House of love

A new novel set in the Occupation has been written by a former La Mare de Carteret and Grammar School pupil. Shaun Shackleton talks to Jacquie Bloese about The French House...

JACQUIE Bloese’s first published piece was written when she was in the sixth form.

‘It was for a competition in Just Seventeen [a fortnightly magazine aimed at teenage girls, published from 1983 to 2004]. They’d got together with the publishing house, Virago, and wanted to create an anthology of stories by young women about their life. I wrote about going to discos. It was a brilliant opportunity to get my writing published.

Jacquie Bloese, author of The French House, a novel set in the Occupation. She went to school at La Mare de Carteret and Grammar. (29362599)

‘I have always written and wanted to get published ever since I was able to put pen to paper. I love writing stories.’

Jacquie grew up in Guernsey, attending La Mare de Carteret and then the Grammar School.

‘On my mum’s side the family in Guernsey goes back several generations. My gran and granddad lived here during the Occupation, they were teenagers, and my gran had lots of stories.’

Jacquie left the island 30 years ago but has always returned to visit friends and family a couple of times a year.

‘I know the island and the people and I’ve always been interested in its history.’

Hauteville House had a full refurbishment in 2019. (Picture By Peter Frankland, 29358990)

After her first novel did the rounds of publishers without much interest she thought that a historical novel set in Guernsey would be an interesting project.

‘For research I went to the Priaulx Library and looked through the newspapers and archives. Another inspiration for the story came from when I was in the sixth form and during the summer holidays I worked as a guide at Hauteville House.

‘This is The French House of the book’s title and that’s the setting for a lot of the story. The gardens I imagined being dug up and used to grow vegetables – but that didn’t happen – and I brought in different strands.

‘Although the story is fictional I wanted the details to be accurate and it’s grounded absolutely in a factual Guernsey – Hauteville, the road, the Guernsey Press is mentioned and people’s names.’

Another inspiration was Jacquie’s great-grandfather.

A view of the garden from Victor Hugo's house (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29358987)

‘He died when I was eight so I never really got to know him. He emigrated to Canada around 1912 and got a job in a dairy in Vancouver. He was on the night shift when he stepped into an unlit elevator shaft and fell many feet. He hit his head and this left him in a coma. When he came out of it he was profoundly deaf.

‘It’s such a tragic story. He came back to Guernsey and lived the rest of his life there.

‘So that was the starting point. In some way it’s a tribute to my great-grandfather. How difficult must it have been for him to live with the condition in the early 20th century? His experience has always haunted me.’

Jacquie studied her craft on a Curtis Brown Creative Ltd creative writing course and has worked as a publisher of English language teaching materials for a variety of publishers, including Penguin Random House, Scholastic and Oxford University Press.

She explained her writing ‘routine’.

‘It’s like anything, you have to form a habit. If you stop – you go on holiday or take a break – getting back into it is really difficult.

‘I’m at my best in the morning and I get straight into it. I don’t let emails or anything else distract me.

‘Then I go for a couple of hours’ break and perhaps a walk.

‘I suppose I write around 700 to 800 words a day, I’m quite a slow writer. You hear about people who churn it out but my job is as an editor so I find it hard not to self-edit as I go along.

‘I work full-time as well as write and it took me four years to write The French House.

‘I think I’ll always carry on with editing. It’s quite nice to do something else as well as writing. It’s another stimulant.’

Jacquie was thrilled that her novel found a home at publishers Hodder & Stoughton and garnered high praise from Kimberley Atkins, the women’s fiction publisher.

‘We’ve all been completely swept away by The French House,’ she said. ‘The beautiful melancholy of Jacquie’s story, the subtle art of her writing, her masterful characterisation and her peerless evocation of both setting and emotion have

made this such an irresistible novel. We are thrilled to be publishing this stunning debut.’

It has already picked up a couple of accolades. It was commended in the 2020 Caledonian Novel Award as ‘a brilliantly moving historical novel’ and was a finalist in the 2019 Mslexia First Novel Award.

The deal, however, was for two books and the second is under way.

‘It is also a historical novel and set in 1890s Brighton, where I moved to in November.

‘It’s about the world of photography and follows three women from different backgrounds all fighting for independence. The working title is The Pier.’

  • The French House by Jacquie Bloese will be published in hardback in March 2022 and in paperback January 2023.

About the book

When Émile Quenneville loses his hearing in a tragic accident, he also loses Isabelle, the woman he loves.

Thirty years later, Émile and Isabelle, unhappily married to other people, are reunited in the wake of the Nazi invasion of Guernsey. With the Occupation come dangerous and difficult choices that endanger them, their families and the fragile, rekindled love that has grown between them.

Taking place in the shadow of Victor Hugo’s former residence, Hauteville House, the novel features a protagonist who embodies one of the principal themes of the book: wanting to hear and learning to listen, both to one’s own heart and to those of others.

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