I was bred to be a Francophile.
My mother Barbara loved the songs of Jean Sablon. I remember her delight as she listened to his liquid jaunty voice singing C’est si Bon and J’attendrai
as it emerged from our little
wireless in the corner.
|The immaculate Jean Sablon|
Listen to him HERE
Barbara loved to read novels and most of all she loved stories with scenes in France with the odd French word dropped in.
She couldn’t speak French herself so she was very relieved when I got to the grammar school at eleven and was learning French with the exceptional Mr Phorson.
Now I could tell Barbara how to pronounce the words she read in her novels and talk with her about some nuances of meaning. She loved that.
So, I learned French for eight years and passed all my written and oral examinations. I could read books, articles and academic papers in French.
However, apart from listening to Jean Sablon, I never hears native French spoken until I was thirty two years old and attending an education Conference in Sêvres where the lecturers’ immaculate accents were music to my ears.
Since then I have travelled and stayed in many parts of France and learned that the accents can be as different from formal French as are Glaswegian and Newcastle from English received pronunciation..
Even so, my eight years with Mr Phorson meant I never felt a stranger there and grew to love France more and more.
I finally reached the Languedoc where the native language has an identity of its own and many people speak two languages – conventional French and the local ‘Oc’ – as different as Welsh is from English.
But it is in this distant place that I feel most at home. In this magical place my writer’s intuition helped me see through the veils of time right back to the Greeks who founded the port of Agde in 600BC. I was so inspired that I set my novel An Englishwoman I France here.
I am excited now that I have just finished another novel set in France. In this novel the story only travels back from the present to to World War 2. But still Writing at the Maison Bleue reflects something of the magic and the layers in time I experience in this Francophile's heaven.
Uniquely this novel has two different covers.
One for the Kindle Version
- launched on March 10th (my birthday).
The other cover is especially for the paperback.
- to be launched on May 1st
In my novel Writing at the Maison Bleue two of my characters visit The Ginguette, a place I know well.
It is a place lined with pictures of the great chansonniers, including Jean Sablon. When I first found this place I thought how Barbara, alas not here now, would have loved it.
Extract for you from ‘Writing at the Maison Bleue’.
'…Then they cross the bridge over the water swilling through the canal lock and come upon the outdoor café strung with fairy-lights, buzzing with people who are standing, sitting, lounging, dancing. As they go through the narrow doorway the hum of voices and the jaunty sounds of an accordion are mixed with the plangent chords of an acoustic bass guitar and the brush and click of drumsticks.
The style of the Guingette is eclectic crossed with exotic - sprawling plants; straw walls, floppy thatched roof. The walls are pasted with blown up pictures of chansonniers past and present, dressed in the gangster-chic of the Thirties and Forties. In this place these balladiers are clearly the heroes. Francine, thinks Ruthie, was a young heroine of those times. Perhaps she and her friends would have danced in places like this, whispering into the ears of Germans, policemen and prominent men: betrayal, seduction, courage and collaboration all danced out to the sound of the accordion…'