Formidable! I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish.

Joe, his French wife and bilingual son leave California for Paris. Joe seems well-prepared for what French life will throw at him on the whole, but the quest for a French driving license leads him a merry dance and becomes all-consuming. It’s from this point of view that we follow Joe’s adventures in the land of shrugs and snails.

He has a sharp eye for detail and a lovely, lively style. He clearly relishes the foreignness and frequent inexplicability of France. The result is a very readable and entertaining book that will have you chuckling every few pages. For example, he hilariously describes the frustrating vagaries of French road signage, details delicious but interminable meals (with helpful ‘how to survive them’ tips), and gives wonderful accounts of nervous-tic inducing encounters with bureaucrats. He throws in lots of fascinating facts along way, for example about car ownership and vehicle-related revenues, and about the Strange French Names Club aka Asso des communes de France aux noms burlesques. He teaches us some slang and swear words and weaves in plenty of helpful information too, such as about the dreaded priorité à droite rule. All excellent stuff.

For me the book was also a look at ‘how the other half lives’, the other half being employed people in France whereas I’m from the self-employed sector. All those paid days off and holiday vouchers, I’m green with envy!

The only thing I took issue with was where Joe says that if a car fails its contrôle technique it has to be repaired immediately before it goes back on the road. You actually have two months to do the necessary work. Only a minor quibble but worth mentioning in case it causes panic to would-be expats!

A splendid book, well presented and written, and most definitely a must-read.

From 2011: The Year of All Things Wild and Woolly

Talking about sad episodes, it’s time to mention our polytunnel. Our earnings were a little healthier now that we were with Angling Lines, but there still wasn’t a lot of spare cash. Now, we’d been mulling over the idea of getting a greenhouse or polytunnel for several months. We ate a lot of tomatoes and lettuces but these didn’t thrive outdoors. Despite digging lots of poop from assorted animals into the area of ground we designated as the vegetable patch, the soil remained poor. The only things that did grow were courgettes and pumpkins, and you can definitely have too many of those. Hence, the desire to grow a wider variety of veggies. After a lot of pondering, we opted for a low budget polytunnel off eBay. Stop laughing and bear with me. It looked good in the advert, and was the right sort of size so we paid up and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t too long coming and we got it up in one afternoon. Given the number of bits of framework and the unhelpfulness of the instructions, that was surprisingly fast. We chose a south-facing spot behind the barn. It was in the female llamas’ field and they were delighted. They had a very interesting time watching us grapple with poles and plastic. Llamas are so wonderfully inquisitive. Once it was finished they seemed very pleased with the new addition to their field and inspected it every now and again. We’d have to make sure to keep it closed, or they’d be in like a shot.

We got to work constructing some workbenches from recycled building materials and quickly covered them with seedlings in yoghurt pots. My inner gardener blossomed. I spent many happy hours pottering around potting things up in there, and Chris likewise. It started to look very impressive and productive. We took the precaution of wiring the framework to two very heavy iron bars that had come with the farm. We had no idea what their original purpose might have been, but we knew they’d come in handy one day and so we left them where they were, on the grass beyond the hangar, and regularly tripped over them. However, all those stubbed toes were worth it as the bits of iron now came into their own.

They, the bits of wire and a few bits of bent framework were all that were left after the first slightly windy night we experienced after erecting the polytunnel. A few moderate gusts of wind and the whole thing fell apart. The plastic ripped and fluttered off around the farm, sending our seedlings flying, only to be consumed or trampled on by the llamas. What a disaster. All that hard work wasted. Evidently the polytunnel was intended for indoor use only. We sighed and collected up any salvageable pieces of debris, and they weren’t many, ignoring the llamas’ giggling.

We learnt our lesson from that act of cheapskateness and decided we would have to invest in a real, proper, heavy-duty polytunnel with thick plastic and a weighty metal framework. It would be worth dipping into our savings if it meant we bought something that would last longer than a couple of weeks and withstand a gentle breeze. And so our new polytunnel duly arrived. This was more like it. It came on two pallets and weighed a ton. Never mind several hours, it took several weeks to erect. The main supporting framework needed concreting in place, wooden doorways had to be constructed and it took the whole family to help with fitting the rest of the frame together and fitting the plastic over, stretching it carefully to fit and cutting off the excess. Leaving a central walkway, Chris built a raised bed to each side which, over a few days, we filled with barrowfuls of llama and chicken poop. The ten-metre long and four-metre wide polytunnel accommodated an awful lot of poop, I can tell you. We were delighted, and, although a bit late, set to on a second splurge of growing seedlings. We hung up a thermometer and marvelled at the tropical temperatures reached in the polytunnel. On a cloudy day when it was 20 degrees outside, the tunnel clocked up 35 degrees. And when it was hot and sunny outside around the 30 degree mark, the thermometer showed upwards of 45 degrees. Surely our lettuces and tomatoes would flourish now.

