Monday 12 February 2018

Deux Grandes Aventures - in France!

Right now Trav and I are having two grand adventures: living in France while I’m busy writing a new book loosely based on my own travel experiences for HarperImpulse - the romance imprint of HarperCollins UK Publishers!

Great excitement - signing my Harper Impulse contract!

Until fairly recently these were both totally unexpected opportunities!

HarperImpulse offering me a book contract prompted us to decide that we needed to settle down somewhere - at least for the time it would take me to write the book - but where?

When you have no fixed abode then your only options are to stay in an affordable hotel or rent a house or an apartment within your budget OR to do some housesitting and live somewhere for free in exchange for looking after the homeowner’s property and perhaps their livestock or pets.

As we have never done any housesitting before I checked out some of the house-sitting websites. The more I read about it the more appeal the housesitting idea had for us. Some people only needed a house sitter for a couple of days or weeks but some needed house sitters for a few months.

We were actually in Vietnam at the time of doing this initial research into housesitting and we already had plans in place to travel to Kuala Lumpur, Macau, Hong Kong, and South Korea over the coming weeks – so we decided that after South Korea - we would be prepared to pay the airfare to travel onto somewhere/anywhere in the world where we could stay for three months or more without having to pay any rent.

So we applied for an assignment in France through the website called

The assignment was to live in and look after a beautiful chateau in South West France owned by a UK couple who needed caretakers/managers for up to six months. The house was in the French countryside, just outside the beautiful and historic city of Perigueux,  and the home of a cat called Monsieur Smudge. There were also a couple of gites (cottages) on the property that were rented out and a large garden and an outdoor swimming pool to maintain.

The beautiful countryside of SW France and the housesitting assignment caring for Mr Smudge

All these jobs at the house were easily within Trav’s remit (plus there was a ride on tractor to cut the grass!) and, although it wasn't an island in the tropics, it was certainly a wonderful and idyllic setting for me to actually get some serious writing done - and being South West France - it's not as if it would ever get really cold in the wintertime either.

You can imagine how delighted we were when after a few emails back and forth and a skype interview with the homeowners – we were offered the French Assignment - and Trav and I were going to live in France from the end of September to the end of March!

The perfect writing spot...

In order to get to France as cheaply as possible from Asia, we took four flights and two long train journeys and a bus across London.

First, we took the KTX bullet train in South Korea from Daegu to Seoul and then we flew from Seoul to Hong Kong. To save on a hotel we slept in the airport in Seoul as our flight was so early in the morning. From Hong Kong our flight was delayed. After a bit of stress, we managed to get to Kuala Lumpur just in time for our direct flight to London. In London, we had to get from Heathrow to Gatwick to meet with a flight to Bordeaux, after which we took a train to Perigueux - the capital of the Dordogne Region of France.

At Perigueux train station we were met by our lovely homeowners!

The first few days we slept lots (as you can imagine) in our super comfortable and gorgeous bedroom in the beautiful chateau and we ate lots of lovely French food. Our lovely homeowners kindly showed us around the area so that we would know where to find the local shops and markets and vineyards etc.

The lovely homeowners Piers and Fran gave us a tour of the area, the vineyards, and we stopped off for lunch in a cafe

This area has so many beautiful old buildings and cathedrals and vineyards and chateaux

It was the end of September when we arrived in France but it was still hot and sunny. After being so long in SE Asia it was especially thrilling to see so much wonderful food and cheese (I LOVE cheese!) and (as we were in wine-country) lots of wine (I LOVE wine!) and it is so very inexpensive here because wine isn’t taxed as the French consider it to be a food. What a civilised country!

I knew we were going to love France!

We don’t actually speak French but were certainly keen to learn – especially as in this part of middle France - most people (including our neighbours) don’t speak any English (and why would they?) 'Bonjour! Ca va? Et vous?'

We soon settled down to living and working at our new home in France
Things I love - markets where dogs round up ducks - Authur the donkey and our neighbour's piggies  - and cafes and wine

A week or so after arriving in France, we invited (with our homeowner’s approval) my Aunt Dawn and Uncle Ed, who were in Europe from Vancouver, Canada, to stay with us for a few days. We had stayed with them last year and we were keen to see them again. We had a lovely week with them here in France before they flew back to Vancouver and I have lots of photos to show you of our wonderful days out to vineyards and medieval towns and chateaux and the time we spent together.

We had such a great time when my Uncle Ed and Aunt Dawn came to stay with us in France

Ed and Trav in old Perigueux France
Trav and I in beautiful old Perigueux France

Back at the house... Dawn and I enjoying a glass of wine and conversation by the pool...
The lazy hazy days of a French summer with Ed and Dawn and our lovely French neighbours Charles and Christelle
The autumnal courtyard through an open window

The weather stayed amazing for us all the way through October - warm enough to use the outdoor swimming pool a few times. We took a delivery of chopped wood for the winter courtesy of Fran and Piers – which we stacked into the woodshed while it was around 26 deg C. But, once November came around, the weather turned very cold.

