This section features some personal impressions from long-time Angélique fans who met Anne Golon for the first time in 1999.
By Steve Hall:
I was 17 years old when I read my first Angélique book. It didn’t look my kind of book – I was into H G Wells, John Wyndham, Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and John Buchan, and was just about to discover Tolkein – and the garish cover would have put me off if I hadn’t been staying with my uncle and at a loose end.
Thank goodness it didn’t. That day in 1968 I discovered what I still consider the most gripping, well-written, historically accurate and compelling series of books I’ve ever read – and I read a lot! By 1979 I’d read the entire series several times – I would re-read the entire series as each new book came out – and was delighted to find a copy of what turned out to be the last book published in English – ‘Angélique and the Ghosts’.
I left England to live in Australia that year, and for a while put down the absence of new books to the fact that they were hard to get in Australia. I knew there was another book – I even knew the title. The ending of ‘Angélique and the Ghosts’ made both patently clear. But I found nothing. So, as soon as I returned to England for a holiday in 1983, I hit the bookshops. Still nothing.
On my next trip in 1986 I tried again, with the same result.
The only possible conclusion I could come to was that the author, the strangely named Sergeanne Golon (about whom nothing was said on the inappropriately jacketed books) had died. I was devastated at the thought I’d never discover what had happened to Angélique as she sailed into Quebec one winter’s morning.
In 1988 on a visit to Paris I decided to try the French book shops, and there, in Gallerie Lafayette’s book section, was not only the missing book – Angélique in Quebec, as I’d known it had to be called, but two more after that. And on the back, at last, information on the author – not Sergeanne Golon, but Anne & Serge Golon – in French.
I bought them of course, in spite of my lack of understanding of French, but still believed the authors had died.
On my return to Australia I called the publishers to ask when there would be an English version, only to be fobbed off. I swore one day I would read them, but my poor attempts to learn French proved totally inadequate for the task (unlike at least three ladies I know who learned French using only Angélique in Quebec and a dictionary, so keen were they to discover the rest of the tale).
As soon as I gained access to the Internet, my first task was to do a search for Angélique, but to no avail. But I kept trying, and eventually I was rewarded when I discovered an Angélique page with a link to a bulletin board. Then, out of the blue I received a letter from a lady purporting to be Anne Golon’s daughter, stating her mother was still alive but living in poverty in Versailles.
Suspicious at first, I contacted Nadja Goloubinoff (Anne Golon’s real surname) and discovered her story was true. I was lucky enough to be able to help her with a few things and was planning to visit Paris en route to the London Book Fair.
So, in March 1999, after 30 years as a fan, having read each book at least 10 times, I am sitting in a café in Versailles with Nadja and my wife, Susan, waiting to meet my favourite author of all time. Nervous? Absolutely. Will she live up to my expectations? At 78, will she be frail? Is it a mistake to meet your heroes in the flesh?
In this case, yes, no and no. My first impression is her smile and vitality as she bustles in with her small dog, accompanied by her friend, Iva.
Introductions in French, kissed cheeks, and we sit down to the serious business of eating – this is France after all.
Over lunch, we chatter like old friends – me in English, Anne Golon in French, with Nadja translating. There is so much I want to ask about; her relationship with Serge, her present circumstances, the philosophy behind the books, how they were written, the characters, the plot – everything.
At first glance, Anne Golon is a tiny, well-dressed lady who appears in her 60s, with no touch of frailty, an obvious love of life and sharp intelligence. But start talking about her books, and show that you love them and she lights up even more. When I ask how she keeps up with such complex plots and a cast of such well defined and crafted characters, she shows me. She is carrying them, each character a cardboard name on a match.
When she is writing a scene, she lays the characters out on a table so she always knows where they are. This way, characters don’t unexpectedly turn up in places they couldn’t possibly be. If a character dies, his or her match is destroyed so he or she isn’t resurrected at a later stage. Months later, I read an article in a 1964 edition of Paris Match (very appropriately) that describes these very same matches/characters.
After lunch we walk to the foyer of a local hotel – her rented apartment is full of manuscripts and is too cramped for comfort, she explains unselfconsciously – to talk further.
I have a tape recorder, and bombard her with questions about her past, how she began writing, how she thought of Angélique, the research, the intricacies of the plot, the role of religion in the books, the modern aspects of Angélique, her dispute with her publisher and much more. (You can read the transcripts of these interviews in ‘The Author’ section of this website).
Susan reminds me that Anne is 78 years old and I’ve kept her talking for hours, but she is full of energy, answering my questions with boundless enthusiasm.
She thinks deeply about the dedication she writes in the Angélique book I have brought for her to sign, wanting to write something appropriate. She sits patiently as I take her picture, and when we finally leave I am exhausted and she is still fresh.
When I thank her for her patience, she tells me it is a pleasure to talk about the books to someone who understands them. For many years her publishers told her no-one was interested in them, and didn’t pass on fan letters.
