petite anglaise

Q&A #2

Did you get your fraud case sorted out ?

Ah, the bank fraud… Well, two nailbiting weeks after I filed my documents with the bank, they did finally get around to reimbursing me the sums corresponding to the imposter’s shopping spree. What they did not do is reimburse all the associated overdraft charges (totalling €150). I have an appointment with my conseiller in a couple of weeks time and plan to get shouty. But I don’t hold out much hope of that working, as I’m in the process of killing off that account and changing banks and I don’t have much leverage…

Could you please comment on why you felt drawn to France and French culture. What have you gained by it?

The short answer to this one is see chapters 1 to 3 of “petite anglaise” – available in all good bookstores or via the links to the right on the homepage ;-) I fell in love with the language first, and obsessed about France for years before I actually visited. In the meantime I devoured French books, watched subtitled films at the local arthouse cinema and wrote to French penfriends. I don’t have a rational explanation as to why I fell so hard for the French language and later for France (I took German to degree level too, but never felt the same way about German or Germany). I love being a fish out of water, but only in France. And I know that if I moved back to the UK, there would be a huge hole in my life.

I’d like to ask you whether you feel vulnerable when you write – in the light of unfair dissmissal, press/media coverage of your blog – have these experiences consciously affected the honesty of your writing? And if so in what way? I’m just intrigued about how it personally feels to lay your life, although initially anonymous, open for all to read. Warts and all.

I don’t feel vulnerable, as when I write, I have total control over what I say or show. When my employer found the blog, I felt uncomfortable at the idea of my boss reading it (not so much because I’d said anything damning about work, more because the idea of him reading the personal stuff made me squirm) but our paths never crossed after the dismissal so I shook off that feeling and carried on as normal. The media coverage meant that I had to be sensitive to the feelings of my family (too much sex, drugs and rock and roll = embarrassing moments for them in the village pub) and I felt the need to take stronger measures to protect Tadpole’s identity. I also felt slightly paranoid about admitting to bouts of depression or soaring stress levels as I knew my publishers would be reading the blog…

If you read my book you’ll see from the glimpses I give into what was going on behind the scenes that I was always selectively honest (meaning that I laid some feelings bare but kept some hidden) and I think I continue to be selectively honest today. One thing which has changed is that I feel less of an urge to work through problems online, in public. I had a few sessions with a therapist last year when pre-publication stress was taking its toll, and maybe that played a part…

How long does it take (after learning French) to think in French? And also do you still make simple mistakes with the language?

I think I began thinking and dreaming in French when I came here to live, first for a year in Rouen, then when I came to Paris for good. These days I think in French when speaking French, and in English when speaking English. Occasionally when writing I get frustrated when the best word or phrase to describe a situation or feeling is a French one that has no direct translation in English… As for mistakes, I have a few pet words I pronounce wrongly, and I make the odd gender mistake. Tadpole has started to pick up on this and loves to correct me. She has what I will never have, the innate ability to just know what sounds right.

Could you recommend me some hot new French music, as I haven’t heard anything since the last Sebastien Tellier album?

Argh. I’m a bit crap about keeping up with music these days. I still go to the occasional rave, but at home I seem to listen to things I’ve had for years (I love the first Nouvelle Vague album, and Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited is another firm favourite of mine). I think my thirst for new music dried up when Tadpole arrived on the scene and could no longer turn up the stereo in the evenings. So I’m going to ask the lovely Meg (resident music and food specialist) to take the floor and answer this one for you…

Meg says:

Ze French

For Tapping/Shaking (pop/electronica)
The Dø
Poni Hoax
Herman Dune

For Sitting on the Sofa (indie folk/chanson)
François Virot
Sébastien Schuller

For Pretending You’re Amélie
Yann Tiersen

Another good source of info is French indie music blog La Blogothèque.

What was the average time in a day or week that you would spend blogging during your “peak” blogging period?

