An Interview with Lee Pennington of 7daywonder booklovers holidays
I came to live permanently in Catalunya in 2005; my partner and I are expecting our first child this month. Since my time in France in my twenties I really wanted to live in a place of magic or creativity or like Derbyshire with olives and a clear blue sea. My passion and 'default setting' is to cook. My longest stint in someone else's kitchen was 7 months. I spent nearly 15 years working as a builder and gardener. Latterly, school was a drag and I was surprised to find myself at Uni doing English in the mid nineties after a spell farming. I grew up in the hills near Macclesfield and have a sister who is 9 years older.
CD: Why did you start 7daywonder holidays? What made you think of a reading holiday in particular?
LP: It´s really hard to be brief about this. It goes back to 1990 when I went to stay with friends in SW France (near Gaillac). They had a large farm with vineyards and a lake. They were trying hard to make ends meet and started doing some B & B. This was the first time I cooked for a group of people. I did this for several long summers. Big house, green space, swimming, good food, lots of people. Eventually someone there was teaching me how to paint and I thought that being able to go on a holiday where you could do 'something else' would be great. Those summers in my early twenties set the scene. After that it was just a matter of time until I made the opportunity to 'run' my own different holiday week - which at first was an experiment.
Ultimately I started this because I like to enjoy the good things in life around others doing the same ! Books. I love reading. And I think talking/sharing books is fantastic. The Booklovers week is really just an excuse to talk/listen. It´s also quite creative. We don´t just sit around saying why we did or didn´t like a book - often we really try and work a book... if you know what I mean... the way good conversation goes.
CD: What other sorts of holidays do you do?
LP: Stand-up comedy (4 nights), novel writing, singing & song writing, Dali tours (4 nights). Mostly a week and normally from June until late September. I´ll try any kind of holiday but essentially it has to have a creative heart.
CD: The settings of 7daywonder holidays are idyllic. How do you choose the locations?
LP: France is important because of my personal relationship with it... but Catalunya is the clear winner for me. It has everything for me and I think for the type of holidays I run: beauty, culture, history, Michelin starred food, olives, wines and fabulous people. I chose these places because this is where I choose to live and I want an idyllic life.
CD: The meals at 7daywonder are a particular feature (and delicious!) - how do you go about choosing the menu?
LP: The structure of the menu has been put together over several years. It´s partly about availability of foods etc and dietry req.s but it´s also about finding dishes that work for groups - I love cooking and I want the food to be really good. I work hard to try and surprise people with the quality, and often I´m cooking fairly classic dishes. I think the food has improved every year. But living in the proximity of world class restaurants and having a market of fresh food 3 times a week is a superb influence on my cooking.
CD: It struck me as a lot of hard work - please would you outline your typical day.
LP: 7.30am Drive to bread shop-buy bread. 8am Breakfast. 10am Sit with the reading group. 1pm Help (Debbie) with the lunch, tidy. I might get an hour lie down (here called a Migdiada) - then back to the kitchen to start cooking supper. Oh, and maybe I´ve zipped down town to buy some foods I forgot and then midway through supper it might be a quick pick-up (of a novelist) at the airport and then back to a glass of wine and make sure the guests are happy.
It is hard work. It´s the toughest stuff I´ve done, and I´ve been around. I´ve done a lot of physical work like on building sites etc but this is very demanding. However, if I didn´t like it I wouldn´t do it.
CD: What aspects do you enjoy the most?
LP: The whole thing. It´s just me in my element. Cooking is probably the heart of it. Sitting with the group getting our teeth into a novel or sharing a glass by the wood-fire at night. I really enjoy every hour of the day.
CD: What sort of people tend to come to 7daywonder holiday?
LP: It´s hard to say - but in general the people that come (and really do come back) are looking for something different. It´s people (initially) brave enough to move away from the big brands and the well tramped places. They´re looking for a real holiday. There´s usually quite a few singles.
CD: Have there been any amusing or interesting incidents?
LP: Running comedy holidays means there´s lots of amusement, and over the years there´s been a few missed flights, lost bags, burning trains, etc. I think the less said the better about inebriated guests but last September I hired a classical guitarist to do a little concert - he was absolutely great, it was an incredible musical evening - however afterwards he proceeded to drink the place dry and tell stories until 4am... way past my bed time!
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
LP: Not really other than when I worked as a gardener I encountered a lot of them. And gruesomely when the eclipse occurred in 99 me and my pal were at my sisters in Devon - that same night we were stargazing (after a few ciders) looking for the perseids on a dark garden terrace, I just recall my pal Rob groaning with horror as yet another one cracked under his shoes.
CD: What is your proudest moment?
LP: I was very proud of the success of the first few 7daywonder holidays. I´m now very proud to have met and settled down with a Catalan (Carolina); I´m also proud that I still run 7daywonder after 7 not entirely always financially lucrative years.*
CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
LP: I think that things happen all the time that are life changing. But here, I´ll say it was reading "Catcher in the Rye" when I was about 21 - that is ultimately why this September I´ll be sat talking books with a dozen or so people in a Catalan mansion.
CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
LP: One only has to turn the news on to hear of really sad things. There´s a lot of things that conjure sadness in the world and I don´t think I can name one over another. It saddens me that some people really don´t care.
CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
LP: Oooooooff! My credit rating!
CD: What is happiness?
LP: When you´re not thinking about "what´s next?"; laughing with someone you love; the almost soundless track down a snowy mountainside on a snowboard.
CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
LP: Monday-Friday, read the FT; then coffee !
*Just over a week after this question I must add that now the proudest moment of my life is being a father - I can't tell you how proud (and the rest) I feel about this.
Mar was born on my 39th birthday at 4.30 am.