Monday 14 August 2023


A picture of author Jane Johnson

Disappearing into a book is something that was instilled into me from childhood, and it’s still a wonderful alternative to costly airfares and long journeys. Jane Johnson is a Cornish author who splits her time between Mousehole and Morocco, and is lucky enough to work from home as a Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins. Her latest book, The Black Crescent, uses scented descriptions to help conjure emotions and locations, and so it’s the perfect time to discover her own fragrance memories in “Stephan’s Six”.

What is the first smell that you can remember?
Iodine and salt. We lived right by the harbour in Fowey and my bedroom window was always open. Down below our little garden we had stone steps that led to a seaweed-covered jetty, and the tang of that seaweed permeates all my childhood memories. That aroma, along with the rhythmic sound of the saltwater that lapped below the house, was comforting to me. To this day, I am at my happiest when I can hear and smell the sea.

An advert for L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain
What perfumes did your parents wear?
My father wasn't really into aftershave or cologne, and I can’t really recall any particular perfume that my mother wore, but I do clearly remember my grandmother wearing L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain. I actually incorporated that perfume into my novel The White Hare, in which it evokes a sharp nostalgia and triggers a traumatic but crucial memory for the male lead.

What was the perfume of your twenties?
Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel was the perfume I wore during my twenties. It had a pretty bottle which I liked almost as much as its aroma of hyacinth, orange blossom, jasmine and sandalwood. I associate it with wild love affairs and boyfriends who bought it for me because they loved the smell of it too. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, given the associations, orange blossom, neroli and sandalwood-based perfumes remain my favourites today. I favour scents with a deeper base note these days, less floral, a little more musky and pungent - perhaps that's just age. I am absolutely gobsmacked to see that you can still buy Anaïs Anaïs, I thought it had perished long ago, but it’ll always be redolent of the 80s for me.

What was your biggest perfume mistake?
I’m not sure it counts as my mistake, but one boyfriend bought be an enormous, and probably at the time for him, very expensive bottle of Thierry Mugler’s Angel, which I just would not wear. It was far too sweet and cloying. Maybe I associate it with him, because he was too sweet and cloying as well.

An advert for the perfume Berber Blonde by Sana Jardin
You can only choose one perfume?
I tell you what I’d really like, for Sana Jardin’s Berber Blonde to maintain its scent for longer throughout the day. It’s a gorgeous mix of bergamot, neroli and musk, but it fades after a couple of hours, so you need to top up. I picked it originally for the name; I'm married to a Berber man and am the only blonde in our village when we're based there, in the foothills of the Moroccan Anti-Atlas Mountains. Sana Jardin are keen on sustainability and work with women's collectives in Morocco, sourcing their blossoms from the collectives, so a more positive French-Moroccan endeavour than that portrayed in The Black Crescent, my latest novel. It’s set against the backdrop of the Moroccan fight for independence from the French regime in the 1950s, and scents permeate this book throughout. If my hero, Hamou, closes his eyes, he can locate his exact position by the smells surrounding him. He's seduced by the mouthwatering aroma of his beautiful neighbour’s cooking (conserved lemon, caramelised onions, olives, ras el hanout), repulsed by the smell of his commanding officer’s tabac jaune cigarettes and the rubbish rotting in the streets during the general strike, and tantalised by the frankincense and agar in the old city bazaar. It really is a novel full of scents and smells!

What perfume should I try?
The perfume that my husband Abdellatif loves best, and often wears - and therefore the one that I love best, and often steal - is Serge LutensFleurs d’Oranger. Another bitter-orange scent, with a musky base note, this is a Moroccan-inspired perfume, which I didn't know until we’d picked it out from a vast display of perfumes in London at Liberty. I absolutely adore the scent of this perfume. It's quite powerful and, wherever I am in the world, whisks me back to our home village of Tafraout (which appears as Tiziane in the new novel) and that heady time when the orange groves are in blossom. The smell of orange blossom is one of those that represents heaven to me.

Jane Johnson’s latest book, The Black Crescent, is released by Head of Zeus books and is available from all good booksellers. For more information about Jane you can visit her website at

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