Today, I continue my occasional interview series with people who have made their life in France or who have a particular attachment to it. Author Angela Wren is in the latter category. Let’s find out why she finds France so captivating.
Life on La Lune: I know you don’t live in France, Angela, but you spend a lot of time here. What and/or who sparked your interest in France?
Angela Wren: Ahhh… now that would be the school trip to Venice and Rome! And it’s OK, my geography is pretty good and I do know that neither of those two cities is in France. We travelled overland from Calais by train. I remember sitting with my face glued to the window watching the scenery change as we moved from the industrial Pas de Calais area into the more rural, scenic and mountainous area of Alsace and across the border into Switzerland at Basel.
As much as I enjoyed my time with the rest of the girls in my class in Italy, it was the return journey and the opportunity to see more of France that was constantly in my mind. A few years later, and still not in charge of my own destiny, I was able to visit Provence and it was the car journey south along the RN7 and into Orange that made me into the traveller I am today. I have no photos of that visit. But then, I don’t need any as the journey through the shadows of the plane trees on a blisteringly hot day is imprinted on my mind.
Which is your favourite region of France and why? If you could live in France, would you choose that region or a different one?
That’s an almost impossible question to answer! Each region has its own characteristics and often its own history. The scenery is so varied when you consider the vast marshes on the coastal area of the Pays de la Loire, the forests of Aquitaine compared with the spectacular heights of Rhône-Alps, Alsace, Lorraine and Midi-Pyrénées.
Hmm…I think that means they are all my favourites in their own way! To answer your question, I’m going to choose the Cévennes. And strictly speaking, that is not a region. But it is a fabulous area of the country. The history is fascinating, the scenery is rugged, the villages are small and isolated and there’s a wildness there that I think is hard to find elsewhere.
I was once in conversation with a Dutchman on the Corniche des Cévennes who likened the fabulous view we were both looking at to Scotland. I remember thanking him but thinking he was doing a disservice to France! If I could live in France, I would definitely choose the Cévennes.
I believe you normally stay on campsites when you visit France. What are the advantages?
There’s one absolute and irrefutable advantage – the preservation of my sanity! Working in project and business change management means I’ve spent a great deal of time living out of a suitcase! Holidays in France became my solace from the stress of work and the constant waking up in hotel rooms with the attendant thought ‘oh yes, so-and-so hotel, Glasgow or wherever. It must be Thursday.’ I really dislike staying in hotels.
Camping means you have your own things with you, you can choose the view you want to wake up to in a morning (like the one above), and when it sets in to rain for a fortnight, you just pack up and move to the other end of the country!
I have thought about using gites, but that means you are tied to one place for however long you are there. Camping means I can be the true nomad that I really am. I can move on or not as I choose. I can stop more or less wherever I want. So, that tiny village I passed through in June last year could be a stopping point for me on my next visit.
If you could take one book about France to a desert island, what would you choose?
That’s easy. I don’t even have to scan my bookshelves and think about that one. The Discovery of France by Graham Robb. It’s a fascinating book that would enable me to visit the whole of the country in my mind whilst I was whiling my time away on the island.
Messandrierre is the first in your series featuring Gendarme Jacques Forêt and set in the Cévennes. A second novel is on the stocks. What was the inspiration behind the character and why did you choose to set the series in that region?
I chose the Cévennes and the village where I was staying as the model for my fictional location because of the scenery and a change in the weather. On my last morning, I woke up to a landscape covered in snow in September. That gave me the idea of snow disguising dark misdeeds and the opening paragraph of Messandrierre was born. It took another four years for the whole story to develop and be written.
As for Jacques, I built him in the same way that I build a character for stage. I needed a hero who investigated the crimes in my story. His looks I pinched from a man on a market stall in Prémery, his love of old English motorbikes I nicked from a previous neighbour of mine and his attitudes, likes, dislikes, mannerisms and intellect all grew as I got to know him better. He’s a great guy and certainly someone I would call on if I needed help – shame he only lives in my head and in print!
What do you like best about France?
The pace of life – except when in Paris. Once I get across the channel, I kind of just slow down to French time. If I move tomorrow or the next day, who cares? If I read my book today instead of making that gallery visit I promised myself, does anyone notice? I’m totally convinced that clocks in rural France run more slowly than here in the UK!
And it’s the pace of life again, especially when you’re in the supermarket queue and the checkout girl is catching up on all the family news with the person in front of you.
And then there’s the slow electricity! No matter what amperage or voltage of electricity there is on campsites my hairdryer always seems to run more slowly than at home.
What tips do you have to make the most of a visit to France?
Don’t rely on the ‘sat nav’, always take a decent map with you and use it in conjunction with the technology.
Autoroutes are OK to get from A to B quickly, but can be costly. The Routes Nationales and the secondary roads make for a much more interesting and scenic drive.
Never, ever travel during any of the lunchtime rush-hours – believe me, it’s not worth the stress.
Lastly, as you’re travelling around, if something looks interesting, unusual or different, don’t drive by. Stop and investigate because it will be a small discovery that you are unlikely to forget.
Having worked as a project and business change manager – very pressured, very demanding – I escaped to write books and work as an actor and director in a small theatre in Yorkshire. Acting has been in my blood since I was a child and now helps me develop the characters that people my stories.
More about Messandrierre
The first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.
Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.
But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.
Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?
Connect with Angela
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