Why English writers choose to live in France

Ruth HartleyCreative Writing, Festival, Promotion6 Comments

That’s why it’s so hard for me to speak French

Ruth sits a table against a wall outside a bookshop

Ruth outside the Glass Key at Montmorillon with The Shaping of Water

I love living in France and I enjoy learning French but I also love hiding away in my study and writing in English. It’s hard to get better at spoken French when my creative world is so concentrated on English – that’s what I tell myself. What about you? Are you gifted at languages? Is this a conflict you experience?

I am taking part in a French Literary Festival today. It has been set up to include writers in English – last year Nick Inman was there alone  – this year there are three of us, but the aim is to make it grow bigger and benefit more English writers.



The Book Fair – Salon du Livre at Vic-en-Bigorre

When this post arrives in your email I will be setting out my books on a stall at this book fair. I hope that if you live nearby that you will come and visit Nick Inman, June Gadsby and me. We will be delighted to welcome you. This book fair is taking place at the season of La Rentrée Littéraire and the award of the Prix Goncourt. In fact it’s about the same time as the Booker Prize. I never thought about the literary season until my publisher said that there are good and bad times to try to launch a new novel. What all writers need, of course, is that ‘Successful’ time when we sell well.

French Literature

French literature appears to be very different to British literature in the way it is regarded. The French take literature seriously, even reverently. In Britain writers become celebs for their personality rather than writers who are celebrated for writing. Even the book covers seem less important in France, which is not to say that many of them aren’t beautiful.

I am not only a writer but an artist, so I am in love with the French 9th. art. Bandes Dessinées or BDs are highly regarded in France though dismissed by many Brits as comic books for kids. What an immense loss for English readers! Asterix and Tintin are in fact, funny adult commentaries and satires about politics and society. BDs are truly wonderful, incredibly varied and often deal with very serious and sexy grown-up subjects but enough of that…

English writers in France

There are many of us – some better known than others – some who came – and then went – some who come and go. For most of us writing is a hard life that doesn’t pay very well but life in France compensates us generously for that. Some authors write about France – particularly its food, others have set their novels in France. I am sure that there are many others – please add them in the Comments below

William Boyd is a writer I admire  – he has a home here.

Rosemary Bailey   Love and War in the Pyrenees

Peter Mayle A Year in Provence

Celia Brayfield Deep France

Alyson Gofton Recipes from my French Kitchen

Rose Tremain

Sebastian Faulks

Geoff Holder

Nick Inman A Guide to Mystical France

June Gadsby Rosa

Tracey Warr

Alison Morton

Harriet Springbett Tree Magic

Alan Kennedy Lasserade Press

Margaretha Montagu

Perry Taylor

Vanessa Couchman

Karen Ann Pegg

Stafford Whiteaker

David McAnnich

Clara Villanueva






6 Comments on “Why English writers choose to live in France”

  1. June Gadsby

    I was one of the three writers due to attend the Salon du Livre and was looking forward to it. However, health problems surfaced and the medication I’m on has turned me into a bit of a zombie, so my table will be lacking me and the 24 novels I’ve written. Hopefully, there will be another similar occasion.

    As for writing in France, it does tend to put a stop to learning to language. I can muddle along in French, having spent the first 4 years here doing nothing else but studying the language on my own, with the help of books and CDs, but it’s not enough. One really has to apply oneself constantly and mix with the locals – which is easier said than done. People are forever asking me if my book appear in French – how I wish they did. Perhaps my Canadian publisher can do something about that. I must ask her. Meanwhile, it’s English all the way.

  2. Ann

    Funnily enough, I’ve been thinking a lot about language recently, as a strong marker of personal identity. Not so much the category of ‘English’, but the category of ‘register’ – being a translator, I have to be very aware of register, and try to capture it in the language I’m translating from and into. And when I first came to France, I felt excluded from group conversations in French by the fact that I not only didn’t know the language well enough in general, but also by the fact that I couldn’t express myself in French as I would in English. I think we all have our individual linguistic habits and nuances, and I realise now that I felt handicapped, not fully myself.
    Having now been here for 13 years, I think I am very slowly beginning to catch on to some of the French equivalent nuances, and try to use them in conversation, trusting that they convey something of how I would speak in English! It takes a lot of listening, and it doesn’t help that I am partly deaf!
    As a matter of linguistic practice, it is almost impossible to make much progress when one lives with another English=speaker, as I did with my mother and brother in Madiran. It is really only in the last three years, since I moved to the Plaisance area and am almost constantly communicating in French, that my awareness and activation of real French has begun.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      There’s a big difference between getting by in French and understanding and expressing nuances in meaning. It’s so important for me as a writer that I do feel humbled by my inability to achieve anything like this in French. I won’t as long as I continue to write stories. It might help if I had endless time to also read French.

  3. Paddy Tyrrell

    I know this is an old post but hope it is not too late to comment As a new writer living in France, it can at times seem fairly isolating. Although my French is pretty good, it is certainly not good enough to write in French and be able to choose words that have the richness of nuance that I can choose when using English. Because of this, I haven’t tried liaising with French writing groups but would very much like to create some contacts with English writers living here. Do you have any experience or ideas on this, Ruth?

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Its never too late to comment and I do love the fact that old post can be useful and relevant now. I hope the links I gave you helped!

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