My latest guest is a somewhat unusual occupant of this slot, in that she had une vie française but doesn’t anymore. More of that below. Olga Swan has had several novels published by Crooked Cat Books, including Vichysoisse, part of which is set in this area of SW France during World War II. Her humorous memoir of her life in France, Pensioners in Paradis, is coming out shortly. Let’s hear from Olga herself.
Life on La Lune: Welcome, Olga, and thanks for joining us today. How long did you live in France and what led you to move here in the first place? How did you choose where you decided to live?
Olga: We moved to France in 2005 and lived there for 12 years. In 2004 my husband had suffered a fire at his indoor market stall and the university where I’d worked for 30 years offered me an early-retirement package, so we decided to sell up and move to France as I spoke reasonable French.
But where? As luck would have it, an English agent in St Antonin Noble Val was visiting our selling agent, so we went to his region and bought a villa in nearby Varen.
What expectations did you have of life in rural France and how did the reality match up to your expectations?
I was surprised by the number of English people in our tiny mediaeval village. It eased the transition for us amazingly well. Despite my commitment to speaking French and integrating with the locals, I must admit having English people nearby was a great help – especially in the early days.
Rural living was a joy back then. Open roads, la qualité de la lumière, sunshine, local markets, le bien manger…..everything we could possibly have wished for.
So, the 64 thousand dollar question. Why did you move back to the UK from France?
After living in Varen for six years, I started to worry. A car is absolutely vital when all commerce is many miles away, so what would we do if our eyesight failed in the years to come? We therefore sold up and moved to a larger town nearer to Toulouse – Gaillac, in a wonderful wine region – which was near to some friends we knew.
The commerce, doctors, hospitals, mairie etc. were all nearby. We lived in Gaillac for a further six years. However, after my husband was diagnosed with a serious illness and had a radical operation, I became increasingly unsettled. Both of us were nearing 70 so the time seemed right to move back ‘home’ to England.
I know you haven’t been back in Blighty for long, but is there anything you miss about France?
What do I miss? All the aspects mentioned above, but in the end it came down to a choice between the physical world – e.g. the sunshine, fresh air etc. – and the psychological – that indefinable sense of needing to be ‘home’ where our roots were.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, Pensioners in Paradis. What inspired it and how has it come to be published? (P.S. I love the cover and the nod to Robert Browning in the subtitle!)
It’s pretty much autobiographical, following our natural feel for the comedy of life. So the book follows the lives of a self-deprecating couple from England, steeped in life’s troubles, whisking them across the Channel. It allows readers to laugh with them as they encounter hilarious situations en France – from troublesome workmen, the infamous bureaucracy, and even sex à la française!
It shows the transition from English doom and gloom to la belle vie française, and follows the exploits of an oh-so-recognisable English couple. What could possibly go wrong?
Following a successful first (self-published) edition, it’s now been taken up by my publishers Crooked Cat Books, who were delighted to acquire it under their new True Cats Non-Fiction imprint and re-introduce it to a larger audience.
A lot of books are already on the market about foreigners’ experiences of moving to France. What is distinctive about yours?
I like to think that Him indoors and I have a special brand of self-deprecating humour, acquired from living in the Midlands(!) and genetically from our Eastern European heritage, which I’ve tried to bring to the narrative.
What advice would you give people contemplating a move to France?
Try to retain a bolt-hole in the UK should your minds change over the years – especially those near retirement age. Also, be realistic: how easy will it be to get to all the commercial facilities that you need, and also how to maintain that large area of land that comes with your new house?
More about Olga Swan
Olga has a lifelong love of writing and language. While living in France, she researched her historical novels Lamplight and Vichyssoise from original French sources. Her published books with Crooked Cat have centred on three genres: crime (3rd Degree Murder), war-time history (Lamplight and Vichyssoise) and the humour, non-fiction genre (Pensioners in Paradis: French Notes from A Broad). She has also written for children and has a BA Hons (Open) in the Humanities.
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Pensioners in Paradis
Pensioners in Paradis will be published on 29th August 2017 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Olga is holding a Facebook launch all day on 29th August – come and join in the fun.
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