Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lazy Sunday in France with the authors behind Serena Kent

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Serena Kent
Death in Avignon, Serena Kent


Serena Kent is the author of cozy mysteries Death in Provence and Death in Avignon and the pen name of Deborah Lawrenson and her husband Robert Rees. They enjoy slightly different takes on what makes a great lazy Sunday. 

You can read my review of book one, Death in Provence, here and Death in Avignon (released this week) here. For a taste of what to expect, you might like to read what their character Penelope Kite gets up to on her Lazy Sunday in France here.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Serena Kent
Luberon ©DeborahLawrensonRobertRees


The first delicious aspect of a lazy day in Provence is getting up relatively early by myself while Rob slumbers on. I take a cup of tea and breakfast to the terrace which looks out over the whole length of the Luberon valley. The silence seems to swirl like the thermals that eagles ride in the intensely blue sky.
If the mood takes me in the summer, I’ll swim first of all. Our pool is unheated, so the water will be crisp and bracing as I plunge in. The number of lengths I do depends on whether I’m feeling I’m might just have over-indulged (again) in cheese, or patisserie, or rosé (sadly, all too often). 
Reading in the morning is an essential part of a lazy Sunday. I can completely relax and lose myself in a book, stopping to daydream along the way.
If I’m going to venture out, I love to wander around a classic Provençal brocante. This pleasurable activity is watched with basilisk eye by Rob, though, as he feels I have bought enough lanterns and oil lamps and garden furniture and should now be actively avoiding temptation. 
Lunch on Sunday in France traditionally means going to a restaurant, but it’s not my ideal. Honestly, I prefer simplicity at home: melon and jambon cru, tomato and mozzarella salads and baguette and ice-cold Perrier. Then back to a shady spot under a pine tree in the garden and my book and the piano music that often drifts from Rob’s music room. 
A truly lazy Sunday gives plenty of time to think and be in the moment. In the evening: a few glasses of rosé on the terrace watching the sun set in technicolor display, followed by dinner, cooked expertly by Rob, and a lot of laughs with him, our daughter Maddy and any friends who happen to be staying.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Serena Kent
Garden view ©DeborahLawrensonRobertRees


One of the most wonderful things about Sundays is a bit of a lie in. After a bit of a read in bed, or a snooze (usually the latter), breakfast calls. One of the first luxuries we allowed ourselves in the French house was a decent expresso maker. After a few minutes of issuing forth steam and strange sounds, it disgorges a thin stream of oily black liquid which is a necessity for me in my morning routine. The coffee is taken with croissants and the wonderful French loaves known as Tradition: hard on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Serena Kent
Rob's music room ©DeborahLawrensonRobertRees

Once fed and watered I will turn the computer on, look at it for a few minutes, and then decide life is too short to answer any emails, especially as the music room beckons. A sleek black upright piano sits in an old stable conversion next to the house, offering a haven where I can relax and play, sound muffled by the thick walls, much to Deborah’s relief. 
Usually I have a large stack of classical music books brought from England, though I also have, over about ten years, amassed quite a lot of my own compositions. Some have stood the test of time, whilst others now make me cringe. If the muse visits then I will scribble a few ideas down or work on a new piece/song. 
In Provence, Sunday is the day for a big lunch out – sometimes with friends but usually at a local restaurant. If I can persuade Deborah that there is more to life than salad, there are any number around us, including one particularly classy joint in our local village called Le Sanglier Paresseux – the Lazy Boar. Which is, ironically, how I would classify myself on Sundays, especially before shaving.
Sunday afternoons consist of lazing by the pool with a good book, the occasional cooling plunge, and once the sun has passed the yardarm, a glass of ice cold rosé and olives on the terrace, looking out over the wooded hills of the Luberon stretching away to the horizon like a large frozen green sea.

