Couchman French Collection Cover LARGE EBOOK

French Collection:
Twelve Short Stories


 Release date: Nov 9, 2017
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104 pages
ISBN: 9780981347417

Author’s Goodreads page

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For fans of all things French, a collection of stories from the author of the bestselling The House at Zaronza.

Steeped in history, France is a country whose landscapes and light have enthused writers and artists for centuries. Beneath the dust of ages lie buried countless personal histories, which have inspired this collection of twelve fictional short stories.

Can Arlette resolve her predicament while her sweetheart fights in the trenches on the Western Front? By escaping to the countryside, will a woman be allowed to leave behind her troubled past? The celebrated painter Edgar Degas wants to paint an exotic circus performer, but will the portrait match her expectations? Can the unsightly Pierre Turnip Nose get the girl he is afraid will never want him? These are just four of the dilemmas that must be resolved by the end of each of the twelve stories.

Most of the tales are set in the past and a few contain a hint of the supernatural. All are infused with the essence of France.



Vanessa Couchman
has lived in southwest France since 1997
and is fascinated by French and Corsican history and culture.
Her first novel The House at Zaronza (Crooked Cat Books, 2014)
is set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I.
She has finished another Corsica novel, The Corsican Widow,
set in the 18th century,
and is writing a third Corsica novel set during World War II.
Among the ideas jostling for position is a novel set in France in World War II.
Vanessa’s short stories have won, been placed and shortlisted
in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.

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Vanessa Couchman

Going Back in Time in France

France is a wonderful place to visit on vacation, but it’s even more wonderful to live here – as I have done for 20 years – because you can immerse yourself in its fascinating culture and history. My husband and I moved from the U.K. to an 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France in 1997. As Piaf sang, “Je ne regrette rien,” although it was a bit of a leap in the dark for us.

Once we had settled in, and I had brushed up my appalling French, I began to realise how much French people are attached to their rural past and in what ways France had changed over the 20th century. Some of those changes were gradual and modernisation was patchy, especially in rural areas.

Couchman1For example, one of our friends, Claude, told us that his parents still ploughed with oxen in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Electricity had come to most places from the 1920s, but running water was not installed in some villages near us until the 1970s. Before the advent of washing machines, the laundry was done a few times a year in the local lavoir (washing pool). In the 1980s, before motorways criss-crossed the country, it could still take 18 hours to drive from Paris to the Tarn département of southwest France.

Even so, French rural society changed more in 100 years than it had in the previous millennium. The biggest revolution was rural depopulation, which had already started in the late 19th century. The increasing mechanisation of agriculture meant that fewer hands were needed on the land. And people believed that they could achieve a better life by moving to the towns. Scratching a living from the soil wasn’t easy in places. Sometimes families just gave up and abandoned their farms – “mettre la clef sous la porte” (put the key under the door).


The demographic holocaust of World War I hastened this rural decline. With so many men killed or maimed in the war, whole swathes of farmland reverted to the wild. Our own village, now a quiet backwater, boasted a population of almost 5,500 in the 1830s. It had a thriving monthly fair and numerous shops, hotels and bistros. By 1921, the population had declined to around 2,600 and it had halved again by 1990. Heaps of stone in the woodlands were once dwellings.

I find the position of women in society during this period particularly interesting. During World War I, women took on roles running farms, driving ambulances and producing munitions. Some people we know came across a letter written by their grandmother Palmyre to their grandfather, who was fighting in the trenches. Despite having several children and all the usual chores to attend to, she ran the farm as well in his absence. In the letter, Palmyre told him what she had planted in particular fields and how the weather had been. Despite their work in the war, French women were not given the vote until 1944, unlike their British counterparts.

Attitudes to women and work changed slowly. Another friend, Georgette, was born in 1937. A bright child, her teacher wanted her to continue her studies after taking her certificat d’études at age 11.
“My parents didn’t want me to,” Georgette said. “They wanted me to stay at home and help around the house and with the farm. They thought it was enough that I could read and write.”
Eventually, persuaded by the teacher, Georgette’s parents relented, but their attitude reflected the traditional view of women’s role. And it wasn’t until the 1960s that a law was repealed that had required women to have their husband’s permission to exercise a profession.

This is the background against which my collection of tales, French Collection: Twelve Short Stories, is set.  The stories are mostly set in the past. A few take place in the present but they draw extensively on the legacy of bygone days and on French people’s profound attachment to their rural roots. I hope you enjoy them.

Bien cordialement,

Vanessa Couchman

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