A story that immerses the reader in the expat experience of France, with meditations on the complexities of love and longing. When Charlotte de Chastenet regains consciousness after an accident, she finds herself living a stranger's life. The previous five years are a blank, and her husband, Henri, and daughter, Ada, are strangers.
Arriving at their family chateau in southern France, Charlotte hopes to regain her memories. Her family attempt to jog her memory by sharing information and stories about her life pre-accident, but Charlotte doesn't know who to trust. Compounding Charlotte's disorientated state is the chateau, it becomes a character in its own right, filling the narrative with an shadowy presence that creates a further layer of subterfuge. Strange events hint at an underlying menace making Charlotte feel unsettled.
With the help of her friend and fellow Australian Susannah, Charlotte starts to piece her life together, but her newfound confidence is shaken with news that puts a deadline on her quest…
Written while Sarah was living as an expat in France, Le Chateau is a modern gothic novel that will appeal to readers of Kate Morton.
The book will be launched at Avid Reader in September and Sarah will be guest at this year's Brisbane Writers Festival.
Sarah Ridout received a Masters in Creative Writing (First Class Honours), from University College Dublin (UCD). Over the past eleven years she has lived in four countries with her husband and two children. Her eight years surrounded by the vineyards and chateaus of southern France produced the seed of this novel. Le Chateau draws on her experiences as an expatriate, her knowledge of France, its people and customs. Le Chateau was selected to participate in the Queensland Writers Centre / Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program before it was acquired by Echo Publishing. Sarah lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.
Author: Sarah Ridout
Question: What inspired the story of Le Chateau?
Sarah Ridout: The idea for Le Chateau came to me when I was feeling homesick in France. I had just given birth, in a French hospital (with French staff and having to communicate in French when English is my first language). It's not something I'd advise anyone to do! As an expat I was new to the health system and the way everything worked/or didn't work. I had no one to explain it all really. I was slightly adrift: and the idea of an Australian expat in France, a mother, with memory loss came to me. Charlotte was the perfect vehicle for all the feelings of displacement, cultural difference, alienation an expat feels. Then Charlotte and Henri started to speak to me and I was compelled to tell their story.
Question: What was the best part about creating the character of Charlotte?
Sarah Ridout: Charlotte allowed me to get out some of the frustrations of the expat experience, the need to communicate, but sometimes not being understood, or the layers of barriers to understanding and comprehension. How much difference even one letter in a word can mean in a conversation and how dramatic the difference could be. All of this was able to be taken to another level with Charlotte and her memory loss, mysterious accident and eerie chateau. I began to identify with and feel for Charlotte more and more. Some of the scenes came to me formed, cinematically. I felt so much for Charlotte and her predicament. I really enjoyed entering Charlotte's world, and also sometimes, leaving it.
Question: Are the characters based on anyone you know?
Sarah Ridout: No. The characters are all from my imagination. Some characters have the features or mannerisms of people I know or have observed living in France. The description of a minor character is actually taken directly from a street vignette I saw one winter in my village. It was hunting season and an old man with his hounds walked down the street towards me with a rifle slung over his shoulder like it was a handbag. It was very confronting to me, someone from a country where guns are illegal. I crossed the road rather quickly to be safe. But the bizarre apparition stayed with me and reappeared in a more rural setting in Le Chateau.
Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?
Sarah Ridout: For Le Chateau I was inspired by the physicality of France, its history and rhythms.
I did much research into the history, culture, regional specialities and the hidden past of France. I am particularly fascinated by the Albigensian crusade period and its undeserved relegation in history.
I love architecture and enjoyed writing about the beautiful atmospheric and isolated chateau. It was a central and crucial character to me. In France I was lucky enough to have many close friends who were wine makers and a few friends who owned and maintained chateaux. Conversations and daily exposure to the ambience of these circles informs Le Chateau. For the characters it was all imagination, other than maybe phrases, speech patterns and the general atmosphere of Southern France.
Question: What are you looking forward to about appearing at the Brisbane Writers Festival?
Sarah Ridout: The Festival program is so exciting this year I'm looking forward to seeing one of my childhood idols, Alexi Sayle, and many other great authors from all round the world. I'm also looking forward to local Australian talent such as Emma Viskic and Gary Kemble. It's such a huge honour for me as both a Brisbane resident and writer, to be asked to participate. The Brisbane Writers Festival is such an important, progressive and dynamic festival. I have loved attending as a 'friend' for the last few years since we returned from living in Europe. To actually appear there, sandwiched on the 11th of September in between Le Chateau's 1st September release and its 15th September Avid Reader launch feels auspicious and special to me. It is also a great blessing to be in conversation with the talented Cass Moriarty (author of The Promise Seed, UQP) and fellow QUT Alumna, at the BWF. I'm really looking forward to it and an exciting September.
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: Sarah Ridout