I’d say about an hour a day to actually write my posts (which I published every weekday). And then obviously I’d check back for two minutes every so often to read/vet/answer comments. I also spent quite a bit of time reading other blogs. Which means I often skipped my lunch break at work if I didn’t have any downtime during the day…

What’s your most memorable experience in a Paris resto?

I’ve had two in the Café Charbon, as regular readers will know. The most amazing meal I ever had was when my favourite banker at Goldman Sachs (whom I had a crush on, I’ll now admit) took me to ‘Guy Savoy’ for my leaving lunch.

Is it possible to get a decent cup of tea in Paris?

Hmm. Depends what you mean by decent. Personally, I find tea always tastes better in Yorkshire. I’m not sure whether it’s Paris water, or the Tetley teabags you can buy here which don’t seem to be quite the same as those you buy in England, but I find it hard to make myself a good cuppa. And in cafés here you are likely to be served a cup of lukewarm water with a Lipton yellow teabag on the side, and (if you remembered to ask for it) some UHT milk (yuck!) I’m sure blogging friend Aimee’s teashop is an exception to this rule, however.

Could you please describe a recent moment where you were SOOOO happy to be living in Paris.

I get those all the time… When I walk past a bakery and smell baguettes baking, when I run into a friend in the street (Paris is so small!), when I’m walking down rue de Belleville at night and the Eiffel tower starts sparkling just for me (it lights up for ten minutes on the hour, every hour after nightfall), when I return from a holiday and take a taxi home through parts of the city I haven’t seen for a while…

You stumbled into blog fame and into published fame. Ever wish you hadn’t become “famous”? Ever try to remember what it’s like not to have a LOT of people know who you are? Or ever miss being able to blend away again? Or maybe that hasn’t even been an issue?

I don’t consider myself as famous. I’ve been recognised when out and about only a handful of times, and mostly people have emailed afterwards to say they saw me but didn’t want to approach me as they weren’t sure. A stranger did come to scope out my wedding (marriage banns are public so it didn’t take much sleuthing to find the date and time) and on a recent trip back from the UK, a reader came up to me in the airport (she’d been reading my book on the plane!) But in general, I don’t think people tend to remember a name or face if it’s been splashed across the media for a couple of weeks. When I mention the name ‘petite anglaise’, it often jogs people’s memory and they remember something they saw on TV or read in a newspaper (the mayor’s assistant who conducted our wedding asked me what I wrote – I was listed as a writer in the documents – and said ‘ah yes, the girl who wrote on the internet’ .) But mostly – aside from a couple of mad press weeks – I go about my daily business incognito and I feel almost as anonymous as I did before my name was leaked. (And I like it that way.)

Do you have some tips on juggling a household, work, a child and a relationship and still making it work?

I don’t find this difficult any more as I’m no longer in full time work halfway across the city, my working hours are shorter (I can’t write for a solid eight hours a day) and I decide when to work. So I find I have time to do a few chores in the morning, write for a few hours, collect Tadpole from school (either at 4.30pm or 5.30pm), then spend some time on my own with my husband once she’s in bed (around 8). And then of course Tadpole spends alternate weekends with her father, a weeknight with him every week, and goes to stay with her grandparents for at least half of the 14 or so weeks of annual school holidays. All in all, the balance feels right. Ask me again sometime next year when I have Tadpole #2 and maybe I’ll answer this one differently…

What book are you currently reading?

I just finished ‘Everyone worth knowing’ by Lauren Weisberger. I liked ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ as it reminded me of a similar job I’d had working for a French VIP in the fashion industry. But I found her second novel very disappointing – sloppy writing, badly paced, lacking perhaps the personal insight of the first which was clearly based on a true story. But I like reading bad books from time to time, it gives me a morale boost. If I stick to highbrow literature I start to feel very inferior. The last two I read were ‘That Old Ace in the Hole’ by Annie Proulx, and ‘Suite Française’ by Irene Némirovsky. The next on my list is the new Douglas Coupland.

What is Mr Frog up to these days?

