'Oh look' my mum used to say ' there's the Temperance Hotel, I expect Auntie Annie's in there.'
Carol's place in our hearts stems from that wonderful TV series, so I have to at least mention it in passing, and it was my complete pleasure to meet her during the recent book tour to promote the latest in her series about life on her olive farm in the South of France, Return to the Olive Farm.
Can you tell us about your writing, how the books came about...we love to know everything
The Olive Farm books are born of a real love story. A love story that now exists on many levels but began with a glass of wine in a hotel lobby in Sydney. I had been filming a children’s mini-series in Melbourne for the ABC and Central TV in Britain. After all my scenes were ‘in the can’, as they say in film speak, I flew to Sydney to do a little publicity. The hotel I was staying in – it no longer exists – was home to the entertainment world. (I frequently found myself having breakfast at the next table to Elton John or I’d sit in on a late-night jam session listening to Mark Knopfler on piano) so it was no surprise that the French executive producer of the mini-series I had been shooting was also staying at the same hotel. He heard I was there, rang my room and invited me to join him for a drink. He claims to this day that I walked into the lobby some half an hour and he first set eyes on me fell in love. I did not know that then, of course. He invited me to have dinner with him the following evening and during that dinner, even before the first course was served, proposed to me. I was flabbergasted, did not take him seriously, took a long slug of my Chardonnay and moved on to other subjects. The following morning I saw him in the breakfast room. He was leaving the city and promised to telephone me for my response to his question... And so the love story began. The following spring he invited me to accompany him to Cannes for the TV festival. While he was setting up deals, I moseyed about and went looking for my House By the Sea. At the end of the week together we visited a jungled ruin of an olive farm and vineyard. Both crazily in love, completely broke, we were enamoured by the property and decided to put in an offer... Thus began our love affair with the Olive Farm. It took us over two years to cut back the land and when our hillside was finally cleared we found the ancient drystone terracing and on those terraces were sixty-eight, 400-year-old olive trees... There began my love affair with the olive, the tree, its golden oil and the tree’s mysterious mythological past.
When you are not writing what do you like to do?
I love hanging out in Paris, going to the movies, sitting for hours in cafés and bars reading, watching people, eavesdropping on others’ conversations. We entertain a great deal and I enjoy that too particularly if we are serving our own produce.
Last night because I was leaving this morning for a three-week book tour and I had arrived at the Château with sixteen lettuces plucked from the garden we had a Salade Niçoise party and invited the neighbours, the priest who lives across the grass and those young trainees working with M and living in with us at the Mad Old Château. ‘Lettuce Say Bonne Chance to Carol for her Book Tour!’ It was great fun and I get very thrilled when I impress the French with the quality of my food products. It is a real coup!!
Who would you want us to read if we were short of a good suggestion? Who mustn't we miss?
Marguerite Duras is my heroine. I have no idea how popular she is in England or English. I read her in both French and English and think she is marvellous. She writes close to the bone and her raw emotional perception can be heart wrenching. I translated one of her plays into English when I was trying to master a level of French that went beyond: ‘Please can you deliver eight sacks of cement and one and half tons of washed grey sand’
It was a challenge but a wonderful discipline in the mastery of compression, of succinct elegance. When she hits her stride, I think she is almost unsurpassable.