Friday, September 2, 2022

This Could NEVER Happen



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: When I read this blog, I first thought–no. No no no. That could never EVER happen.

I read it again, a second time, I thought…nope. NO way. It could never NEVER happen.

But mes amies, peut-etre it could.

The wonderful (and completely adorable) Gillian Harvey has lived it. And lucky for us, not only realized it, but wrote a whole book about it.

It deals with France, and life, and wine, and love, and beauty. 
And–our own foibles.


RE-LIVING THE DREAM
By Gillian Harvey


Whenever I tell people I live in rural France, they respond with comments like: “lucky you!” or “living the dream.”

For the first year or so of living here, I’d have agreed with them. The problem? Living in a holiday destination does not make your life a holiday. At least, not all the time.

After a while, the daily drudgery of life steps in. Yes, you’re living somewhere beautiful and doing a job you love (freelance writing), but you still have to clean the bathroom. You still have to trudge around the supermarket, and work out what to have for tea. Bills still need to be paid.

Eventually, the beautiful, French location fades into the background and life begins to feel ‘normal.’ You take the kids to school, meet your deadlines, cook dinner and – if lucky – get to do a little reading or watching TV at the end of a day.

You stop exploring.

You forget to look out of the window.

You start taking it all for granted.

Reader, I went ‘France-blind.’

Luckily, things changed when I began to write my latest novel.

My first two novels were set back in my old stomping ground of England.


But for the third, A YEAR AT THE FRENCH FARMHOUSE, I decided I wanted to shake things up a bit. What if my main character decided to throw caution to the wind and hop across the channel, just as I had over a decade ago?

It was a fresh direction for me, and I began to get excited about the project. What’s more, the words flowed from my fingers: I’d unknowingly been ‘researching’ this book for over a decade simply by living my life (although unlike the main character in ‘A Year at the French Farmhouse’ I hadn’t accidentally bought our French home on eBay).

Over time, I noticed a change in my own attitude to continental living. Taking a step back to look at my surroundings afresh, finding words to describe the old stone buildings, the beautiful backdrop of rolling countryside, the dancing diamonds of light that flicker across the beachside lake on a spring morning, helped to open my eyes once again to the beauty of the place I now call home.

I started to realise that not everyone gets to munch their morning cereal in front of uninterrupted countryside views, that most people aren’t raising children who can chatter away with ease in two languages. That walking to the patisserie in the morning, or choosing locally made cheeses from the weekly market, or spending time at one of the many lakes a stone’s throw from my front door is something that nobody should take for granted.

I also began to revisit some of the memories of my first years en France – the mishaps, misunderstandings and mayhem that comes with adjusting to a new language, a new culture. A culture in which jokes sometimes fall flat, where both humour and confusion can be created through mispronunciation or misunderstanding.

The time when I told my neighbour about a plumbing issue, but used a word more suited to a sexual act, or when I upset a restauranteur by asking for my steak ‘bien cuit’ (well done). The friends we’ve made, and their beautiful accents, the idiosyncratic mispronunciations that I’ll never correct because I love them (one friend says clothesies for clothes and I don’t want that ever to change).

Like a relationship that had settled into a rut, my life in France had become – to me, at least – ordinary. And sometimes, dull.

But writing the novel opened my eyes all over again and made me realise just how lucky I am.


HANK: France-blind. That is incomprehensible to me! But think about it, Reds and readers. What things in YOUR world would be fabulous and enthralling to a visitor? Have you forgotten wonderful things about your own life?

Or: tell us one wonderful thing about your memories, or imaginings, of France!





A YEAR AT THE FRENCH FARMHOUSE

A new direction for Gillian Harvey, author of Perfect on Paper and Everything is Fine! Escape to France with this warm, witty romantic read, A YEAR AT THE FRENCH FARMHOUSE.

