Jean Gill: Provence – for the love of bees

This week’s guest in the writers abroad series, Jean Gill, is an award-winning writer and photographer who left rainy Wales in 2003 to follow her creative dreams in Provence. She lives with two scruffy dogs, a Nikon D750, a beehive named Endeavour,and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Wales. She is mother or stepmother to five children so life was hectic.

Since her first book of poetry was published in 1988, Jean has written twenty-three books in various genres. She is best known for her recent historical fiction and fantasy novels but her work also includes a popular dog book and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.

Over to Jean to reveal her particular terroir

I imagine myself back in that Swansea café thirty-six years ago. The Man’s eyes are an intense blue as he says, ‘I’d like to take you to the south of France.’
With hindsight I reply, ‘One day, we’ll be dressed in white suits, stumbling around a Provençal hill-side in the dark, carrying a beehive full of honeybees.’

Maybe he’d have thought twice about a shared future.
But there we were on a balmy August night, waiting for the bees to go to bed so we could shut their entrance with foam, carry the hive off to the car and relocate it in a carefully prepared site in our orchard.

On hot summer evenings, bees cluster around their entrance like neighbours gossiping on the porch, and we waited a long time until they headed for bed. Then we secured the hive with leather belts and took the new lodgers home.

My Beemaster had given me full instructions on how to recuperate the hive he’d carefully nurtured for me but I was no longer the apprentice. These were my bees now and I’d watched them from the moment we caught the swarm hanging on a branch. This swarm was destined for me, much to the envy of the other learners, who all wanted bee colonies.I was also there when the Beemaster painted a pink spot on the queen – the colour code for that year. I called the queen Lily the Pink, knowing already that naming bees leads to heartache but unable to resist the temptation.

So began my first year beekeeping in 2015, after two years’ practical course. My sole aim was to keep bees alive but in a good year we do harvest the honey and have fifty jars of amber sweetness stored in the cellar. Nothing tastes as good as the honey harvest from your own bees, working on your own ‘terroir’, the French word that means so much more than ‘land’. ‘Home’, ‘soil’, ‘origin’ all contribute to the flavour of ‘terroir’.

When I taste our honey, I taste the garrigue, herbs and wildflowers, or the sap of holm oak trees after it’s been processed by ants. I’ve watched my bees harvesting this glistening ‘honeydew’ from the leaves of truffle oaks in our orchard. Each harvest is a different colour, depending on weather, flowers in bloom and time of harvest.

Everything a beekeeper does is a judgement call, based on personal philosophy and analysis of the bees’ needs. If it was easy to help bees thrive these days, it wouldn’t be as important, so there are highs and lows as we fight against the damage caused by pesticides, environmental destruction, climate change and human ignorance.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could shift shape into bees, enter a beehive and experience life as bees? How different that mindset would be from our human obsessions with individuality and rights. How different would be our vision of the natural world, not just in adding ultra-violets to our colour spectrum and losing red, but in being part of a super-organism, a hive mind.

A writer only has to wonder, ‘What if?’ for a story to begin working its magic. In this case the story of a misfit girl, stung by wild bees in the forbidden forest and reborn as their shape-shifting queen. A story written from love of bees.

All photos © Jean Gill

Thank you, Jean. I love watching the bees busy around the lavender, sage and rosemary in my garden. Busy little people!


Find out more about Jean

Twitter:    @writerjeangill


And now, a terrific offer from Jean!

Award-winning epic eco-fantasy

One misfit girl and 50,000 bees against the might of the Citadel.
Mielitta, a despised servant of dubious parentage, yearns to be an adult and fit into Citadel society but the all-powerful mages won’t even consider her for the Maturity Test. As they fight amongst themselves, Mielitta overhears their secrets and plans to escape.

Bastien and Jannlou, the boys who terrorised her as a child, have grown into their status as Mages and she cannot escape them forever.

In desperation, she flees to the forbidden Forest and its dangerous attractions. Her scent angers thousands of bees and, although she survives their attack, she has changed. As a bee-shifter, Mielitta sees the world differently.

This bond works both ways and the bees need Mielitta’s help as the rift widens between Forest and Citadel. Can Mielitta find the fulfilment she craves or will the Mages crush every cell of her second nature?

Block Nature out and she’ll force a way in.

Gill’s work stands apart through its strikingly inventive concept, distinctive sense of place, and masterful use of imagery.‘  The Booklife Prize

Queen of the Warrior Bees is FREE until 31 May –


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

2 comments to Jean Gill: Provence – for the love of bees

  • What an interesting read – thanks, you two! Almost makes me want to run away to Provence and keep bees… Looking forward to reading Jean’s book, too.

  • Alison Morton

    It’s the honey, of course! 😉 Bees are just doing what comes naturally and we are very lucky to be able to ‘capture’ the result of their work. But bees are als a direct link to where Jean lives and her bee-tales…

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