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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Jennifer Andrewes talks about Parallel Lives

Updated: May 1, 2019

As a child, Dunedin-born Jennifer spent time living in France kicking off a life-long love affair with the country. A communications professional, she has worked in tourism and government roles both here and in the UK, as well as undergoing stints as a freelance travel writer. Her blog on the family’s French adventure was widely enjoyed and it was prompting from readers that led Jennifer to write a book about the family’s experiences. Jennifer talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Parallel Lives.

Like so many people who dream about living in another country, we had spent years talking about it, without taking much action. Finally, as our eldest approached high school age, we realised that if we were going to do it, we would have to make it happen. There would never be a perfect time! In 2014 we spent three months of my maternity leave with our third son, living in an apartment above a café in the old town of Quillan, population 3,500. We returned to New Zealand with our three boys, then 11, 9 and 9 months, enriched by the experience, but left a piece of our heart nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. In 2016 we returned to Quillan to run a B&B and now spend time there regularly. We’re still trying to work out how to sustain a long-term ‘parallel life’, living between New Zealand and France.

What inspired you to write this book?

Ahead of our first big adventure we started a blog. We wanted a way to keep our family and friends update on our travels and thought it would be an engaging way for the boys to keep a diary of their experiences. Because we were not very skilled in such things at the time, we accidentally made it public and before we could fix the issue, discovered people had started ‘following’ our posts. The blog quickly became popular with friends, colleagues and complete strangers and it was prompting from readers that led me to write the book.

What research was involved?

The great thing about the nature of this book, is that it is very much based on our time and experiences in France, centred on the beautiful but relatively unknown region of the Aude. So in some ways, ‘research’ involved little more than getting out and about, and on with our daily lives. This made for daily adventures. But, as I quickly discovered, a book is a very different beast from a blog. The opportunity to run a B&B for friends of ours was also the opportunity to base myself back in the Pyrenees and immerse myself in the pleasures of daily life in a French village – and to become part of the community, while writing. Not too stressful as far as research is concerned!

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

In 2016, I took our middle son back to Quillan and, while he was in school, I ran the bed and breakfast and wrote the book. Typically this meant rising early, getting him off to class, making breakfast for the guests, seeing them off, cleaning and laundering. After a coffee and a stroll to the local boulangerie for a pastry, I might get in an hour or so of writing before lunch. In the afternoon, I might get another three hours in, but typically I would tap away at it in the quiet of evening, after my son was off to bed. I had imagined myself getting solid writing done during the hours of school, but the school week was pretty broken up with long lunch breaks, half days and public holidays, so I had to be as much opportunistic as carefully planned about it.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Nothing reminds me more of holidays in the south of France than ‘Minor Swing’ from Rachel Portman’s Soundtrack to Chocolat. Or anything from the ‘So Frenchy, So Chic’ soundtracks.‘When you come back home’ by the Front Lawn was something we played for our boys when they were finding French school life tough.Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne Regrette Rien’ would be appropriate given how much we anguished over whether to buy a house or not. Having finally done so, we have not regretted it for a minute. Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Welcome Home’ epitomises the feeling we have when we land back in New Zealand after a time away. No matter how welcome we are in France, New Zealand always feels like ‘home’.

A bit of an eclectic mix!

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

My husband says he would definitely have Kate Winslet play me – or possibly Juliette Binoche. As for who would play him, the choice is less clear. A left field suggestion by colleagues was Temuera Morrison. Actually, that combination could work quite nicely.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I most loved the opportunity (excuse?) that writing this book gave me to step out of my normal busy working life, breathe and write. I quit my job! It was such a treat to wake slowly to the mist rising, settle in, reflect and write. My favourite spot for writing was at the kitchen table with a coffee or a wine in hand, looking out the window to the old town square and the hills for inspiration. The book wrote itself. Editing was another story!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

It was pretty special when actual, tangible hard copies of the book arrived in boxes from the printer. I’d not dared to get too excited up until then, but I may have had a glass or two of French champagne when they were finally in my hands.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I recently visited the fabulous bookshop ‘Hill of Content’ in Melbourne and spent a happy couple of hours browsing their travel section. I’m a bit obsessed with travel writing, particularly France-based books of course, but equally Italy and Spain. I picked up a couple of treasures, including my current favourite: A Slow Walk across Spain, by Karen Mainwaring. The Camino de Santiago has always appealed and is very much on my bucket list now that we have a base in the Pyrenees. I’ve read a few tales from pilgrims from different perspectives, but what I love about this book is the mix of engaging storytelling and practical guidance without being a ‘how to’ guide – a balance I’ve tried to achieve with Parallel Lives.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Readers frequently ask me when I’m writing another book. Self-publishing is hard work, so I’d like to get this one ‘out of the way’ first but maybe, down the track, there’s a sequel in the mix. For now, I’m busy planning book promotion events round the country and looking forward to our next stint in France, later this year.



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