|French Collection by Vanessa Couchman|
To celebrate the release of French Collection I am welcoming author Vanessa Couchman to share a guest post with us today. I have followed Vanessa's blog for many years, read some of her short stories published in a couple of anthologies, thoroughly enjoyed her first novel The House at Zaronza and was lucky enough to have met her at the Charroux Literary Festival this summer. You can imagine I was quite excited when I heard she would be publishing French Collection, twelve short stories set in France, and that she was happy to offer me a review copy. Thank you Vanessa, over to you:
Many thanks for inviting me to French Village Diaries today, Jacqui.
Why France Provides Inspiration for Fiction
Twenty years ago, my husband and I bought an 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France and moved here to live. It’s been a big adventure. Above all, I have learned far more about the history, culture and customs of this entrancing country.
In 1997, I was a freelance management consultant and copywriter. My work involved a lot of writing, but I had no idea that I would move on to writing fiction. Living in France has played a large part in that.
When we moved here, I knew very little about this part of France. We had been here on holiday and enjoyed the climate, the food, the perched hilltop villages and the glorious countryside. I had a vague idea that the Hundred Years War had been fought around here, but beyond that my knowledge of the rich historical heritage was woefully thin.
Moving here was a voyage of discovery. At first, it was an extended holiday and we visited all the touristy places, such as the stunning villages of Najac, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Bruniquel. They have fascinating and often turbulent histories. Gradually, I learned that le petit patrimoine – wayside crosses, shepherd’s huts, tiny chapels buried in the woods – also harbours stories that are poignant, romantic or tragic.
An isolated cross with intricate carvings was a futile attempt to ward off the phylloxera bug that devastated the French vineyards in the 19th century. A pigeonnier (dovecot) became a prison for a girl who fell pregnant outside wedlock and brought shame on her family. A stone plaque in a peaceful spot is a memorial to maquisards who were shot by the Germans during World War II.
However, it’s not just France’s history that makes it such a happy hunting ground for authors. The colour and vibrancy of produce in a market, the taste, texture and scent of bread and patisserie, the fragrant steam rising from a bowl of moules marinières – all these have worked on my writing grey cells as well as my taste buds.
French art and architecture also offer rich seams of inspiration. For example, the Mona Lisa was evacuated from the Louvre to an abbey near us during World War II. That’s a story just begging to be written: it’s on my to-do list. Artists such as Degas and Toulouse Lautrec provide a tantalising glimpse into the Parisian demi-monde, while the soaring cathedrals and opulent châteaux are fitting settings for stories.
It’s no surprise that authors such as Joanne Harris, Peter May, Kate Mosse and Martin Walker, to name just a few, have chosen to set their stories in France.
After eight years of writing fiction, I realised that I had used France as the backdrop for many of my short stories. So I have collected a dozen of them into a book. About two-thirds are historical, but they are all inspired by the essence of France.
Vanessa Couchman is a British novelist and short story writer who has lived in southwest France since 1997. She has written two novels, The House at Zaronza (read my review here) and The Corsican Widow, and is working on a third. Her short stories have been placed in competitions and published in anthologies. French Collection, her collection of short stories set in France, is published today, 9th November.
French life blog, Life on La Lune: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com
French Collection: Twelve Short Stories is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon.
Join me back here tomorrow to read my review of French Collection and you can also read my France et Moi interview with Vanessa here.
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