Today, I’m excited to welcome someone who not only lives in France, but also has visited every corner of it. Janine Marsh runs a phenomenally successful website, The Good Life France and edits a free ezine, The Good Life France Magazine. She has recently published a book, My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, which charts her experiences of her unexpected property purchase, eventual move to France and observations on la vie française. I caught up with her between travels this week.
Life on La Lune: Without giving too much of My Good Life in France away, what led you to give up your life in England and move to France?
Janine Marsh: Blackmail! Seriously, at the time I didn’t want to give up my job in London which I loved. I was on the cusp of being successful in my project manager job, my bosses dangled the “Director” carrot and I wanted to bite it so bad, I’d worked so hard to get there, very long hours and weekends. I already had my house of horrors in rural France which was meant to be a holiday home but I stopped visiting because I was working almost non-stop.
We lost a beloved family member and my husband started to question what we were doing with our lives. He told me he wanted us to take a risk, to change our lives so we could see more of each other, do something different. He wanted us to take time out to renovate our French house and see if we could make a success of a different life, one that didn’t involve a daily commute and grind. My choice was between love and money…
What challenges did you face in making the move?
We decided to live the good life and grow our own fruit and veg, keep chickens, ducks and geese and be as self-sufficient as possible. We realised pretty quickly that we were still townies at heart and we couldn’t eat our own animals so now we are overrun by birds!
I had to learn how to cook, and that’s not been entirely successful. Despite the best efforts of my neighbours to teach me (oh the horrified expression when I confess to being useless in the kitchen) I’m still at the basic stage. However without access to shops (they’re miles away) and 24-hour supermarkets, being able to cook is essential – over to the husband for that one then!
The first year we were here, the cold winter nearly made me scuttle back to London. We have no central heating and at the time had just one feeble wood fire to heat 17 rooms. Ice formed on the windows inside the house. We ran out of fire wood. We argued. We nearly gave up. Then a neighbour came to the rescue with wood, we put in a new wood fire and we survived…
How did you expect French rural life to be and has it turned out that way?
I had visions of rose arbours and clematis growing round the door. I thought I would keep chickens in a pen and collect eggs in my pretty wicker basket each day and pick a few fresh veg for lunch. The reality is that you have to clean out the chicken coops and it’s not fun. The birds get out and eat the vegetables in the vegetable patch – they are like chicken ninjas and scale high fences and creep along branches of trees Mission Impossible style and they eat the flowers too, jumping up to munch on rose petals.
I thought we would take off into the sunset on our motorbike and explore. Instead we took in a stray cat and then another and another until we had 6 cats and 3 dogs, which sort of curtails your ability to ride off at will.
What has been the best thing about moving to France?
Everything! I love the fresh air, the space, the friendliness of the people, the street markets, fresh bread made by an artisan baker, the smell of just baked croissants, the pop of a Champagne cork in Champagne, the railway system that’s so good, the fact I can nip to a farm and buy fresh cheese, the absolute love of heritage and tradition that the French have… I could go on and on but I’ll fill up your website like I have my own!
You’ve travelled extensively around France. Apart from where you live, which is your favourite region of France?
Apart from where I live? Ooh, Vanessa, that’s sneaky, everyone always asks me my favourite place and I say Hauts de France of course! Everywhere I go, I ring my husband and I say, “I love it here, I want to live here!” – Dordogne, Provence, French Riviera, Alsace, Picardy, Charente-Maritime – pretty much wherever I go it’s my new favourite place but if I have to really pick one place, it would be Paris. I go there a lot with my husband and we both agree, we would love to live there and really get to know the city like a local.
If you could take one book to a desert island, what would you choose?
Blimey, that’s a hard one. I love my books, I have more than 4,000 and had to renovate the pig sty so I had somewhere to keep them all. I think I would take Bill Bryson’s At Home, the history of the home and how bedrooms evolved and windows and all things house and home. It’s a fascinating read and it would remind me to hold on until I could leave the desert island and return to normality!
Finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of moving to France?
Take the risk if it’s what you really want to do. Life is too short to not live it to the fullest you possibly can. Of course be sensible, make sure you can afford it, learn the language and accept that the bureaucracy will frustrate you… but live your dream, there are no second chances.
Many thanks, Janine, for making time in your busy schedule to appear on Life on La Lune.
You can buy My Good Life in France in ebook and paperback formats on Amazon UK and in Kindle format in other Amazon stores worldwide.
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