I have another French Escape for you, this time from Hazel Manuel. I’ve known Hazel for a little while through social media and I have to say I love reading her posts about her life in France and travels to India. Here she is, to tell you a little about it.
Over to you, Hazel…
I moved to France a little over five years ago, having met a Frenchman on a sabbatical in India. After a two year long-distance relationship between Paris and North Wales, where I lived at the time, I took the plunge and moved to France. I still live in Paris – but four years ago I bought a little farm in rural France. And that has become my escape.
It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring place than rural France in the summertime. Romantic châteaux, fields of sunflowers and lush vineyards line the rivers and extend into the valleys. Summers are long and hot with days stretching into glorious sunsets and night skies clear enough to see the milky-way. I come here to write. My latest novel is set in rural France and I found that immersing myself in the isolation and tranquillity which exist here was the best way to draw down that sense of place, transcribing it into words which I hope give my readers a real and visceral sense of what it feels like to be here.
But writing isn’t the only reason I come here – and neither do I only come in summer. Whatever the season, in this house with its stone walls and wood beams that have lived and breathed for nearly two centuries, I feel a heightened sense of reality. Making up the fire in the winter months, cooking on the rickety old stove, sweeping leaves, planting vegetables, feeding the stray cats, watching the swallows come and go – the rhythm here is that of wild things.
Life here is physical – digging soil, hauling wood, harvesting and canning the fruits and vegetables of the season – it feels good for the body and the soul. Of course, I still have deadlines to meet, events to attend, appointments to keep. But all that feels like what I do in my Paris life. Here in the countryside the clothes I wear are determined not by fashion but by the demands of the season. The food I eat depends on what is locally available. My daily routine includes engaging with the house and the land and the wildlife. I feel at home here not simply because I feel like I fit in, but because I feel I touch the tiniest sense of something ancient.
“Home. A small word but so cavernous.” So say’s Sian – the main character in my last novel. Home for her, as it is for me, is an old stone cottage, a wild garden and a field behind. Like Sian, I sit each night on an old wooden bench sipping a glass of wine as I watch the sun going down. The scents – wet leaves and wood-smoke in winter, honeysuckle and cut grass in summer – accompany the buzzings, twitterings and rustlings of the life all around me with which I share my home. If I’m lucky I’ll see a hare loping across the field, its long ears cocked at the slightest sound. And I’ll watch the bats come out with the shadows and the stars as day turns to night. Is this an escape? For me it feels more like a return.
Hazel Manuel is a UK born novelist who divides her time between Paris and the French Loire Valley, where she runs writers workshops and retreats. Hazel’s books explore issues and questions that modern life raises – questions of identity, equality, belonging, loss, uncertainty, friendship – questioning the ideas and assumptions that inform the ways we live our lives. Hazel’s third novel, Undressing Stone was published by Cinnamon Press in June 2018. You can find out more about Hazel and her work here: www.hazelmanuel.net