The Long Hot SummerAuthor: Mary Moody
Featured in the October, 2005 magazine
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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 Au Revoir 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 ‘sequel', 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.
In mid-2002 I launched myself into writing the new book with more confidence about the structure and the way the narrative should flow, with overlapping chapters set in France and back home in Australia . David and I were now living on a farm at Yetholme, near Bathurst, and gradually starting to get more organised and acclimatised to country living. For twenty-five years, while our children were growing up, we had lived in the Blue Mountains , and although we had a large garden it was never as much work as the acreage we were now trying to maintain. At my instigation we had started breeding geese and ducks, and David surprised me by taking on the role of goose-herder with great enthusiasm. He fussed over the birds, rounding them up every evening to lock them away from the foxes, and became so attached to our first batch of goslings that I feared we would never have the heart to kill eat them.
Water on the farm was an ongoing problem, and we continued to battle the workings of our water pump and household plumbing. We are fortunate to have a deep spring to supply the house and garden with a seemingly unending flow of water, but it needs to be pumped up from a paddock which is two hundred metres behind the old farm sheds. There were many days when David would turn on the tap first thing in the morning to put the kettle on for tea and not one drop would emerge. I have since discovered that this sort of situation is par for the course on rural properties. But my husband is not a handyman, and although he would do his best to track down the problem — usually a burst pipe somewhere underground between the spring and house — inevitably we had to send for help from the local water contractors. It was all costing a small fortune, and when we looked at our overall expenditure we realised that our dream of living on a farm was proving to be very costly indeed. And that, combined with the cost of owning a house in France , was putting us under considerable financial pressure. So while David tried to keep on top of the farm management while also developing his various filmmaking projects, I set about starting work on the second book.
Writing has become a way of life for me. I developed disciplined working habits back in the late sixties when I trained as a journalist. Newspaper and magazine offices are busy, noisy places and I quickly adopted a technique of being able to write fast and meet deadlines in spite of the endless noise and clatter of ringing phones, loud conversations and multiple other distractions. It was critical to success as a journalist. Only the star writers and columnists had quiet rooms of their own in which to write; the rest of us produced our copy in open-plan offices which were noisy and smoky but also lots of fun. I delighted in the camaraderie and the buzzy atmosphere, where the deadline was paramount but the tension was alleviated by the good spirits of my fellow workers.
During the decades I worked as a gardening writer, I managed to fit the demanding deadlines in and around my hectic home life. I had four growing children and a large house and garden to care for. I structured my day around writing and started in the early morning in the hope that my mind would be sharper. The plan was to finish by lunchtime so I could spend the rest of the day gardening, have time with the children after school and then prepare the family dinner. I quickly realised that if I allowed my disciplined routine to lapse the family would suffer. I would be fraught and bad-tempered as the deadline approached. So I stuck to my regime to maintain family harmony.
To get started on this new book I decided to write about recent events in our lives: our problems adapting to rural life; the tragic death of our farming neighbour Russell in a road accident; and the joyful arrival of our fifth grandson, Augustus James, who was born on my birthday in June. The writing came easily and I started to feel confident that I could produce another book with the same honesty as Au Revoir.
Not long into the writing, the time came for me to pack up and fly to France, where I was to meet up with our youngest son Ethan and his partner Lynne, now heavily pregnant, who had been living in our village house for six months to experience the lifestyle and also to start work on some much needed painting and renovating. Ethan and Lynne were about to return to Australia to have their baby and I wanted to spend a week or so with them before having some precious time alone in the house. This was my first return visit to the region after the life-changing six months I had written about in Au Revoir and I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I would have the chance to live in the house for the first time as a local rather than just being a visitor, and I was thrilled at the prospect of catching up with all the friends I had made the previous summer.
Since buying the house I had agonised about how to organise a legitimate way of living part of each year in France, not, as I had done the previous year, as an extended holiday, but involved in some sort of business that would generate income. I had given up my television job on ‘Gardening Australia' and I desperately needed to replace it with an alternative career. Writing memoirs wouldn't be enough to sustain houses in two countries.
The plan I came up with was to organise small tour groups of Australians to visit the region. So this first return visit was primarily to set up an interesting itinerary that would include several hours of walking every day, visits to historic villages, châteaux and gardens, plus lots of regional restaurant meals. Doing the research for the tour would be fun and I decided to work with my New Zealand-born friend Jan Claudy as co-guide and translator.
I was thrilled to be back. The villagers greeted me warmly and my wide circle of friends embraced me with delight. Lunches and dinners and sight-seeing expeditions of the region filled my days and evenings with fun, and I wondered how I was ever going to settle back into farm life in Bathurst after another dose of southwest France.
Then something happened that changed everything. Forever.