Friday, July 27, 2012

My Q&A with Peter Mayle

I’d say ¾ of the people who come visit me in Provence ask if I know the author Peter Mayle. I don’t…but of course I’d like to! So last week I rang him up and invited him round for dinner. I cooked the most-amazing meal and we had a fabulous evening, sipping stellar wines and talking literature late into the night. Ok, that’s a total lie. But I did email him to ask for a little Q&A. And much to my delight, he said oui! First, a bit about Peter, in his own words:

Peter was educated at Brighton College, England, and Harrison College, Barbados. He left school at 16 and returned to England, where he failed to distinguish himself as a waiter and a laundry van driver before joining Shell as a trainee. At 21, he moved to New York to work for David Ogilvy's ad agency, and subsequently spent almost 15 years in the advertising business on both sides of the Atlantic before leaving honest employment to become a writer.
His first book, Where Did I Come From? (explaining the facts of life to children) was published in 1973 and is still in print today, more than three million copies later.
Peter moved to Provence in 1987 with the intention of writing a novel but the distractions of his new life interfered. These became the subject of A Year in Provence which was published in 1989; it stayed on both the London Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller lists for three years. The book has since sold more than five million copies in 28 languages. The sequel, Toujours Provence,  followed in 1991.
Peter’s  subsequent books – Expensive Habits, Hotel Pastis, A Dog’s Life, Anything Considered, Chasing Cezanne, Encore Provence and French Lessons--have appeared on bestseller lists in Britain, America, Germany, France and Japan. The book  A Good Year was made into a film starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott; much of it was filmed in the glorious Luberon region of Provence. The Vintage Caper was published in 2009 and Peter’s latest book, The Marseille Caper, will be published this autumn; it picks up where The Vintage Caper  leaves off.
Peter lives in Provence with his wife, Jennie, and their two dogs. 

And here’s our Q&A...

Peter, last year you put your home on the market and we all wondered if you were leaving Provence. Great to know you’re still here!

We sold our previous house and bought something smaller. It’s not far from our old house so yes, we’re still very much in Provence.

Everyone knows you’re passionate and extremely knowledgeable about food. So how about a couple restaurant recommendations?

Le Jardin du Quai in Isle-sur-Sorgue, Lou Pebre d’Ail in Lauris, La Cour de La Ferme near Lourmarin, La Closerie in Ansouis, Le Mas Tourteron near Gordes and Le Fournil in Bonnieux. I like them all because of their good cooking, friendly service and lack of pretension. (I detest pompous restaurants.)

And where do you go for a big night out?

We tend not to have big nights out, preferring to have the occasional big night in, with something special for dinner.

What’s the house wine this summer at your house?

The rosé of Château Constantin Chevalier.

Ok, so what are you doing today?

Working on another book. Having a pleasant lunch. Taking a little sun. Walking the dogs. There might well be an aperitif at the end of the day.

And what are you writing?

A couple of years ago, I wrote The Vintage Caper. Last year, I wrote The Marseille Caper, which comes out in the Fall. This year, I’m writing the third in the series, provisionally entitled The Riviera Caper.

We all loved A Good Year. Are any more of your books soon to become movies?

I’d like to see any, or indeed all, of those three made into films. I’ll have to talk to Ridley Scott and see if he feels up to making another Provencal epic.

Last great book that you read?

The Passage of Power, the fourth volume in Robert Caro’s terrific account of the life and times of Lyndon Johnson. Wonderful stuff.

Author you’d most like to meet and why?

Most of the authors I’d like to meet—Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Patrick O’Brian—are no longer with us. A living author I’d love to meet is Tom Wolfe, whose books have given me so much enjoyment over the years.

Any tips for would-be authors, memoirists, novelists, writers?

As someone (it may have been Hemingway) once said: write about what you know. I would add to that, write about what fascinates and amuses you.  A book takes a long time, so if you lose interest in the subject half way through you’ll bore yourself stiff.

When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?

I find writing fun. That’s my hobby. Other than that, I enjoy good friends, good food, good wine, a little light gardening, and my two dogs.

Tell me: what do you love most about Provence?

