Interview with Samantha Brick: writer, broadcaster, and author of ‘Head Over Heels in France’
"Most of the general population are thankfully media savvy enough to realise when I write about myself for papers such as the Daily Mail it’s a teeny facet of who I am" – we focus on a few more of those facets (beyond 'that' piece) following the release of Samantha's first book 'Head Over Heels in France', a memoir taking in her whirlwind romance with husband Pascal (you may have read about him…) and her 'reverse Cinderella' move to the South-West of France.
Here Samantha has her say on Big Brother boredom, Kirsty Allsop's recent media fumble, and dealing with keyboard warrior vitriol. We don't think there'll be any after this; this facet of Samantha Brick is actually…just kinda… nice.
Hello there Samantha! You’ve just released memoir ‘Head Over Heels in France’ – what inspired you to share your story in a long-form novel and expand upon your regular articles focusing on your life and experiences?
I lost my television company in the financial crisis that engulfed 2007 – it was the most significant moment of my life. I was left homeless, penniless and virtually friendless, I genuinely thought my life was over. I was so scared about who I was and what the future had in store for me – I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to start again…Twelve months later I wasn’t only living in France, I was planning my wedding to a French man and I’d started to write. The message I really wanted to convey in my memoir is this: we live in uncertain times, we never know what’s around the corner, yet if life doesn’t go the way we think we want it to, just know and trust that there are often better things in store for us.
What were the biggest challenges with completing it? Are there any portions of it that were particularly hard to write?
On a practical note I work well to deadlines, so that wasn’t a problem. As it was based on one of the lowest parts of my life it was hard to return to that period, but so many woman have been in touch expressing that my experiences have echoed their own…I’m glad that I did. Those subjects are ones society still doesn’t feel comfortable talking about: depression, financial problems, failure…
A lot of readers are already tweeting you to ask for a follow-up – are there plans to write another one?
Yes! But I’ve just moved house, am grappling with a litter of puppies, running a dog kennel, too – alas, I’m not making much progress.
Do you have ideas for other books – would you stick with experiences from your own life, or perhaps delve into an investigative non-fiction piece? What other subjects would you love to write about?
I do have lots of other ideas. I worked in television for over 15 years. Imagine the material I have to work with!
What’re some of the most interesting things you’ve written about during your career? Any real characters you’ve met while researching a piece?
I write about myself, I frequently ghost-write pieces based on others for national newspapers, and I also cover real life subjects. I prefer writing about other people – we’ve all got a story to tell. I love discovering what makes people tick – a skill I honed making observational documentaries in TV. I tend to stay friendly with everyone I work with, too. I’m still mates with people I filmed for the series 'Ibiza Uncovered' over 15 years ago.
Nowadays, post ‘that’ piece, some are surprised that I’m not like the ‘Samantha Brick’ they’ve read or heard about, but most of the general population are thankfully media savvy enough to realise when I write about myself for papers such as the Daily Mail it’s a teeny facet of who I am.
What’s your writing process for articles – do you have a basic outline first, do you gather your research in a particular way, is there a particular beverage you need to have next to you?
Whether it’s a book, documentary, magazine article or newspaper piece – the approach is exactly the same. Prepare as structured an outline as possible. I’ve written and filed pieces while at an airport, in my car next to a vineyard, in the green room at ITV. Luckily, I can write anywhere and that’s probably why I don’t have a preference for certain drinks or posh candles in order for my creative muse to kick in.
What are the drawbacks with being recognisable from your writing and putting yourself out there?
Honestly? None. Admittedly, it takes a certain type of person to be able to expose their inner soul in the confessional journalism genre. Actually, when people want to talk to me about my writing they’re generally complimentary – especially women! I recognise I’m really fortunate in being in this position: I’m living the rural French dream that many aspire to, I’m earning a living doing something that I adore, and there are many magazine and newspaper commissioning editors that I love working with who come to me with pieces they want me to work on. Yet I’m mindful every day of the fact that it’s an industry that is undergoing dramatic changes and not in favour of the writer, either: rates are going down, our work is being used and abused in other publications and all over the internet.
Female bloggers/writers especially can receive a lot of very nasty and sexist backlash when putting their opinions out there over the internet – how do you deal with negative feedback?
At first I couldn’t get my head around the vitriol of keyboard warriors – that includes famous ones (mostly female) and the general public. Nowadays I’ve become immune to it. If they don’t know me personally, why should I give a monkeys what ‘they’ think of me?
You also appeared on 'Celebrity Big Brother' – we remember that you appeared to deal with it quite well, but Liz Jones found it quite hard earlier this year. What are your main memories of being in the house? What’s the worst thing about it?
I’ll confess: I went in with a plan. I knew without my electronic devices and liberty I’d go insane. So I decided I’d be on housekeeping and cooking duty, oh, and that I’d take my yoga mat with me. I was beyond thrilled there was an Olympic athlete in the house too – I learnt a lot from him (it makes for dull television I know, but we worked out every day). The worst thing about it? It’s boring. Most journalists and publicists would HATE it.
Is Twitter useful for making connections and researching articles?
Yes, Twitter is beyond valuable – as is Facebook. Both mediums have allowed me to write and research more and more real life and ghosted pieces.
It’s a HUGE issue for the modern woman and she was at best brave, at worst horribly naïve, to tackle it in such a fashion. Unfortunately her statement was laughably middle class. I’m a working class woman born and bred in Birmingham, her views simply don’t tally with the rest of the UK outside of London’s posh postcodes.
Do you think film/TV celebrities can ever give a realistic opinion on day to day life for regular members of the public? Do you think the opinions of actors/presenters are given too much weight?
No and yes.
What did you want to be when you were at school – are you where you always wanted to be with your career?
I wanted to work in the media: journalism and television. So yep I’ve achieved my goals. There is another aspiration – but I’m not telling…!
You’ve said that ‘women don’t like each other very much’ – how do you think we can all be more supportive of each other? And would you describe yourself as a feminist?
It’s so difficult for women in the workplace – we’re already on the back pedal because of male dominance which won’t ever change. Plus we’ve been conditioned to believe that there’s only ever one female top dog (one beauty queen, one princess or heroine in a story or fairy tale) whereas men are much more used to working in teams – in the playground kicking a ball around, for example.
I’m one thousand per cent a feminist. There are so many discrepancies in society: pay being one of them. When I was a television executive not one woman ever asked me for a pay rise…of course the men did regularly.
And finally – drastic subject change, here – you describe yourself as a dog person. Can you settle this once and for all (and convince us cat lovers), what’s so great about dogs?
If you read my book (ha!) you’ll discover that my dogs literally saved my life. I currently have six, and also three puppies…with more on the way. Life without dogs is a life half lived. Woofers offer unconditional love – there’s stacks of research about how they reduce stress and extend our lives. Cats are solitary creatures – they’re not interested in ‘you’ (and that’s a fact, as I’ve recently qualified here in France to work with small animals…).
Cats…don't care about me?