As a bonus treat, here is a glimpse into Rob’s music room (don't forget to turn the sound up) from their sunny terrace. Bliss, I wonder if I could gatecrash?
You can follow Serena Kent at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Book review of Death in Avignon by Serena Kent

French Village Diaries book review Death in Avignon Serena Kent
Death in Avignon by Serena Kent

Death in Avignon by Serena Kent

My review today is for Death in Avignon, book two from Serena Kent’s cozy mystery series set in Provence.

With the renovations of her house in St Merlot coming along nicely and following her super sleuthing to solve the murder of the body she found in her swimming pool, Penelope Kite is hoping her new life in the Luberon will be a little less exciting, in terms of dead bodies, from now on.

As a guest of Laurent, handsome Maire of St Merlot, Penny is looking forward to an evening at a local art gallery in Avignon, followed by dinner for two at an exclusive restaurant. The four artists featured by gallery owner Gilles de Bourdan are all very different, in style and personality. There is loud and brash Doncaster with his not-so-subtle commercial art, Nina the installation artist, Scarpio and his studies in black and Nicolas Versanne, friend of Laurent and an artist whose abstract work Penny enjoys. A commotion, a collapse and Penny’s excitement at dinner for two is replaced with disappointment. One of the artists has been poisoned and as the finger points to the other three, strange things keep occurring, including another murder, a disappearance and a fire. Can Penny leave it to incompetent Chief of Police, Georges Reyssens, who failed to solve the murder in her pool, or should she do her own digging around and find some answers?

With her good friend Frankie, larger than life and happy to indulge in all Provence has to offer, by her side, Penny’s questions may not always win her friends, but with lots of twists and unexpected turn-ups, this book is great fun with both characters and a setting that come to life. I had no doubt Penny would get there in the end, but when things reach a dramatic climax, will she find herself with friends or foes?

This book will be a great accompaniment to any French holiday, especially if it happens to be in Provence.

You can read my review of book one, Death in Provence here and find out what character Penelope Kite does on her ideal Lazy Sunday in France here. Join me back on the blog tomorrow to discover what makes a perfect Lazy Sunday in Provence for the authors behind Serena Kent, husband and wife writing team Robert Rees and Deborah Lawrenson.

Death in Avignon is published by Orion and available in ebook and paperback, links to Amazon can be found below.

You can read more about Serena Kent at her website and follow her on Facebook Twitter and Instagram.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Book review of Summer at the Little French Café by Karen Clarke

French Village Diaries book review Summer at the Little French Café Karen Clarke
Summer at the Little French Café by Karen Clarke

Summer at the Little French Café

My review today is for book two in the Little French Café series by Karen Clarke, Summer at the Little French Café. 

We are back on the beautiful Ile de Ré where another lost soul finds herself in the bosom of Dolly’s little French café. A chance discovery of a postcard from the island and a baby shawl has led Elle to the café, looking for clues to discover who her mother is. Her ‘holiday’ gets off to an unexpected start as before she realises it, she finds herself working at the café alongside Dolly and her son Charlie (who I developed quite a soft spot for in book one).

All Elle has to go on is an approximate age and a note, signed with the initial M, written on the postcard of the café that drew her to Dolly’s door. Between them, Dolly and Elle draw up a list of possibilities and with a little clever questioning of some of Dolly’s regulars, rule out those it can’t be. While Elle is determined to discover where she came from, Dolly is also working on a plan of her own.

I love a mystery and enjoyed the anticipation every time a new character arrived. I soon found myself playing along, analysing their stories, asking my own questions and wondering if they could be M. There is not quite the fire and passion that grabbed me in book one, but this book has lots of tender, emotional moments, a few romantic what-ifs and lots of laughter too, plus an unexpected twist at the end. Don't forget to pack this book (and book one if you've not yet read it) for your summer holiday.

I can't wait to get back to the café and catch up with Dolly and her café family in the final book in the trilogy, hopefully out later this year.

Summer at the Little French Café is published by Bookouture and available in ebook and paperback, links to Amazon can be found below.

