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A Year In Provence author Peter Mayle dies aged 78
Peter Mayle, the British writer best remembered for his Provence-inspired books, has died in France at the age of 78.
Publisher Alfred A Knopf announced that Mayle had died on 18 January after a brief illness in a hospital near his home in the south of France.
His success came late in life and was the product of a happy failure.
In 1987, in his late 40s and after years of working in advertising and educational publishing, he moved to France planning to write a novel.
But, as he told the Guardian in 2010, he was so caught up in the new world around him "the farmer next door, the mushroom hunter and the lady with the frustrated donkey" that he wrote to his agent, Abner Stein, telling him that the novel wasn't working out.
In a long letter, “largely inspired by guilt”, as he added, he tried to explain “why I hadn't even started the novel, listing some of the distractions".
"To my enormous surprise and relief, he wrote back saying that if I could do another 250 pages like the letter, he might be able to find a publisher."
The result was A Year in Provence, which was published in 1989. It turned out to be a roaring success, selling millions of copies throughout the world, though it started with a print run of 3,000 copies only.
It was adapted into a mini-series by the BBC starring John Thaw and was credited with opening up a market for such other expatriate stories as Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun.
Witty and warm-hearted
So why was it such a hit?
National Bestseller summed it up this way: “In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realise a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days”.
It was named Best Travel Book of the Year by British Book Awards in 1989, who also picked Mayle as Author of the Year in 1992.
Several more Provence-inspired books followed. Theyh have been translated into more than 20 languages.
A Good Year Trailer (2006)
Reactions in France
Mayle's enthusiasm for Provence did not always endear him to the other British expats living in the area.
He once explained that "there have been mutterings about the evils the book has brought to Provence".
"I've been accused of causing everything from the village baker running out of bread to a surfeit of Germans in the cafe," he reported. "These are crosses I have learned to bear."
As for the French themselves, many took offence at what they saw as a patronising view of their provincial life, said Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, the then managing director of Hamish Hamilton, the book’s publisher.
"The French wouldn't publish it for years," says Sinclair-Stevenson. "I don't think they were initially too pleased to be written about by an Englishman."
However, even in France the book made it to the bestseller charts, once it had been translated.
Success had its price and Mayle decided to move to New York to get away from fans and visitors. But he did return to his beloved Lubéron, where he died on Thursday.
Peter Mayle - a life in dates
- 14 June 1939: born in Brighton, Sussex;
- After World War II: moves with his two siblings and parents to Barbados, where his father works for the Foreign Office;
- 1957: Joins Shell Oil in London as a trainee, later becomes advertising executive;
- 1987: moves to France;
- 1989: publishes A Year in Provence;
- 1993: A Year In Provence turned into TV series, starring John Thaw;
- 2006: Film A Good Year, based on Mayle's work of the same title, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard;
- 18 January 2018: dies in Ménerbes, France, leaving a wife Jennie, three sons from his first marriage and two daughters from his second marriage.
Peter Mayle bibliography
- Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations, illustrated by Arthur Robins and Paul Walter, Carol Publishing Group (Secaucus, NJ), 1973.
- What's Happening to Me? The Answers to Some of the World's Most Embarrassing Questions, illustrated by Arthur Robins and Paul Walter, Carol Publishing Group (Secaucus, NJ), 1975.
- Will I Go to Heaven?, Corwin, 1976.
- "Will I Like It?" Your First Sexual Experience, What to Expect, What to Avoid, and How Both of You Can Get the Most out of It, photographs by John Thornton, Corwin, 1977.
- How to Be a Pregnant Father: An Illustrated Survival Guide for the First-time Father, illustrated by Arthur Robins, Lyle Stuart, Inc. (Secaucus, NJ), 1977.
- Baby Taming, illustrated by Arthur Robins, Crown (New York, NY), 1978.
- (With Paul Rice) As Dead as a Dodo, illustrated by Shawn Rice, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1981.
- (With Arthur Robins) Congratulations! You're Not Pregnant: An Illustrated Guide to Birth Control, Macmillan Publishers (New York, NY), 1981.
- (With Arthur Robins) Grown-ups and Other Problems: Help for Small People in a Big World, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1982.
- The Honeymoon Book, illustrated by Gray Jolliffe, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1983.
- Chilly Billy, illustrated by Arthur Robins, Crown (New York, NY), 1983.
- Man's Best Friend: Introducing Wicked Willie in the Title Role, illustrated by Gray Jolliffe, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.
- Anything but Rover--the Art and Science of Naming Your Dog: A Breed by Breed Guide, Including Mongrels, illustrated by Arthur Robins, A. Barker, 1985.
- Sweet Dreams and Monsters: A Beginner's Guide to Dreams and Nightmares and Things That Go Bump under the Bed, illustrated by Arthur Robins, Crown (New York, NY), 1986.
- Wicked Willie's Guide to Women: A Worm's-Eye View of the Fair Sex, illustrated by Gray Jolliffe, Pan Books (London, England), 1986, Crown (New York, NY), 1987.
- Wicked Willie's Guide to Women: The Further Adventures of Man's Best Friend, illustrated by Gray Jolliffe, Crown (New York, NY), 1988.
- A Year in Provence, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1989, published with illustrations by Judith Clancy, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
- Divorce Can Happen to the Nicest People, illustrated by Arthur Robins, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1979, revised edition published as Why Are We Getting a Divorce?, Crown (New York, NY), 1988.
- (With Raffaella Fletcher) Dangerous Candy: A True Drug Story by Someone Who Did Them and Kicked Them, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1990, published as Dangerous Candy: A True Story about Drug Addiction, Trafalgar Square Publishing (Pomfret, Vermont), 1991.
- Toujours Provence, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
- Acquired Tastes: A Beginner's Guide to Serious Pleasures, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1992.
- Up the Agency: The Funny Business of Advertising, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.
- Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
- Provence, photographs by Jason Hawkes, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
- A Dog's Life, with Ed Koren, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
- Anything Considered, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
- Chasing Cézanne, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
- Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations, illustrated by Arthur Robins and Paul Walter; African-American edition published with illustrations adapted by Zina Saunders, Carol Publishing Group (Secaucus, NJ), 1999.
- Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
- French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
- A Good Year, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
- (With Gerard Auzet) Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips, and Recipes, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
- Provence A-Z, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
- The Vintage Caper, Knopf (New York, NY), 2009
- The Marseille Caper, Knopf (New York, NY) 2012
- The Corsican Caper, Knopf (New York, NY), 2014
- The Diamond Caper, Knopf (New York, NY), 2015
- Provence in Ten Easy Lessons, Random House, 2014 – adapted from Provence A–Z: A Francophile's Essential Handbook