Friday, June 30, 2017

France et Moi with author Carrie Parker

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week as part of the Brook Cottage Books virtual tour for her novel A Château for Sale, I am talking to author Carrie Parker about what France means to her. You can read my review of A Château for Sale here.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Carrie Parker Brook Cottage Books
Brook Cottage Books A Chateau for Sale

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Carrie Parker Brook Cottage Books
Carrie Parker
Born in Yorkshire, Carrie graduated from the University of London with a degree in chemistry and no idea of a career.  An extended road trip across Europe and as far east as Iran convinced her that the career had to involve travelling the world.  After a brief spell as a sub editor in London, she was off on her travels again, this time to New Zealand.  Returning to the UK a few years later, via south-east Asia, she began a career in overseas development which lasted for over 20 years and took her all over the world.  On the first of many working trips to India she met her husband and in the late 1990s they moved to south west France. After returning to the UK they settled in East Sussex, for several years splitting their time between East Sussex and Crete. 

An avid reader from childhood, writing has always been an important part of her work.  Whilst in Crete she started to write fiction.  Her first novel 'A Château for Sale' was published in early 2017.  Her second novel is set in New Zealand and Crete and she is aiming to publish it early in 2018.

Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Carrie: To me what makes France unique is no one thing but the whole package: the beautiful countryside; the outdoor markets, particularly the wonderful fruit and veg; the charming villages and small towns; the cafés, all with their terrasse.  Drive through any village and you'll see (and smell) the boulangerie and almost always see a couple of gentlemen of a certain age (often wearing blue overalls and berets!) in animated conversation, gesticulating enthusiastically, baguette under one arm…..I could go on!

2) What is your favourite memory of a trip to France?

Carrie: My best memory of a trip to France is driving out of Caen at 5am on our first house-hunting trip.  We'd come over on the ferry the previous evening, arriving quite late at night to stay in a hotel to get some rest before the long drive south.  But we were just too excited and as soon as it was light we were in the car and on our way.  Driving through the silent, sleeping, villages and countryside in the early dawn was pure magic and the feeling of excitement and anticipation of life in France will stay with us both forever.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Carrie Parker Brook Cottage Books
A Chateau for Sale
3) You lived in south west France, where your novel A Château For Sale is set, what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Carrie: The best thing about being immersed in French life was just that - feeling truly part of rural France, not just a tourist.  The scariest thing, certainly in the early months of living there, was receiving a telephone call from a rapid French speaker!

4) Can you tell us how living in France inspired writing A Château For Sale?

Carrie: The inspiration for my writing tends to come from places that I know well.  I love the French countryside and its beautiful buildings, from the smallest cottages to the most sumptuous of châteaux.  The château in 'A Château for Sale' is a real place, as are the villages of Fromac and St Geniès.  In common with most authors, I enjoy observing people, and, although all my characters are fictitious, they are inspired by people I met whilst living in France.

5) If money and commitments were no object would you be tempted to buy a château in France to renovate? Where in France would it be?

Carrie: Yes, definitely!  It would be an old, isolated Cathar castle on a hilltop in the deep south.

6) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Carrie: As a vegetarian, the savoury regional dishes of the south west were a bit of a challenge!  However, I think my favourite dish is the lovely walnut tart - tarte aux noix de Quercy.  (Or maybe a glass of the black wine of Cahors!).

7) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Carrie: Still definitely the classics - pain au chocolat and a baguette or a ficelle.

8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Carrie: I can agree if you are suggesting my novel is a bit cheesey in parts…..for myself, I'd say Saint Agur….quite soft and smooth but with a subtle bit of sharpness and spice!

9) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Carrie: I'm a traditionalist.  It would be un café:  black, strong, and served in a proper white porcelain cup and saucer.

10) I’m a big fan of the French apero habit; can you describe your perfect French apero for us, including the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Carrie: Warm summer evening, on the terrasse with the neighbours, cold rosé wine, pain de campagne, caviar d'aubergines, olives, some tiny cornichons, a few slivers of Tomme, Comté……would you like to join us?

Yes please, I’m on my way. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you. I really enjoyed A Château for Sale (see my review here) and best of luck with your new novel too.