The landscape is magnificent, and so is the light. There are 300 days of sunshine a year. The wines are good, and getting better. And I like the people. What more could one want?

And what do you love least?

The month of August, which is oppressively hot.

For someone considering a move here, any tips?

Don’t rush into buying. Rent something in your preferred area first, to make sure you like it before committing yourself.

In the time you have lived in France, what are the best and worst changes to have taken place in this country?

Obviously, I can’t speak for the whole country. But here in Provence, very little happens fast, and I can’t think of any major changes. The wines have improved, there is a greater choice of restaurants and, in the summer, more people. But in the countryside, it remains remarkably calm and uncrowded.

Thoughts on the new French President?

I learned some time ago never to comment publicly about politicians because it always gets me into trouble.

Biggest personal or professional goal still not attained?

I think I’ve done pretty much what I ever wanted to professionally. On a personal level, I’m extremely content, which I suppose is some kind of achievement.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Michael Palin, perhaps, or Nigel Havers—someone with a healthy sense of humour. 

Thanks, Peter!

Photos: Portrait of Peter by Carey Moore. ''A Year in Provence'' wasn't Peter's first book but it made him far and away the most-famous writer in the region. The delightful movie ''A Good Year,'' based on Peter's book of the same name, was directed by Ridley Scott and filmed mostly in the Luberon. 


  1. Thank you so much Julie for this Q&A--I am sure that no one will be disappointed to read that Peter Mayle practices what he preaches and I, for one, will take the restaurant recommendations to heart!

    Bon weekend,

  2. Dear Julie,
    Well, thanks so much for providing us with this interview. I've read all of Mayle's books (except for the one about the "facts of life"; at my age, it's probably too late to get into the business).

    In any case, he's just most GENIAL writer I can name (along with the extremely kind, similarly humane, and equally funny Allan Bennett).

    I spent thirteen years in the parrot-fever hothouse of Literary Theory, where folks would DIE before saying such a simple thing, but?...I've always admiringly noticed that Mayles genuinely LIKES his characters. In a word...he's an extraordinarily genial wonder so many folks love his books.

    I should add that I particularly relished his wry take-down of frowsy Ruth Reichl's enterprisingly uninformed and self-congratulatory critique (published a few years ago in the New York Times) of Provencal cooking. According to her, it doesn't exist...which was a markedly blunt, "Nothing Else Need Be Said By Anyone Else!" statement, even for her.

    We stayed for a week in Menerbes last Summer. It was lovely, of course, but I should admit that (as I told my partner)I kept thinking, as we tromped around with our luggage and paraphrenalia, "Well, here we are.....ruining Peter Mayles's paradise along with four hundred other chattering tourists....".

    Lucky you to have been able to interview him. thanks as ever for the good blog,

    David Terry

  3. I too say thank you Julie. What a lovely interview with a very delightful person. I've read quite a few of his books (I love Hotel Pastis) and several are in our bookshelf awaiting a second and third reading.

    Peter sounds so content with his life - a goal we should all strive for I think. I believe the pace in Provence helps a great deal for the contentment whereas in the states everything is hurry, hurry, hurry and no time to appreciate your life or surroundings.

    And I've made notes on his restaurant recommendations for our next visit. No pompous ones for us either.

  4. Julie you had me at I rang him up...funny. Great post, I guess we better try some of his favourite restaurants.

  5. Julie, outstanding! I have read all of his books, all excellent! Thanks for sharing this great Q&A, terrific!
    All the best,
    Bill Gottfried

  6. Thanks for posting yet another wonderful nugget so
    Wonderful to hear bit more bout Peter& what he's up to:
    we saw him @ the Kitchenclub in New York City some times:his beautiful (model) daughter had very chique little boutique on Elisabeth street.
    PS ofcourse love the resto recommendations

  7. Nice post
    I was just wondering why you didn't mention the television series. I know the casting of John Thaw was criticized, but still, it was a good program.

  8. Happy to catch up with Peter Mayle through your Q & A. I had a chance to meet him a few years back just after he returned to Provence after living for several years out on Long Island near his sons. I am pleased to see he is now enjoying life once again in Provence.

