Award-winning fashion and beauty writer, Karen Wheeler is a former Fashion Editor of The Mail on Sunday.
She has also worked as a freelance and regular contributor to the FT’s How To Spend It magazine for over a decade. She’s won the prestigious Jasmine Literary Award for writing about perfume three times and generally specialises in fashion, beauty and luxury goods trends.
And, for some reason, she left her perfectly good job and moved to France were she is currently working on her second book…. Tout Allure.
I wanted to find out why someone would jack in a perfectly good job, say goodbye to Kensington and move to a rural French village two hours by train from the nearest Prada store and a five hour journey from the nearest M&S food hall (having done something rather similar myself about 7 years ago and still sometimes wondering why???)
I also wanted to know how she managed to survive in rural France with a wardrobe designed for going to a cocktail party – or at the very least, breakfast at the Wolseley.
And, most of all, I wanted to know how to get such good reviews on Amazon (they really are outstanding!) Did she bribe all the reviewers (financially, or otherwise, no questions asked guv’nor), or did she cheat and fall back on that rarely used technique these days and Write a Bluddy Good Book?
I was hoping to do the review in person but we had people coming round to dinner and I was under orders to fix the Fosse Septique before they arrived!
No choice then, but to wash my hands and fire off an email…..
1). Your blog starts with you on route to Portsmouth, about to start a new life in France. What caused you to jack in a perfectly good job, say goodbye to Kensington and move to a rural French village two hours by train from the nearest Prada store and a five hour journey from the nearest M&S food hall. Can you tell us or do we need to buy your book in order to find out?
Karen Wheeler – Keith, how long have you got? The short answer is that it was a random twist of fate: the house practically jumped out and flung its arms around me while I was visiting a friend for the weekend. The slightly longer answer, is that I was on the run – is there anyone out here who isn’t? - from a failed relationship and a life that wasn’t making me happy in London.
2). What advice would you have to anyone considering jacking in a perfectly good job and moving to rural France in order to write a book about jacking in a perfectly good job and moving to France?
Karen Wheeler – Do it! But bring your own paint. The stuff in France is rubbish. Oh and you’ll need to find a unique angle or story to tell as I’m told that, with the possible exception of Jordan and Peter Andre, it’s not enough to write about renovating a house anymore.
3). Apart from Johnny Hallyday, Johnny Depp and me, who is the sexiest man living in France today (and please don’t say Sarkozy ‘cos no one will believe you and they’ll all just leave this site and bugger off to YouTube instead?)
Karen Wheeler – Hard to say as obviously I haven’t seen all the men living in France, but if any sexy men are reading this, please feel free to contact me via my blog. I’m quite partial to Johnny Depp. Kate Moss was a fool to let him get away. And the vet in my village is pretty gorgeous. I’ve twice had to call his practice out of hours – he had to give Biff, my dog, an adrenalin shot last summer – and on both occasions I could have done with an adrenalin shot myself. (Is that too much information Keith?)
4). From reading your blog I understand that signed copies of your book are available from Patti at Waterstones in Kensington (0207 937 8432). Is it true that if you can find an unsigned copy, it’s worth an absolute fortune?
Karen Wheeler – Ha, ha, ha, ha! You’re very funny. Yes, it’s true, I’ve signed a lot of copies. La Grande Galerie in Civray (between Poitiers and Ruffec), www.grandegaleriefrance.com is a great little place with fab tea shop attached and they also have lots of signed copies in stock.
You can buy unsigned copies (if you prefer not to have my scrawl on the inside cover) at Christies English Bookshop & Tearoom in Gencay (between Poitiers and Civray.)
5). If the BBC ever transported you to a Desert Island and then told you that, due to cutbacks, you could only take one disc - what would it be, and why?
Karen Wheeler – Oh, that would be so difficult as I like so many different kinds of music. Probably Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits. I have a secret addiction (well, not so secret now) to The Man In Black.
6). Generally, it is bad form for interviewers to talk about themselves when they should be encouraging their victims (struck out) interviewees to spill the beans. My life-changing book was Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway because it convinced me that even in bad writing (although the first book was,in my humble opinion, some of the best writing that Hemingway did), there could be a purity of communication that could transcend the limits of written/read author/reader exchange and that, in some way, the book was an apology for the Hemingway myth by the very perpetrator of that myth. What was yours, and why?
Karen Wheeler – Wow! That’s where I’m going wrong – I always talk about myself while interviewing others. No wonder the fashion designer Tom Ford couldn’t wait to get away when I interviewed him recently. Can you hold on a sec well I pour myself another glass of wine and think about that question for a while. OK…. the book that most deeply affected me was George Orwell’s 1984, though I can’t give such an expansive reason as you have given for Hemingway. 1984 is even mentioned in Tout Sweet in a scene at the start of the book, when I’m staying in a hotel in Caen and the gendarmes come storming up the stairs just like Orwell’s thought police. I was truly horrified by it (the book, I mean, not the incident in Caen, though that was scary too.)
