Above is me in the car outside the CBC studios on September 29, 2018 when I was interviewed for the North by Northwest radio program. Exceptionally that day the show was going out LIVE. Ack. This meant I couldn’t let any sweary words fall out of my mouth.
I am not crazy about my speaking voice and like most writers I’m far more comfortable communicating via the written word, but, hey, I was honoured to be invited and if I could get through a liver transplant I could certainly get through a radio interview.
The interview went wonderfully and many people heard it across the country. Afterwards, though, the CBC producer told me none of the recordings that day were usable because the live recording situation presented some tech difficulties they realized after the fact.
So, this is a verbatim transcription of the interview. Verbatim transcriptions are always a wee bit awkward to read. This one sure makes me realize I need to start talking in full sentences instead of my usual thought fragments! In any case, for those who have been asking, voilà!
Interview with Laura Bradbury
North by Northwest, CBC Radio
September 29, 2018
Sheryl: Right now it's 16 minutes before 9, before 10 mountain time and you know, when you can't hop on a plane, do a head off and vacation yourself, one of the easiest ways to escape to another country is with a book, especially a travel memoir. Laura Bradbury is an author based in Victoria who has published 5 memoirs about her love affair with all things French, especially her Burgundian husband, Frank and their daughters. Now, there are 5 books in the series so far and they're called “My Grape Year”, “My Grape Paris”, “My Grape Wedding”, “My Grape Escape” and “My Grape Village”.
And the stories all start when Laura was 18 and she went to Burgundy on a student exchange and went to high school there. And because she has a husband from Burgundy, you can guess, I'm not giving too much away that she fell in love, met the love of her life during her French adventures and now she and her family split their time between Canada and France and they have properties they've restored that they run as vacation rentals. Now, these books are full of Laura's love for the food, the wine and the people of the region, as well as the trials and tribulations of learning to live in a country very different from the country where you're from. And Laura Bradbury, as you can here, is with me in the studio this morning.
Laura: It's a pleasure to be here.
Sheryl: Laura, it's great to see you. And thank you for these wonderful visits to France and these memoirs that you have written.
Laura: Well, I really aim to provide escapism, a little bit of daydreaming for my readers...
Laura: ...when readers do get back to me and say that it kind of whisked them out of their everyday life, particularly if they're undergoing a challenging time; that really makes me very happy as a writer.
Sheryl: So tell us the story about how you went to France at first as an exchange student. What did you think was going to happen during that year that you were away?
Laura: Well, I really had no idea. I'd never been outside of North-America before. And so when I arrived in France, I just couldn't believe how different everything and how beautiful everything was. I'd never been to Europe so that whole thing was just a complete revelation to me. I didn't speak any French at all when I arrived there.
Sheryl: No French?
Laura: No French. I had...
Sheryl: I couldn't believe that.
Laura: I actually was so bad in French in high school that I actually had to drop it in grade 11 because it was a little bit dragging out my whole GPA for university applications. So I had no intention of speaking French later on in life. But actually I stayed with 4 host families during the year and I found that for me as much as I couldn't learn French in a class room environment, just having to sort of sink or swim, that was perfect for my learning style. And with that in mind, I could kind of understand about 80% of conversations and within about 6 months I was completely fluent.
Sheryl: It was a bold move to go to France without the language.
Laura: It was. I really had no idea what to expect.
Sheryl: And to go to high school, too.
Laura: Yes, I went to high school as well. And what was interesting going to France was I was brought up in Victoria and I found that being in France revealed to me and speaking the language once I was able to master the language, it revealed a whole different side of my personality that I hadn't realized had been there before, I felt much freer to be more emotional, more stubborn, more who I really was. I think in a different language, to a certain extent, we discover new aspects of ourselves.
Sheryl: That's so interesting.
Laura: I think so.
Sheryl: So do you flip back and forth between that, now, depending on whether you're speaking English or speaking French, whether you're here or in France?
Laura: We do. And we speak kind of a combination of both at home. When we moved back to France we lived there between 2004 and 2009 and my two older daughters went to school there for 5 years, so they're completely fluent. My third daughter was born in France and she is in French immersion now so she's fluent as well. So at home we really flip back and forth and I find that when we're speaking French, we're all a lot more emotional and much more forthright and it's very interesting.
