Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Ravine of the Wild Woman, Algiers - Family Memories by Marie Laval

Our romantic anthology ESCAPE TO AFRICA is published today! This latest offering from the World Romance Writers is a collection of six very different romantic suspense short stories, all set in Africa, and available here for the special price of £0.99.

Let your wild side free and Escape to Africa! Come along on an adventure through these 6 stories brought to you by 6 best-selling, award-winning authors. You will uncover tales of an undercover operative in Casablanca, a safari guide in the Serengeti, students on holiday in Morocco, time-traveling agents in Tripoli, vengeance in Algeria, and deadly secrets in Carthage. Each of these stories will captivate you with love, danger, intrigue, and excitement. What better way to Escape?

When I was asked if I wanted to write a story for the anthology, I didn't hesitate for one second. Africa, and particularly Algeria in North Africa, always held a special place in my heart, and I hope that one day I will be able to visit and see the wonderful landscapes I have dreamt and written about.
Renée Cantrel, my mother, 1950s

My mother was born and brought up in Algiers, the sixth child of the Cantrel family. There was Marcel, who died at Dunkirk on June 1st 1940, Roger, Christiane, and twins Georgette and Guy.

Famille Cantrel, 1940. My mother is standing on the chair. Marcel is in his uniform. 
 My great-grandparents had a mixed and colourful background, since they came from Spain, France and Italy to settle in Algeria in the nineteenth century. They were what French people call 'Pied-Noirs'. They weren't wealthy at all but worked as builders and engineers, although there was always that story that my grandmother's family - the Di Bernardis - were aristocrats and had left their castle near Turin to emigrate to Algeria. I strongly suspect this was just one of those family fantasies handed down from generation to generation...

Paul in his Zouave uniform and his wife Noelie Cantrel
 My grandfather, Paul Cantrel, fought in the Zouaves regiment during the First World War.

Whilst in the trenches in Verdun he formed a friendship with a director from the Maison Godin de Guise - who still to this day manufacture stoves and cookers. They kept in touch after the war and he was appointed sales representative for Godin in Algeria.
The company gave him a car, which I believe the family was exceedingly proud of. Incidentally, the Godins were also 'visionaries' or 'utopian industrialists' who in 1846 built an ideal industrial city for their workers in the North of France, the Familistère, a fascinating building and project which is open to the public (details here).

Marcel, Roger, Christiane and twins Georgette and Guy Cantrel in the Godin company car, some time in the early 1930s
The Cantrel family lived in the Robertsau district of Algiers, and shared a cabanon (literally, a shack) on the coast where my mother said she spent the most carefree and wonderful holidays, swimming and fishing for sea urchins and mussels with her brothers and sisters. Like I said, the family weren't rich, and my mother was often sent to the local grocery shop to get supplies to put on a tab because she was small and cute and the grocer had a soft spot for her. She remembered that tea often consisted of slices of stale bread rubbed with garlic and softened with olive oil.

(I had posted a photo here which I genuinely thought was the summer house my mother's family came on holidays to in the seaside in Suffren, but I was apparently wrong and the copyright holder demanded I removed it, so there you are...)

She came to live in Amiens in the North of France after Algeria became independent in 1962, and found it really hard to adjust to the climate and the 'strange accent' and 'funny ways' of people there. It would be fair to say that people found her strange too. All her life she kept her Pied Noir accent, full of sunshine and quirky words and phrases taken from the Spanish, Arabic or Italian languages. This Pied Noir dialect even has a special name - the Pataouète.

She often talked to my sisters and I about her youth, and filled our heads and imagination with her memories of the Mediterranean sea sparkling under the midday sun, of hidden coves where pirate Barberossa's treasures were rumoured to be buried, of exotic scents, foods and colours. At times it was almost as if we'd been there ourselves.
Garden in Algiers, courtesy of Pixabay
My inspiration for The Ravine of the Wild Woman is a real place in Algiers, close to the Birmandreis Forest, named after a wild woman who lived there in the 1840s. Who was she really? Some said she was a melancholic young woman who had been abandoned by her lover and lived in a cave on the charity of locals. Others claimed she was a young mother who had lost her mind after her children vanished in the forest one day...

Algeria, North Africa, 1865.
Lenora Sharp is Azerwal's perfect woman. Brave, determined and unconventional, she is also related to the man who stole his name, his childhood and his identity - the very man and he has vowed to destroy, even if it takes him all the way to hell. Will love get in the way of revenge, or will Azerwal lose his soul before he loses his heart?

Author Bio
Originally from Lyon in France, Marie has lived in Lancashire, Northern England, for the past twenty-five years. A member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors, Marie loves dreaming up romantic heroes and writing love stories. Her native France very much influences her writing and gives her novels 'a French twist'!

You can find more about my novels on


  1. What a fascinating post! I can't wait to read the story.



    1. Thank you very much, Jenny. I'm glad you found it interesting!


  2. What a fascinating family history!

    1. Thank you very much for visiting and for your comment, Angela. Yes, I must say my family is quite colourful. On my father's side, they were Polish. And actually my paternal grandfather fought at Verdun for the Germans against my maternal grand-father who was with the Zouave regiment!

  3. Congratulations on release, Marie. I can't wait to start reading!

    1. Thank you very much, Helena. I hope you enjoy the stories!