…was absolutely terrific. I had a whale of a time. It was really nice meeting Vanessa who’d invited me to speak at the festival – up to now we’d only known each other through our blogs, all the events I went to were super, my hosts who had me to stay for the night were super and I think my part didn’t go too badly either. Put it this way; no-one threw rotten fruit or sighed loudly.
Parisot is a small but obviously very lively commune in the Tarn and Garonne and despite the filthy weather – pelting rain and temperatures that seemed to be dropping by the minute the Parisot library was already filling up when I arrived before Amanda Hodgkinson’s talk in the afternoon. I took Amanda’s novel, 22 Britannia Road, with me to Brussels recently, expecting it to last me the weekend. It was such a good read that I finished it on Sunday morning and had to face the dreadful prospect of travelling back on Ryanair without anything to read. Luckily my daughter arrived with an emergency book supply so the panic was soon over.
Amanda is absolutely charming and gave us a wonderful and funny talk about her writing, moving to France and getting close to concrete mixers, how the germs of the plot for 22 Britannia Road sprang out of stories she heard her grandmother and great-grandmother telling each other, and related one or two of the more unusual happenings on her American book tours. She also read us various passages from her books which was sheer pleasure as she’s such a good reader. My one regret about the weekend is that I didn’t get more of a chance to talk to her.
Amanda was followed by the urbane and witty Martin Walker, author of the Bruno, Chief of Police series set in the Perigord, who talked about his journalistic career, his French holiday house and the personalities in the local area who have shaped the characters in his books, especially the real life model for Bruno. The fictional Bruno is muscular, slim, the flesh and blood version is ahem, a bit more rounded…
As Martin, like Amanda had been, was surrounded by an enthusiastic audience telling him how much they’d enjoyed his talk, I was horribly conscious that I had two very hard acts to follow…
Funnily enough, most of the nerves that bedeviled me all last week had largely disappeared and I was left with a que sera sera feeling of I’d do my best and if it wasn’t that good at least I’d tried. Everyone involved in organising the festival and in the audience was so nice that it would have been difficult to feel nervous in such a friendly atmosphere.
Richard and Anita, whom I was staying with, live in the most gorgeous old schoolhouse. They were looking for something that didn’t need much work, not a near decrepit shell, but when they opened the crumbling shutters in the old schoolroom they fell in love. Not surprisingly: this is the view from outside my bedroom (and it was a filthy day), looking towards NajacAs Richard said, they’ve got all the best parts of a château – enjoying looking at it without having to look after it. The schoolhouse also has a wonderful oak staircase, nothing fancy or grand, but a thing of beauty because it is so perfectly made and proportioned. The bannister rail has been worn smooth by years of hands rubbing it and it so tactile that I felt like going up and down just for the sheer pleasure of feeling it under my palm.
The next morning Anne Dyson, who used to run the Greedy Goose cookery school, gave a demonstration of making canapes. Sadly I couldn’t stay to taste everything as I had to get ready for my own bit but I can tell you her savoury filled choux buns were scrummy and something I’ll be trying myself.
In the audience for my talk was Sally Clegg, the breeder of a magnificent line of Dalmatians, who gave us her retired show dog Jez – one of the best presents ever. Jez died, aged 14, several years ago but her indomitable spirit lives on in her grandson Flynn and great-great granddaughter Desi. I haven’t seen Sally for about five years so it was lovely to catch up, she has a Facebook group for Dalmatians de Puech Barrayre which is sheer dog porn – picture after picture of beautiful dogs!
My speech – what can I say? I didn’t dry up, I managed not to have to read from my cards unless I was quoting directly – naturally I realised afterwards that there was quite a lot I’d missed out though as I spoke for over half an hour it was probably a good thing. Amanda and Martin’s tremendous talks the day before even worked to my advantage as they held diametrically opposing views on writing matters such as how detailed a plot synopsis you need to do before you start and I was able to refer back to them. People laughed a bit, nodded in agreement with what I was saying a few times and as I’ve mentioned no-one threw tomatoes or remembered half way through that they had something better to do. They even asked questions. So yes, I was pretty pleased. Let’s be honest, I was delighted. I hadn’t made a complete T of myself.
If I’ve used a lot of superlatives in this it’s because I had one of the best weekends in ages; I’m still riding high. I hope that Vanessa, Gina – the powerhouse behind getting the Parisot Literary Festival off the ground, and everyone else involved in it is riding high too because it was terrific. It’s incredible to think that it was the first, everything went so smoothly that you’d believe they’d been doing it for years. And I’d like to thank them for inviting me to take part.