It is with great pleasure that we share this insight into Catherine Berry, author of But you are in France, Madame.
Catherine, how would you describe yourself?
Restless. I have to reign myself in from trying to convince every person that I meet to turn their current life on its ear and set off into the unknown. Having done this, time and again, I know the fulfillment that change can bring; I also know that it can lead to the rejection of what is ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ and I have to work hard to ‘trouver le juste equilibre’.
If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
Not surprisingly, for me it is first and foremost France. It has got under my skin and when I am not there, I picture myself being there.
As it is a country with such wonderful variety, I get to imagine walking the custom officers’ lonely, windswept paths overlooking exposed muddy sea floors in Brittany, squeaking through the sandy coves of the Mediterranean, skiing down the slopes of the mountains near our home on a sunny winter’s day, refusing to give in to my Australian dress code and putting on heels to step impracticably through the cobblestone village streets, sitting down to my café allongé which gives me a few extra sips to become part of the ready-to-be-mass-produced clichéd postcard scene…and I could go on.
When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
Returning to Australia after having lived French for so long (our one year turned into 3 1/2 and the purchase of a French village house) was hard. There is such a plethora of books in my genre that if I had thought about this before sitting down to write, I may have not started. Truthfully, though, the writing was therapeutic for me. It helped me understand that I didn’t have to parcel up and shelve our adventure. I know now that I have left a gift for my children. They have each read the book and can treasure this period in their family life, dipping into it to help resurface the emotions.
When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
This story needed no imagination; nonetheless, the organisation of my writing did need some thought. Living now in Sydney means that I spend way too much time behind the wheel stuck in traffic jams. The only upside to this at the time of writing my book was that I had a lot of time alone to think. I placed pen and paper strategically near the gear stick to allow me to quickly capture the chapter headings, additional stories and rephrased sentences that were struggling to be identified. They were also useful for jotting down the marketing ideas that jumped into my head.
Would you like to share a short excerpt from your book?
Sure. This comes from a chapter called No Parking and took place a couple of months after our arrival in France.
Still struggling with many administrative issues, including how to change our driver’s licences over to French ones, I made the unorthodox step of contacting an Australian couple that we had heard about, who were running a Bed and Breakfast on the lake. I was hoping that they might have some advice that they would be willing to share with us about how they had managed their insertion into French living.
There seemed to be plenty of Internet help for British ex-pats moving to, buying or travelling in France, but very little for Australians in the same situations. To my great surprise, my email, sent to their customer contact address, was answered straight away and I organised to meet one of the owners at a nearby coffee shop.
In fact, the term coffee shop had me bemused, as no premise that we had walked past, up until that point, had seemed to resemble the ubiquitous coffee shop of our Melbourne experiences. It turned out to be a small bar on the corner of a street, in a village that appeared deserted, despite the presence of a newsagency and a pharmacy, and signs to a bakery. The bar was an old stone building, pretty but not explicit. What was its main purpose – meals, drinks, rooms, gambling? Was it the domain of men, as had been the front bar, when I had lived in my small country town? Was I in the right place, or would I need to make an entrance, and a just-as-rapid exit, under the watchful eye of the few curious men at the bar?
A female bartender and some customers, at one of the few tables running the length of the counter, also observed my pause and momentary decision-making. A discreet entrance was never going to be possible, but, as it turned out, my whole morning was about to become very public.
I was in the right place. Greetings and initial formalities dispensed with, the conversation with my new Australian contact commenced in earnest; marked, from my end, by the speed and slight urgency of one who has missed the fluid pleasure of speaking in one’s own language. My list of questions was long. Several hours disappeared and, engrossed as I was in the meeting, it took a few seconds, before it registered that the sound emanating from my handbag was my mobile telephone ringing.
I did not like the telephone. Comprehension and conversation were much harder by phone. I did not have the support of gesture, facial expressions, lip movements, or any actual human vibes that come from dealing with someone face-to-face.
“Allô!” I answered, as I flipped open my phone.
“Oui. Allô. Est-ce que c’est le numéro de Mme Berry?”
“Ah, oui.” (with hesitation and growing unease)
“Est-ce que vous êtes la propriétaire du véhicule immatriculé ------?”
“Oui.” (with even more hesitation and much greater unease), wondering fleetingly why I was being asked if I was the owner of a car with the same licence plate number as mine?
Oh no, what has my husband done with the car, I thought next, before my heart nearly jolted out of my chest with the realisation that I had the car. It was I, who had driven it that morning, and it was I, who had parked it down the road, not far from where I was sitting ...
How can we find out more about your story?
You can read my blog: http://butyouareinfrancemadame.blogspot.com.au and my book is now available at La Brocante in Red Hill or if you're not in that area you can find it on Amazon Australia.
Many thanks Catherine, lovely to chat with you.