7). Are you, like most women in France, secretly in love with Johnny Hallyday and do you truly believe that Que Je t’aime is, quite simply, the finest piece of music ever performed and should be the new French National anthem?
Karen Wheeler - I don’t know who Johnny Hallyday is. I think I’m too young.
8). When you first started your blog you used to describe, in detail, what you were wearing. Why did you stop doing that?
Karen Wheeler – Mon dieu, you’ve really ready my blog closely. I’m humbled, impressed, not worthy etc The answer is that when I first arrived here, I carried on wearing pretty much the same clothes that I’d worn in my old life in London and, while they made for interesting reading – ‘today I wore silver shoes, a grey chiffon cocktail dress and a black cardigan’ etc etc – they were spectacularly inappropriate for renovating a house or stacking the wood pile. Now I’ve got a dog, it’s no longer possible to wear high heels and chiffon dresses. In the winter, I live in jeans, wellies, woolly jumpers, an old Afghan coat and sometimes, a bobble hat. (You can see why I wouldn’t want to publicise that!)
9). What do you say to those people who believe that Elvis isn’t dead but is taking a few years off and living in a small village in rural France whilst re-inventing himself as a fashion guru and is just about to launch a range of designer dungarees?
Karen Wheeler - It’s possible. I’ve heard the same said about Lord Lucan. You never know who could be hiding out in the deepest French countryside. It’s more likely though that if Elvis was here he’d be launching a range of jumpsuits rather than dungarees, as they are a hot look for summer 2010. According to Stella McCartney.
10). Prior to starting this interview I suggested that you pour yourself a glass of wine to steady your nerves. Did you do this? If so, what was it and did it help?
Karen Wheeler – Yes, I’d already had a glass of something chilled before we started. (Well, it is Christmas) But your questions hold no fear for me. You see, I was once interviewed by Robert Kilroy Silk, in my fashion editor days. He accused me, on behalf of all fashion editors, of promoting anorexia. Now, that was terrifying.
11). Ricard or Pernod? Which is your favourite tipple?
Karen Wheeler – Er, neither of those. I am very fond of pink champagne or a glass of red wine (preferably one that’s won one of those medaille d’argent or medaille d’or awards, which blog readers will know is is my favourite method, along with a nice label, for choosing a bottle of wine.)
12). You are currently working on a new book, Toute Allure. Could you tell us what it’s about, when it’s due to be published and whether Patti at Waterstones in Kensington will be responsible for sorting out all the signed copies?
Karen Wheeler – Yes, I’m taking a break from writing Toute Allure to be interviewed by you this evening. It’s the sequel to Tout Sweet, with many of the same ‘characters’ returning but lots of new ones too. It’s the story of how I found my little shaggy black dog Biff (or rather helped myself to him, as he previously belonged to friends) and secondly, my love affair with Luis, my Portuguese neighbour.
Thankfully, Luis didn’t belong to someone else but it wasn’t love at first sight (as it was with Biff). In fact, it was open warfare as he and his friends made so much noise. Assuming that I get the manuscript finished by mid-Feb (aghghhgagh – cue, long, silent, Munch-like scream) it will be published in July this year. My publisher Summersdale is faster off the blocks than Usain Bolt when it comes to publishing books, which is good as people from all around the world have contacted me via my blog to say how much they enjoyed Tout Sweet – those reviews on Amazon are for real, honestly – and ask about the sequel.
And yes, Patti at Waterstones in Kensington will see to it that signed copies are permanently in stock and dispatch them anywhere in the world. In fact, I believe, she might already be taking advance orders. Patti is amazing. She is French and loves Tout Sweet and has sold it to some pretty high profile people in the Kensington store, including a very well known actress. (Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to mention names.)
13). Would you like to pop out onto the terrasse for a nice glass of pink champagne whilst I just make up the rest of the answers?
Karen Wheeler – Sounds good but it’s cold out there, so I might be gone for some time. I don’t mind you making up some answers. You’re questions are the funniest I’ve been asked so far. I can tell you are very witty. In fact, do you fancy lending a hand with Toute Allure?
Well Karen, on behalf of all the visitors to A Taste of Garlic, many thanks for taking the time to answer all our questions. I wish you all the best with your new book and hope to review it for this site, once it is published.
Oops – almost forgot to mention that Karen will be at the The France Show 2010 from the 8th to the 10th of January at London Earls Court.
All the best
P.S. It was only when I was writing up interview that I realised that I hadn’t asked her what the secret was to getting those excellent book reviews on Amazon! Bugger. Bugger and shit! Well, next time, maybe?
All the best