Word must have got round about our polytunnel because out of the blue, a young man turned up. He explained he was a neighbour, relatively speaking – he lived a good few kilometres away but there weren’t many other habitations between us and him so I guess that did make us neighbours – and that he’d just taken over Les Chapotiers and planned to make a living growing bio (organic) fruit and veg. We’d detected a hint of hippie. He had a polytunnel on order and asked if we’d come and help him erect it when he arrived. We replied that so long as he wouldn’t object to a good bit of swearing going on during the process, then no problem, count us in. We’d found from our few years of heavy labour in France that swearwords are as crucial an ingredient in constructing something as the physical constituents. Cussing concentrates the mind. We weren’t the first to think so. I remember from my childhood Dad going round to help our neighbour, who I knew as Uncle Will, with a car problem. “Damn, I won’t be able to swear so it’ll take ages,” Dad grumbled as he set off. Uncle Will was indeed a gentle soul. We’d often call round as kids and be treated to a biscuit in the kitchen. I only saw the living room once, and the walls were festooned with beautiful embroidered pictures. All Uncle Will’s work.

The young guy never turned up again.

Another #SampleSunday, another extract from my forthcoming ‘Total Immersion: Ten Years in France’. We’re in March 2009, and we get to meet our first home-born baby llama and Chris has a very close encounter with a fox.

We’d moved Gabby, the mother llama, into a stable so she’d be warm and cosy when delivery time came and we checked on her frequently. We coated the stable floor with hay, and counted the days. We were starting to give up. She seemed intent on exploding rather than giving birth, just to spite us.

This cria is actually Sir Winter, born Jan 27 2017. My photos of baby Lulin are on another computer. But he’s equally as cute as she was!

It was a fine, sunny morning during the kids’ winter holiday fortnight so we decided to go for a walk. We did one of our local strolls, the Chambon shuffle we call it (ch = sh in French, so it’s a nice alliterative name). Coming back along the green lane between fields, we spotted a fox in the hedgerow, but it didn’t run away. We peered close and saw that it had a metal snare around its stomach, getting tighter and tighter every time the animal moved. It was probably stupid of us, but we couldn’t leave it like that. Chris had gloves on and tried to free the fox but it bit him, not surprisingly really, and we were forced to abandon the rescue mission for the time being. When we got back, Chris went to put Germolene on his bite and then find thick gloves and wire cutters for a second attempt. I went to look in on Gabby. And there, in a hideous, spindly heap, was a llama cria. Gabby had chosen the darkest, dirtiest corner of the stable to deliver in, studiously avoiding the birth-friendly hay carpet we’d put down.  The baby was cold and grubby. Caiti and I got busy with towels drying the little female down while the boys went off to deal with the fox.

Both missions proved successful. Caiti and I soon transformed the baby into a clean, dry, fluffy cria. She was mainly white with some pretty brown splotches on her face and back. At the time Comet Lulin was visible, and we thought that Lulin was the perfect name for a little llama. Again with the alliteration. Benj and Chris came back, fortunately with no more bites, thanks to the thick gloves. But we still had the one bite to worry about. And worry a lot about, as France was then still officially a rabid country.

We hopped in the car to go to the doctor’s. We explained what had happened, and he asked us if we had the fox’s head. I stared at him blankly. No, he can’t have said that. I must have misunderstood something there. I asked him to repeat the question at a non-Francophone-friendly speed, and the same words came out. Chris and I shot other a ‘what the heck’ look. I warily replied that we didn’t have the head. We’d left it on the fox as it clearly had need of it. There didn’t seem a lot of point in freeing a fox from a snare only to immediately decapitate it, not the thought of doing so would ever have occurred to us.

The doctor sighed and told us, in a long-suffering tone, that if you get bitten by a fox, or any other possibly rabid animal, you’re meant to kill it and bring its head with you for testing. As with so many things in France, you’re meant to instinctively know this. Well, we didn’t, and we hadn’t got a vulpine head with us, so what next? The doctor quickly cheered up and said that Chris would need to go to Guéret hospital for rabies-neutralising shots. These would start at the rate of several a week, then one a week, then one a fortnight and so on at increasingly long intervals for at least the next six months. He might have said years, I was too shocked to listen properly. This really was a blow. We’d been expecting Chris would need a few injections, but not that many or for so long.

