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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK
Talking Shop: Peter Mayle
British author Peter Mayle, 67, is the author of a string of books, including the international best-sellers A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence.

This month sees the release of his latest work Provence A-Z, an encyclopaedia of Provencale trivia, as well as the film A Good Year, based on Mayle's 2004 novel of the same name, and starring Russell Crowe.


Your new book has been called "an alternative guidebook" to Provence. Where did you get your information from?

Peter Mayle
A Year in Provence chronicled Mayle's move to France in 1987

I've been unconsciously doing research all the time I've been living in Provence, which is about 15 years. I found a lot of material in the bar - all you have to do is shut up and listen and you will hear something fascinating because the people there are fairly boisterous in their conversational habits.

What was your most surprising discovery?

One thing that sticks out is the visit I paid to the last public executioner in France, who lives in Provence. At home he had a working scale-model of the guillotine on top of his television set and a vast collection of books on torture and punishment. I also discovered we shared the same birthday - we're both Gemini - which, as he wryly pointed out, is the only sign in the zodiac with two heads!

What's so special about Provence? They can't even make a decent cup of tea!

No, and I never order it because I know what to expect! They tend to find comfort in more alcoholic stuff.

Above all, I think it's the light. You get used to this wonderful shimmering light in Provence, even in the winter, and it lifts the morale and it makes you feel good and optimistic.

A Good Year was a joint project with director Ridley Scott, who I understand is an old friend from your previous career in advertising?

Ridley wanted to shoot in Provence because he has had a house down there for some time - and he's interested in wine. The wine world is a wonderful subject because it's full of nonsense and it's very visually rewarding.

If it was always the intention to turn the book into a film, why did you hand over the screenplay to someone else?

One of the things I love about writing books is the independence: you work at your own speed, and do exactly what you want to do. When a book is finished - for better or for worse, it's published and that is the end of it. With a screenplay, the first draft is only the beginning - everybody has ideas to throw in. I wouldn't have the patience for that.

The film is an unusual project for Ridley Scott and leading man, Russell Crowe. Were you surprised by the casting?

I was very surprised at the choice of Russell, but actually he's very engaging. He rented a house in the area and used to go down to the local bar after work. The locals thought he was great, although I think he was the only person they had ever met with a bodyguard.

Would you say he was won over by Provencale magic?

I'll tell you something that not many people know: Russell's second child, Tennyson, was conceived while he was in Provence. And the local mayor was so delighted, he offered the little boy an honorary citizenship.


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