Rosemary Bailey is an author I have always admired and her book 'Love and War in the Pyrenees', an incredible read and I was thrilled when she agreed to meet me for a chat for my ' ex pat lives' feature for the blog.
So, Sunday, after my fab birthday lunch of roasted sea bass, potato gratin and roasted parsnip mash ( I digress), I headed west of Perpignan to a little village near Prades to meet the lovely lady in person.
Here is her story :
In 1989, Rosemary and her husband bought a monastery on a whim in Mosset, a tiny village nestled in the mountains in the Pyrenees and in 1997 when her son Theo was six, decided it was now or never. If her son was going to learn French in school, that it had to be now and taking the plunge they moved into the dilapidated monastery. She says she found it fairly easy to integrate into the village life with a young son of school going age and also her research work on her books about the area opened doors for her, as her French improved all the time. Her French was limited before coming to France but now she speaks French reasonably well - I told her my children always fall around laughing when I speak French and she confessed that the last time she spoke French on the phone in front of her son ( now 21) he laughed saying she had managed to make 5 mistakes in one sentence!!
Theo, her son, now says that, although going to a French school at aged 6 with no French was the hardest thing he has ever done in his life, he realises that he had a magical childhood and for that she is grateful.
I asked her what she loved about France and she lit up saying:
"I love France! I love the fact that the best boulangerie in Prades closes for the month of August because, for the owners, their holidays are more important than making money" She loves the fact that people aren't wrapped up in the rat race and that they enjoy the simple pleasures in life: "They savour the little things in life and appreciate their food and good company. A whole evening can be spent discussing a meal. The people too are more passionate, more politically aware than they are in London. I loved living in the French countryside and living by the seasons, the joy of the first cherries etc and the whole attitude towards life is poles apart to life in London"
So, after 7 years of idyllic village life in sleepy Mosset, young Theo started in secondary school in Prades which was "just awful" and with her husband finding village life just a little bit too quiet for him, she was reluctantly dragged back to London where they could both pursue their writing and journalistic careers. Theo got a place in the French lycée in London and they were soon back on the "scene" keeping in touch with their journalistic contacts. However, she was still drawn back to the region writing two books ; "The Man Who Married a Mountain" and "Love and War in the Pyrenees" over the coming years and spending over half the year in her beloved France.
Moving back to England after living in France for 7 years was "weird" she says. Mobile phones had taken over, the celebrity culture was huge and she found the "dumbing down of culture" to be quite sad. "French value culture more than the English do these days and the standard of the magazines and newspapers is a lot higher than in England" Her favourite newspaper is Le Figaro (despite it’s right wing politics) and Madame Figaro, her favourite magazine ( note to self to put on shopping list!)
Over the last couple of years she has been teaching as a Fellow of the Royal Literary fund and so has been spending less time here. She is currently writing a new book , set in Provence about world war II and imagines it will be a few more years before it hits the bookshelves with all her other commitments. "It takes me about 2 years to write a book" she said and when I asked her if she had any advice for any upcoming writers, she advised to write as much as you can in the form of blogs or ebooks and if possible, take part in a writing workshop.
Rosemary's goal is to host writing workshops in the Pyrenees , maybe even in the monastery which is now owned by English people who will be keen to develop it once the restoration project is finished. With her successful experience in publishing books, her years of writing and editing travel guides and her lovely welcoming and modest way about her, I think I'll be signing up myself and would highly recommend any budding writers to do the same.
Watch this space for details in the future about her writing courses.....
Rosemary Bailey is an award-winning travel writer and journalist, born in Halifax, Yorkshire. She has been based in the French Pyrenees for many years, and has written a trilogy of books about a region she has grown to love and know intimately. The best-selling Life in a Postcard describes her life in a mountain village, the restoration of a ruined monastery and the history of the monks who once lived there. The Man who Married a Mountain follows the romantic quest for the sublime of the eccentric 19th century mountaineer, Sir Henry Russell-Killough. Her most recent book, Love and War in the Pyrenees, is an investigation of the Second World War in the region, combining her own travels with contemporary interviews, documents and letters.
In 1997 she wrote the acclaimed Scarlet Ribbons: A Priest with Aids, the story of her brother, Simon Bailey, and the remarkable support he received from his Yorkshire mining village parish. Bailey is married to the biographer, Barry Miles, and has one son.