US-UK, What a Difference!

US-UK the contrast   I have noticed through the years of publishing my e-books worldwide, that there is a great difference in the settings- or should I say countries- to which US and UK readers want to escape. As I have had quite a globe-trotting life, I set my novels in the countries where I have lived- and they are quite a few. The places in which I have lived and loved the most are France and Ireland. (Also my home country- Sweden, of course, which was featured in Swedish for Beginners).

I have often been told that my sense of place is one of the best features of my books, and that the readers feel they are ‘there’ as they read. I think this is because I think very visually and feel myself I’m right in the middle of the setting I describe as I write. I ‘see’ the beautiful vistas of France and Ireland, I feel the heat, and smell the herbs and garlic of a French coq au vin, or an Irish stew with fresh soda bread. I swim in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, or walk up the grassy hills of Ireland with the wind in my hair. My greatest wish was to take my readers along with me on these trips, and if I have achieved that, I’m very happy.

My e-books sell mainly in America and Britain. But these readers have very different tastes. American readers love to ‘travel’ to Ireland, especially the wild west coast, as described in my Kerry Romance Series, the first of which,Hot Property, is free right now. UK readers, on the other hand, love going to France in their imagination, which is why my brand new Riviera romance, Selling Dreams, along with my comedy/satire, Villa Caramel, have seen amazing sales in the UK all winter.

I have my own theory about this. I think Americans love Ireland, and thus like reading about it. Many American have roots in Ireland and there is a great infinity between the two countries. People in Britain, on the other hand, have a great love of France and all things French. It’s more exotic and the weather is better, not to mention the food and wine. I can’t argue with that.

This chilly winter, I have myself, escaped to the French Riviera, and continue to do so while I write the second book in what is to become The Riviera Series.

After that, I might return to Ireland… Who knows? In any case, I’m not complaining. Vive la difference!

Vive la France!

French flag

Today’s events in Paris have prompted me to write this post.

As the Irish writer, John de Courcy Ireland famously said: “every cultured person has two countries; France and their own”.

This rings so true to me, especially as my early childhood and youth are closely linked to France.

At the tender age of five, I started my education at the French lycée in Stockholm, run by French nuns. Thirteen years later, I graduated, having passed the baccalaureate with good results. Those years with the nuns taught me to speak flawless French with an accent that is as close to a native one as a foreigner can get. But it also taught me French history and literature and a love of everything French. I spent many a happy summer as the guest of a French family, who took me to their bosom and treated me as a daughter. I have heard that French people are generally considered to be unfriendly. I don’t have that experience at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

My first love affair was with a Frenchman (although I later married and Irishman). In France, I had my first taste of champagne, the first introduction to gourmet food, cheese and wine. Not to mention fashion and style. Later on, my husband was posted to the Irish embassy in Paris, where we spent the happiest years of our married life. My youngest child was born there during that time and I will never forget the experience.

Ever since, we have managed at least one holiday a year in France and every time we go there, I have a feeling of coming home.

Many of my books are set in France. But I will not post links to them here, as this is not about me.

It’s with great sadness that I read about what’s happening in Paris and my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

France gave me so much.

charlie

Writing in a suitcase

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My life is about travel. Travelling from Ireland (where I live) to Sweden (where I grew up) and back again. Visiting friends in the US and going for breaks to France (where I spent many happy years). And writing, writing all this time, while I’m in airports and on planes and sitting in strange bedrooms, with my trusty laptop.

The flight back from Sweden today was in quite a small plane. Cramped at the back of a Boeing 717, I put up my laptop and wrote a long scene, set in a restaurant high up in the hills behind Nice. I was there in my head while the plane brought me back to Ireland.

Isn’t that so weird? How, as a writer, you can be somewhere so different. I mean, really BE there and see and feel and hear your characters, while the air hostess goes: “More coffee?” And I look up, momentarily pulled back to the present and smile and shake my head. Then I dive back in and I’m THERE, in La Colombe d’Or, the most beautiful restaurant on the French Riviera, telling the waiter I want my steak ‘a point’ (medium rare) and frites with that s’ils vous plait’ and look across the white tablecloth at the rakishly handsome man, who I haven’t decided if he really deserves the beautiful Flora…

colombe

And at the same time (nearly), I’m co-writing a political thriller with fellow writer Pete Morin and switching from the south of France to the windswept Atlantic coast of Ireland, where corruption is rife and murder and mayhem happen at the drop of a golf club.

