The Window They Give Us 5

June 22, 2017

It wasn’t hard to think of a subject to explore from A French Wedding because, while there are many I could chase down a rabbit hole (Pastries! Seaside villages! Lost loves!), there was one that whispered to me the whole read through: old friends. The people who knew you when, and know how you’ve changed. They hold a key to your development just by having witnessed its progression in a way you’ve never had access to. There’s something so disarming and vital about that.

 

 

Two thoughts came to mind as I read. One comes from Glennon Doyle, who signs many of her social media posts with We belong to each other. The other is from my grandmother: If only we could see ourselves as others see us.

The characters in A French Wedding are at that bittersweet moment when you’re staring at half your life behind you, wondering how you could have been that young person your friends remember. Rosie questions her choices in marriage, Max wonders why he’s waited so long to tell Helen how he feels, Juliette is bewildered by how she got to where she is, haunted by her past. In the course of the story, they all get parts of themselves refracted and bounced back to them by those closest to them—the people who have loved them for ages, listened and helped and infuriated. I kept thinking about this—the idea that we can’t be complete unless we are connected to others. And that if we could only see what others see in us, we might give ourselves a break, we might be able to still the demons of self-destruction or torment. All this sat with me after I finished the last page.

So I asked a few dear friends, women who’ve know me since I was just fledged, to reflect back to me their memories of how—and who—I’d been in my early twenties. And their responses were like a window into a forgotten part of me. A window with a completely familiar, but somehow shocking, view. Oh right. I was like that. Huh.

They said I was feisty, self-assured, driven. Spontaneous. Full of energy. Hardworking, in it 100%. Slightly obsessed with my hair.

 

 

I realized how long it’s been since anyone offered me adjectives about myself.

I am tired now. My spontaneity has been worn paper-thin by my little ones. My confidence comes and goes in tides. Sometimes there is no feistiness in my life except for Feist. So hearing this feedback is bittersweet—where has that young woman gone and how quietly did she disappear? But I’m so grateful to hold these descriptors up against my skin and see how they look, now that I’m here. They still work on me, I think, maybe with a little maneuvering.

Those dear friends and I, we belonged to each other then, and even though we are now separated by distance and busyness and the mind-traps of life, we still hold each other up. I’m so grateful to them for answering and sharing and pushing me forward.

And this is what A French Wedding stirs in me the most. Remembering who we were, helping others do the same, and stumbling along as pieces of ourselves grow and expand and slough off.  I’m so glad this story is out in the world; it’s reminded me to be grateful for the friends who make up my world. Thank you, Christina, Kirsti, and thank you, Hannah, for writing the words that inspired these thoughts.

 

XO

Ria

 

A French Wedding, published by Doubleday, launched June 6th in the U.S. and Canada. For the month of June we are  celebrating the themes of the book with posts about France, feasting, friendships and family.

 

To win two copies of the book – one for you and one for your favourite reading partner – go to the Fork & Fiction Instagram or Facebook page and don’t forget to tag a friend. Winners drawn and announced Sunday 25th June.

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The french pastry you’ve never heard of. 2

June 14, 2017

 

Is it a croissant? Is it a brioche? Is it a kind of donut?! Nope, it’s kouign-amann.

 

My romance with kouign-amann began with a hunt for the setting for my next novel. Already a Francophile I had a few ideas about where I wanted to set A French Wedding but needed a specific location. The story of a group of old college friends, gathering together to celebrate the fortieth birthday of one of their own – musician Max, who relocated from London to Paris – required a setting that wasn’t too flashy, a bit rough around the edges. Not too far from Paris (an easy drive for a man who likes fast cars) and by a beach but not one that is too pretty or too full of tourists. A village where people turn when a foreigner walks in the door to the pub, who have unpolished, unpretentious lives, who buy their food from the local market not because it is trendy but because it’s what generations before them did, because it is practical. Real people.

 

Dordogne and Brittany were top of my hit-list, two of my favourite regions in France. Dordogne was quickly ruled out because of the lack of beach. Why I needed a beach I’m not quite sure; but the story just didn’t make sense to me without one. Armed with my laundry list of needs, I met with a friend of a friend, a French teacher, Veronique, and discussed my desire for just the right setting. Perfectly, Veronique turned out to be from Brittany. We hunched over a map as she described the various parts of Brittany. The Finistere region is so west it is considered to be “the end of the world” and I loved it immediately from Veronique’s descriptions. Small, rugged villages with locals who fish for sardines, with inclement weather and few tourists. I scrawled down all the places Veronique mentioned. One of those villages, Douarnenez, is known for a particular kind of pastry – kouign-amann. To say that my ears pricked up at this is an understatement.

