Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Julia Stagg has lived in Australia, Japan and the US, although her time in Charlotte, North Carolina, was thanks to her husband’s work. When the two finally returned to the UK, they decided to develop a business together that would afford Julia time to write.
This led to the couple buying an Auberge in the Ariège-Pyrénées, even though neither spoke French … nor knew how to cook. Despite this, the inn gave Julia and her husband an advantage: “It brought the village to us,” she says.
“A turning point was about four months after we arrived. There was a knock on the door and three of the village men asked if we could accommodate an informal party.”
At least that’s what Julia had understood. It turned out that les mecs needed a large place to make polenta, a tradition during pig-killing season when one villager shares his pig with every neighbour by separating the parts with the grain-based dish. Four weeks later, someone else has the honour of poking the pig and so on. It was the start of an endearing friendship.
L’Auberge (UK: Hodder & Stoughton), which came out May 2011, is a fictitious account of les anglais who purchase an Auberge in the town of Fogas, in the French Pyrénées. The cast of characters makes for familiar reading for any foreigner who has ever lived in France – the owner of the only épicerie, the farmer living with his parents, the single mother, the post mistress, and of course the mayor to throw in a little Système D for good measure.
“I planned to write five books, each with the name of a French institution – like Auberge, Boulangerie, La Poste – within a commune,” Julia tells us. “The French words posed a few problems for the English so that’s been changed, otherwise each story follows a different character in the village of Fogas.”
I was surprisingly charmed by l’Auberge; I felt as though I was eating comfort food on a chilly winter’s day.
L’Auberge is published in seven languages. What does Julia, who has become an avid cyclist, feel is the key to her success? “The writing is fiction, and I’m the storyteller. So many people think that just because they move to France they should write a book. It’s just not true. Not everyone has an interesting story, nor the ability to tell the tale. And writing is a disciplined work that must be constantly crafted.”
The third instalment in Julia’s Fogas series, The French Postmistress, is due out in paperback in September 2013.