You can read more about Karen at her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Summer in France, keeping cool in a canicule

French Village Diaries keeping cool in a canicule, summer in France
Precautions to take in extreme heat

Summer in France

Extreme weather

It was only two weeks ago when I was talking about rain, hurricane strength winds and seemingly no signs of summer (see here)

A week ago, 144km north of us Mother Nature rocked us with an earthquake that measured 4.9 and that we felt as it rumbled through the ground for a few seconds. It has been reported as the (or one of the) biggest earthquakes in France for many years. 
French Village Diaries keeping cool in a canicule, summer in France
Canicule alert  via
This week the sun has arrived, the clouds have parted, but we have gone from one extreme to another and are now on canicule, or heat wave, alert, something France takes very seriously and is rather unusual for the month of June.

In August 2003 over 15,000 people died in France when a canicule hit with temperatures consistently higher than 35º for the first two weeks of the month, and often topping 40º. This was before we moved here, but in our time, we have occasionally hit the high 30º’s and it is exhausting. Most communes will now be putting into place their canicule plan of action. Information will be sent out on sensible precautions to take in the heat and lists will be drawn up to ensure those who are at most risk of heat stroke can be kept an eye on; those over 65, those with medical issues, people living alone, young children and pregnant women. Neighbours are actively encouraged to look out for each other and call the emergency services if they are concerned. Please do not underestimate the risk of extreme temperatures.

French Village Diaries keeping cool in a canicule, summer in France
Canicule weather 35º

Early yesterday afternoon the temperature was 33º, with a hollyhock-shaking warm breeze and the hottest it got up to was 35º at 18h, thankfully a little cooler than the forecast of 38º. Today it may top 40º. Poor Adrian is in the UK, his commute on Tuesday was in the pouring rain and on Wednesday the temperature only managed a weak 18º with grey skies and wind. It doesn’t seem fair!
French Village Diaries keeping cool in a canicule, summer in France
Refreshing cool water with mint, fennel and cucumber

Keeping cool in a canicule

My top tips for surviving a heat wave:
Do drink plenty of water. I find a jug of tap water kept in the fridge with a few mint leaves, some fennel fronds and slices of cucumber, sipped regularly, to be most refreshing
Don’t over indulge on the alcohol
Don’t forget to keep animal water bowls topped up, indoors and outside

Don't forget to eat - as if......

Do keep the shutters closed to keep the house as cool as possible
Do wear sun cream whenever outside
Don’t stay outside too long

Do utilise the energy of the sun and get as much heavy washing done and dry as possible
Don’t waste energy on other household duties

Do get up early when the temperature is a bit cooler
Don’t forget to pop back to bed for an afternoon siesta when it’s hot in the afternoon

Don’t expend energy unnecessarily 
Do spend your time reading, and as luck would have it, today is publication day for three fantastic new summer reads: 

Summer at the Little French Café by Karen Clarke (book two in her trilogy set on the Ile de Ré and that I will be reviewing here tomorrow). 

Death in Avignon by Serena Kent (the latest adventure set in Provence starring Penelope Kite and that I will be reviewing on Saturday). 

Date with Poisson by Julia Chapman (her latest cozy mystery set in Bruncliffe, Yorkshire where the temperatures are a lot cooler!).

Lou Messugo

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Book review of Overture by Vanessa Couchman

French Village Diaries book review Overture Vanessa Couchman
Overture by Vanessa Couchman
Overture by Vanessa Couchman
What if you had a unique talent, but everything conspired against your dreams?

France, 1897. Born to a modest farming family, Marie-Thérèse has a remarkable singing voice and wants to become a professional singer. But too many obstacles, including her parents' opposition, stand in her way. And, through no fault of her own, she makes a dangerous enemy of the local landlord.
When the family circumstances change suddenly, Marie-Thérèse and her mother must move to Paris to work in her aunt's restaurant. Her ambitions rekindle, but the road to success is paved with setbacks until a chance meeting gives her a precious opportunity.
She is close to achieving all her dreams, but the ghosts of the past come back to haunt her and threaten Marie-Thérèse's life as well as her career.

