My apologies for being rather slow in getting this letter out. I meant to pen it last month! So today I am finally settling to it, writing my news from fabulous Cork in Ireland overlooking the Wild Atlantic Way where I have been spending a few blissful days talking at libraries and a lovely fun literary festival in Kinsale, @wordsonwater promoting THE LOST GIRL.
There has been a great deal happening in my life since I last wrote. My days have been rather demanding both on a personal front and at the farm.
At the farm we have had a very hot summer. The ‘canicule’ – the French word for heat wave – has reached temperatures of up to 34C/35C. This was not only once, but day after day. It was a consistent enervating heat, which kept us indoors till evening and caused fires to rage in the southern hinterlands. The last rain we had – until a week or so ago – was in April. In order to save all our young trees in the recently planted-up fruit and olive groves, we have been obliged to water at least three times a week. This, of course, means time – half a day on each occasion – and water costs. We are certainly witnessing the effects of climate change chez nous.
Many of our plants are out of synch with their natural rhythms. The avocado fruits, for example, all but a handful fell from the tree too early, in spite of what we judged to be sufficient watering. Our olives, which I am going to the farm to harvest this coming week or next, have been protected all summer from the olive fly by our organic method of hanging sardines in bottles from the trees’ branches. Ironically, we have been helped by the heat because it was too hot for the flies to venture out and lay their eggs in the maturing fruits. Now, however, with October temps at around 23C every day, it is ideal for the fly. I am keeping my fingers crossed that our organic protection will still be effective and that, when I return home this week, I will find healthy fruits waiting to be pressed into organic oil.
Although farmers and olive producers are adapting to the shifts in season, which for many involves harvesting earlier – in our case a month to six weeks earlier – the mills are not necessarily geared up for the shift. Our favourite mill, Baussy in Spéracèdes, still tends to open for pressing only towards the end of November, which is too late for us. I have been trying to persuade them to reconsider their programme but so far without a great deal of luck. It will be one of my challenges next week! There are other mills that will be open but, like many of the old farmers, I have become set in my ways and prefer to press my fruits at the mill I like best.
Baussy olive oil mill has just celebrated its centenary. One hundred years of pressing olives from the Alpes-Maritimes and Var regions. I wonder how many tons of olives that adds up to, how many litres of oil pressed. Today, the mill is furnished with state-of-the-art steel mixing and crushing machines, yet they still measure the pressed oil by weight first rather than liquid content. Some of the old timers still use terms for olive measures that are now antiquated. It is one of the reasons I enjoy going there. The Baussy family are happy to welcome you not only with your olives but also to allow you to sit in the pressing rooms and watch your cherished fruits being washed, turned, pressed, transformed into oil. Other mills in the area are not so accommodating. They take your olives and tell you at what time you are welcome to return to collect your bottled ‘gold’. With such mills, you can never be one hundred per cent certain whether what you are collecting is oil exclusively from your fruits or a mix with other farmers’ products. This is really important to us because we go to such lengths to maintain an organic status.
In any case, come what may, next week I will be back on the farm on the land again, strolling the groves, assessing the quality of the fruits our trees are offering us this year. Once this has been achieved, we can decide when to begin our harvest. This will require the arrival of many hands, old and new friends, to come and stay with us. In spite of some of the challenges the world is throwing at us, I always look forward to this time of year. It refreshes me, calls me back to basics, to nature, to the generosity of the land, to the rich earth.
THE LOST GIRL is partially set in the South of France, in the perfumed fields surrounding the hilltop town of Grasse. One of the characters in the book, Charlie, is an English soldier who, after WWII, decides for various reasons to settle in the South of France. He buys him a plot of land and cultivates May roses and jasmine to sell to the perfume factories in Grasse. Many of my readers have been delighted by these chapters, writing to tell me that Charlie’s story in THE LOST GIRL has offered them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of perfume-making and the heady fragrances of the Provence countryside.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to read THE LOST GIRL yet, do take a look. It has been receiving some marvellous reviews. https://www.amazon.co.uk/
Since THE LOST GIRL, I have written and published a Kindle Single titled THE LOVE OF A STRANGER. For those of you who don’t know, Kindle Singles are novella-length stories (a maximum of 30,000 words) published by Amazon as e-books. They are a marvellous opportunity for me to extend my readership and, so far, the four I have written have all been bestsellers. THE LOVE OF A STRANGER tells the story of a young Englishwoman, Susan, who loses her partner too soon, too young. She decides to take herself off to Cannes and perhaps on into Italy to travel, to broaden her horizons and to find ways, if possible, to overcome her grief. Of course, she meets a dashing Frenchman. In fact, she meets three dashing Frenchmen on a train. They invite her to visit them at their château, a rundown hideawy overlooking the Mediterranean. All, of course, is not as it might at first seem …
It is a light-hearted love story with a twist of Mediterranean sun and glorious food. It is available on Amazon in, at present, all English-speaking territories. Other languages will follow soon. It will bring sunshine to your winter afternoons.
Here are the US and UK links:
I am now slowly getting back to work again after, as I have written, a few personal hurdles. The loss of my mother has been very hard to come to terms with. My new novel, I cannot divulge its title yet, will be published with Penguin.
Thank you for reading this. While I am out in the groves picking our lovely fruits or back at my desk, writing, I will think of you and send you a ray of sunshine from our beautiful Côte d’Azur.
Happy Autumn to you all, or spring with all the jacarandas in flower if you are the other side of the world.