After ten years of loyal service Lily Butterworth has been made redundant. Like any clever woman, she knows the cure to redundancy is a little too much wine and her best friend. Only the next morning, Lily has more than a hangover . . . she has a whole new house – in France! Seeing this as an opportunity instead of a disaster, she’s excited about finally moving to France, just as she and her husband always dreamed of.

However, Lily is in for another surprise. Despite planning to move there for over 20 years, her husband never actually intended to go. So begins a year in France, alone, renovating the gorgeous old farmhouse that is held together by wallpaper and wishes. Will a year at the French farmhouse be just what Lily needs? Or could it be the previous owner, Frederique, that is the answer to Lily’s dreams?






GILLIAN HARVEY
After graduating from university in 2000 with a degree in English literature, Gillian Harvey trained as a secondary school teacher. She worked in the profession until 2009, when she decided (on the spur of the moment) to move to France with husband Ray.

It was there she began working as a freelance writer and has since built a career writing features, opinion pieces and short stories for national titles including Woman’s Weekly, People’s Friend, the Independent, Guardian and Metro.

Gillian also works as a columnist for popular Writing Magazine, a role she has held since 2020. She was also a columnist for Prima Baby magazine (2015-16) and Living France magazine (2017-2019).

Gillian’s first novel ‘Everything is Fine’ was published in May 2020. Her second, ‘Perfect on Paper’ was published in May 2021 (both with Orion).

Her latest novel ‘A Year at the French Farmhouse’ is due for publication with Boldwood on 29 September 2022. 

Gillian lives in Limousin, France, with her husband and their five children.

88 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Gillian . . . it sounds delightful.
    “France” conjures such wonderful thoughts to those of us who have never visited there that it’s a bit difficult to imagine becoming France-blind, but I get how, over time, the everyday might overcome the specialness . . . .

    Watching children grow, discovering the world around them may seem ordinary, but it’s a wonderful thing in my life that I have definitely not forgotten . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Joan! I agree on the children front too - sometimes life as a mom feels mundane at times, but it's truly amazing.

      Delete
    2. Yes, aww, I recently saw a video from 8 years ago of of my now college-age grandson, and I almost burst into tears! Awww...

      Delete
  2. I can totally see going "France blind," or any other beautiful place you life. If you see it everyday, it becomes ordinary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! I'll have to pinch myself more often and really appreciate it :)

      Delete
    2. Sometimes I try to look at the world through "different" eyes. It works!

      Delete
  3. Sure, I can understand the France-blind phenomenon. I live in Ottawa, Canada, and watch the returning tourists gawk and stare at our historic buildings and Parliament. I walk by them everyday and have become blind to how beautiful this part of the downtown is to visitors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bet it's amazing. Do you find when you show friends from out of town around you appreciate it more?

      Delete
    2. So agree--I have to remind myself, sometimes, this is BOSTON! Think of the feet that walked these same paths...

      Delete
  4. I live in Colonial Williamsburg and often barely notice the lovely buildings and interpreters dressed in their 18th century clothing walking the streets. The church I attend has pew boxes where George Washington and all our early leaders worshiped and like Grace I often have to take a minute to share our visitors excitement. Thank you for the reminder to take a minute to see how special our own surroundings are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Colonial Williamsburg sounds beautiful. It's so easy to switch off isn't it! x

      Delete
  5. Having become, at times, blind to the giant lake that lies across the street and down the hill from me, I can see going France blind. I bet it is even possible to go Tuscany blind. Then again, I've never really gone blind to the excitement that is New York City any of the times I've lived there. Or L.A. But more than that, I can't imagine living with five (5) children; how has no one commented on that? How does one find time to write a grocery list, let alone columns and a novel when one has five (5) children? I stand in awe!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How gorgeous living so close to a lake. Perhaps it's harder to go 'blind' to your surroundings in a busy place like New York where there's always something new to see? That's really interesting. And as for the children... I have a helpful husband luckily. And an office door! :) xx

      Delete
    2. I never get over New York. Every time I go, I am in awe. ANd it can be on any level--I make a point to "see" our garden every day.

