writer’s retreats

Writer’s retreat in France
Montolieu and Wivenhoe – town friendship
Writer’s retreat on a boat
Writer’s workshop on a boat (coming in 2023)


Montolieu – The Village of Books and Art in the South of France

A fabulous place to write, create art… and simply relax


Montolieu is only a 15 minute drive from Carcassonne in the south of France.

The city, with its famous fairytale castle, is served by Ryanair flying from London Stansted (only 90 minutes flight-time), and other UK and Irish airports.

When you arrive in Montolieu, you will be met with a welcoming vibrant atmosphere, with (as well as the 16 book shops) cafés, bars, restaurants, museums and art galleries, the all-essential wine shop, specialising in excellent local Corbières, Cabardès and Limoux, and the dominating church. With a year-round programme of music concerts and exhibitions, unlike some sleepy French villages, Montolieu is always full of JOIE DE VIE!


Our writer’s retreat is available to rent at any time in the year – and it won’t break the bank (honest Guv!)

If you fancy going somewhere with an abundance of peace and quiet with a roof terrace granting magnificent views towards the Pyrenees, in order for you to write your next best-seller, you’ll be in great company. As well as ME (!), writer of ‘MUDDY WATER‘, ‘FLORIDA KEY‘ and ‘MR. TAP‘ there’s that other chap, Patrick Suskind who wrote the acclaimed novel ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ who has a house just a stone’s throw away. There must be something in the water that attracts so many writers, musicians, sculptors and artists to come to this magical place.

But of course you don’t have to be a writer – or an artist like the lovely Mrs. Watson – to enjoy staying at the Writer’s Retreat. With wonderful walks and incredible views of the nearby countryside in every direction – and of course spectacular Carcassonne – this is must-visit location, not to be missed.

For FULL information about the property and the location, we created a website www.writersretreatinfrance.com

But if you don’t want to leave this ‘ere website to go to another, let me tell you the story about our little piece of paradise…

The lovely Mrs. Watson (Jane) and I have been going to this part of France since 2006, when we first bought an apartment within a château 25 minutes up the hill from Montolieu. (As it happens, the château was the inspiration for my book ‘MR. TAP‘.) I’d always wanted the proverbial ‘house in France’, but the only area that I was familiar with until then was Provence – Cannes, Nice and posh places like that. Not that we was posh – far from it – it’s just where I’d enjoyed a few nice holidays in my youth. Anyway, those posh places were far above our modest means. It wasn’t until a friend had suggested we consider the Languedoc-Roussillon region – far cheaper, but no less pretty and in fact somewhat more rustic, real and proper ‘French’ – that we found, even on our modest salaries, that yes, we could actually buy a property here.

During our time at the château, we often gravitated downhill to the bustling village of Montolieu, where the sun shone brighter in our hearts, and there was always somewhere to visit, eat, drink or browse. We both fell in love with the place even more than the château, and we wished we could move there.

A chance meeting with a charming English couple took place one day while we were out hiking and taking a lunchtime break. Jane mentioned how much we like Montolieu, and I enquired whether they also knew of the village. Yes they did, and as it turned out, they owned a townhouse there. “But tomorrow we return to England, and we’ll be putting the property on the market. This will be our last night here, but if you like, come and have a look,” they suggested.

When they described the house – two large bedrooms, open-plan lounge-diner-kitchen, mezzanine and roof-garden, we assumed it would be beyond our budget – just like Cannes was. Being British, the price wasn’t mentioned. But free wine was on the cards and our curiosity got the better of us, so we agreed to go that evening. The first minute after entering, our fate was determined. We shook hands and agreed that we’d buy the place, subject to being able to sell the château apartment – which luckily we did before too long. On that handshake the owners trusted us to buy from them, and we trusted that they’d sell to us.

The Universe was acting favourably, the stars aligned and bonne-chance was bestowed upon us. In 2015 we became proud owners of the house we’d call our ‘Writer’s Retreat’ that also became Jane’s ‘Artist’s Retreat’.

A year’s worth of home improvements and updates followed. Two new bathrooms, complete redecoration, new extensive kitchen, many home comforts that include books, art and an extensive collection of vinyl records. Perfect wi-fi is essential throughout, especially on the mezzanine and roof-garden where there is now a fridge, mini-kitchen and hifi, so that I can research and write my latest written work.

There is only one problem with being up there – with views so spectacular and the wine so plentiful and inexpensive, it’s very difficult to actually get any writing done.