French Village Diaries book review Overture Vanessa Couchman
Overture blog tour 

My review

Marie-Thérèse has a talent for singing and would also have loved to continue her education, but life in a poor farming family in rural Aveyron meant neither were an option for her, as she was needed to work. Money was scarce, life was hard and suddenly made harder when tragic circumstances force the family from their farm. 

Leaving their beloved Aveyron, Marie-Thérèse and her mother find themselves in Paris, working long hours for a bed and good meals at her Aunt’s restaurant, Bistrot Mazars, Specialities Aveyronnaises. Here we are thrown into the Paris bistrot culture, where those who had left the countryside for better opportunities flocked to enjoy a taste of home and a friendly face. Life here couldn’t have been more different for Marie-Thérèse and Augustine.

As Paris opens up to Marie-Thérèse she gets a peek into the world of music and opera and a few chance opportunities to sing, all of which rekindle her ambition to become a singer. Despite a few false starts and many obstacles in her way, she meets someone who believes in her and wants for her to succeed. With the right encouragement and lots of hard work, could her dream one day come true? 

Vanessa Couchman has the ability to bring history to life and this book was no exception. I felt the hardships of Marie-Thérèse’s early life; the grief, the hunger and the despair. Paris was as exciting for me as it was Marie-Thérèse and the way she embraced her new life and work in Paris, meant I really wanted her to have the chance to grasp the opportunity to become a singer, and to succeed.

As well as the contrasts of rural France and Paris, world events including the Titanic and the unease in Europe before the start of the First World War are all woven really well into the storyline, along with the glamourous world of the Opera and European travel in the early 1900’s.

Overture is the first book in a trilogy and I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment. If you enjoy historical novels, you should add this to your summer reading list.

Purchase Link

French Village Diaries book review Overture Vanessa Couchman
Vanessa Couchman

Author Bio – Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in an 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France since 1997. French and Corsican history and culture provide great inspiration for her fiction. She has written two novels set on the Mediterranean island of Corsica: The House at Zaronzaand The Corsican Widow. Her third novel, Overture, is Book 1 of a trilogy set in France between 1897 and 1945. Vanessa’s short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies. 
Social Media Links – 
Amazon Author Page:

French Village Diaries book review Overture Vanessa Couchman
Overture blog tour 21st to 27th June 2019

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Book review of A Stranger in Paris by Karen Webb

French Village Diaries book review A Stranger in Paris Karen Webb
A Stranger in Paris by Karen Webb

Following on from her fantastic answers to my France et Moi questions yesterday (see here if you missed it), here is my review of Karen Webb’s first memoir, A Stranger in Paris.

As her university life finished, Karen followed her heart, and a lover who’d said, “move on and forget me”, to Paris, ready for a new adventure. Here she found herself thrust into a Parisian family with little chance to find her feet before taking the reins and looking after three young children. One super cool pre-teen, who thinks she is too old for an au-pair and who speaks better English than Karen does French, learning the difference between after school snack (gouter) and dinner, ironing Monsieur’s undies, and becoming ‘staff’ to grandma in her remote chateau are just some of the issues she has to face in the first few months. Luckily for Karen, her friend Jessica always seems to come up with a solution to her problems, right up until things go a little off-plan. I loved Jessica, although I’m not sure she was always the best influence. 

Leaving the wealthy suburbs for the city, Karen has a close call with well-meaning (I guess) mafia, some no-hope boyfriends and finally a sympathetic boss who gave her the chance to stay and make a life for herself in Paris. For me this book highlighted the kindness of strangers, but also the odd behavior from those who should have been kinder. Living with nothing; no language, no money and no furniture, her determination to work hard to find her place had to be admired and even though she admits she wasn’t living the Parisian dream, she did at least have the courage to give it a go and never give up.

Karen certainly has a tale or two to tell of life in Paris in the 1980’s and it was a great read, unless you are a parent to an 18-year-old who is planning Paris as his next move in a few years – eek!

This book takes us through her first year working in Paris and in places becomes almost a study in cultural differences as she gives her insight into working among the French and what makes them tick. I found this especially interesting and it certainly left me wanting to read more. I’m glad to hear book two should be out later this year.

