Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book review of An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater

French Village Diaries book review An Act of Love Carol Drinkwater
An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater

An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater


This is the latest brilliantly written historical novel from author and actress Carol Drinkwater, whose writing I have admired for many years now. 


Set in a small village in the Alps during The Occupation, we follow Sara’s war journey from adolescent refuge, whose family are given lodgings in a small mountain village, to a life filled with danger when change was forced upon them once more. 


In this beautifully descriptive book, it was easy to visualise the village and the mountains, and to feel Sara’s emotions. In the small mountain community, we meet those who are prepared to fight, those who crave acceptance, whatever the cost, those who care and those who are driven to do what they can, no matter the consequences. As the changing of the seasons mirrored Sara’s maturity, I could feel her determination to fit in, her frustrations at her parent’s reluctance to embrace their new haven of peace, as well as her fear of change, and strength of character. 


Carol’s words painted a vivid picture of the Occupation in the south of France and the situation of the Jewish refugees. Things here were very different to Paris, but no less shocking, and the liberation came later than on the northern coast, something I hadn’t fully appreciated before. 


Sara’s story gripped my attention and I lost hours among the pages, my heart in my mouth, fearing for her safety.


There was a plot twist that totally took me by surprise and in one particularly moving scene Carol gave death a sense of peace and beauty that I’d not experienced before. This book will stay with me for a long while. I may have finished reading it, but I’m not ready to let Sara leave me just yet.


An Act of Love was released today by Penguin Michael Joseph in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below. 

You can follow Carol on Facebook and Twitter and visit her website here



French Village Diaries book review An Act of Love Carol Drinkwater
From the Writing Desk interview with Carol Drinkwater

In case you missed my From the Writing Desk interview with Carol yesterday, click here to read more.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

From the Writing Desk of Carol Drinkwater

French Village Diaries From the Writing Desk interview Carol Drinkwater
From the Writing Desk of Carol Drinkwater

From the writing desk, of Carol Drinkwater


Welcome to the French Village Diaries interview feature, From the Writing Desk, where this week, to coincide with the release of her new novel, An Act of Love, I am delighted to be (virtually) joining actress and author Carol Drinkwater at her writing desk in France.


Carol Drinkwater, known for her award-winning portrayal of Helen Herriot in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, is the author of over twenty books for both the adult and young adult market, including the bestselling nonfiction Olive Farm Series of memoirs that recount her experiences on her olive farm overlooking the bay of Cannes. Her fascination with the olive tree inspired two travel books and The Olive Route, a five-part documentary film series following her travels around the Mediterranean. Carol and husband Michel split their time between their farm in the south of France and their home on the outskirts of Paris.


Carol’s memoirs were great comfort reading for me when we moved to France in 2004 and everything felt daunting and different.


Your writing space


Carol, how important is your desk space to your writing? Is it tidy and well-organised or creatively cluttered? 


Carol: My desks. I have three – two at the Olive Farm and one at our northern address, outside Paris, where my husband has his editing suites. All of them are extremely cluttered. Every now and again – usually when I have delivered a novel - I tidy up, but in no time at all, the piles grow, the papers shift like desert sands losing all order, covering over everything else and I am obliged to root out for myself a small patch where I can continue to write my notes, scribble thoughts, dates etc. By the way, the desks are all wooden dining tables stolen from other rooms. Two have drawers, the third doesn’t.


Does your desk have a view? If so, does this inspire you or can it distract you?


Carol: Each has a view. The principal one is in my library at the Olive Farm. It looks out across a courtyard to olive trees, a Judas tree, and drystone wall terraces. No, I don’t find looking outwards distracting. I know some writers need a blank wall but that would make me feel shut in, claustrophobic. I like to see the nature, birds and other creatures going about their day. The dogs come and sit at the open terrace doors and snore while I work. I find their presence very reassuring but I would not want them inside on my lap or at my feet. That would be too distracting.


Do you try and write at regular times of the day?


Carol: For work, I am a morning person. When I am deep in a book I like to begin at six or seven in the morning A cup of coffee in my hand, still in my dressing gown or, in summer, a sarong, I pad to my library and settle myself in silence there, tuning in to the dawn chorus beyond the French windows. I am not someone who can write late into the night. I have noticed though since lockdown that my hours are changing. I sleep later, which is something I never used to do. 


