Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Helen Pollard about what France means to her. Helen’s novel The Little French Guesthouse was released yesterday and you can read my review here.
As a child, Helen had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading, so she started to create her own stories in a notebook. She still prefers fictional worlds to real life, believes characterisation is the key to a successful book, and enjoys infusing her writing with humour and heart.
When she's not writing, Helen enjoys reading, decent coffee, scrapbooking and watching old seventies and eighties TV shows.
Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association.
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’?
Helen: I love the sense of space as you’re driving through the countryside (and less traffic!) I also like the impression of civic pride in the towns and villages – a feeling of community. And of course there is the appreciation of good food and wine, and a more relaxed way of life.
|The Little French Guesthouse|
2) Your new novel The Little French Guesthouse is set in the French countryside, are gite holidays something you have enjoyed with your family?
Helen: We first started holidaying in France every summer when the children were small, but we were camping – we had a trailer tent. Mainly we would visit Normandy, Brittany or the Loire region – I can’t stand too much heat, and as we had to go in the school holidays, the Loire is the furthest south I could manage!
As the kids got older, the tent got too cramped (and we were fed up of putting the wretched thing up and down), so we sold it and started to stay in gîtes instead. We haven’t been quite as regularly for the last few years, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this year.
3) 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?
Helen: We haven’t visited a large number of French cities, tending to prefer smaller towns, but I particularly liked Rouen in Normandy – I thought the buildings were just fantastic.
If I’m allowed to mention towns, Dinan in Brittany is very pretty, and we loved the atmosphere in Honfleur, Normandy - even though both can be rather touristy.
4) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?
Helen: I think it would have to be somewhere within driving distance of the sea, perhaps in Brittany. I love the little coastal villages and the beaches . . . although the weather can be variable, we found!
5) 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?
Helen: Well, it would have to be the one coffee I allow myself each day, wouldn’t it? A large café crème! And if a fresh pain aux raisins happened to be available, I wouldn’t turn it down . . .
6) What is your favourite thing to treat yourself to in a French Boulangerie/Patisserie?
Helen: Gosh, I mean, where would you start? I could spend hours just looking in the windows! If I were choosing a special treat, then I’d probably go for a fresh strawberry or raspberry tart, although I am rather partial to a tarte au citron . . .
7) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?
Helen: I can’t resist mussels in some variation of white wine and onion broth.
8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?
Helen: Ha! I would say the soft, fresh and lively goat cheese . . . but since I can’t eat cheese, does that mean I have an intolerance to myself?!
9) Do you prefer French or New World wine?
Helen: Ahem. Actually, I like Italian whites! But I would choose French over New World, definitely.
10) How does France inspire your writing? Can we expect to read more from the guesthouse La Cour des Roses?
Helen: I had the opening scene for The Little French Guesthouse in my mind for a long time, but I didn’t do anything about it until we stayed at a particular gîte one year and I thought, ‘This is where it takes place!’ Once I could picture it in my mind, the rest of the story developed from there. France was the perfect setting – Emmy needs somewhere beautiful and relaxed where she can just ‘be’, giving her the opportunity to work out how she wants her life to move forwards. I developed the setting into somewhere imaginary, of course, but as I wrote, it became pretty real to me. I keep forgetting La Cour des Roses doesn’t exist!
And yes, you can expect to read more! It is planned as a three-book series, and the second book is due out later this summer and then it will be onto Book 3. So I will be immersed in France and all things French for quite a while yet!
FVD: Oh, now that makes me very happy! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.
Helen: Thank you so much for having me as a guest on the blog!