A Stranger in Paris is published by Impress Books and links to Amazon can be found below.

Friday, June 21, 2019

France et Moi with author Karen Webb

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Karen Webb A Stranger in Paris
Karen Webb, A Stranger in Paris

Welcome back to my ‘France et Moi’ interview feature where this week I am talking to memoir author Karen Webb about what living in France means to her.

Karen left Aber Uni in 1989 and ran away to Paris chasing a French boyfriend who had fled to the tropics to escape her. Alone in the city she worked in an American software company before retraining as a language teacher, eventually setting up her own language school. With two children, her father, and a car-load of animals in tow, she moved her entire family to Gascony in SW France in 2005, where lack of available work (other than picking garlic or stuffing geese) entailed a change in career from teacher to estate-agent. Karen now lives in Lectoure, is married with two children and runs her own real-estate agency:

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Karen Webb A Stranger in Paris
Karen Webb, A Stranger in Paris
Karen graduated with an MA in Creative Writing as a mature student at Lancaster University in 2015, and after this devoted herself to fulfilling her life-long ambition of becoming a published author. The result is the release of “A Stranger in Paris” the first book of a trilogy, recounting an often “unexpected” life in France. I’ll be posting my review of A Stranger in Paris on the blog tomorrow.

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’?

Karen: For me there is Paris and there is France. From 1989 till 2005 my life was spent in the capital city. If I think back and try to capture specific memories, I can feel immense nostalgia for a life which is utterly different from my rural life in SW France. 

Paris to me is the Champs Elysées at Christmas with tree-lined avenues of a thousand twinkling lights. It is the grand façades of shops with minimalistic displays of fashionable items I could never afford. 
Paris is squeezing my car into the tiniest of spaces, bumping the vehicle in-front and behind to make sure I fit in. It is driving home late at night, whizzing round the Arc de Triomphe and then down the Avenue de la Grande Armée, the voice of my first French driving instructor bellowing in my ear: “Foot down! Accelerate! If you stop you are DEAD”    
Paris is the double séance at the cinema in St Germain des Prés before a bowl of hot onion soup. It is the thousand different and wonderful Art déco cafés in which to eat: the linen table cloths, the platters of oysters and sea-food piled high and carried in by a waiter dressed like a penguin. In spring it is the pink blossom on the trees, and a trip to WH Smiths on the rue de Rivoli to pick up an English paperback, before wandering in Le Jardins des Tuileries, amidst dust and pigeons to sit beside the pond and watch children sailing paper boats as they have done for a hundred years. It is the inimitable smell of rubber and urine in the metro and the screech of doors closing on a huddle of passengers packed in like sardines.  And yes there are poo-smattered pavements, in Paris but with the stars in your eyes and your head in the clouds, it is easy to dance around the odd turd in the City of Light.  
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Karen Webb A Stranger in Paris
Lectoure, Gascony
Gascony is another country. A world so far removed from Paris that I may as well have slipped back in time to another world. It is open fields, and huge (at first) terrifying night skies, where there aren’t as many street lamps to light the way home. It is directions given with confidence, by farmers in blue-zip up overalls with accents I cannot at first understand: “turn left at the oak, by the bins, down the track past the pond, until you get to the gates in the Back of Beyond. “
It is sunflower fields and garlic, melons and grapes, peregrine falcons puffed up on frosty mornings on the telegraph wires or hovering for prey over dark earthen ditches. It is mouse-poo in the cupboards and the smell of wood-burning fires in old and damp stone kitchens. Gascony is flaky pastry apple-pies, dank truffles and fruity red wines. It is summer sunshine in narrow streets filled with tourists in socks and sandals; it is the relief at the end of August when the last white camper-van pulls away, and the trees turn golden brown, as once again it is possible to drive the fifteen miles between town and home passing only a tractor.  

Paris and Gascony are a million miles apart but both to me are unmistakably “French”.

