THE WRITE STUFF

Plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties now ex­ist in France to be­come in­volved in lit­er­ary ac­tiv­i­ties. Vanessa Couch­man ex­plores the thriv­ing writ­ing scene

Living France - - Contents -

The ex­pat groups and re­sources avail­able for lit­er­ary lovers in France

Whether you are a writer, a reader, or both, you prob­a­bly en­joy in­ter­act­ing with like-minded peo­ple. Mov­ing to France might ap­pear to re­duce the op­por­tu­ni­ties for do­ing this with English speak­ers, even if it al­lows more time to pur­sue your lit­er­ary am­bi­tions. How­ever, the grow­ing num­ber of Englishs­peak­ing ex­pats in France means that such op­por­tu­ni­ties have mul­ti­plied in re­cent years. You’ll find book groups, cre­ative writ­ing meet-ups, work­shops and cour­ses, lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals and book­shops and li­braries with English book sec­tions. France is an end­less source of in­spi­ra­tion for writ­ers, with its fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and cul­ture, and scenic coun­try­side, towns and vil­lages.

GREAT EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

Although a lot goes on, find­ing out about it of­ten in­volves spade­work and a reliance on word of mouth. The lo­cal li­brary or mé­diathèque is a good start­ing point, since they of­ten or­gan­ise au­thor events and know about English groups. English-speak­ing clubs have also sprung up in parts of France favoured by Bri­tish in­hab­i­tants. For in­stance, Friends in France In­ter­na­tional (FiFi), is a group for women liv­ing in the area around St-An­tonin-No­ble-Val in Tarn-et-Garonne. FiFi’s ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude two book groups and a cre­ative writ­ing group.

Vic­to­ria Corby is a Times best-sell­ing writer of hu­mor­ous ro­man­tic fic­tion and has lived near Bordeaux since 1993. Vic­to­ria’s main con­cerns back then were the lack of English li­braries and the dif­fi­cul­ties of buy­ing books. “I would raid char­ity shops in Lon­don and re­turn with 30 books in my suit­case. The in­ter­net has trans­formed how I buy books! Pre-in­ter­net, it was also dif­fi­cult to find out about lo­cal lit­er­ary events,” she says. “Now, I have many con­tacts in the English-writ­ing com­mu­nity in France. I’ve made blog­ging ‘friends’, some of whom I’ve met, and oth­ers are peo­ple that have come to events I’ve or­gan­ised or I’ve gone to theirs.”

Nov­el­ist and cre­ative writ­ing tu­tor Tracey Warr spent a win­ter in a friend’s house in the Tarn val­ley while she re­searched and wrote part of her first his­tor­i­cal novel. She then moved from Pem­brokeshire to the river­side mar­ket town of Laguépie in Tarn-et-Garonne. “I had pub­lished a lot of non-fic­tion, hav­ing had a ca­reer teach­ing art his­tory in uni­ver­si­ties, but France was the in­spi­ra­tion for my fic­tion,” Tracey says. “I didn’t ex­pect my lit­er­ary net­work to de­velop so swiftly, so I’ve been pleas­antly sur­prised. The var­i­ous lo­cal writ­ers’ groups and lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals have pro­vided many fruit­ful con­tacts. Sev­eral nov­el­ists live nearby and have be­come friends and writ­ing bud­dies.”

Tracey and Vic­to­ria agree that liv­ing in France has en­riched their cre­ativ­ity. Tracey’s first two his­tor­i­cal nov­els (a third is in the pipe­line) are set in early me­dieval France. “Be­ing able to ex­plore the cas­tles, land­scapes,

bastide towns and rivers of south­ern France con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to my fic­tional me­dieval worlds,” she says. The only down­side Tracey ex­pe­ri­ences is the oc­ca­sional need to use a well-stocked UK li­brary. “I just save up a list for an intensive week at the Bri­tish Li­brary or the Bodleian in Ox­ford now and then,” she says.

Vic­to­ria con­sid­ers that she would prob­a­bly have never writ­ten a full-length novel if she hadn’t moved to France. “The lack of enough to read prompted me to try writ­ing what I’d en­joy. I dis­cov­ered that writ­ing 100,000 words isn’t a prob­lem when you write for your­self.” She is cur­rently writ­ing a his­tor­i­cal novel set dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars.

CRE­ATIVE WRIT­ING GROUPS

The grow­ing num­ber of writ­ing groups in France of­fers the chance to im­prove your writ­ing and share com­mon ground and mu­tual sup­port. Writ­ers in English find this par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant, since they are much fewer and spread fur­ther apart than in the UK.

Vic­to­ria Corby or­gan­ises the Bordeaux Writ­ing Group, the only English-lan­guage group in the area, which meets monthly. “Sev­eral mem­bers say how lovely it is to be able to ‘talk writ­ing’ again and they make a jour­ney of up to two hours to at­tend meet­ings. We have around 18 mem­bers of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties who oc­cupy the spectrum be­tween bud­ding writ­ers and more ex­pe­ri­enced nov­el­ists, blog­gers, po­ets and short story writ­ers. Those writ­ing in a se­cond lan­guage of­ten have a star­tlingly good use of words.” The group also in­vites other writ­ers to give talks about their work, and forges links with cre­ative writ­ing pro­grammes in Bordeaux schools.

