French lessons from Helena Frith Powell
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Read her answers to your questions here:
Moderator: Hi everyone and welcome to our webchat with Helena Frith Powell. How are you today Helena?
Helena: Very well thank you, enjoying my Daily Mail as always! Very excited about the serialisation of the book!
Moderator: It was a good read this morning! Here’s the first question.
Gloria: I read the extract from your book in the Daily Mail this morning and I laughed my head off. How hard was it to write, and what do you think the reaction of French women will be to it?
Helena: First of all, I’m really happy that you laughed. Reading should be entertaining. It was a real pleasure to write and a real adventure as it involved me finding out about French women and trying to change myself.
It was intense, I think my husband got fed up of me obsessing about face creams and underwear!
French reactions? I’m not sure they’ll be very happy about my conclusion that they’re lacking on the humour front but I think that some French women might be offended.
Tobias: Hello Helena, my question is how did you get in to writing and is it the perfect lifestyle?
Helena: I wish I could say I was discovered! But I was a financial journalist and when I moved here my husband was working for the Sunday Times, and he was away when they called asking for an article about Cannes. I explained I was his wife and could write and I ended up writing the article, and that’s how it got started!
In terms of being the perfect profession, I think someone living like me in the middle of nowhere in France, it’s a lovely way to make a living.
I’m active even if I don’t see lots of people, I’m here with the children all day.
Amelia: You’ve been a journalist, a model and a novelist, what is the best career of the three do you think, and why?
Helena: That’s a fantastic question! I think that I was a very bad model! I was very unsuccessful. I think the modelling was a low point.
I think the journalism is incredibly exciting, you have deadlines to meet and you’re involved in the news and constantly writing. The writing is exciting and you have more control. I can inject humour. A combination of the latter two, but the modelling… I’m just not very good at it!
Tobias: How difficult is it living as a foreign woman in France?
Helena: I think it’s, where I am, easier than being a Parisian. They really hate Parisians! As an English woman you’re more accepted and they are curious about you instead of hating you, which they would if you were from Paris.
The difficult thing at the beginning was I spoke no French. I was very lonely at times. As a foriegn woman in France you’re very easily accepted and I’ve had nothing but a warm welcome.
Rachel: In view of the recent comments regarding British life by Gwyneth Paltrow – any desire to move back?
Helena: I love coming back to England. Love that I can understand everything – the jokes, the taxi drivers, the nuances. Lots of things I miss terribly… friends, Waitrose!
Certain cultural things I really miss. But I have to say my life now is here. The quality of life we have here is the kind of quality of life we couldn’t afford in England so I don’t think we’d ever move back.
Sophie: You said you didn’t speak French when you moved there. Did this have an impact on the way you viewed the French, do you think?
Helena Yes. I thought they were all incredbily nice! I had a bit of an unrealistic view of what an incredible place it was.
There never seemed to be any bad news, but actually I just couldn’t understand the news!
It’s very difficult to meet friends as they don’t speak English where we live. I’d advise anyone moving here to do a bit of homework before they get here!
Zoe: Is it true that if your breasts are affected by having children in France you can get free cosmetic surgery? Do you know many women who’ve had plastic surgery on the French health service – would you recommend it?
Helena: It is true! I don’t know how many have had it and personally I don’t know anyone who has…
I know someone who had liposuction (free) and the surgery to get rid of the folds left was also free. Admittedly she had suffered depression. The French attitude to post-natal care is so different.
They will do everything in their power to get the women back looking good (for their husbands!).
It’s hugely important to them to get their shape back and the state supports that.
Zelda: How easy was it for you to find out about the French way of life in terms of affairs and private matters – how did you coax this information from people?
Helena: I think me being foreign helped. They felt they were telling someone that wasn’t part of their world.
I got more secrets out of the women than I think French journalists would have been able to do.
They were so generous with their time, their secrets, their little stories. I think that the fact that I was foreign helped them to relax.
They were probably so busy laughing at my French they forgot what they were talking about!
Sophie: Do French women treat you suspiciously as a foreigner?
Helena: No, they don’t. I think French women are missing a kind of… female camaraderie gene. They really are not as chummy as English women are.
At first I felt they were maybe cold with me, I’ve learnt that they’re pretty cold with other French women too. Not all of them, but they don’t have the same culture of hanging out with other women, drinking and having a laugh, it just doesn’t really happen here.
Sabrina: What was the most shocking thing you learnt when researching for your book?
Helena: Crumbs! I think the most shocking thing was their attitude to fidelity. As an English girl you believe marriage is for life, you don’t play around.
Not only are they unfaithful regularly, it seems perfectly acceptable to sleep with your best friend’s husband!
One friend I interviewed, I asked how she got away with it, she looked in amazement and said: “but you don’t have to tell him!”
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019