2) You arrived in Paris aged 21, having followed your heart, and with very little French. Can you tell us what the best thing about being immersed in French life was, and the scariest thing?

Karen: I have always loved words. For me the best thing was always learning a different language. When I first arrived, I would absorb every poster and each billboard I passed, reading the words and saying them in my head. I remembered my best friend at Uni (Scarlett in the book) calling her French boyfriend from a red phone-box in Aberystwyth and watching as she fed the coins into the slot, as she turned into a French person throughout the course of the conversation. I watched how her mannerisms changed speaking another language and her personality too. I thought it was a fascinating thing to become a French version of one’s self. 

For many years the worst thing was that gap between hearing and complete understanding. This was particularly difficult when trying to stand my ground at work, or with my French mother-in-law! I discuss these problems a lot in book 2, and it is fair to say that often in the early years I was reduced to a snivelling wreck and would cry from the sheer frustration of not being able to answer back and defend myself. This is hard enough in your mother-tongue but a nightmare in a second language when you have the vocabulary of a five year old!

3) Do you have any top tips for wannabe au pairs looking to start their French adventures?

Karen: My advice to wanabe au-pairs is seriously - don’t! Unless you have a serious desire to work with children, or in teaching and you enjoy spending time with them. 

I would encourage anyone wanting to do this to have baby-sitting experience and basic household skills! It is fair to say when I was an au-pair I had about as much knowledge of looking after a house and children as the five year old girl assigned to my care. Looking back now it seemed an ideal solution to experience Paris - but today I am sure there are easier ways! 

Later, as a mum myself, I also had au-pairs come to work for us - and in all honesty our experiences even as a host family were just as bad! 

4) Having lived in France and spoken French for many years do you have any top tips for my readers on how to learn French? 

Karen: The only real way to learn French is to go to France and remove yourself as much as possible from anyone who speaks English. It is amazing how quickly anyone can learn when totally immersed in the language. 

When I first arrived in Paris I listened to a lot of French music. My favourite is Charles Aznavour whose music always tells a story. I enjoyed learning the lyrics in French and patting myself on the back when I recognised the words or could even sing them myself. 
My favourite is “Je n’ai rien oublié” which is a song full of ambiance and poignancy. It tells the story of a man who meets the one true love of his life in a café at closing time, a life-time after they parted. The couple sit together and Monsieur explains how it was her father who drove them apart, how he has never found love or married, but hopes she is well, married and happy. He says so poignantly and kindly, despite the grey hair and wrinkles which we imagine, that she has not changed, only her hair, perhaps a little....
There is a whole movie in this song and it never fails to move me with its understated pain and heartbreak.  

French songs are always rich in detail, and the nature of French language allows for easy rhyming schemes. By learning songs, it is easy to pick up the intonation and flow of language.  
Another French singer to look out for: Serge Lama. “Je suis Malade” is a very powerful song. 
I love musical theatre so learning French through “Les Miserables” and “Notre Dame de Paris” was fun!
“Belle” is a particular favourite from “Notre Dame de Paris” - suggestive in parts! Once you get the nuances you are on the road to being properly French!

5) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?

Karen: My language mishaps .....
A funny one always came up when talking about weddings. I always heard it said that the bride’s father would drive her to the hotel. I registered this fact many times over the years. 
I imagined some French tradition in which father and daughter sat alone in a hotel and the father gave advice or ran through the facts of life before taking her to the church. 

It turned out they were saying the father led his daughter to the “autel” which is the altar but is pronounced almost the same as the French pronunciation of “hotel”. 

Another funny one was when I heard of veal calves at the butcher’s shop which were particularly tender as raised “under sea level” or “sous la mer” - I imagined a variety of veal that were bred in coastal regions and somehow imagined they wallowed in salty water by the beach which made their meat nice and juicy. It turned out the veal were raised or fed by their mother “sous la mère” and far from the sea after all. 

One final funny misunderstanding came whenever I drove out of a village and saw the name of the village crossed out with a red line.  For years I imagined the French regularly changing the names of their villages and crossing out the old ones. I didn’t understand until I came to drive myself that the names of the villages were not changing but that it was to indicate one had driven out of the said village. 

