Saturday, 28 April 2018


The Novel Points of View team are delighted that most members have novels being published this year and so to celebrate we are introducing a Question and Answer series, so readers can discover more about each author and their work. First up is Jennifer Bohnet with her TWELTH novel A Year of Taking Chances... 

Hello Jennie, 

Let's start with a little introduction to A Year of Taking Chances...

When best friends, Tina and Jodie, make a drunken New Year’s Eve vow to change their lives before they hit the big 3 – 0, neither expected to end the year with much more than another hangover…

Twelve months later, Jodie is married and living in Provence – and Tina is exactly where she was a year ago (although now her rent is double). Tina can’t help but feel a little bit left behind, but as Jodie reminds her, she’s not thirty yet, there’s still time to quit her job, start her own literary agency and sign the man of her dreams!

1)   Reading the prologue you dedicate A Year of Taking Chances to your husband – was this novel inspired by your own experience?

I suspect deep down it might have been but the truth is just before the book was due
Jennifer Bohnet
with a selection of her novels
to be published I got the usual request from my publishers for acknowledgements and a dedication. It occurred to me then, that Richard and I have taken so many chances during our married life - we met and married within three months, moved to Devon, moved to Wales to go farming, moved house - oh I lost count at about 15 times but the biggest risk we took was coming to France on bikes with a tent and dog in a trailer.  Like the dedication says, some of the chances we took we disastrous but equally some were spectacular!

2)    We learn that Tina is a literary agent and Jodie works in publishing, focusing on PR - how easy or tricky was it to create protagonists who work within the industry?

These days authors have to sell themselves and promote their work and in doing that you invariably learn something about how agents and journalists in PR work. I’ve a couple of friends who were happy to answer any queries, e.g. ‘would it work like this?’ and hopefully I’ve managed to give the correct flavour of both jobs.

3)   A Year of Taking Chances is peppered with interesting little quirks in French lifestyle. Are there any French customs you would encourage readers to try?

Just the wine! No seriously, let me think. I’ve been here eighteen years now and it’s hard to remember what was strange in the beginning but is now a way of life. Handshakes and kisses when meeting someone you know and asking ‘Ca Va?’ Being greeted with a ‘Bonjour’ on entering a shop and then you calling out ‘Merci’ as you leave. And asking anyone for assistance - always start with ‘Bonjour’ and a ‘s’il vous plait’. The French regard these things as common courtesy.

4)   Tina enjoys the hustle and bustle of working in a literary agency in London, whilst Jodie comes to love the quieter pace of French rural life. If you weren’t a writer, but could swap with either Tina or Jodie for six months, which lifestyle would you choose?

In my twenties and thirties the hustle and bustle of a London life would have appealed more than it does these days. I guess I’m actually living a downsized rural version of Jodie’s lifestyle already so I’ll stay with it, thank you!

5)    Do you find time to read whilst writing? And if so, which authors would we find on your to-be-read pile?

French TV is (whisper it) not very good, so I read a lot, three or four books a week, mainly in bed. Books currently on my beside table or on the Kindle tbr pile include novels by Veronica Henry, Jill Mansell, Erica James, Milly Johnson. I also read a lot of non-fiction. I’m fascinated by the history of the French Riviera during the 20s, 30, and 40s - basically the jazz age, with people like Coco Chanel, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald et al. I’ve got quite a large reference collection of books dealing with the subject for those years.

6)   Finally, as we mentioned at the beginning, A Year of Taking Chances is your twelfth novel. Can you share a little of what you’ve planned for number thirteen?

As I’m quite superstitious number thirteen is a worry! Once again I have two main protagonists, although this time they are older. Carla, at nearly 50, is at a crossroads in her life when she arrives in France to stay with her mother’s estranged twin, Aunt Josette. As for Josette, well, she’s the last person alive who knows a shameful family secret.

Novels about family secrets are always a winner, Jennie. Thanks so much for answering our questions and giving us an insight into your life in France. And good luck with both A Year of Taking Chances and novel number thirteen.

Check back soon when American author, Terry Lynn Thomas will be taking the hot seat.

Until then, happy reading,

Rae x


Saturday, 21 April 2018


It will soon be May 1st and Bank Holiday time in England. Here in France the day is also a holiday and celebrates not one but two fetes, Fete du Travail and Fete du Muguet. Both of them of equal importance to the French.

Lets take a look at the Fete du Travail - otherwise known as Labour Day. Labour Day is regarded as a public holiday here in France and everything closes (except for essential services) as everyone is legally entitled to this annual day off. This year May 1st will fall on a Tuesday and, as always, is designated as a day of action by the unions. You may, or may not, be aware of the French unions current disagreement with President Macron and the reforms surrounding employment and the economy he is trying to legalise. During April the unions started implementing a planned thirty-six days of strikes - to take place every Tuesday and Thursday over the next couple of months. So this year, fete du Travail will no doubt see a lot of protest action all over the country. Personally I shall be staying away from marches and protests and bunkering down at home and treating it as a normal working day - I might even get to finish the wip.