I don’t know how much about Mr Frog’s life I feel entitled to reveal. He moved apartments around the same time I did, and remains less than five minutes away. He’s left his super stressful office job and is trying to set up his own business. We remain good friends and regularly catch up over coffee in the neighbourhood. I’m not sure if there is a current love interest. I feel weird about asking.

What was the hardest thing about moving to France? Would you recommend moving to other Francophiles?

I get a lot of emails from people trying to pluck up the courage to move to France asking me for advice and I feel a bit uncomfortable about giving it as everyone is different, and depending on where you hail from, the legal/immigration issues will vary a lot. What I found hard, initially, was moving on from the initial ‘comfort blanket’ phase of hanging out with fellow expats to making French friends. I also found expressing my personality in a foreign language very challenging at first. In the beginning, I was quiet in French, painfully shy when someone asked me a question in front of a crowd of listeners, and I couldn’t get my sense of humour across. It was a frustrating time, which, thankfully, is long behind me now.

Does your book contract require you to keep on blogging?

There’s nothing in the contract, but I’m sure they would be disappointed if I stopped altogether. (Which I don’t plan to do.)

Do you know of a decent estate agent in Paris (for renting)?

I’d use De Particulier à Particulier. Estate agents take a fee equivalent to one month’s rent and they have few properties on their books. PAP cuts out the middle man. We bought our current apartment using their website.

Why do French service stations still have the option of standing up loos? On a recent trip to France I was amazed (and horrified) to discover this. Surely no-one actually chooses to do their stuff standing up?

I don’t visit many service stations (I don’t drive), but in the provinces you often find these in cafés and bars too, or in public toilets. I imagine the logic behind them is that they are easier to clean. But they are rarer and rarer these days.

How are the book sales, and how is book 2 going? Is it harder to write your second??

As far as sales are concerned, I have my head stuck firmly in the sand and asked my publisher not to keep me posted as I didn’t want any bad news to dent my confidence and affect the writing of book two. The bulk of the sales will come in any case when ‘petite’ comes out in paperback (Feb 5 2009 in the UK) and I’ll probably start to sit up and take notice then. Book two is about two thirds written and needs to be finished by the end of 2008. It’s fiction, so it has been slower (the story needed to be mapped out as I went along, it wasn’t based on my own life except for a few isolated episodes). I found it hard to get going, but it’s coming along nicely now (and will be published in August 2009).

Please list your something old, something new something borrowed and something blue for your wedding day.

I didn’t actually observe that particular tradition, I’m afraid. My clothes and undies were new, and I had no garter or jewellery, so it was a bit tricky…

Is anything about ‘Married Life’ different from ‘Un-Married Life’?

It’s hard to put my finger on what’s different. Manuel and I have only been together just over a year, so we’re still learning things about each other and ironing out the things we do which rub each other up the wrong way. But I feel even more committed to our relationship (and less insecure about it) than I did before we decided to take this stop. I didn’t expect to feel different, necessarily, but found that I did. But mainly I get a huge kick out of calling him ‘husband’ (I can’t yet say it with a straight face) and I like the fact that I’ve gone one step further with him than I ever did with anyone else.

Did you use to write (diary, fiction…) before the blog ? Had you considered being a writer as a child or as a teenager ?

I wrote a diary when I was in my mid teens, which now makes me cringe, and I wrote a lot of letters to friends and family while I was away at university. But other than that, nothing. I dropped English after GCSE (at age 16) and concentrated on languages. I’ve always been an avid reader (my mother will recall the days when I used to borrow 12 books from the library, using my card, her card and my father’s card simultaneously). But I never thought I had a book in me until I’d written 200,000 words on my blog, and realised maybe I did, after all.

What was the reaction of your biological parents? Did they find your blog?

I told them about the blog and sacking a couple of days before the story hit their local newspaper (I was on the cover of the Yorkshire Post a few times). I went back through my entries before I did so and made sure there was nothing there I would feel uncomfortable with them reading. My biological mother has now read the book and dipped into the blog. It does mean I’ll probably steer clear of the subject in future, in the same way I don’t talk about my adoptive family much, as both can be identified by their friends and colleagues and it doesn’t seem fair.

