Between the Scottish mist and the endless sun of the French Riviera, there is a thin line. Like her compatriot Robert Louis Stevenson, award-winning author Jenny Colgan said goodbye to her beautiful native country to settle in the South of France, to pursue her career and raise her three children.
“My husband Andrew, a marine engineer, works in the yachting industry and there were three places in the world we could live. Palma doesn’t really suit me; Florida is too far away from my family and France is … perfect.”
Having grown up in the UK, Jenny had basic school French. So when she arrived in France, she took a couple of courses, hired a teacher and practiced as much as possible, relying on her friends. “Many are parents of my children’s friends and they were so patient and friendly, particularly when I was starting out. I still make loads of mistakes but I get by.”
Moving suddenly from one country to another, with different cultures, languages, and way of life, can be difficult. For Jenny, this was not the case and, as many Brits before her, she fell in love with the region. “I really love the weather. I enjoy the communal way of eating and being together, and then there’s the beauty of the landscape. Plus I appreciate the school system, the children are well-behaved and eat well,” she explains. Yet, she does admit the French way of life isn’t perfect. “For every person who gives polite and helpful service at the post office or local shop, there is someone who, shall we say, does not!”
Nevertheless, if the reality is that people aren’t nice, Jenny just has to grab her computer and escape to her chick-lit novels, which is what she did in 2013.
While literati tend to praise Paris as a beautiful, simple, romantic place, Jenny didn’t have exactly the same experience. “I think Paris can be quite difficult for a newcomer. You’re told it’s going to be really fabulous, but it can also be confusing and a bit abrupt. With my 2013 book The Loveliest Chocolate Shop In Paris [UK: Sphere], I wanted to write about the city’s charming side.”
For Jenny Colgan, writing has always been a passion. Graduating from the University of Edinburgh, she found work in a hospital. But two years later, in 2000, she wrote her first novel, Amanda’s Wedding (UK: HarpersCollins), and quit her job to become a full-time writer, a career she felt destined to do. “I think every writer was a reader first. At the age of about four, I was reading obsessively. So, it was just a natural progression from that really: writing is the closest thing you can do to reading full-time for a job.”
In fourteen years, Jenny has been quite prolific. She has written more than fifteen books, nowadays at a rate of two novels a year. Don’t expect to find a tricky plot with a philosophical, headache-inducing ending. Jenny’s stories are about women suddenly facing a huge problem but instead of giving up, they find strength from within and work hard to succeed and find love. Yes, Jenny’s novels are all about love. They’re fun and entertaining … the formula works.
Her novels are best sellers in UK. And as her well-adored characters attract a larger fan base, she is more quickly putting out a sequel. “As long as people want to read my stories, I’ll keep writing for them. I like going back and revisiting the characters. The only problem is that I keep forgetting how old the children are meant to be and how kids talk at different ages!”
In her latest book, The Little Beach Street Bakery (UK: Sphere), published March 2014, a new character was introduced: Neil the puffin. This tiny, cute, Twitter-friendly bird immediately won people’s hearts and has become such a phenomenon that next year, he will be the hero of his own children’s novel, out just in time for Mother’s Day.
As a true fan of science fiction, Jenny is preparing for a new rendezvous with the world’s most famous alien doctor, “Doctor Who”. After the success of her 2012 tie-in novel, she published a follow-up last January and is now gearing up for a third book.
Surprisingly with all these projects on the pipeline, being translated into French is not one of them. When talking with Jenny, she admits she was in touch with a French publishing house a couple of years ago but in the end nothing happened because of the genre of her novels. “Literature is taken more seriously in France and writers are treated as artists, which they aren’t in the UK particularly,” she shares. “I don’t sell well in France because I write what they call here livres de gare – in the UK, chick-lit – and the genre isn’t popular.” Jenny further observes: “There are lovely bookshops and books are much more expensive in France. It’s nice, but I don’t see as many book clubs or as many people who share their reading, and I wonder why that is?”
And, according to Jenny, it’s not easy being a novelist in 2014. “It’s hard to be a writer these days. Books are being devalued, advances are down; reading itself is in danger of being annihilated by smartphones.”
While cakes and sweets may be a theme in her recent novels, there are some Jenny doesn’t like – even if they’re virtual. “Candy Crush makes me sad. All those billions of human hours that could have been laughing or crying or gasping with a book, all flicked away.”
Jenny Colgan won the 2012 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance with Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (also a Sunday Times Top Ten Best Seller). See www.jennycolgan.com
Elodie Peyrano is a recent graduate of Nice’s École du Journalisme and writes for http://linfotoutcourt.com This is her first article in English.
Why bestselling Jenny Colgan’s a write-off for the French
- Elodie Peyrano