Wednesday, 1 July 2020
Is there a right time for France? Yes.
Is there a perfect time? No.
I'm not talking about a holiday, but the question of how one decides on the timing for that big French trip - family adventure, permanent move, year-long sabbatical...?
The thing is, most of us, given a little encouragement, will choose inertia; what we are familiar or comfortable with. It takes effort, commitment, and a real belief in what you are doing, to resist the urge to stay put.
It also takes clarity about why you are even thinking about going to France. Have you put pen to paper and debated the answers to questions such as:
Why France and not another country?
For how long do you want to go?
Where in France do you think you will be happy - be specific: city, village, seaside, mountains...?
Is it to run away from what is your current normal?
What if you don't like it when you get there?
What if you decide to stay longer than your original plan?
Do you have the finances to cover your time away?
How does work, present and future, fit into the plan to go to France?
How will you find accommodation, schools, doctors, dentists, information..?
How will you cope with being distant from family and friends?
Is learning the language important to you?
Each person's situation is different, but I want to focus specifically on planning your French adventure with children. Timing, then, is a subject of enormous consideration, and often great angst for parents. From talking to families planning their time away, doing our own French adventure and my years of working as Head of School, I would say this: we are very good at protecting our children, shielding them from difficulties, and not fully believing that they are (or can become) resilient and strong when things don't work out for them. More questions:
Is your trip principally for them, for you or for the family?
Is your trip so that your children can become bilingual?
Is it so that your children can see the world from a different perspective?
How will they cope with a change from what is familiar?
Only you know what your children are capable of, but I would guard against making decisions based on what you believe your children do and don't want. They don't yet know and unless you give them an opportunity to spread their wings, they may not know for longer...or ever. My experience is that more people regret not going than going, even when things are difficult for a period of time.
Gathering information and talking with others that have done, or are thinking of doing, their trip to France is useful, although, once again, the questions will never all be answered fully, and the timing will never be perfect for every member of your family. Don't be swayed, or side-tracked, by another family's decision making (including mine 😏).
All good luck to you. My personal perspective is that most things are surmountable, and that the positives do outweigh the negatives. If you need a sounding board, drop me a line at email@example.com.
To read about our French experience, 'But you are in France, Madame' can be purchased directly from me (email above) or by clicking on the link.
Tuesday, 23 June 2020
I've been trying to work out if I've got it in me. Is there a sequel, or a prequel, waiting under my wings? Another book. Many have asked, as they are interested. Who would have thought? They want to know what led up to, and followed on from 'But you are in France, Madame', how I am, how the family is, where we are in the world and how France fits into our lives currently. I am chuffed, flattered and intrigued by this. Indubitably. I just don't know if I can. The stories are there, but something has changed: a new-found shyness, a desire to communicate with the world, and yet, a need for distance.
|But you are no longer in France, Madame|
Is there such a thing as a conservative rebel? If there is, it's me. I have never wanted to be outrageous, noticed or dangerous. In fact, I grew up thinking that I had to toe the line, be polite, give way to others and do what I was told. At the same time, I hated conforming.
'But you are in France, Madame' was written. Yes, passive voice, as I was a passive contributor. The words found their way out. I knew nothing about writing. I knew nothing about publishing. I knew next to nothing about marketing, and I thought I loathed everything to do with social media. Blogging? Uh uh, not for me. Facebook? Nope. Too showy. Instagram? What even is that? Or so I thought.
I didn't follow the 'writing a book' rules the first time around because I simply did not know them.
Much like taking the family to France.
I see that what we did as a family was a rather uninformed leap of faith. Buying a house in France was an even bigger hop, skip and lunge. Figuring out how to live between two countries, on opposite sides of the world, with our lives - and the world - changing constantly, is just huge.
If I had my time again, would I do things differently?
Even though I know with certainty that I made mistakes, both with my writing and our French living, and am clear that things could have been easier or better, my answer is always the same.
How can I be so sure?
Because it led me to you.
And back to me.
As if to put a point final on my thoughts, mid-way through drafting today's blog, I read a post from une âme soeur (a kindred spirit) at A Family In France (excerpt below). One family, three children, five bags (or thereabouts), the promise of a year in the south-west of France and an unfinished, imperfect French connection. Sound familiar?
Sunday, 14 June 2020
A few days, six months, a year, several years, multiple visits over many years, vicarious visits … we all do our French affairs differently.
Today, I am chatting with Australian author, Christine Betts, whose first visit to Paris at the age of twenty-two was the bittersweet incarnation of a non-attainable joint project. We connected recently through our writing and our common passion for France. Read on for Christine’s story:
Thanks, Christine, for agreeing to this interview.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Hi Catherine. I’m a Gold Coast girl on the outside and a little bit French on the inside.
How and when did your love of France begin? I fell in love with the Madeline picture books as a little girl, fuelling a passion for France, art, and books.
You have travelled many times to France. Do you have a couple of stories from these trips that you could share with us? Do you have any long-term French plans? Like a lot of people, I would love to spend a year in France sometime in the future. We have spent a month here and there but 12 months, to see the seasons, would be lovely. I was planning
my upcoming 50th birthday celebrations in the countryside outside Paris but that may have to change now.
In 2006 we spent a month wandering across France with our caravan. It was lovely to see our son making friends with children from all over Europe while us mums and dads lazed in camp chairs chatting and sipping cold drinks. We are still in contact with some of the families.
My favourite Only-In-France memory of that trip was seeing the quirky entertainers who ply their trade at campgrounds across France in the summer. A cat and miniature goat circus? Only in France!