An­other writ­ing group that has de­vel­oped rapidly since it started in 2012 is the Parisot Cre­ative Writ­ing Group in Tarn-et-Garonne, led by writer Anita Good­fel­low. It now con­sists of two groups of about 10 mem­bers each, which demon­strates the pop­u­lar­ity of writ­ing as an oc­cu­pa­tion among Bri­tish ex­pats. The group usu­ally meets in the Parisot mé­diathèque and reg­u­larly in­vites pub­lished au­thors such as Jac­que­line Yal­lop, who lives lo­cally, to run work­shops. Anita also runs day-long cri­tiquing ses­sions at her home in Maze­rolles, Avey­ron, which is – aptly – a for­mer school house.

WRIT­ING WORK­SHOPS AND COUR­SES

For those look­ing for intensive bursts of writ­ing tu­ition, a wide range of res­i­den­tial or shorter cour­ses are avail­able in France. They are usu­ally listed in writ­ing mag­a­zines or can be found via an in­ter­net search en­gine.

Tracey Warr has put her ex­pe­ri­ence of univer­sity teach­ing to use by pre­sent­ing one-off cre­ative writ­ing work­shops or tak­ing part in larger pro­grammes. These in­clude Writ­ing at the Cas­tle, an an­nual event that of­fers five days of pro­fes­sional tu­ition and pri­vate writ­ing time in a me­dieval château in Gas­cony – a set­ting that be­fits a Gothic novel.

LIT­ER­ARY FES­TI­VALS

French salons du livre some­times give space to lo­cal English writ­ers. But, un­til re­cently, few lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals cater­ing for an An­glo­phone au­di­ence ex­isted out­side of the French cap­i­tal. Now, en­ter­pris­ing ex­pats have seen that there is an ap­petite for An­glo-French events that bring to­gether au­thors, read­ers and as­pir­ing writ­ers in a friendly en­vi­ron­ment.

Kate Rose is the co-founder and cre­ative direc­tor of the bi­en­nial Char­roux Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val, which first took place in 2015. Kate moved to France full-time to spend more time writ­ing, trav­el­ling and walk­ing and di­vides her time be­tween a tiny ham­let in Vi­enne and the small town of Cham­pagne-Mou­ton in Char­ente. The idea for a fes­ti­val grew out of open mic po­etry events and cre­ative writ­ing work­shops that Kate or­gan­ised with her friend, the au­thor Chris­tine Col­lette.

“Liv­ing in France, you miss many UK-based fes­ti­vals and writ­ing events,” Kate says. “Over three days at Char­roux, we had 15 French and 15 Bri­tish au­thors, in­clud­ing Kate Mosse and Sarah Har­ri­son. We of­fered au­thor talks, coach­ing ses­sions, dis­cus­sion groups, book sign­ings, writ­ing, po­etry and drama work­shops, evening en­ter­tain­ment and a chil­dren’s po­etry com­pe­ti­tion. The first morn­ing, we knew it was a re­al­ity when we heard peo­ple ar­riv­ing. There was a great mix of au­thors who en­gaged with the au­di­ences and each other.”

A series of lit­er­ary lunches is an off­shoot of the fes­ti­val. “We wanted to con­tinue to pro­mote au­thors and bring them and their read­ers to­gether,” Kate says. “A lunch is ideal as it’s in­ti­mate and al­lows time for the au­thors to ex­pand on their writ­ing and themes. So far we have had Susie Kelly, James Vance and Al­i­son Mor­ton and more are planned.”

Other fes­ti­vals in­clude the bi­en­nial St Clé­mentin Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val in Deux-Sèvres, founded in 2012, and the an­nual Parisot Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val in Tarn-et-Garonne, in­au­gu­rated in 2013. Both are now es­tab­lished land­marks in the lit­er­ary cal­en­dar and at­tract well-known au­thors and ris­ing stars. Best-sell­ing nov­el­ist Amanda Hodgkin­son has ap­peared at the Parisot Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val. “I thought the fes­ti­val was great,” she says of the first one. “I was re­ally pleased with the crowd that came to see me – a won­der­ful, in­ter­est­ing group of peo­ple and I felt there was a re­ally warm am­bi­ence.” These events are al­ways look­ing for vol­un­teers to help run them, so it’s worth con­tact­ing the or­gan­is­ers to of­fer your ser­vices.

Vanessa Couch­man

The Bordeaux Writ­ing Group en­joy­ing the sun at their monthly meet-up

Group The Parisot Cre­ative Writ­ing

This page from left: The Parisot Cre­ative Writ­ing Group of­ten in­vite pub­lished au­thors to their writ­ing work­shops in Tarn-et-Garonne; au­thor Tracey Warr or­gan­ises cre­ative writ­ing work­shops and events

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