Ma Vie Française #6: Author Jane Dunning

Jane Dunning

Jane Dunning

Today, I continue my occasional series of interviews with people who have made their life in France or who have a particular attachment to it. Jane Dunning’s love affair with France began in earnest in the 1990s and she has since stayed in 100 different locations around the country, often on house-sitting assignments. I think you can say she’s a Francophile! Jane is also the author of two novels set in Provence: more about those below.

Welcome, Jane, and thanks for joining us today. I know you don’t live in France but you spend a lot of time here. What and/or who sparked your interest in France?

I first visited France in 1978, staying in the heart of the Limousin, followed by a few holidays in Corsica in the 1980s. I really wanted to go to the Côte d’Azur but thought it would be too expensive, so places like Corsica’s Calvi and Propriano were the next best thing. Of course, I loved them both, but it was 1990 before I got to Provence. It was holiday brochures like Bowhills and Vacances en Campagne that sparked my interest. I can remember to this day seeing a house for rent in a place called Le Plan de la Tour (Var). That village name really intrigued me. Each year, I couldn’t wait for those two brochures to arrive by post so I could choose my next holiday house!

St Tropez

St Tropez

Which is your favourite region of France and why? If you could live in France, would you choose that region or a different one?

I love Provence mainly because of the sea. So much of France is far from the sea or doesn’t have the dramatic coastline of the Alpes-Martimes, Var and Bouches-du-Rhône. I love the villages, the palms, plane and olive trees, and fields of lavender. My favourite area is around Cap Ferrat as it’s surprisingly unspoilt and low-key for such an internationally renowned place. Avoiding high season, of course! I also love the Var and the Vaucluse, which is where many of the lavender fields can be found.

View towards Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

View towards Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

I understand you have been house-sitting different properties in France for a number of years. How do you find suitable places for house-sitting? Do you go back to the same ones or choose somewhere different each time?

Our first house-sit was in 2008 – four dogs, three houses and two swimming pools on a Provençal vineyard for four months. We really jumped in at the deep end! Fortunately, it worked out perfectly and we returned the following year for a shorter period.  That particular house-sit was found through the website Anglo-Info Riviera but these days, we belong to a couple of dedicated websites and receive alerts every day to advise us what’s come on the books. Sometimes people contact us directly and, at other times, we reply to a listing.

After over twenty house-sits, we know that the home and pet owners won’t really get anyone more reliable or kind to their animals than us, so we try not to take offence if we’re not chosen! The important thing is to apply promptly especially for beautiful houses and adorable-looking pets otherwise the home owners might get bored of looking by the time they reach your application. We have returned to several homes including a beautiful manoir in the Charente-Maritime with a gorgeous Belgian Shepherd, a contemporary house in Sicily and a wonderful hamlet of four houses in the Luberon along with four cats and, next time, a Jack Russell puppy!

Manoir Souhait in Gourvillette, Charente-Maritime

Manoir Souhait in Gourvillette, Charente-Maritime

Tell us about your best and worst experiences while house-sitting (without, of course, putting yourself on the line!).

That first house-sit on the vineyard is probably the best experience as we felt like we were really living in Provence. It was a slightly more formal arrangement, so we had a few tasks on our list such as gardening plus my husband did a few odd jobs. We even had to buy a replacement dishwasher as well as plants, dog food and take the dogs to the vet for their annual inoculations. That was an experience in itself and, with four dogs, in a 4×4, the only loaf we could buy was one that would fit in the glove compartment – they would have eaten it otherwise!

Three of the four taking over the driving seat

Three of the four taking over the driving seat

Fortunately, most of our experiences have been good ones but last year, we looked after a dog in Brittany who had obviously been photographed as a puppy and was fully grown by the time we looked after her and much bigger than we expected!  Sadly, she hadn’t been trained very well so instead of taking her everywhere with us as we normally would, she had to stay in the garden and just have two or three walks a day plus playtime to wear her out.

My husband vets the home owners quite carefully as we feel it’s very important to get on well with them even though they won’t be in residence. Some owners are very friendly whilst others can’t wait to see the back of us when they get home and even like us to leave the day they return which goes against our caring philosophy as we feel as if we’re abandoning the animals to the potential risk of immediate non-return of their owners.

If you could take one book about France to a desert island, what would you choose?

This is the most difficult question! I enjoy reading fiction set in France and most of my reading has a French connection. I think it would be All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I have an interest in the Second World War so this story ticks a lot of boxes.