Writing during Covid-19 


As a writer, with a desk and computer at home, work would have continued for you throughout lockdown, but has the pandemic affected your motivation to write? 


Carol: Yes, now it is affecting me. Last year, I was editing my new novel AN ACT OF LOVE, and worked almost ceaselessly. Waking at a very early hour and continuing without stop for long stretches. I worked far more intensively than almost ever before. A year on since our first confinement, I am in a very different mental place: I am feeling a little directionless and I am grieving. Friends have died, others are sick. I cannot travel - Michel and I are incessant travellers. I find all these facts hard to deal with. I am at work on a new novel and I am battling with myself to allow myself sink into it. Even settling to this interview has taken me two days!


Do you think the content of your future writing projects will be influenced by the pandemic?


Carol: I think I am influenced by these experiences already and so the heart and soul of me, which is in my work, has been profoundly moved. It does not mean that I will write scenes set around a pandemic but some of the despair, the disappointment at how so much of this has been handled, has changed me. The loss of friends has left an emptiness within me, a sense of no return.


French Village Diaries From the Writing Desk interview Carol Drinkwater An Act of Love

Your latest release


Your latest novel An Act of Love is set during the Second World War. The lockdowns and curfews of this past year are more normal occurrences during war years than in peacetime and have been challenging for many. Can you tell us a bit about An Act of Love and what are you hoping readers will get from this book that will help them cope?


Carol: My heroine, Sara, is seventeen. A brave, courageous and fiery spirit although of course at the outset she has no real sense of her own power. She, along with her parents, escaped Poland before the Germans marched into their country in 1939. They find themselves - after two years on the run, living in hiding – delivered into a mountain village inland from Nice where they are offered an abandoned house to take refuge in. Sara’s story is that of a young woman at the beginning of her adult life wrestling with all those mixed emotions. Her longing for love, romance, freedom, maturity, independence. However, she and her Jewish parents, are refugees. The world is not hers to take, to enjoy as she would like. During the course of the novel she makes some choices that change her and her life forever. She grows up, grows strong and learns that she is the mistress of her universe. 


The inspiration for An Act of Love came from the stories from the past that you discovered on a visit to a small Alpine village. How important do you think community is when people are living through difficult times?


Carol: This is a fascinating and very relevant question. Community plays a very important role in this novel and I think that community – learning to share and count on others – can be a huge blessing. A life changer, life saver.


One day, some time in mid-90s, I walked into a village where I discovered that the population of that French village had made the choice to harbour refugees, predominantly Jews, who would have be slaughtered if they had been caught by the Nazis, or sent to camps – at that stage no one knew what those camps meant. I uncovered so many stories of extraordinary heroism. French villagers and immigrants who risked their own lives to help, save others. Acts of love, bravery, decency. I was so inspired by so many of these generous human beings that I was impelled to write a novel about such people. Unsung heroes and heroines.


Life outside of writing


What do you look forward to, when you’ve saved the document and switched off the computer, as your treat at the end of the writing day?


Carol: These days, my desires are very simple things. A glass of wine by the fireside or out on the terrace with my husband. I have learnt to be grateful for what I have, which includes a treasure trove of gifts. If I have achieved a decent day’s work, I am at peace. If not, I take comfort from the fact that there is another day tomorrow, please God, and that I have a very special man at my side who encourages me. 


With plenty of space and lovely scenery, France is a great place to explore. If you were to take a break away from the writing desk where in France would you take your picnic?


Carol: Well, aside from a shady spot on our own lovely Olive Farm, I am always attracted to the Calanques area near Cassis (where I set my last novel, THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF). I also love the Camargue, so a windy beach somewhere there and a swim afterwards would suit me down to the ground.


How would you normally celebrate the release of a new novel, and will it be different this year?


Carol: I am usually on a book tour when my latest work is published so lunch or dinner with my publishers. Or with friends if I’m attending a literary festival. This year, I suppose, Michel and I will be together at the farm and it will be a very quiet affair. It is also the week after my birthday! That is fine, I am perfectly happy with the two of us together lifting a glass to a novel that I am extremely proud of and that, I sincerely hope, readers will enjoy as much as I have loved writing it.


