I wrote my last Newsletter on 2nd February this year. It was upbeat after a successful France Show at Olympia and I was looking forward to the publication of my novel THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER on 11th February. The New Year was looking positive and full of opportunities. But life can turn in less than the spin of a sixpence. My wonderful Irish mother, Phyllis – who many of you know at least by reading about her if you have not met her at one of my events, particularly those of you in Ireland – died two days after I posted the Newsletter.
It was instantaneous; she passed away in my arms. I think she had no pain and the doctor said her heart just stopped. That very afternoon we had been making plans for my summer trip to the West Cork Literary Festival in July, which I will still be attending but there will be a great hole in my heart. So, if you happen to be in the Republic and anywhere near during those dates in July, please come and say hello. I might be needing a hug.
Everything since has been coloured by the loss that late afternoon of the 4th February. How can it not be? We were best friends. Sisters, she used to tease – and she might have been the younger one, so fit and slim and glamorous was she. Shock and grieving are very powerful emotions and they invade one’s heart. I have been unable to achieve much writing but I have been gardening like a fiend, planting in pots, clearing land… All around the house in the flower gardens I have been digging and bedding in summer flowers, choosing her favourite colours: fuchsia, burgundy, rose, pale pink, white, and little blue forget-me-nots I found growing wild on the land.
Now we are clearing a strip of land that abuts our Olive Farm. A couple of acres that we had been trying to purchase for over twenty years. Early last year we finally signed the contract. It was an impenetrable jungle and has taken me back to the very early days of buying the Olive Farm and all that I wrote in the Olive series of books about those challenging yet joyously happy early times. We are older now and have learned the ways of this Côte d’Azur-Provençal way of life. I speak the language fluently now and I can stand up for myself and I know a bit about what this land needs. I am also fiercely attached to sustainable farming and planting. So, it is proving to be exciting as well as very hard work. We will add a few olive trees to accompany the 300 and some we have now, but I have another vision for on part of this land: an almond grove. Pale pink was definitely one of Phyllis’s favourite colours and she was always so delighted to know that winter was coming to an end. She loved spring and sunshine. The almond tree is the first fruit to blossom around the Mediterranean. It heralds Spring and it seems to attract songbirds. It is also early food, pollen, for the honey bees that have been in the hive over winter caring for their queen. So, I feel it will be a fitting celebration for my gentle-natured mother and her long life. Phyllis’ Almond Grove. It will be stunning when it is in full blossom.
When my father died, twenty-three years ago, I planted a small apple orchard here. One tree in particular, of the Granny Smith variety because that was his favourite apple, we called Daddy’s Tree. In spite of the fact that all those apple saplings were planted at the same time, this one tree stands taller and thicker of trunk than all the others. It dominates the small orchard. I feel his spirit there, overlooking the sea, at peace. And I wish to offer the same serenity to my mother.
Work. The Forgotten Summer is coincidentally also a novel about loss and regeneration. It has been receiving some amazing reviews. The feedback has been so positive. I am really thrilled and to all those of you who have bought it, a huge thank you. And to those who have reviewed it so favourably. Merci, mille fois.
For those who are still considering or intending to buy it, both the hardback and e-book are available now and can be found, for example, on Amazon. If you are outside the UK, the site bookdepository.com ships worldwide for FREE.
Otherwise, the paperback will be available in late July. However, in my opinion, the hardback is a very beautiful object. The jacket with its warm colours and gold lettering is very enticing and its full retail price is a mere £10. A bargain after all that writing!
Please check the Events page on this website. Aside from Bantry in July for the West Cork Lit Fest, there are several other opportunities to come along and say hello. If you are in Nice next week, on 27th April, I will be at the Forum Jorge Francois for an evening panel event followed by a book-signing. Here is the link if you wish to come along.
I continue to write my regular articles for France magazine and I have recently accepted to write occasionally for a lovely series in Woman’s Weekly titled Funny Old World. So these are fun.
The novel I am writing has taken a back seat but I am back at work now and for all those of you who have been writing to say how much you are looking forward to it, I don’t intend to let you or Michael Joseph, Penguin down.
In March, Michel and I attended a documentary film festival in Thessaloniki in northern Greece. Afterwards we went to Crete which is an island I know quite well. While there, we went to the very beautiful beach that was used in the film of Zorba the Greek. It was the where Anthony Quinn danced that marvellous saraki with Alan Bates. Here is a photograph I took whilst there.
The book that inspired the film was written by the Cretan author, Nikos Kazantzakis. So, I am going to leave you with a short quote of his, which is not from Zorba the Greek, but Saint Francis. Still, it resonates for me at this time:
“When an almond tree became covered with blossoms in the heart of winter, all the trees around it began to jeer. ‘What vanity,’ they screamed, ‘what insolence! Just think, it believes it can bring spring in this way!’ The flowers of the almond tree blushed for shame. ‘Forgive me, my sisters,’ said the tree. ‘I swear I did not want to blossom, but suddenly I felt a warm springtime breeze in my heart.”
For my mother Phyllis Drinkwater 1924 – 2016
18 April 2016