You can follow Carrie on her Facebook page here and find her on Goodreads here. A Château for Sale is available in paperback and ebook format and if you are looking for something a little bit different for your summer reading, this book is for you. Links to Amazon can be found below.

To be in with a chance to win a £10 or equivalent Amazon voucher, click on the Rafflecopter link below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book review of The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

French Village Diaries book review The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater
The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

My review today is for The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater, her brand new novel that is released today.

A missing daughter. A desperate Mother. The answers may lie in the past.

Kurtiz Ross has been emotionally dead inside since daughter Lizzie’s disappearance four years ago; trying to live with the repercussions of the choices she made in the events that led up to Lizzie leaving home. Paris has offered her and Lizzie’s Dad Oliver the hope of finding their daughter, when tragedy hits tearing the city apart.

Time ticks by slowly as we join Kurtiz in a bar, awaiting news from Oliver and all the while Carol’s writing gives a sense of anticipation, unease and a knowing feeling that something is about to happen. At the neighbouring table, a lonely old lady, seeking company, tries to engage Kurtiz in conversation. They have no idea of the opportunities that will open up from that fateful night and the support they would be able to offer each other in the future.

Interwoven with the physical pain of grief and shock felt when your world is falling down around you, is the love story of Charlie and Marguerite. Two lost souls living in desperate times that called for risks to be taken, who found comfort in each other, despite their very different ambitions and pasts neither wanted to share.

We live in a troubled world and this book highlights the pain and emotion of ordinary lives caught up in disaster. Carol is able to make the reader feel the intense tiredness of not sleeping, of trying to function for hour after hour, conveying the horror and helplessness of the situation. This is a gripping novel, whose theme and emotions will stay with you. It is a not an easy subject matter, but it’s sensitively and powerfully covered. Carol draws on her knowledge of Paris, Provence and the Middle East to give structure and strength to her characters and their lives before we meet them.

There is guilt, grief, despair and regret but also a perfectly formed ending that offers hope and a future Kurtiz could never allow herself to believe in.

You should add this book to your reading list this summer, but you will want to give it the time and concentration it deserves.
French Village Diaries book review The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater
The Lost Girl blog tour
The Lost Girl is published by Michael Joseph and is available in hardback and kindle versions from 29th June 2107. Links to Amazon can be found below.

You can follow Carol on Twitter here, at her website here and read my France et Moi interview with her here. To read my reviews of some of her other novels see the links below.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Things we have learned from our Ardeche drama

French Village Diaries things we have learned from our Ardeche drama
Adrian's Dujarrier support

Whatever happens in life it is useful to learn from our experiences to hopefully be better prepared next time. Following on from our Ardeche drama, see part one here and part two here, there are a few things we have learned:

We certainly won’t be heading out on the bikes again without carrying emergency information, including name, date of birth, Carte Vitale number and top-up insurance details, plus name and mobile number of someone to contact in the event of an accident. Adrian even considered having a tattoo done, until he realised a change in phone number could become a painful correction.

Most cycle jerseys have a small zip pocket, which although too small for a mobile phone could hold the above emergency information. Thankfully Adrian had safely stored his car key in this pocket on the day of his accident. If he had lost the keys as well as his phone and contents of his pockets (some bits were scattered over two metres down a steep ravine) it would have been so much more difficult to stay in touch and get him home.

Wearing a Dujarrier, with it’s thick padded straps passing under both armpits, when it’s hot, is not pleasant. Thankfully he has plenty of wet-wipes and the tender loving fingers of his wife to wipe him down and keep him as comfortable as possible.

Never underestimate Girl Power; when a Mother and a wife get together to plan a rescue mission they are a force to be reckoned with.

It has also confirmed what great friends and neighbours we have; from the many well wishes to the assurances of help should we need it. Our neighbour Pierrette, who is so often a source of inspiration, had a similar experience that has given us hope. In her seventies, she regularly cycles and a few years ago fell off her bike, finding herself alone, with no mobile and a very sore shoulder. In 35º heat she pushed her bike the 4km back to her house and the following morning got herself checked out at the hospital. Her shoulder was broken. She too had a Dujarrier to wear, day and night for a month, then days only for another month. She didn’t have an operation or any physiotherapy and assures us she now has full movement, no pain at all and is back on her bike too. Adrian is seeing the orthopaedic surgeon next Monday, so fingers crossed.