I am sure they will. Sara’s story gripped my attention and I lost hours among the pages, my heart in my mouth, fearing for her safety. It is a beautifully descriptive book that will stay with me for a long while yet. Thank you for taking the time out of your writing day to let me join you at your writing desk. 


Carol: It has been a pleasure. Thank you for your interest and support.


An Act of Love will be released by Michael Joseph in paperback and ebook format, on 29th April 2021. Join me back here on the blog tomorrow to read my full review.



All of Carol’s other books are available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below.


You can follow Carol on Facebook and Twitter and visit her website here


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Celebrating a second birthday in confinement

French Village Diaries celebrating a second covid-19 confinement birthday
At his desk, on his birthday

We are now three weeks into our four-week confinement and according to the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, who spoke last Thursday, all being well by 3rd May our ten-kilometre restrictions will be lifted, although our 19h curfew will remain. This was just the good news Adrian needed to hear as he ‘celebrated’ his second birthday in lockdown. 


French Village Diaries celebrating a second covid-19 confinement birthday
A birthday bike ride

Last year, when lockdown meant lockdown and life and work were on hold, his 50th birthday involved a virtual cycle challenge, a few friends shouting greetings through the garden gate and a sparkly candle from the boulangerie, my feeble attempt to hide the disastrous topping on the carrot cake I’d baked. Thankfully things were a bit different this year, and although we had to squeeze our real bike ride in between work and curfew, we weren’t restricted to only being out for one hour, one kilometre from home, and the sun shone down on our 23km ride through the vineyards. 

French Village Diaries celebrating a second covid-19 confinement birthday
Birthday cakes and drinks in the sun


This year, I wisely left Ed in charge of the birthday cake and his chocolate fondant cake was delicious, plus there was enough left to share with friends the following day. If reaching 51 was not enough of a reason to open a bottle of bubbles, the fact that our post-Brexit residence permits also arrived on his birthday, certainly was. 


On this day last year, we had reached day forty of confinement, a significant number held in esteem in many cultures and religions as a period of trial, transformation or purification. I certainly wasn’t expecting to still be coping with Covid-19 confinement one year on, but with just this final week to go, and the peace of mind from having our new residence permits in our possession, I’m hopeful we can look forward to brighter days ahead. 


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Beyond This Broken Sky by Siobhan Curham

French Village Diaries book review Beyond This Broken Sky Siobhan Curham
Beyond This Broken Sky Siobhan Curham

Beyond This Broken Sky by Siobhan Curham


Book Description


1940, London: An unforgettable novel about the strength of the human spirit in the face of war and the remarkable women who put themselves in danger on the front lines during the Battle of Britain.

As a volunteer for the ambulance service, Ruby has the dangerous task of driving along pitch-dark roads during the blackout. With each survivor she pulls from the rubble, she is helping to fight back against the enemy bombers, who leave nothing but destruction in their wake.

Assigned to her crew is Joseph, who is unable to fight but will stop at nothing to save innocent lives. Because he is not in uniform, people treat him with suspicion and Ruby becomes determined to protect this brave, compassionate man who has rescued so many, and captured her heart. Even if it means making an unthinkable choice between saving her own life and risking everything for his…

2019: Recently divorced Edi feels lost and alone when she moves to London to start a new life. Until she makes a discovery, hidden beneath a loose floorboard in her attic, that reveals a secret about the people who lived there in the 1940s. As she gradually uncovers a wartime love story full of danger and betrayal, Edi becomes inspired by the heroism of one incredible woman and the legacy that can be left behind by a single act of courage…

A sweeping tale of bravery and self-sacrifice that shows that even in the midst of war, hope and love can bloom. Perfect for fans of The Alice NetworkThe Secret Messenger and The Lost Girls of Paris.


French Village Diaries book review Beyond This Broken Sky Siobhan Curham
Beyond This Broken Sky Siobhan Curham

My review

Having really enjoyed An American in Paris by Siobhan Curham, I couldn’t resist Beyond This Broken Sky, even though it’s set in London, during the Blitz, rather than in France. It was a wise move on my part. 


This is another gripping historical novel from an author who I can’t wait to read more from. 