I assure her I know personally of over 200 Angélique fans around the world on the Internet, with new ones discovering the Angélique bulletin board every day, and thank her for the hundreds of hours of pleasure she has given me.
When I kiss her cheeks – two on each side – she exclaims “You kiss the French way” and departs, full of life. I realise Anne Golon is Angélique, and in her way is as remarkable a character. Of all the stars and famous people I’ve met, this small, elderly Frenchwoman has by far the most charisma and made the biggest impact on me.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet Anne Golon twice more since then, and every time I realise how remarkable she is. On one occasion I bring 60 or more copies of covers from different editions of her books, and we laugh at how garish and badly done many of them are.
Seeing her passion, her humour and her energy, it is easy to understand why she was one of the most prolific and hardworking authors of her time, and one of the greatest. Even today her output is prodigious, and of the same high quality that made the Angélique books the best-selling books in the world in the 60s.
Anne Golon has just completed rewriting the first two Angélique books to reinsert vital passages that were expunged from the first edition to create an ‘author’s cut’, had finished an Angélique film script, and is putting the final touches to the 14th and penultimate Angélique book.
Whatever her troubles now, she has achieved what very few have. She has touched the hearts of millions of people and is one of the greatest authors of her time – or any other.
I am privileged to have met her and to call her my friend.
Steve Hall is the international sales and marketing manager of an Australian software developer who is originally from England but now lives in Sydney. He was recently elected vice-president of Friends of Angélique and is acting as literary agent for Anne in regard to English language publication of the Angélique books.
By Harvey J Adkins:
My wife, Gail, my daughter Emily and myself all met Anne Golon following our first visit to the Palace of Versailles.
Seeing the splendors created by the Sun King was a terrific and apt beginning to a much-anticipated day.
Still in the back of my mind was a nervous feeling at the thought that I would shortly be meeting the woman whom I have for more than three decades considered the greatest fiction writer in history. How would I react? I was almost afraid that I, a usually very laid-back person, might become a babbling idiot in her presence. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
Fittingly, at the appointed time we all went to meet Nadja (Anne’s daughter) at the courtyard statue of Louis XIV. Upon our arrival at the hotel, she introduced us to her friend and colleague, Iva Garo, and we continued to discuss ideas to bring the books back into the literary limelight.
The talk went along in this vein for a while, until the arrival of Anne herself. At first glance Anne is a very non-prepossessing person who looks very much the same as the only picture I had ever seen of her (with husband Serge) which has been included on numerous book jackets. I don’t know when that picture was taken, but about the only difference is age.
As is often the case, first appearances were deceptive. Once she had begun to speak, this lady very quickly impressed me as someone who knows what she is about and is extremely energetic when it comes to accomplishing her goals. She is outspoken and extremely interesting, and I was captivated immediately.
Meeting Anne herself was one of the great thrills of my (not so young) life. I had a great first trip to Paris, but meeting this modest lady ranked right up there with the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles.
I must admit that I was almost embarrassed to ask Anne to autograph a copy of Angélique: The Marquise of Angels I had brought with me.
She sat for at least 45 minutes, trying to think of the proper wording for a dedication. Since I don’t speak French, I would have been perfectly happy with a simple signature, but she wouldn’t have it.
She seemed to feel she owed me something special for what I had done in promoting her books, and I was completely touched to think that a woman that I admire as one of the greatest authors I have ever read would take so much time for a simple dedication.
On second thoughts, maybe that is why she is such a great writer. She doesn’t write anything without thinking about it. Anyhow, Still, I feel that I don’t deserve the adulation and that it in fact belongs more to our entire group of readers who have done so much in her support than it does to me alone.
One thing that Steve, his wife, Susan, my wife Gail, and I tried to convey (I think successfully) is that there are a lot of people out there behind her and hoping for her success. When she told me how much she owed me for what I have done, I sincerely told Nadja to tell her that if anyone owes anyone anything, I owe Anne for literally hundreds – maybe thousands – of hours of great reading, which has really meant something to me.
We concluded the session with pictures, and then I kissed Anne Golon goodbye. I may never wash these cheeks again!
What a fantastic day for me, and I hope that in the future at least some of the rest of you, her fans, may experience the thrill that I did in meeting this great writer that we all admire so much.
Harvey J Adkins is a microbiologist with the US Navy, currently stationed in Sicily, and was elected the first president of Friends of Angélique in 1999. (See the links in ‘The Readers’ section for details of his web pages which feature Angélique).
By J Anna Ludlow:
In 1999 I had the privilege of meeting Anne Golon – twice.
The first time was by way of introduction and the ‘granting of an audience’. The second time I was treated like a member of the family.
‘Awesome’ is a newly popular word, often used and overused by people today to describe an event that has deeply touched their lives or something that has made a lasting impression on them. For me, meeting Anne was indeed awesome.
