell, belonged to everyone who shared the common courtyard.
It was totally the wrong time in our lives to buy a house. We were returning to Oxford in a few months so I could take my Master's Degree in Law, we had little money, we had been married for almost a year but still couldn't seem to steer ourselves in the same direction as a couple, we had no idea how to renovate a house and no idea how we would pay a monthly mortgage. But...we fell in love.
The same thing happened with my writing. When I sat down to write the story of La Maison des Deux Clochers and how this little house had completely turned my life on its axis, I had no idea what I was doing. I had just been given a devastating health diagnosis the day before, I had never finished writing a book, I had no idea how to get a book published...
But I loved La Maison des Deux Clochers and, even more than that, I loved the story of this simple house and how it utterly changed our lives. So I scribbled "F--k You. I'm not dead yet" on a post-it note, stuck it to the corner of my computer screen, and started writing. Nine months later I published my first book - My Grape Escape.
That was four years ago. I just published my fourth book My Grape Wedding in July. We manage four vacation rentals in the Burgundy vineyards. I am still alive.
Life, for me, can often only be understood in retrospect and through the process of writing. It has crystallized, like a blurry image sharpening to stunning clarity, that some of the most momentous moments on my journey happened because of this one, magical, simple house.
And I don't know how it is possible, but the same shared village cats are still roaming the courtyard.