We join Ruby, Kitty and Joseph, three very different personalities, from different backgrounds, all living in converted flats in the same house in Pimlico. As Hitler launches his daily bombing campaign on London in 1940, to begin with there is fear and fatigue at the nightly disruptions, but it doesn’t take long for their fighting spirit to come into play, and thrown together by the Blitz and their volunteer work, they soon start to bring out the best in each other. 


These three are great fun characters, especially the almost-irritating quirkiness of Ruby, who gave me many smiles as I was reading, even in the darkest of situations where my heart was in my mouth. We all need a bit of Ruby in our lives and her way with words and outlook on life will, I am sure, stay with me. My heart went out to Kitty, who just needed friendship and love to free her from her fears, something Ruby is determined to achieve, and Joseph was in some ways an unlikely hero, but just right in others. Ruby and Joseph were so different, yet so similar, and her journey as she discovers what really matters in life, thanks in no small part to his influence, really warmed me. 


There were many white-knuckle moments as I gripped my kindle, almost afraid to carry on, and my stomach dropped into my boots at one point, as I really couldn’t believe what I’d read. I got so engrossed in the events happening in 1940 that I totally forgot there was also the 2019 storyline to follow too. Here, the more Edi discovers about her new neighbours, the more convinced she is that there is a mystery to solve. 


This book gave me so much in terms of emotions, suspense and humour, as well as clever twists and turns before the plot revealed itself, it left me with a big smile on my face and a contented, happy feeling.


If you enjoy emotional, historical novels, with that magic touch of something different, I am sure you will love Beyond This Broken Sky. Currently priced only 99p. 


Purchase Links 






French Village Diaries book review Beyond This Broken Sky Siobhan Curham
Siobhan Curham


Author Bio


Siobhan Curham is an award-winning author, ghost writer, editor and writing coach. She has also written for many newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Guardian, Breathe magazine, Cosmopolitan, Writers’ Forum,, and Spirit & Destiny. Siobhan has been a guest on various radio and TV shows, including Woman’s Hour, BBC News, GMTV and BBC Breakfast. And she has spoken at businesses, schools, universities and literary festivals around the world, including the BBC, Hay Festival, Cheltenham Festival, Bath Festival, Ilkley Festival, London Book Fair and Sharjah Reading Festival.







French Village Diaries Book Reviews

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Four friends, a wedding anniversary and a funeral

French Village Diaries celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary in lockdown
Outdoor aperos to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary

Four friends, a wedding anniversary and a funeral

We are now (hopefully) halfway through our four-week period of confinement and yesterday turned out to be a day of notable milestones. 


On the day the Queen laid to rest her husband of seventy-three years, we celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary, and ten kilometres into our morning bike ride, I clocked up 10,000 kilometres on my Brompton, KTTinyTourer, exactly two years from when I hit my first 1000 kilometres on her during our Bordeaux to Toulouse cycle touring trip.


French Village Diaries celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary in lockdown
Morning coffee and a bike ride

Some years we have been away for our anniversary, traveling France by car or by bike, and some years work commitments have kept us apart. This year we celebrated together with a bike ride, stopping to brew our morning coffee (accompanied by flapjacks) on a park picnic table, as there are no bars or cafés open here just yet. Despite keeping to within our ten-kilometre permitted radius, Adrian managed to plan a route that took us down many roads we’d never cycled on before and up a few hills I hadn’t realised existed. 


In the afternoon we had a socially distanced aperos in the garden with four friends, food, champagne and laughter. I was torn between watching the TV coverage of the funeral service from Windsor, for its ceremony and its place in history, and not watching something that I felt should have been a private, family goodbye to a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. We settled on having the lead-up to the service on in the background as we put the finishing touches to the onion bhajis, houmous and flatbreads.


Much as the 19h curfew has become a tad annoying; I’ve decided I actually quite like the fact that our social gatherings have to be done and dusted by 19h. By starting at 16h, we have plenty of time for a few drinks, nibbles and a lot of laughs, all while the sun is shining, leaving me free to have a quiet evening on the sofa. This seems to be a much better fit for my body than evenings that become early mornings, and that often give rise to sore heads the following day.


