Having just arrived at Bordeaux airport with my wife for a long weekend at the Gradignan Lire en Poche Festival, I am reminded why I love France so very much. In fact, why we both love it. Met by our driver, Surya (originally from Glasgow, by way of Canterbury then Paris and Talence), the discussion immediately turned to the British political scene, liberalism vs. socialism, the declining standard of literacy and educational systems in the UK and its resultant effect on booksales, and finally the best places to eat in Bordeaux. All of this is the 10km drive from the airport to the hotel!
Now, standing looking out over the skyline from the seventh floor, a heady 27 degrees, a clear blue sky, a free afternoon in which to stroll through the city and take in the sights, I smile as I recall my brother’s oft-quoted words, ‘You know, if you’d been just a little bit smarter, you could have got a proper job…’
John Lennon said, ‘Find something you love and you’ll never work another day’. Couldn’t agree more.
Moments like these you forget the blank page, the editorial admonitions, the endless travelling, the airport lounges, and – even worse – the airline food; you forget the times you rocked up at 3.00am in some godforsaken backwater with no usable currency, having eaten nothing for twelve hours, only to find out that there has been an error in your hotel booking and you are very much on your own. Not that such things happen frequently, but they do happen. These days it is altogether more civilised, and so it should be.
Here in France, they just love books. They are passionate about them. Here it is law (prix fixe) that no matter where you buy a book, it is always the same price. Internet, supermarket, book-chain, local bookstore, it doesn’t matter. Always the same price. Hence, there is a healthy, thriving independent bookstore community in France, something which seems to have long-since been consigned to history in the UK. Apparently, just in one year, we closed an independent bookstore every week, whereas the French opened one.
Yesterday I released Les Neuf Cercles (in the UK, The Devil and The River). This weekend I will sign a mountain of books. I will meet people, learn more French, make new friends, get invited to other festivals and libraries, and I will say ‘Yes’ to everything.
If ever you needed affirmation that what you are doing as a writer counts for something, this is where you should come. Writers, artists, musicians, choreographers, photographers, designers, couturiers and creative people of all persuasions are acknowledged, respected and afforded a degree of validation that is quite unique, and very, very special.
There’s no place like France for so very many reasons, and this – for me – makes it one of the most vital and important places on earth.
As a very close Parisian friend said to me recently, ‘So you don’t have art, you don’t have books or music or theatre or the ballet? Then what do you have? You have national socialism, right? Kill the creative urge in people, you kill the culture. It’s that simple.’
So, as always, it is great to be back. One day we might just stay for good…
Trust all is well with you and yours.
Be well, take care, speak soon.