Freelance journalist Vanessa Couchman can turn her hand to most things, but since moving to rural France in 1997 she has specialised in writing about French life. Uncover some myths and stereotypes with Vanessa in today’s interview…
About your journalism:
What do you write about?
I can turn my hand to most things, but since I have lived in rural southwest France since 1997 my main specialism is writing about French life for English language publications. This focus includes history, culture and customs, travel, food and drink, moving to France, starting a business in France, French property. I love seeking out the reality behind the myths – and there are plenty of those about France! I provide words and picture packages with high-quality, high-resolution images. I’m a fluent French speaker and can source contacts and case studies.
I also write about the craft of writing, book reviews and literary history.
Where are we likely to see your work?
On France I write regularly for French Property News magazine and my articles have appeared in Living France, France Magazine, International Living, olive, TheFrenchPaper and Tiens Webzine as well as for a variety of travel and French life websites.
On writing I’ve written regularly for Ezee Writer ezine and for Mslexia, The Lady, Best of British, Writers’ News, and Freelance Market News amongst others.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
It’s all memorable! Seriously, the two recent ones I’m most proud of are a travel-cum-culture feature about the French beret (history, traditions, manufacture, etc.) for France Magazine and an illustrated feature for French Property News about house exchanging and house sitting, both of which are becoming increasingly popular.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
There are so many. But I’d really love to do a feature about Corsica, which I know well, focusing on parts of the island that are well-kept secrets. Many people just stay around the coastal resorts but there’s far more to it than that. In addition to a turbulent history, it has stunning scenery, picturesque villages and good eating. What more could you want?
About you and PRs:
Where do you source ideas for articles?
Social media, Google, magazines, blogs, websites, my own life in France and that of friends and contacts.
How can PRs be useful to you?
Providing timely and to-the-point press releases or information about upcoming events.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Living where I do, it’s not easy to get to parties and conferences, etc. that are held in the UK, although if I have enough notice I can get to things I consider really important. I’ve never been on a press trip – but am always open to suggestions!
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Be more targeted instead of sending non-specific press releases to a wide range of people.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Where I live, there aren’t many options. Provide an advice service for people moving to this area or maybe start a B&B.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I would splurge it all on a weekend at Michel Bras’ three Michelin starred hotel and restaurant near Laguiole in Aveyron. This was voted one of the ten best restaurants in the world a few years ago. It’s only a couple of hours away from us. Naturally, I’d write about it afterwards.
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I’ve started re-reading the English classics, many of which are free on my Kindle. I’m reading Rosy Thornton’s ‘The Tapestry of Love’, a novel about an Englishwoman who moves to the Cevennes. I’ve just finished ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ by Edmund de Waal – a fascinating odyssey into his family history.
Writing Magazine is one I wouldn’t be without since it provides all the up-to-date gen on both fiction and non-fiction writing (I do both). I also like the suite of three French life magazines published by Archant – Living France, France Magazine and French Property News – all of which I’ve written for. But those aren’t in my bag – I subscribe to the digital editions.
I read a lot of blogs about France. For a really stylish one, Deborah Lawrenson’s is hard to beat. She’s a journalist-turned-novelist who spends part of her time in Provence and writes evocatively about it.