You’ve published two novels set in Provence: Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez and Stolen Summer. What inspired you to write these books? Do you write when you’re in France?

I’d wanted to start writing for many years but work and life got in the way. I retired fully in 2007 and almost immediately headed off on that long house-sit on the vineyard. Whilst driving to a place called Collobrières, when we ended up driving along a dangerous hillside track, a spark of an idea formed in my mind and it became the focus of the first book. I am very bad at writing when I’m away but I did finish Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez when I was house-sitting in the Charente-Maritime and Stolen Summer was input to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing when I was looking after that naughty dog last year. I do make notes of things I see and sounds I hear when I’m in France. Some of those things have been adapted to appear in my stories.

What do you like best about France? And least?

I like the diversity of its landscapes and architecture. The differences are huge. I like the friendliness of the people and cannot understand why the French have a reputation for unfriendliness. I like small fixed price menus which sometime mean one might have to choose something a little different. I like least the dogs’ mess that still, unfortunately, litters many French streets. In some towns and cities, there are now cleaners dedicated to clearing this up using a special suction cart. I always feel very sorry for the operator of these contraptions.

Lavender fields from Saignon, near Apt (Luberon)

Lavender fields from Saignon, near Apt (Luberon)

You are clearly a confirmed Francophile. Would you ever consider moving to France?

We have considered it and probably should have been brave enough to move in 2004 when we last moved house but I had just lost my father and it didn’t cross my mind, despite the fact good friends were in the process of moving to the Pyrénées-Orientales. Also, where to go? House-sitting gives us lots of variety without the responsibility of a holiday home. Another reason is that my husband prefers Italy!

About Jane

Jane Dunning was born in Guernsey (Channel Islands, UK) in the nineteen-fifties and moved to Bournemouth (on the south coast of England) with her family six months later. After school and secretarial college, her working career, predominantly in finance and latterly with Bournemouth University, spanned over thirty-five years. She has been married since 1974, lives in Poole, Dorset and enjoys travel, writing, walking and gardening. She has visited France every year since 1990 and has spent long periods in both France and Italy since retiring in 2007.

Jane’s Books

Click on the books for more details.

Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stolen Summer book cover

 

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You might also like:

Ma Vie Française Interviews

Copyright © 2018 Life on La Lune, Jane Dunning, all rights reserved

 

About nessafrance

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.
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24 Responses to Ma Vie Française #6: Author Jane Dunning

  1. Osyth says:

    What an interesting life Jane and her husband lead and what a brilliant way to really get under the skin of France and all it’s diverse landscape and culture. I’m with her on the pros and cons, 100% – particularly the dog poo. For me, being a hook, line and sinker and think of the consequences afterwards girl, I was not at all alarmed by the prospect of moving to France, nor of moving over here but I can see that for many more cautious (or is that sensible) souls, the house-sitting option is a really good one. Actually, we are on the other side of the fence, wanting to use sitters once we get back to France …. I won’t be booting them out before I return, for sure. I would hope that one could build something of a relationship with people you are entrusting your home and animals to ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Jane and her husband are clearly into the relationship building bit. We’ve used house-sitters on a couple of occasions and were very pleased with how it all turned out. Our rather snarky cat (now deceased, sadly) was putty in their hands! I was never able to tickle his tummy with impunity – but he allowed them to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Osyth and thanks for your comment. Yes, house-sitting has certainly enriched our lives. What we tend to do is a mix of renting a house or apartment, visiting friends who live in France, and house-sitting. Sometimes we add a house-sit to a holiday or vice versa so it’s a win win for us. Glad to hear you won’t be booting your future house-sitting before you return – we may well be sensitive souls!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. How refreshing to have an alternative viewpoint on ‘life in france’. House sitting sounds like a great way of having your cake and eating it. It is possible to live over here permanently on a small budget and without engaging in massive renos. However, for those who need and/or want to keep a base in the home country house sitting seems a perfect choice…an idea I’ll pass on to one or two friends!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I know a number of people who house-sit and it’s a good way of seeing an area without spending a fortune. As I mentioned to another commenter, there are several websites that put home-owners in touch with house-sitters.