In November it is Trav's birthday and this year he was delighted to receive a bottle of his favourite tipple (thank you Ben and Hayley) and something he'd enjoy whiling away any free French time - a drone. Happy Birthday Trav!

SHOCK! I could hardly believe it! In December it snowed and it was apparently the first time it had snowed in this part of France in FIVE years – and as we have lived in mostly hot and tropical places – it was the first time WE had experienced snow in around five years too!

We spent our French autumn evenings by the cosy log fire...

As we didn't actually have any cold weather clothes, we had to buy a couple of cold weather outfits to wear over the winter. Leggings and sweatshirts and socks. Our lovely homeowners did send a message to say we could use some of their knitwear from their wardrobes – which was very kind indeed – as we were reluctant to buy too much of anything that couldn’t go in our backpacks when we leave here in March.

I find this to be the most difficult thing about being a (woman) traveller. 

There is only a limited amount of stuff you can own and buy - as you have to be prepared to carry it around in your backpack with you - so less is always better.

We had a nice quiet Christmas – just the two of us and, of course, Mr Smudge – sitting by a lovely warm log fire with lots of wine and cheese. We didn’t have a Christmas tree but Trav found a string of lights to wrap around a tree in the courtyard outside. We did miss our family and friends but we did get to send and receive cards this year at least and to chat with most people on Messenger and Facetime and Skype.

Our lovely neighbours Charles and Christelle took us out for a pre-Christmas traditional French meal and also to a fabulous Christmas market in the nearby historic medieval town of Sarlat. This year’s market was on a British theme!

It was great fun and I took lots of photos!

And, except for these occasional outings, I was writing All The Time!

Harper Impulse had sent me a contract to sign and I was working to a tight end of January deadline. This meant I had just three months to write a full-length novel and to submit it on time. As an author, I’m often asked the question ‘how long does it take you to write a book?’

Well, my first book took me four years to write (I had three youngsters and two day-jobs back then) and the second one took two years. The third book, I recall, took three years. From then on, books usually took me about a year to write. So, I’ve never had to write a book quite as quickly as this before.

No pressure then!

To help, I made a spreadsheet and gave myself a set word count to achieve each week and a set time to work each day. I did try to include an hour of exercise each day too - walking in the beautiful countryside surrounding the house - as all the wine and the cheese I'm eating has piled on the weight. Consequentially, I’m a stone heavier than I was when I first arrived here. The countryside here is beautiful and reminds me very much of South West Scotland where we lived for many years.

But I'm now delighted to be able to tell you that the story is written and it's currently with my lovely editor. I do hope she loves it as much as I do. There will be of course be revisions to work on next. I expect to be working on them over the next couple of weeks. After which, the manuscript will go back to the publisher once again for line edits and then digital publication.

The title of this book – to be published as an ebook in Summer 2018 is:

‘The Backpacking Housewife’

I’m very excited about it I can tell you!

And I can hardly wait to see what the cover will look like and for it to be finally available on Amazon and on Kobo and Apple’s iBook stores. I'll be sending out a newsletter to my newsletter subscribers (see the top right sidebar of this page) when The Backpacking Housewife becomes available and also to alert you to any offers and competitions and prizes to be won around publication day.

So what’s next?

Well, we have some lovely friends from Scotland coming to stay with us for a few days soon and, if the weather allows, we’d love to take them out to a few vineyards and to explore some of the beautiful and historic local towns and to have lunch in some French cafes.

As for our onward travel plans, we do already have plans in place to leave France in mid-March. Our plan is to fly back to Asia initially, as we will be attending our son and daughter-in-law’s wedding in South Korea at the beginning of April. So, we will fly from Bordeaux to London, and then directly to Singapore. We’ll spend a couple of weeks in Malaysia (exact plans not yet decided on) before we fly over to Korea to meet up with family.

After our week in South Korea, we will fly directly from Seoul to San Francisco USA. I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco – and I'm super excited about it so we have planned a three-day stopover there - I’ve already pre-booked our tickets to go over to see Alcatraz!

From the USA we will fly to Honduras and then onto the beautiful Caribbean island of Utila.  If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know that Utila - the smallest of the Bay Islands - is our favourite island in the Caribbean and, although we have stayed on this beautiful island many times, it will have been two and a half years since we were last there.

I’m really looking forward to going back to Utila, hopefully, we'll stay for the whole summer, and to seeing all our island friends again. Trav, as a PADI Staff Instructor, is also looking forward to diving in the sea every day again as I know he’s really missed being in the water.

So lots of posts and lots more adventures to come in 2018.

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Until next time
Love, Janice xx