Welcome back to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, to coincide with the publication of her second novel, Tree Slayer, I am talking to author Harriet Springbett about what France means to her.
Although Harriet Springbett always wrote stories in her West Dorset home, she qualified and worked as an engineer. During a Raleigh International expedition in Chile she realised writing and discovering life were more important to her than her career. She moved to France, where she studied French at Pau University and then worked as a project manager, feature writer, translator and TEFL teacher. She now lives in Poitou-Charentes with her French partner and their teenage children.
Since her first literary success, aged 10, her short stories and poetry have been published in literary journals and placed in writing competitions, including a shortlisting in the renowned Bath Short Story Award. She leads writing workshops, has judged the Segora international short story competition and blogs (very irregularly) at https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com. Her publisher, Impress Books, now has 3 of her novels and she’s working on her fourth.
|Tree Slayer by Harriet Springbett|
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, its strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Harriet: Its people. They are more discreet than us Brits, so it’s rare for them to ask lots of questions when you first meet. This can make you feel ignored until you realize it’s just a cultural difference. There is also a real sense of family and community, and they often put the group before the individual – which is why French children are so polite. For example, during street theatre performances, adults will always make way for children to go to the front – and there’s never any elbowing to be the first in a queue. Their approach to life is much more abstract than our practical approach, which I love. And the French walk at a more leisurely pace than the British. Have you ever noticed that?
2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?
Harriet: I was 13 when my parents put me, alone, on a ferry in Weymouth to stay with an unknown penfriend in Tours for 3 weeks. She was the daughter of friends of a man in my village… Actually, the holiday went well, considering the girl’s parents had just divorced and that she spent most of the time crying. They took me to lots of Loire châteaux. I remember the smell of the air – it had a sweet quality, the smell of freshly baked brioche. I still catch that aroma sometimes and am reminded of my first French trip.
3) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?
Harriet: I stayed with my (then) French boyfriend’s family near Dax for my first few weeks in France, when I was 26. Then I moved to Pau, where I lived alone while I studied French at university. The best thing was discovering the differences in a French family’s life. For example, when it was sunny, they retreated indoors as if the sun were an enemy. In England, the minute the sun appeared, I’d go outside with a book and sunbathe in a corner of my family’s farm.
The scariest thing was when, after 3 months in Pau, I could no longer speak English properly (honestly!) and I hadn’t yet mastered French well enough to express my feelings. It was a lonely few months during which I felt I didn’t exist. I almost gave up France.
4) With plenty of space and lovely scenery, France is a great place to explore by bike. If you were to take a day off from writing where would you take your bike?
Harriet: I adore cycling. When I was 22 I cycled across France, from Cherbourg to Beziers, to do a grape harvest. It was the best time. I loved the freedom of being able to stop and explore wherever I liked. Last summer my partner and I cycled along the River Charente towards its source, which was wonderful – you can read about it on my blog. I think I’d continue where we left off – especially as it would count as research for the novel I’m writing at the moment.
5) With mountains, rugged coastlines, chic cities and coastal towns perfect for people watching, where in France is your perfect holiday escape?
Harriet: Without doubt, the Pyrenees mountains. We camp there most summers and I literally cry when I come down from my last walk each year. I love the quality of the silence in the mountains, the colours, the feeling of achievement when you walk upwards for hours and then collapse beside a mountain lake. I was lucky enough to be invited on a writing residency in the Val d’Azun in 2017, while I was researching for Tree Slayer, and it was inspiring to see the mountains as soon as I awoke.
6) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?
Harriet: My partner comes from Le Mans, and the Rillettes du Mans are one of my weaknesses. Don’t be fooled: the supermarket versions are nowhere near as good as the true Rillettes. So he says, anyway!
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?
Harriet: An espresso, if it’s the summer, hopefully with a little biscuit. My daughters and I have a mission to find the best hot chocolate in any town we’re visiting, so in winter I’d have a chocolat chaud viennois. On a summer afternoon, it would be a Monaco (beer, grenadine and lemonade) because it’s smooth and sweet – and I love its foamy red colour.
8) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?
Harriet: Pain aux raisins. I love raisins. In my opinion, the French put pepites de chocolat in too many of their pastries. Though I love a raspberry or strawberry tart when my budget is higher.
9) France has many different cheeses but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tomme, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?
Harriet: What a fun question! Difficult… I’m probably the cheese that was the wrong shape and didn’t make it to the cheese counter.
10) Can you describe your perfect French apero? The drinks, the nibbles, the setting and the guests?
Harriet: I have a very wild garden and my favourite place for an apero is in the depths of it, surrounded by nature. I’m drinking a cool glass of Coteaux du Layon white wine with my friends from Le Mans and Cognac, during the week-long party we have most summers. We’ve been cycling or running in the morning, lazing beside the River Charente all afternoon and have just returned from a few rounds of Pétanque. My friend Nico, who’s an amazing cook, will have prepared some tapas, and we’ll be teasing each other, talking politics, discussing our children (who are running wild, independent for the week) and deciding whether to play ‘Times-Up’ or ‘Loup Garou’.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you and best of luck with the publication of Tree Slayer.
Harriet: Thank you, Jacqui, for asking questions that brought back lots of happy memories.
Having read both of Harriet’s novels I think they are fantastic books that will whisk you away into a different world, whatever your age, and I can’t wait for the next one. You can read my reviews here:
You can find and follow Harriet online here: