My Grape Escape

MY GRAPE VILLAGE is now available!

9 After eleven months of writing, coffee, rewriting, coffee, editing, coffee, more rewriting, more coffee, and still more endless editing MY GRAPE VILLAGE is available this morning on Kindle. The paperback will be out in the next two weeks.

Behold the blurb!

Five years after “My Grape Escape,” Laura and Franck are back in Burgundy to tackle their newest project, a derelict 16th century winemaker’s cottage located behind Franck’s family home. Not only is this a daunting rebuild from the ground up, Laura and Franck now have two preschoolers adjusting to the foreign customs of a French school. 

Navigating the different rules for raising children and managing a family in a small French village prove every bit as challenging for Laura as learning to drive a stick shift through narrow streets, or arguing with the Architect of French Monuments over permissible paint colors (spoiler alert: any color as long as it’s gray). Come along on this evocative and honest journey where love, coupled with good French food and local wine, pave the way to la belle vie.

I cannot wait to hear your feeback and I hope you have as much fun reading MY GRAPE VILLAGE as I had writing it. As always, I am forever grateful for your ongoing love and support (and your reviews on Amazon or Goodreads). Please shout out the joyous news to the rooftops (or, better yet, share it on social media) that book #2 in The Grape Series and the sequel to the Bestselling MY GRAPE ESCAPE has arrived.

I'm off to eat a square of chocolate to celebrate! Merci mes amis. Bisous to you all. xo



My Grape Escape Pilgrimage


This is so fun! Friends of friends read My Grape Escape recently and were inspired to make a pilgrimage to Magny-les-Villers and La Maison des Deux Clochers. Even better, they blogged about it! Read all about their adventures in Burgundy here. I love that they took our advice and lunched at our favorite local routier "L'Auberge du Guidon" in nearby Comblanchien and familiarized themselves not only with French truckers (and their moustaches) but huge communal bottles of wine and gargantuan "help yourself" cheese platters.

During their stay in Magny they ventured out to the epic Monday morning market in Louhans and blogged about it  (scene of our memorable day with Rene when we ended up going home with a freshly butchered poulet de bresse and a pile of dirt cheap Emile Henry kitchenware). That was when Rene reminded me to "never confuse what is urgent with what is truly important."

I hope you enjoy these two blog posts as much as I did. I wonder what trips My Grape Village will insipre?



The Grape Harvest at Domaine Buffet in Volnay

Check out these amazing photos of the 2014 Burgundy Grape Harvest... 1904273_10152736552426180_6415536610825861848_n

As I write this post, the grape harvest is happening all over Burgundy. My amazing friend Charlotte (who is also Clementine's godmother) is busy at work at the family Domaine in Volnay (Domaine Buffet) that is now managed by her husband Marc-Olivier. I hadn't met Charlotte yet in My Grape Escape - she was busy in Paris meeting her now winemaking husband.

Charlotte is a major character in the upcoming My Grape Village (although I had to change her name to "Marie" as having two Charlottes - her and my eldest daughter - was just too confusing for this here writer). We had several hilarious email exchanges where we competed to find the most hideous name for her - my favorite being "Fredigonde" I believe - but for the moment I have been calling her "Marie" in the manuscript as her friendship and that of my other French bestie Isabelle was truly one of the miracles of my years in France.

I will keep posting photos of the Grape Harvest at Domaine Buffet for the next few days...a huge merci to Jacqueline Hogue, another member of my beloved Buffet clan, for taking these phenomenal photos.


The vineyard above supplied the grapes in the first and last photos. These vines are Le clos de la Rougeotte, and the ancient and gnarled cherry tree to the right there is what gives this appellation of Volnay 1er cru such a unique cherry flavour. 

The fact that every section of vineyards in Burgundy creates unique tasting wine based on a myriad of such oddities is what makes Burgundy such hallowed grown for wine lovers.


According to Charlotte B. (or Marie, as you will be getting to know her, or Fredigonde if we decide to go that direction) the 2014 grapes are beautiful and luscious with very little rot. The only shame is that the yield will be low due to the disastrous hail storm when Franck was in France. Rest assured, there may not be a lot to go around but the wine that is going to be made from these grapes above is going to be delectable indeed.


Five Reasons Why Self-Publishing was the Right Choice for Me

The debate between self-publishing and traditional publishing rages on. I am the first one to pounce on any essay or blog post by self-publishing trailblazers such as Hugh Howey, Martin Crosbie, or Jasinda Wilder to name only a few. They are invariably a damn good read. Rather than pit black against white, however, my choice to self-publish boiled down to five highly personal and idiosyncratic reasons.


1. I wanted to teach myself how to self-publish a book

I am not the sort of person who learns well when someone is trying to teach me things.  Within five minutes I zone out and ants start to hatch in my brain.  I can only learn things by hurling myself in the deep end and doing them.  This accounted for my appalling French mark all through high school (to the desperation of my parents, my french teachers, and my french tutors).  When I went on my Rotary exchange to Burgundy in high school and lived with four non-English speaking French families, I was fluent in four months.

I wanted to learn how to build a house from the ground up, so we built a house in Victoria in 2010. I now know how houses are built.

When I decided I wanted to know how to self-publish a book, I knew the only way I could learn was by doing it myself.  This doesn't mean I did everything myself - far from it.  Just like we had a general contractor and plumbers and electricians build our house, I recruited great people to help me with the parts I knew I couldn't do well - the conversion of Word documents to Createspace and Kindle files, cover design and format by a graphic artist, etc.  However, I did figure out how the process worked from beginning to end and learned a ton that I will apply to publishing my next book.

