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Heads Above Water:
Staying Afloat in France
In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
|Heads Above Water:
Staying Afloat in France
By Stephanie Dagg
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Especially since I have been working with France Book Tours, I have had many opportunities to read books by expats living now in France. So far, Heads Above Water: Staying Afloat in France tops them all for me.
As similar books, you hear about what this family left behind, why they decided to move and settle in France, and then about all the daily ordeals when the nice dream becomes reality, and sometimes a tough one.
But what makes this book really special is Stephanie Dagg’s style: her writing flows so naturally, it is full of dynamism and energy, with tons of humor, even in the most dramatic situations. Indeed, to survive such a feat, you need a good amount of humor! I felt totally swept off my feet and could not wait to see what was coming next.
More than other books I have read, she includes lots of details, too many maybe for some readers, but being French, I could appreciate how much she had to explain about red tape and paperwork, so that the rest of the world would have an idea what it’s really like in France.
And no, she does not exaggerate when she speaks of the workers coming to fix part of the house, what they did, and how they did it, and mostly how long it took them to do it. I would have tons of personal stories to add to illustrate her point.
I had to laugh about the passage on what type of paper and notebooks the kids had to buy for each class at school, with special requirements, different for each teacher. I, like all French kids, had to go through that. When I became a teacher myself, I started a semi revolution when I announced at the very first parent-teacher meeting that they could buy WHATEVER notebook they wanted for my English class! Both parents and colleagues looked at me as if I were coming from another planet. And as you can imagine, I was never able to set the example.
Other things I really enjoyed in this book:
- the way she follows the calendar and mentions French traditions and how they are celebrated locally in her neck of the woods
- I also learned lots of things on lamas – did you know their sex life has some hilarious elements to it??
- It was really neat also how she integrated a French proverb after the title of each chapter
- and you have to admit, the cover is really cool! and you have it all: the 2 old buildings, the ponds, the fish, and the lamas!
Stephanie Dagg gives a very realistic image of what expats can expect when they decide to go settle in France. If you are considering such a move, I highly recommend you read this book! It also contains lots of very concrete and useful information, and will definitely help you let go of too romantic ideas you may have.
If you are happy where you are, it is still an excellent book to read, to know more about daily life in France, and enjoy great writing. And you may even consider visit Stephanie next time you spend some vacation there, as she has great facilities for guests and organizes fascinating tours.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Heads Above Water: Staying Afloat in France is the story of our first couple of years as expats in France. And yes, there are lots of books about living in France out there already. But a lot of these are the short-term adventures of single people or retired couples or tourists. Moving abroad for good with a family and without a pension is a whole new ball game. That’s what makes Heads Above Water different. It’s about us, a family with three children, who stick the hardships out and make things start to work. It’s about actually making a living in a new country and dealing with the sort of rules and regulations that only the French could think of. It’s realistic, honest and gritty – but also fun, lively and very entertaining, and, I hope, ultimately inspiring. [provided by the author]
We moved the electric fencing a fraction every few days or so to give the llamas a fresh patch of grass to eat. Little moves were best. We tried a major relocation in the early days, but it was disastrous. Electric fence wire has a mind of its own. However carefully you hold it, it tangles itself up and wraps itself around the posts. You end up having to rethread it completely. The llamas got a few shocks from it and learned to respect it. All except Larry. He just closed his eyes and winced rhythmically as the charge pulsed through him any time he stuck his neck to close to it. Oscar might be a wimp, but Larry was dumb.
Larry was an escape artist too, as I soon found out one Wednesday. It had been pretty much the perfect morning, apart from Chris not being there, of course. I’d got Benjamin and Caitlin to the school bus-stop in time with far fewer threats and bribes than usual, and since then Ruadhri and I had been contentedly planting the next instalment of the zillion daffodil bulbs I had over-enthusiastically bought a while ago. We’d gone inside to make some early Christmas decorations from walnut shells and have some quality time together. My halo was bright. I was being a Good Mother. We stopped for a cup of tea. Ruadhri looked out of the window.
“Larry’s escaped!” he announced.
My perfect world shattered. My heart sank to my boots. I looked outside and sure enough, there was Larry prancing away down the driveway. Denis and Oscar were watching him anxiously, almost certainly planning to join him. Bernard ignored them all as usual. I hurtled outside and hustled the remaining boys into the stable. I had some remote chance of catching one escapee, but three? No way. I wasn’t going to let them get ideas. Next I stuck Ruadhri in front of the telly, to his delight, and then quickly filled the magic green llama bucket up with pellets, threw a rope round my neck and set off after Larry.
An hour later the wretched animal was still skipping around, despite several near captures. I was in a foul mood. What on earth had possessed us to buy 75 acres of llama gallops? What on earth had possessed us to buy llamas? But at least it was Wednesday and the guys would be back from school early. We’d surely be able to catch him between us. I realised that things could have been a whole lot worse. Any other day of the week, it would have been dark by the time they got home and llama wrestling in the night-time gloom would have been a whole different ball game.
I made a pile of peanut butter sandwiches for Ruadhri to eat as his eyes got squarer and squarer with every minute of extra telly viewing. I was too distracted to care. I sent Chris a whinging email. And then some more. I felt depressed. Then I had a brainwave. I hurried out and tied electric fence wire across the driveway and between the trees and the two houses. That should constrict Larry a bit. The moment Benjamin and Caitlin arrived, even though they were tired from coping with a morning of French, I mercilessly stuck more fence wire in their hands and snapped out instructions. Go this way, go that way. Faster, slower, STOP! Cunningly we herded Larry into in a smaller and smaller area by moving in with the fence wire and finally we swooped. Caitlin opened the stable door, Benj nipped in and rattled the bucket, I ran behind shouting and Larry blundered in. Trapped at last! A volley of spitting broke out in the stable. Benj slipped out and slam, the door was shut. I could happily have nailed it shut forever, no, bricked it up. I hated llamas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’m Stephanie Dagg, married to Chris for 27 years and mum to Benj (22), Caiti (19) and Ruadhri (12). We live on a 75 acre farm in rural Creuse with llamas, alpacas, pigs, sheep, poultry and three lakes full of carp. We run a fishery and gite, and also a llama trekking business. We moved here in 2006 from Ireland, where we’d lived for 15 years. Before that we lived in England. You can follow our French adventures at http://www.bloginfrance.com.
I’m an English graduate (Somerville College, Oxford) and Publishing Studies postgraduate (Stirling). I began a career in publishing in 1985 as a desk editor with Hodder and Stoughton, then I deviated from the path to become a sales rep for a couple of years for some academic presses and then an accountant. This is what meeting and marrying a guy who has a job in Newcastle does for you! Anyway, in 1992 I got back on track by becoming a freelance editor and indexer, working from home part-time around the kids. The same year we moved to Ireland.
I began to write stories for Benj, and then Caiti, and I won second prize in a contest in a magazine with one of my tales. That prompted me to begin contacting publishers. I got plenty of rejections but finally hit the right place at the right time with Mentor Press and O’Brien Press in Ireland in 1998. For the next eight years I wrote prolifically and spent many happy hours visiting schools and libraries to do workshops with kids.
Then we moved to France and I stopped writing for a while due to sheer exhaustion! Renovating a 200 year old farm that is falling apart takes a lot of effort, and so does running two businesses (running a holiday cottage and fishing lakes, and freelance editing). Life is interesting and full of challenges and we’re so glad we took the plunge and moved to France.
I have Twitter accounts @llamamum @bookeditorsteph and facebook https://www.facebook.com/stephanie.dagg
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