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Froglit: Why books about France still sell

The Local · 4 Apr 2014, 17:54

Published: 04 Apr 2014 17:54 GMT+02:00

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Is there any other country more written about in the Anglo literary world than France?

A quick glance at an online list of books about France and the French suggests the answer to that question is no, impossible.

Dozens of books have been penned over the years including Peter Mayle’s famous A Year in Provence that was made into a TV series, to modern bestsellers like Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food.

And they are still being churned out, with one of the latest editions to “Froglit” being Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Facelifts, a follow up to her best-seller French Women Don't Get Fat.

The simple fact is, books about France and the French are still money earners, Lucy Wadham the author behind The Secret Life of France tells The Local.

The author was asked by her publishers to write about her experiences of love, marriage and work in France, because they knew it would sell.

“When they suggested I write about France, my heart sank. Fiction is my first love and this book felt like homework,” she says.

And the reason why publishers are still commissioning new books about France is the same reason why Anglo media churn out articles daily about the goings on in France that are lapped up by readers.

“French culture still tends to run contrary to the dominant model, which is Anglo-Saxon. As such France offers endless opportunity for comparison to British and American readers,” says Wadham.

“Because France has not fully embraced either capitalism or feminism French attitudes to so many aspects of life are different to ours.

“As long as France continues to go her own way like this, I think she'll continue to provide fodder for the kind of book, many of which are driven, either by a dewy-eyed envy or a certain scorn,” she adds.

SEE ALSO: The ten best books about France

While the contrast between the French and our own culture continues to provide the motivation for Anglos to gobble up literature about France, the types of books written about the country do not all fall into the same category.

It seems the ones that have the biggest chance of selling are the ones that promote the “myth about France being a dream-like cultural paradise – the haute cuisine, the stylish fashion, the sexy women, the awe-inspiring architecture, the savoir-vivre of the French,” author Matthew Fraser says.

“This category has is a veritable industry, every year there dozens more books flogging the myth,” says Fraser who wrote Home Again in Paris: Oscar, Leo and me

Piu Marie Eatwell, whose myth busting book They Eat Horses Don’t They – The Truth about the French came out last year, agrees.

“Writing a book about France is quite difficult for authors on the subject who want to portray what France is really like because the genre is highly commercialized and dominated by a certain type of book that plays up to the romanticized clichés that foreigners have about life in France," she says.

“Publishers therefore tend to want to commission only these types of books, so getting anything that is more serious or critical commissioned is very difficult.”

However that’s not to suggest that only books that pick a new angle on an old myth or a new French village to base and Anglo-French love affair in, will be successful.

There is a recent trend for books which dispel the myth and take a harsher, more factual look at the state of modern France, rather than the peddle the idyll many authors would have us believe.

“This suggests that - finally - readers and publishers are showing a welcome willingness to look behind the romance of living in France, to the reality that lies beneath,” says Eatwell.

Story continues below…

And for those books that took a critical look at France, it might not just be Anglo publishers who would be willing to publish them.

British author Peter Gumbel has written three books for a French audience including “On achève bien les écoliers”, which looked at the demeaning culture in French schools and became a non-fiction best seller in France.

“French publishers are looking for constructive criticism, a sort of international reality check and aren’t interested in anything that might be construed as mindless French-bashing,” Gumbel tells The Local.

Although as a caveat Gumbel adds “If you do get a French publisher don’t expect to get rich. Their advances are puny.”

If you are considering writing a book about France most of the published authors we spoke to suggest there’s one thing to keep in mind at all times - honesty.

“I'd say just one thing,” Stephen Clarke author of best-selling A Year in the Merde, tells The Local. “Make sure it's all your own work.  Your own style, your own opinions.

“There are so many books about France, so many farmhouses have been renovated, so many Anglo-French love affairs or divorces have been described that there's only one way of making it fresh - make it all yours.”

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