Charmed by Charroux

Half past eleven on a warm Wednesday night in the depths of the Charente countryside. I’m on my bike, racing down a dark lane, acorns crunching under my tyres. Tarmac gives way to a narrow track, alternately stony and muddy. Shapes lurk just outside the halo of my battery light.

I hear heavy breathing behind the hedge.

It’s just the cows, I tell myself, and giggle out loud. Then I hit a bump and my lamp flies off the handlebars.

Bugger. I wince at my screeching brakes. The heavy breathing turns into a flurry of galloping hooves, and silence reigns. I turn to see a sorry pinpoint of light lying in a bed of nettles twenty feet behind me. I giggle again.

It all seems excessively funny. I suppose it would: I’ve just left the merry opening meal of the Charroux literary festival and I’m (very slightly) drunk. Not just on wine. I’m drunk on delight at seeing the writers from last year’s St. Clementin literary festival. I’m drunk on the freedom of being a solitary camper in a farmer’s field. And, more than anything, I’m drunk on the prospect of three days of literary inspiration.

DSCN2509Kate and Christine, the Verteuil Verse team, have made a great choice of authors for this inaugural event. Kate Mosse (Labyrinth) is headlining the festival.

The authors listen to each other’s talks, demonstrating how even bestselling writers can learn something from their colleagues. Have Verteuil Verse chosen the authors for their generosity, or is it the convivial atmosphere of the festival that makes it so easy to have a cup of tea and chat with the literary icons?

Most surprising is how each session is completely different. Exquisite fiction writer Isabel Ashdown (Glasshopper) makes our hearts sing with her settings. Crime queen Elizabeth Haynes (Into the Darkest Corner) is a thoughtful, romantic sweetie. She’s the last person you’d expect to write about decomposing bodies. She tells us how her seven years as an intelligence analyst in the police force have influenced her writing, and goes on to share a crime panel with Roma Nova expert Alison Morton and organiser Christine Collette. The session soon becomes a fascinating open discussion about moral dilemmas and Goodies v Baddies.

This relaxed atmosphere is at the heart of the festival, where our love of stories brings writers and readers together on an equal footing. Kate Mosse shares the history of the Languedoc with her spellbound public. Jacqui Lofthouse (Bluethroat Morning) inspires us to use art as a basis for writing, and chairs a useful writers’ networking session in which we get to talk to each other about our own projects. Barry Walsh (The Pimlico Kid) gives an insight into mixing memory and imagination, regularly entertaining us with his theories – such as how your preferred seat in a train can reveal your approach to writing.

On Thursday evening Diana Morgan-Hill (Love and Justice) ends the author talks with engaging readings from her memoir. And Sarah Harrison (The Flowers of the Field) rounds off Friday evening with stand up comedy as she reels off anecdotes from her writing and broadcasting career.

Jacqui Lofthouse & Alison Morton

Jacqui Lofthouse & Alison Morton

Between sessions I chat to other festival-goers at the bookshop or in the Hope charity refreshments marquee. Lots of faces are vaguely familiar. That’s part of the fun of being foreigners in France. Now they’ve reminded me of their names (once again), I’m confident I’ll remember them next time we meet.

It’s impossible to participate in all the events, which include bookmaking, short story critiquing, theatre skills and the art of translation. Gordon and Jocelyn Simms, the lovely couple who organise the St.Clementin literary festival, are able to relax and enjoy things this time – although they are running the poetry & playwriting workshops.

By 7pm I’m exhausted (nothing to do with the hangover). After a 20-minute cycle ride along the muddy track, over the footbridge and up the long, steep hill to my campsite (I don’t remember that bit from Wednesday night), I collapse in front of my tent. At half past nine I’m sprawled over my camping mat, zips closed, listening to the screech of owls and thinking back over all the wise words I’ve heard.

I hear a strange, breathless grunting beside my tent.

I’m not as amused as on Wednesday night. I peek outside.

There are no lights in sight. But I’m not alone. Although there aren’t any other tents, there is a cluster of animal shadows around me. The grunting begins again and climaxes in a recognisable braying. Not the flashers / rapists / murderers from Elizabeth Haynes’ stories. Just donkeys.

I zip up the tent and wonder who I can persuade to camp with me next time.

***

Many thanks to Kate Britten, Christine Collette and their team of volunteers. You made the first Charroux festival a wholly enjoyable occasion.

 

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17 thoughts on “Charmed by Charroux

  1. FrenchVillage Jacqui

    When you said you were camping, I didn’t realise you were alone! It was lovely to meet you and such a great event. I will try to get to St Clementin next year. Now I’ve experienced my first, I’m hooked!

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    1. harrietspringbett Post author

      Not quite alone, thanks to the bestial company! Lovely to meet you too, having followed your posts for so long. And yes, you must come to St.Clementin and enjoy the same kind of atmosphere.

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  2. Pingback: Have Bike, Will Travel (to Segora) | Harriet Springbett's playground

  3. merewoman

    Did you camp at the farm campsite up the hill from Charroux? If so, I recall it from many years ago, when I stopped there overnight. It was incredibly noisy; barking dogs, croaking frogs, squawking poultry, and a French family playing English Christmas carols long into the summer night.

    Hope you will come to the next Charroux Literary Festival in 2017. 🙂

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  4. harrietspringbett Post author

    It was La Ferme de Jussie, which Kate recommended as being better than the motorhome one in Charroux. Yes, I’m definitely planning to be there in 2017, bike’n’all!

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  5. Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

    What a fun sounding festival, it must be so inspiring to hear so many writers talk about their work. I’m impressed you camped in a field on your own, I know I’d hear far too many axe murderers out there to sleep! Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance and for spreading the word.

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  6. harrietspringbett Post author

    Thank YOU Phoebe. The festival was great – and there’s another coming up: St.Clementin (near Bressuire) from 24th-26th June, with Lemn Sissay, Patricia Duncker and many more.

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  7. nessafrance

    I’ve managed to get my head around the #AllAboutFrance linky, so thanks for introducing me to it. I must get to the Charroux Literary Festival next year: must be great to have met all those authors. Kate has kindly asked me to be the guest at their literary lunch in June and I’m really looking forward to meeting people whom I’ve known only virtually up till now.

    I can’t get over how courageous you are camping out on your own!

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    1. harrietspringbett Post author

      I don’t believe it – I can’t come to Kate’s bookish lunches because they’re mid-week, unfortunately. I’ve already missed the lovely Susie Kelly, and now I’m going to miss you too.

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  8. BloominginBordeaux

    The Charroux Literary Festival sounds like it was a great time! I recognized some of the authors you mentioned and Elizabeth Haynes “Into the Darkest Corner” is on my summer reading list. What a fun experience for you and you are so brave to have gone camping alone! 🙂

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    1. harrietspringbett Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Claire. The festival was great, and there’s another near Bressuire in a few weeks time, with Lemn Sissay, Patricia Duncker and lots of others. I see you’re in Bordeaux – do you know my English friend Nola, who also writes in Bdx?

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  9. Pingback: Did you say Paradise? | Harriet Springbett's playground

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