French Village Diaries celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary in lockdown
The cutting of the banoffee pie 23 years after the cutting of the wedding cake 

We have a little ritual on our anniversary; the annual viewing of our wedding DVD. We didn’t subject our friends to this, but I might have left a few photos albums on the table alongside the drinks and nibbles, which they politely flicked through. Our evening was then spent watching two much younger looking people celebrating a wedding, with fond memories, not only of a great day, but also of those who were with us then but are no longer with us now.

French Village Diaries celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary in lockdown
Views from the bike, within 10km from home


This morning we have been out on the bikes again, logging more kilometres #ForBen and the virtual challenge to get from UK to Bangkok and back before the 27th April. There are still quite a few kilometres to go, so if you’d like to help by logging your walking, running or cycling kilometres, you can do so here. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

For Ben; One Year on, The road to Bangkok (and back)

French Village Diaries For Ben; One Year on The Road to Bangkok
#ForBen The Road to Bangkok

Today is the day we should have been heading south east to the Correze for a few days away to celebrate our wedding anniversary this weekend. Thanks to current restrictions, the furthest we got was twenty kilometres to the nearest Lidl for the weekly shop. The fields of bright yellow colza, the blossom in the apple orchards and the wisteria dripping from stone cottages, certainly brightened up the drive, but left me wondering what sights and colours we’d have seen on our way to the Correze.


Instead of the routes Adrian had planned for us while away, our cycling will have to stay closer to home, but for the next fortnight it’s the kilometres that will count, not where we go.


Last April we lost our nephew Ben, and in his memory, we took part in a virtual challenge with teams logging their kilometres as they covered the distance from Loughborough in the UK to Istanbul in Turkey, and back again. This event reached thousands of people and raised over £30,000 for mental health charities working towards suicide prevention in young people.


French Village Diaries For Ben; One Year on The Road to Bangkok
#ForBen The Road to Bangkok

This year, Ben’s squadron friends and family set their virtual sights on Bangkok and walkers and runners have been logging the kilometres since Ben’s birthday on 2nd April. They are now halfway there and have opened up the challenge to cyclists too, in the hope we can get them there and back again before 27th April, the first anniversary of Ben’s death.


There are no teams this year, just a link to log your activity, on foot or two wheels. If you’d like to join us, here is the link to use.


To check on the progress of the challenge, click here.


To read more about the challenge and follow the regular updates, see the For Ben Facebook page here.


Finally, here is the link to the Virgin Money page, which has already got a total of almost £5,000 which will be split between Papyrus, Shout and CALM.

French Village Diaries For Ben; One Year on The Road to Bangkok
#ForBen The Road to Bangkok


We are living in extraordinary times that have put a lot of pressure and stress on us all. Mental health issues, now more than ever, need to be talked about and addressed, not ignored or stigmatised.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Covid-19 confinement, part three, week one

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement part three, week one
Moody skies during lockdown

One week into confinement, part three.

We’ve survived the first week of the current four-week confinement period, although I’m finding things are feeling rather different this time. Last year, there was something reassuring, and almost refreshing about the enforced pause to our hectic lives, and the knowledge that the three of us were together and safe. My daily lockdown diary gave me focus and we caught up with lots of chores we never seemed to have time for in life before Covid-19. One of the things that has been bothering me this week is that the words for a daily diary just weren’t there. I know the idea of the diary is to document how I’m feeling, living through these mesures de freinage nationales, as the French government are referring to this period of confinement, but with no mojo, it wouldn’t have made inspiring reading. There is something quite fatiguing about living through 101 days in confinement followed by 110 under curfew and now another 7 locked to within ten kilometres from home and subject to a 19h curfew every evening.


Ed has chosen to stay in Poitiers for some of this confinement, not quite ready to relinquish the independence he has only recently regained. While I don’t begrudge him this glimmer of normality, letting him go back to Poitiers last weekend was a worry, but he still managed to put a smile on my face. I’d texted him to ask if he’d seen any Gendarmes on his eighty-kilometre journey to the neighbouring department. His reply, “None, do you imagine a war zone or the occupation when there’s a lockdown?”. Well, yes, Ed, I absolutely do, and knowing I’m over-thinking things is beginning to do my head in.


