Authors: Mary Moody
MARY MOODY has been a prolific gardening author and a former presenter on ABC-TV's
. Her books include
The Good Life
Last Tango in Toulouse
(2009). Mary divides her year between her farm near Bathurst in New South Wales and her house in south-west France.
Also by Mary Moody
Last Tango in Toulouse
A French heatwave and a marriage meltdown
First published 2005 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
This Pan edition published in 2006 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty limited
1 Market Street, Sydney
Copyright Â© Mary Moody 2005
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
National Library of Australia
Moody, Mary, 1950â.
The long hot summer: a French heatwave and a
ISBN-13: 9 78033042 2376.
ISBN-10: 0 330 42237 5.
1. Moody, Mary, 1950â. 2. Man-woman relationships â France.
3. France â Social life and customs. I. Tide.
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These electronic editions published in 2005 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
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The Long Hot Summer
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If I were a poet or a novelist, writing this book would be less difficult. I could fictionalise the main characters to maintain their anonymity. I could set the narrative in a different place and a different time, and in doing so protect myself from publicly acknowledging that the story I am writing is my own. It is a dangerous business, writing about your own life in such a personal, revealing way without exposing yourself to public criticism by appearing self-absorbed.
It's now four years since I ran away from my real life in search of a quiet time for reflection. It was the year I turned fifty, and I seized upon a brief window of opportunity for escape. Our children had grown up, left home and were well established â indeed I already had the delight of four grandchildren. My mother, who had lived with us for twenty-five years, had died suddenly and my career, although demanding, could easily be put on hold â for a little while at least.
That first year I spent six months living alone in a small room at the back of a shop in a medieval village in a remote rural region
of France called the Lot. It was the first time I had ever lived alone and I revelled in the delights of that first long, hot summer with its village fairs and markets and days filled with socialising and sightseeing and balmy twilights where the sun doesn't set until nearly eleven at night. I fell in love with France and ended up buying a small house in a nearby village with the full support of my husband David, who had remained in Australia for the six months of my escape to work on two feature films being shot in Queensland. When he realised how serious I was about wanting to buy a house in France, David flew over for the last few weeks of my stay so that we could choose the perfect place together.
It's a modest house with enormous charm in the quaint village of Frayssinet-le-Gelat, which is surrounded by fields of maize and dense oak and chestnut woodlands. For me, the decision to buy a French property was made with a sense of urgency because I was worried that after going home my life would just revert to its usual round of deadlines and demands. I feared that the personal gains I had made by living alone, immersed in a different and fascinating culture, would rapidly disappear. It's like when you say goodbye at the end of a much-loved holiday, always expecting to return some day. But I knew in my heart that I would get caught up in the pressures of my life and never find time to go back to this unique region that had won my heart. By buying a house there would be a permanent connection. A reason to return year after year.
If David had been able to foresee then how buying a house in France would so dramatically change our lives, I am positive he would never have agreed. Indeed, he has said just that many times as we've struggled to remain together through the tumultuous events that have unfolded.
Each year I go back to France with a purpose. I need a place where I can be my own person and have some time out from the usual demands of my life, but I am also taking refuge to write and just be alone if I choose to be. Or socialise non-stop if that's what my heart desires. My way of justifying the time to myself and the expense of having a bolt hole so far from home is to organise village walking tours. Each year I lead a small group from Australia and introduce them to the delights of this little-known historic region. It's a lot of fun but it also takes a lot of energy so I spend some time, both before and after each tour, chilling out in our village house.
Since buying the house I have written two books about my travels and adventures â
Last Tango in Toulouse
(2003) â and they have received a very mixed reception. The books are not simply travelogues that detail where I go and who I meet and what I see. I do write about Frayssinet-le-Gelat and our house renovations and the wonderful local food and wine, but the books are about much more than that. They are an intensely personal journal in which I take a long hard look at my life, past and present. I openly discuss the problems of long-term relationships, including my own thirty-three year marriage. I describe the delights of living alone for the first time and the difficulties of confronting the menopause and the inevitable ageing process. I write openly about the unexpected sexual drive that some women experience at this age and I ponder on what I really want to do with the rest of my life.
After the publication of my last book some readers objected to such a candid memoir. While I accept that some may distrust my motives for throwing into the public arena events that many people regard as strictly personal, I maintain my right to
document the difficult and often painful journey I've been on these last few years. Those who object, I am sure, strongly identify and sympathise with my husband, who is an integral part of my life and has therefore unwittingly become a character in my books. There's no doubt that the subjects I touch on in my writing are often confronting and painful for David, but although he would prefer that I wasn't so candid at times, he nevertheless supports my right to express my feelings â provided that I do not misrepresent his point of view.
For me, writing is a form of therapy, a way of crystallising the events and making some sense of them. It can be therapeutic for David at times, too. He read and reread the last book â far more often than I have â as a way of trying to gain some insight into what I struggled to express.
Yet I am painfully aware that writing âwarts and all' about my life while I am in the midst of living it is a totally bizarre situation. Often it feels unreal to me. Until all this happened I was a journalist who had made a successful career as a gardening writer and television presenter. After the publication of
, which was part memoir and part travelogue, my writing career took a turn in a totally different direction. Instead of inspiring gardeners with the joys of making compost, I find myself writing about drinking too much red wine at lunch and being stopped by the gendarmes while driving back to my little French village. Instead of telling people how I go about pruning my roses, I'm describing how I fell in love and had an affair.
Last Tango in Toulouse
was published the reaction was fairly divided. On the one hand I was applauded for being âhonest and brave' by many of my readers, those who empathised with the various dilemmas and contradictions I was facing. These
readers, who came to my literary lunches and bookshop events, wrote me the most encouraging and supportive letters and they seemed to understand â or at least appreciate â my way of dealing with the problems I was facing in my life. Of the rest, many had not actually read the book but instead reacted adversely to the publicity surrounding its publication. As a result, some determined that I was totally selfish. It was certainly difficult reading some of those negative reviews and comments, but I couldn't allow myself to be overly concerned about what other people thought of me, especially strangers. Doing so can be almost as dangerous as believing your own publicity.
In a sense I am caught on a treadmill. Having tried so hard to escape one set of demands and commitments, I find myself caught up in another equally demanding life and career. There is little I can do but continue living my life and writing about it as I go, while ever hopeful that sometime soon a sense of normality will return. At times it seems unlikely.
How did I find myself in such a weird situation, confessing my misdeeds in print in the book
Last Tango in Toulouse
? It was never planned, it just evolved. After the success of
I signed a contract with my publishers to write a second book about my travels and adventures in France. While I was flattered at being asked to continue telling my story, I was also a little nervous that there wouldn't be enough fresh material to sustain an interesting narrative. The feedback from the first book had been very positive and although I wasn't approaching the second book as a âsequel', I realised that I had to write in the same voice and with the same enthusiasm as the first one because it had resonated so well with the readers. At the time of signing the contract, I remember making an offhand remark to my publisher and my agent, and ironically also to David, that I should probably have some raunchy sex in the new book to add some sparkle to the plot. An affair, or even a couple of affairs. That would liven up proceedings. We all laughed.