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                                               Call me weird. Or just call me- a writer.

The House That Time Forgot

A few years ago, when my husband and I were touring France, a happy accident took us to a place of pure magic.
Our trip, which would take us by car right through France, starting in Normandy and ending in Provence, was to include a few days in the Loire Valley, taking in a château or two. As it was late September, we thought we would avoid the usual hordes of tourists who flock to that part of France in high season. But when we walked through the gardens of Chenonceaux, the most beautiful of the châteaux in the Loire Valley, we realised how wrong we were. We had to practically elbow ourselves into the château, and push through the throngs in order to go from room to room. It didn’t take us long to change our plans and we decided to head further south, down the less popular departmental roads. We travelled through Tours toward Châteauroux, having no idea where we were going to end up but that was part of the fun.

South of Châteauroux, we took the D943 toward La Chatre. This road led us through an area of France called Le Berry, less known than the Loire Valley and therefore, in my view, much more attractive. There are châteaux here too, less imposing and not so impeccably restored, which only adds to their charm. The rolling countryside has kept its old fashioned atmosphere and the little towns and villages don’t appear to have changed much in the past 150 years or so.

I read in the guidebook that Le Berry is the birthplace of George Sand, the nineteenth century author, of whom it is said that she used to dress up as a man in order to shock society. I later learned that she was just being practical as trousers are much more comfortable when walking or riding in the country. She is also rumoured to have counted some famous authors and composers among her lovers, such as Alfred de Musset, Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. Her home was Nohant, a small château south of Chatearoux, on the outskirts of Saint-Chartier, a sleepy village on the shores of the river Indre. We decided to stay the night there and visit the château the next day.

The late autumn sunshine and still air added to the romance of the countryside. As we drove in through the gates of Château de la Vallée Bleue, the hotel we had come across in the hotel guide (another happy accident), I felt as if we had been transported back in time. This house is not really a château but a big manor house, former residence of George Sand’s doctor. The hotel, lovingly restored to its former nineteenth century glory, has 8 comfortable bedrooms furnished with antiques of that period. We dined to the sounds of Chopin softly wafting through the hi-fi system and looked forward to our ‘rendezvous’ with Georges Sand the following morning.

The mist lay in grey veils across the fields and woods as we made our way to Nohant. When we arrived at the castle, we found a small group of locals waiting for the first guided tour to start. We were the only foreign tourists and we chatted to the other visitors who told us that, even though they were from the area, they had never visited the château and were looking forward to it as much as we were.

The tour guide arrived and we entered the château. What followed was an hour or so in a most magical place. Georges Sand, whose real name was Aurore Dupin, was the sole heiress to the château, the origins of which date back to the 15th century. It was rebuilt and extended through the years and is, in its present form, exactly as it was in the mid nineteenth century when Georges Sand lived there. She was a remarkable woman and counted among her houseguests the crème de la crème of writers, composers and artists of her period. Her dinner table would host such names as Franz Liszt, the authors Alfred de Musset and Alexandre Dumas and the painter Delacroix. Chopin wrote most of his music here and his bedroom and study exude his presence.

Georges Sand spent an extraordinary amount of effort and money to make her château the most up to date and comfortable house in France. The kitchens are remarkably modern and there is also a theatre where she and her guests would be entertained with puppets made by her son Maurice. The bedrooms were furnished and decorated with exquisite taste and the beautiful garden reminded me of the one described in my favourite childhood book ‘The Secret Garden’.

The visit was drawing to a close. The last room was the drawing room. There was a piano which, to our disappointment, was not the one Franz Liszt used, but a later copy. The tour guide invited anyone who could, to play a tune. A lady in the group reluctantly admitted she could play ‘but was a bit rusty’. She sat down at the piano and launched into a piece by Franz Liszt. Rusty she may have been, but to my untrained ears, the music was wonderful and as I looked out through the open window, into the pale sun shining through the mist floating around trees and shrubs, time stood still. For just a moment, I felt the presence of all those who had lived and loved and played there once upon a time.

My memory of this visit was so vivid that I promised myself to set a novel in this part of France, and it was fulfilled in ‘Finding Margo’.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this area of France and especially the Château de Nohant . The hotel is nearby and can be found on their website: http://www.chateauvalleebleue.com/.
Do go to Nohant on a late spring or autumn morning and maybe, if there is a piano player in your midst, you might also conjure up the spirit of George Sand.

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