Sheryl: That is so interesting. Besides the language there were some food things to get used to, too when you went and I'm just thinking of some of the traditional fare like I don't know, escargot, I'm thinking of blood pudding or blood sauces.
Laura: Yes, actually the second host family I was with, they actually – I had to participate in the ceremony of actually slaughtering the pig and that was really horrific and I have to say blood pudding is not something that I've ever been able to come around to. But escargot on the other hand I tasted and I loved. And what was so interesting for me was the way I was brought up in North-America; food mainly had to be healthy or a real indulgence and something you should feel guilty about, whereas in France it was all about pleasure. If food didn't provide pleasure, then there was no point in eating it and everything had to be good, had to be delicious. That for me was just life-changing.
Sheryl: About food, about your relationship with food.
Laura: Yes, about my relationship with food and how much pleasure you should be getting from food.
Sheryl: Now the first book in the series details your first year there, your exchange year and a lot of different boyfriends, boys that you were meeting in spite of the fact that...
Laura: I was 18.
Sheryl: ...weren't supposed to be meeting boys.
Laura: No, that was against the rules.
Sheryl: And then you met Frank, close to the end of the year. Did you know right away that he was the one?
Laura: It was what the French would call coup de foudre So it was really a lightning bolt, we both fell in love very hard, very fast and I was actually the age that my oldest daughter is right now. So that is a little bit mind-bending for me as a parent. But yeah, we really fell in love and then at the end of the year we didn't know – it didn't seem very realistic for us, it didn't seem probable that we would be able to stay together. But Franck fought to get a work permit to be able to come to Canada and so we did in the end, stay together, we just kind of fought and fought. I think it is actually a bit of a privilege to be able to fight to be together because then you really appreciate it.
Sheryl: Right. It's like a testing in a way.
Laura: It is.
Sheryl: And so you came back and then you went to Oxford in England.
Laura: I did. I did a law degree at Oxford which was, again, that was something that I felt like I did an English literature degree at McGill which I adored, I loved it. But being brought up in a pragmatic society and a pragmatic household, I thought well, what do you do to earn money with an arts degree? So I thought…well, law! But arly on in the law degree I realized that it wasn't something that reverberated with my soul. It was not something that I really loved doing. But because I'm a finisher I did struggle through and finish it and I got a good class of degree and everything. But yeah, I realized by the end that I really didn't want to practice law.
Sheryl: And then the two of you changed direction, I don't know, so dramatically and decided to buy and restore a house in France and you've been doing that a lot.
Laura: Yes, we have. We have 4 vacation rentals over in Burgundy now in the vineyards and actually a 13th century vine cellar under the streets of Beaune that is beautiful and that was not something that was planned at all. I got a very small inheritance from my grandfather and Franck and I thought well, we'll always want a place to come back to in Burgundy to visit because all his family is there. My Grape Escape is the book that describes that transition in our life and...
Sheryl: Some of the trials and...
Laura: Yes, and the trials and tribulations. We lost out on with the first house, we were sort of cheated out of it and then we found this house that was built in 1789, so the year of the revolution, and we renovated the entire thing ourselves on a very small budget. And then once we'd done it, we were so happy with what we had done we thought it would be such a shame that this magical place stays empty for part of the year, so why don't we share it with people, friends and family and whoever is interested who really wants an authentic time in France? That's how the vacation rental business started.
Sheryl: And it's grown like crazy.
Laura: It has. Yeah.
Sheryl: One renovation wasn't enough.
Sheryl: Some people say that never again.
Laura: Well, especially renovating old houses because it's a completely – we had horse hair in the plaster and stone walls that were about a meter thick. So it was a very, very different experience than renovating houses here, but we definitely caught the bug.
Sheryl And you've caught the bug. And you have been writing up a storm, Laura. Is writing something that you always dreamed of doing?