But don’t just take my word for it – I could be making it all up. But these guests didn’t – here’s a small selection of a few of their comments, and there are more to be read on our website:

Fabienne, July 2021 “We really enjoyed our stay in Montolieu. The whole house has an amazing atmosphere, especially the breathtaking roof terrace. Also Neil’s tips and guide for things to do in and around Montolieu has helped us a lot and made our experience even better. Would recommend this place without hesitation!”

Muriel, July 2021 (Google translated from French) “Everything was perfect, the house, the location, the communication with Neil. We had a great stay in this beautiful village.”

Corinne, May 2021 (Google translated from French)We really enjoyed our stay with Neil and Jane who offer a typical accommodation with a lot of personality as we like. The accommodation, which offers everything you need in terms of comfort, is located in the heart of the village of Montolieu, which is ideal for discovering the bookstores in this village of books and the artist’s workshops.”

I don’t wish to blow our own trumpet – I want to play a whole quartet!

Want to write there? Want to create art there? Want to relax there?


Did you know?… there’s TOWN FRIENDSHIP between…
MONTOLIEU (the Village of Books and Art)…

and WIVENHOE (the Village of Art and Books)

Yes, it’s true. And it’s not surprising! The native tongue might be different, and so might be the geography – but the enthusiasm for shared interests couldn’t be more dynamic. Both places embrace a joyous culture of art, music and writing, and the townsfolk of Montolieu and Wivenhoe are also decidedly quirky, putting it mildly.

Wivenhoe is my home-town and I love it. Montolieu is also my home-town and I love it equally. I was sure that folks from either place would embrace the other. So I embarked upon a crazy idea to unofficially twin the two locations. But where should I start?

“I know!” I thought triumphantly. “I’ll go see the Mayor of Montolieu and suggest it to him. And I’m not going to let any of this Brexit nonsense get in my way.”

Unfortunately, at the time, the Mayor of Montolieu had a different point of view. But undeterred, I decided to hold my book launch for FLORIDA KEY in Montolieu’s town square with an après-launch party on the terrace of the local wine-shop. Where better? And thanks to a little gentle ice-breaking during the preceding months, the Mayor joined me on stage – (despite me mistakingly introducing him as “Monsieur le Mairie” – “Mr. Town Hall”! – he’s the one in the picture not wearing the ridiculous floral t-shirt – what was I thinking?!?).

And how marvellous! More than 30 Wivenhonians flew out to join me – giving them the opportunity to discover the delights of Montolieu all for themselves, just like the lovely Mrs Watson and I had done 13 years previously. A good, no, great, no, FANTASTIC time was had.

So, the next thing for me to do would be to cordially ask Monsieur le Maire to come to Wivenhoe. And YES!!!, he accepted the invitation, along with a delegation that included Madame le Maire, Stephane the bookshop owner, Adrian the wineshop owner, Teri the restaurateur, Claire the museum curator, and Catherine the interpreter.

Panic immediately set in. Where could they be accommodated? How would they get from the airport and back? What would they do during their visit? I prayed I’d find the answers in time.

I did. My prayers were answered thanks to the local Community Bus being provided to collect the delegation from Stansted, and the Mayor of Wivenhoe stepping up to the plate and extending a VIP invitation for the delegation to take a table at the annual ‘Mayor’s Ball’. The Wivenhoe Mayor was a character in my FLORIDA KEY novel, and is also a top town crier. He has kudos!

“Wonderful,” I thought, truly grateful. “All I need now is accommodation and an itinerary.” Again my manna from Heaven came. I found a suitably quirky 5-bedroom house, with its own swan, to rent near the river. Adrian would stay at our place, and Catherine demanded to sleep on ‘Miss Baudet’ (aka my BOAT FOR MY POTPLANTS) that just happened to be part of Wivenhoe’s Open Gardens that weekend.

What did the Montolieu delegation find when they arrived in Wivenhoe? After a quick evening meal prepared by the lovely Mrs Watson – very warm WELCOME at the local pub!

And they didn’t have a moment to get bored, once my fun-packed itinerary had been finalised; a walk around the village, a visit to Wivenhoe’s bookshop, fish&chips on the river, a ferry ride, an art exhibition, a potter’s studio, a pub crawl – and of course the elegant Mayor’s Ball. It could safely be said that the Montolieu delegation had been truly Wivenhoed!



