Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week as part of the France Book Tours virtual tour for her new release Merle, I am talking to author Angela Wren about what France means to her. You can enter a giveaway and read my review of Merle here.
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’?
Angela: I guess it has to be the etiquette. You walk into the boulangerie to get the daily baguette and everyone says good morning. Does that happen in the UK? In tiny villages in the wilds of Wales or Scotland maybe, but mostly I think not anymore. In large cities, maybe the situation is a little different. But then, I was in Dijon not long ago and met two very friendly French ladies who not only helped me find a specific street that I wanted but also chatted to me about nearby places to see and a couple of other things not to be missed that were not on the route I’d been given by the tourist office! Those two ladies could not have been more helpful. And then there is that very gallic shrug followed by that ‘everything can be managed’ look when a small problem is encountered. There is something so uniquely French, and fascinating, about the etiquette and, even after all my time in France, I'm certain I still don't understand it all!
2) You have now set two novels in the Cévennes in France, where did your love of this relatively unknown area come from?
Angela: Robert Louis Stevenson is definitely to blame for that! I first read his book ‘Travels with a Donkey’ as a teenager at school and at the end of the summer term that year I went on a school trip to Italy but we travelled by train from the port of Calais to Venice. I was mesmerized by the landscape of France. Later, when I was in my twenties I met some friends in the Cévennes and, having re-read Stevenson’s book, I spent some time there visiting all the locations detailed in ‘Travels’. The scenery is breath-taking, the villages small and sparse and there’s a quiet wildness there that I’ve never found anywhere else. The weather can change in a moment and the sun can be relentless. The history is fascinating and, in the village where I like to stay, it is so silent that, between the cattle being driven to and from the high pastures, you really can hear the grass grow!
3) How does France inspire your writing?
Angela: Just by being what it is. The very first scene in Messandrierre was inspired by a change in the weather in September 2007. The previous day had been sunny but a persistent cold wind had lowered the temperature. The next morning, I awoke to a light flurry of snow and ground, trees and houses wearing a white mantle. Later in the story, Jacques gets caught out in a terrific thunder storm. The description of the storm, the colours in the lightening, the formation of the clouds – all of that I witnessed for myself one year when I was there. As for the little exchanges between the villagers, most of those have come from something I’ve overheard at the market or in the baker’s or butcher’s shop and I’ve taken that comment or remark and asked myself ‘what if?’ and built it into a scene.
4) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?
Angela: That’s a tough question, there are so many things that have stayed with me. If I have to choose only one then I suppose it would be the first time I visited Orange. I remember travelling down the RN7, the car moving through the shadows cast by the plane trees. It was a blisteringly hot day and as I approached the town, the roman triumphal arch kind of just appeared ahead of the vehicle in the middle of the road. I was stunned by it and also astounded that such a magnificent and precious antiquity was surrounded by cars and exhaust fumes all day, every day. A little further on and I discovered the roman theatre. As an actor, I just could not resist the opportunity to stand on that ancient stage for just a few moments and wonder whose roman feet had also stood in exactly the same spot. Awesome!
5) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?
Angela: Hmm, that depends on where I am. I don’t spend all my time in one place whilst I’m there. I love Porc Normande and I’ve perfected my own recipe for use at home. I am also very partial to a Tarte Normande too. Clafouti is a must when I'm in the Limousin. Those beautiful black cherries are to die for! And that's either by themselves or in a clafouti. I can't resist those cherries when I find them in the supermarket or on a market stall. Flan aux Marrons is something I will always pick up when I’m in and around the Cévennes. And if I really want to spoil myself I will buy some Marrons Glacés. When in Burgundy, if Mousson du Canard is available I will always buy some of that and when in Alsace, it’s jambon forêt noir. But the one dish that I have always wondered about is Rôti de Veau. I first came across this in the Vendée. It’s a rolled piece of veal roasted with garlic, mushrooms and white wine and once cooked, cream and more wine are added to the meat juices to create a sauce. It’s taken me quite a while to perfect the dish and to get it to taste exactly how it did the first time I ordered it from the menu in a small village restaurant in Notre Dame de Riez. Sadly, although the restaurant is still there, the original chef is not I genuinely don’t know if that is a regional dish or not, but it is absolutely delicious! Then there's the pâtisserie - I'm not sure if I should admit this, but my map of France is covered with notes about what to buy from each shop. So it's Mille Feuille in the pâtisserie by the chateau in Prémery, Tarte au Citron in St Pourçain and... I think I'd better stop there. I'm in danger of giving away all my secrets about France!
6) 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?
Angela: That’s easy. A large black coffee and a croissant.
7) 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?
Angela: Hmm – what an interesting question. I love cheese and some of my most favourite are Gruyère, Camembert or Brie. A Vacherin Mont d'Or is good but I prefer it when it’s young - it has the capacity to be seriously odorous as it matures! I suppose I would have to say that I’m a Morbier. A cow’s milk cheese, it is traditionally made from a layer of evening curd, covered with ash and then supplemented the next day with the curd from the first milking. That kind of fits with my love of history and tradition and my need to be sensible in the use of resources available. When mature, the cheese is a mellow creamy-yellow colour with a dark line through the centre which provides a bit of grittiness to the taste. That kind of fits with me too. I can be quite steely when I need to be.
8) 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?
Angela: Yet another almost impossible question to answer! I suppose everyone is tempted to say Paris, as am I. It is a magnificent place. Le Puy-en-Velay has its own charm and an interesting history and must come a close second, I think. And then there’s Mende, not to mention Rheims, Dijon, Nantes, Chartres, the stunning wine villages of Alsace, Burgundy and many, many other places.But if you are forcing me to choose again, then it has to be Villefranche du Rouergue. An old bastide surrounded by a more modern town, with a fascinating history, a fabulous market every Thursday with the most amazing stall selling herbs, spices and oils. I swear you can smell that stall from the other side of town!
9) 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?
Angela: My place would have to be a large mountain chalet that was half-way up an Alp with views across the countryside. I’d like a patio all the way around the property with chairs and tables and a barbecue area. Oh and can I have a red Ferrari in the garage too please?
10) Do you have any plans to visit France again soon?
Angela: Yes. I’m always planning some trip or other to France as I like to spend as much time as possible over there.
Finally, I know I want to read more about your main character Jacques Forêt, but do you have any plans to write more of his adventures?
Angela: Yes. I’m already working on book 3 which has the title Montbel. This is an old case and Jacques is asked to investigate by one of the relatives of the man who died. The investigation takes Jacques into an underworld of lies, deceit and stolen identities. As yet the story is at an early draft. I expect there will be another two or three drafts at least before I’m completely happy with it. Hopefully it will be out towards the end of 2018. There is a fourth book, which doesn’t have a title as yet, but does have an outline of a crime, a victim and a perpetrator, but that’s about it. I’m hoping that this book will be out at the end 2019 or the beginning of 2020. I don’t know if there will be a fifth book or not. Originally, I only ever envisaged 4 stories for Jacques. Maybe when I begin to write book 4 I will see more stories, I don’t know.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.
You can follow Angela on Facebook and Twitter and visit her website and blog.
You can follow Angela on Facebook and Twitter and visit her website and blog.