It’s been a while since I blogged an author interview and I am delighted to be welcoming back a personal favourite of mine. For his last book, novelist Ben Hatch documented the highs and lows of travelling 8,000 miles around the UK with his wife and young children in a Vauxhall Astra. So when he was commissioned to write a guide book about France, you might think he’d have politely declined and stayed at home. Thankfully readers, he didn’t. Setting off once again (this time in a Volkswagen Passat),Ben and his family followed their sense of adventure overseas and returned with a follow up book crammed with mementos, anecdotes and reflections that are as poignant as they are entertaining. I was lucky enough to catch up with Ben to find out more…
When you’re away three months, driving 10,000 miles round France with two under 8s in a Passat that stinks so badly of cheese people can smell the inside of it even when the doors are shut, things go awry. Though I must admit I did not expect I’d be forcefully removed from a French swimming pool by security for wearing the wrong type of shorts, that I’d be attacked by a psychotic donkey and that I’d almost get myself murdered by a demented millionaire. So to answer your question, reading Road to Rouen is probably a similar an experience to Are We Nearly There Yet?
2. At any point during your travels did you consider staying on permanently in any of the locations you visited?
I did love Brittany. Any region with the chutzpah to create a museum dedicated solely to red onions (Not vegetables per se. Not even simply onions. But just red onions) is a place worthy of respect. I also loved the Pyrenees and the Alps. If I didn’t live by the sea in Brighton I’d live on the mountains. The air feels fresher, there are no motorways and they have goats. Loads of goats. I like goats a lot.
3. If you had to choose between running a donkey sanctuary, joining a death-cult or becoming a spy which would you favour?
Ideally I’d combine all three. If I had the time I would train especially intelligent donkeys (those with the most alert looking ears) to spy for our country after brainwashing them about a donkey doomsday. One problem I envisage, however, is that the major decisions of state, in say China, are unlikely to be undertaken in fields. Also what might be considered major to a donkey (issues concerning carrots and sugar lumps etc) might not necessarily be want we as humans consider major leading to frustrating debriefs.
4. For your latest book you set off for France unable to speak French. Any favourite French phrases you might have picked up along the way that you could politely share?
To be honest most of my French is related to words involved in the preparation of beef. Beouff, for instance is a good one. Another one is steak hache. I eventually, after much work, did master bonme journee (that means have a good day by the way for those still stuck on the beef words) although according to my wife I overused it. Apparently – and it just goes to show you can’t win when you try and learn a new language when someone else speaks it better who you’re married to – I was like some children’s remote-controlled toy bleating it out whenever I met or had any interaction with anyone from France.
5. Fortunately for your readers so many of your travel experiences seem to be marred by entertaining chaos. How do you maintain the same sense of drama when you are kicking around at home?
I don’t actively seek out drama. In fact I don’t really like it. Drama gives me a nasty headache behind my eyes. But unfortunately my wife is a lightning conductor for mishaps and trouble. Not a day goes by when she hasn’t reduced the family to gibbering wrecks. For instance just now she informed me that four Venezuelans would be coming to live with us for a fortnight. Four! And not only that, they’re already on their way from Gatwick and will be here within the hour. I have no idea why they’re coming. Maybe Venezuela is falling apart. Perhaps this is a general thing. Lots so people are maybe harbouring Venezuelans right now. I have no idea because my wife has told me NOTHING about it. I don’t where they’ll sleep, what they expect of us, but they’re on their way. She’s not even in. She has taken the kids swimming. I have to greet the Venezuelans. Yesterday she put a worming pill she’d bought for our pet rabbit in one of my omeprazole anti-reflux medication sachets. She put it in a used sachet where my pills go. I very nearly ate a worming pill. She thought it was a “good container” for the pills as she was in a hurry and didn’t want to leave the pill lying around for the kids to eat!
6. You’ve toured the UK, you’ve toured France, so where next for the Hatch family?
This summer we are touring round Italy. Already earmarked for trouble is the middle of the night truffle hunt with a pack of trained sniffer dogs on a mountainside in Umbria. My wife arranged it because “it’s outdoorsy and we don’t do enough stuff outdoors.” I just know something dreadful will happen.
7. There was a tour of Aberdeen in the Astra, Paris in a Passat, do you think it’s time you toured Lanzarote by Limo? If that becomes a book I want commission…
I would very much like to tour Lanzarote in a Limo or in fact anywhere else in a limo for that matter, especially if the driver also had to hump all our heavy bags around, instead of me. Though I suspect the kids might get Berol felt-tip pen over the white leather upholstery and be annoyed there weren’t Frubes in the mini-bar. Actually if there’s a sound-proofed screen between front and back seats can I drive? Thank you Vanessa. I have to go now the Venezuelans are at the door.
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