I hoped that following all the excitement of the day Monsieur and Madame le Maire and their team would still have some energy left to enjoy the climax of their visit – The Mayor’s Ball. They managed well, and bi-lingual Adrian interpreted Monsieur le Maire’s French speech that welcomed the good people of Wivenhoe to come to Montolieu. Luckily, Adrian had survived his earlier pub-crawl with me and still managed to do a brilliant job – although there may have been a few ‘lost in translation’ hiccups that brought some smiles to the audience’s faces.

Such was the weekend’s success, a formal invitation was extended to Wivenhoe artist and printmaker Jamie Dodds to have an exhibition the following year – Easter 2020 – in Montolieu’s ‘Museum of Arts and Crafts of the Book’. I was even more delighted to learn that the exhibition would last from Easter to the end of the year, and that many dignitaries from not only Montolieu, but surrounding towns including Carcassonne would attend the Grand Opening.


This was fantastic news, and so in October 2019 I drove from Wivenhoe to the Montolieu museum to personally deliver a car-load of Jamie Dodds’ amazing pictures. Things were really looking up.

Then came 2020, and we all know what happened in 2020.

So, I now have fingers firmly crossed that 2022 will be the year that the Town-Friendship between Wivenhoe and Montolieu can flourish.

Wivenhoe – The Village of Art and Books

A very special place full of creative energy.

The lovely Mrs. Watson and I moved to Wivenhoe in 2009 after having fallen in love with its beautiful location next to the River Colne, its sunny microclimate, and above all its eclectic mix of friendly, arty and literate people.

It has its own art gallery, a museum, bookshops, several pubs, restaurants, a rail link to central London… and community chickens.

We adore those chickens almost as much as watching the fishermen going off to sea and the canoeists, paddleboarders and boaters going up and down the river. This vibrant village is home to painters and sculptors as well as writers, poets, publishers, and it’s easy to see why – there’s something in the water.

So, why not come and stay in Wivenhoe, and take in some of that creative energy? If you want, I can even recommend somewhere you can stay right by the river…

Emma and Charlie’s fabulous ‘entire flat’ accommodation

Just 4 minute’s walk from the station and connection from Central London, Emma and Charlie will give you a big welcome as soon as you arrive at their place by the river’s edge. You’ll have your own separate front door, large and luxurious double bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. A choice of four excellent pubs are nearby such as The Black Buoy almost on the doorstep, and there are also several restaurants and take-aways (Italian, Indian, Tapas, Syrian, Chinese, Fish&Chips) just seconds away.

And if you like the idea of a quiet and peaceful morning walk before breakfast, the riverside path to Whitehouse Beach is literally a few yards out the house and turn left. But if you’re more of a party animal, you’ll love the Regatta when the whole town congregates along the front. That will be out the house and turn right. Beware – it’s mayhem!

You can check out their Airbnb listing here.

A Writer’s Retreat with a difference – on a boat!

Writers need concentration to help them formulate their ideas. If you would like to get away from all distractions so that you can concentrate on your project without interruption, how about this? …take some time out to sit and write on ‘MISS BAUDET’, my boat with its pot-plants, conveniently moored outside one of the finest pubs Essex has to offer – and only 30 seconds from your overnight accommodation.

Whether you wish to contemplate your latest storyline or simply bash away at your laptop, onboard you’ll find everything a writer could desire – a writing desk, comfortable seating and cushions, solar power to keep your gadgets charged, lighting, a radio, and even a record player if you’d like some vinyl inspiration to help those ideas flow.

Need a cuppa to keep you going? Of course! There’s a kettle, bottled water, a sink, a stove, cutlery, cups and plates. Fancy a tipple? Wine, G&T, beer or something stronger – it’s all there. And there’s a loo too if you can’t bear to leave!

A light snack or main-course while you work? No problem… the pub does fine grub, the fish & chippy is just 50 yards up the lane opposite, or a delicious home-made dish can be brought to you.

And there’s no need to get wobbly about having rusty sea-legs – the boat only floats for an hour or so a day – most of the time it rests calmly on the mudbank. There’s a secure jetty for easy access, a rear canopy incase it rains – or alternatively you can go inside the cabin to work – and although you’ll be seconds from the quayside, you’ll feel far from the madding crowd. Think how inspiring and productive this environment could be for you – you’ll be churning out your bestseller in next to no time!

You can reserve your time on the Writer’s Retreat Boat (‘Madame Baudet’) either all day – or just the morning, afternoon, evening, by the hour, or any combination. You’re bound to want a return session the following day, especially if you didn’t quite finish that chapter you’d been working on.

And for your overnight accommodation – at Emma And Charlie’s Fabulous B&B (see above) is all of 30 seconds walk from the boat.

Contact me HERE to find out more.