Laura: I knew from a very young age that what I truly wanted to be was a writer. That was always my dream. Around between ages 30 and 38-39 I started probably about 7 or 8 manuscripts. I finished them always till about 75-80%, but I never actually brought anything to the point where they were finished and they were ready to be published or sent off to agents. Then just before my 40th birthday my husband and I were doing life insurance blood testing because we were so healthy, we were running 10K-s, we were juicing kale from our back garden and we thought “Well, this is a perfect time to renew our health insurance.” My blood test came back with liver enzymes that were sky high and none of us had any idea why that was. So 2 months later a whole battery of tests and I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis and it can be terminal in a lot of cases. There's no treatment, there's no cure except a liver transplant
Coach: What a shock.
Laura: It was a complete shock. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would need an organ transplant to survive. Never. I was just like anybody else. I was completely healthy up until that point, it was just this thing that I had been percolating away in my DNA and this genetic mutation. All of a sudden my life completely changed. I was officially diagnosed in May 2012 and the day after I was diagnosed I woke up, I just felt like my life had completely turned on its axis. I went downstairs, I sat in front of my laptop, I wrote on a post-it “Eff you! I'm not dead yet!” with an exclamation mark, stuck it to my laptop and I started writing “My Grape Escape”. I didn't stop until I finished it. And I actually self-published it because I wasn't sure I was going to be around – the cycle of traditional publishing takes a lot more time and I wasn't sure I'd be around for – my health situation was very dicey and I wasn't sure I'd be around to see it published. So yeah, that fear, the diagnosis completely changed me– I'd been so scared of other people's judgments and of failure with the thing that I cared about the most. All of a sudden the fear of dying with all my words inside me made all the other fears evaporate.
Sheryl: That was just like everything got set aside.
Sheryl: And then you wrote and wrote and wrote.
Laura: I did, I wrote like I was being chased by a bear. Which I was in a sense. The disease was chasing me so I just wrote and I became a finisher. And I wrote, finished and then I shared and I started again and I just kept doing that.
Sheryl: And you got a liver transplant.
Laura: I did. I had an incredible friend of mine who donated 73% of her liver to me in a living donor transplant in March 2017, so about a 1.5 year ago. I'm doing really well and she is doing really well and it's just a really miraculous thing. I encourage everyone to sign up to be organ donors because there's a huge organ shortage in Canada.
Sheryl: What did it feel like to I guess wake up after that surgery and know that your life was changed again?
Laura: It was incredible. It was such a scary experience, but such a human experience and I saw such a side of human generosity and courage and goodness in my friend who donated and all the friends and family that supported me and my lovely readers who supported me through it. I'm very open and honest about the health journey because for one I want to promote organ donation and I want to promote awareness for PSC which is an orphan disease. I just have this new gratitude for everyday things. I'm a soccer mom and before I got sick and the transplant – after this I'm going to my daughters' soccer game.
Sheryl: Right after this?
Laura: Yeah, right after this. And before I would have been like “Oh, Saturday morning I have to go watch a soccer game. Ugh.” And then while I was sick I thought what a gift to just be a normal mom able to stand up and be able to watch a whole soccer game without feeling tired or feeling sick. So now there's just this sort of level of gratitude, this plane of gratitude that I experience in even the small, everyday things in life.
Suzanne: Are you still writing?
Laura: Oh, completely, yeah. The transplant and everything has made me even more fearless so I'm embarking on my first novel, my first fiction and it's called “A Vineyard for Two” and it will be out hopefully before Christmas, then there will be lots more books in the Grape series and then further novels as well.
Sheryl: Well, this is amazing.
Laura: And I'm sure I'll have to write the story of my transplant, too because that's just the way I process things.
Laura: And so I'm sure that that will come out at some point as well.
Sheryl: Laura, thanks so much for being here this morning. It was sure great to talk to you.
Laura: Thank you.
Sheryl: And these books, wonderful escapism.
Laura: I hope they are!
Sheryl: Thanks so much. That is Laura Bradbury and her memoirs are called “My Grape Year”, “My Grape Paris”, “My Grape Wedding”, “My Grape Escape” and “My Grape Village”. More to come, as you were hearing and for information about all the books and to read her blog and information about the rental homes in Burgundy, go to her website and subscribe to the newsletter here.