Any idea if there are plans to translate your work into Russian?

I don’t think any Russian publishers came forward to buy translation rights, as yet.

Did you invite both of your parents (I mean both families) to your wedding?

Manuel and I decided (selfishly) to have a low-stress wedding party to which we invited only our friends, so that I wouldn’t have to spend the day wondering if my family were getting on okay with the language/food/each other and feeling out on a limb out because the overwhelming majority of the guests were strangers, French and aged 30-35. I had a separate celebration dinner with my family shortly afterwards in England. I think this worked out well.

Do you still have a good relationship with Mr Frog even though you have moved on?

I do. I’ll always be involved in his life as we have a child in common, and incestuous as it sounds, he’s currently renting an apartment which belongs to my mother-in-law (!) He came to the wedding party for a couple of hours too, which can’t have been especially easy, but I was really pleased he did. There will always be certain taboo subjects, but we remain good friends.

What’s your favourite place in the world apart from Paris?

The only place which has managed to get under my skin in the same way is Italy. I once had an idyllic holiday in Sicily, and a wonderful long weekend in Rome. I think if I’d have learned Italian in place of continuing with German at university, I might well have been tempted to spend a couple of years in Italy…

When will you be coming to South Africa?

I haven’t the faintest idea! I wasn’t called upon to do a great deal of publicity for the book in the territories referred to as ‘The Commonwealth’ on my Penguin contract so it may be that I never will.

Are you in love? Really truly, madly, deeply in love…With writing. Would it hurt you if you couldn’t write? Express your thoughts, feelings, ideas and emotions via the written word. How would you feel if you lost this ability, what would you do?

I love writing, but I don’t know if I’m in love with the writing lifestyle. It’s hard work, it’s solitary and you have to develop a very thick skin (see readers reviews). I’m not in love with the publishing industry. Not that I have any complaints about how I’m being looked after. But when I look at the ‘charts’ in certain English bookshops (misery memoirs, fluff, the book I mentioned above) I’m not sure I feel comfortable being packaged and sold into three for two promotions. I read recently that the average shelf life of a book is somewhere between that of a pint of milk and a yoghurt. When you think how long it takes to write one, it’s a demoralising statistic.

What are the places (museums, restaurants, etc.) in Paris you take new visitors that they shouldn’t miss (should I ever get there)?

I go for a walk starting at Bastille and taking in the place des Vosges, rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marais, with a pause for a falafel rue des Rosiers and ending up at the Pompidou centre to ride the escalators to see the view. From there I head across the river to the Ile de la Cité and the Ile St Louis, and if their feet aren’t too sore, we go for a drink somewhere a bit swanky in St Germain. A tour of my own neighbourhood and favourite local bars is also a must. I happen to think the Bateaux Mouches or Bateaux Parisiens are worth doing if you are on a flying visit as you see a lot of sights from the river, but the commentary can be very irritating. All in all I have a definite preference for walking around and taking regular rests in cafés rather than actually going inside museums etc.

Have you taken on The Boy’s surname?

I haven’t. Partly because his mother is called Catherine and it seems very strange to have exactly the same name as my MIL; partly because I’ll always be known as Sanderson professionally. Although I’ve received some post addressed to Mrs The Boy and it made me feel very odd. The law here states that I will never actually change my surname on official documents, but am free to use his surname in my daily life, should I choose, either alone or attached to mine. The result is that I’m Mrs Sanderson, which feels odd too. Mrs Sanderson, to me, is my mum!

Would you and Manuel always want to live in Paris, or move elsewhere in France or even to another country altogether?

Manuel was born here and has never lived anywhere else, and I love it here and want Tadpole to remain close to her daddy. So I can’t see a scenario where we’d ever leave. If we could afford a holiday cottage, I’d jump at the chance of dividing up my time between Paris and somewhere more rural. Maybe one day, we’ll see…

Did you or Mr. Frog ever regret breaking up and want to reunite?

