A Literary World: An Interview with Annemarie Rawson
A Literary World
An Interview with Annemarie Rawson
My guest today is someone I first met because of our shared love of France. Annemarie Rawson is a New Zealander who, together with her husband, Steve, packed up the house later in life, rented it out, kissed her family and friends goodbye, and moved 12,000 km to South-West France to work as estate managers for several private families – swapping corporate, city life for animal husbandry and the glorious French countryside. Indeed, she has a quote on her blog by the 14th-century intrepid traveller himself, Ibn Battuta, which sums it up – “Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”. I can vouch for that. Annemarie’s first book, My French Platter: A Journey to a Dream Life in France hit the No. 1 Best Seller charts in French Travel. A glorious start to a writing career.
1. Welcome to A Literary World, Annemarie. Tell us about yourself? When did you decide to become an author?
I have a secretarial/office manager background and continued with this throughout my life, fitting in with having two children and travelling.
I became an author by default really. I’d written blogs and emails to family and friends while travelling and many had said I should write a book as they’d so enjoyed sitting down with a coffee or glass of wine to read my missives.
2. What are your books about and where are they set?
My two books are memoirs about our time living and working as estate managers in the Tarn, South West France. In our roles, we experienced one rather disconcerting workplace and one absolutely magnificent one, based in the stunning countryside and with wonderful French neighbours.
3. What was it like to pack your life up and move to another country?
Intense – as there are so many facets of your everyday life that need to be scrutinised and either altered or cancelled, from car and home/contents insurance to cancelling the paper and returning the SKY box and everything else in between! Then there was renting out the house, putting our home contents into storage and selling the cars. There’s a lot to think about and do.
Simultaneously, it was exciting to be leaving and to be off on an adventure.
4. On writing. What do you think is the secret to writing a good story? Are there any?
Most definitely. The crucial thing to writing a good story is being able to engage the reader, right from the first paragraph.
5. Do you have a special writing space?
No, I don’t. It’s usually on the couch with my laptop on my knee!
6. Is there a special time of day that you like to write?
No, just when there is a good amount of time in the day when I don’t feel compelled to attend to any household matters or meeting up with friends.
7. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do to chill out?
Catch up with friends and family, walking and exploring, cooking, reading, watching period dramas and WWII movies – usually based in France and with a spy element.
8. Who are your favourite authors?
I read a wide variety of books so don’t have one in particular, but I did read all of Rosamunde Pilcher books, all set during WWII and based in Cornwall, a place I love.
I’ve loved Peter Mayle books as they are based in France and about French life.
Bill Browder’s story – Red Notice – a real-life political thriller about an American financier in the Wild East of Russia, the murder of his principled young tax attorney, and his dangerous mission to expose the Kremlin’s corruption. This was a huge insight into Russia and one man’s battle for the truth. I’ve only read it once, but I think I would find something fascinating and informative which each subsequent read.
Becoming by Michelle Obama – It was fascinating to learn about Michelle’s life from an average American childhood through to being the wife of the President of the United States and what she brought to that ‘job’. I felt I got to know Michelle, such was her storytelling skill.
9. Favourite painter?
Again, I don’t have one in particular, but do love all the impressionist painters – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, but love Van Gogh too for all his colours. Also anything botanical and a particular artist here in New Zealand is Karl Maughan. His hydrangea garden paintings draw you in.
10. Favourite piece of music?
I love such a variety of music that I can’t pinpoint one piece. Classical, pop, modern, old-school – everything!
11. What’s next for you?
To finish my third memoir – Late Life Adventures in London and Beyond. At 60 I decided I wanted another adventure. We rented out the house again and moved to London where we worked intermittently and travelled through parts of the UK and Europe.
Excerpt from my first book, My French Platter.
Touching down at Toulouse Airport, we waited and waited for Steve’s golf clubs to appear at the baggage claim. No such luck. We made arrangements to have them delivered to the house once they turned up. Finally, we emerged. Waiting for us with a beaming, welcoming smile was Doug. He was married to Siobhan, a woman he’d met in Wellington, New Zealand, the city Steve and I grew up in. We smiled at the fact they’d met in our hometown. They’d been living in France for eight years. Doug and Siobhan were English and were also employed by the lifestyle company in Richmond, overseeing several properties in the area.
The motorway journey to our new home was a complex system of roads. They continuously intersected and whizzed past until we emerged into the countryside. I would never have found my way back to the airport as it all became a blur. And the speed of all the traffic! Oh my god; it was way too fast for me.
