It is almost Christmas although I have not yet begun to do very much about it. We are both still hard at work, attempting to complete all our commitments before everyone shuts up shop for two weeks.
There is a quite a bit to wrap up after a year that has seen a great deal of activity including my very memorable tour of the United States in April. I met so many wonderful people, both viewers and readers who have joined my ever-growing list of friends. The trip was memorable because we crossed many states and time zones, covering lots of territory. Also because it gave me the opportunity to see the American way of life from many different aspects and for that I am very grateful.
When I came back from the States, I set to work on a young adult book for Scholastic, If You Were the Only Girl in the World. This is a love story set during World War One, in the lovely Somme region of northern France and is to be published in April 2014. Everyone seems very pleased with the book and I am extremely excited about its future.
I will be in England at the France Show for three days in January (17th to 19th) where my daily talks are on the subject of ‘France as An Inspiration’. This brings me right up to date with my work because beyond the Olive Farm series of books I have recently published with Amazon Kindle Singles, a short story entitled The Girl in Room Fourteen. For those of you who have purchased it, huge thanks. The sales figures so far are very exciting and it has reached number one on Amazon on both sides of the Atlantic. A thrilling experience for me. Many of you will be reading this letter as newcomers to my work, having found me through this South of France love story. So, to you, a particular welcome to my website. I hope you will return here regularly.
If you are reading this letter in Australia then you might know that Amazon has just opened its online Kindle Single Store down your way. If you are in Germany, then I want to let you know that The Girl in Room Fourteen is being translated as I write and will be available in German before long. I will post details on the website when I know more about its publication date and German title.
On the strength of the results of The Girl in Room Fourteen, Amazon invited me to contribute another Kindle Single, which I delivered last week. Hotel Paradise, also set in the South of France, will be available in the Kindle store sometime soon after Christmas. Please keep an eye out for it. When I have the publication date I will post it in a blog – so keep checking the website for updates and details.
November was spent partially in Rome. It was a rather rainy city for some of the time with the banks of the fast-flowing Tiber filled to bursting and the houseboats impossible to access or disembark, until the sun broke through and we enjoyed the most exquisite early winter Mediterranean days. Rome out of season, when the sun shines and autumn leaves lie drying and reddening underfoot, is a magical experience. As always when Michel, my husband, and I are in Rome, we delight in finding new restaurants, discovering corners of the city we have not visited before and this trip was no exception. Of all the excellent meals we enjoyed, I think for this visit Babette’s in via Margutta not far from the Spanish Steps was the highlight. It was the porcini season – those wonderful dark mushrooms as thick and juicy as steaks. The kitchen was offering a porcini dish at every course and we accompanied our food with excellent dark red Primitivo wines from Puglia. Each evening, we walked the cobbled streets by starlight, always making sure to stop at least once by the Trevi Fountain, our flip-of-a-coin guarantee of a return visit.
We were there to revisit colleagues and friends we worked with for the filming of The Olive Route film series. Over dinner on two evenings down in the south of the old city in the trendy and rather raw neighbourhood of Testaccio, we became excited at the prospect of so many new film ideas. Even if they never come to fruition, I love such evenings. They leave me breathless with the promise of potential work that lies ahead.
Michel and I walked for miles. I took him to streets, squares, piazzas, in this city that I always remember from years back, from the days when I lived in Rome for a short while in my twenties. Rome is a city seamed with memories for me and each time I return the layers get deeper and richer… it is a city where I certainly should one day set a story.
I had planned to be in China now, as I write this, for the publication of the Chinese edition of The Olive Farm, but due to other commitments still to be completed, I was obliged to postpone the trip until the spring. One of my dates pencilled in for 2014.
However, before our minds swing towards another year, I would like to reflect on a very special travel memory of mine that is at least, I think, a decade old. It was to Robben Island, the infamous island prison off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa. It was where the late Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for nineteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment. I stood in his tiny cell in the company of one of his ex-fellow prisoners. The South African who was acting as my guide had spent fifteen years in another solitary cell a few yards along from Mandela’s. The cell I was standing in was bare, as were all the others. I asked the ex-prisoner of any particular memories he would like to share with me and he answered with a story that has always remained with me.
Mandela gathered all the prisoners together and asked each to tell everyone what he was good at, what his talents or skills were. Those who had been fortunate and had an education, who could read and write, were given small groups of the illiterate to educate. Some had the skill of maths. They too were given their groups. And so it was that during all those years, Mandela and his colleagues created their own prison education system. Learning, he reminded these men, would one day be one of their strongest weapons. They shared stories, skills, memories, everything that could feed one another with mental stimulation, the opportunity to learn; knowledge and empowerment.
We walked out of the cells into the sharp bright sunlight and the guide pointed out to me where the little classes had taken place.
I strolled round the island on my own, looking back to the mainland, considering the hardships these men had endured and the vision of one – and probably several of his colleagues as well – that had given the prisoners a reason to get out of bed, an eye to a future, a challenge.
As Christmas approaches, a time appointed for giving, while many are dashing in and out of the shops, I find this memory restorative. My presents, my gifts, to my loved ones will be books and music.
I am also looking at offering a small donation for educational materials to a school in Honduras or Thailand, India….
There are many such opportunities. Here are a couple that have caught my attention but if any of you know somewhere else, please send me a message as soon as you can. Thank you
The sun is shining here. I hear there is snow in the Middle East and I am hoping that all the olive farmers there have already gathered in their crops. Ours was a small harvest but the oil is wonderful. Our Christmas meals will be cooked with our olive oil. A true gift from Nature.
I hope that wherever you are, the holidays will be peaceful for you, that you are in the company of those you love and if you are fighting sickness, I pray that 2014 will be a year of healing for you.
Happy Holidays and thank you for your support and interest in my work this year.
See you in 2014!