My Good Life in France In Pursuit of the Rural Dream a Book Review
Although I have yet to meet Janine Marsh in person (and I do hope it happens one day), I can say with 100% confidence that she is funny, humble and slightly crazy. During summer months, it hardly rains in Provence, so I happily took advantage of a rainy day to finish Janine’s debut book “My Good Life in France. In Pursuit of the Rural Dream.”
The basis for her memoir starts with an innocent day-trip to France, to fill the car trunk with some French wine and cheese before returning to England on the ferry. That auspicious day turned into a new address, change of lifestyle and jettisoned both Janine and Mark Marsh towards fresh career pursuits. Janine’s book begins with her classification of expats into three general buckets: Retirees, Escapees (not from jail), and Lifestyle Changes. Her explanations of the inclinations of these three groups leave the reader with little doubt as to the category she would assign to their story.
“My Good Life in France. In Pursuit of the Rural Dream” is about buying a house (they did not want or need), and the evolution of a lifestyle change that the Janine and Mark Marsh had not foreseen. The book is written in Janine’s easy flowing style, peppered with amusing stories and real life vignettes. You will laugh and might even shed a tear.
I was already hooked by page two in the book’s first chapter “One cold, wet day,” and read to the very last page of Chapter 24. While reading, more than a few questions popped into my mind. Why would anyone leave cool, wet England for cold (actually, freezing) and wet Northern France? Within its 256 pages “My Good Life in France,” is certainly the story of two expats making a new life in another country, but it is also the story of how we evaluate options and make choices in life. The book is not deeply philosophical and not in the self-improvement genre, but there were a few nuggets for reflection. What would I have done in her situation?
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Blog to Book
Janine Marsh is a busy lady, but she carved out some time to answer my questions related to her book and back story.
In her words, “I’m a travel writer and maid to several dogs, cats, ducks, geese and chickens.” In 2012, Marsh started writing her blog “The Good Life France” to keep in touch with family and friends in the United Kingdom (UK) while the couple was in the middle of their farmhouse restoration and renovation.
“The first month I blogged, Mark looked at the stats and told me I’d had 480 visitors. I was astonished. I had only told about 25 of my friends, and I asked them to follow me on Facebook as Mark said I could share my blog that way with them. Six months later I was getting 60,000 visitors a month, and I was totally hooked. I started to write more about France generally, the places I visited, the culture, Paris – everything and anything about France. The website just grew and grew and now has more than 3000 pages and more than a million page views a month and 128,000 friends on Facebook.”
The Good Life France is now also in published magazine format four times a year, free to readers. Anyone can sign up and read it online or download a PDF. Here’s the summer issue.
How would you describe your website The Good Life France?
It’s visually beautiful, honest, entertaining, helpful – everything you want to know about France and more. Fun, loads of articles about what to see and do, where to go, the best places, the secret places, how to speak French, books about France, how to buy property, rent a place – there’s just so much.
Janine and Mark Marsh bought their property 13 years ago and moved permanently to France in 2009. Marsh says that friends who visited during the early days of their “house of horrors” construction project could not believe the scope of the work they had taken on.
Many others would have headed back to the UK (or wherever home was) rather than endure more cold and wet. What do you think made you both stay?
Ha, that’s an easy answer – my husband. He is much braver than me and assured me that we would get the house sorted at some point. Several years later – we’re still working on it! He pretty much blackmailed me to try a new life in the first place, saying he would go without me. He now says he wouldn’t have done that but it made me realise how important it was to him and I had a choice – love or money. Stay in my job and get a promotion or take a risk for the man I loved. I chose love.
What advice might you offer to someone (or a couple) considering an expat move and career transition?
Be prepared for things to be difficult and challenging. Be prepared to find out things about the other person you might not have known. I discovered that my husband gets angry when things are out of his control and that things getting out of control when you start a new life, in rural France, is a common occurrence. I had to learn not to take his anger personally, and he had to learn to try to calm down. It’s not always been easy, we’ve got better at it.
We’ve also learned to accept that unlike city life where when things go wrong with the house, you call someone and they fix it. That doesn’t work here. It’s hard to find people to do the job and it takes longer. We’ve had to learn how to build and mend things.
We’ve learned to support each other and share the worry. As I speak better French, I deal with ordering building materials and answer the phone to the millions of cold calls we get. I aide physically as much as possible and try not to lose it when I get shouted at because I got the wrong tool! Mark does the hard physically demanding stuff. He also cooks as I am rubbish at it.
What strategies do you suggest for getting used to the increased “together time” in a strange land and with a new language?
We learned to play chess, read a lot, and we have found hobbies and things we like doing together and separately so that we have “me” time. I travel lots, so there is away-from-each-other-time which might also help a little bit.
Career 360 – Writer, Banker, Writer
You mention at one point that your dad told you that you were a good writer. Was this the catalyst that started you down the writing path?
It was! I’ve always loved writing; I won contests in local papers when I was young. My first job was a writer for a glossy magazine, where I became assistant editor. I left because the hours were long and I got divorced. As a single mother with a young son, I needed something more secure that would enable me to work regular hours. So, I went to work in a bank as a secretary and worked my way up to Vice President and about to become a director when my husband persuaded me to chuck it all in for love!
So, I knew I loved writing. I just hadn’t considered it as a career option. When my Dad was ill and needed some TLC, I stayed at his house to look after him. I’d sit quietly writing about my experiences in France, and he’d ask me to read them to him. “You’re quite good” was a huge compliment from my dad! My mum used to write poetry and short stories, but she never had the confidence to share or publish them. I kind of thought as well that this is for my mum.
Writing a book
Once you determined that you would write a book on your story, how long did the process take?
It was fate really that it happened at all. I went to Paris to go to an art exhibition to write about it for the website. There was a journalist there from the Financial Times, and we got talking. She was fascinated by my story, about giving up corporate life for love, living in the country with more than 60 animals, and starting a blog. She asked if she could interview me for the paper, and of course, I said yes. The owner of a publishing house in London read the interview and contacted me to ask me if I had thought about writing my story. I hadn’t at that point seriously considered it, but I was willing to give it a go. I wrote a draft in about six months and sent it to them, and they offered to publish it. The book came out in the UK in May 2017, and to my immense surprise (and it’s such a thrill) it’s become a best seller in the UK. “My Good Life in France” has been published in Australia, and the US schedule is for August 2017.
Any advice for would-be memoir writers?
Write every day, keep copious notes, it’s hard to remember the little details if you don’t. I’m sort of working on book two. I’ve got used to writing throughout the day, what I see and hear, what people say, my feelings. I want to make readers feel like they’re experiencing it with me.