They say Paris is the city of love, but I left Paris to follow the man I love to the USA.
Living in a foreign country triggers a mix of deep emotions that sometimes clash against each other. Moments of excitement and frustration elbow each other and have to learn to cohabit. In fact living abroad means learning a lot of new things. Among the most dramatic: a new language and new customs. Immigrant mothers owe a lot to their children. In my case this is in my children’s schools that I discovered the American literature for children. The hours spent reading with my kids and their classmates triggered my desire to write my own stories.
This abridged version is true. But of course things started sooner.
I don’t know for other writers, but I was a reader before writing my first words.
And my first attempt as a writer happened in France.
My paternal grandfather, blind by the time I was five, had been an avid reader and he encouraged my hunger for stories.
“Buy a book,” he would say, slipping crisp French bills or shiny coins in my hand for my birthday and Christmas.
I was six when I bought my first Club des Cinq book. I had no idea that the Famous Five series had been first written in English.
My favorite character was Claude – George in the original version. It was no coincidence that this girl had a unisex name.
In a world dominated by men, where girls who loved to climb trees and ride their bikes recklessly were called tomboys, Enid Blyton had created a girl who broke barriers and killed clichés. Claude/George was capable, smart, and witty: she was my dream friend and role model.
I grew up years away from the strong female characters that inhabit contemporary YA literature. However, for the kid I was, The Famous Five responded to the same urge for freedom and independence that I craved.
I remember stormy Thursday afternoons when there was no school. Wind slapped the shutters against the windows and rain pelted the roof while I read, my back propped against pillows, with the radio playing French and British songs and the humming of my mother’s sewing machine for background.
My mother had to pull me away from “your darned book” while my sister focused her attention on strips of fabric that my mother didn’t use. While she created clothes for her dolls and mini curtains for their houses made out of shoeboxes, my mind was in another world, caught up in solving a mystery that involved good and bad guys.
My sister didn’t like the fact that I refused to play with her when I was in the middle of a book. Moreover she resented the time I spent with my books because she didn’t like to read.
For the avid reader I was, my sister’s indifference toward stories and books was a mystery that I had to tackle.
I figured that if she didn’t like to read she hadn’t found the right story. In my nine-year-old mind it was as simple as that.
This is how I wrote my first story.
I wrote in two thin-spiraled notebooks because I loved series. My sister had to get a book with two volumes.
I cut out pictures from La Redoute and Les 3 Suisses – the French versions of the JC Penney catalogue and glued them on the cover. My sister had to get illustrated books.
I mimicked the design of my beloved Enid Blyton’s books, including the ISBN and the readers’ age. My sister had to get legit books.
My protagonists were two girls and two boys. The savviest was Frédérique, which is the female version of Frédéric; close enough to a unisex first name.
The plot was simple. A former rich old lady can’t remember where she hid her money in her dilapidated castle. Thanks to four smart kids the treasure is recovered after days of adventures.
Yes, the ingredients of my first story were similar to the ones Enid Blyton used for her successful plot recipe. The title mimicked hers too.
Le Secret de la Vieille Demoiselle (The Old Lady’s Secret), my very first story, was followed by many more and also by poems as my discovery of writers and exploration of literary genres grew.
Like many people who love books I entered the publishing industry where I learned how books are made. This is also where I quit writing, not knowing yet that words would make an unexpected come back.
I had never re-read Le Secret de la Vieille Demoiselle until one day my sister showed me the notebooks.
When I flipped open the first page, my fingers cramped.
I wrote this story by hand, and in a Proust moment, this first page triggered a rush of sensory and emotional memories.
I remembered of tiredness when my hand clasped around my pen, of challenge, too, when I struggled with the plot. I was nine years old after all.
But the moments of pure joy when I found a word I liked, an idea to build more conflict, or simply when I forgot that I was a little girl and was instead a writer, were as vibrant as they were back then.
I read the story with affection and respect for the girl I was once. My childish words carried ideas, emotions, and tastes that are still mine.
When I closed the notebook, I remembered with equal affection of The Famous Five.
The first books that triggered my desire to write my first story were originally written in English, foreshadowing my future life in a country where I would someday learn how to write in English.
Fast-forward many years, many manuscripts, and many rejections, some of my short stories were published in magazines, featured in writing contests or aired on the radio.
Moving to a foreign country means doing everything from scratch. So this is not surprising that I decided to go indie when I decided to publish my first two novels.
My Young Adult Thriller Trapped in Paris was published in 2012.
Sixteen-year-old Cameron and Framboise have nothing in common and no reason to meet. But when a volcano eruption in Iceland interrupts all air traffic, the two teenagers find themselves trapped in Paris. When they witness a murder on the River Seine and are kidnapped by a mysterious dangerous man, they become unlikely partners in a fast spine-chilling four-day adventure through the Parisian suburbs. Confronted with exceptional events, Cameron and Framboise must rely on each other. When they get separated, after a disagreement, Cameron will trust his survival instinct, brave danger, and act with unexpected courage. Ultimately Cameron and Frambroise will also overcome their personal grief and open their hearts to the possibility of change and love.
My Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines was published in 2014.
September 1970: Scott’s mother has recently died and his father gets the crazy idea to move his family from California to Normandy. Now Scott has to learn to live without his mom while adjusting to France. In his seventh grade class there is only Ibrahim who comes from another country. Scott doesn’t even want to play his guitar anymore. Why does his father think that life will be better so far from home? Scott has no idea that his arrival is also a challenge to Sylvie. While her best friend is excited to have an American boy at school, Sylvie cannot say one word to Scott. She can’t even write good songs in her notebook anymore. Why is life so different since Scott moved to Château Moines? Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War protest era and told from the perspectives of twelve-year old Scott and Sylvie, this is a story about loss and friendship, music and peace, and also about secrets.
Though the dramatic conflicts are largely quiet and interpersonal, Holingue creates a vivid, multigenerational cast of provincial characters, addressing the simmering anti-immigrant sentiments within the village while evoking the larger political and social climate of the stormy era. Ages 8-12. (Publishers Weekly)
Both novels are available as paperback and ebook and can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and any independent bookstore.
Through my fiction writing I always share my love for my two favorite homes on earth. In addition I blog in English and French from my website where I hope to meet you soon.
Thank you so much, Chris, for giving me the opportunity to share my writing on your friendly and informative blog.