Category — Writing

Dear Inspiration 4

October 10, 2017

Dear Inspiration,

 

I have been waiting. I have been waiting for some time. You will come, I thought…

 

 

Previously, I put down one thing, finished one project and there you were. I thought to myself – “See? This is how it works, this is how it is.” I show up and you show up and we toil. It’s easy! That’s what the books say, that’s what the others say. Do your job. Don’t be lazy. Don’t wait. Show up. Don’t be lazy. It’s so very simple.

I guess our marriage was young then.

 

When I laid down the last project I looked for you to arrive. Waited for your handsome head, around the corner, for you to be waving at me from the other side of the café, wearing your rough clothes, wearing your work overalls, wearing your best grin – “Hello! You’re done with that? Finally. Come on then!” But you weren’t there.

There was no sign of you.

 

I called your place. I looked for you in the usual spots. I made us tea and cake. I ate my cake.

I ate your cake too.

 

And then I thought, I’ll pretend to work. That’ll do it. That’ll teach you. Sitting about, tippy-tapping on my keyboard. Look! I’m working! I’d start out full of optimism, full of bluster, thinking I could simply work without you. It looked good from the outside.

But on the page everything went to gsufiagwuigrblhjbvjsfkbv;j.

 

Let me just confirm, I haven’t just been waiting waiting (or just fake-working)…I keep myself busy. I read books. I read self-help books. I read writing books. I grow poppies in the garden. I tidy my wardrobe. I get **** done! Sometimes I even go to the gym. I’m active. But I hate going to the gym without you, without a writing project running through my head. Everyone at the gym looks like they’ve had their insides squeezed out of them, their souls that is, and the music is bad and it smells of taken-off-shoes and damp crotches. I don’t love working out and I hate being unproductive. I’m so attached now to making, to producing, to being busy and purposeful. Damn it. Damn you.

 

I thought, perhaps, that you might be in disguise. Maybe you had a haircut. Maybe I just didn’t recognize you. With that possibility / hope in mind I have been going to different places, paying close attention and making notes. I’ve become a Private Investigator, looking for you. But study them as I might, you are not in the notes and not in the photographs. I’m starting to wonder if this is a Missing Persons case or a Homicide. Either way, I’m no good at Nordic Noir, so we are both in trouble.

 

I miss you. Like I said, I thought we had a thing. I am ready now you aren’t here and it doesn’t feel great. It feels dark and hollow and a bit scary, if I am being completely honest. I thought I was okay, I thought I was fine, but now I’m wondering who I am without you. Will I be without you forever? What kind of me will I be without you? Will your absence itch and burn and continue to ache like a phantom limb? I’m just not sure I can be without you now I’ve gotten so used to you.

Now that I have grown to love you.

 

What I am saying is – please come back. I’m not stupid, I know something has changed, something has shifted. Our marriage is no longer so young. Any misunderstanding I will fix. I will listen. I can mend my ways. I won’t take you for granted. But I cannot change while you give me the silent treatment, while you play your vanishing act. Please come back. We will talk it through.

 

With love, Hannah

In: From Hannah, Writing

Come with me to Brittany… 2

July 1, 2017

 

I recently received this lovely note from a reader, Sandi, regarding A French Wedding: ‘Wonderful book. My husband was from Brittany and we enjoyed Douarnenez every summer. His Aunt’s seafood platter and Kouign-Amann was amazing. Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories.’

 

It’s such a joy (and relief) to hear from readers who give the thumbs-up on your depiction of a setting. Because places are so dear to us it’s impossible to completely capture them in a way that will satisfy everyone. This was always going to be a challenge for the location of Douarnenez, where A French Wedding is set – trying to get it right for those who know and love Brittany as much as I do, painting the right kind of picture for those who haven’t yet been. Too much fondness applied and it becomes too saccharine, a pinch too much cynicism and fictional Brittany is suddenly bleaker than its weather.

 

 

As I mentioned in my last post about it’s famous pastry, the more I learned about Douarnenez – its tiny size, its rugged geography, its fishing industry, its history and folklore – the more I knew it was where A French Wedding needed to be set. Douarnenez is exactly where Juliette would come from and where she would go back to after living in Paris, bereft and in search of, well, herself. And, of course, Max – British, wealthy, famous and similarly lost – would buy a cottage on the coast and transform it into the kind of holiday house worth showing off to friends – full of glass and brass and large wooden tables ready for entertaining.

 

 

I took these photos of Douarnenez on a research trip back in 2015, with my family in tow. We had just come from Korcula in Croatia, where the Adriatic sea glittered and the sun shone white and hot, so Douarnenez was a stark contrast. Always a fan of the underdog, I loved the town. I loved the stone houses in the village clustered around the oily marina, the gulls riding the thermals, even the brooding grey of the sky. We stayed in an incredible, ancient home – Manoir de Kerdanet – run by Sid and Monique, eating Far Breton for breakfast and sipping local cider in the evenings while Monique told us the local myths and history. We went to the local markets and ate all the local produce we could find including cheeses, salt-marsh lamb and the incomparable kouign-amann. One night we went out to a restaurant perched on a cliff’s edge and devoured fresh lobster baked in glossy copper pots, as the mist rolled in towards us.

 

The trip was validation that I had chosen the right place for Max to celebrate his fortieth birthday and set the story for A French Wedding. I had been seeking somewhere small, coastal, historical, unpolished and real, wild even – and Douarnenez ticked all the boxes.

 

Have you been to Brittany? Did you love it?

Love,
Hannah

In: Food, From Hannah, Travel, Writing

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.

In: Books & Reading, From Ria, Writing

The french pastry you’ve never heard of. 5

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.

In: Food, From Hannah, Markets & Food Stores, Travel, Writing

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

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Writing