      Like

    • Hi writeonthebeach and thanks for your comment. I would love to have a little cottage by the sea, decorated in blue and white with washed pale floorboards but house-sitting is a reasonable second best. I live by the sea in Dorset, UK so can’t complain anyway! We use MindmyHouse (an economical choice) and Trusted Housesitters (too expensive for what you get) if you’d like to let your friends know.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, thank you so much for this posting, which is as refreshingly REALISTIC (first word that comes to mind) as your other postings, It’s encouraging to read of someone who keeps her job, takes care of her family/relatives, and yet (somehow) manages to write, and to make that time-in-France possible each year. I (I’m American) was fairly glamorously married to a Frenchman for twelve years, spent much of each year there, and I find myself often wondering how I could go back to France. A silly question, perhaps…….but the answer isn’t provided by all the “Under The Tuscan Sun” or “Mistakes Were Made…In French” memoirs. those are lovely books, of course, but they have nothing to do with the circumstances/resources of most folks. For various reasons, I don[‘t happen to have the resources to just give up everything (presumably, that would include a life’s worth of books and two aging terriers), cash in all my inherited stocks (I wish), and simply buy up a little villa or manoir to lovingly restore over five or so years. So?…..it’s good to read of a woman who, without being an heiress or well paid-off divorcee, HAS managed/learned how to negotiate the hurdles and still do the things she loves. My hat’s off to Ms. Dunning.

    thank you,
    David Terry
    Quail Roost Farm
    Durham, NC
    USA

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Hello. I’m pleased you found the post resonated with you. I was amazed when Jane told me she had stayed in 100 or so locations in France, many of them thanks to house-sitting. Maybe that’s something you could consider if you want to spend some more time in France? It’s certainly a less expensive option than buying a place which you might use infrequently. A number of dedicated websites exist to put house owners in touch with prospective house-sitters. Perhaps someone ought to write a “How to spend more time in France without bankrupting yourself” guide. Jane?

      Liked by 1 person

      • That IS a fine idea…….a “How To Spend In France Without Bankrupting Yourself” guide. “Time” being, of course, something more lengthy than a short vacation and less binding that a full-time, complete move to France.

        Oh, God…….Having just typed that, I realize that I sound just like ever other divorced, middle-aged, afraid-of-commitment man on the planet.

        Still, the guide is a good idea. Living in France, like living in New York City seems a “do-able” thing only if one happens to be young (and untroubled by poverty and details such as medical insurance) or older and independently wealthy. Call me cranky, but I scarcely ever read those expat-in-France/Italy books (or see the movies) without thinking something along the lines of “Well, that’s FINE if you’re Russel Crowe and could sell your mega-finance firm any day you please”. I may be the only person who casts a critical eye on “Under The Tuscan Sun” (the author, Frances Mayes is, unexpectedly enough a neighbor/friend of mine here in NC, and we’ve discussed the movie); according to the movie, one can buy and completely restore an entire Tuscan villa on the earnings made by reviewing books?????

        In any case, I think, I think it would be a fine and useful thing if Ms.Dunning wrote a guide for the ways a middle-aged or older person (who doesn’t happen to have a million dollars to just cash-out and spend) might go about this business.

        Thank you again for the informative and genuinely interesting blog.

        David Terry

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Well, this sounds like a project to me. Like you, I’m always a little sceptical of these “move to Italy/France and realise a dream” books. I did actually enjoy Frances Mayes’ ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, but more for her wonderful descriptions of the place – and especially of the food. As a practical guide, it’s not to be taken too seriously. It ALWAYS costs more to move to a country and renovate a property than one is led to believe. We didn’t renovate ours, for which I am eternally grateful, since we were still working and trying to earn the money we needed to live here.

        Thank you for your nice comments about the blog. I’m always delighted if people enjoy it. It means I’m not just talking to myself.

        Like

    • Hi David and thanks for your comment. How wonderful to have spent all that time in France especially with a French person who probably really knows how France works. Or should I say worked as it’s evolving as every country is. I have come to the conclusion that the secret to house-sitting, is to check out as much before you agree to the sit, only go if it really appeals, try not to stay in a place worse that your own home, be adaptable and try not to be too sensitive! We have also agreed between ourselves, not to look after horses and other farm animals as cats and dogs are quite a responsibility. Having written two novels, I could write a guide but I think I prefer drifting off into my imagination so maybe not!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. katyjohnson1 says:

    Lovely post – I share Jane’s choice in places so I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing her pictures on Facebook and reading Stolen Summer

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating and have followed Jane on all social mediums.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing such an interesting story.

    Liked by 1 person

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