The first interview in our “My Fantastic French Life” series is with travel writer extraordinaire and author Janine Marsh.
Editor of The Good Life France, Janine bought her French property in 2004, and, like most good stories, it was the last thing she’d expected to happen that day. Having arrived in Calais on a booze cruise, instead of returning home with wine and cheese she found herself owner of a house instead.
Home Hunts: Hi Janine – thank so much for doing this interview with us today. First things first, what happened on that fated day back in 2004 when you found your dream French home?
Janine Marsh: In the days when booze cruises were “de rigueur” for Brits living in the south of England, I used to bring my dad over on day trips to buy wine and cheese in Calais. One cold, grey and sleety February day we ventured to Hesdin in the Seven Valleys, about an hour away, for lunch. As luck would have it, we arrived just as all the restaurants closed bang on 2pm.
We were lured by an estate agent into his office for a cup of coffee and a chat – I had no intention of buying a house in France. When he asked me what my budget would be, on a whim I told him €100,000. Quick as you like, he gave me three properties to look at.
HH: Did you go and look at them right there and then?
Janine: Yes, we decided to go and check them out. The first two were underwhelming (and frankly awful), and the third one could hardly be seen behind a brick wall. But as I stood by the gate trying to peep over, the sun burst through the clouds and the village church bells rang. Then the door opened and I heard someone say in perfect English, “Can I help you?”
It felt like fate, although at that point it wasn’t a dream home by any stretch of the imagination.
HH: So you knew you wouldn’t be able to live in it straight away?
Janine: It was a place we could camp in for summer holidays, but it had 17 rooms and an acre of land, and I knew it had potential. I bought the house that day: February 14, 2004 – it really was love at first sight.
It takes me 2.5 hours to get to London and, as much of my freelance writing work is from British clients, having a house in Pas de Calais makes for a comfy commute.
HH: So how did the idea for your The Good Life France site come about?
Janine: Did I mention that I bought a “house of horrors”? My friends and family were fascinated by the amount of renovation we had to do, my interaction with my neighbours and the alarming rate at which stray animals seemed to find us!
We’d be trying to fit a window in a gale force, or we’d be laying yet another tonne of concrete, we had so much to do, and the phone would ring at the most inconvenient moments as people wanted news. Eventually my husband said, “Why don’t you do a blog to keep them all updated?”
HH: Why did you decide to call it “The Good Life France”?
Janine: I used to work as a project manager in a bank in London. I had no pets, a tiny garden, high-heeled shoes and manicured nails. My astounded city colleagues couldn’t believe that I would choose to live in rural France with cats, dogs, chickens, geese and ducks, so they called me “The Good Life France” after the TV sitcom.
HH: So how did you go about setting it up?
Janine: I had no idea what I was doing, but my husband built me a blog and, after a sticky start, I learned how to upload photos and words. In the first month I had 480 page visits. I was astounded. Six months later I was getting 60,000 page views and I rapidly got hooked on writing daily.
I wrote about my life and my travels around France, the best places to live, how to find your ideal house in France and all sorts of things. Now the website gets more than a million page views a month – it’s incredible and I’m truly humbled by it.
HH: You’ve also just launched a book based on your life over here in France?
Janine: Yes, I’ve written a book called “My Good Life in France” and I’ve had some wonderful reviews. My favourites are: “Move over Peter Maylethere’s a new girl in town and her name is Janine Marsh,” and, “My Good Life in France is a heart-warming read and, as effervescent as a glass of your favourite Champagne, Janine’s voice and humour bubbles off the page.” It’s also got plenty of helpful tips for those living in France or who dream of it.
HH: You’ve written about so many aspects of French life on The Good Life in France that readers turn to you for advice about moving to France. What kind of things do you get asked about?
Janine: A whole range of subjects from banking and finance questions, to how to make friends, how to improve French language skills, where to start when looking for your ideal home, satellite services (common for those who live in rural areas) and a whole load more.
I always try to help when people email me, but if I don’t know the answer I have a little black book of recommendations I can refer to as I’ve made so many great contacts over time. I’ll only recommend where I have had personal interaction and I am totally happy to endorse the introduction.
HH: What are some of the most common questions you get asked about life in France?
Janine: A common question is about the famous bureaucracy of life in France. And yes, that’s true, the French could probably win a gold medal if administration was an Olympic sport, but it’s certainly not insurmountable. If you don’t want to be bothered with the paperwork, there is help at hand in the shape of specialist companies.
I’m also often asked if it is really necessary to speak French and in my opinion the answer is yes. You can get by on holiday with “bonjour”, “merci” and “s’il vous plait”, but if you really want to make the most of your life in France, then you have to interact and that means speaking French. There are some great online French language courses and if you set aside regular time to practise, eventually it gets easier!
Visit Janine’s website The Good Life France to read about all things joyful in France, or head over to Amazon where you can preview Janine’s popular new book My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream.