Monday, 2 September 2013

L'Amour Actually - Melanie Jones with Interview!

L'Amour Actually by Melanie Jones
My rating - 5 of 5*

'The woman was one of those irritating expat types who felt she owed it to the world to impart on her all her superior knowledge of life in France. I realised that if I didn’t stop her now, she’d be bending my ear all the way to Bergerac. ‘Actually,’ I said, leaning in toward the woman, ‘I’m planning to integrate my way into the boxers of the first good-looking Frenchman I see. Can’t think of any better way to learn the language myself. You wouldn’t happen to know the French for “fancy a shag?” would you? Voulez-vous coucher avec moi just seems a bit nineteen-seventies these days.’ After one particularly bad day at work, advertising executive and confirmed city girl Melanie Jones decides to give up her old life in search of something new and simpler in South West France. With little knowledge of the country, even less of the language and just the memory of a disastrous school French exchange and a few day trips to Calais, she embarks on her adventure with a suitcase full of optimism and not a little bit of naivety. After all, how different can life in France be? After a series of adventures with skirt-ripping tractors, handsome twin farmers, celebrity not-quite-beens, unusual toilets and a bonkers ex-pat community, all topped up, of course, with lashings of rosé, Melanie begins to discover that her new life in France isn’t quite what she’d thought it would be.'

My Review:

Melaine and I had been tweeting each other and when she offered me the chance to read her book, I jumped at the chance. 

The cover is gorgeous and so is the title, it has me hooked before I even opened the book! 

This book is set in rural France and is almost everyone’s fantasy, leaving their old life behind and to begin somewhere new. New country, new job, new language… how hard could it be? Trouble is Mel is not a country girl, she has lived in the city and has had an attractive job. 

We are taken on Mel’s journey to fit into a new community with no knowledge of the language and no job. This turns out not to be not the smoothest start to her new life. This is a hilarious semi factual book, which is written very well; poor Mel, having to put up with that toilet in her cottage needed a medal! 

Mel is such a likable character, she arrives in France wearing completely unsuitable shoes; which she ends up having to dump and falling in ditches. There are certainly some cringe moments in the book. Mel’s attitude changes through the book, becoming less materialistic and less self- centred which she notices herself when her best friend comes over to visit. 

Mel has a wonderful style to her writing, it’s smooth, humorous and flows well. I had to keep reminding myself that parts of this book are real as it read so much like a story and I got engrossed with the hilarious story line. I just hope that Mel didn’t really have so many embarrassing moments. 

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Mel has to report on the oldest living cat in France (I won’t say anymore so I don’t spoil it for you,) this had me in stitches the entire time I was reading it, I could actually visualise what was happening. 

I love Mel’s neighbour, Tracey the reality show singer and the relationship they have, I felt I was with them at times in the book in the pool and enjoying champagne. There are so many good characters in the book, they are all written so well, I do hope that these characters were real in the book or based on actual people. 

Although the book is semi factual I felt I could have a good guess at predicting the end, this is where I was caught out and didn’t expect what I read. I love that it had a little twist to it and it made me feel all warm inside. 

This book really made me want to give everything up and start a life somewhere new. It made me think about places off the beaten track to visit and want to escape reality. Mel is so lucky she had to opportunity to do this and I hope her travelling continues in her next book. This is a fantastic summer read that is a real page turner. L’Amour Actually is out to buy now!

I would like to thank Melanie for sending me her book to review – this has not affected my review of the book at all. Melanie also very kindly agreed to have an interview with me for my blog. 

About Mel:

Melanie Jones is an ex-ex-pat with a myriad of ex-careers, two children she adores and a husband in ‘the biz’ (the tv biz). Also she’s a blogger for the HuffPost and has written for The Daily Mail.

My interview with Mel Jones:

Hi Mel, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for my blog. I loved your book so thanks for sending it to me to review.

1. Your book is a travel memoir of your time in France, how much of this is factual? 

L’Amour Actually is a fictionalised travel memoir based on the blog I wrote when I lived in South West France. Some of it happened, some of it happened but not exactly as I have written it and some of it didn’t happen at all.  I moved to France with my (now ex) husband and children. We did our research, I spoke fluent French and we had a great time but who wants to hear about that? I’m boring myself just talking it! So I decided to put my many funny adventures in France into a more fictionalised setting with the main character as a younger, sassier (and sadly slimmer) me which would give me a bit of artistic licence.  

