WHEN an email landed in my inbox asking if I was interested in finding out more about a book called My French Life, I thought with a title like that how could I resist?
So I quickly arranged an interview with the book's author Vicki Archer, and asked for a copy so that I could offer it up as a prize for readers of the site.
The Q&A style interview is below and you will find details of how to enter the competition to win a copy of the book at the end of the piece, but first a little about Vicki Archer and her book.
Vicki, who is originally from Australia, discovered a farmhouse in Provence whilst exploring the region with her family and despite requiring extensive work, today it has become the centre of a thriving olive farm.
And although Vicki and her family are based in London, they still spend as much time as they can at the house, especially at this time of the year with the olive harvest imminent, so my first question was to ask her how a love of France had come about?
I'd been travelling to France for about 15 years always loved it and found this property which I loved as well which drove the decision forward to make the most of our time there.
It wasn't an intended thing, but there was certainly a love affair with France going on in my mind and this property just tipped me over the edge I think.
I know the house is in Provence, but whereabouts and did you know the area in advance?
Our home is just outside the village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and I had done a lot of exploring in that area and had worked out that if I was to ever have a home in France, that would be the area I chose.
So what sort of condition was the house in when you bought it? Did it need some work?
Oh yes, it was completely unliveable. It had been an old farmhouse and I suppose the original part had been built four or five hundred years ago and like all property of that age over time different generations built on a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
But by the time we saw it really it was just a pile of rubble and we had to start again to make it into a home.
It had been a fruit farm, although when we saw it it was abandoned, but I had an amazing rapport with the estate agent who was selling the house, and she has since become a great friend, and I knew that even before seeing the place I had fallen in love with it and it was a life changing decision that you either don't believe or think happens to somebody else.
Did I want a fruit orchard? At the time no, I am a city girl who had fallen in love with the country way of life, but we retained some of the orchards and have gone on to plant an olive grove, which is the business of the farm, and transformed the place really.
Were the local people keen to help out as well?
I had a completely local team help with the restoration of the house and the people who work on the farm now are local and I have found them to be delightful, but also passionate about the farm.
The relationship I had with the craftsmen, and I call them craftsmen because they truly are, went really well as they do things and use techniques that are passed from father to son and use time honoured methods, relying on the processes from the past meaning there's a real pride in their work, which was a wonderful experience for me.
How involved with the local community are you?
I'm very hands on, so I'll be out picking the olives, it's a long day but it is a fantastic thing to do, especially if the weather is dry with a clear blue sky, and although cold, there is a great deal of camaraderie and because the fruit is full of oil it is not too hard on the hands.
It is a wonderfully relaxing thing to do and so you forget all the day-to-day things, all the things about city life, and just live in the moment and as the day draws to a close you think "how many kilos have we picked today?" and there is a great feeling amongst those involved. It's good wholesome work, and although you are tired at the end of the day, you have earned your glass of wine, meal and your sleep.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I am great friends with the photographer Carla Coulson and we both moved from Australia at about the same time, she to Italy and I to France.
We met up on a trip and got chatting having not seen each other for five years and she told me about what she was doing and I explained what I was doing and said "that sounds like a great story for a book" and so contacted Penguin and the rest is history.
So what will readers discover in the book?
I would describe it as a collection of personal anecdotes, but it really started off as a number of chapters and photographs that explained the things I love about being in France - really a grand love affair if you like.
And I have used my background as a way to add a bit of personal detail to the facts and names and addresses that are in the book, which are for people who wish to travel there. But there are also collections of French book I like, as well as French films, it's a real mixture of things for the budding Francophile, or an existing one, whether you are a traveller or an armchair traveller.
And the photographs in the book are truly beautiful, Carla has done an incredible job.
What plans do you have for the house in the future?
Well coming up is the olive harvest and it looks as though it will be quite a good crop, but my dream would be that the harvest gets better every year and that I continue to plant more olives and that proves successful.
Learn more about My French Life by Vicki Archer on Amazon, and if you buy a copy then I receive a small commission which helps keep the wheels rolling on This French Life.
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