There were times when I was single and thought I’d never meet anyone I could remotely conceive of living with, when I wondered if I’d made a mistake. But on the whole, I don’t regret it. Tadpole has adjusted to us living apart incredibly well and gets the best of both worlds, and I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long, long time. As for how Mr Frog feels, that’s a taboo question. But I hope not. I think I made his life pretty miserable prior to breaking up.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process? How long did it take to finish the memoir and what is your writing schedule like?

I mapped out ‘petite anglaise’ in advance for the book proposal and then proceeded to write it for about three or four hours per day, every weekday, using the posts I’d written at the time to jog my memory. I delivered it in stages – my editor saw the first third, then the whole book, and then I edited it twice, mostly to write extra scenes and give a couple of the supporting characters stronger roles. I began in September 2006 and delivered the third draft in July 2007, then did some copyediting in the autumn.

For book II, it took a while to get started – mainly because I had to take time out to do American copyediting for petite, and to give various interviews, write articles and go on a press tour for UK hardback publication. I’ve been plodding along reasonably regularly since March/April at a rhythm of about 3,000 words per week. I began with only a very vague outline and stopped to pad it out in detail when I’d got about a third of the way through as it needed taming and shaping. My editor has seen the first half and I hope to deliver the full first draft in October.

On a good day I’d say I re-read the last section/scene and edit it a little, then write 1000 new words. So the first draft isn’t as rough as it could be. The main difference between petite and book II is that I have to sit and think more as I write, as I’m making it all up.

How long do you and your hubbie want to be married before you start trying (for a baby)?

I’d like to deliver book II before I start trying. But I’m about to turn 36 so I don’t want to wait any longer than I have to… (and luckily he’s champing at the bit too).

Do you think writing is definitely your chosen career, and can you picture yourself doing something else in the future?

I’m not looking beyond delivering book II just yet. If I can make a living out of it durably and the ideas keep coming, then yes, I’d love to. But if the ideas dry up or the deals are not forthcoming, I think I’d be thankful I’d had this opportunity, but I’d have no qualms about taking some time out to work out how else I could earn my living. I’m definitely not one of those people who would feel committed to slaving away on a book which might never get published.

If you hadn’t have had Tadpole, do you think you would still be living in France? I would like to know if (and to what extent) you have regrets about leaving England to live as a foreigner?

I don’t have regrets about leaving England. I love to visit, but I don’t feel I could live there any more. I need the extra challenge of living in a foreign language and I love Paris in a way I could never love London, York, Bath or any of the other places I’ve lived or visited. I don’t think Tadpole was the only reason I chose to stay here. I’ve never lived and worked in the UK as an adult and the profession I chose (bilingual secretary) only made sense if I lived here. And nowadays the fact that my books have a Parisian backdrop is a huge part of their appeal…

Do you find yourself moderating/censoring your blog material more often now that you’re married.

My husband has always said I can write precisely what I please on the blog, but you’ll notice I’ve never written a great deal about him, whether it be before or after we tied the knot. I think this is because I learnt lessons about the pitfalls of blogging about a relationship in progress when I was with Jim in Rennes.

What is the new book about?

The new (and as yet untitled) book is about a single mother living in Paris who is trying to work out how to reconcile being a mother and a single woman at the same time. She’s not me, but the subject matter – which I have explored on the blog and towards the end of book II – is very close to my heart. I’m also weaving an online dating strand into her story, which gives me an opportunity to draw on some of the funny, random and disturbing experiences one can have in the online dating world. Some might say I’m playing it safe, but I think it’s a good idea to stick to subjects I feel strongly about while learning the ropes and writing fiction for the first time.

Have people changed towards you since you have become a household name and appeared on telly? Are you getting looked up more on Facebook etc?