Lulin today

The doctor phoned the nearest Department of Information about Rabies and we watched as the smile dropped from his face. Our hearts were in our boots. He must have underestimated the treatment process. But it turned out that Boussac was a rabies-free zone. There hadn’t been any cases reported here for some officially sanctioned period of time, so we didn’t need the injections after all. The doctor was clearly very disappointed about this. I think he’d been quite looking forward to having a case of rabies to tell all his medical chums about. Or maybe, odd as this may sound, he liked seeing English people suffer. All that needed doing was to give Chris some antibiotics. Our anti-tetanus shots were up to date, so no more jabs were necessary. Talk about relief. The incident has, however, left Chris with an intense dislike of foxes. He also vowed he would never try and free another animal from a snare, a vow he steadfastly kept until Christmas when we came across our next case of a snared animal, a deer this time, which, of course, we set free.

Snaring  is legal in France, under certain conditions, and also trapping. Our local friendly farm supply shop, run by incredibly nice people, has a whole rack of gruesome looking devices for these very purposes and obviously they don’t give it a second thought. It’s still a way of life for some country dwellers. We haven’t come across any trapped animals for a long while now, it has to be said. However, I don’t suppose the practice has died out, just that whoever’s setting the snares is keeping them off our usual stamping grounds. The snarer has possibly worked out that the proximity of our farm to the cut-through snares they’d laid was more than coincidental. Because they were quite close to us, the only inhabitants in a sizeable chunk of very many square kilometres. Mine were the only local chickens, or in fact livestock of any kind, that a fox might have helped itself to, so I can’t see the need for anyone to have set a snare in that location. OK, deer eat crops which must be annoying if you’re a farmer, but this snare was on a bit of fencing (erected by the gas board) bordered by scrub land. Unnecessary and unpleasant.

Now that the first draft of Haircuts, Hens and Homicide is in the bag, I’ve been able to return to part Deux of my memoir of our lives in France, Total Immersion. To whet your appetites here’s an extract from the chapter ‘2012: The Year of the Pig’.

The Big Freeze of 2017 is going on as I write about the Even Bigger Freeze of 2012 so it’s helping to put me in the mood. It’s brought back precise memories of exactly how flipping cold it was.

The year started off harmlessly enough. Once New Year was over, the kids headed back to école primaire (Rors), lycée (Caiti) and fac (Benj) and Chris and I settled into our daily routine of this time of years of jobs around the farm, lake maintenance and our online businesses. However, Chris’s inner swineherd was proving hard to ignore. He’d been becoming more and more interested in getting pigs, and talking about them to such an extent that some returning angling clients of ours gave him a book about pig ownership. Perhaps that was the deciding factor, or maybe he just felt ready for a new challenge as by now, between us, we’d mastered llama and alpaca, goat, sheep and poultry ownership. It was time to conquer another animal species.

Chris did some research and found someone who did pig management courses in Poitou-Charentes, about four hours away. He booked himself in on the next available session and sorted out a night’s accommodation nearby as there was an early start to the day’s training. All he had to do now was wait.

January was ridiculously mild, to the extent that the daffs were coming up, the chickens were laying fit to bust and buds were starting to appear on many trees. What a lovely short winter we’ve had this time, we thought with a smile. But Mother Nature had the last laugh.

Chris set off on a sunny Sunday afternoon, waved off by me and the two youngest. Once he was gone we pottered around in the warmth, doing the farm chores and getting some fresh air before focussing on getting everything ready for school next day. For Rors this was just making sure there were clean clothes ready and waiting, but for Caiti it was the usual painful process of packing the suitcase for a week of boarding. We should have had it down to a fine art by now, and we had done with Benj, but somehow every week seemed like the first with our daughter. She always left packing till the very last minute, long after parental patience had been ground down. I’ve never been a late night person and since moving to France and taking up a much more physically exhausting lifestyle, then bed starts calling at nine o’clock, sometimes earlier. So things would tend to get fraught on a Sunday evening. But Caiti inevitably produced the proverbial rabbit from the hat and was all ready for the off, although she regularly resembled the proverbial slow snail and reduced me to a nervous wreck on Monday mornings. However, as it turned out miraculously we only ever missed the bus once.