For example, the scene in the hospital is completely true, the Nine and a Half Weeks dance is also true but that was actually something that happened on my last flight as a stewardess and I decided to entertain the first class passengers. Whether they were entertained is another matter completely but nobody complained.  I did have to be taken to hospital by the pompiers but for a different reason than the one in the book and the celebrity cat is based on my friend Karina’s now sadly deceased Persian cat which was the oldest one in France and they really wouldn’t recognise its claim to fame because it wasn’t a French cat…but I didn’t run it over. That was another cat entirely.  

The characters are composites of people I met with the odd one being made up so I could fit the stories in.  When we were first going through the completed manuscript, the editors at Summersdale, my publishers, commented several times that some of the stories seemed a little far-fetched. Surprisingly, they were all the ones that were completely true. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

2. When you were writing your memoir did you learn anything new about yourself or were surprised by anything?

It was lovely to relive some of the very funny things that happened. Moving to a new country and speaking a different language opens up so many avenues for adventure and misadventure. I think what surprised me the most was just how many anecdotes I had managed to amass in five years. L’Amour Actually had to be cut by 30,000 words so there’s a whole lot more you won’t even read about.  Makes me wonder how I survived there for so long!

3. What’s the best thing about writing?

Everything!  I love writing and watching the story develop on my laptop screen. I’m what I call a ‘seat of your pants’ writer. I know where the story begins and where it ends, but what happens in the middle depends entirely where it takes me. I love to get lost in the plot and the characters but the best thing is listening to other people laugh and giggle when they read my book. If I’ve brought a little bit of sunshine to someone’s day then I’ve done my job.

I should also admit that I use writing as an excuse to drink countless cups of tea, stuff myself on biscuits (Writer’s Arse is a real condition for us authors) and refuse to do the ironing. It’s a win/win situation!

4. What advice would you give aspiring writers?

There’s so much advice I could give, not that I consider myself an expert at all, but as a new writer who’s just had their first book published it still seems quite fresh in my mind. 

Firstly, get your story down. When I originally decided to make the move from blogging to writing a full length book, I found that each time I opened up my laptop I would go over what I had already written and edit and re-write. Before I knew it, it was time to pick the kids up from school or whatever and I had achieved precisely nothing.  It’s very disheartening to spend months writing and not get further than Chapter 3 and goodness knows, there’s plenty of time to edit it once you’ve finished. Editing is death by a thousand word cuts. Trust me, if you think writing the book is hard…  

In 2010 I did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where you are challenged to write a 50,000 word novella or even the beginning of a full length novel between the 1st and 30th of November.  There are all sorts of tools where you can chart your progress, set yourself a daily writing target and meet ups where you can join other local people who are also doing it for write-ins or just to moan at your lack of progress over  a latte. It was invaluable for teaching me to just get the story down first.

I’ll also share with you my tip for beating writer’s block.  Whenever you get stuck just write in big letters ‘and something FABULOUS happens’ then move on to the next part of the story. Chances are, when you go back to it later, the story will flow easily and you’ll wonder why you got stuck in the first place.

And finally (get me!) don’t give up. Keep writing, keep sending out your queries and don’t let those rejection slips get the better of you. I was so lucky because L’Amour Actually was picked up from Authonomy, a writer’s website, directly by the then commissioning editor at Summersdale. I don’t have an agent and I’ve never sent out a query letter but I do think I’ve been exceptionally lucky. My next book is fiction and so not likely to fit into the catalogue of my current publisher so I’ll be back there with everyone else, flogging my manuscript and waiting for the postman with a knot in my stomach

5. When you aren’t busy writing, what do you like to read?

I read all sorts of different books. I love all the chicklit and women’s popular fiction authors like Catherine Alliott, Jojo Moyes, Katie Fforde, India Knight and Jodi Picoult. I also love Lynwood Barclay, Harlen Coben and Patricia Cornwell for a quick fix of the darker side of life. I belong to a book club which always stretches my reading well outside my comfort zone. Our current book is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, a story about overcoming alcohol and drug abuse.  Not easy reading but fascinating.  