      Delete
  6. Gillian, congratulations on the new book! And on reawakening to where you live. Fabulous to have bi-lingual children. We put our two sons in French preschool and kindergarten for a year when we lived in Mali, and it's remarkable how fast they start chattering away.

    The first time I went to Rio de Janeiro, I couldn't understand how people could live in all that natural beauty day after day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Edit. As well a natural aptitude, I think children are just so unselfconscious when it comes to language. I wish I was!

      Delete
    2. Small children are still learning their own language, so it's natural, I suspect, that learning a second at the same time is easier.

      One of my great-nieces took Mandarin Chinese from kindergarten to third grade; another one just started daily Spanish in kindergarten. I so wish we had been able to learn that way.

      Delete
    3. Brilliant--that early language makes such a difference!

      Delete
  7. Gillian, welcome, I have been waiting for this book and can't wait to read! Congrats!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, thank you. How lovely :) I really hope you enjoy it x

      Delete
    2. We know you are eager to try it, Lucy!

      Delete
  8. Welcome back Gillian, I recently read Perfect on Paper and loved it. I’ll certainly explore your new look on your surroundings in A Year at the French Farmhouse.
    I cultivate the wonder of nature here in rural Quebec and find myself very lucky to live here.
    I admit that it is easier when you live alone and you are retired than when responsible for your whole family.
    Danielle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for reading Perfect on Paper. I'm so glad you enjoyed it :) Where you live sounds beautiful. It's so important to take the time to 'see' it. I'm going to try harder to appreciate my surroundings from now on :) xx

      Delete
    2. WOw, that must be so gorgeous, Danielle. Look at it through "my" eyes--what would I see?

      Delete
  9. I’d say that gorgeous cover captures my thoughts, feelings, and imaginings of the French countryside perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Thank you Brenda - I was so excited when I first saw the cover. It was exactly what I was hoping for :)

      Delete
  10. Gillian, first off I want to say living in the French countryside sounds so lovely. I've not yet been to France, but I hope to still get there to visit. I try to remind myself that, yes, there are wonderful sights to see all over the world but I shouldn't forget the simple beauties in front of me. I live in Kentucky, and we do have beautiful countryside. One of my favorite places to drive still is around Lexington, Kentucky where the horse farms are and see the majestic horses in the fields. But I know I took it for granted when I lived near it. I drove past them all the time from my hometown to Lexington to college, and I didn't always let it take my breath away. Now that I don't often get that way anymore, my breath is absolutely taken away again.

    Your new book sounds like a great read, full of adventure with renovating an old farmhouse. I plan on checking out your first two books, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy, I agree that seeing the horses in the fields is breathtaking. They are such beautiful, and like you said, majestic animals.

      Delete
    2. Oh, horses are so beautiful. It must be a gorgeous sight! Thanks for your comments on my books and I hope you enjoy xx

      Delete
  11. I can't wait to read it either! So looking forward to it. I live in a popular vacation town in Southern California. I completely understand that life gets in the way and we fail to appreciate what attracted us to where we wanted to live. But, having coffee on a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the early morning watching the swimmers and sea life is magical. I look forward to seeing France through your eyes - a country I love to visit. (But, honestly - speaking of England - who doesn't love London or the Cotswolds?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I have to admit I LONG to live near the ocean at some point. There's something so beautiful and humbling about it. You're right, London and the British countryside are also hard to beat. :) Sometimes we do speak about moving back, and feel flummoxed, then I remind myself how lucky we are to have the right to 'choose' to live in two such wonderful places. x

      Delete
  12. Congratulations on your recent publication! I can't wait to read it.

    I've lived in tourist areas (Cape Cod, Santa Monica, south of San Francisco) and while I appreciate the natural beauty and daily beach access, I curse the traffic and over-crowded restaurants and shops. Can't wait to re-visit France. Every place is my new favorite. Can I envision myself living there? In a heartbeat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely no crowds here in rural France! Takes some getting used to, but I must admit it's calmer as a result. Do you think you'll ever move over, Margaret?

