Fiona Valpy moved to France in 2007 to renovate a rambling old farmhouse with her husband. She joins us today to talk about the launch of her wonderful new novel – The French for Love.
Click on the links below to buy The French for Love, or here to read an extract.
Q. In The French for Love, Gina arrives in France after a string of bad luck to start a new life – are there any similarities with your own experience of moving to live in France?
A. Well our move to France was much better-planned than Gina’s: my South African-born husband had been plotting our escape to sunnier climes for years, and once our sons were grown up we seized the moment. There were certainly highs and lows though, and challenges to be faced with the differences in language and culture. And I have to admit that I am renowned amongst our French friends for one or two highly embarrassing linguistic bloopers, which I’m sure they’ll never let me forget.
After a year or two of feeling like a complete outsider, I was suddenly struck by the realisation that we’d been absorbed into this new community, almost without noticing. That was an inspiration for one of the themes in the book, as Gina – imperceptibly to her – is supported by a tight-knit network, who seem to know her every move: that’s rural life!
Q. And what are the best three things about living in France?
A. The sunshine, of course. And living in one of the world’s biggest winemaking regions, so there’s endless scope to explore and discover new wines. And the markets full of wonderful seasonal produce. And I love the space and living in the countryside. Whoops, that’s more than three…
Q. How about the top three things that you miss about England (if you can think of that many)?
A. Friends and family, although lots of them do come and stay with us in the summer which is lovely. And – although I hardly dare admit it in a country which prides itself on having as many cheeses as there are days in the year – a good cheddar! Please don’t tell the French though or I’ll be sent straight to the guillotine.
I can only think of two. Sorry!
Q. Wine is a recurring theme throughout The French for Love – did you do any particularly demanding research?!
A. Ah, yes, it was a tough assignment but someone had to do it. I do like to give my taste-buds a good work out at regular intervals and after all, living where we do, it would be rude not to…
When we moved here we’d set our hearts on buying a wine farm and making our own wines, so we’d done lots of studying and research. But we made our move just as the world economic climate started to become distinctly turbulent and so, after looking at 30 winemaking properties we finally bought one which didn’t have hectares of vines, just a rambling old house in need of love. We have been keen supporters of our region and its wines though, and I’ve worked the wine harvest so I know what hard graft it is. A couple of years ago we were honoured to be made Chevaliers of the local Bordeaux appellation. I enjoy nothing better than tasting new wines and sharing them over a meal with friends.
Q. And could you recommend us the three French wines that would be a perfect accompaniment to our summer reading?
A. I always think the quintessential summer wine is a very pale French rosé, either from Provence or from the Bordeaux region. Our friends at the Château des Chapelains (www.chateaudeschapelains.com) make a beautiful one, crisp, fruity and well-balanced. A beautiful dry white is always an elegant drink: Chablis is probably my favourite or, from around here, Château Carbonneau’s Cuvée Margot which has a little twist of New World flair (www.chateau-carbonneau.com). And my third choice, for a treat, would have to be a bottle of champagne… What could be more summery and joyful than its chilled exuberance? A favourite is the wonderfully talented Benoît Lahaye’s Brut Essentiel; the farm is biodynamic and his champagnes have been acclaimed far and wide around the world. If you see a bottle, grab it!
Q. You now run a successful B&B – La Gravouse – in the beautiful French countryside. If you could invite five authors for the perfect writing retreat, who would they be?
A. Oh dear, it’s hard to limit it to five. There are so many wonderful authors out there and I’m an avid reader. I think I’d make it a girls-only affair, and get in a good supply of wine for inspiration… Helen Fielding would be fun to have along, as we all have a touch of the Bridget Joneses about us and I can’t wait to read her new book, which is due out later this year. Caitlin Moran would bring her wonderfully original and anarchic sense of hilarity to the party. I’d love to talk to J.K. Rowling about making the transition from writing children’s books to adult fiction and to hear what she’s planning next. Anita Shreve would be on the list to share her ability to capture the subtle nuances of relationships. And Barbara Kingsolver would keep us all grounded and remind us of the bigger issues in this world.
Q. Were there any particular books or authors who helped to inspire your own writing?
Jane Austen definitely; she’s the High Priestess of intelligent chick-lit. And I love Barbara Kingsolver’s books; she writes so perceptively about family dynamics. But there are so many talented authors out there, who make what is very hard work look so effortless. I often finish a book and think I WISH I’d written that.
A. Finally, in The French for Love, Gina finds herself falling for a French man… having lived there for several years, are French men quite as charming as we’re lead to believe?
Mais bien sûr!
Ready for some summer reading? Grab yourself a chilled glass of wine and a copy of The French for Love today!
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