Tag Archives: Raphäel Paya

Spying and Lying

Writing Residency Day 4

I wonder if people in the village noticed the way I hung around today, scribbling in my notebook and taking photos of strange things like the grill on the road?

Perhaps the old man I said hello to was suspicious. Perhaps that’s why he came out and pretended to be weeding while I was taking a panoramic photo from his front gate – though it’s hardly my fault that my protagonist is going to live in his house (not the one in the picture, I hasten to add).

Luckily I had my map. Maps are useful for times when people are unlikely to understand the link between research and peering in through windows to take photographs. I think I convinced him I was lost… And actually I learnt he was born in the valley and knew the names of all the mountains. And he also told me loads of useful stuff about sheep.

Yes, today was calm, which meant that after a morning of writing I let myself slip into my protagonist costume and go for a walk around the village of Arras.

There’s an art circuit where you have to find what features in the landscape the silhouettes on the signs depict, and my protagonist thought he’d take a photo of one for you.

Outside, I discovered the mist had lifted from the valley and the sun was coming out. I had water in my bag, boots on my feet, a map in my hand and a swiss army knife in my pocket. (The swiss army knife was in case I saw the bear).

So it was no surprise that my protagonist found himself walking up to the top of the nearest mountain instead of around the village. The tops of mountains are much more his type of thing.

I say mountain but, at just 1097m, the Mont de Gez is really a hill. It was playing at being a mountain while all the real, rocky mountains were being snooty with their heads in the clouds. There’s a gorgeous view from the top: you can see valleys heading off in all directions. A group of dancers in a previous residency created a stunning video set there.

On my way home, I popped into Le Kairn, where I managed to get a photo of Karine. For once she was actually sitting down, relaxing – well, testing new recipes (read ‘eating lunch’ there). So here is the lovely lady! You may recognise her from one of the many mountain refuges she’s worked in.

Back at the Maison des Arts, I was surprised to find the doors wide open and the exhibition rooms empty.

Had thieves broken in? I hoped the man weeding hadn’t given the police a description of me.

Then I remembered: it was the final day for Raphaël’s photos and Roxane’s ceramics displays: tomorrow, Véronique Strub is moving in with her Dracula costumes.

Which means, I suppose, that I may bump into headless, half dressed vampires in my museum if I happen to go sleepwalking.

Never mind. It will be worth it if I can see how costume-makers work, in which case I’ll talk more about Véronique and her project later this week.

In the evening I watched the clouds lift as I wrote, and it wasn’t until night had fallen that I remembered my walk around the village.

Hoping the man wasn’t still out weeding, I picked up my camera and went out on a night expedition (with my swiss army knife).

I may not be courageous enough to spend a night alone at the Col des Bordères, with Pascal’s sheep and cows, but the village was another matter.

And this is what I saw: cool, huh? An owl and THE EYE!!!

Now it’s time for bed. Tomorrow I’m going to brave those hairpin bends and crazy French drivers and hit the heights (which is what my protagonist does the minute he can).

Goodnight, sleep well.

Will it Get my Goat?

Oh no, here I am, back with more puns in my blog post titles. Today I’d like to share some exciting news that doesn’t get my goat at all – though I’m hoping it will allow me to get to know goats better.

I have been invited to be the writer-in-residence for a week at an arts centre in the heart of the Pyrenees.

In case your French geography is rusty, the Pyrenees are the pointy mountains in the south west of France, between France and Spain. They are also my favourite part of the country, which may be one reason why my novel-in-progress is partly set there.

Back in the 1990s, when I was studying French at Pau university, I used to walk along the Boulevard des Pyrénées every day and gaze at the mysterious peaks. Nowadays, I spend some time there every year (and cry when I have to leave).

Houses in the Val d’Azun

One misty day last summer, while my intrepid family were out potholing, I went to the Val d’Azun to research my novel setting. I stopped at the village of Arras-en-Lavedan, a few kilometres from Argelès-Gazost (and 25km from Lourdes), which is renowned as being a village of artists.

There, I discovered the Maison des Arts and met the curator, Françoise Gourvès, who is also a stained glass artist. She told me all about the association Abbadiale, which organises the cultural events and art exhibitions in the centre.

There was a wonderful display of paintings, ceramics and sculptures, as well as a permanent outdoor circuit around the village’s works of art. I was blown away by a video of a contemporary dance group who spent a week in residence there and created a dance on a peak above Arras-en-Lavedan.

I stayed in contact with friendly Françoise and, when she heard I needed to come back to the Pyrenees to research goats and ewes, she invited me to be their writer-in-residence for a week. This corresponded with the opening of the village’s new bistro-bookshop: Le Kairn.

Of course, I accepted!

So I’ll be staying in Arras-en-Lavedan from Saturday 3rd to Friday 9th June. During the week I’ll be researching and writing my novel (which is not only about goats). I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘transhumance’ event on Saturday 3rd June at Estaing. This is when the local shepherds, accompanied by the public, move their flocks from the valley to the mountain tops for the summer ‘estivales’ period.

I’ll also be reading from my novel Tree Magic and giving a talk about the journey to publication. This will be held on Sunday 4th June at 3pm at Le Kairn. As I’m there for a week, I can also make myself available one evening for readings and writerly discussions – so let me know if you’re interested.

Why not come and meet me and get your copy of Tree Magic signed? I’ll have some copies to sell, and we can share our experiences of writing, reading (and goats).

While you’re in the Val d’Azun, why not make a day of it (or even a weekend if you fancy the transhumance festival on the Saturday)?

Yes, I know they’re not goats – but they are Pyrenean sheep.

In the morning you could visit the Pyrenean trekking and traditions festival ‘Eldorando’ in the nearby village of Arrens-Marsous. You could have a lunch of local products there – or come to Le Kairn bistro for a meal – and then visit the permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Maison des Arts. As well as the permanent exhibition, Roxane Lasserre will have her ceramics on display and Raphäel Paya is exhibiting his photos until 5th June.

Then, if you’re not too tired, you could come and meet me at Le Kairn. It won’t get my goat if, after all that activity, you fall asleep during my talk!

Please let me know if you’d like to come, via my Facebook author page or blog contact tab, in case the arrangements change. I hope to see you soon.

Here are some practical details:

La Maison des Arts (next to the church at the bottom of the village): open Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday from 3-6pm.

Le Kairn (route du Val d’Azun): open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 7pm (open every day in the holidays).

Eldorando: 2nd-5th June. Nepal is the country of honour this year. Entry 2€ / day.

Tourist Office Val d’Azun (Place du Val d’Azun, Arrens-Marsous) Tel: 05 62 97 49 49