This particular Monday morning was very chilly but with Chris away I had no alternative but to load a warmly wrapped sleepy Ruadhrí into the car to be taken for the ride when delivering Caiti to the bus stop in Clugnat. The road sparkled with frost and it was nippy. One low, hill-bottom stretch of the road was, as usual, particularly cold. We called it the ‘frost bucket’. This arose from a very young Caiti mishearing us using the expression ‘frost pocket’. Well, since ‘frost bucket’ is so much better we adopted that one as a family saying. The car showed a temperature of minus three or so. Brrr.

Meanwhile Chris was getting up to minus five, which came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately he’d taken plenty of warm clothes with him as a lot of the training was done outside and the day itself was sunny and bright. He had a wonderful time learning about the finer points of pigmanship with trainers David and Lorraine. They specialised in English old breed pigs and so Chris got to meet Gloucester Old Spots, Berkshires and Oxford Sandy and Blacks. He got to eat them at lunchtime too but not the ones he’d just met, obviously! The whole point of getting pigs was to become self-sufficient in pork. We weren’t going to be a pig sanctuary – we were going into this venture with hardened hearts and a love of sausages.  Chris was immediately struck with how much nicer the pork from these old breeds was than what we were used to eating from the supermarket.

Chris learned about fencing, handling and breeding pigs, and about all the relevant legislation. There was plenty of hands-on experience of rounding up and feeding. He was struck with how intelligent the pigs are. You can interact with a pig. Llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep – not so much. The action with them is one way, i.e. from the human, with the creature in question simply regarding you vacantly as The Mysterious Being That Dispenses Food. A pig, though, will come over for a chat. A pig will listen. A pig will scrutinise you and size you up with those shrewd eyes, rather than just gaze dumbly at you. A pig is altogether a different kind of animal from other farm livestock.

Temperatures began to plummet as the day wore on. I distributed extra hay to the animals and took a hat for Rors with me when I walked to Nouzerines to meet him from school. It was the walking-to-and-from school season in the winter, but the rest of the year we cycled him in and out. Despite living the furthest away, and Chris and I being the oldest set of parents by at least a decade, we were the only ones who were able to get to and from under our own environmentally-friendly steam rather than resorting to car or bus. As well as allowing us to feel morally superior to the rest of the world, it kept us all fit and we enjoyed the exercise as a family activity.

Chris got back quite late and reported freezing fog and icy roads all the way. It was by now a good few degrees below freezing, and it was going to be several weeks before it warmed up. The Big Freeze had begun.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. Admittedly we didn’t watch the Météo, weather forecast, regularly. We’d tried and failed to adapt to French television generally. With its love of short and frankly bizarre (‘quirky’ doesn’t come close) vignettes, and its overly-verbose chat and quiz show hosts, it just wasn’t for us. The culturally divide turns into a chasm when it comes to the TV. But we soon started watching it every night. And the news, where ice-bound scenes from around the country filled most of the half-hour slot. However, we were far more concerned with our own ice-boundness, which was dramatic and wholesale.

(The artwork for the cover of Total Immersion is by the incomparable Roger Fereday. The photo is of our own Berkshire pigs, Rosamunde and Oberon.)

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This book is an absolute delight from start to finish. But don’t read it – at least, not in a public place. It’ll have you smiling to yourself at the author’s light, lively smile, chuckling quietly at the faux pas, which are a normal part of expat life, that she shares with us and occasionally laughing out loud at the sudden ridiculousness of a crazy situation she finds herself in. And there’ll be the odd gasp of horror at the hair-tearingly-out stubbornness of French bureaucracy, and once or twice of admiration at our narrator’s partying stamina. People sitting in the airport terminal or doctor’s surgery around you shoot you looks of alarm and sidle quickly away from this clearly insane person giggling to themself!
Vicky Lesage shares the adventures of her early years in Paris, warts and all – and that’s what’s so wonderful. ‘Confessions’ is absolutely the right word to go in the title. The author doesn’t spare the French and she doesn’t spare herself. However, she only has a dig at French people when they deserve it, and is quick to admire all their good qualities, of which there are plenty. She’s less forgiving of herself, calling herself a ‘nerd’ now and again and worrying about her language skills. What she forgets to tell us is that Resourceful is her second name. There seems to be nothing she can’t cope with, and she tackles Paris head on – and wins!
We join Vicky as she finds friends, frustrations, places to live, fun, work, more frustrations and, on the way, the love of her life.
I honestly can’t think of anyone who won’t enjoy this book. If you’ve ever thought of going to France either to visit or to live, or even if you haven’t, you’ll get a sharp insight into what it’s like in this country. From the shopkeepers, who regard you as ‘Satan’s spawn’ because you want to pay with a €50 note, or, worse still, a credit card, to the fonctionnaires who always seem to withhold crucial information and thus complicate your life a million times more than it needs to be, to the bewildering number of public holidays, and finally to getting married there. Fabulous!
And as well as being a thoroughly brilliant book to read, it’s a showcase of good self-publishing practice. Here I put on my professional editor’s hat. We have the following:
• a classy, sassy cover
• an extremely well-written and well-presented text
• short, punchy chapters
• acknowledgements and table of contents at the end of the book: I wanted to dance when I saw that! Why? Well, these items take up valuable space in the free sample 10% or so that interested readers download when they’re considering buying an ebook. Given that an ebook opens at the last point you read to, you don’t need a contents list to find your page, so push that to the back. It’s there, but it’s not intruding, as are the acknowledgements. I’ve always advocated this approach but there’s been resistance. We’re too used to having these elements up front. Please, follow Vicky Lesage’s example!
• a chatty ‘about the author’ section, inviting us to review the book in exchange for a bonus story not in the book and to get in touch.

