It was January. I was living in a tiny flat in central London. I was also trying to write a book. The weather was dismal, the manuscript was overdue and I was stuck. Badly stuck. And I hadn’t a clue how to become unstuck. Worst of all, the lease on my flat had run out and I was going to have to move. The thought of trailing around London in the drizzle to look for another shoebox to rent was more than I could bear.
Then I discovered something. I discovered it was cheaper to live in a hotel in southern France than it was to rent another flat in London. And not just a little cheaper, but quite a lot cheaper. For a few hours, I cheered myself up with daydreams of olive groves and vineyards, of winter sunshine and flocks of flamingos. I pictured myself eating breakfast in splendid surroundings while someone else cleaned my room. I imagined what it would be like to have nothing to think about except the book.
But I could scarcely stammer “je m’appelle Olivia,” never mind explain that I wanted to take a room for several weeks. Besides, who lives in hotels? When I was a child, my great aunt had a friend who lived in hotels-autumns and winters in Zurich (or was it Lausanne?), springs in London and summers in Bermuda. But the friend was rich and eccentric, and it was plain to the little-girl-me that those two factors accounted for her choice of abode. I was neither eccentric (well, not very) nor rich. Then again, if hotels were cheaper than flats, perhaps I’d got things wrong. Maybe renting flats in London was for the rich and eccentric, and living in foreign hotels was for people like me. I had, of course, heard of writers living in hotels. However, they were all, as far as I knew, novelists or travel writers and, presumably, needed a minimum of paraphernalia. I was writing a fact-intensive book about the sex lives of animals and, to make progress, would need platoons of books and papers. No, the whole notion was patently absurd. Or was it?
A few years earlier and by chance, I’d stayed a night in a hotel in a small town not far from Montpellier. I vaguely recalled that the hotel had had large, quiet, sunny rooms-just the thing for a depressed…