French Village Diaries things we have learned from our Ardeche drama
Google streetview D236 Ardeche - Back towards the bend.

There are also a few things we will never know for sure:

Exactly what did happen around 09.30am on the D236, just after Adrian cycled around this left-hand corner in the road at 45km/hour. The crash left his saddle bent and badly torn, possibly from a somersaulting bike? The wheels are bent, but he managed to get back on the bike immediately afterwards, carrying on downhill for two and half kilometres, occasionally popping his shoulder back into place, before realising his phone wasn’t in his pocket. Leaving the bike at a food station, he walked back uphill to search for his possessions. It was while wandering back downhill, the Gendarmes picked him up and terminated his cycling for the day. With no scratches or damage to his helmet, he can’t have banged his head, despite his behaviour.

French Village Diaries things we have learned from our Ardeche drama Garmin
Garmin damage, thanks Mini

Why Adrian’s Garmin satnav/computer, which survived the crash sadly didn’t survive Mini’s moment of madness. Our generally well-behaved, nine and a half year old Labrador cross, took it from his cycle bag a week after the accident and ate it! Carefully managing to break the screen at the top and destroy the data card held in the bottom. Thanks Mini.

Why he obviously wasn’t supposed to cycle up Mont Ventoux – again. Adrian’s plan had been to head home from the Ardeche via Mont Ventoux and treat his legs to another gruelling climb. The first time he planned to ride up Provence’s famed mountain, Gizmo the Mini Cooper broke down (see here) so we never made it there. I’m yet to decide whether I let him plan another attempt at the climb.

Life can be funny at times, but I’m convinced everything happens for a reason.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rescue mission Ardeche

French Village Diaries cycling injuries Ardechoise rescue plan
Adrian sporting his Dujarrier shoulder support
Before I continue with our Ardéche drama I’d just like to say THANK YOU! Following my first post we have received so many lovely messages wishing Adrian a speedy recovery, here on the blog, on Facebook and in person, it really has cheered us up, thank you all.

I don’t know about you, but we both rely on our mobile phones to be our phone books, which we have now discovered can be a problem. Following the dramatic fall at 45km/h that saw him, his bike and everything in his pockets scattered down an Ardéche hillside, Adrian was without his mobile. The only phone numbers he could remember were our landline and his Mum’s landline – in the UK. Knowing Ed and I were out, his only option of getting a message to me was to beg/borrow the use of a phone to call his Mum, Sandra and hope she was home.

Ed and I returned home once we had spoken to Sandra and there began the telephone vigil, alongside regular texting between Sandra and I, and the wonderings of what happens next. A couple of times Adrian managed to use a phone at the hospital and let me have a brief update, but the day was long and the hours ticked slowly by.

French Village Diaries cycling injuries Ardechoise rescue plan
His x-rays
His first call reassured me he was basically OK, although with some damage to his left shoulder that meant it was refusing to stay in place. X-rays show a large gap between his arm and shoulder, but the doctor was happy that there was no break. This was the good news, however by mid afternoon he still had no idea when they would let him go and more importantly how he would get from Valence back to St Félicien, about an hours drive up into the Ardéche hills.

His journey there had been a dramatic blue-light ambulance ride, strapped to a bed with heart monitors too and although he was by no means the only cyclist taken there, most people had friends or family arrive to take them home. That was my big problem. How did I get myself 600kms to his bedside without driving, as having two cars but potentially only one driver wasn’t very practical. My only option was to sit and wait some more, but during the afternoon thoughts like will he need an operation?, how long will they keep him?, how will he get back to St Félicien?, how will he cope camping alone?, how will he get back home to us?, went around and around in my head. Adrian says that all that was going through his head was how was the bike and what would the wife say!

Mid afternoon and his missing phone rang me! A French lady called Natalie advised me the phone had been found and handed into the Ardéchoise officials; proving there are still good and honest people in the world! I told her his entry number, name and what I knew about his current whereabouts. By this point his car and tent were in one location in St Félicien, his bike elsewhere in St Félicien, his phone was being held in a neighbouring village, he was in Valence and I was at home. It was a real logistical nightmare.
We needed a Rescue Mission Plan, but I wasn’t sure anyone would be willing to hop in my 13 year old, manual gear box car, that currently has no air con and drive across France with me in temperatures over 35º, then return alone in it while I chauffeured Adrian home in his automatic car, which has air con, cruise control and speed limiter. However, I was wrong. Sandra couldn’t book her plane ticket fast enough and even once we had our plan in place our very good neighbours were slightly offended I hadn’t called them to action earlier in the day.