  9. Great interview Julie... I think I have Peter Mayle to thank for ending up here! His 'A Year in Provence' certainly seeped into my subconscious...
    Have a lovely weekend... xv

  10. Bravo to you for your humorous "lie" and for your brave outreach to the fabulous Mr. Mayle. What a delightful, straightforward individual - talented, humorous and so not stuck on himself. Thanks for sharing your e-interview.

  11. Loved this post, Julie! And I chuckled at the beginning - so you!!

    I'm holding on to the restaurants.

    Time to read another Mayle book!

    Stay cool...

    Merci beaucoup, xo,

  12. Makes me want to come back to Provence even more...

    What a nice blog session with Mr. Mayle...


  13. Clever opening, Julie, and always wonderful to follow what is happening in Provence through your eyes. You know my heart has remained since that first photography workshop in 1983. I am happy I got to experience all the Mayle characters before he announced them to the world. In hindsight maybe I should have published my journals:)

    Like you, Peter brings Provence to the masses in a lovely way. It is a gift shared and a glimpse into a life we all should strive for.

    Can't wait to be back to Bonnieux in September with my workshop. Thank you for doing a post on that. Let's try one of his recommended restaurants then.

  14. Wonderful post Julie . . . What a great idea to interview Peter and make that happen. More of the same please!

    Bisous . . . Gil

  15. Thank you Julie!! You made my day. Peter Mayle is my absolute favorite author. Such a down-to-earth, genuine 'my' life! ;)

  16. Hi Julie - lovely blog. My favourite book is still "The Best of Everything" which isn't mentioned! Maybe it was called a different name in some countries? I still quote from it and love many of his comments and findings.

    Didn't he also write about the various food festivals in France?

    Love to you, Jackie

  17. France Forever 24/7July 28, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Peter Mayle is so inspirational - how great that you were able to meet him. Life in Provence (Cote d'Azur)for me is indeed a dream come true!

  18. Bonjour Julie:

    Thank you for writing this fantastic Q and A ! It gave me so much insight to Mr. Mayle's life and living in Provence. I am sure he is very, very pleased with your piece!

    Keep up the truly wonderful work and compelling articles.

    Lisa L.

  19. Oh Julie if only you'd told him I was doing the cooking he would have been round like a shot!! I think all of us Anglos who live in Provence have something we owe him for wanting to be here (though being a fellow Brit I might not always admit it!!)

  20. I just found your blog and I am so happy I did!! I'm a huge fan of Peter Mayle...wonderful interview. And speaking of interviews...I certainly enjoyed reading yours at Lost in Cheeseland. You seem like a very honest person with a great sense of humor. I love the way you describe Provence....with passion.

  21. You guys did a great job spending your time to create this article! If I had to explain my emotions about your website in only one word ? it would be WOW! Thank you! P.S. Subscribed for updates!

  22. I LOVE this post! Thanks for reaching out to him and featuring him on your blog! Next time ask him over for real...

  23. Hey Julie

    I actually totally believed you fixed him dinner, etc etc!! hahaha! You are the best, and thanks for this peek into the life of Peter Mayle..

    a bientôt mon amie!


  24. Julie
    Loved the Peter Mayle intrview
    Now we have to go back and try all his fav restos
    Next spring!
    And we will have coffe at the Café de la Place
    Claude A Simard

  25. Perfect interview!
    Not one response leaves you wondering..
    merci carolg

  26. That was great Julie, thank you. I have eaten at one of his listed restaurants and now I feel all special. I'll have to try the others too. How lovely that he did this interview with you.

  27. Dear Julie,

    Thank you for this nice interview and presentation!!
    I am from Romania and I only discovered mr. Peter Mayle's books in 2012 as it took time probably till they got here, were translated, etc. I was so charmed with his style and sun-like personality that I read all three books I found in the local library one after the other. And he gave me new forces to dream and to love life, more than before; my greatest wish is to find more of his books here or in other countries where I will travel to read them. He is a great personality and I appreciate his kindness to share with us many private aspects in such a humorous style.
    I am so much proud to be living in the same century as him and hope he'll live happily a great many years from now on, to be an inspiration for us, his readers. Angelissa

  28. This will be bookmarked to keep coming back to.

  29. Keep this going please, great job!