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I’m only a writer when I’m in my house in France


Our holiday home in the Dordogne
Frederic Raphael Writer
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After the Six-Day War, Jack Lambert took me out to lunch at Scott's to discuss whether I would do some review or other, and he then said, 'Of course', he said, 'this Oscar that you've won... you do realise, don't you, that you're never going to get spoken of well again as a writer?' And I said, 'Oh, Jack, I mean, really'. 'No, it's true. Your reputation as a novelist in England...' I thought: very nice of you to tell me. 'Yes, another thing by the way', he said, 'I hope you people aren't going to get above yourselves now'. So I said, 'Which people are those, Jack?' 'Well, I mean, this Israel business, I mean, it's all very well, you know. One can admire it up to a certain point, what they've done, but I hope it's not going to lead you people to feel that you can strut around the place'. I said, 'I never strut, Jack. I don't do strut'. Those sorts of things are perfectly legitimate and part of the rich comedy of life, but to deny that they happened is ridiculous.

Anyway, '69 came and Beetle said one day when we were in our house at The Wick, what do you think about a house in the Dordogne with... a farmhouse in the Dordogne with white shutters? We'd been to the Dordogne actually once because we'd gone to the caves at Lascaux in the days when you could down and look at the caves. A couple of times actually I've been there, and I liked it very much, and we were going to have an Easter holiday, so we put all the children in the car in the usual way. It was a Mercedes by this time, but it was the same deal. I never drove a Mercedes – anything but a Mercedes – since the Standard Vanguard when it stalled on... it didn't stall, it boiled on the slopes of the Pass of Thermopylae actually, and when I got back the person who'd sold it to me said, oh yes, there's a design fault. So I thought, well, what cars don't have design faults? And the answer was Mercedes, so there I was and there I still am luckily, though the Mercedes is getting a bit old just like I am.

Anyway, we put everybody in the car and drove down to the Dordogne in April 1969, and we went to see this house which was owned by an English cameraman called Don Long, and it did have white shutters, but it was a sort of bungaloid, three buildings knocked into one on the top of a... of a nice hill with a very nice view of the woods and everything else. Didn't have any garden. The only... most of the garden was covered in what the Frogs call ronces and brambles and stuff, and he wanted £19,000 for it. Well, I was earning good money in those days and £19,000 happened to be exactly the same amount of money that William Somerset Maugham paid for the Villa Moresque when he first bought it, I think, from a bishop or someone, whenever it was that he bought it. It wasn't a reason for buying La Gardelle and nor was it my reason, but it was one of those funny coincidences. So anyway, it seemed like small change – it's neither vanity nor anything else that leads me to say it, it's just the truth. It didn't seem like a lot of money so we bought the place and I thought we'd go there for holidays when we weren't going to Greece.

And after I had this dinner with Harry Gordon and his wife and Lee Friedlander and Jim Dine – Harry Andrews was the name of the actor who said to me, 'You'll write a lot more screenplays'. Terrific man, lovely man he was. We went down, we bought the house after a certain amount of difficulty, the usual kind of difficulty, and when we had bought the house and handed the money over to the previous owners, the English couple, I said to them, now you can tell me why you're getting rid of this house in a hurry, because you haven't had it long, have you? And Don said, well, first of all I'm a cameraman and every time I got down here I used to get a job and I kept having to go back to England, and we couldn't afford it and all the rest of it. Yes, I said, and anything else? Yes, he said, the woodworm. So I said, okay, got it.

The place was riddled with worms, but it could be treated and it has been, and it hasn't... that was the main problem. Also, it had no cupboards, it had, etc. So over the years, we have spent a good deal of money, like Willie Maugham did on the Villa Moresque, as we had it to raise the roof, to restore it as it had been in the Perigord years ago, which is much steeper than the bungalow roof that we had before when we first bought it. We had a guy come in and plant the garden, we cleared the ronces and all the rest of it, and I started in the autumn of 1969 to write another book, which was called Like Men Betrayed, which was a novel about Greece, in particular about the colonels or the effect of the colonels, which had... they'd taken power in 1967. I didn't call it Greece.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Six-Day War, Dordogne, Mercedes, Jack Lambert

Duration: 5 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014