6) With your experience of working alongside French people, I have to ask what do you think makes them different to us and gives them that je ne sais quoi?

Karen: Working in France and in French comes easier to me now than working anywhere else. I have worked in France for my entire adult life. 
One thing I have noticed is that there is a natural tendency to initially see all the objections and problems to an idea or to proclaim that something is impossible to fix when it isn’t (usually with much shoulder-shrugging and gesticulation).  

However, I have learnt to ignore the initial wave of objections and in the end - it always comes good. There will be a solution and most often it is found. The secret is not to become initially disheartened. This is always the case whenever I make a suggestion to my French husband. I listen to the wave of objections and then finally he will tell me what a good idea something is. 

The other thing in business is that French people love a meeting. So much so there are meetings about meetings about meetings. This is a tradition - as are the long lunches with wine and three course meals. Don’t expect a sandwich at your desk. 

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

Karen: An interesting question, but as a Gemini with two contradictory twins to handle on a daily basis, I feel I must choose one soft and one hard cheese for each twin. 
So, I plump for the deliciously soft and creamy “Forme d’Ambert” which is not so bitter on the tongue as a Rouquefort and which mushes deliciously on baguette and salty butter. And with this I choose the cheese every “cheese-monger” in France dreads being asked to cut: the hard and dried up orange Mimolette. The one which breaks the counter each time a slice is cut. 

8) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish? 

Karen: A regional dish I love - found more often in a Parisian bistro than in SW France is the “Os à la moelle” which is a huge bone, like a dog bone, with soft marrow to suck out. Often served with boiled potatoes and stew. Great with a bottle of fine red wine. 
In recent years I have become almost entirely vegetarian - but I do have happy memories of this dish, albeit during the Mad Cow crisis, it was banned from most restaurants in France and is now making a slow come-back. 

9) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why? Do you miss living in Paris?

Karen: A hard question because I love so many. Paris has been my favourite city for years and yes, I do miss living there. I often think when I retire I would like to go back and fulfil my twenty-year old self’s dream of living in a flat up in Montmartre. 

10) If you could travel to anywhere in France for a weekend away (money no object) where would you go?

Karen: If money were no expense I would choose to go to Arcachon for a massage at one of the nice thermal centres there, and I would eat sea-food and drink champagne at a lovely market-side place on the port which serves fish straight from the nets. I love salty butter and oysters! Pink Champagne of course. 
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Karen Webb A Stranger in Paris
A Stranger in Paris, Karen Webb
Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed your first memoir about the beginning of your Parisian adventure, but I think there is more to tell! Can you let us know a little bit about your second memoir and when it will be available? 

Karen: The second book sees the narrator (I won’t say “me” as although it is a memoir it is easier to put a distance between me and the character) do a lot of growing-up in a short time. There are lighter episodes in the first section of the book, which take place in a cowboy language school, where the main character works as an English language teacher and soon realises that a variety of students who come for lessons are motivated by many things other than learning English. Marriage to a wealthy bourgeois man brings with it a litany of problems not least a terrifying French mother-in-law, who just happens to be a Magistrate, along with some scenes which were difficult to re-live when a family tragedy back home in England forces the narrator to address many of the problems she initially ran away from and which result in her old English life crashing into her new French one and changing things forever. 

A lot of the book is an analysis as to what it means to be a traditional French wife in high society, having shot from rags to riches, and yet how to reconcile this new life and all the demands her new family make upon her to become the “perfect Parisian wife”,  with a crumbling family in the UK - and all the consequences on her life this demands.  It is currently called “French for All That” though the publisher IMPRESS may change this!
I hope it will be ready for publication for Christmas. 

Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you. I am looking forward to reading more in book two.

A Stranger in Paris is published by Impress and links to Amazon can be found below. It is beautifully written and with some quite heart-stopping moments as we follow the young Karen around Paris, alone. You can read my review of A Stranger in Paris here on the blog tomorrow.