Shhh, I’ve got this book…

As some of you may know, my move to France in 1995 was … memorable. Of course, moving house can be traumatic at the best of times. But when you’re moving countries too. And taking three cats, two horses, and an enormous puppy with you. And there’s a storm lashing the English Channel on the day of your ferry crossing. And ten minutes after hitting French soil, a fierce gust of wind rips the roof off your horsebox leaving you and your menagerie sitting outside Calais in a convertible horse transporter…

You begin to wonder if maybe Fate is trying to tell you something. Go home! Stay out of France!

We should have listened.

Not only did things continue to go wrong for the next six months but they did so in such bizarre ways. Like buying a car and finding we couldn’t drive it. Not because there was anything wrong with the car but because we couldn’t get it taxed. The road tax was only ten pounds but no one would take our money. We were passed from office to office. Even though we had all the documentation, it wasn’t the right documentation. Our passports were waved away as insufficient proof of identity. We had to have a French carte de sejour instead – something that took up to three months to issue!

Not that we had three months. After being flagged down at a police roadblock I’d been given three days to produce all the car’s documentation. Why was I driving an untaxed car? Because the garage had given me a special document – an ‘I’m applying for the right documents, please leave me alone’ waiver. That was waved away too. The police had never heard of it.

A car under house arrest was the least of our worries. Our new home had no heating or hot water. That’s when we discovered that the previous owner had been a man of rare talent. A man whose childhood had been filled with model trains and erector sets. A man with a love of copper pipe and a desire to do his own plumbing. And what plumbing – he populated the house with five toilets, three bidets, and seven sinks. Not to mention a cupboard behind the range which housed a faithful rendition of the London Underground in copper. The plumber we called out was amazed, and baffled. We’d only asked him to repair the water heater but, three days later, he was still trying to shut off the hot water. It was impossible. Our predecessor’s design was so resilient, and had so many pipes interconnecting and disappearing into wall cavities, that we could take a minor nuclear strike on a back bathroom and still have a functioning hot water tap somewhere in the house.

We stumbled from one disaster to another – animals, language problems, a ten-foot long caterpillar. Then, in September, came the biggest shock of all. Someone had stolen my identity. Our life savings – all the money from our house sale that was going to finance our new life in France – had disappeared. A bank account had been opened in my name in Spain to take the proceeds.

You think that’s bad? How about then being abandoned by the police forces of four countries who all insist the crime belongs in someone else’s jurisdiction? The French said it was an Irish crime as that’s where the money had been held. The Irish said, no, it was definitely French as that’s where all the correspondence had come from. The British refused to get involved even though forged British passports had been used to open the bank account in Spain. And the Spanish were on holiday – and couldn’t even think about investigating any bank account for at least four weeks.

So I had to solve the crime myself. But unlike fictional detectives I had an 80 year-old mother-in-law and an excitable puppy who insisted they came along if I was going anywhere interesting – like a stakeout. It was the most surreal investigation ever. And surprising. Ever seen a photocopy of your passport with your brother-in-law’s picture on it? *

Naturally, I realised there was a book in this. Note to all authors: that which doesn’t kill you, you can use later in a book. But what kind of book? My first thought was a thriller. I’d use the identity theft plot and give it a twist. When I’d first discovered the identity of Dr. Evil I’d realised that I had his bank account number. And if he could seize control of my bank account why couldn’t I seize control of his? I didn’t. But, for my new book, what might have happened if I had?

Unfortunately the more I wrote my thriller, the funnier it got. So I junked the thriller and wrote the memoir. Then came the problem of publishing it. One person’s amusing family anecdote can be another person’s grievous insult. And I’d written a number of very amusing anecdotes starring a family member who could take offence at the slightest remark. I tried removing their scenes but they were some of the funniest parts of the book. And they weren’t cruel or nasty or anything.

Eventually, I decided to leave it up to the publisher. I’d explain the situation and see if they had any suggestions. So, in 2001, I started submitting the memoir to agents in the UK. It was snapped up immediately. He had high hopes but … the expat memoir bubble was just bursting. All the UK publishers had had enough of them and didn’t want any more – Macmillan came close but ultimately decided to say no.

French FriedIn a way I was relieved. I was dreading the phone call from the irate family member. So I trunked the book. Then this year I came up with a new idea. Why not release the book as an eBook? There was no way an eBook could get back to my relative – a person with the ability to destroy anything electronic – tv remotes, radios, Walkmen – with a single touch. I could bring the book out and preserve family unity.

So, here it is. French Fried: one man’s move to France with too many animals and an identity thief. Out now for only $3.99. Just be careful who you tell about it.

* This isn’t a spoiler. My brother-in-law wasn’t involved in the fraud. The use of his picture was just another red herring thrown in by the diabolical Dr. Evil, my identity thief.

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There are 8 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Rabia

    It must’ve been a nightmare to live through, but seems a lot of fun to read about. Reminds me of Gerald Durrell. :)

  2. 2. Chris Dolley

    Indeed. One of the subtitles for French Fried is ‘A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell’

  3. 3. Rabia

    Ohhhh, I am so very tempted. *goes to check book-buying budget*

  4. 4. Patrice Sarath

    Chris, I remember when part of this story was up on the Speculations Rumor Mill. I loved it then. Very excited to see that the whole thing is available online and will be off to get my copy!

  5. 5. Chris Dolley

    Hi, Patrice, that brings back memories. It was a sad day when the Rumor Mill folded. For years it was the first site I’d check every morning.

  6. 6. CC

    I would’ve stolen the money back from Dr. Evil, but that’s probably not the best move. You certainly seem to have had quite the experience, what country were you born in? You mentioned four countries, and I’m just curious as how you were born here, moved there, then moved to France ect.

  7. 7. Chris Dolley

    Hi, CC, I was born in England. The money was in Ireland purely because that’s what our financial adviser suggested we did with the money from our house sale – invest it in an offshore bond.

  8. 8. CC

    Ah, well, I’d buy it but my book budget went up in flames; just got back from vacation. Definately in my list tho.

Author Information

Chris Dolley

Chris Dolley is an English author of SF mysteries and fun urban fantasies, a pioneer computer games designer, and the man who convinced the UK media that Cornwall had risen up and declared independence. His novel Resonance (2005, Baen) was the first book to be plucked from Baen’s electronic slush pile. He now lives in France with his wife, a dolmen, and a frightening collection of animals. His memoir French Fried (2010, BVC) has just been released. Visit site.

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