It was an immense pleasure to find myself sitting next to author Angela Wren at a book launch dinner last year. Angela and I already knew each other from our working days, when we both grappled with project management and business change. Since my escape, I’ve remained content to write about books written by others, but Angela has done something considerably more impressive. Her first novel, Messandrierre – the first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt – was published by Crooked Cat, and is available for kindle and in paperback, and her next will follow very soon. Messandrierre is a book that I really want to read, my imagination having been captured by its gorgeous cover and the description of its story-line, along with Angela’s infectious enthusiasm when she told me about it – look out for a review before too long.
Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.
But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.
Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?
I’m delighted to welcome Angela to Being Anne, to tell us about a surprising place…
A Surprising Place…
… to be, for me, is France. And yes, I know I’ve been travelling there for quite a while, but the country never ceases to amaze or surprise me. You can collect and read as many guides as you like, but actually being there and making your own personal discoveries, no matter how small or seemingly mundane, is so much more interesting, because those discoveries will be yours for ever. I thought I’d share some of my little discoveries with you.
Whilst I was following Robert Louis Stevenson’s route through the Cévennes, I discovered Le Pont-de-Montvert. Stevenson reached this charming cévenol village, which sits on the south face of Mont Lozère at an altitude of around 800 metres above sea level, on Saturday September 27th, 1878. The Tarn – which rises due north of the village – is a swift flowing stream in comparison with its wider, more developed self as it slices through the Episcopal town of Albi on its way to the Bay of Biscay.
In Montvert, there is only the one narrow bridge to take you across the river. Built in the 17th century, and as I sat beside it to have my lunch, I couldn’t help but wonder about the owners of all the other feet that had walked across it before me. Stevenson himself, for certain. A troubadour travelling north from Provence, perhaps. Undoubtedly merchants and drovers and possibly a knight, in shining armour… on a white destrier… Maybe. What I did realise is, the heart of the village had changed little from when Stevenson saw it and I was in awe of the fact that I was walking in his footsteps.
Our own history and that of France have been inextricably linked for centuries and every so often I come across a reminder of that inescapable fact. Last year I was in Villefranche-de-Rouergue for a while. A bustling, historic, Occitan market town, with its medieval, octagonal-shaped heart that locally is referred to as a bastide – from the Occitan, bastida, meaning fortified town or village.
Here I am treated to a demonstration of ‘Old French’ by the man in the Post Office, I discover a vast market, the most delicious nougat I have ever tasted and I find a plaque on a wall that stops me dead and brings tears to my eyes. During the 1939/45 war this part of France came under the rule of the Vichy government after Paris and the north had been occupied in 1940. History has already told us the story, and as I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country I’ve come across many plaques, similar to this one, lamenting the death toll, remembering by name those people who gave their lives in the fight for justice and freedom. But what captures my attention and what I find so unusual is a phrase, ‘…avec la complicité du gouvernement de Vichy uniquement parce qu’ils étaient nés juifs.’ I have never come across such a direct and irrefutable accusation before. But it is the final entreaty that brings the tears, ‘ne les oublions jamais’, ‘never forget them’. I haven’t and I won’t.
On a lighter note, I was able to visit the house cum museum of Claude Monet at Giverny, a few years ago. I hadn’t reckoned on the vast numbers of American and Japanese tourists that were there and when I did eventually get access to the famous chocolate-box pink house with green shutters, I found myself on the impressionist version of a trip to Ikea. The body of tourists, shuffling from room to room, were sandwiched together like a pack of Jack Russell terriers moving in uncharacteristic slow motion accompanied by the constant click of cameras. I took an anarchical approach and I broke out and moved around the edges of each space, only joining the throng to pass through doors or up and down narrow stairs. And, so I wandered through the palette of the house, from sunshine yellow in the dining room to the cool blue and white of the kitchen and the Wedgewood blue of the salon. Monet was a great gardener, setting the planting and often buying seeds, bulbs and plants himself. I made a point of standing at each window so that I could admire the view as he would have seen it.
It was in the garden, surrounded by the lily ponds and bamboo, that realisation struck. An American tourist, camera clicking, until she noticed my hands were empty and eventually moved away with incredulity on her face, was the catalyst. I took her place on the bridge, breathed in the scent and gazed at the scene, knowing full well that Monet would have stood in that exact spot at some point in his life. Cameras are fine, but there are some things that can only ever be experienced and those are the incredible moments that live with us forever.
And I couldn’t agree more, Angela – thank you so much for joining me today.
About the author
I’m an actor and director at a small theatre a few miles from where I live in the county of Yorkshire in the UK. I did work as a project and business change manager – very pressured and very demanding – but I managed to escape and now I write books.
I’ve always loved stories and story telling so it seemed a natural progression, to me, to try my hand at writing and I started with short stories. My first published story was in an anthology, which was put together by the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’ in 2011.
I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.
My full-length stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year. I’m currently working on the follow-up to Messandrierre and an anthology of alternative fairy tales which I intend to self-publish.
Buying links for Messandrierre