Today we welcome Vanessa Couchman to the blog to talk writing and living in France … Welcome Vanessa!
You’ve run a writing business since 1997. Could you tell us a bit about that?
It started when we moved to France in 1997 and I left my job in England. At first, I did management consultancy work, but that involved a lot of travelling, so I moved over to offering writing services instead. I write research reports and do copywriting work for a varied range of clients. I also write magazine articles about French life and the art of writing.
Do you have a favourite ‘type’ of writing? i.e. novels, short stories, magazine articles?
Novels, definitely. I started writing short stories about five years ago. Although I enjoy writing them, they are a form that’s especially difficult to do well. I wouldn’t say I find novels easier, but I think they are a format to which my writing is better suited.
I also enjoy writing my blog about life in SW France. I have made a lot of virtual friends – some of whom I have met in reality – through it. Since I have a passion for history, many of my posts are about the history of the part of France where I live.
What is your favourite aspect of writing?
Much of my writing is historical fiction. I feel more at home with that than with writing about the present. I enjoy researching the period in question and the challenge of developing a story in it without overwhelming the reader with too much of the history. I’m a believer in the importance of setting in fiction (cultural, historical, geographical) and the influence it has on my characters.
And your least favourite?
Editing. I’m not a very patient person (my husband will second that…) and I would rather move onto the next thing than spend time refining what I have written. I know this is quite wrong, though, so I do force myself to do it!
Are there any subjects you steer well clear of when writing?
As I mentioned above, I don’t often write stories set in the present. So I tend to steer clear of emotive social issues, although I did once write a story about wife beating (without first-hand experience, let me assure you!).
What do you think the biggest challenge facing writers is these days?
Standing out amongst the crowd, since so many people write and more and more books are published each year. You have to be on all social media and spend a lot of time ‘building a platform’, as it’s called. This tends to detract from your writing time, but it is a fact of life today.
Before you turned to writing, what other jobs did you do?
I worked in academic publishing for 10 years after leaving university. Then I felt the need to broaden my skills base, so I took a Masters in Business Administration. Following that, I worked for the Audit Commission (the body that used to carry out audits of and research into UK public services). Latterly, I was in charge of strategy development and communications. That was my last job before moving to France.
Your life in France sounds fascinating. Tell us a bit about life over there. Is it much different to living in the UK?
We live in the sticks in SW France. I’m not a city girl at heart, so I love it. There is always a lot going on – concerts, fêtes, and so forth – in the summer, but rather less in the winter. So I like visiting London when I get the chance. But I’m always happy to come home!
We have made efforts to integrate by learning the language, making French friends and getting involved in aspects of local life. I have worked in the local library and been involved in an annual literary festival, we sing in several choirs, and we are helping to restore a 15th-century chapel close by.
Having lived here since 1997, it’s hard to remember life in the UK. Life down here is less frantic and probably how it was in the UK some years ago. There are far fewer cars and people have more time to stop and chat. French men can be a bit sexist – but that’s not unknown in the UK!
And finally, can you tell us a bit about what you are working on at the moment?
I have two novels on the go. One is a sequel to The House at Zaronza (which was set in early 20th-century Corsica and during World War I), set in World War II. The other is based on a true story in 18th-century Corsica, which I stumbled upon fairly recently. I’m particularly attached to the island of Corsica, where we often go on holiday. It has such a fascinating history and culture and it’s just crying out to have stories set there.
Thanks Vanessa for coming on to the blog with us today! You can find out more about Vanessa by visiting her website or following her on Twitter and Facebook. Her books are available via Amazon.
Helen J Rolfe x
Writing website and blog: http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com