Peter Mayle, an Englishman who started a writing career in his 30s with sex-education books for children before making a spectacularly successful switch to the travel memoir genre with “A Year in Provence,” his 1989 best seller about relocating to Southern France, died on Thursday at a hospital near his home there. He was 78.
His death was confirmed by Paul Bogaards of Alfred A. Knopf, which has published Mr. Mayle’s books since “A Year in Provence” was released in the United States in 1990.
Mr. Mayle and his wife, Jennie, had moved to the village of Ménerbes in the Provence region in 1987, with Mr. Mayle intending to write a novel. But with renovations to the 18th-century stone farmhouse they had bought in full swing, he kept getting distracted. His agent finally told him to shelve the novel and write about the distractions.
“Everything catastrophic became useful,” he recalled in a 1993 interview with The New York Times. “Up to that point, I had kept a halfhearted diary. After that, I took copious notes, and the chapters more or less wrote themselves.”
The book relates the couple’s month-by-month encounters with local builders, lawyers, truffle hunters, boar hunters and more. Its British publisher, Hamish Hamilton, had not expected much, ordering 3,000 copies. But the book, aided by being excerpted by The Sunday Times of London, just kept selling, reaching the million-copy mark in England and 600,000 in the United States.
It was adapted into a television mini-series starring John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan, seen in the United States on A&E in 1993. Mr. Mayle wrote a sequel, “Toujours Provence,” in 1991, and “A Year in Provence” inspired a wave of similar fare by others.
As the British newspaper The Telegraph noted in revisiting its success in a 2006 article, the book “somehow tapped deep into a slumbering, latent, hitherto unknown British desire for sunshine and fine wine, for peeling shutters and croissants, for distressed armoires and saucisson and the good life in the French countryside.”
A complete obituary will be published soon.