The May 1st holiday can actually be traced back to pagan rituals. For the Celtic people, this day marked the passing of the dark winter months to the return of the beautiful, sunny days of spring. On this day it has long been a French tradition to give those you love a little bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley flowers - Muguets in French. Apparently on the 1st May 1561 a Muguet was given to King Charles IX of France as a lucky charm. He liked it so much he decided to offer them each year to the ladies of the court. Then around the 1900s men started to do the same to their wives and girlfriends. To give these flowers on 1st May means you are wishing happiness and good luck in celebration of the arrival of spring. I’ve heard too, that at one time during the 20th century, giving your loved one a single muguet or a rose on Mayday was observed more than Valentine’s Day in February. 

There is a curious tradition attached to the selling of Muguets in France. I haven’t been aware of it so much since living up here but when we lived in the south of France every Mayday there would be lots of young people standing on street corners with baskets over-flowing with Muguets for sale. It’s the one day of the year that a flower selling license is not required. Although they are supposed to adhere to just two conditions: not to stand within 40m of a legitimate florist shop and the flowers are supposed to have been picked from a personal garden i.e. not purchased for re-sale. Not sure how strictly those conditions were enforced!

Happy Mayday Bank Holiday when it arrives.

Saturday, 14 April 2018


A sculpture close to
 As regular readers of the blog might know, travel and new experiences are what refills my creative well and so during the Easter break I set off with my family to visit the German capital, Berlin. It’s a magnificent city steeped in both pre- and post-war history that makes for a thought-provoking visit. We spent time in quiet reflection at both the Holocaust Memorial and at sites where it’s still possible to see parts of the Berlin wall. During the few days we spent there, we saw and learnt so much, however, given this is a blog mostly about books and writing, there are two standout memories I wish to share.


The Bebelplatz Memorial
The first was our trip to Bebelplatz, an imposing open square flanked by the grand stately buildings of Humboldt University, whose former professors include Albert Einstein and The Brothers Grimm. Beneath the square, visible through a glass panel, lies an empty library. Row upon row of stark white marble shelving. Enough to hold the 20,000 books, including works by Einstein, that were considered forbidden by the Nazis and burnt there, during the infamous book burning ceremonies that took place on the evening of 10th May 1933 in university cities across the country. 


It’s an incident highlighted in Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief, and also a chilling scene in the movie of the same name.

Beside the Bebelplatz memorial is a plaque with a quotation in German, written by poet and
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
journalist, Heinrich Heine in 1821 that reads…
That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people. As we now know, the bonfire of books was only the beginning of the terrors to follow.


Nowadays, however, on the 10th May each year, the students of Humboldt University hold an annual book sale, where cushions are provided so the public can enjoy reading in the open air.


Next we travelled by tram, forty-five minutes east from the city centre, for a fascinating visit to the
Outside & Inside the Former Stasi Prison
fortified former Stasi (East GermanState Security Service) Jail. We saw the cramped cells and heard of the appalling conditions endured by political prisoners made up of journalists, authors, lecturers, politicians, writers and more, who were interrogated then forced to sign fake confessions, before being subjected to dummy trials.

Former inmates lead tours conducted in German. Whilst our excellent English speaking guide reminded us that although Berlin’s jail is now a museum piece, such institutions are still used in numerous countries around the world. A sobering thought.


After the Wall
by Jana Hensel
Whilst browsing in the museum bookshop I came across a memoir by Jana Hensel entitled After the Wall. Hensel was born in Leipzig, GDR (East Germany) in 1976 and is now a journalist for Der Spiegel. She was thirteen years old on 9th November 1989 when the Berlin wall fell and the foundations of the society she’d grown up in crumbled beneath her feet. After the Wall is a short account of what that meant, not only for Hensel’s generation, born under a Communist regime then having to learn the unwritten rules of how to live in the West, but also for her parents’ generation and the rifts/problems caused by the change.

So why was stumbling across this little book so special to me? – A fifty-year old Scottish woman?


Well during the mid-eighties, I took part in a school exchange visit and spent a week living with a
A remaining section
of the Berlin Wall
wonderful Bavarian family, at a time when Germany was still divided into East and West. One of my strongest memories of that trip, along with knocking back a tankard of beer at the local beer festival (an experience I opted not to share with my mum!), was an organised trip into nearby woods, to witness the wire fencing and young grim-faced East German armed guards who protected the border. Alongside the rifles, I remember a stillness only broken by bird song as I stared at trees on the other side, wondering what life was like for a teenager, like me, over there. Now, all these years later, because the Berlin wall toppled and politics moved on, Hensel’s writing and others like her, provide an insight and understanding. Surely that’s what gives books, whether fiction or non-fiction, their real strength?

Visiting Bebelplatz and the Stasi prison were both reminders of the power (and fear) of writing, as well as of authors who are driven by the desire to share their thoughts and stories.

Berlin Cathedral in the sunshine
Whilst Berlin’s turbulent past is horrendously sad, today it’s a beautiful city that is interesting to visit and that my family hopes to return to again soon.


Further reading :

The Iron Curtain Kid by Oliver Fritz

Stasiland by Anna Funder