The département of Allier sits in the centre of France and covers the area from just below the RN7 in the north, to Digoin in the east, Gannat in the south and just a little past Montluçon in the west. The river after which it is named rises in the Cévennes, north east of Mende and flows north, splicing the département in half until it joins the Loire just west of Nevers. Allier, 03 if you see it on a French number plate, is one of the four départements that make up the region of the Auvergne. A wonderfully rugged and scenic part of the country with towns and villages of timbered houses, dense forests and its fair share of chateaux. I’m telling you this so that you will understand that it is not the sort of place one would expect to see an elephant! But I did. In fact I was so amazed by the sight that I nearly fell off my bike.As unusual as the sighting of the elephant was – I christened her Nellie – I have to confess that, despite my long and enduring relationship with France, it never ceases to amaze me. Crossing the Puy de Dome one Sunday and needing somewhere to eat I happened on an old farmhouse with numerous cars outside – all with French plates. Curious, I stopped and discovered a handwritten menu pinned to the doorpost and inside half a dozen long trestle tables full of people having lunch. And they made room for me. The food was fabulous, the wine came by the pitcher and about three hours later I left feeling replete.
Food, of course, is central to the French psyche, which is one of the reasons why market day is important. Despite the supermarkets, tiny villages and towns of any respectable size still have their markets. In St-Hilaire-du-Harcouët you can buy anything from eggs, meat, fish, cheese etc, to clothes and hardware and livestock. In St-Pourcain, on a slightly smaller scale, you can even be introduced to the livestock, as I was. Meet Juilliette.
But a French street market isn’t just about the products for sale. It’s a place to see and be seen. A place to meet up with friends and stand and chat about politics or the weather, once all the friendly formalities, the family pleasantries and the cheek kissing thing – something I studiously avoid because I’m petrified of not getting it right – have been accomplished. The noise levels are high, the pace is very slow, but the experience incredible if you only want to sit at a table in a pavement café and people-watch and feast your eyes on the rainbow of colour and breathe in the aromas from the fresh vegetables and fruit, the smokiness of the hams and sausage. Nothing smells as appetising as a typical market here.
All of which, brings me back to my original point. With so much that is French to be surprised and fascinated by, you would have thought that, by now, I would have discovered just about everything and that the frisson of excitement on happening on something new would have long gone. But no. After three days of constant rain, I was out cycling the lanes of Allier and found Nellie, at lunch, by the river!
Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.
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. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.
Novel BlurbSacrificing 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?
Messandrierre – the first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.
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