Your books are set in France. Is this an obvious choice for you? How do you go about researching your story lines? My first attempts at writing were my journals from my early trips to France. In 2005, I wrote a memoir called From There to Here via Paris. My sister is the only person who has read it and probably the only one who ever will. I think the reason I love Paris is that I went there with a broken heart and just being in that beautiful place showed me that life goes on.
I seem to be perpetually working on a Paris-themed memoir of some description because Paris has been there at every important point in my life.
In 2017 I shifted gear, deciding to write a fictionalised account of a 2012 “girls’ trip” to Paris. I lucked across an historic B&B right near quai de la Tournelle with views of the towers of Notre Dame from the rooftop terrace. My first novel Hotel Déjà vu grew from that kernel of an idea, and the B&B inspired the grand mansion in the story, the home of the de la Roche family, even down to the pool in the basement.
I had great fun using my own memories, photographs, and souvenirs to flesh out the story, but also used Google Maps a little. I know the inner areas of Paris well, but Maps was able to fill in little details.
My second novel is mostly set in the Loire, so I was able to draw on that magical summer with my little boy in 2006. They might be in a crumbling chateau in the Loire, but of course, the characters take off to Paris for the night to stay in my imagined hotel, L'Écrivain – the Writer.
What writing projects do you have on the go at the moment? I am about to launch Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer (releasing tomorrow June 16), but I am now working on a story in the same ‘universe’ as Hotel Déjà vu. A couple go in search of the fabled time-portal to fix the terrible mess they have made of their lives. That’s a fun little side project! My passion project right now is set in modern-day London and Wiltshire, with an interwoven story set in Neolithic Gaul and England. Paris was always my favourite place in France but as I get a little older, I have developed a love for the French and English countryside, and this story includes stone circles and Celtic legends. As is in everything I write, there is a ‘supernatural’ element in this story but I’m not giving any spoilers.
And just for a bit of fun:
If you could choose to be any character from any period in French history, who would it be? And why? Ooh that’s easy! I would have to pick my name-sake Christine de Pizan, a French renaissance novelist who is the first known woman in France to have made her living solely from writing. She was a feminist and a bad ass. She wrote and published protest poems, utopian fiction about a city inhabited only by women, and a celebration of the achievements of Joan of Arc. I love her work because like Christine, my goal is to write female characters who are interesting and intelligent but above all, real.
Thanks so much Christine. I look forward to hearing of the progress of your new release and staying in touch.
Christine’s books are available in print and digital versions on Amazon here
You can follow Christine on
Wednesday, 3 June 2020
I laughed out loud this morning and it felt good. Silliness really, political incorrectness even, but it helped shape the start of my day.
"Apparently, in some place around the world, girls are being told that swimming in public pools can make them pregnant."
Listening to the car radio and concentrating on the twists and turns of the road, I grimaced and prepared to do an indignant head shake and cautious eye-ball roll, at what I imagined to be the forthcoming deformed ideas of a chauvinistic and repressive regime.
"Yeah, you know the red line that chases the Olympic swimmers during the televised events," a listener called in with his quip, "if it catches them, then they're pregnant."
My own red-line-pregnancy-test moments swam before me. I guffawed. Not even apologetically. I love clever people and I love clever, funny people even more.
So, with my day having started well, I expected it to continue in the same vein. Jobs, work, exercise all done, it was time for my warm shower reward. When the bucket catching water for the spring beans was full, the time was right. I committed. This was not a toe-testing timid trial, I was in and under completely.
"Mmm, nice and war...freezing!" There were only two of us at home, both supposed to be working. Why did he choose this moment to wash out the coffee pot (or so I discovered when I emerged with my shower story some minutes later)?
The up, the down. Life ... and only a very tenuous link with my French-themed blog today. The best that I can come up with is that we live by a lake in France and this is a story based around water.
Good enough? I hope so.
'But you are in France, Madame' available for purchase here
Monday, 25 May 2020
|Early days in France. Bakeries were so tempting.|
A flooded home during a bushfire crisis? Should this have been the hint that 2020 was not going to go to plan?
Rarely is there no-one in my sister's home. Hers is a busy place, with four children, partners, grandchildren and friends all happily bumping into each other regularly, randomly. For the hose under her bathroom sink to burst was in itself rather extraordinary. Don't these events occur every twenty or so years, if ever? For it to do so when all were out, preparing to hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne was a wee bit mischievous. This; however, was not the adjective that my sister used when, flush with the peace of a day - and night - away, she opened her front door and sloshed through ankle deep water. No slow leak here, this show-stopping soak had pulled out all the plugs at its own private New Year's party.
For those of you who read my blog, you'll know that my last post was a bit impetuous, a lot angry. I wrote, and it helped, but I resisted multiple attempts from the outside world to talk in person, including from my family. I just wasn't ready. A few days ago, months after the bushfire flood event, my sister was finally able to unpack some of her salvaged items. My book was amongst the pile and, before placing it back on to the bookshelf, she paused to flick through the pages.
My phone screen lit up. I picked up and answered, "I was just thinking of you. Thanks for your messages. Are you free to chat?"
It was affirming, reassuring, nice to talk, plus she told me a story. That of my book on her bookshelf.
"You know the section where you were diagnosed ... and you mention that one of your stubborn sisters Skyped you every day even though you refused to look at her and pointed the computer screen at your couch instead?"
"Well, I know that that wasn't me that you were talking about. But, having re-read that, I knew what I had to do. I had to keep sending you messages. I just had to keep trying."
|Blue skies ahead|
It made me reflective. Words are powerful, but bring responsibility.