French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement part three, week one
In the bluebell woods

This lockdown isn’t even as severe or restrictive as the previous ones, more shops and services are now deemed essential and we have no time limit on our exercise. We are limited to a ten-kilometre radius for exercise and if I’m nit-picking, which I am, ours is a reduced-size, squashed circle as it crosses into the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments, and crossing a border is a no-no for exercise under the current rules. Luckily Adrian can be quite creative with his route planning and it certainly put big smiles on our faces when we found our first flowering bluebell wood, within our 10km, on our Friday evening bike ride.


I’m still very much enjoying having Adrian home all the time, but let’s just say you have no idea how ridiculously excited I was, in fact it could even have been the highlight of this first week of confinement, when I cleared the crap that constantly accumulates on the kitchen table and created enough space for my breakfast preparation area. No longer will Adrian and I be tripping over each other as he puts the coffee pot on while I prepare the breakfast. My jars of oats, berries, nuts, dried fruits and honey, are safely in their own zone far away from his sugar bowl and coffee tray. It’s the little things that make all the difference.


Top 20 France expat blogs 2021

Another boost to my mood this week was the email from MoneyTransfers letting me know that French Village Diaries had been included in their Top 20 Expat blogs in France, up there with names like France Media Group’s FrenchEntree, as well as many other successful blogs I’ve been following for years (see here for the full list). Adrian would like his QA/proofreading skills to get the mention they deserve at this point too. Thanks darling, I don’t know what I’d do without you. Onwards and upwards, together we can do this.

Friday, April 9, 2021

France et Moi with author Jane Smyth

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to memoir author Jane Smyth about what France means to her. You can read my review of her book French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motors here.


French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Jane Smyth French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor
Jane Smyth and her two Fox Terriers

Jane was born and brought up in south Birmingham and although she is now living in Worcestershire, she can still return to her Brummie roots by taking a short train ride to the city. She spent the last 28 years of her working career teaching at a college in the West Mids and was a Senior Teacher and lecturer in IT before retirement. She has a keen interest in photography, for which she has a qualification and has a lifelong love affair with sport and fitness, playing netball in the Birmingham and Worcestershire netball leagues and then taking on and qualifying as a fitness instructor. She has abandoned teaching fitness, and much prefers to be a class member these days. She loves skiing and plays golf badly.  She is married to Rob, has two grown children, 3 beautiful granddaughters and two fox terriers.


Jane, 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’?


Jane: France is such a diverse country in terms of its scenery and countryside. Having travelled to virtually every region over the years, we have been smitten at just how beautiful it is. I think the only thing missing in terms of landscape is a desert and an active volcano! There aren’t too many places in the world either, where you can be skiing in the mountains one minute and be lazing on a beach two hours later.  


As for the French, they are a unique bunch, one minute fiercely partisan and the next seemingly hankering after another revolution. I’d hate to see what would happen if there were proposals to reduce the two-hour lunchbreak to one! They also have a stockpile of non-verbal expressions to call upon that you’ll never see anywhere else, my favourite being that dismissive shrug of the shoulders. Just love it!    


Where did your love of France and living the French dream begin?


Jane: Camping holidays with our young children embedded our love of the country, which became more entrenched each time we visited. Apart from the quality and locations of the campsites, plus the amazing cuisine, those early holidays allowed us to explore so many interesting and fascinating places, some well-known and others not. With quiet roads, driving became a pleasure rather than a stressful, teeth-grinding battle through traffic, unless you ventured into a city or struggled along the Cote d’Azur in August! We also found the French to be accommodating and friendly and made firm friends, some of which we’re still in contact with today. Wherever we travelled in the world and however much we loved the places we visited, it was France that called us back and we always found time within our busy lives to visit at least once a year.  What eventually led to my French house owning fantasies, was reading Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence but you’ll have to read my book French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor to see where it all went from there.


French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Jane Smyth French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor
French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor by Jane Smyth

With plenty of space and lovely scenery France is a great place to explore. If you could be anywhere in France, right now, where would you be and what would you be doing?


Jane: Because of Covid and lockdowns we haven’t been able to get to our French house, Les Hirondelles, for several months, so that’s where I’d be. Higher up the valley the ski resort might still be knee deep in snow. With the resort closed because of the pandemic, a walk through the snowy scenery would be on the cards. If the snow has disappeared from around our house lower down, I’d be tidying up the outside area, revealing the wild spring flowers, breathing in that pure mountain air and taking the opportunity to sit and admire the view down the valley.


