Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Christopher Bowden about what France means to him.
Christopher Bowden lives in south London. He is the author of five colour-themed literary mysteries: The Blue Book, The Yellow Room, The Red House, The Green Door, and, most recently, The Purple Shadow (see my review here).
Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Christopher: The quality and diversity of both landscape and built environment are certainly part of it along with an ability both to preserve the past and to look to the future. Ultimately, though, it’s a rich and distinctive cultural identity, pressures for change notwithstanding – and a propensity to man the barricades at the drop of a chapeau.
2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?
Christopher: A family holiday to Brittany in 1966. Memorable chiefly for a visit to Concarneau. It turned out to be during the Fête des Filets Bleus I August. The place was packed and we couldn’t get a hotel room so we spent the money on large quantities of fruits de merand had a night in the car.
3) The first part of The Purple Shadow shows a detailed knowledge of Paris, off the tourist trail, have you ever lived there or is it a regular holiday destination for you?
Christopher: I have visited Paris frequently over the years so I had a fair idea where I wanted to set the book. But I went back to double-check locations by walking everywhere my characters go, including one or two fictitious streets. It was a long day.
4) The Paris art scene features in The Purple Shadow; do you have any tops tips for visiting art galleries in Paris? Or maybe a favourite, must-see gallery?
Christopher: The book features a gallery supposedly located in the Place des Vosges, my favourite Paris square and home to quite a number of small galleries that may well have influenced what I wrote. The gallery I visited most recently was at the Pompidou Centre to catch up with the Hockney exhibition I missed in London. Otherwise, I have fond memories of smaller galleries, such as the musées Marmottan, Bourdelle and Nissim de Camondo, not to mention the Musée Carnavelet that also features in the novel.
5) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Christopher: At that hour, it would certainly be breakfast: coffee, croissants and maybe freshly squeezed orange juice.
6) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?
Christopher: I tend to stare admiringly through the windows rather than buy but I can admit to being seduced by a rhubarb tart in a branch of ‘Paul’ barely a month ago.
7) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tomme, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?
Christopher: I may be a Tomme de Savoieon the outside but a gentle prod might reveal something softer, possible a Perail, a creamy ewe’s-milk cheese - with a kick to it.
8) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?
Christopher: Paris apart, it’s a toss-up between Bordeaux and Lyon, with Toulouse not far behind. Probably, Bordeaux for the quality of the buildings in the old town, the sheer amount to see, and the high standard of cuisine. And only two hours from Paris on the TGV.
9) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?
Christopher: A period property in a small town in the Aveyron would do very nicely, thank you. It would require a fig tree and plenty of room for gardening.
Finally, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind The Purple Shadow?
Christopher: Two drivers, initially. One was the title. I had reached ‘purple’ in the sequence and felt that ‘the purple shadow’ offered a lot of possibilities. This led to the idea of a shadow in a painting of something that could not be seen. A shadow of what - or whom? Was the picture once larger? Why would it have been cut down and what happened to the rest of it? And so on. The other was to give Colin Mallory another outing. He is the main protagonist of The Red House, a young actor whom we left in Paris at the end of the book, though that one is largely set elsewhere. It seemed a good opportunity to bring him back to Paris with enough time to wander – and to be drawn into the mystery of the painting.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.
You can read my review of The Purple Shadow here and links to Amazon can be found below.