Once strapped up in a padded brace that tightly holds both shoulders back and together, his arm is relatively stable and once they were happy the hospital released him with a medical report, lots of prescriptions for pain killers and his x-ray pictures. At each step of his ‘adventure’ he was asked for his Ardéchoise entry number, so someone somewhere in their control centre was keeping an administrative eye on him. I can’t thank them enough, especially as they kept his bike safe, returned his phone and organised and paid for a taxi to get him back to the campsite, at a cost of 186€. They even phoned on Friday to see how he was doing.

His last meal had been the saucisson and cheese at 9.00am, so it was a tired, weary and hungry husband who returned to his empty tent at 20.45. Thankfully his car key hadn’t been lost and in the car was his UK mobile, giving us direct communication for the first time all day. It was so much more reassuring for me once we could talk and message, despite him sounding so fed up. His main concern initially was how he was going to get his bike back!

Meanwhile Sandra and I had been busy hatching our rescue plan and my five-year-old nephew seemed to think Grandma and Auntie Jacqui were just like the real-life Paw Patrol off to rescue Uncle Ade. If she flew to us, we could share the drive to him and then have two drivers to get the cars home. Needless to say he wasn’t keen! He still has some movement in his arms and he was sure he could manage to drive a left hand drive automatic. He was also determined to start making his way home as soon as possible, rather than spend another night with an achy shoulder, camping out on an airbed and with no shower.

Having made two short drives to collect his bike and phone, with the help of some friendly fellow cyclist/campers he packed the tent and car and carefully made his way to a hotel in St Etienne. However he did reluctantly agree to our rescue mission, so a flight was booked for Sandra and a route plotted to get us to his hotel in St Etienne. He then figured if he was OK following the drive to St Etienne on Sunday, it should be possible for him to make his way a little closer on Monday morning, thus reducing our journey time to him.

Just before midday on Monday we all met up in a coffee shop in Montluçon. It had been a hectic few days, we’d all been driving since early morning and still had to return home, but all that really mattered was that he wasn’t alone anymore.

French Village Diaries cycling injuries Ardechoise rescue plan
Taking things easy

It’s certainly been a long week, but Adrian is taking things easy, receiving lots of TLC, feeling a bit better and a little less bruised, although it will be a while before he is out on the bike again.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ardour in the Ardeche, the call I didn't want to receive

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche
Camping at the Ardechoise
There comes a time when we have to accept those around us need to step away and gain some independence. This letting go is often outside our comfort zone, but has to be done. This was how I was feeling letting Adrian head off to the Ardeche last week, with his bike and camping equipment, but without me. Having really enjoyed himself on the Ardechoise last year, when we were there together, it seemed mean to refuse to let him go this year, despite one of us needing to be at home to support Ed (and taxi him back and forth) through his first Baccalaureate exams.

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche
Ardechoise sportive
It’s not often Adrian immerses himself into an all French environment without Ed or I for (language) support and I thought it would be a good experience for him. I was also a tiny bit jealous that he was off to the Ardeche and I was stuck at home. A 130km sportive, taking in the hills and villages of the Ardeche, fully supported with food stops in villages decked out with bunting and an air of ‘fête’, what could possibly go wrong?

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche Ardechoise
Ardechoise cycle themed decorations 

Quite a bit as it happens!

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche Ardechoise
Food stop at the Ardechoise

My Saturday began with an early start to collect Ed from an over night party and take him to a pretty garden where the music school were putting on a small outdoor concert. Adrian phoned me at 8.00am to say he was off and then at 9.00am he texted me to show me his first re-fuel of saucisson and St Felicien cheese – yummy. I was then driving for about an hour and a half and then occupied with a slightly jaded teen, who was certainly tired and dehydrated, but putting on a brace face setting up his guitar and amp while the trumpets performed a sound test.

