Tag Archives: She pretended to speak French

Interview with Linda Kovic-Skow: FRENCH ILLUSIONS


Linda Kovic-Skow at 21 in France

A pleasure to meet Linda Kovic-Skow, the author of the higly popular French Illusions, an amazing true story of a young American au-pair at a Château in the Loire Valley, west of Paris.
Linda, how would you describe your book to someone who has not yet read it?

In the summer of 1979, when I was twenty-one, I contracted to become an au-pair for a wealthy French family in the Loire Valley. To secure the attractive position, I pretended to speak French, fully aware that my deception would be discovered, once I arrived at my destination.

Based on my diary, French Illusions captures my often challenging, real-life story inside and outside the Château de Montclair.

The over-bearing, Madame Dubois, her accommodating husband Monsieur Dubois, and their two children are highlighted as I struggled to adapt to my new environment. Continually battling the language barrier, I signed up and attended classes at the local university in the nearby town of Tours. When I encountered, Adam, a handsome young student, my life with the Dubois family became more complicated, adding fuel to my internal battle for independence.

Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
Set in the beautiful Loire Valley, French Illusions, my remarkable true story, recounts my exploits as a young, adventurous woman filled with dreams. It’s not too late to create your own memories. Go out and explore the world. Life’s for living, after all.

What inspired you to start writing? 
About five years ago, after my husband and I dropped our youngest daughter off at college, I went through a sort of mid-life crisis. I missed being a mom and I wondered how I would fill the void. Sure I had my part-time bookkeeping business, but it consumed only a few hours a day and it was not interesting any more. Something was missing, but what?

This prompted me to review what I like to call my “mid-life list.” This is similar to a “bucket list,” with an important twist. The idea was to refocus myself and figure out the things I wanted to do with my life in my fifties – while I could still do them. My list was short.

  • Learn to play the piano
  • Travel to Africa to see the elephants
  • Travel to Tahiti and see the island of Bora Bora
  • Travel back to France (with my family this time)
  • Write a book

At the time, I didn’t own a piano and, with two daughters in college (on the east coast no less!), I couldn’t afford a trip to Africa or Tahiti. I had already traveled back to France in 2001 with my family, so that left me to examine the fifth item on my list more closely. If I did write a book, would it be fiction or non-fiction? What genre would I choose?

The answers to my questions came to me in the shower (which is where many of my ideas seem to materialize, strangely enough). I decided to hunt down my diary from my au pair adventure in France and compose a memoir. It took me three years and countless hours to write French Illusions, but now I can scratch another item off my mid-life list.

Who is your favorite character and why?
One of my favorite characters in my memoir is Madame Dubois. Given her very arrogant, unforgiving attitude, she is the natural antagonist in my story.  As I worked my way through my diary, I recounted many heartbreaking interactions with my patron. Here is a sample of one of them:
“Ten minutes later, I returned to the salon with a tray of refreshments and under the watchful eyes of everyone there, I poured and served the tea. My hand trembled, but I kept going and completed the task without incident. Heaving a sigh of satisfaction, I plopped down next to Alexandre.
It felt good to be around other people besides the Dubois family. Even though I still struggled with French conversations, at least now I understood many of the words spoken around me. If I encountered trouble with certain words, I knew how to ask the speaker to speak more slowly or repeat what they’d said.
Turning toward Alexandre, I tried out a new phrase. “Donne-moi une pâtisserie, s’il te plait.” Please pass the pastry. Madame Moulon noticed and congratulated me on my progress with the language, “Mademoiselle Kovic, votre français s’améliore.
Merci beaucoup, madame.” I replied, glancing at my patron, eyes hopeful.
Madame Dubois opened her mouth, but no words of praise burst forth. Instead, she pointed to the teapot and asked me in English to pour her mother another cup of tea.”
Give us an excerpted quote from your favorite review of your book:
“This memoir from new author, Linda Kovic-Skow, is a must-read for all of us that have longed to explore the world, but don’t have the courage of the vivacious, young protagonist. Looking for a new direction in life, Linda yearns for adventure in her hopes of becoming a glamorous flight attendant. But, when she fibs her way into a job as an au-pair in the Loire Valley of France, she soon discovers that her expectations aren’t quite in line with those of her new employer.
The story flows nicely as she paints a picture of the quaint towns and rolling hillsides of her new home, but the highlights for this reader were the vignettes with the children, especially little Antoine. His adorable one-liners and interactions with Linda never ceased to brighten my mood. The relationships with the rest of the family are nicely developed throughout the book, and the dialogue reads well. Don’t be surprised when you see French dialogue on the page, though, because it is a convention that carries throughout. Overall, I thought that Francophiles and casual readers alike could enjoy this story, and I personally can’t wait for a sequel!” – Amazon Reviewer



Bedroom at the Chateau

If Oprah invited you onto her show to talk about your book, what would the theme of the show be?
 Stories from plucky women.
What would/could a reader or reviewer say about this book that shows they “get” you as an author?
A few readers have told me that my memoir reads like a novel and, at times, they have to remind themselves that French Illusions is non-fiction. I consider this a great compliment. Successful narrative non-fiction, above all else, must encompass good storytelling techniques such as character development and dialog.
What scene or bit of dialogue in the book are you most proud of, and why?
Chapter 15 in French Illusions was such fun to write. I pictured myself walking through the Songais market in the Loire Valley, describing my stops along the way. I wanted readers to feel as though they were right alongside of me, experiencing the event with me. Here is an excerpt:

“Rows of tables presided over by neighboring farmers and tradesman filled the square, many of them offering tempting samples to potential customers. Everything from pungent goat cheeses to hand-made sweaters were on display. Ahead, I noticed a booth offering tastes of guignolet, a local liqueur made from wild and sour cherries. The vendor, a deeply tanned man wearing a beret, waved me over. “Mademoiselle! Venez donc goûter!

Unable to resist the temptation, I stepped up to his booth and he poured me a small drink, pushing it toward me with a wink. Down it went, its syrupy sweet taste so scrumptious I licked my lips afterward. “Merci,” I said. “C’est très bon.

Down a few stalls, I discovered products made entirely from honey, including confections, lotions, and soaps. The scent compelled me to bring a bar to my nose, closing my eyes as I inhaled.

Curious about a small crowd near a retailer up ahead, I peeked around a bystander and discovered a colorful display of misshapen orange, yellow, and striped squashes. It took me a few moments, but my eyes honed in on the real stars of the show. Unique samples of squash resembling geese and ducks sat upright, charming the audience—the children in particular.”

What genre have you not yet written but really want to try?
I would love to write a children’s book someday filled with stories surrounding the pets I acquired growing up. My love for animals, coupled with my parents lassiez-fare (let it be) attitude towards child rearing, resulted in some great tales. It would be fun to put them down on paper.
What general advice do you have for other writers?
Hire a professional editor. I mean it. You can’t edit your own book. You won’t see the mistakes because you are too close to the writing. It will cost you a few hundred dollars for a line editor, a bit more if you need some in-depth editing, but it’s the best money you will ever spend. I cringe every time I read a negative review where the main complaint is formatting, spelling or punctuation. You want readers to judge you solely on the content of your story.

French Illusions

Where can readers learn more about your writing?

Don’t miss Linda’s lovely book trailer: FRENCH ILLUSIONS 


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Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Author Interviews, Writing


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