Do you speak French? If so at what level would you say you were?


Jane: I can get by in most situations, but never claim I can speak French.  Once you admit that, you’re presumed to be fluent and will face an onslaught of rapid-fire French which I have no chance of understanding.  Setting a level is a tough one. I’m not a beginner, but I wouldn’t say I was at an advanced level either. I’m probably intermediate with the odd hole when it comes to exam level grammar. Our neighbours say we speak well but I think they’re being kind and very, very forgiving!


Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, when you are back in the Haute Provence, is there a special dish you always look forward to eating? 


Jane: Hard one this. During the skiing season, death by cheese is the speciality, with Raclette, Tartiflette and Fondue on offer to ensure you don’t eat again for a week. I have yet to finish half of any gooey, delicious serving. I love a salad Niçoise in the summer (although this is strictly a dish from the coast), or I might swap it for a salad Colmarsien which usually contains the local Tomme mountain cheese and goat’s cheese, plus ham. A favourite restaurant serves trout direct from the lake it sits beside. Whatever I choose, it HAS to be accompanied by an ice cold glass (or two) of the local Provençal rosé wine. Utterly delicious.


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


Jane: Impossible to name one thing as we have a bakery in the village, so the bread is ferried across the road, still warm from the ovens, not just baguettes, but a whole variety of different types, including speciality loaves. We may also be persuaded to buy a tarte aux pommes or tarte aux framboises. I avoid what I call ‘mountain cake’, as it’s so dense and heavy, that dropping a slice on your foot is likely to break a toe AND it’s as filling as all those cheese dishes. Another favourite is a Pain Bagnet which I can only get from a Patisserie in a village quite a distance away.  This is basically a Salad Niçoise in a soft bun, the size of a small dinner plate. It’s all you’ll ever need for lunch on the hoof. We usually buy one each when we pass by on our long journey back to the UK.


France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? Maybe, a hard and mature Tomme, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or even the salty and serious Roquefort?


Jane: I’d have to be a mix. Our local Tomme, particularly as it’s mature like me, but it does come in large rounds and I’m not large or round. A creamy, soft crottin of goat’s cheese, soft because my granddaughters can wheedle almost anything out of me. Finally, a tasty, (wishful thinking), hard (don’t cross me) and slightly sweet Compté.


Best French tipple, and yes, I know there are many to choose from? 


Jane: A Kir with Crémé de Cassis or Framboise, best start to any meal.  A coupe de Champagne or a glass of Provençal rosé.


France has some beautiful cities with stunning architecture, which is your favourite French city to spend time in and why?


Jane: I like to visit Paris once in a while. The architecture is fabulous, and it’s stuffed full of the most interesting places. A wander around the Pére Lachaise cemetery to say ‘bonjour’ to the likes of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and a host of other renowned individuals passes a pleasant few hours and as I like impressionist art, the Musée D’Orsay is a must. Paris aside, our friends recently showed us around Lyon, which we’d never visited before and were completely taken with. As a culinary haven, it contains superb restaurants to suit all pockets, many in the old centre, a rabbit warren of old streets and buildings. The revamped ‘Confluence’ area, where the Rhone and Soane meet, has been completely transformed from an industrial wasteland to a smart, lively area, with riverside cafes and bars and a stunning modern shopping centre. We’ll definitely visit again. 

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Jane Smyth French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor
French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor by Jane Smyth


Your first memoir French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor, takes us along as you find the holiday home in France you have always dreamed of owning, do you have any plans to write another book, either memoir or fiction? 


Jane: I have a few ideas bubbling around in my head, memoire and fiction, but I need to focus on which and plan out what I want to write. In either case it means doing research. My two ideas for fictional books, both set in France, will be built around real events and places. The research is the easiest bit, some of which I’ve already started, but I need to think about characters and plot. As for the memoirs, I need to grab hold of relevant individuals to glean more anecdotal evidence that I wasn’t privy to.   


Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.


French Dreams, Dogs and a Dodgy Motor is a great fun read and a perfect escape to France. Links to Amazon, where it is available in ebook and paperback format, can be found below. Read my full review here.