      Delete
  13. Congrats on the book, Gillian!

    I grew up within spitting distance of Niagara Falls and very close to the shores of Lake Erie. Every summer the number of tourists, especially at the Falls, staggered me. Why would they come? Then I realized not everyone lives next door to a Wonder of the Natural World and maybe I shouldn't take it for granted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, that must have been amazing! I've never seen Niagara Falls in real life but would love to! So easy to take it for granted though, however beautiful. Life gets in the way sometimes xxx

      Delete
  14. Reading the contributions of all the commenters today, I would like to visit all of you! It is incredible when someone inspires us to turn fresh eyes on our own homes. When my step sister's wedding to an Israeli was approaching, his family came to Connecticut for a few weeks. As I drove his young sister around that summer, she just couldn't stop saying how green everything here is! It is. It is very different from Israel. I have always loved how the seasons change here, but her wonder made it so fresh.

    Thank you, Gillian, for opening our eyes to wonder again. I'm off to find your new book.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thank you Judy. I hope you enjoy it. And I'm definitely a fan of lush, green countryside too! :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have never been to France but it sounds pretty wonderful. Where I live in rural upstate NY it is beautiful, rolling countryside. My own little four and a half acres is more than half wooded, with tons of wildlife. Totally private and peaceful. Come, see for yourself and you probably won't want to leave, unless you love the city life. I've had people tell me it must be very scary here with no streetlights. I don't think so, that just means we can see the stars at night!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds amazing - like living on your own private island. I'm with you on the streetlights. I gasped the first time I saw the night sky here. x

      Delete
    2. Oh, the stars must be amazing...lovely!

      Delete
  17. Hank Phillippi RyanSeptember 2, 2022 at 9:18 AM

    Wow! So wonderful to see you all! I have a meeting coming up, and I will be back ASAP! Keep those fabulous comments coming, and Gillian, you are wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Hank - you're pretty wonderful yourself xxxxxxxxx

      Delete
  18. Gillian, I just realized I have Everything is Fine in my ebook backlog. A treat to come, and more to look forward to, thank you.

    I've been so lucky to have been able to travel--not as much as Edith or Rhys--but to some wonderful places, including rural Normandy. We stayed in Domfront in springtime, when the misty surrounding rolling hills were covered in Dayglo yellow rape. Breathtakingly, heartbreakingly, lovely. A British friend and her husband emigrated there more than 25 years ago. We met online and we made plans to meet while we were in France. I was blown away by the sheer beauty she lives with every day.

    May we all keep our sense of wonder.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How wonderful. It sounds beautiful. I also think it's amazing the connections we can make online. x Hope you enjoy 'Everything is Fine' :) x

      Delete
  19. Congratulations, Gillian! It's wonderful to re-appreciate the beauty you've been taking for granted. It's so great that your kids are growing up speaking two languages fluently. I wonder where they will end up as adults? So many possibilities! I hope this summer's terrible drought wasn't too impactful on you and your family. I have such fond memories of a few days I spent in Antibes with my son in 2009. The coast was breathtaking, the food so wonderful, our day trips were perfect. It was a highlight for sure!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Gillian :) Luckily the drought didn't really get to us in Limousin - although we weren't allowed to water our grass at one point (we rarely get around to it anyway) :) Antibes is wonderful - such a gorgeous place. x

      Delete
    2. Oh, so gorgeous--Antibes! SO romantic...

      Delete
  20. I can imagine going "France-blind" only because this seems like a very human thing to do! I take things for granted way too often. Am trying to pay more attention to beauty and to be more grateful for simple things. By the way, I just pre-ordered your book and can't wait to read it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh thank you Jessica - I really hope you enjoy it. And you're right, we all need to slow down sometimes and appreciate what's around us xx

      Delete
    2. That is SO lovely! ANd I wonder if the pandemic--boo hiss--encouraged this?