It was early evening when we arrived at the farmhouse, near Brens. A pinky dusk streaked the skyline and the air had cleared after the thunderstorm that had greeted us when we landed. As we turned into the lavender-lined drive, I couldn’t help but gasp at seeing the main house, captured in the golden halo of the car headlights. It was exactly as I’d pictured it: a three-storeyed, cream-coloured stone farmhouse, with old wooden shutters painted in a light moss-green colour. A bare wisteria vine framed the double-fronted door and windows. As we stepped out of the car, there was a definite chill in the air. I pulled my jacket tightly around me and we stood for a moment in the fading light, absorbing the lush, green, rolling landscape and the silhouetted orchard of bare fruit trees. A large, rickety, three-sided barn sat on the other side of the drive. We could make out a rusty, green tractor and what looked to be a stack of old furniture and an awful lot of junk piled up. Tucked behind the barn, there appeared to be a half-finished building. Tomorrow would be the time to explore and check the whole property out.
‘Until your cottage is ready,’ Sarah told us, ‘you’ll be staying in the renovated pigeonnier—a house for pigeons.’
‘Pigeons?’ I asked.
‘Yes, pigeonniers have been in use for centuries. They either stood alone or were built as part of the main house.’
‘Do many houses have them?’ I quizzed her.
‘They’re very common in the southwest of France. Pigeons were kept for their eggs and flesh and the dung was used to fertilise the home grapevines.’
Pulling our suitcases behind us, we trundled down the path. Arriving at the pigeonnier, it was heartening to see the golden glow of lamplights shining through the little front door window panes. The warmth from the radiators enveloped us as we entered the tiny foyer. Spring flowers, sitting in a pretty blue bowl on the hall table, gave off a floral and sweet fragrance.
‘Oh, by the way, the flowers are a welcome gift from Tristan and Richard,’ grunted Doug as he lumbered through the door with the extra suitcase. ‘And Siobhan has been to the supermarket, knowing you were held up. Just so you’d have some food for dinner as well as a little something for breakfast. You’ll find the bed is made up and fresh towels are in the bathroom already.’
Siobhan had left everything on the kitchen table, along with two bottles of local wine. How nice. We needn’t worry about anything until the morning. It had all been done for us.
‘Thank you so much, Doug. You’ve been so helpful. Please say many thanks to Siobhan for everything. Hopefully we’ll catch up with you both soon?’ I suggested.
‘Oh yes. Siobhan will be popping in late afternoon tomorrow to say hello. Here are our phone numbers if you need anything,’ Doug said, handing me a slip of paper. ‘I’ll be off then. Cheerio.’
The door had only just closed behind Doug when Steve announced, ‘I’m starving.’ I managed to get the gas cooker working and rustled up a steak with a few vegetables. Steve found plates, cutlery and glassware on the curtained, under-bench shelves. He pulled the cork from one of the wine bottles with a satisfying pop and poured the blush-pink liquid into a couple of glasses. Now that we’d finally arrived, I flopped into the nearest chair and we raised our glasses, toasting our new French life with a delicious floral rosé.
With dinner and dishes done, we had a good explore of the pigeonnier. It was so pretty and very charming. The main bedroom furnishings were sewn in an old, French, pinky-red toile de Jouy fabric, including the drapes. It looked perfect for the age of Mas de Lavande and so very French chic. Our room was large and furnished with a panelled, pale oak armoire, a big, comfy armchair and two fabric-covered, glass-topped side tables. Tall reading lamps sat on each of the bedside tables. The en-suite bathroom, although rudimentary and rustic, was fine. The vanity top was fully tiled, with the hand basin set on it. A pretty, checked-green curtain covered the single shelf beneath it. The shower stall was also tiled but the grout had seen better days. It looked as though it would come up alright with a decent scrub. The tiled floor throughout the bedroom and bathroom was old, burnished-red terracotta.
Across the flagstone-floored hallway was a second bedroom with two single, iron-framed beds. The room was simply decorated like ours and very sweet. The bed covers were embossed white cotton duvets. Blue toile de Jouy quilts sat neatly folded on the end of each one and the same pretty blue fabric had been made into curtains and light shades on the wooden bedside lamps. A bleached oak set of drawers, with round, black, iron pull-ring handles, sat against one wall. Back in the hallway, a narrow, painted staircase led up to a smaller bedroom. This room had a high double bed and an antique wooden desk and a chair. A squishy, old armchair was tucked into the corner. Above the bed was a tiny, four-paned window, recessed into the wall. This filled the original opening where the pigeons would have come in and out.
It was time for bed. Both of us were yawning like crazy. That first night it was wonderful to crawl into that huge bed and pull the thick, downy duvet up under our chins. I think we were asleep before our heads hit the pillows.
Thank you for being with us on A Literary World, Annemarie. Your photos are inspiring. I would also like to point out to the readers that your books and blog contain quite a few super recipes, some of which I have tried out myself. Wonderful. On behalf of my readers, I wish you many more happy travels and experiences.