This week’s Expat Excellence features author of “L’Auberge” and “The Parisian’s Return”, serial expat Julia Stagg, on her life as an auberge owner in the French Pyrenees and the inspiration for her French-based books.
Q&A with author Julia Stagg
What made you take the step of moving to France to run a country inn?
It sounds so reckless, but my husband and I were looking to run our own business, preferably something that would give me time to write. So we bought an auberge (country inn) with four self-catering cottages in the French Pyrenees that needed a lot of work doing to it. It was a while before I managed to get back to writing!
Weren’t you nervous about making the transition to another country, another language?
I’ve been asked that so many times and my answer always sounds flippant: no! I’ve spent most of my adult life living abroad, including periods in Japan, the USA and Australia, so I suppose I didn’t see the move to another country as daunting. Even the language aspect seemed a walk in the park after mastering Japanese the hard way. What was far more terrifying was being asked to reopen the restaurant at our auberge once we’d moved in. It was never in our plans as I really wasn’t a cook. But anyone who has lived in France (or read my novels!) knows that when the village mayor asks you to do something…I learnt to cook and we duly opened the restaurant!
Both L’Auberge and The Parisian’s Return, set in the Ariège-Pyrenees region of France where you lived, focus on communities dealing with newcomers. Do you think your varied experience as an expat has influenced your work?
Totally! I’m also the daughter of immigrants so I think from an early age I’ve been aware of the differences you carry with you when you move from the culture you were raised in to one you don’t know. I’m always curious about the relationships between newcomers and established populations and find the clashes that arise from them fascinating. I love the way that both sides of the equation, given time, can benefit from the change.
In all your time as an expat, what is it you like most about living abroad?
I love life in a foreign language; the fact that the mundane becomes exciting. Paying my electricity bill in Japan was a thrill. Writing a cheque in France never became ordinary or rote. That buzz never leaves you, even when your language skills improve.
And what’s next? Another move abroad?
At the moment I’m quite content, dividing my days between the beautiful Yorkshire Dales in the UK and the Ariège-Pyrenees. However, I do have plans for a series set in the USA which might mean a return trip and I’ve got a couple of books set in Japan that really need writing… So possibly but who knows? When you are born with gypsy feet like I was, you never look beyond the horizon when predicting the next move!
Finally, have you got any advice for anyone about to take the plunge and move to France?
Do your homework. It’s said so often but it really is true. The better prepared you are, the easier the move will be - and the more chance you will have of success. Bonne Chance to all those about to take that step!
About the author
Cursed from a young age with itchy feet, Julia has lived abroad most of her adult life. She has worked as a waitress, ‘check-out-chick’, bookseller, pawnbroker and as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language.
Tempted by a love of cycling and a passion for mountains, in 2004 she moved to the Ariège-Pyrenees region of France to run a small auberge. And it was between summer seasons working in the hotel that she started to write the Fogas novels, set in the area she adores.
Julia currently divides her time between the Ariège and the Yorkshire Dales and for a short while at least, those feet have stopped itching. Visit www.jstagg.com