 

 

Kouign-amann originated in Douarnenez. It is made simply with butter, sugar and dough, but tastes, like all simple, traditional French treats, exquisite. Sweeter and toothier than a croissant, less bready and more caramel than brioche. Unfussy and delicious. The name translates to “butter cake” in the local Breton language and kouign-amann can be found in most bakeries and at local weekend markets. During a research trip (more on that soon!) we visited Treboul market in Douarnenez and encountered a row of sizzling cast iron saucepans, each filled with kouign-amann, the contents still bubbling and blistering with butter and sugar. The smell was unreal. Though sometimes served in individual portions, like the one pictured above, all the kouign-amann I ate in Douarnenez were wedges cut from a larger circle. They were dense and sweet and crisp-topped. The pieces I couldn’t manage to finish left dark, grease shadows in their paper bags. My husband, Matt, wasn’t too sure about travelling to the other side of the world motivated by a pastry. But after eating his first kouign-amann declared that “this might be the best thing I have ever eaten”.

Have you heard of kouign-amann? Have you tried it? Are you part of the smug club that knows and loves it?

 

With love,

Hannah

 

A French Wedding, published by Doubleday, launched June 6th in the U.S. and Canada. For the month of June we are going to be celebrating the themes of the book with posts about France, feasting, friendships and family.

 

To win two copies of the book – one for you and one for your favourite reading partner – go to the Fork & Fiction Instagram or Facebook page and don’t forget to tag a friend. Winners drawn and announced Sunday 25th June.

 

*Kouign-amann tips! For Auckland / NZ-based folk I recommend the kouign-amann at Rendez-vous café, located next to The Pumphouse theatre in Takapuna. For Sydney / Australia-based folk I recommend the kouign-amann from Sonoma bakery. The latter is served “American style” – in individual portions with custard and a little jam.

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A French Wedding – She’s here! 4

June 7, 2017

Here at last, A French Wedding has hit the bookshelves in the U.S. and Canada. I had absolutely nothing to do with the beautiful cover so it’s not immodest of me to say “Isn’t she gorgeous?!” Don’t you just want to pull out a chair and join the scene, under the trees and the festoon lights?

 

 

I am hugely indebted to the team at Doubleday and Penguin Random House who not only made the cover gorgeous but helped make the contents shine as well. I have been so supported by Melissa Danaczko and Margo Shickmanter who are a dream duo to work with – wise, encouraging, funny and kind. Add to that all the copyeditors, proofreaders, typesetters, designers, supporters and cheerleaders who worked so very tirelessly – I really could not have wished for a better crew. I’m very grateful to Catherine Drayton, my agent with Inkwell Management, who played matchmaker and set us up (I’m underplaying it here, she does a great deal more but she does it with such competent, no-fuss grace that she makes it seem easy).

 

It requires a lot of work, from many people, to get a book onto shelves. I am so thankful for each and every person who played a role in getting A French Wedding to her readers. I’ve already had photographs of the book on shelves in Calgary and New York City. I love seeing where my books end up so please feel free to send me a snap via the contact form, Facebook or Instagram. Word is that A French Wedding makes a great companion for a summer holiday…

 

To celebrate A French Wedding and to get a copy onto your bookshelf I have two books from Doubleday to give away to U.S. / Canadian readers. It’s super simple. All you have to do is head to our Facebook page or Instagram page, like or follow and tag in your favourite book buddy in a comment. This novel is all about friends so don’t forget that last part – you could make someone very happy.

 

With love and thanks to all those who continue to make this writer’s dreams come true,

Bons baisers, 

Hannah x

 

P.S. For my dear New Zealand and Australian readers, who had A French Wedding, published by Pan Macmillan Australia well before their North American counterparts had their own version, thank you so much for all your support and apologies for any confusion. I’m going to try and figure out a personal giveaway for you folk, of this lovely edition with its gorgeous hardback cover, because, well, I love ya. So please stay tuned! x

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My new book-baby 3

June 5, 2017

 

Elizabeth Gilbert (superstar author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear) suggests that we don’t call our books “our babies”. It’s not all that helpful or healthy to be so attached to your work output that you assign it the same importance as a human infant. Liz is right, of course (she usually is) and yet it’s hard not to have some similar feelings. Protectiveness being high up on the list.

 

It’s not that us authors think our books are perfect. Much as we don’t think our own children are perfect (sorry girls). In fact a lot of the time they drive us crazy. Tearing-out-hair-crazy. But we also don’t want to see them bullied in the playground, called names or disregarded. We want them to find their own tribe. A crew of good friends who stick up for them, appreciate them for who they are, not desire them to be different or better, who love them for who they are, flaws and all. We simply want the best for them.

