Writers Who Lunch

Many years ago when I first became serious about writing I attended many literary lunches in one of our top Bristol hotels, hosted by our local newspaper. It invariably necessitated my having to take a half-day’s holiday from work, but I thought it worth it as there were always well known authors speaking from all walks of life, from war correspondents to TV personalities. Although, at first, I knew no one, over time I became friendly with others that regularly attended. In due course, I went along to support authors speaking whom I had come to know well through the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and latterly, several top writers who were in the Bristol Chapter of the RNA that I used to organise. When the editor who arranged the lunches left the newspaper, these literary lunches stopped.

So I was delighted recently to be invited along by the Wiltshire RNA chapter to attend a literary lunch where the guest speaker was one of the UK’s top Rom Com authors, Jill Mansell. I knew Jill well as she was a member of my RNA chapter, and when that folded she would frequently come along to “Writers Who Lunch” gatherings I arranged. Jill’s lunch was being held at the Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe, a venue Jill knew from childhood and which was the setting for one of her novels. I’d been to the hotel on several occasions and knew we would thus be in for a treat.

Castle Combe

Castle Combe

Castle Combe, about half-an-hour’s drive away from me, is the quintessential English Cotswold village that has been preserved by the National Trust and probably one of the most visited, most photographed and most recognisable villages in Britain. No visible TV or satellite dishes or washing lines are allowed, no modern-day street lighting, no signs at all of anything modern day, in fact. Consequently, it’s been used as a backdrop for many films including most recently as the home village in The War Horse, in Stardust, and many years ago as the “port” in Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison, cleverly done as Castle Combe is nowhere near the sea!

Manor houseThe Manor House itself is delightful. As you drive through the automatic gates you are swept along a curving drive through the grounds, over a small bridge spanning the brook that runs through the village, and greeted with the façade of this beautiful building in its glorious setting.

Most literary lunches I’d been to had always had the guest speaking between each course served, but Jill’s was different. After coffee on arrival we were ushered into a room used for wedding ceremonies, whereupon instead of Jill standing and talking for an hour, she and her agent chatted openly in a question and answer type conversation with the audience, about seventy of us, interacting as we went along. All very relaxed and easy. She chatted about why she chose the Manor House as a location in one of her books, what inspired her to start writing, along with many amusing anecdotes from her writing career.

mh jill mansell

Jill Mansell

Afterwards, we were escorted through to the dining room, where large round tables had been set out for lunch. Much to the Wiltshire chapter’s disappointment, I and another chapter member had been placed on another table, but I wasn’t complaining as I found myself seated on the guest speaker’s table, next to Jill herself. This was lovely as it meant Jill and I could catch up with each other as well as involve the rest of the ladies at the table in our conversations.

Now, I have fine-dined in many locations but I have to say the Manor House did itself proud. The food was absolutely stunning to look at and a pleasure to eat. It was what my husband calls “sod all on a big plate”, but so beautifully presented and tasted equally delicious. Four courses were served, the first a warm mousse of celeriac, something I’d never tried before, followed by warming, thick pea and ham soup, made with fresh peas. It was the best pea and ham soup I’ve tasted. The main course was lamb on a bed of mashed potato with vegetables – excellent. Next came an equally divine dessert, all served with wine, followed by coffee and petit fours. There was a vegetarian choice available although I have no idea what that was as no one on my table was vegetarian. The whole day cost less than what I’ve spent on a bottle of wine before now. Had the weather not been so damp, I would have taken a stroll around the grounds before I left in order to walk off such a surprisingly filling meal.

A most pleasant day indeed. So, would I go there again for another literary lunch? You bet. But next time I must remember to take my camera!


27 responses to “Writers Who Lunch

  1. debutnovelist

    Wow – what a fabulous occasion. Beleive it or not I have never been to Castle Combe – must be time to put that right! Ali B

  2. How totally fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing this lunch event, Kit. It sounded so interesting and the food yummy. I really enjoyed you introducing me to Jill last year at the Summer Audience in Tetbury, as she has long been one of my favourite authors. *Waves to Jill, if you happen to read this!*

    But, Kit, what do you mean next time you must remember to take your camera…? Next time you must remember to take me!
    love, Janice xx

  3. Thanks for taking us along on this delightful outing. What a charming village – I’ve just added it to my travel list. All in all, as you said, a simply most worthwhile day. It sounds as though the conversation was as delicious as the scrumptious meal!

