It seems so long since I first sat on a leafy terrace looking over the fence at an impressive number of small spotted ponies in an old pear orchard. The orchard was along a dusty lane that wanders away from the road that runs between Noves and Cabannes in a little known area of Provence. The beautiful ponies were sheltering quietly from the oppressive heat of the August sun. In the cool of the evening, when the cicadas began to wind down their incessant whirring, the ponies would be moved to a field on the other side of the lane to run and play like naughty children.
Every now and then, a small semi-naked man would drive past on his tractor waving politely at me and I would wave back. Once, he came to the jasmine covered gate with a gift of oddly shaped courgettes and peppers. My hostess introduced me to Monsieur Martin, her neighbour who lived with his wife and son at the bottom of the lane. Later, she told me a tale about this family and I was lost forever.
Sat on that distant terrace, I wrote a short story about Monsieur Martin and the small spotted ponies. Over the aperitif, I read it aloud to my friends and it made them laugh so I wrote another. And after that, I couldn’t stop. Back in grey old England, constructing an alternative life for Monsieur Martin made me think constantly about the South and Chez Martin was born and completed. It was such a pleasurable pastime and I suspect the story is not that far from the truth. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know we weren’t laughing at Monsieur Martin, but with him.
In truth, I wrote that book for myself but it’s given pleasure to lots of folk who have never been near Provence. That they were able to read Chez Martin was due entirely to Tim Pepin, a colleague from work. Tim constantly nagged me to tidy up my manuscript and get it published; and when I seemed incapable of the latter, he took it away and published it himself. It was an act of such graciousness from one writer to another. He was horrified when I tried to wave money around. As a compromise, he said he would take payment in chocolate oranges.
Book sales were good but I was still surprised at the number of people who kept asking for more news of Monsieur Martin. It wasn’t a great hardship to begin again and my terrace-owning friend updated me with little snippets of news. But life gets in the way and there always seemed to be other things to do. Last summer, Tim was once again nagging me to finish, saying he would help me again. By this time, however, he was dreadfully sick and sadly we lost him before the new book was completed.
He’s the last person who would want any unhappiness today now that The Road that Runs has finally been published. Here’s a picture of ‘Phyllida’ with the small spotted ponies taken last year when we visited their owner chez Martin. It’s a timely ending as without her sharing her tale over that long-ago aperitif, Monsieur Martin would never have graced the pages of these two volumes.
The Road that Runs by Madame Verte is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Road-that-Runs-Madame-Verte/dp/1545252920/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1492688893&sr=1-3&keywords=madame+verte