Interview with Piu Marie Eatwell, author of They Eat Horses Don’t They?
The Riviera Reporter interviews Piu Marie Eatwell, author of They Eat Horses Don’t They? The Truth About the French (UK: Head of Zeus), her first non-fiction book.
Riviera Reporter: Did one specific “myth” plant the seed for They Eat Horses, or was it a series of points that accumulated over time in your mind?
Piu Marie Eatwell: The myths that annoyed me most, and which really inspired the desire to expose them in this book - along with investigating other French myths - were those that “French women don’t get fat” and “French children don’t throw food”. It seemed to me that not only were some expats making a great deal of money churning out these (incorrect) assertions, but that they were also making non-French women feel inadequate. Not only are we all fat and ugly, but we can’t raise children either! The fact is that French women are (increasingly) getting fatter, apart from a mainly Parisian and bourgeois minority; and that French children do have tantrums over eating their steak au poivre. After all, French kids recently came bottom out of a recent European survey for discipline in class. Time to re-think the clichés, non?
Riviera Reporter: The book includes very recent facts (Horsegate, DSK). How long did it take you from start to finish to produce They Eat Horses?
Piu Marie Eatwell: This is quite a tricky question to answer, as the book had to go through many drafts and revisions before I finally felt I had captured the right tone. Part of the difficulty was that the book had to be serious and factual – I really wanted to get away from the whimsical, jokey tone that has characterised this type of “expat” book about the French up to now – but it had to be entertaining and fun to read, as well. Finally, the editor and I hit on the idea of including lots of snippets of information and quotations, along with illustrations, to give it a quirky feel, whilst still keeping the serious content. In all, it must have taken just over a year to complete, from the first draft to the final edit. The “horsegate” scandal hit mid-way in writing the book so of course I had to re-write the “French eat horsemeat” chapter in the wake of it, and in fact I was updating the book with new info all along, as I was determined to make it as up-to-the-minute as possible. My editor eventually put his foot down about further updates as the book was just going to press!
Riviera Reporter: What was the most surprising piece of information that you came across during your research?
Piu Marie Eatwell: The fact that France is the number one market for McDonalds after America!
Riviera Reporter: Which character trait of the French do you feel is least likely to ever change?
Piu Marie Eatwell: I think the French will always be a more conservative society, more rule-abiding and attached to the “norm” than the free-wheeling, free-marketing, and individualistic Anglo-Saxons.
Riviera Reporter: Do you have any plans for future books on France and the French?
Piu Marie Eatwell: I do have some ideas for future books about the French, but I only want to write a book that’s needed (which I think this one was). I have no desire to add to the existing deluge of tomes on how to discover your inner Frenchwoman, “Breakfast in Paris with recipes”, or falling in love with a French mechanic in the Dordogne, etc. If there’s room for more hard-hitting and investigative, albeit entertaining explorations of contemporary France, I’m up for it! My next book, however (planned for publication next autumn) is very different – true crime in Victorian England! Although it does also have a myth-busting, investigative approach to the subject…