Who isn’t inspired by France, with its fascinating history and culture, scenic landscapes, historic towns and villages and amazing food and wine? For writers in particular, all this adds up to plenty of material to write about.
Moving to France might provide more time, space and inspiration to write, but it can restrict access to readers and other writers. Although writers are often described as solitary creatures, I know from personal experience that they do crave interaction with like-minded people. Fortunately, the influx of Anglophone expats in recent years means that far more opportunities exist now than when I moved to southwest France in 1997. In our area alone, book groups, writing courses, creative writing groups and libraries with English book sections have sprung up to meet the demand. So, when a group of us set up an Anglo-French literary festival in the hilltop village of Parisot, Tarn-et-Garonne, we were delighted by the response.
The first annual Parisot Literary Festival was held in 2013 and we were fortunate to attract well-known authors with a link to southwest France. They included Amanda Hodgkinson (22 Britannia Road), Martin Walker (the Bruno detective series set in the Dordogne) and Daniel Crozes, a French author whose books set in the Aveyron have a huge following.
Authors and festival-goers were hugely enthusiastic and readers swarmed to buy signed copies of the authors’ books. Amanda Hodgkinson said, “It was a wonderful, interesting group of people and I felt there was a really warm ambience.”
Festilitt, as it has become known, is now an established landmark in the literary calendar. In addition to the writer sessions, it includes a massive second-hand book sale, a dinner with the authors and an art exhibition with specially-commissioned paintings inspired by the books. I am no longer an organiser, but it’s one of the highlights of my writing year.
Move northwards a few hundred kilometres and you come to the small, but historic village of Charroux in Vienne. This delightful place is the venue for a biennial literary festival, which started in 2015. Like Parisot’s Festilitt, the Charroux festival also showcases both French and English authors. In August it attracted readers and writers from a wide area.
A hallmark of both festivals is that they make a point of promoting local authors as well as inviting those of international renown. At Charroux this year, rubbing shoulders with the historical novelist Barbara Erskine and the literary agent and biographer Andrew Lownie were a range of novelists and authors of non-fiction who all live in France, at least part-time.
French salons de livres often give space to Anglophone authors, but the number of genuinely Anglo-French festivals is increasing. Most, like Parisot, start from small beginnings. Their popularity shows what an appetite exists in la France profonde for literary interaction.
Back to that inspiration. Having lived in France for so long, I find much of my own writing is set here rather than in my native UK. To mark our 20 years here, I have put together a collection of short stories, all with France as the backdrop.
Vanessa Couchman is a novelist and short story writer and blogs at Life on La Lune.