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 a current bio. And much to my delight, he said oui! This is what he sent...
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.
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.