A few people from my past suddenly materialised out of thin air and suggested we meet for coffee (in most cases I didn’t). Other than that, my circle of friends in Paris and England consists of people I already knew. My husband met me when I was putting the finishing touches to ‘petite’ and seems very unfazed by my notoriety. I have a lot of ‘friends’ and ‘fans’ on facebook, I get a lot of random emails etc. But really, little has changed. I think if it had, it would have freaked me out.

Petite, I wondered what advice you might give to expat bloggers who are interested in writing and publishing a book about their experience in their new home.

I’d say write a blog! The only way you can work out if you have a story to tell that will interest others is to get stuck in.

Madame Bovary or Les Misérables?

‘Madame Bovary’. Because I must confess I never actually got around to reading ‘Les Misérables’. My favourite French book remains ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’.

Do you still listen to New Order

I do, occasionally. And if I hear them at a party I’m on the dancefloor immediately. The Boy had never heard of them. What a difference five years can make.

What is your favourite shop in Le Marais?

All my favourites are in the Marais. Et Vous, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Les Petites, Ted Baker (English, I know), Zadig et Voltaire, Sandro…

When you broke up with Mr. Frog did you do so in French or English?

I’m not entirely sure. Now that I’ve written that scene in the book in English, my memory is all skewed. I think it was in English though. He may have replied in French.

Every time your book is published in another language/country do you get more money?

A little. The main deal was with Penguin for Uk and Commonwealth. For every territory outside of that I signed a separate contract. Some (USA, Canada, Germany) involved fairly significant sums, while others were symbolic (Iceland and Israel were for 1000 euros, which after agent and tax fees will be about € 400). But the smaller the deal, the greater the chance of earning royalties if the book sells. In all cases it’s far too early to be getting royalty statements as yet.

What is Tadpole’s current favourite book?

Tadpole has emerged from her obsessive Charlie and Lola phase and her tastes are more eclectic. A personal favourite of mine is ‘Princess Smartypants’ by Babette Cole.

Do you sometimes regret your pre-blog life?


What is your favourite neighbourhood bistro or restaurant?

I can often be found drinking coffee/beer at Aux Folies in Belleville. And I love the Shanghai noodles in the tiny Salon de Thé Wen Zhou a few doors up.

Please name your 3 favourite authors.

Ooh. Difficult to narrow it down to three. But I’ll say William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, Maggie O’Farrell. All very different!

Do you still ever do expat and/or blogger meetings in Paris?

It’s been a while since I organised one (a year or so, I think). Other blogger friends of mine organise picnics and stuff like that (Katia and Kylie Mac of the K&K podcast, to name but one). I felt kind of weird about doing it as I didn’t want to be perceived as some sort of Queen Bee showing off about her good fortune…

Why as a self-confessed francophile do you say that Sicily is your favourite place that you’ve been to? What was it about the place that captured you?

I had an idyllic two week holiday there. It was my first holiday with Mr Frog, first expensive holiday since I got a proper job, and it was stunningly beautiful. I’m a sucker for ‘old stones’ – as a child I wanted to be an archaeologist – and there are so many ruined Greek temples and amphitheatres in Sicily, it’s an amazing place. I’d love to go back, but I fear the tourist industry may be more invasive now than it was when I visited ten years ago.

How did you find living / sharing a house with the french at the beginning? How do you find them now towards you? Did they treat you just the same as a french person when looking for work?

I never actually shared a house with French people aside from a brief stint renting a room from a family when I taught in Rouen. I didn’t have to compete with the French for work, either, as I used bilingual secretarial agencies to find work and was put forward for jobs aimed at EMT candidates. I initially found it hard to make French friends both at work and outside work, as I find the French are much more likely to hold tightly onto their friends from school or university and are less receptive to making new friends later in life or socialising with work colleagues outside the office.

How do you find the men there compared to English men?.

Gah. I’m not sure it’s helpful to generalise. The only marked difference I’ve noted (mum, please put your hands over your eyes) is a fixation on anal sex. Ahem. Did I really write that?

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