Interview with Expat Author Amanda Hodgkinson
By Nadine Visagie
Originally published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 24 | Summer 2016
Amanda Hodgkinson was born in Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset, England but has been living in southwest France with her family for the past 14 years. Moving to France gave her the opportunity to write her debut novel, 22 Brittania Road, which became a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 15 languages. O, The Oprah Magazine described it as “a riveting historical novel of love and war.”
In 2014, Penguin Books published Spilt Milk, a moving story about motherhood and sisterhood. Amanda says that she would love to see her books filmed, starring actors like Marion Cotillard, Natalie Portman and Leonardo DiCaprio. In the meantime she is working on another novel.
When and why did you decide to move to France?
I moved to France with my husband and two small daughters back in 2002. My husband had always worked a lot in France (in advertising and in the theater) and we were Francophiles, both of us. As a family we spent our summer holidays in the south near Cannes. Our decision to move to France felt like an adventure. We were also determined that the move would give me more time to write and give my husband more time to spend with our children – both of which we succeeded in doing.
Where in France do you live and what do you like about the region?
We bought a beautiful old stone farmhouse in the Gers in southwest France. I love the long, hot summers here and the unspoiled feel to the medieval towns and villages. At the same time, it’s a vibrant area with lots of festivals and cultural events.
Did you speak French when you arrived in France? If not, how long did it take you to become fluent in the language?
I thought I spoke French when I arrived here! I quickly found it was only “tourist French.” Real day-to-day living requires another level of fluency. It took me a couple of years to become fluent and particularly to have confidence speaking on the telephone.
How has living in France influenced your writing?
I think living in such a beautiful part of the world encouraged me to be even more of a dreamer than I already was. And happily, a dreamy state of being is perfect for writers – and great for stimulating the imagination.
What has been the most difficult aspect of living in France?
I think to begin with, it was not being fluent in French. Also, coming from the U.K. where our work can seem at times more important than friends and family, the slower pace of life here surprised me and even made me feel impatient. Happily, once I went with the flow, the different working hours and expectations, and the importance placed upon family here very quickly delighted me.
Do you read a lot of French books? Do you have a favorite French author?
I don’t read a lot of French books. I read voraciously in English and don’t really have time to read in French. Saying that, I love the French classics: Victor Hugo, Zola, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and Marguerite Duras being among my favorites.
Why do you think France has more recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature than any other country in the world?
I think the French really appreciate writers. Culture is so important to this country and writers are seen as vital to the identity of France. If a nation believes literature is essential to society, then perhaps it should come as no surprise that France has so many Nobel Prize winners.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished reading Closely Observed Trains by the late Czechoslovakian writer Bohumil Hrabal. I also finally got round to reading Julian Barnes’ A Sense of an Ending, which I absolutely loved. And I am a few pages into The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, and am already hooked – Alyson is a wonderful writer and I am a big fan of her books.
Please describe the most beautiful place in France that you’ve been to.
Hossegor on the Atlantic coast. The beaches go on for miles. The restaurants are great. Inland, the saltwater lake is surrounded by examples of Basque architecture at its best. I love summer there but really all year round it’s a beautiful and quite wild place.
If you could choose any French meal and any glass of wine, what would it be?
Salt-baked sea bass with samphire and butter-sautéed La Rochelle new potatoes, with steamed French beans. A baguette still warm from the boulangerie, and a glass of Jurançon sec. If I still felt hungry I might have a slice of apple tarte tatin with crème fraîche!
Are you working on a new book at the moment? What can you tell us about it?
I am working on a novel set in France. I’m fascinated by the Second World War and, since living here, I am fascinated by what life might have been like in an occupied country. My novel is about a 13-year-old English girl who finds herself living in an old French farmhouse during the war.
Which French expression do you like most?
Ooh la la! People really do say this an awful lot.
What do you like most about French culture in general, and what do you like least about it?
I love the focus on the arts. There are so many festivals celebrating music, dance, theater, film, art and literature in this country. On the other hand, there is less of a can-do culture here and I wish schools focused more on positive encouragement for young people rather than a general negative, could-do-better attitude towards students.
What advice do you have for people who intend to live in France?
Learn the language as best you can. Having French friends really gives you an insight into the country that you might otherwise lack.
[Portrait © Isabelle Souriment; book cover © of Penguin Random House]
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