This was last year. Ours is not up yet!
This letter is so overdue that I am almost too embarrassed to apologise, but here we are and … erm, sincere apologies. My last note was in July. I wrote it soon after Michel and I had made a journey across southern France to spend a few days with one of his twin-daughters, Clarisse, and her husband, François in their new home. Such a fun trip that was. I love them so.
What has been happening since to keep me away from this page for such a length of time? It has not been negligence, that is for sure.
I have just completed the first draft of a novel. Hooray! It was delivered to my agent at the end of last week. It is not the story I had sat down to write. It is an entirely different one, which I had not been researching or planning at all. It just somehow insinuated itself into my mind and onto my desk computer and it wouldn’t go away. A modern story set in the south of France. Now I am awaiting feedback from Jonathan, my agent, and his team. It is always a slightly nail-biting few weeks but I am keeping myself busy with domestic chores that have been set aside for, quite literally, years.
I have been unpacking stored and exceedingly dusty boxes. Of books, photographs and paperwork that have been left packed from one house move to the next … those kind of tasks. It is all proving to be exceedingly slow because every box I open is warblng with memories. Along with those old-fashioned yellow-edged envelopes of Kodak photographs with strips of film inside, I discover there are sometimes letters. Handwritten, many of them. I love reading old letters, don’t you? Even some that broke my heart when I first received them, for one reason or another, back at the time. A work rejection, a lost love, and sometimes good news or a note from someone far away, much missed …
Each, as I read through them, is like discovering the opening chapter, or pages, of a long-forgotten story. I found one missive, hand-written on a very elegant cream notelet from the late Lord Laurence Olivier in whose National Theatre company I was a young player. I was back with my twenty-three year old self, backstage at the Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo, London. My head and heart so full of dreams and plans and ambitions. Shy and desperately insecure.
Almost everthing I have been dusting out of the cobwebs returns from the days before I met Michel. Really, many lifetimes ago.
All will be given their place on one of the new shelves I have been installing in rooms that were until recently unplastered walls with brutalist-like cement floors, little better than cowsheds. These rooms are in one of the stone buildings at our Mad Old Chateau.
I am writing this Newsletter from our home east of Paris, christened by me The Mad Old Chateau. I think I have mentioned before that it is not an actual chateau, not by a long stretch of even the wildest imagination; it is a collection of stone buildings plus some huge barns and outbuildings in various states of reglect and repair. The earliest and largest of the habitable structures was constructed in the 13th century and requires every type of renovation you can possibly think of. In its central piece, the grand salon, there is a fireplace large enough to roast a whole wild boar!
I love this deep heart of France, La France Profonde even if it lacks the views and warmth, the sea and that enticing Mediterranean light with its memorable sunsets. Our ‘chateau’ is situated in a hamlet close to the borders of the Champagne region in the middle of – nowhere! – a flat agricultural landscape that offers its own rural beauty.
As I write this, the winds are literally spinning and whistling across the fields where little is growing during this season, where the dark chocolate-brown earth lies furrowed waiting for our neighbours, the farmers, to start sowing. The crops here are wheat, rapeseed, corn, sugar beet, sunflowers and flax. Of course, there is cheese produced here too. The soft creamy Brie cheeses. And fifteen minutes to the east we cross into the Champagne area where there are real chateaux aplenty looking out over verdant hillsides of ripening grapes, all harvested now for this year.
I am enclosing a photo of our stone homestead for you to get an idea of the architecture here. These old houses are known as Briard homes, for they are in the Brie region.
The heron in the forground is metal, not a real one, although a large grey heron used to visit our pond here regularly but he doesn’t stop by anymore. Simply because he has gobbled up all the fish!
The chimneystack to the right of the shot is at one side of the Mad Old Chateau, the principal building, the thirteenth century one, on this tiny estate. The house in the forground was built at the end of the seventeenth century as far as we have managed to discover. It was a priest’s house. As you can imagine, there are not many centuries-old legal documents for all these various patches of land and buildings.
It’s all part of the mystery.
Part Two: Notes from the Olive Farm
We arrived here in the early hours of yesterday morning, after driving in the dark all the way from Paris. Today we have been greeted by glorious sunshine and strong winds. It does look marvellous but, in fact, we have discovered several fallen trees brought down by fierce winds that hit this coast during our absence. These tempests are becoming more frequent, and are very worrying for several reasons.
Obviously, it is heartbreaking to lose centenarian trees, even many of these self-seeded non-indigenous pines. They shade us in summer and they offer habitats for hundreds, probably thouands, of insects, birds and other creatures, including short-toed eagles. Two pairs have for many years nested up in our forest. These days the hillside has far fewer old pines. It was dense when we first bought the place but has gradually thinned out. We replant in the spaces with olives, almonds, a few fruits trees and plenty of agrumes (various varieties of citrus). All these are deeper rooted and will hold their ground. We are also considering a small pistachio plantation. Half a dozen trees or so. They are becoming popular in Spain and should do equally well here. As with olive trees, they do not require litres and litres of water once they are established. With the summer droughts becoming more serious and intense, the choice of the vegetation we plant is also more critical. I grew from seed, from the stone, an avocado tree. It is about four metres high now and bestows upon us each autumn the creamiest of fruits – small but utterly delicious. However, in summer it demands so much water that I have decided against growing and planting any more. There are several saplings in the greenhouse waiting to go onto the land but I doubt we will plant them out. Instead, I am offering them to friends!
