MOVE to the South of France? You must be joking!
Well, he wasn’t and eighteen months later, here we still are, my husband, two children and I, still struggling to make ends meet, but enjoying a much better quality of life than I could have imagined. Writes Ione Harrison.
Part of the reason for this ‘added value’ is that I, like many others who come to live here, burdened by lack of fluency in French and inability to find a job, have had to turn to my own resources.
After many years’ teaching English in secondary schools in England and abroad, I have spent the last couple of years teaching creative writing to adults, so that is what I set out to continue to do here, in South West France.
After a few weeks’ remorseless haranguing everyone in my then somewhat limited network, I found a group of individuals who were willing to meet weekly and ‘learn’ to write fiction and poetry.
And we have not looked back.
We have been together over a year and have just produced our first group anthology. I am delighted to say that everyone in the group has really blossomed in their writing. It is difficult to overestimate the sense of self-esteem and personal achievement that this can bring.
One lady, who had not written at all before, is now planning her first novel and another is looking at doing a PhD in Creative Writing.
I now also run a writing course in Toulouse and am starting up creative writing holidays near Toulouse. The purpose of the holidays is mainly to provide a ‘taster’ for people who perhaps do not have much experience of writing but who want to ‘have a go’. I am also planning courses in personal and autobiographical writing.
Why write? People often ask me. Aren’t there enough stories and novels and poems out there already? And my answer is a resounding, ‘No’.
Because to me, writing is about much more than aiming for publication. It is an important and precious and life-affirming activity in itself. It is about rediscovering who you are, where you come from, what matters to you. I often say in my writing groups, it’s as important to write ‘who you are’ as ‘what you know’.
Writing is not necessarily a talent that you are born with; I strongly believe that given the right (forgive the pun) set of circumstances just about everyone can write. Perhaps not a bestseller, perhaps not become poet laureate, but certainly there is a lot of joy and satisfaction to be had from being able to keep a journal, or to write your autobiography for your family.
The record of your life - what a wonderful gift to give to your children or grandchildren! My own father did it and I am so glad, given the sometimes difficult relationship we had while he was alive, that I have been able to ‘reclaim’ him through the written account of his life.
Everyone has something to say, everyone’s life is a marvelous source of story and incident. So it is partly with this in mind, that I am now creating the week-long residential courses.
As an offshoot, I have started up a literary magazine, the first issue of which is out now. The aim of The French Literary Review is to give an outlet to English-language writers, of whatever nationality, who have a ‘French connection’.
Submissions from budding writers aged under 18 are also welcome, as I plan to have a young writers’ issue later in the year. My hope is also to link up with fellow writers in France; following the excellent response to the creative writing courses in and around Toulouse, I am sure there are many other writers hidden away in every corner of France.
If you are interested in submitting work to the magazine for publication, please email me for details of submission guidelines. However, in general, stories of 1,500-3,000 words and poems of up to 40 lines on any subject will be considered – I am particularly looking for work this is not specifically related to life in France.
If you think you would like to have a go at writing, but have never had the courage (and it does take courage to commit yourself to paper, because for many of us it still reminds us of having to do all those written exercises at school) then here is an exercise to get you going,
1. Make a list of at least ten intense physical experiences you have actually had. Include a range of both ordinary (opening a hot oven door) to momentous (giving birth). Write quickly.
2. From your list choose one that is especially vivid. This will be your subject.
3. Without writing, let your mind drift back to that time, take a few minutes just to immerse yourself in that experience, think about all the sensory detail, smell, sight, touch, taste, hearing.
4. Then start to write about what you have recalled. Include as many details as you can about what you saw, heard, felt and thought. Try to write without stopping and keep going for at least five minutes.
If you like what you have written, think about how you could develop it into a story, or a poem. And if you really like it, you could send it to me to be considered for inclusion in The French Literary Review!