 

As per my first two book-babies (The Color of Tea and Season of Salt and Honey) I wrote my latest book-baby – A French Wedding – with the idea of creating a story I would like to read. In this case – a story for the kind of person who is intrigued by the dynamics of old friendships, the tension of a romantic crush about to be confessed, who likes to feast, drink good wine and longs for long lunches in France (served up with a hint of mystery). Set in Brittany, France, A French Wedding is the daydream you have while folding laundry and wishing for elsewhere; it is about gathering to celebrate a birthday, visiting local village markets, walking the wild beaches and laughing and singing into the night. The story begins with a wedding, but you don’t find out whose wedding until the end of the book, when the fates of birthday boy Max, best friend Helen, unhappy Rosie, French chef Juliette and the rest of the friends, become clear. It’s a book for Francophiles and foodies, lovers and friends.

 

I have to say that it is as odd to have three books out in the world as it is to have three daughters in the world. It’s exciting. It’s surprising. It can be downright discombobulating. Those of you with children will know the feeling of sheer disorientation when you observe your offspring from a distance and have to remind yourself that yes, you helped make that. It seems impossible. Though you know it to be true and still poignantly remember all those hours rocking and willing them to sleep, allaying fears, entertaining, feeding, encouraging, coaxing and scolding. You probably had some not-great moments amongst the raising – of confusion, frustration and exhaustion. Moments when you wondered if you were the right person for the task and if your babies deserved better. But yes, ultimately, they are yours.

 

As with babies, the days spent with a book manuscript often feel impossibly long and endless. Edit after edit after edit, day after day after day, the publication date so far on the horizon it seems unreal. And then, suddenly, here it is. “Pub day”, as they refer to it, for A French Wedding is almost here! A monumental day when nothing actually happens and you walk around in your everyday life lurching between feeling smug, numb and anxious. Not too dissimilar to the sensation I had when I was finally able to leave my girls in childcare for the first time. “Oh thank goodness! I think…?”

 

But, despite the emotional evidence, Elizabeth Gilbert is right to warn against comparing books to babies. They’re not and we shouldn’t get so silly and precious about them. You do your best work, you put your work out there, you wish for it to find its place, for it to resonate. Liz masterfully unravels my flawed comparison with one slam-dunk quote that puts it all into perspective – “Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its baby.” Ah, yes, so right. From “pub day” with one book we go on to the next book. Stepping forward with all those lessons we have learned, moving on as a different person, a different writer than we were before. Thankful for the experience with those characters, in that setting, who taught us so much, who become so dear. Discovering that it’s not us shaping the books, but the books shaping us, in various and unexpected ways.

 

Love,

Hannah

 

A French Wedding, published by Doubleday, launches in the U.S. and Canada on June 6th. Here at Fork & Fiction we are going to be celebrating the themes of the book with posts about France, feasting, friendships and family over this month. PLUS, we have two copies of the book to give away to U.S. and Canadian fans! One for you and one for your favourite reading buddy. Go to the Fork and Fiction Facebook Page or the Fork and Fiction Instagram Page from June 6th to find out more. 

 

If you would like to buy your own copy of A French Wedding click here. If you would like to see a brilliant interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, exploring her views on creativity, writing and life in general click here. Thank you, x

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Accidental Greatness 0

May 31, 2017

We have been getting up early in our new house. Really early. And not by choice. Our soon-to-be three-year-old (aka The Tiger) has decided he is a morning person in the most yawn-inducing way. He’s now sharing a room with his older sister, so we can’t just send him back in to play or chat to himself like we used to in our old house. One of us has to get up. At 5am.

I’ve discovered that after the initial shock and rubbing of heavy eyelids, I’m quite an early morning person. Helps that it’s summer and all the days he’s chosen to wake us up have been blue sky, golden light mornings. But even as I grouse about the lack of sleep and how exhausted I am by 9pm, I’m enjoying the still, quiet mornings.

Our new house is a ten minute walk from the beach and the other day The Tiger and I wandered down there–he exclaiming at every car that drove past (colour and size being the most important details). The sea looked almost motionless and the air was salty and sharp with the smell of seaweed. A few ducks drifted across the glassy water. Down the beach, a woman did yoga beside her sunbathing dog. Gulls called.

It was exactly where I was glad to be.

 

 

And the same happened at lunch a few days later, when I overcooked some white beans and couldn’t use them for their original purpose. I tossed them with roast veg and made a dressing based on this one I wrote about, and it was the best warm salad I’ve had in years. The kids ate carrot sticks and cheese and crackers and I devoured a bowl and a half of accidental greatness. Below is the recipe, which isn’t much more than a combining of things already made, but here you go.

 

Roasted Vegetable and White Bean Salad

Ingredients

About two cookie sheets’ worth of cut roast vegetables (I used carrots, green beans, onion, beets and cauliflower)

2 1/2 cups cooked white (navy) beans

1 recipe basil viniagrette (I didn’t have enough basil so subbed half chives and it was delicious)

 

Combine everything in a large bowl while the roast veg and beans are still warm (but not hot). Toss to coat with the dressing. Serve at room temperature or warmer.

 

 

 

Early wake-ups, unexpected recipes–these things happen. I’m so glad they do.

XO

Ria

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