Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Return to La Guinguette

La Guinguette 001

Allan and Nira Allan and Nira,  who own the Maison d’Estella ,cycle along the river to meet us for lunch at la Ginguette. (See last year’s Post Last Walk To La Ginguette). This is the unique the open air cafe  situated where the silLa Guinguette 004ver-green River Hérault joins a spur of the limpid green Canal du Midi. The Café  has a small stage and a tiny dance floor and we talk, eat and drink to the mournful heartfelt romantic songs of, among more contemporary singers,  the French chansonniers – the traditional singers who are said to be the last vestige if the medieval troubadours.

On the walls are poster images of singers and crooners from across the world but an especial place is saved for louche retro images La Guinguette 018of great French chansonniers such as George Brassens and Jacques Brel. I searched the walls of La Guingette for an image of Jean Sablon, a favourite of my mother’s. I have some scratchy memory of my father singing one of Jean Sablon’s songs  -J’Attendrai – to my mother when I was small. As my father died when I was nine and couldn’t speak French this should be impossible. But if it’s a false memory it’s rather a nice one.

Whether that is a true memory or not here on wall are images  of these  fabulist singers  talking and smoking with a sophistication lost in our own age,

As it is lunchtime rather than evening at La Guingette, there is no dancing,  and the music is on tape.  But still it enhances the raffish atmosphere generated by the posters and the  distinctly  improvised decor as we eat from plastic tables among  rustling greenery.

Adopting something of a louche style ourselves we enjoy the food and wine and talk about books we’re reading, exchanging titles and favourite writers as readers do.  La Guinguette 014We share news about current creative projects and family events. Nira talks about the new novel she is reading; Allan is developing a new painting studio; I’m writing my new book; Avril’s thinking about her new poem; Debora’s writing her excellent articles and thinking about a book; Sean and Bryan are talking about our journeys; we hear stories of  Allan and Nira’s son Tom who working as a crew member on a luxury yacht taking a three year journey round the world.

Nira says she’s  waiting for my new novel Starr Bright to come out, as it’s set in this,  her town, in the Maison d’Estella, the house where we’re staying. (One day a group of tourists peered through the big wooden door and the leader asked about the novel  – whether it would be available in a French edition...) I’ve been thinking I might change the title but more news of in another post.

Later in the afternoon Allan comes over to the house  by arrangement, so he can tell me a very interesting true story from his home ground of Somerset, set at the turn of the twentieth century. I ask lots of questions and we record his story on my radio recorder for future reference.

I find myself listening to a wonderful intergenerational tale emerging from a small run-down fishing port in Somerset. It involves generations of seafaring men and their widely interlinked families. Into the lives of these ordinary people an important artist comes. There is even a prince involved.   And at the core of this story, in my view, there is this surprising coincidence to do with painting and art and this practically minded  sea-going family.

Although he is sceptical I suggest to Allan that he himself, in a way,  personifies somewhat that coincidence: a painter first and foremost, he is an accomplished sailor – although he insists it is the aesthetics, not the athletics, of sailing that he enjoys. And  it occurs to me later that the kitchens of their houses here - which he develops himself – seem to me to have the polished wood and shipshape design of a boat’s cabin.

I don’t know that he agrees, but it’s an interesting thought.

Will Allan’s Somerset tale make a novel? Surely. There’s only the matter of the four or five years it would take to research and develop it of course,

One thing’s for sure. Stories pop up everywhere in this place.




  1. What great photos! Love our host in his straw boater. And a gorgeous evocation of one of my favourite places - oh to be there now and in such company!

    A x

  2. You've made me so nostalgic for France Wendy. Just as well the weather is lovely here at the moment, or I'd be as sick as a pig!

  3. What a lovely place.
    I don't have much experience of France, but I must say I loved every place I saw.

  4. It is a lovely place, Al and I only have one more week here, so I want to make the most of it. I think, Kathleen, of all the places I have been that France is my number one. 9Shared history and all that...) One thing for sure (again!) is that I'll be back, I'm thinking of a week in October, (are you listening Avril?) just when the novel will need huge attention. That will be my excuse anyway...

  5. Yes, it's funny where and when ideas come for novels. I had one when I was driving the other day. I had to stop and take some notes because the imagery in my mind was so vivid and I figured it wouldn't go away until it wrote something. Living in a dream world while driving didn't seem like a good idea.

    Whether it's a good enough idea to spend years working on it, is a decision that will have to wait. I've got 3 sequels to my present project to finish first.

    If you're interested in YA fantasy, you might like to take a look at ch1. It's called 'Lethal Inheritance’. You’ll find it at

    The blog part of the site on the home page is about my journey to publication, including posts on aspects of writing, publishing and being a writer. You might be able to add some helpful comments. I'd like to know what you think about ch1. My agent is pretty enthusiastic about it.



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