I was born in Iran and moved back to the Middle East in my twenties and love any book with a middle eastern theme like The Kite Runner and  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini and Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, which is a must-read for an insight into the situation for many women under the ayatollahs.

6. Who is your favourite author?

I don’t honestly think I could name one particular author as my favourite. I love all of the ones I’ve mentioned before but it’s also great to discover new ones. Since L’Amour Actually came out and I’ve taken to social media to publicise it, I’ve come across some seriously good new authors that I might otherwise not have heard of. To be honest, if a book is well written and engages me, that’s the best I can ask for.

7. Will we be seeing more of your travels in books to come? 

In my twenties I worked for a few years as an air stewardess for a Middle Eastern airline. It was a way to see the world but from the comfort of a 5 star hotel. I was never really the backpacking kind, I wasn’t even a brownie.  

I’ve been so lucky to have travelled all over the world and had many funny or unusual adventures on the way, like being kidnapped by a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong and partying in the red light district of Patpong with a bunch of US marines who were on shore leave. I also worked in the film industry on the marketing side and met loads of famous actors and actresses so there are lots of stories to tell there. I’m hoping to incorporate some of them into my next book but it will be fiction, not a memoir.

8. Are you working on your next book? Can you give us a sneak preview? 

Yes, the next book is being written as we speak. I like the main characters in my books to be strong women who don’t get crushed by adversity. They meet it head on in high heels and red lipstick. My next book, which isn’t set in France, is the story of Rosie, dumped by her feckless husband in her forties and with two ne’er do well sons whose life revolves around their X-Box. With the help of an inheritance she sets off to find all the people who had left handprints on her heart throughout her life and in the process finds love (of course) and herself.  It will make you laugh out loud and cry noisily. 

I went on a writer’s development day earlier this year with the wonderful Sarah Duncan (Single to Rome, Kissing Mr Wrong) and we all had to submit the first page of a manuscript for our fellow writers and Sarah to vote on. Mine came out second with Sarah choosing it as her favourite. And here it is, all for you…

Rosie turned over in bed and looked at the sleeping mound of her husband under the duvet, snoring gently, with his back to her…as always. She rolled over and lay wide awake, staring at the ceiling, trying to work out the last time they had made love. Was it after they’d been out for dinner on their wedding anniversary? No, she distinctly remembered that Bill had decided to stay up and watch Top Gear that night. Bloody Jeremy Clarkson. Maybe on her birthday? For the past few years, sex had become something that only happened on special occasions, like opening a bottle of good champagne. The trouble was that Bill didn’t drink.  With a sigh, Rosie realised that she couldn’t actually remember the last time but it definitely hadn’t been this year, maybe even last.

She ran her hands down her body. She wasn’t in bad nick for her age, all things considered. Gravity had taken its toll on the boobs, bum and tum front, but she looked far better than a lot of women who were a good ten years younger. Good genes. That’s what it was. She had her mother to thank for that. Things used to be really good in the sex department. It had been regular and enjoyable, sometimes even adventurous, but the less said about that the better. For a brief moment, Rosie wondered if Bill was having an affair, though God knows who’d have him. He farted noisily in his sleep. Maybe not. Who’d put up with that if they didn’t have to? But it wasn’t really the sex that bothered her. I mean, this was the twenty first century. You could get sex anywhere – although she might be hard pushed to find ‘anywhere’ in the depths of the rural West Country – it was the closeness, the touches, the hugs that she missed.

Quietly she got out of bed and went to her knicker drawer – the one place she could be sure Bill would never venture – and took out the letter. Treading softly out, so as not to wake him, she went into the bathroom and locked the door. Perched on the toilet, she opened it again and re-read the contents. A slow smile spread across her face and she clutched the letter to her chest. This could just be the answer to all her prayers.

Thanks again Mel for a fab interview, I am definitely going to be reading your next book. 

You can grab a copy of L'Amour Actually now on Amazon.  

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