We have not only authoring, but indie authoring at its very, very best in this little gem of a book. It’s a self-publishing party in itself!

parispartygirl vickiAnd to finish, here’s a short extract from the first chapter.

 

Sister Mary Keyholder

I would like to say that when I first stepped off the plane and embarked on my new life in France, something memorable happened. Or something funny or amazing or romantic or at least worth writing about. Truth is, I don’t remember. I take that to be a good thing. Considering all the mishaps I’ve had since moving here, “uneventful” nearly equals “good” in my book.

Looking back all these years later, I see myself as a hopeful, naive girl full of energy stepping off that plane. Tired of running into my ex-boyfriend seemingly everywhere around my midwestern American hometown, and having been unceremoniously freed from my IT job, this fearless 25-year-old was ready for a change.
I had dipped my toes in the proverbial European pond over the course of several college backpacking trips and now wanted to experience living there. To wake up to the smell of fresh croissants, to drink copious amounts of wine straight from the source, and maybe meet a tall, dark and handsome Frenchman. Who was, of course, not a wienie.
Oh, to be back in the shoes (or flip-flops, as it were) of that intrepid girl, arriving in a new land, successfully commandeering the Métro and her luggage, triumphantly arriving on the doorstep of her destination.
The smooth sailing didn’t last long.
I had sublet an apartment for the summer from an unseen Irish girl, Colleen, using Craigslist. The photos showed a charming, yet tiny, apartment that I already pictured myself living in. You’d think this was where the story starts to go wrong, but the girl and the apartment did exist! Making it probably the last apartment to be legitimately rented online before scammers cornered the market.
For me, the issue was getting in to the apartment.
First I had to get the key. Colleen had agreed to leave it next door at the convent (Me? Living next to a convent? This’ll be good.) The Catholic schoolgirl in me had an overly romanticized notion of how a Parisian convent would look. I was expecting some sort of Gothic cathedral with nunny looking nuns. So I must have walked past the modern, imposing structure about twenty times, sure I’d been conned, before I noticed the sign. Ahem.
I retrieved the key using a combination of my shaky French and the logic that, c’mon ladies, how would anyone else have found out about this bizarre scenario and come knocking on your door?
“Bonjour, je m’appelle Vicki. Comment allez-vous?” I asked the group of navy-blue-clad, pious-looking women gathered inside the doorway.
The elderly (aren’t they all?) nun closest to me cautiously replied, “Pas mal. Et vous?”
Ack! What did she say? I was so busy forming my question I didn’t plan for her response! Just keep going, you can do it. “Je cherche une clef.” I’m looking for a key.
“Une clef?”
“Oui, une clef.” Now I know that’s not much to go on, but let’s be real. Do lost girls often come to their door? Hrm. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s how girls become nuns? Better speed this up before I get stuck in the nunnery, never to be seen again. “Colleen leave key? It’s for me.”
“Oh yes, a key! For an American girl. That must be you.” Was it that obvious? Was it my blonde hair? Wide, toothy smile? No, it was probably my command (or lack thereof) of the French language.
“You’re friends with Colleen?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that since we weren’t really friends, but then again I wasn’t even sure that was the question. My French wasn’t up to the task of explaining how I knew Colleen, and for sure if I said we weren’t friends, Sister Mary Keyholder would never hand over the precious key.
“Yes,” I said with a smile, then promptly got the heck out of there.
Key and two heavy suitcases in hand, I headed to my new apartment building. The number on the front, 20, was written in the ornate curlicue script that most French buildings employ. The large windows of each apartment were fronted by black wrought-iron rails, providing the perfect vantage point from which to observe the goings-on of the street below. I eagerly punched the five-digit code into the digicode reader to the right of the door and was in.
Next issue: finding the actual apartment. You’d think this would be easy since Colleen had said it was on the third floor. Silly me, that seemed like enough information until I scoped out the situation.
Problem 1: Once inside the front door, I saw two buildings – one that faced the sidewalk (in which I was currently standing) and one past a quiet courtyard containing a few trees and a large, overflowing trash barrel. Which building was it?