2. I am impatient

You can just ask my husband, impatience is one of my dominant qualities.  Being diagnosed in 2012 with a rare and serious auto-immune liver / bile duct disease (PSC) exacerbated it by about...oh...around one hundred per cent. One of the most difficult things us PSCers have to live with is crushing uncertainty. There is currently no effective treatment for our disease except eventual liver transplant, which of course brings its own set of risks.  We are at a far higher risk for liver and bile duct cancer than the general population, and because the disease varies so much from person to person we could be asymptomatic for 20-30 years or need a transplant next month.

All this uncertainty compounded my impatience. I decided that I was unwilling to surrender the timing of My Grape Escape's  release to anyone.

3. I knew I had a ready-built market for the book 

We started renting La Maison des Deux Clochers fifteen years ago.  I learned quickly that we did not have to work very hard (or at all, actually) to sell the idea of France or Burgundy. It has already been accomplished in the collective consciousness, and rightly so.

When we lived in Burgundy for five years between 2004-2009 I wrote a popular blog called "The Grape Journal."  Over the years countless guests, many of who we have stayed in contact with, asked me to write a book.  So before I even started the self-publishing process of My Grape Escape I knew that I had 15 years of past vacation rentals guests who would have a personal interest in my memoir about our Burgundian renovation.  I was able to market it on our Grape Rentals Facebook page and we will soon be redoing our Grape Rentals website and linking it more effectively to my book(s).

4. I wanted to donate a portion of my royalties 

Because PSC is so rare (only around 100,000 people in the world have it so it is officially an "orphan" disease), most pharmaceutical companies have no interest in researching treatments - there is just not the return of a new treatment for something far more common, unlike a disease such as Hepatitis C.  One doctor actually laughed in my face when I asked about new treatments coming down the pipeline.

I do indeed donate 10% of all my royalties to PSC Partners Seeking A Cure (and will continue to do so with everything I publish and sell).  This motivates me to write more books and sell more books.  It is a win-win for me.  I could be mistaken, but I suspected most traditional agents or publishers wouldn't have agreed to this and it was of primary importance to me.

5. Most agents wanted me to remove every mention of my struggles with anxiety from the manuscript.  

I went into this in more detail in an earlier blog post "Panic Attacks and Pain au Chocolat" . Basically, almost all the agents who read the full manuscript of My Grape Escape said they were uncomfortable with the fact that I wrote about my struggles with anxiety during and after my Oxford law degree and while we renovated La Maison des Deux Clochers.  They felt it just didn't "fit" with an often humorous memoir about the renovation of a revolutionary era house in Burgundy.

I thought long and hard about their comments, but concluded that for me the anxiety was a crucial part of the story I wanted to tell.  Self-publishing gave me the freedom to publish the book as I wished.  So far the overwhelming majority of readers do not seem to feel it is out of place. On the contrary, they tell me that exposing my own vulnerabilities allowed them to connect with my story.

So there you have it - the highly personal reasons why self-publishing was the right choice for me. I'm grateful that writers have options these days.  It wasn't like that in the bad 'ole days ten or even five years ago.   

How about you - what made you choose either self-publishing or traditional publishing (or that new beast - the hybrid)?



On Panic Attacks and Pain au Chocolat

429602_552639564756498_198065503_n "I can't believe you wrote about your anxiety and panic attacks.  That was so brave."

Since publishing My Grape Escape in November I have heard this from many readers.  I always find it surprising.

For me, writing about the anxiety and panic attacks I struggled with during and after my law degree at Oxford wasn't a conscious decision.  They were so intergral to that juncture in my life that to leave them out would have felt (to me) like I was telling a story that made no sense.

The agents who read my full manuscript weren't big fans of the anxiety aspect of my story. They said it would be a hard sell to publishers.  I believed them.  I am not sure where it is written (I personally blame Peter Mayle) but there appears to have developed a rule whereby memoirs set in France should stick to descriptions of fresh baguettes, humourous linguistic misunderstandings, and eccentric french people wearing berets.  The only acceptable emotions are exasperation and wonder (and just for the record, Peter Mayle is a master at these two).

Of course, My Grape Escape includes a lot of the above - because during the months we renovated La Maison des Deux Clochers we did enjoy lots of delicious french food and wine and were surrounded by a crew of fascinating, eccentric french people (we were in Burgundy, after all).

My story, however, also included the emotional messiness underneath the surface.  This made a lot of people very uncomfortable.  I heard from another agent who said he would be interested in taking on the book if I eliminated the anxiety angle altogether.  I thought about this long and hard but decided that I just couldn't do it. The story of My Grape Escape without talking about anxiety felt inauthentic at best, dishonest at worst.

Don't get me wrong, I am as much a sucker for glossy surfaces as the next person.  I find it bizarrely soothing to flip through a copy of Real Simple magazine and delude myself for about fifteen minutes that life can really be that tidy.

Still, glossy images capture my attention for a while, but never for very long.  Honesty is ulitmately what holds my interest - in people, in writing, in life.

Honesty always leads me to the same conclusion.  This human journey we are all on is a wild, complex thing. It is joyous, it is tortuous, and it is anything but tidy.  More importantly, we are all on this journey together.  The more honest we are, the more we can support each other.

I am most touched by the readers who thank me, most often in urgent whispers, for writing openly about my struggles with anxiety.  Somewhere along the line these people have been made to feel that they are defective because they are a mix of many complex, seemingly incoherent parts.  "No," I tell them.  "You are not defective.  You are just beautifully human."

A glorious life is still possible with depression, or an anxiety disorder, or health issues, or family trauma.  You can have your panic attack and enjoy your pain au chocolat too.