My work history includes a long spell working for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and in the theatre. Daily, I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sir John Gielgud, Louis Jordan, Michael York and Bob Hoskins. I am no stranger to great authors either.
I never worked with him but became very close friends with Robert Holmes (Dr Who fans will know the name). I have also worked regularly with several popular science fiction/supernatural authors – one of whom was Brian Hayles, a colleague who also became a friend. A completely different genre of authors included Rumpole of the Bailey creator/author John Mortimer and Andrew Birkin (brother of Jane), so why was meeting Anne Golon any different?
Since 1980 I had been floundering, wanting to know why there had been no further translations of the books (I knew there were three others as I had bought them in the French original), and wondering whether the author was still alive.
Through Harvey Adkins’s page (see above), I discovered I wasn’t the ‘dinosaur’ I had believed myself to be – and that there were, in fact, many others who wanted to know what had happened to Angélique after the last English language publication, Angélique and the Ghosts.
When my first meeting with Anne took place in October 1999 it was only eight short months after I had first scoured the internet for information about Angélique. Now here I was, sharing space, drinking coffee and breathing the same air as this marvellous woman.
The difference is that Anne Golon agreed to meet me rather than us to meet in controlled circumstances, which bring together people who would not otherwise, ordinarily, have met. She granted me the privilege of her time and presence and it is that that makes everything so awesome and remarkable.
I travelled with a companion and close friend, Anna, who I also needed for translation purposes. We were met by Anne’s charming daughter Nadja and after a while Nadja simply stated “She comes” and Anne Golon and her good friend Iva entered the hotel reception.
The moment had arrived.
Physically Anne is tiny, but she exudes an energy and a genuine inner strength that I have not seen in a person for a long time.
She came in – very professional, very businesslike, no frills – greeted us, made herself comfortable and was immediately ready for ‘work’.
When you’ve been gearing yourself for this moment, preparing questions, getting yourself really together so as not to waste precious time, what happens? You fall apart – I fell apart and could not think of one question I wanted to ask! There the professional took over and Anne prompted little things to start the conversation flowing.
She took a personal interest in things that were being said, that led to confidences of a personal nature being exchanged, which in turn led to other subjects or linked to familiar territory. All in all, the conversation, once it started, flowed and never stuttered.
There were areas of her life that Anne particularly wished to share with us, so that we had an accurate picture of her situation. She was very generous in helping me to understand certain areas of the last three books which have never been published in English but which I have read in French. Some of my misunderstandings caused amusement, but were clarified with patience and generosity. When it was time to end, I found we had been chattering away like a group of old friends at a reunion. Anne remembered, however, that photographs had been requested, and orchestrated the various poses. A wonderfully touching moment during the photo session was the emergence of Anne the mother – she told Nadja to tidy herself up for the photo. Looking back, Anne the mother came over quite frequently during the time we spent together, but with such subtlety, that you didn’t realise it until later.
The farewell was quite different to the introduction, which had been a neat handshake and reserved smile. This time there were hugs, kisses and broad grins. We had had a ball.
For the second meeting I took my sister Marysia (pictured with Anne, left) along with me because I still needed a translator and because for the first time in many years we were taking a short break together.
We were late, having missed the earlier train, and when we started across the platform I was looking for Iva, never considering for one moment that it would be Anne herself who was waiting to greet us.
I finally spotted her – remember, she is tiny and evryone getting off the train that day was definitely over 6 feet tall. Anne immediately came forward towards me with a big grin and gave me a huge hug. Trying to be polite, I was stammering “Je vous presente ma soeur, Marysia” and Anne twinkled – she does that a lot – and greeted Marysia as if she had known her all her life. The two of them were chattering away when I finally spotted Iva and we strode down to a nearby caf�.
Iva produced some illustrated books which Anne proceeded to sign, just asking a few pertinent questions for the dedication, which she remembered from what had been said in the October meeting.
She wanted to confirm that she had remembered everything correctly. This remarkable woman has no equal.
I so enjoy observing people, and this time rather than being a major participant I just sat down and watched everyone’s faces and reactions – all very readable despite not being able to understand every word that was being said.
I really ought to improve my French – in fact, one of Iva’s parting shots was that I should study French so that I could join in more at our next meeting!
At this time, Anne asked and then commissioned my sister to translate one of her books – not bad for a first meeting, but then that is Anne. I think she has a unique gift in her ability of being able to read people.
That perhaps is why, after all these years, she has a following and loyalty (for an author who has technically been out of print for some years) which is second to none.
Why else would you, dear reader, be reading this web page otherwise?
J Anna Ludlow is the treasurer of Friends of Angélique. She lives in England and has worked in the British television and theatre industries, but is now duties manager for Nottingham Police. She has enjoyed reading the Angélique books since the early 1960s.