 

Follow the rest of Vicky’s tour.

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I’m always reviewing and promoting other people’s books. I decided it was time to promote my own! Heads Above Water is the account of our first couple of years living the expat life in France with a family, no income and an awful lot of work to do …

Here’s a review of the book from the wonderful Steve Bichard:

“This is a real life story warts and all, about a family moving to France from Ireland. If you really want to know how hard that it can be surviving the freezing cold winters without decent heating, having to deal with never ending paperwork, settling your kids into a whole new school environment and so much more, then ‘Heads Above Water’ is just the book for you. Full of first hand advice and many of the idiosyncrasies of French life explained, Stephanie has created the perfect novel for anyone thinking of moving to France.
To take on a dilapidated farm with 3 lakes and acres and acres of land, then turn it into a successful business with a gite, llama farm and wonderful fishing lakes was certainly some undertaking. But the Dagg’s did it with sheer hard work and a great deal of persistence. Luckily they managed to keep their sense of humour which comes across so well in the book and as I have said, one not to be missed by any budding or resident ex-pats.”
Thanks, Steve. So please, do grab yourselves a copy of Heads Above Water from the Kindle Store of your local Amazon and read about our adventures for yourself. And let me know what you think about it too.

I’m delighted to host my first ever guest post. Jo Parfitt, expat author, has just released her latest book, Sunshine Soup which I’ll be reviewing in a few days’ time.

Jo has some inspiring advice for all would-be authors:

Inspired by La Grande Rue

Many years ago I lived in France. I studied French at university and spent my year abroad as an assistante in a school in Normandy. I don’t know whether you know Neufchatel-en-Bray, but it’s pretty small. I was the only English girl of my age living there and I found it rather lonely. I love to eat and so that was how I whiled away the hours. I would wander up and down the high street, looking in the shop windows.   I particularly liked the patisserie.

One day, as I gazed at the tartes aux myrtilles and tartelettes au citron, the words French Tarts popped into my head. That would make a great book title, I thought.

Now, as I had told you, I was a bit bored and I loved to eat, so I hatched a plan. I would ask the people in the town to invite me to dinner and make me a tart and, in exchange, I would put their recipes in a book I was writing. I really believed this would happen, and so, it appeared, did my potential hosts. I got my recipes and solved my social life problem in one go.

Back in my dingy flat above the school boiler, I had no kitchen, in fact I could not even cook, but I was determined to write that book. After graduation, I did a little research and sent a synopsis to a publisher called Octopus. They accepted my proposal and about 18 months later, French Tarts was published in French and in English. I had never written anything before but this lucky break led me to believe that I could follow my dream and become a writer. Today, 25 years on, I have written 28 books, hundreds of articles, teach writing and am a publisher in my own right. I specialize in publishing books by and for people who live overseas.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I believe that if you have a good idea, lots of passion and some self-belief, you too can achieve your dreams, even against the odds and even in a foreign country. My book succeeded because it was a good idea, with a catchy title, that came at the right time.

Without French Tarts I doubt I would have become the writer and publisher I am today. Neither would I be a decent cook. Living in France back then I would never have believed that I would go on to live abroad for the rest of my life. I have lived in Dubai, Oman, Norway and am now in the Netherlands.  I have become a pretty decent cook too, and wrote a second cookbook when I lived in Oman, called Dates.

This month I launch my first foray into fiction. Sunshine Soup is a novel about expats and expat life. Its protagonist is a cook and there are 20 recipes at the back of the book. French Tarts is no longer in print, though you can buy second hand copies on Amazon.

If you have a dream, however crazy, I urge you to go for it. You never know what may happen.

Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt  – author of Sunshine Soup, nourishing the global soul. Out now. Price £8.47 and available on Amazon. Find out more at www.joparfitt.com, www.summertimepublishing.com and www.expatbookshop.com