Stephanie and Lulin the llama
I first met Stephanie Dagg back in 2012, when I started out as a self published author. I’d uploaded my first book to Amazon KDP as an unedited manuscript. I got some great feedback, but most of it ended saying, ‘For God’s sake, get a good editor!’ which is where Stephanie comes in. She went on to edit all of my Coco Pinchard books, teaching me much about grammar and writing, and as well as becoming a good friend, I discovered she too is an author, and a brilliant one at that.
Stephanie is British, but now lives in France with her husband and children where they own and run a carp fishing lake, and a llama farm. She also finds time to blog about their life in France, as well as her duties as a writer and editor.
I was very excited when I heard she was publishing a new romantic comedy called, Fa-la-llama-la, So I thought I would invite her onto the blog to tell you all about it!
Rob: Hello Stephanie and a very warm welcome. First of all congratulations on the publication of Fa-la-llama-la! Could you tell us a bit about it, and where you got the inspiration for this novel?
Stephanie: Hello Rob, and thanks for having me here today. Writing a festive novella has been on my ‘to do’ list (which is about a kilometre long…) for a good while now. I’ve started several Christmassy stories over the years but never got far with them. But this year I was determined to succeed so I got my head down back in the summer and wrote steadily.
Inspiration was just outside the window in the form of our dozen llamas, alpacas and huarizos (llama/alpaca crosses, all the result of a very determined, small alpaca male getting into the field of llama ladies who, it turned out, despite their haughty appearance were just good time girls). Add to that a few of the experiences we’ve been through in our ten years here, such as having to stick hands in parts of an animal you never dreamed you would in order to deal with a life or death situation and being snowed in without power, and the plot was quite easy to come up with! The setting is pretty much our farm and the surrounding villages. We really do live in the middle of nowhere in a very rural part of Creuse, a beautiful but backwater département that’s suffering from depopulation and general neglect.
In the story Noelle does a spot of pet-sitting in France to help out her cousin Joe. She’s expecting guinea-pigs, but the South American mammals in her tender care turn out to be significantly larger. An added problem is short-tempered Nick, who arrives in the middle of the night. He hadn’t been expecting to find either llamas or Noelle at what turns out to be his new home. So there are a few problems to sort out, not least of which is catching a llama to take to church. But you’ll have to read the book to find out more…!
Rob: What made you become a llama farmer?
Stephanie: It all began as a joke. We’d seen some llamas at the Bandon Show in West Cork shortly before we moved out to France. Our eldest son, Benj, was fourteen and whilst he was excited about the move, it was going to be a bit of a wrench for him as he had a large cohort of buddies that he would be leaving behind. So we promised him that when we got to our new home, Les Fragnes, we’d get him a scooter (kids can ride scooters from age fourteen provided they’ve passed their test) and a llama.
Well, the scooter side got organised quite quickly, and after a few months of wondering what on earth we were going to do with our seventy-five acres, which came with the three lakes we needed to run our carp fishing business, we started thinking seriously about the llama option. We visited a llama farm near Limoges and fell in love with them. We decided we could branch out into llama trekking alongside our holiday cottage and fishing.
Two weeks later, we had four llamas – Bernard, Oscar, Larry and Denis, our BOLD boys, as we called them. A year or so after that we invested in some females (it took a while to save up as lady llamas aren’t two a penny) and in the fullness of time, eleven and a half months to be exact, our first crias, baby llamas, arrived. We added alpacas too along the way. The llama trekking never took off so their job these days is to be decorative. They are low-maintenance, endlessly good-natured and totally cool animals.
Rob: The heroine of the story, Noelle feels like a fish out of water when she arrives in France. Do you feel you have become at all French? Or have you held steadfastly on to your Britishness?!
Stephanie: My Britishness has been slipping away for a long time since we left the country in 1992 to go and live in Ireland, where we spent fourteen happy years. And now, after a decade in France, we are starting to feel slightly confused as to what we are! We watch English TV as some aspects of French TV are just too bizarre for us – for example, they love their short, slightly surreal vignettes between main programmes, and the more complicated a quiz show, the better. We’re left completely baffled. I am never without proper British or Irish teabags since French tea simply doesn’t cut it – far too weak! Other than that, though, we’re pretty much Frenchified.
We’ve adapted to shops closing at lunch time, to totally illogical rules and regs, to shaking hands and kissing cheeks, to only having a one-day long Christmas. And in response to any problem I can say “Pffft,” accompanied by a Gallic shrug, in a truly French way. Yes, I feel less British as time goes on, although I steadfastly insist on queueing in an orderly fashion and am always punctual, which the natives can find unnerving.
Our three children are bilingual and, in many aspects, more French than Irish or British, especially our youngest. They’re true Third Culture Kids.
Rob: Did you ever have a similar experience to Noelle, did you ever go travelling in your twenties, or work abroad? (I know the definition of ‘abroad’ is different for us, I was thinking of the time before you were married with kids and were living in the UK)
Stephanie: I was a bit younger actually. I took a gap year between school and uni and spent the time as an au pair for a Belgian family who lived in Vienna in Austria! It was a brilliant experience and I made the most of every minute of it. I went on a few day trips behind the iron curtain, to Czechoslovakia, as it was then, and Hungary. Goodness, I was quite intrepid! Our daughter Caiti has inherited some of those genes as she’s spent a year in Canada as a student and is now job-hunting in Australia. Thank goodness for email and Facebook as means of keeping in touch and knowing all is well. When I was travelling all those years ago, all my poor parents got was the odd short phone call and occasional postcards!
Rob: What is the best thing about living in France?
Stephanie: We love the space and countryside, the more relaxed way of life (apart from when you’re dealing with fonctionnaires and then your stress levels sky-rocket!) and the opportunities for our children, who have received excellent state-funded educations. Our lives are tied closely to the seasons and we are out and about a lot of the time, busy on our land. We’re self-sufficient in meat (not llama, don’t worry), eggs and some vegetables, and every day brings a new challenge. Husband Chris and I have both done things we never knew we could, and mastered many new skills: ancient tractor resuscitation, sausage making, shearing alpacas and milking llamas are some of the ones we’re most proud of. We work incredibly hard, but it’s for ourselves and it’s interesting. Our lives have changed beyond recognition from the days when we were working for big corporations in the UK and had a small house on a housing estate and a dog. We’re now self-employed with a business each, own a generous dollop of land and have pigs, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, huarizos, turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens, and three lakefuls of carp to take care of, not forgetting our pets of dogs, cats, a guinea-pig and a lot of exotic birds. Most definitely never a dull moment! That’s probably what I like most.
Rob: I loved the character of Noelle and the sparks that fly between her and Nick. The characters are so strong, and you’ve really created a rich world for them to inhabit. Could there be a sequel? He asks hopefully…
Stephanie: Definitely, already outlined, so watch this space!
Rob: Super! Thanks so much for dropping by the blog, Stephanie. Always lovely to have you here 🙂
You can download Fa-La-Llama- La from Amazon.
I’d also urge you to check out Heads Above Water, which tells the story of Stephanie and her family’s move to France, and the ups and downs of starting a new life in a foreign country. You can download from Amazon, Kobo and iTunes