"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Sir Richard Steele

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interview With Author Karen Wheeler and Review of Tout Sweet

BIO: Karen Wheeler grew up in Northern England before she moved to London. There she attended Kings College, University of London and received her degree in modern history. She is a former fashion editor for the Mail on Sunday and currently writes for the Financial Times How to Spend It magazine and London's Daily Mail. Her work has appeared in the Evening Standard and You magazines, Sunday Times Style, and numerous international publications. Karen also has a great blog at http://www.toutsweet.net/ and Twitters @mimipompom1.

1- What made you decide to write Tout Sweet?
I was telling a friend about my chaotic final day- packing everything in my car in London, not knowing how to get to the ferry port etc, all of which is described in the opening chapter of Tout Sweet, and when he'd stopped laughing he said 'you should write a book about this.' It hadn't occurred to me to write about my move to France until that point.

I was actually writing a novel based in the south of France and set in the fragrance industry but seemed to be getting nowhere. I was on the fourth rewrite and following my friends suggestion dropped it to start work on Tout Sweet. I set out to write the kind of book I would like to read about living in France- not geographical or historical facts and figures but an entertaining human experience. It was a very enjoyable book to write-I actually made myself laugh (and cry) at times and for that reason I managed to write it in six weeks.

2- What possessed you to buy the house without giving it some thought?
I've always acted on gut feeling and I knew the minute I saw the house that I was looking at my future. (What I didn't see was all the time I'd spend up a step ladder with a paintbrush.) I'm a great believer in recognizing an opportunity when it comes along and grabbing it with both hands. I've always been ruled by my heart rather than my head and I think that comes across very strongly in the book.

3- Did you do much of the work on the house yourself?
Yes, I did- with varying degrees of success. I went to France with a DIY manual the size of a breeze block and let's just say it was a steep learning curve. Many of my efforts are described in the book. Sometimes I look at the painted walls and varnished floors and can't believe that they are the result of my handiwork. Before moving to France the only thing I painted was my nails.

4- You seemed to have some difficulty in getting reliable professional help on the remodeling. Is that a problem in France?
The French artisans (as tradesman are poetically called) are generally very good. The problem is getting them to come to your house in the first place as the best are booked up months if not years in advance. To give you an example, one local roofer has a waiting list of two years.

5- Your neighbors in France seemed very supportive. How about your friends in London? Do you see much of them or did they provide any assistance?
My friends in London seemed very pleased to be getting rid of me (just kidding- I think!) The greatest help was one of my oldest friends, actually an American book editor, who came to visit very early on, via the Frankfort book fair. He rolled up his sleeves and very bravely set about clearing out the attic which was full of old and uninteresting junk (suitcases full of newspapers for example) I will always be hugely grateful to him for doing that particular job. Friends in London when they come out tend to want to sit around in the courtyard and drink lots of wine rather than immerse themselves in DIY and I really can't say I blame them.

6- Even though you wanted a simpler life, you seemed to be having difficulty getting rid of your shoes and bags even though they were not practical, as you said. What was holding you back?
Well, I think clothes have memories attached to them and sometimes it is difficult to let them go. For example, I had a pair of orange mohair kitten heels that I wore when I took my ex French boyfriend to dinner at Le Caprice in London and I didn't want to get rid of them because they reminded me of a really happy evening.

7- What was the hardest thing for you to adjust to?
To begin with the lack of amenities or what we call creature comforts in the UK. I went from living in relative luxury to really roughing it. For almost a year I lived in one room (my bedroom) with all my possessions piled up in boxes in the sitting room.

8- What do you miss the most?
British stores such as Marks&Spencer. It sounds deeply treacherous to say it but the food in French supermarkets- with the exception of the fabulous cheese and wine- is not that great and often full of unpleasant chemicals. It's very hard to find organic fruits and vegetables. And believe it or not I also miss British cuisine. French food is all about the cleverness of the chef- coulis of this and jus of that whereas I prefer simple, unpretentious dishes made with fresh ingredients. When I go back to London, the thing I most want to eat is Indian or Italian food.

I want to thank Karen so much for taking the time to stop by my blog and answering questions for us. If anyone has anything they would like to ask her, feel free to do so. Just make sure you stop back for her response.

Review of Tout Sweet

Tout Sweet
Karen Wheeler
ISBN 9781402261183

   Karen Wheeler has a glamorus life in London. She has a great job, a wonderful boyfriend, a gorgeous home, and a fabulous assortment of shoes and handbags. Life is not always as it appears on the surface. On an impulse, Karen decides to chuck her city life and purchases a run down house in rural France.
   She jumps whole heartedly into her new lifestyle in rural France renovating her new home in the country. She makes new friendships, new loves, and finds out how different life can be with a much simper lifestyle. Even with her simpler life, don't handbags and shoes still have a place?
   This is the tale of how Karen Wheeler left her glamorus city life and moved to rural France. She tells the tale of how she purchased a run down house with no thought and then the months of hard work to make the house livable. I am sure there were times when she had second thoughts about what she did, especially when she had to live in one room for a year while other areas of the house were renovated. She humorously tells of her struggle to let go of the past while holding on to her future. She meets some rather unusual new friends along the way and surprises you with the mixed up mess their lives are in. I bet sometimes Karen felt like she had a normal life compared to those around her. I can't say more or it would spoil the story. Check out Karen's book and see how she transforms her life from the mad, everyday rush, to find satisfaction in some of life's simpler pleasures.
   I wish to thank Sourcebooks for providing me with a copy to read and review. I was not required to write a positive review. I was not compensated in anyway except for the privilege of reading the book.

I give Tout Sweet 3.5 out of 5 stars

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