Times are changing and it becomes possible to make a living without having to commute. Potentially improving quality of life, or possibly making us on call for even longer. This is Eamon O’Hara’s perspective on doing so from rural France, a writer, author and consultant on EU affairs.
Did you feel you would always end up in France?
I have always been drawn to France, since I was a teenager. There was something appealing about French culture and the image I had of France (the landscape, the architecture, the people). I liked that it was a relatively rural country, like Ireland, but with a nice climate, great wine, and a beautiful and diverse landscape and coastline. It was always my ambition to live in France one day.
The decision to move was quite easy in the end. We wanted a change, to bring the kids up in a different environment, my work was becoming more mobile, and we had a reasonable level of French. It seemed like the obvious next step.
Did you write the book first and then find a publisher?
Yes. In fact, in the beginning it was more of a diary of events and happenings, which I tried to bring together in a book. The catalyst was an incident I describe in the book, which happened on the day before we were due to move to France, when we were clearing out our house in Brussels.
Rushing to drop back a Sky box, I mistakenly drove the car into a huge manhole on the side of the street! This was just a few hours before we were due to sign on the sale of our house in Brussels. The signing had to be postponed until later that evening, to give me time to get the car, out of the hole. After this incident, I felt it was going to be an eventful experience and I decided I would keep a record. In the end I probably had material for several books.
I wasn’t that hopeful, but I wrote up a cover letter and sent it to about 20 publishers. Within a week or two I started to get replies, which was a surprise, as I half expected not to get any reaction. The initial responses were all polite ‘no’s’ but then one of them came back requesting more information. There were a few further exchange in the following weeks and then, just before Christmas 2013 I received an offer. I was ecstatic!
Is there anything that you wish you had included in the first edition?
Not really. Lots of things did not make it to the final published version, I had written too much and the publisher asked me to shorten it. There was also some stuff in the original version I decided to leave out once I knew the book was going to be published. I remember the night I got the offer from the publisher, I woke up in a cold sweat worrying about all the things I had written about the neighbours! I went back and cut some parts, rewrote others and generally tried to ensure that there was nothing too offensive. I wanted to tell it as it was, but at the same time, we had to live with these people so I had to find a balance.
How was 2014? What were your big successes?
The book getting published was definitely a high point. Two other highlights of 2014 were the establishment of an international association, and the setting up of a local community café. The association is called ECOLISE and it brings together all the main organisations involved in supporting community-led action on climate change and sustainability in Europe. I have been working on this idea since 2009 and things finally came together in 2014 when we officially registered the new association.
In 2014, Tanya (my wife) and I were also at the forefront of setting up a community café in the village where we live here in France. We officially opened the doors in April 2014 and on the first night we had over 100 people – not bad in a commune of only 160 people. Since then it has gone really well. The locals have really got behind it. In a small rural village that gradually lost everything – school, shops, post-office – the café really helped to re-energise the community.
Blogging, your blog is good, but no new posts since September?
Thanks. I’d love to do more of it but I cant find the time at the moment. I need to focus on my day job and making a living, and with a big property, the business and two young children there are other demands on my time. In the back of my mind I’m probably also hesitant about spending a lot of time on it. I don’t have that many followers so, while its interesting and enjoyable, I’m not convinced of the value of it. It’s a chicken and egg thing, and that the only way to attract followers is to keep publishing good content, but I suppose I am doubtful the return is commensurate with the investment needed. I could be wrong.
Twitter, have you found it of use? In what ways? @
I find it interesting: it’s nice to be able to publish material in such a simple way, but I sometimes wonder about its utility. Anybody can publish about anything. There is no limit, which makes it very difficult to be seen unless you are already well known. There also seems to be an obsession with quantity rather than quality – people believe they have to publish regularly to keep and attract followers. Before I published the book I was advised by a friend to set up a Twitter account and write two or three posts per day, on anything: the weather, pictures of the dog, dinner etc. I’m not comfortable with this kind of thing, and unconvinced that this is what people want to read.
Twitter has potential and could be a useful technology, but I think there needs to be more structure and better ways to filter information. When I open my Twitter account now it’s a bit like opening a magazine of over a million pages and no structure. Where do you start? It’s head-wrecking, and because of this I tend not to open it often.
Do you use skype?
I use Skype on a daily basis for work and I find it really good although mainly just voice calls, without the video. I think many people, including myself are a bit uncomfortable with the video chat. It just doesn’t feel right. I grew up with the telephone and I’m just not used to, or that interested in, looking at an image of the person I’m speaking to. I don’t use Skype so much to communicate with family and friends in Ireland, partly because some of them don’t use it, but also for one-to-one calls I find it easier to just use the phone.
What tech tools do you use in your daily work?
I use technology on a needs basis. In fact, I find a lot of technology is pretty useless. In many cases it seems like the technology is developed first and then marketing people dream up a use for it. I would prefer if it was the other way around, if the technology was designed to meet needs or to solve problems.
The mainstays of my work are e-mail and Skype. I recently bough a MacBook Air, which I am using now, but I am a little disappointed so far. I expected it to be more user-friendly. It looks better than my old PC but for now, that seems to be all I’m getting for the extra 600 euros it cost me.
Any tech you wish existed?
Some kind of technology coach or adviser would be nice. To show you how to get the most from what’s available and inform you of new developments and innovations relevant to you.
How is the broadband where you are based. You mentioned it in the book, is it good enough for your needs?
Better than I expected, and more than adequate for my needs.There is a very poor mobile phone signal but this doesn’t bother me too much as I can get by without it. I just advise people to use my landline number or Skype. In fact it has kind of worked out well that the people I work with don’t expect me to be accessible by mobile phone all the time. It means that when I leave the office I can leave work behind, which is important when you work from home.
Amazon, do you get more sales of hardcopies or ebooks?
In the first couple of months it was more hardcopies but now I would say it’s pretty even, and maybe slightly more ebooks. Price is obviously a big factor and, for now at least, the ebook is considerably less expensive than the printed version.
What has the reception been to the book?
Great. Sales have gone well and the feedback has been really positive. In some cases the response has been quite emotional, especially among people we know. They felt they knew and understood us better after reading the book, and empathised better with our situation. You’re letting people in on some personal aspects of your life, I was nervous about this in the beginning, but I see it differently now. It’s kind of liberating to share this kind of information with other people.
Readers appreciate the honesty, the suspense (almost everyone who has read it has described it as “a page-turner”) and a funny book. Many of the situations we found ourselves in were far from funny at the time, but like many Irish people, I try not to take life or myself too seriously and generally look for humour wherever I can find it and I think this comes across in the book.
How would you compare the French to the Irish? Pros and cons?
The Irish drink more, fight more, laugh more, cry more and are generally more emotionally charged, which makes us interesting and engaging, maybe even lovable, but also a bit unpredictable. The French are also emotional people, but it’s more controlled.They tend not to let their emotions bubble over. They are more private and mostly keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves until they are fully formed.
Some Irish people might be closer to the French stereotype and visa versa. In fact, I am probably one such Irish person, so I get along well with the French. I miss the jovial and gregarious side of the Irish. We are reminded of this every time we go back to Ireland, whether its in a shop or just meeting someone on the street. Irish people are friendly and chatty and outgoing. The French are more reserved. They generally keep to themselves and leave you to yourself unless there is a specific arrangement.