There are writers who like to tell you of their early start as wordsmiths, creating a family newspaper at five and working on their first novel while still in short pants. No such claim from Ted Jones. “No, that’s right. I came to writing rather slowly. I was born and brought up in Liverpool and went into the civil service. I didn’t like it and I emigrated to New Zealand where I set about getting an education. I took an economics degree and then qualified as a Chartered Accountant. After a time I began to feel New Zealand was a bit too small for me and I moved to Australia. I was working for a computer company and one of my colleagues was a certain Wally Storer – yes, he of the Cannes English Bookshop – and we’ve been friends now for forty-six years.”
“Maybe I could make a few bob”
“I eventually went back to the UK and joined Sperry Rand, another computer company, as marketing director. I had five years in Philadelphia – which I loved – and then in 1982 I was put in charge of their International Management Centre in St Paul de Vence and got bitten by the Riviera bug. Actually, I recall meeting you there at one of the breakfast seminars of the American Chamber of Commerce. Anyway, I retired eventually to the UK but we took a house here and for years we’ve divided our time about half and half between our place in Villefranche and our other home in Windsor where we’ve got a very good class of neighbour.”
And the writing? “Well, I didn’t retire totally – that’s never a good idea – and when I first got back to the UK I did consulting and that involved quite a lot of writing for clients – speeches, reports and so on – and I realised that I enjoyed stringing words together and that maybe I could make a few bob that way. It got serious when one day I went to a sale of Charlie Parker memorabilia at Christie’s. I’m a big jazz fan and I felt I wanted to write about it. I did a piece and sent it to the Guardian, it was accepted and I became a regular contributor. Since then I’ve written for all sorts of publications from The Lady to the in-berth magazine of a major American cruise company. Their first commission was for an article on teapots.
“Of course, writing a full-length book is quite a step from doing shorter pieces but I had an idea. I’d developed quite an interest in literary history and I’d taken an Open University degree covering the field. The Côte d’Azur has always attracted writers from all over and I thought a ‘literary guide’ would be useful. It involved a lot of library research and footwork, too. I got a lot of surprises. Everyone knows about Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene being here but among the 150 mainly English-speaking writers I dealt with I was able to talk about John Milton’s visit to Nice in 1636, Kipling’s enthusiasm for the area, Nabokov’s chasing butterflies around Menton and Alan Sillitoe’s regular fourteen kilometre walks across the frontier to buy cheap food in Ventimiglia. I enjoyed writing the book and know quite a few people have enjoyed reading it. It’s ideal for anyone who’s interested in literature and knows the Côte d’Azur.”
“Very easy to work here”
And now ? “I’m still writing articles on all sorts of subjects as well as short stories and a bit of poetry. I’m also working on a novel set in Corsica. I find it very easy to work here. I like the usual aspects of, of course, wine, food and weather. My only grouse concerns my other passion – DIY. I don’t think the French are into it as much as the Brits and the shops aren’t as good. I can manage without baked beans but I do wish B&Q would open here ...”
Ted Jones’ The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers was published in 2004 by I.B. Tauris (UK) and can be obtained from local English bookstores.
From Reporter 114