French Village Diaries Ecole de Musique Pays Mellois
Ed performing at the pigeonnier

It briefly crossed my mind about 11.00am that it was rather quiet from the Ardeche, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Halfway through Ed’s brilliant (I’m his Mum so would say that) performance of Apache my mobile rang, a UK mobile number that would have cost me a fortune to accept, so I declined it. Once Ed was done, my brain remembered the mobile number was quite possibly Adrian’s Mum’s number. A quick text, ‘did you just ring?’ was immediately answered with a ‘Yes, ring me NOW!’

This is how I found out that Adrian had fallen off his bike, injured his shoulder, was on his way to an unknown hospital and had lost his phone in the fall. All this 600km from home, alone with no back up and very little French.

It’s certainly been a busy few days, with multiple logistical problems and plenty of stress, but I’ll tell you more about that later. The important thing is that he is home, damaged and fed up, but home.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

La Vie en Rose, Champagne-Mouton

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
La Vie en Rose, Champagne-Mouton

In my opinion there are many benefits to cycling inclucing:

Time spent outdoors, silently gliding past fields and creeping up on deer that do no more than raise their heads and watch us cycle past.

Feeling the sun on my back, the breeze on my face and listening to birdsong.

Watching my body re-shape itself from it's curvier winter swaddling, back into a slightly more sculptured form; with muscles on my legs, reduced spare tyre around my middle and more toned upper arms.

The sense of adventure; packing the bikes for a night away, setting off from home and knowing it's just my legs (with Adrian's navigation) that will power me somewhere new. This was how I found myself at La Vie en Rose B&B last week, fifty kilometres from home in Champagne-Mouton, just over the border in the Charente department. You can read my full review for FreewheelingFrance here.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Chickens at La Vie en Rose

When we first started cycling, the Charente was our ‘go-to’ destination as they have a network of over 35 signed cycle routes, each route having 3 circuits of varying lengths, covering most of the department. Before Adrian invested in his Garmin and began planning our own routes, we would pick a Charente ‘boucle’, drive to the start point, park up and follow the signs for an afternoon ride. They are all well signed and well thought out, ensuring you avoid main roads, cycle through the prettiest villages and know where to find bars and restaurants along the way.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Champagne-Mouton, Charente

Our route to La Vie en Rose in Champagne-Mouton took us on some familiar roads as we picked up sections of routes 31, 32 and 48 as well as places I recognised from the Flandres Charentaises Classic events we have taken part in. It really is a beautiful area to explore by bike; quiet roads, fern-floored chestnut forests offering cool shade, fields of sunflowers (not in flower just yet) and wheat that was starting to turn gold, plus villages with Romanesque churches and river valleys offering muscle stretching climbs and fast descents.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Mia, La Vie en Rose

We arrived feeling tired but exhilarated and instantly fell in love with La Vie en Rose, a beautifully renovated stone cottage in a quiet hamlet where Sue and Gordon welcomed us like friends. Their dogs, Dora and Bella also seemed very pleased to have us to stay and I can't thank Taz the cat enough for curling up on my lap and purring happily, while Mia slept on the sofa by my shoulder. It's been almost two years since we lost our cat Poppy and I do miss my cat cuddles.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Terrace La Vie en Rose

Sue and Gordon are keen to encourage cyclists to come and stay as, like us, they know how great the cycling in this area is, and their home was the perfect place to relax after a day on the bikes. Their large garden offers sunny or shaded seating, guests have full access to their lounge and we joined them for a delicious fish dinner. There are a few restaurants nearby, but not near enough for tired cyclists!

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Bedroom La Vie en Rose

I slept very well in a bedroom fit for a princess and their generous breakfast fuelled me all the way home.

La Vie en Rose is just off the Tour de Charente, a 390km route taking in most of the Charente department and I would certainly recommend using it as an overnight stop. Having toured La Sarthe by bike last year and currently busy planning a tour of the Deux-Sèvres (Tour de Rêves) for later this year, I'm convinced it's the perfect way to spend a week exploring an area of France. The 100kms we clocked up cycling to and from La Vie en Rose was also great training for our Tour de Rêves charity bike ride.

Tour de Rêves charity bike tour Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Tour de Rêves

La Vie en Rose
15 Chez Pouvaraud
16350 Champagne-Mouton

33 (0)5 45 30 73 77