Friday, 13 January 2017

A long-overdue post

En route to the Christmas markets in Annecy. Wild, striking sunset.


We returned to France at a time of year when festivities are in full swing, evenings can be spent around an open fire or strolling the Christmas markets, where weather app reading becomes a daily addiction and snow watching, when it does decide to oblige the amateur weather forecaster, can last for hours. I had thought that this would give me plenty of inspiration for writing happy, uplifting blog posts.  I've been inspired, no doubt about that. I've also been way too inclined to enjoy whatever celebratory cheer has been on offer, which has meant no writing at all. Zilch, zero. Nothing to show. 

Fortunately, Jacqui from French Village Diaries had something up her sleeve that might just get me off the hook. Please enjoy my interview with her here


Backyard bliss. Snow, sun and mountains.



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Towards the title


A few things have brought a smile to my face recently.... I reached 100 K views on my Google plus page, there was a slowing down in the number of Instagram followers who were deserting me each day (my daughter keeps telling me to stop taking social media so personally), the banner and publicity material that I had ordered for my market stall arrived and looked, to me anyway, beautiful and exactly as I had hoped, the flyer for my book talk at the library was finalised, and the attendees for the talk itself ran to a waiting list with a full-house on the day. But, nothing compared to having 'But you are in France, Madame' placed on the shelves of a proper bookstore.

I'll be lucky to pocket a couple of dollars per book sold, so the thrill came not from the expectation of financial gain. It came from a sense of validation. The book industry is a tough industry to enter, understand and stand out in and the last three years (two for the writing and one since pushing the button on 'publish') have been hard, filled with self-doubt and disillusionment. I needed this small something to help keep me going.



For those who do not know my family's story, I began writing 'But you are in France, Madame' several months after arriving back in Australia after 3 1/2 years of living in the French Alps. The first few months for the family (years for me) were difficult. I talked a lot, in those early days, about what we had experienced in France. Eventually, talking was not enough and I started to write. Admittedly, I had no certainty of ever finishing something as enormous and unknown as a book and even less of publishing it. I wish I had known how things would turn out as I would have enjoyed the process so much more. Throughout the two years that I was writing, a long list of magnificent book titles presented themselves to me, revealed their unsuitability in the days that followed and were swiftly relegated.

You don't eat sushi outside Paris came, went, came back and stuck and was the title that I eventually used to submit my book to a selection of Australian publishing houses. It was a throw-away line from one of our French friends. We had met in Australia but caught up with him and his family in Italy, in the beautiful city of Florence at the end of our first year abroad. It was a joy to see them and to re-live the time that had passed since both families had undertaken their latest adventures. Affected by the difficulties that were stymying our transition to successful French living, we nonetheless tried to conversationally minimise our deceptions. Our host was not to be fooled. "You don't eat sushi outside Paris", he answered. This was his way of reassuring us and acknowledging that there were indeed rules to be followed but that it was particularly difficult to follow them if you didn't know that they even existed.

I see now that this first title was too obscure plus I didn't hear back from the publishers, so went back to work re-drafting the entire manuscript, including the title.

I loved my next attempt and even had a cover made up for Five go to France (see above). I don't have short hair and my husband is not blond, but the illustrator somehow captured a little of the personalities of the three children in her drawing, despite me giving her only the title and not much else to go on. Potential copyright issues from the publishers of Enid Blyton, whose books I loved as a child, made me pull the rug on that title too.

The story behind the next and final title But you are in France, Madame is one that I have recounted before. It was the conclusion to an actual conversation that I had and a subtle reminder of the existence of a special French something that we were learning to live and appreciate. It felt right, especially when coupled with the photo taken by my husband of our son, running through the streets of Noyers-sur-Serein on one of our family holidays.

My French friends, on the other hand, they smile and nod their heads when they first see the book in print. They require no further explanation of the title.



Thursday, 10 November 2016

Escape to France



I am sharing with you today the latest press release for my book 'But you are in France, Madame' and in my next blog, I will be reflecting on a few personal milestones that I have passed since pressing the 'publish button' one year ago.

