May 2019 French Villages

In this area of South West France, there are many historic villages, often perched on cliffs, some with an imposing chateau, most a tumble of houses and shops along narrow streets. Some buildings defy gravity and visitors can’t help but marvel at the construction techniques used in an age when it was all done by hand.

When I wrote my second novel, Holding On Letting Go, I set most of the narrative for my Lancashire characters in France, and I was spoilt for choice when it came to choosing villages for them to visit. In the end, I decided upon St Antonin Noble Val, Penne and Cordes sur Ciel. I used Najac for a visit to the open-air pool and the boulangerie and Monteils, one evening in August, for the fabulous village fete. Parisot provided a lively bar for an evening scene. I am not a lover of research, but sitting in the centre of St Antonin with my notebook and pencil taking in the sights and sounds of Place de la Halle was a pleasure. Cordes presented a unique scene when a brightly-attired couple with a donkey strolled by and we were transported back in time. The extracts below give a brief flavour of the novel’s rich setting.

At the square, they paused to take in the scene. The figures could easily have faded into another age, garments replaced by wartime attire, when washed-out scraps of fabric were fashioned into something that might be considered stylish. If time could be rolled back even further, centuries of life in this market place would be revealed in all its richness.A gorgeous tree spread out shady branches in front of Café de la Halle where every table seemed to be taken and the sound of voices rumbled between the buildings.

They explored further, then escaped the heat to take in the covered market, another lofty affair, with hexagonal-shaped pillars in rough-cut stone. Jo fingered an iron ring and Chris imagined the horse or donkey tied to it. As if on cue, heads turned as a couple strolled past, he leading a grey donkey by a tether of thick rope, she following. The woman wore a bandana of bright fabric around her hair, the guy a battered straw hat. The donkey, it seemed, carried all their worldly goods.

Najac hummed with tourists and the jumble of houses with their uneven roofs provided an interesting backdrop for numerous photographs. Chris paused by the old fountain and handed his phone to a French lady, asking her to capture an image of them both. Jo stood close and he chanced slipping an arm around her shoulders, which seemed a natural thing to do. Within seconds it was over and he was forced to let go.