Our Big Lad, SAMSON
Since I last wrote, we lost Samson. Our wonderful rescue dog, our big Tibetan Mastiff, had to be put to sleep. He was thirteen and a half, which, I believe, is a grand age for such a massive dog. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make and it has rather broken my heart. I cannot yet bring myself to replace him. This is selfish, I know, because little Cardea, who has been with us since she was about eight weeks old and is now fourteen, is lonely especially when we are not around to play with her. After Christmas, I might think again but for now I am still grieving the Big Lad. He will be irreplaceable so I think, if we take in another, he or she will need to be a very different creature.
Aside from the loss of Samson, summer was full of laughter and the comings and goings of guests with and without children. Nieces, nephews, grandchildren. It was joyous. Plenty of candlelit meals under our newly-constructed pergola. We had a whole host of family members and friends come to stay. Many of us mucked in together and got some clearing up of the land done. I did the least because I had the excuse that I was chained to my desk writing. True. It’s hard for me though when everyone else is outside and I can hear the chatter and tomfoolery and I must keep to my writing regime. But, hey, how lucky am I?
What else? Professional news. Open Road publishing in the United States has taken nine of my books and are publishing them in America (and possibly Canada, too, I am not sure) They publish primarily digitally but there might also be the possibiity to buy paperbacks.
Here is the link: https://openroadmedia.com/contributor/carol-drinkwater
My Dutch publisher, A.W.Bruna, has recently published An Act of Love in Dutch.
Bruna has now signed for four Olive Farm books, those four of the six in the series that are set here at the olive farm. I am absolutely thrilled that these books will have another life in Holland. I will let you know when they will be available for reading in Dutch.
What else? Carol Drinkwater’s Secret Provence. Thank you so much for all the emails I am still receiving for this series we shot last year. I am humbled by all your amazing comments and your ongoing requests for another series. Alas, we are not making a Series 2 though we had been considering it. After I found I was ill last winter (all completely one hundred per cent fit now), I did not feel able to welcome a film crew back into our lives. I was happy, very happy, to continue to go out and about and take you all on journeys and adventures around the south of France, or indeed, as I had proposed to the producers, further round the Mediterranean. I would have loved more of this aspect of the programme, the travel and discovery side, but I felt unable to handle the intimacy of a film crew in my home. For this reason, the producers, Channel 5 and I knew that what we were looking at were different directions for the show. I was sad to let it go and would still be very enthusiastic about more television with the emphasis on the travel side of the programmes, rather than reality TV. So sincere apologies to all who have been hoping for more. Something else will come to fruition … watch this space.
Meanwhile, my new novel is out there and waiting for me to get to the editorial notes and I am very excited about this new book. It is full of music and south of France summer days with new encounters offering mysteries and love.
I have been reading almost frenziedly this last year and must have read thirty or forty novels since the spring. I am a slow reader. I regurgitate the phrases and mull the emotions over and over so this is quite a stack of books for me.
Here are three to offer you completely different reading choices.
Annie Ernaux is the first French woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature. She is this year’s laureate and, in my opinion, a fitting choice. Her novels tend to be quite short, they are very autobiographical and they pull no punches. Simple Passion is perhaps her most famous. I have just finished reading A Girl’s Story. It is the tale of a young provincial girl who goes away from her parents and modest home for the first time. Ernaux write of the loss of the girl’s virginity, her first crush, her first rejection in love. It is haunting, heartbreaking, searingly honest. I intend to work my way through all Ernaux’s books.
A Christmas special to brighten these days filled with so much depressing international news. Jenny Colgan is a very accomplished storyteller. She never lets you down and there is always that much-needed sprinkling of stardust. Her latest is, The Christmas Bookshop. It is set in Edinburgh and has made me want to jump on a plane, knock on Jen’s door and ask her for a snowy tour of the city and no holding back on the magic or the hot chocolate!
My third choice – it’s so hard to narrow it to three! – is The Bay of Noon, Shirley Hazzard. Actually, I could have selected any of Hazzard’s novels and I remember now that I have offered another one of hers in a previous Newsletter, but she really is that good. She only wrote a few novels but each is a jewel. The language is incisive and so evocative. This tangled love story is set in Naples in the early 60s. Her descriptions of the city give Naples its own place as a character in the piece. If you haven’t read her work, I urge you to go and find her books and devour them.
There we are. That is me more or less up to date. Do let me know what you have been reading and what you are up to. I thoroughly enjoy hearing from everyone. It makes the relatonships so much more personal.
Enjoy these winter days. I sincerely hope you can keep warm – or if on the other side of the hemisphere, I hope you are somewhere cool and chilled. I wish us all the very best of health, that above everythig else. I hope you have love at your side or friendship close by. Let us not allow the state of the world to depress us. I am trying hard to beat the blues by writing, reading, watching films and enjoying nature. Fight for nature as it does for our wellbeing.
Stay in touch and thank you, as always, for reading this.