      Delete
  21. Congratulations on the new book. You’re living my dream for certain.

    We live in Western New York, 30 minutes above the Finger Lakes on Lake Ontario. Even after 21 year here, I’m still amazed daily with the beauty of the region, the change of season.

    I wonder where you’re located? We’ve done driving trips to Brittany and Normandy, Provence, and the sud ouest. The latter would be my first choice, the Dordogne, maybe Sarlat. But then there’s Paris. So wonderful and way too expensive!

    Bonne journee

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Look at it this way--you can't go wrong! xx

      Delete
    2. Hi Ann - thanks for your comment. It sounds like you live in a beautiful place. We're in Limousin, so just above Dordogne. Less populated (and also less expensive). but I do love Dordogne too :)

      Delete
  22. Calling my local bookstore to have them find me a copy of A YEAR AT THE FRENCH FARMHOUSE, because this is exactly the sort of story I adore. As someone who lives in a highly desirable vacation destination - Maine - and in a romantically falling down 200-year-old farmhouse, I have come to see the fantasy aspect is having protagonists who don't have to shop, do their taxes, run after the kids, and most importantly, spend the majority of their time earning a living rather than fixing up the old house and sipping wine in the garden.

    Which, frankly, just makes it more appealing to me. And yes, occasionally I suffer from Maine blindness, but it's rare, because our idyllic season is so short. Almost gone already!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, cools off fast in Maine. Our hottest month is here, only 105 on Monday. Southern end of the Bay Area. I am sixty miles south of the tourist trap known as San Francisco. Beautiful city with an awful climate.
      It is very beautiful here, ocean mountains etc. I live on the top of a very small hill with 360 degree mountain views.
      I look forward to reading your new book. Perspective awakening is always a good thing.

      Susan Nelson-Holmdahl

      Delete
    2. Hi Julia, how lovely that you live in Maine. It's just gorgeous there! I think you will probably giggle at some of the 'realities' the main character, Lily, has to face when she first moves in... Really hope you enjoy the book xx

      Delete
    3. Oh, so lovely..I truly think I can feel the atmosphere change the minute I drive across the border into Maine..can that be true?

      Delete
  23. As a Francophile, I could not be more excited to read this! Congrats on your release, Gillian! Thanks for visiting us today and I love how much the process of writing the book reconnected you with your happy place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Hope you enjoy the book and thanks for your kind words. x

      Delete
    2. AWw...and I know YOU know how marvelous this is!

      Delete
  24. After about 3 months in Hawaii I began to have the ‘I need to get off this rock’ feeling.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Congratulations, Gillian. This sounds like a wonderful book. I always like when an author puts their characters on the move because of what it does to everyone's perspective.

    I want to live in Taos, New Mexico, though I'm unlikely to be able to do that. It would be a return to home for me and I miss the beauty of the place and the complexity of the politics there. Waterloo Ontario, where I live now, does not offer much that I can see with the possible exception of a modern architectural marvel meant to illustrate "chaos." Since it is the home of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, that seems fitting. Here is a link to the best photo of it that I could quickly find. https://www.reddit.com/r/waterloo/comments/e2930a/the_perimeter_institute_for_theoretical_physics/

    We shall see if Blogger lets me post today. Yesterday, it did not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are several starkly beautiful and less expensive areas in Arizona that offer affordable places to live. The politics there are never boring!

      Delete
    2. Hi - looked up the building and wow, that's quite something! I get what you mean about politics, although there is definitely such thing as 'too much' of that, especially these days :)

      Delete
    3. Re politics: true. Taos has a fascinating combination of native, hispanic and white populations. They have found ways to reconcile significant differences in ideas and habits and developed a functioning community. It is significant that most of the water resources are under control of Taos Pueblo and the European cultures have had to negotiate seriously with the native to achieve agreements. Certainly there are still issues, but it is the general success of the place that entices me.

