Peter Mayle: You Ask The Questions

Do the French share our obsession with moving abroad for a better life? And what's the worst behaviour you've seen from a Brit in France?
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Peter Mayle, 64, grew up in Brighton. At 21 he moved to New York and worked in advertising. Aged 35, he quit and moved to Devon, where he wrote the Wicked Willie comic books. In his late forties, he moved to a farmhouse in the south of France. He wrote about his experiences there in A Year in Provence, which was published in 1989. The book was translated into 20 languages, turned into a BBC series and inspired a new literary genre. Two sequels followed. He now lives near Avignon with his wife Jennie and three dogs. His new novel, A Good Year, is set to become a film directed by Ridley Scott.

What is your favourite example of franglais?
Margot Turner, London

It was a sign I saw in Paris a long time ago, advertising "Le weekend sexy" - a holiday package to Brighton, which, for some reason, is a town that seems to have an erotic charge for the French. However, I went to school there so I know the truth.

Do you regret the way your books helped undermine the very authenticity that you seemed to love about Provençal villages? Would you think twice before promoting an unspoilt area in future books?
Vicky Millar, by e-mail

When I wrote A Year in Provence, the region was hardly a secret place and nor was it completely unspoilt. I think people confuse authenticity with some sort of medieval way of life. Authenticity just means genuineness - the way people are at any particular time. People visit Provence, see farmers on their tractors talking on mobile phones and say, "Oh God, that's not authentic at all." But it's authentic for today's Provence - that's the way the people are.

Does everyone who moves abroad and has a leaky roof have a book in them?
Patricia Patterson, Warwick

No, although I get sent a lot of chapters from people who think they do. The main mistake people make is they are too concerned with themselves and don't pay attention to what is going on around them. They are too busy congratulating themselves on buying a loaf of bread, and not on what is curious or ghastly in the foreign environment around them.

How would you sum up the French view of the British?
John Garner, York

I think they rather like the British. When I first came here, I always had this suspicion they were thinking, "Bloody English. Coming down here, raping our women, eating our food and drinking our wine." Then, one day, a neighbour came over for a drink and he said, "You're English, which is unfortunate, but we do prefer you to the Parisians." In fact, the French view of the British is very similar to ours of them. They think us reserved, arrogant, self-serving and possessed of a curious sense of humour.

Who was right about the Iraq war: Chirac or Blair?
Lisa McFadyen, by e-mail

I think events have shown the war was a pretty ghastly mistake, but it isn't a black-and-white issue. If I had to side with either of them it would be Chirac.

Do you look back with pride on the Wicked Willie series?
Gary Faith, Hartlepool

I thought Wicked Willie was a very funny idea. It came about by accident, as nearly all my books have done. I was having lunch with the illustrator, Gray Jolliffe, and he told me he'd had this idea which he then drew on a napkin - it's the sort of idea you can draw on a napkin - but he said that he couldn't get any magazines to publish it. I pointed out that there were not the same censorship laws governing books. And they did very well. Someone once said to me in a very disparaging way, "Your dreadful, little books are in every lavatory in Wiltshire." However, I don't look back with pride on anything - I'm always a bit disappointed that each book hasn't come out better.

What do you miss most about Britain?
Ben Adams, London

Thick-cut marmalade - the more bitter and chunky the better. I think that's the only thing. I thought I might miss my friends when I came out here, but I have found they come and visit quite a lot. It's the perfect place to come and unplug yourself.

Do you consider yourself an honorary Frenchman?
Becky Rodgers, Leominster

No. I consider myself a permanent tourist and very lucky and happy I am too.

How does it feel to be the founder of a literary genre? And do you have a favourite offspring?
Krishna Rumman, Leeds

Nobody ever expects to be involved in something like that and it still surprises me. A Year in Provence happened purely by accident. I was meant to be writing a novel called Hotel Pastis at the time and got distracted by what was going on around me. I get sent all my literary offspring by the publishers - I've got about 15 or 16 of them now - about anything, from a pigsty in Ireland to the Napa Valley. I haven't read most of them, but they go on the bookshelf. My favourite is Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart because it wasn't overly sentimental or romanticised.

What is the most embarrassing behaviour that you have witnessed by a Brit in France?
Kieron Flanagan, by e-mail

The problem is the Panama-hat brigade and their assumption that if you bellow loud enough in English, the French will understand what you're saying. It happens all the time and it really makes me squirm. I've tried occasionally to intervene, but the Brit tends to fly off the handle. I do feel responsible, but not to the British. I feel sympathy towards the poor Frenchman standing there, having his ears pinned back.

Do the French share our obsession with moving abroad for a better life? Are there any equivalents to television shows such as A Place in the Sun?
Lisa Gurney, Harrogate

No. They don't have to. There are no equivalents to programmes such as A Place in the Sun because they've already found their place in the sun.

How do you respond to the charge that you write about a fantasyland in your books on France?
Peter Driver, Woking

It's ridiculous, as anyone who lives here would tell you. What I've written is true for me. My part of France is not perfect, but it's as close to perfect as anywhere else I've been in the world.

Is the Peter Mayle pilgrimage still going strong?
Paula Jensen, Liverpool

It's pretty much stopped now. I think people have been through their Provençal period. They are going to Portugal or somewhere else now. I was a five-minute wonder; the five minutes are over and I'm absolutely delighted about that.

You describe France as the place you lost your " gastronomic virginity". What food was it that really opened your eyes?
Stuart Anderson, London

It was just the whole attitude to food - the presentation, the knowledge and the taste. But if I had to choose one dish to eat before I was executed, it would be cassoulet.

'A Good Year' by Peter Mayle is published by Time Warner Books