  4. What a beautiful place! It sounds like a wonderful time and the food… well, I’m drooling with envy… 🙂

  5. sounds wonderful. What a super day you had. Wish I could have come. I love those manor houses. How divine! AND The head table- yay!

    • It’s certainly one of the best manor houses I’ve had the privilege of visiting,that’s for sure, Jillian. 🙂

  6. You and Tricia are so fortunate to live where you do. I love old homes the architecture, the grounds, all of it. Thanks for taking us on this luncheon with you. I could almost (almost) taste the food.

    • A pleasure taking you all, Lavada. Took my German uncle there for afternoon tea way back in 1976 – he fell in love with the village and hotel and still talks about it after all this time! Good to see that some things don’t change over time. 🙂

  7. Such a beautiful part of the country and I particularly liked the description of lunch! Lovely occasion, stunning setting.

  8. Thank you, Miriam. Gloucestershire and its environs certainly a lovely place to live. 🙂

  9. Castle Combe is a wonderful-looking village. I’d love to stroll the grounds. And getting to spend the day with your peers…well, it sounds just perfect. 🙂

    • It’s a very pretty village whatever the season although it does get exceedingly crowded in the summer. As much as I like the place, far too many tourists peering in at the windows. Wouldn’t mind living the manor house, though! 🙂

  10. conniefischer

    Oh what I wouldn’t give to have been there with you! What a gorgeous place. You’re so lucky!

    • Thanks, Connie. Sort of place I would love to own but then again, we have such lousy weather here (apart from today, which has been glorious!) the village is a little to frozen in aspic – bet it was heaving there today. 🙂

  11. OMGosh! It is truly is beautiful, Kit. Envious. 🙂 We need to treat ourselves occasionally – and what better way than with good food, good wine and sparkling company. Thanks for sharing! (Love the pics!). 🙂 xx

  12. Thanks, Sheryl. Can’t take credit for the photos but the day was certainly a real treat. And yes, we do deserve it now and again. It can’t be all work and no play. I class it as research. I wonder if the taxman will agree. 🙂

  13. What an amazing event and I agree Kit, research!! I enjoyed a wedding anniversary meal there many years ago and still remember the food to this day! It sounds like you had a fabulous time and you deserved the break.

    • A deserving cause indeed, Linn. I only wish I could persuade my other half to come along and experience places and different food and such interesting people. But perhaps on second thoughts, he probably says the same about me re his rugby and cricket interests. 🙂

  14. Sounds like a great time, Kit. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. Always inspiring to meet up with the lovely Jill.
    We were lucky enough to stay overnight at The Manor House several years ago, and really enjoyed it. The breakfast was fabulous!

    • You missed a real treat, Tricia, Jill was as inspiring as she always was at our gatherings and asked after all the old Bristol chapter members. And, gosh, you were lucky indeed staying there. I was just commenting to Linn how I wish I could persuade Dave to “indulge” me. Hey ho, I can dream.. 🙂

  15. Am green with envy…. thanks for sharing that Kit, it sounds like you had a wonderful day and Jill was most enlightening. Would have loved to have been there, the location looks stunning, glad that you had such a perfect day xx

    • Hello, Caroline. Lovely to see you here Over the Backyard Fence. Stunning is definitely the word for the hotel and its environs, it’s no small wonder it’s a popular location for weddings and tourists. PS, hope the green colour’s fading. Do visit there,if ever you have the opportunity. Don’t think it will disappoint. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  16. Valerie J. Patterson

    What a delightful-looking village! Would love the opportunity to stroll the streets and stand on that bridge. Most definitely an inspiring setting to be sure. Sounds like you had a fabulous day, Kit! Thanks for sharing it with us. Really enjoyed the photos! 😛

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