      Delete
    4. What a COOL building! ANd I need a t-shirt from there!

      Delete
    5. And blogger is being EXTREMELY cranky! It is randomly eating my comments today...

      Delete
  26. GILLIAN: Welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new novel! I am currently reading another novel about a family (Americans?) living in France called Rue Tatin. The wife writes cookbooks. I would LOVE to read your novel. I love the illustrations on the cover!

    Thinking about your five children. I was reminded of the book CHEAPER BY A DOZEN and I am sure that you came up with an organization system too. I recall the mother in the book was very unusual - college graduate and an engineer when many women did not go to college. The mother devised an organization system for 12 children!

    To answer Hank's question, I grew up in the SF Bay Area - mostly the Bay Area part. The University of CA at Berkeley is a big deal and I remember going to classes there every day when I was a student. I always appreciated the beauty every day. Surprised that I never took this for granted.

    When I lived in England, I never took anything for granted either. I always felt blessed to encounter so much beauty every day. When I lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, I would walk to work every day on the Smithsonian Mall from 2nd street NE (right across from Senate Building) to the Old Executive Office Building (part of the WH complex). I would walk past the Smithsonian museums. Maybe I kind of took it for granted though I always enjoyed the walks.

    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, you know I live in Boston, which is so historic--and sometimes I remind myself--think of all the other feet that walked right here! Abigail Adams, and Amelia Earhart, and Benjamin Frankiln, and Sam Adams...on and on and ON!

      Delete
    2. HANK: Did you walk on the cobblestone streets? A friend and her husband lived on Beacon ? Hill and I remember visiting them. We would walk on the cobblestones.

      Diana

      Delete
    3. Yes! I lived on Beacon Hill for years, and it was always magic.

      Delete
    4. Wonder if you and my friends were neighbors? They lived there in the mid 1990s.

      Delete
    5. Thanks Diana - I love the cover too. was so excited when my editor showed it to me. :) As for an organisation system for the children... well, any day now! Sounds like you always appreciate your surroundings - will have to try to be more appreciative and observant too! xxx

      Delete
  27. Hi Gillian, and welcome! A Year at the French Farmhouse sounds like my absolutely perfect read! (And who could resist that cover?) Although I've long had fantasies of living both in the UK and in France, I know from experience living in Edinburgh (the weather!) and in Chester (tourists!) that location-blindness can happen. In Texas, I live in a very desirable town, in a historic house a mile from the very touristy and picturesque town square, where we complain about the traffic and the Saturday crowds. Off to look up your book now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Debs: Loved loved Edinburgh! I would love to live there for a while. There is also a town? where you can rent a flat upstairs from a bookstore and you can "own" a bookstore for a month? I think it is called Wigtown?

      Diana

      Delete
    2. Yes, here in Boston there are four seasons: blizzard, mud, tourists and college students.

      Delete
    3. wow! interesting names for the four seasons...

      Delete
    4. Hi Deborah - thanks for your kind comments. Where are you from originally? :)

      Delete
  28. Hi Gillian, let me get this out of the way - what a fabulous place to live! I'm looking forward to reading your book.

    I can also relate to "French-blind." A few years ago my husband and I moved to Cudjoe Key in the Florida Keys. Our three-story house was right on a canal and from the bedroom private balcony we had a clear view to...Portugal? It was lovely, but I was also working full-time, keeping house, herding five cats and two birds.... You know where this is going. We had friends down for the Labor Day holiday. The first morning they were with us, I wandered out to the wrap around balcony and my friend said, "You are so lucky to wake up here every day." Boy howdy, did that stop me in my tracks. My first thought was - are you nuts, I mostly work here. Then I took a step back and looked at it through her eyes. Yep. I was beyond lucky. I'd just forgotten to appreciate it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds beautiful. And yes, having new eyes does bring it home how lucky we are. I hate how life gets in the way of that sometimes. I suppose the grass is always greener! xxx

      Delete