Toulon – more than just rough charm

Over a year ago now, in November 2017, my husband and I set off from New Zealand to France, destination Toulon on the Mediterranean coast. This is what Lonely Planet online says about Toulon:

“It has a certain rough charm, and although it’s getting progressively more attractive, most visitors just pass through.”

Perhaps it’s a good thing we are unseasoned travellers who don’t read Lonely Planet reviews! Even though we still would have gone, perhaps our minds would have been closed and the time we spent there would not have been as rewarding.

Our trip was for research purposes for my current YA work-in-progress about a girl from Toulon who travels to Kororāreka (Russell, New Zealand) in 1827-1828. And thank goodness we went: I had prostitutes living in the wrong part of town, people seeing a mountain that can’t be seen, and the sun going north instead of south … okay, so I should have known better about the sun but sometimes, even though you know something, you don’t KNOW it until you’ve seen it.

I had worried about my husband being stuck in one place for three weeks with nothing to do, but my worry was unfounded. Toulon Naval Base is the second largest naval base in France and its museum kept us both absorbed for hours. Waterfront shops remained open during the offseason and he spent hours there as well; we came home with carefully selected purchases of compasses, sailing hats and, his favourite, a small hand-held telescope. The old town was ripe for exploring and we would wander off, separately or together, to absorb the atmosphere. He even seemed to enjoy being directed down side streets taking notes while I wrestled with copies of old street maps.

We had planned to take a number of day trips; Menton had been floated as an idea so we could see the house where New Zealand writers go for their Katherine Mansfield residencies, and he wanted to go to Monte Carlo. We’d even discussed a weekend in Barcelona. But a few sick days on my part put paid to any major excursions. Instead, we took a number of shorter trips. One day saw us drive up Mont Faron to look out over Toulon and then to Sanary-sur-Mer. Sanary is a lovely fishing village with quaint fishing boats lined up along the quay and a beautiful church.

Our second jaunt was to Le Beausset and from there a 40-minute walk to Le Castellet, a small, walled, medieval village. Very sweet and we were just about the only tourists there – heaven. In fact, I would hazard a guess there were more cats than tourists!

Our third excursion took us just ten minutes by bus to Mourillon (Toulon’s main beach area) and our final day trip was to St Tropez, a two-and-a-half-hour drive with a crazy bus driver who I was certain would drop us into a ravine. The lure of St Tropez was actually Port Grimaud, a recently built village using a canal network similar to Venice and just 20 minutes by ferry from St Tropez – except no ferries were running and we were told Port Grimaud was basically closed for winter. St Tropez itself looked basically closed for winter too but we visited the citadel and museum on the hill above the town and got in some accidental research – a lovely surprise.

While Toulon might not be Lonely Planet’s idea of a tourist destination, we found the location perfect, the people friendly and a number of excellent attractions within an easy hour or two by bus, ferry or foot. It even snowed while we were there which made the whole experience quite surreal – I never knew it snowed on the Mediterranean coast!

Fourteen months later my YA novel is still a work-in-progress, but I have now taken my protagonist out of Toulon and she is on her way to New Zealand. Let the next part of the adventure begin.

The Re-Launch of Katharine Derrick

Welcome to the re-launch of katharinederrick.co.nz, rebranded as Pendants and Paperbacks.

I am a writer and a reader and have been known to read books until they fall apart. The first book I read until it was faded and frayed was a huge volume of folktales, called Once Long Ago. Unfortunately, it was on loan; I hope that when Mum returned it to the original owners, they understood just how much that book was loved. Since then the Harry Potter series has joined the ranks of books with sad-looking spines, although I maintain that was due to my children as much as me.

Once Long Ago started a life-long search for story. My first published work was a fifty-word micro; more recently I have been published in takahē magazine with my short story ‘The Auburn Trail’. I have had numerous pieces of flash fiction appearing online in Flash Frontier, one of which gained a Pushcart nomination. I am a key organiser for writing events in Northland, New Zealand, and teach applied writing online at NorthTec. My current works-in-progress are picture books and a YA novel.

Besides a love of reading and writing, one thing that defines me is the necklaces I wear. Now, I have no sense of style what-so-ever, I wear the most casual of clothes, I rarely wear make-up, I ignore my stylish mother when she tells me to dispose of a favourite, well-worn and tatty jacket. But I do make a statement with my necklaces – the bigger and bolder the better. What better tagline than one that encompasses who I am? And so Pendants and Paperbacks was born.

My aim with this blog is to be eclectic, to write about anything that takes my fancy, to be varied and interesting, to be me. Story is a key part of my life so I will review, discuss and comment on what I’m reading or studying or watching. And, of course, I will need to document my sense of style, so posts on necklaces or my favourite designer or things I wish I had the courage to wear will appear sporadically, as will posts about my pets because I think they are cute and funny even if no one else does. And very irregularly you might find me posting about what’s going on with me in the writing world.

Posts will appear every three weeks or so, or maybe every three months, or maybe randomly, or maybe never – let’s see how we go with that! This should give you confidence that you can follow my blog and not be inundated with my ramblings. I promise – unless something absolutely amazing is going down – once every three weeks will be the minimum gap between posts.

Thanks to Shelby Derks-Wyatt for the banner design. A selection of Shelby’s work can be viewed here.

You might also like to visit The Wonder of Words: Engaging readers in children’s literature, where I blog along with five other children’s authors.