A novel approach to French family history

The beautiful Gorges du Tarn are part of the mythical, magical Cévennes from where ancestors of Tracy Chevalier are believed to hail

Tracy Chevalier is one of the most popular contemporary novelists in both France and the UK. On one of her frequent visits across the Channel, she told Jane Hanks about her French roots and writing

I met Tracy Chevalier at the Parisot Literary Festival in the Tarn-et-Garonne. It is a bilingual festival, which, despite being a very small event with about 200 people attending each year, attracts well-known British authors such as Kate Mosse, Helen Dunmore and Adam Thorpe for its intimate style and beautiful setting in a hilltop village.

Tracy Chevalier’s books are read around the world and she has a strong following in both France and the UK. She is American-born, but has lived in the UK since the 1980s where she first worked in publishing and then studied Creative Writing under novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain at the University of East Anglia before becoming a writer herself.

Her most famous novel is Girl with a Pearl Earring, the tale of a Dutch maid who becomes the model for one of the artist, Johannes Vermeer’s most famous paintings. It has sold over five million copies worldwide and was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.

However, this best-selling author is very approachable, comes across as very natural, and is not at all the prima donna authoress who has had international success. In fact, when she was introduced on stage at the Parisot Festival by Beccy Speight, CEO of The Woodland Trust, she remembered how, at an event she was organising in the UK, she suddenly found the novelist putting out the glasses and bottles of water for the public, and said how typical this was of her.

The fact that she came all the way from the UK for a wet October weekend at what is a small event for her, shows how she has kept her feet firmly on the ground, and what really interests ...

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