Today, midway through November, as winter begins to set in hard here in northern France – I am at our home outside Paris, not down on the Olive Farm – it is a day of mourning, of remembrance.
All across the UK and the Commonwealth, on this second Sunday in November, Remembrance Sunday, wreaths of poppies are placed at memorials to commemorate those who lost their lives in the two wars, or who have lost their lives in conflict.
In London, the Queen is the first to lay a wreath at the foot of the Cenotaph, followed by other members of the royal family and members of government. Since 1947, those who lost their lives in both the Great War and WWII are honoured on this same day.
Remembrance Sunday is always held on the second Sunday in November.
Here in France, 11th November, whatever day of the week it falls on, is a public holiday. It is Armistice Day, a day of remembrance and solemnity to commemorate the end of the Great War and to honour those who died for France during that war, and also other wars.
All official establishments such as banks are closed. French citizens particularly the older generation will wear black and many will go to church, to mass. The French flag, the tricolor, flies at half mast. The President, as in the UK on Remembrance Sunday, lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Also, as in the UK, there are parades.
It has been the tradition here in France for many decades as it is in the UK.
However, this year in France, there is a marked difference. Today, Remembrance Sunday in the UK has fallen on 13th November.
Last year, Friday 13th November, was a very dark day in Paris, a day of shock and horror. A series of attacks known as les attentats hit the city in quick succession . Six separate locations were targeted including the Stade de France where President Hollande was attending a friendly football matched between France and Germany. Fortunately, the suicide bombers who attempted to gain access to the stadium were stopped by security at the entrances. These aborted entries saved thousands of lives including, quite possibly, the President of the Republic. Elsewhere, in the east of the capital, others were not so fortunate. Inside the Bataclan concert hall, once a vaudeville theatre and later a cinema, the massacres were brutal. Almost one hundred concertgoers were murdered.
Several restaurants were also targeted.
It was the second set of attacks in Paris in 2015 where, at the beginning of the year on 7th January, the Charlie Hebdo weekly newspaper offices were attacked and twelve were slaughtered.
Je Suis Charlie – I am Charlie, I stand by Charlie and its principle of freedom of speech, has become a byword for all that is the cornerstone of the French Republic: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
Today, 13th November 2016, was the first anniversary of the Bataclan horrors.
Why do I mention all this in a Newsletter?
I, like so many others, was completely numbed, shocked, boulversée as the French would say, by these hateful meaningless acts of cruelty and violence. I wanted to do something positive, to make it un-happen, create another scenario to the one we were witnessing, living through. People were out on the streets on candlelit processions, laying flowers, weeping for their fellow countrymen, for the second time in a year. A nation traumatised and in mourning. How to come to terms with this? How to find peace?
I did the only thing I knew to do and that is write. I put aside the novel I was working on and set about another. My new novel, now delivered and edited, is due for publication in late spring 2017. The title has not yet been settled upon – we have several we are bandying about. The story centres around two women, one English, one French, who meet on that fateful night – Friday 13th November 2015– in Paris. Their lives are forever changed by their encounter and all that they witness and live through over that winter weekend. It is, I believe, a life-affirming story. Out of the ashes rise hope, love and new life. Regeneration, a recurring theme of mine.
I am hugely proud of this book. My agent is very excited by it too. And importantly, it has helped me give voice to the mourning that these last twelve months have thrown at me, including in February the loss of my dearest friend, my mother.
It has been a dark year. Not just for me but for many, I think. The world has given us a great deal to ponder on and watch out for. I hope we can proceed with open hearts towards one another.
As soon as the new novel has a title I will announce it.
If you are in London in late January, I will be appearing at the France Show at Olympia every day. Do check the Events on the website for details.
If you are looking for Christmas presents, THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER is available in paperback. The reviews are splendid. It is set in Provence on a vineyard and offers lots of sunshine and intrigue to keep you engrossed over Christmas.
In the meantime, we are about to begin our olive harvest. Good physical work to exercise the body and spirit
I wish you all peace and warmth.
Thank you for reading this,