PS If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book, there is a clickable link to the right of this blog page which will take you to the purchasing options. Thanks, as always, for your interest.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Planning our year in France


We have been back living in Australia for a few years. Whilst, in a practical sense, we feel less present than when we were living in France, we are still very much attached. Physically, we have our French village house, which is also our business as it is rented out for holiday lets; emotionally we have our friends, our photos and our memories. 

At various points around our current house we are reminded of our French story. Above my desk is a large canvas photo of the view up to the castle that we had from our balcony and an old postcard holder in our living room makes an excellent display for our French photos. Even curled, I still love stopping, flicking through a packet of images and reminiscing. 

Plus, we have our hopes and plans for the future.

An old postcard holder is an excellent way to display our thousands of photos from France
Strangely, I don't recall the exact moment that we decided to uproot us all and try living on the other side of the world, knowing no-one and only one and a half of us knowing the language (my son was only six...he's the half). But, I still remember quite distinctly the moment that we set our sights on living in Annecy.

Up until that day, we had done a lot of talking, hours of Internet searching and written many long lists of things to do and to decide. We knew by then that we wanted to be close to an international airport, not too isolated but not in a big city, be in an area where we could truly integrate with French speakers and preferably where skiing was an option.




It was mid-afternoon and we were on holidays in Adelaide. The fact that we were on holidays is probably significant as it meant that my husband and I were actually together at that time of day. He had packed a Lonely Planet Guide to France and was flicking through it. The book opened to Annecy and he started reading, he then looked up at me and asked if I knew of the town. Hmmm, did having a page of the Year 7 text book that I used to teach French, dedicated to the beautifully clean Annecy Lake, count?

Finding schools and accommodation seemed to be the most urgent tasks and we had several false starts before we came across a school in Annecy that had both a primary and secondary section, and was able to accept all three of our children. One thing organised and still so much to do. From one day to the next, I declared to a girlfriend that I had come to an important, perhaps surprising, decision - that I was pulling the plug on our year away. Packing up our house, organising our extraction from our entire Australian lives (think insurances, subscriptions, schools, work, clubs...), balancing our finances to be able to go for such a long time, being so far away and intimidated by doing everything in French, even the task of buying light enough suitcases to give us more flexibility with our flight weight allowance, was huge. If I then added to that the bureaucratic expectations of living in France, the difficulties I was having finding suitable accomodation, working out the best way to transfer money (the exchange rate was at a 10-year low) in addition to school runs, normal household chores, birthday parties, confirmations, health checks...it was just overwhelming.

The next afternoon I went and bought our airline tickets.

But, in reality, Annecy was a gamble. I had heard good things about it, that was all.

Last weekend, I wrote an introduction to a book that I was preparing.

C’est le plus bel endroit du monde.” (Winston Churchill)

Churchill was not the only one to think this way. We first stopped to explore the village of Talloires on the Annecy Lake a couple of weeks after our arrival in France. It was an overcast day and the lake’s blue shades, about which Mark Twain had written so beautifully, had been replaced by reflective hues of cloud grey. The mountains were slightly obscured and the streets were empty. A photo of me strolling along Rue André Theuriet that day turned out to be strangely portentous. There, in the background, long before thoughts of purchasing or living permanently in France had entered our heads, was our house; the one that we ended up buying many years later.

Our initial infatuation, over the years, turned into a constant love affair. Living there, we had experienced highs and lows, some predictable and some not-so, but it was the feeling that we got, the lurch in the pit of the stomach, the fleeting reflections that lingered, the sounds, fragrances and beauty that kept on floating by well after our return to Australia that convinced us that we, like Churchill, like Mark Twain, Cézanne, Gide, President Nixon and Napoleon 3, to name just a few, had found a special place in Talloires.


Then at the end of an hour you come to Annecy … which breaks the heart in your bosom, it is so beautiful.” (Mark Twain)

I am sure that we could have found other places in France that would have suited us just as well as Annecy. But, to feel so deeply we had to go and let go in the first place.