December 2023 Newsletter

Dear Readers and Friends,

This is Notre Dame. I took this photo last week from the Left Bank close to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. The spire looks like it is awaiting its Christmas lights. What a feat of restoration this is proving to be. Macron visited the worksite last week and announced that the reconstruction should be completed on schedule and the Cathedral will re-open one year from the day of his visit. It is set to fling wide its doors for religious services and to the public on December 8th, 2024.

I am late with this again. Apologies. The last few weeks have been challenging and very busy. I seem to have spent most of late November and December in airports. I have been to London three times and to Dublin once. All that aside from trajectories between the Olive Farm and our Mad Old Chateau east of Paris. My Dublin trip was cut short because landed right into the middle of the rioting. Literally. I landed late on the afternoon of 23rd November. Usually, in fact, always, I stay on the south side of the city but for a crazy reason I decided to stay north at the Gresham Hotel. My mother used to take me there on special occasions when I was a child and I thought it might be fun to indulge myself in that memory trip. However, O’Connell Street and next to it, Parnell Street, were the epicentre of the rioting. My taxi from the airport was obliged to leave me to walk the last few streets because the Gardai (Irish police) had barricaded the area off and no vehicles could get through. Because I had not been expecting such violence, the shock of all that I witnessed was particularly disturbing. I won’t go into details here because I am writing about it elsewhere. I had intended to spend a couple of days alone in Dublin walking and rediscovering some old haunts and family locations from my childhood. I have an idea I want to write about on the subject. After that my plan had been to hire a car and drive south to the farm where my mother grew up and two of my cousins still live, to spend precious time with loved ones and friends; Instead I cut the trip short and returned to France after two days. It was a huge disappointment for me because it was my first visit back home since Covid. But I will be back, no doubt. And soon.

Early December saw me whizzing to and from London. I was mainly there for book business but I also caught up with friends and one or two professional colleagues. While there, I bought some English cheese. This might sound a curious fact to note here so let me explain. The three friends, whose home I was staying in, requested, as I set off for meetings in and around Piccadilly, that I return with some cheese to complete the menu for that evening’s dinner. I had no idea where in central London I might purchase decent cheese besides Fortnum and Mason until I found myself walking along Jermyn Street en route to F and M and spotted across the street Paxton & Whitfield. Have you been there? It is one of the oldest cheesemongers in Britain and an institution. I stepped inside for the first time in decades and was immediately assaulted by a thrilling array of delicious odours.

Paxton & Whitfield began as a market stall setting up business in the Aldwych in 1742. They have been in their present premises since 1894 and were appointed Queen Victoria’s cheesemongers in 1850. This was the first of many Royal Warrants. How I love discovering all such bits of info as I shop!

I was fortunate to be served by a lady who was a serious cheese expert. She introduced me to a selection of superb English cheeses including their top of the range cheddar. Along with the selection for my friends, I decided to splash out and buy a slab of this memorable cheddar to bring back to France for Michel to try. He has always dismissed English cheeses including cheddar, judging them as rather tasteless. Yesterday he said to me (now that we have devoured the entire Cheddar portion), ‘I have made my peace with cheddar cheese. It is as fine as almost anything produced by the French.’ Quite a compliment.

I took this pic in the afternoon. This lovely weather makes up for the fact that we have come back to a broken boiler.

Aside from my cheese adventures I had meetings with my new publisher. More to be revealed in the new year on this. Presently we are looking for a different title for the novel because my lovely editor feels that my original does not suggest Provence and the true atmosphere of the book. So, please forget what you read in the last Newsletter. New title to be announced soon!

Fireplace in the bedroom with one of our little Christmas trees. Keeping us cheerful while we try to get the boiler repaired!

We arrived at the Olive Farm yesterday both of us tired and ready for some peaceful days of reading, writing and quietly enjoying the land. The sun greeted us. This lovely weather makes up for the fact that we have come back to a broken boiler. Dead. No hot water and no central heating. The house log fires have been roaring – thank heavens we have them and thank heavens we have plenty of wood. If you live anywhere near us, please come and fill up your car. We cannot use all these great logs and I would hate to see it go to waste, or rot. Meanwhile, we are using it liberally to try and keep warm.

I have been reading a great deal recently making use of all those plane journeys. I tried a little commercial fiction and was drawn to Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers, which was enormously successful, an instant bestseller, when it was first published in 1987. It is a family saga with a wonderfully compassionate central character, Penelope. Although told from several points of view, it is, at its heart, Penelope’s story. Her passions and secrets, her relationship with her father who was a famous painter, her gorgeous wartime lover, Richard, and her children and exhusband. It is sensitively told with gorgeous descriptions of Cornwall and I was genuinely sad when I had finished it. Always a good sign!

I have recently completed reading two Georges Simenon novels. Neither of these were Commissaire Maigret stories (I love his Maigret tales). The first was The Train, which I thought was astounding and the second, equally extraordinary and masterfully written, was The Snow was Dirty. What a novelist. Simenon was put forward for the Nobel on several occasions and after these readings I would say he should have been honoured with it. I discovered there is a film adaption of Le Train starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Romy Schneider, which I tracked down and purchased in Paris along with a heap of other French classics and a few more modern titles. These will be my evening home cinema viewings over the holidays.

My Christmas reading will include Irish novelist Paul Lynch’s Booker Prize winner, Prophet Song. I have started it twice and on both occasions put it aside. Not for any negative reason. Simply, his writing is so lyrical and this book so timely that I decided to save it for these upcoming holidays so that I can really immerse myself in it. I read one of his earlier novels, Beyond the Sea, when I was one of the judges for the Listowel Literary Festival’s Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award. I am also hoping to read a proof of Elizabeth Buchan’s Bonjour, Sophie to be published in April 2024. I am a fan of Lizy’s books so am looking forward to this one. Also on my list for holiday reading is a return to Somerset Maugham. I used to love his novels and short stories and I rather feel he is being neglected these days so I thought I might have a re-read of several. I am going to begin with The Casuarina Tree.

So that is my programme over the next two or three weeks. Lots of outdoor cleaning and tidying will be done to make the most of the sunshine and prepare the land for spring and visitors. We are here at the Olive Farm for a while so I can comfortably settle in (once we get this heating and hot water issue resolved!). I want to begin a new work of my own. I have some editorial notes to attack on (untitled) latest and then I intend to slide myself over in all tranquility to a blank page, draw it close to me. It feels a while since I lifted the pen, as it were, to begin to sketch the lives of some new and as yet unknown characters. This is always an exciting moment, entering a new book, like stepping into an unfamiliar, unlit room in a strange house.

So, there we are. If you are in the States or Canada, Open Road are publishing about nine of my books including all the Olive Farm series and my most recent quartet of novels published in the UK by Penguin.Many of you have written to me requesting to buy CD’s Secret Provence on DVD. Alas, I don’t own these rights. Please contact Channel 5 in the UK for these.

What else? Oh, yes! HAPPY CHRISTMAS! Here’s to a splendid 2024. Peace on Earth, good health to all of us. Read plenty of books, go to the cinema or watch films at home if you prefer. Stories heal us and remind us of the miracles of life.

Love to you all and thank you for being here, reading this. See you in 2024


Winter Colours at the Olive Farm

Similar Posts