Kitchen Aids, champagne and war-torn France with Fiona McIntosh
Fiona McIntosh is a commanding figure in the Australian writing scene, with her novels quickly topping bestseller charts after release, and her masterclass retreats booking out many months in advance by eager writers keen to learn from one of Australia’s finest. With over 30 novels to her name, Fiona travels the world to research her stories. Her library talks are a fascinating blend of travel stories and writing adventures. I was lucky enough to meet Fiona at an author event in 2017 and like everyone else in the audience, enjoyed her lively discussion just as much as I enjoyed her novels. Her regular newsletter is one of my favourites too, full of news, recipes and updates from her home in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
The Champagne War takes readers from the boggy and bloody trenches of the First World War to the grand estates of France’s Champagne-making families. Fifth-generation champenoise, Sophie Delancre, proves a fabulous lead as the savvy, independent and ambitious head of the Delancre dynasty. When the war erupts, Sophie’s new husband Jerome leaves shortly after their wedding with a promise to be home for Christmas. Even after authorities declare Jerome missing, Sophie strives to keep her business and her small village afloat, turning her mansion into a soldier’s hospital and using the champagne storage tunnels as an underground bunker for local families.
British sniper Charlie Nash is hauled from enemy territory and feels like he’s landed in paradise when he arrives to recover at her estate. A spark grows between the pair as they endure the war and prepare the grapes for vintage. Fiona is a dab hand at stirring emotions, with her new novel skillfully blending grief, adventure, romance, blackmail, fear, history and ultimately hope. Sophie’s bravery and gusto kept me reading late into the night and there were plenty of tears as the story twisted and turned towards the final page, with the war forcing Sophie to make a final, heart-breaking choice. An engrossing read that is beautifully researched, high on emotion and heady with adventure.
Thanks to Penguin Random House for the contest and review copies.
READ ON FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A COPY!
Meeting Fiona with my sister, mum and grandmother in 2017.
Five fast minutes with Fiona McIntosh
Do you have a good luck charm or a special token that sits on your desk/in your office?
I have several. One is a paperweight from a favourite aunt, another is a photo of my father in his handsome prime, who died last year, and he is grinning and encouraging me as he always has; the third is a congratulations card from a much-admired author who inspired me to write my first novel. I also have a beautiful, signed photo from Bryce Courtney, my early mentor hanging up and looking down at me.
Favourite exercise to counteract all the hours sitting at the keyboard?
I walk 5kms daily on the dirt backroads around our farmhouse with our three-legged rescue chihuahua. And now that the weather has brightened, I shall be doing a 20 min bike ride around a different track of those roads each morning if I can summon the stamina.
What’s your go-to weekday dinner dish?
Pasta in one form or another…from Bolognese to carbonara, to primavera. Never fails to please everyone.
Which career would you choose if money wasn’t a factor and writing wasn’t an option?
Hands down I’d be a perfumer. It would be thrilling.
Favourite book from your childhood?
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Which jelly bean do you eat first, and which do you leave until last?
I love sweets but I really don’t like jelly beans. However, if I did eat them, I’d go with intuition and choose red first and black last. Curiously, I love licorice but not in that sugary sweet form.
Have you done anything special with any of your advances?
Haha! In the early years it was survival as a writer. These days, 20 years on, I plough them back into a lot of travel for research and this strange year I treated myself to kitting out my first proper study, so now I have a standing desk, an ergonomic chair, floor to ceiling bookcases, the walls in my chosen colour, lovely little armchairs, favourite paintings on the wall, a new computer…this is my first proper writing room since I embarked on this career. Until now it’s been the kitchen, the pantry, the shed, the spare room, a store cupboard. I have loved all of them to tell the truth. I’ve always been happy in my weird little spaces but now I admit to feeling like a ‘real writer’.
Spot where you seem to get the best bursts of writing inspiration?
Always the shower – inconvenient but explosive. Very good thinking time is when I’m out walking with the dog or especially when I’m baking and my mind is disengaged on everything but measuring and mixing.
You’re snowed in on the side of Mount Hotham with access to only one novel and one electronic device. Which do you choose?
Laptop. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Favourite Aussie book so far for 2020?
Forgive me Australia I haven’t got to any on the small tower awaiting me. I’ve been writing madly and reading oodles of research books.
On the top of my Christmas wishlist is….
A new Kitchen Aid in green…and yellow….and pink….
Best one-line sentence from one of your book reviews?
Fiona McIntosh is a seductress…I have not moved from the sofa in three days. SMH
The Champagne War
The heart-stopping new blockbuster by the bestselling author of The Diamond Hunter.
From the killing fields of Ypres to the sun-kissed vineyards of France, The Champagne War is a heart-stopping adventure about the true power of love and hope to light the way during war.
In the summer of 1914, vigneron Jerome Méa heads off to war, certain he’ll be home by Christmas. His new bride Sophie, a fifth generation champenoise, is determined to ensure the forthcoming vintages will be testament to their love and the power of the people of Épernay, especially its strong women. But as the years drag on, authorities advise that Jerome is missing, considered dead.
When poison gas is first used in Belgium by the Germans, British chemist Charles Nash jumps to enlist. After he is injured, he is brought to Reims, where Sophie has helped to set up an underground hospital to care for the wounded. In the dark, ancient champagne cellars, their stirring emotions take them both by surprise.
While Sophie battles to keep her vineyard going through the bombings, a critical sugar shortage forces her to strike a dangerous bargain with an untrustworthy acquaintance – but nothing will test her courage more than the news that filters through to her about the fate of her heroic Jerome.
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**EDITED TO ADD CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED***
Win a copy of the Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh, thanks to Penguin Random House.
This is a quick 24-hour contest, opening Saturday December 5, closing 8pm Sunday December 6, read the interview and then enter here. Australian addresses and newsletter subscribers only please!