A novel approach for seniors living overseas
AFTER a lifetime of work and raising children, the thought of living an exciting new life in a foreign country can be alluring for many seniors and retirees. At any one time there are about one million Australians living overseas.
It is a theme author Amanda Hampson explores in her new book The Yellow Villa.
While the book is a work of fiction involving a young Australian couple buying an old house in a pretty village in France and befriending their neighbours, an older English couple who have escaped the UK, the underlying message of 'is living abroad really all that it is meant to be?' is thought-provoking.
"I couldn't live abroad," Amanda, who lives in Sydney, said. "I have never lived in France for a long period but I've done many research trips. The cultural differences between the British, French, Australians and Americans are profound. The French are very reserved. You don't make French friends overnight."
Obviously, the biggest problem in living abroad for seniors is the difficulty of mastering the language. Everyday simple chores become insurmountable when you can't understand or express yourself fluently.
"There is an enormous gap between being able to order something in a restaurant to joining in a conversation," Amanda said. "It's a mammoth task."
In the Yellow Villa, characters Dominic and Susannah are a British couple in their 60s, computer illiterate and facing financial difficulties. The young Australian couple, Ben and Mia have left Australia to buy an old house in the village of Cordes-sur-Ciel, and to start a new life after years of trying and failing to start a family.
In the case of both couples, one of them speaks French, the other not.
"I was trying to demonstrate inter-generational relationships and what it is like to live in a foreign country if you don't speak the language," Amanda said. "Everything is difficult, especially navigating the bureaucracy of another country and also finding people you have something in common with."
For the senior person the difficulties of living abroad are compounded if they are not computer literate.
"I realised this when I was doing writing workshops in France for older English people," Amanda said. "I was telling them how to organise their notes on the computer when one of them said 'you are assuming we have internet skills.' Seniors who cannot do simple chores such as internet banking or pick up their phone and order Uber will find living in a foreign country very isolating."
Although Amanda's characters struggle with living abroad and traverse the domestic dramas that go with it, the book is uplifting with many insights and twists that keep you guessing to the very end. Amanda's descriptive passages of the landscape and seasons are evocative and enticing.
Amanda spent two months in the village of Cordes-sur-Ciel while researching The Yellow Villa and got to know the layout, the landscape, the shops and cafes.
"I went in October so there was hardly anybody there," she said. "I stayed in a B&B and ate with the owners every night, got to know the place. You can see from the book that you need to be very familiar with a place. You need to take your readers to the shops, the river, the church."
The Yellow Villa is Amanda's third book set in France, and she is working on another.
"I am very interested in writing for our (seniors) age group," she said. "There is a wealth of material about women our age, who grew up in the rock 'n roll era. The book I am working on now is about three women, all turning 60, all at various crossroads in life. They go back to Europe to retrace their back-packing trek of the 1970s. I think women in their 60s and beyond are fascinating."
Amanda inherited a love of all things French from her mother, who would learn French in secret while living in rural New Zealand despite never having been to the country. Amanda has visited France many times over the past four decades and finds herself visiting it time and again in her fiction.
Amanda bestselling debut novel The Olive Sisters was shortlisted for the 2006 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards and was followed in 2008 by Two for the Road, and The French Perfumer in 2016. She grew up in New Zealand and now calls Sydney's Northern Beaches home.