Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, as part of the blog tour to coincide with the release of her new novel The Forgotten Summer I am talking to actress and author Carol Drinkwater about what France means to her.
Carol Drinkwater, known for her award-winning portrayal of Helen Herriot in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, is the author of the nonfiction Olive Farm Series of memoirs which inspired The Olive Route, five documentaries following her travels in the south of France. Her memoirs were great comfort reading for me when we moved to France in 2004 and everything felt daunting and different. She is also the author of three bestselling Kindle singles.
1) I think France is a special place, 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’?
Carol: Our dogs run free on our land so we have no part to play in your observation of French streets!
France is a republic where the individual counts above the crowd, and that is very important to the psyche and the way people live here. The French, although I don’t usually go in for sweeping generalizations, respect freedom of the individual. They will stand up for this, as last year’s attacks proved. The right to think, worship, live as each feels is fundamental (within the law, of course). It is this philosophy that is at the heart of the hugely diverse choice of cheeses and wines. Each region, even a tiny village, is protected by its hard-earned AOC - Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée - label. Our olive oil, for example, comes under the AOC ‘Olive de Nice’. This oil cannot be produced anywhere else. As with all AOCs, it is the marriage of soil, climate, product.
2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?
Carol: Riding on a coach tour with my parents down to Italy, stopping for sunny lunches on terraces, flying through the Alps, hitting the Riviera coast –the Belle Epoque villas, the glittering Mediterranean, that hot embracing sun - and then a stroll round Monaco. I was about ten or eleven so, I would guess, early times in terms of tour operators to “the Continent”, but I thought it was magical. It was all so exotic to me back then, and so glamorous.
3) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?
Carol: Our very first summer, I went to Nice university and enrolled in a two-month course in French. I had studied Latin languages at school but this was essential. I have two fabulous step-daughters, who were thirteen at that time. They both spoke some English but refused to converse with me in my mother tongue. If I wanted to engage with them it had to be in French, and they were not slow in correcting my errors!
4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?
Carol: Here is one I have recounted in The Olive Farm. My parents were coming to stay for the first time. I was nervous, keen for them to approve our mad purchase of a dilapidated olive farm overlooking the Bay of Cannes. I had cleaned up everything as much as was possible with little money to spare and next to no furniture. Wild flowers in vases in the bedroom, our best linen on their bed. Wine and food all ready to be served. And then I noticed a rather unattractive “leak” seeping out of a drain right alongside the swimming pool, newly renovated and filled for the first time. I panicked, ran indoors and called the plumber who was not home. His wife answered. I yelled that her husband had to come immediately. There is a HUGE TROUT coming up through the drainage system and it will slip into the swimming pool any minute now.
‘A TROUT, Madame?’
‘YES, please get your husband here as soon as possible....’
The plumber was there within fifteen minutes.
‘Where is this giant fish then,’ he grinned.
‘FISH? What are you talking about. We have a LEAK.’
I had confused the words: TRUITE for trout and FUITE for leak.
5) How does France inspire your writing?
Carol: In every way, and more and more profoundly. I regularly read about France, read in French, dig into history. I am keen to get beyond the clichés to discover the spirit of the country. I am also constantly bowled over by the beauty and the variety of geographical locations here. The wild Atlantic scenery, the Mediterranean’s chic yet natural beauty. The elegance, the snobbery, the poise of capital city women, the love of art and language, cinema, literature. The investment in the arts, the pride the French take in all that is French... Every day, there is something new...
6) Your new novel The Forgotten Summer is set on a vineyard in Provence, how important do you think it is to match your French wine with your food? Any top matching tips you can share?
Carol: We don’t have this habit. We drink lighter wines in the warmer seasons – Chablis, for example, with a home-grown salad dressed with garlic and our own peppery olive oil. With our winter foods such as Boeuf Bourguignon or Pot au Feu we would go for a red Bordeaux such as a Saint-Emilion.
7) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Carol: Coffee. Double espresso. I am not a great one for food in the morning so I am happy with my coffee. When I am at home, I might sweeten it with a semi-spoonful of honey. Otherwise, I drink it neat.
8) France has many different cheeses, this is a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, a creamy and rich Camembert or a salty and serious Roquefort?
Carol: Je suis fromage! Ha ha. A soft, melting, creamy Brie full of delicate tones.
9) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us, including the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?
Carol: Champagne on the terrace at our home overlooking the Bay of Cannes where we can watch the sun set over the Mediterranean. In the company of my husband, Michel, (who prefers chilled rosé) and perhaps also several dear friends, with our dogs dozing at our feet. On those warm evenings with jasmine and orange blossom perfumes wafting our way, we eat outside. We have three barbecues of varying sizes. Michel will have the fire going to get the meat or fish grilled and as we sip our drinks, the scents of cooking waft our way. We grow the ingredients for our salads and mixed herbs, our own potatoes... Usually, to nibble with our apéros, we like to serve roasted almonds (also grown on the land) and slices of charcuterie. Not too much or we will have lost our appetite for the dinner yet to come!
10) 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?
Carol: Paris, toujours Paris. It has everything. Even after all these years, it thrills me to be there. There are certain quartiers I know better than others and I tend to head for them. I am particularly fond of the Bastille area. I shop and hang out around the 5th and 6th arrondissements. This includes Bon Marché, the splendid department store which has a fine bookshop and a small restaurant on the same floor. I buy books and then dip into them while enjoying a coffee or lunch. I go to the cinemas around L’Odéon or along the Champs Elysées.
Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?
Carol: I am at work on a new novel, also set in France. It is too early to talk about it but I am aiming to create a story that is epic and dips into some recent French history as well as being a very up-to-the-minute tale.
Thank you for taking the time to give some great answers to my questions about France and you. I really enjoyed The Forgotten Summer, even if it did make me cry and I’m sure readers will love it. I will be waiting patiently for your new novel.
The Forgotten Summer was released in hardback and ebook format on 11th February and will be available in paperback on 14th July 2016. To read my review, click here. You can find Carol on Twitter, Facebook and her website and don't miss out on the other stops on The Forgotten Summer Blog Tour organised by Penguin Random House.
Carol’s Olive Farm and Olive route books are available in paperback and ebook format. Her Kindle Singles are ebook only novellas. Links to Amazon can be found below. My reviews of two of her Kindle Singles can be found by clicking on the links below.
The Girl in Room Fourteen
The Girl in Room Fourteen