Q&A With Valerie Perrin, Author Of Fresh Water For Flowers

It’s an international bestseller, translated from French, that’s sold more than a million copies worldwide. Now meet the author…

Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. Her daily life is lived to the rhythms of the hilarious and touching confidences of random visitors and her colleagues — three gravediggers, three groundskeepers and a priest.  

Violette’s routine is disrupted one day by the arrival of police chief Julien Seul, wishing to deposit his mother’s ashes on the grave site of a complete stranger. 

Julien is not the only one to guard a painful secret: his mother’s story of clandestine love breaks through Violette’s carefully constructed defences to reveal the tragic loss of her daughter, and her steely determination to find out who is responsible.   

An unforgettable story of love and loss told through the life of a woman who believes obstinately in happiness. Touching on the deepest aspects of human life, Fresh Water for Flowers brings out the exceptional and the poetic in the ordinary and reminds us of the life affirming value of kindness. It has become an 

 Valérie Perrin is a photographer and screenwriter who works with (and is married to) Claude Lelouch. Her first novel, Les Oubliés Du Dimanche, has won numerous prizesFresh Water For Flowers is her first novel to be translated into English and an international sensation. 

Hildegarde Serle graduated in French from Oxford University. After working as a newspaper sub-editor in London for many years, she obtained the Chartered Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation. She is the translator of A Winter’s Promise and The Missing Of Clairdelune. 

 Valerie shares her joy at her book’s success with My Weekly fiction editor Claire Gill…

When did you start writing fiction?

When I was 10 years old, at school. I think it was about an abandoned dog. Since then, I’ve become the sponsor of an animal shelter. And a novelist.

My teacher fell in love with the little poem I’d written on the theme of abandonment and empathy. She had it printed and we all studied my piece in class. Since I was a bad pupil who didn’t like school, I’ve never forgotten that extraordinary event.

Tell me a little more about the path that led to the publication of your first novel.

I was 48 when my first book was published. My path was that of a mother, a wife. Of a reader. Of someone who had to work to pay the rent and fill a shopping trolley each week. And that doubtless helped me, as the years went by, to fill notebooks with ideas, with desires.

Until my first novel, Les Oubliés Du Dimanche. I sent it to an editor in December 2013, and signed my publishing contract in January 2014.

Could you elaborate a little on what you hope your readers will love, in Fresh Water For Flowers?

I hope they will love everything. The various plots, my way of telling them. I hope they will love laughing and crying. Staying up late so as not to leave the story.

Thinking only of the story. I also hope they will love getting it wrong, not having guessed where I’m leading them to. And above all, I hope they, like many readers, will consider Violette as their sister, aunt, mum, friend. Part of their family forever. I think, too, that they will end up understanding Philippe. And that they will seek to meet a Sasha or a Julien in real life.

Finally, as they close Fresh Water For Flowers, I hope they will phone those they love to say “I love you”.

How did you feel when you heard that your first novel was going to be published?

When I walked out of my French publisher’s — Albin Michel — in January 2014, straight after an interview with the woman who would become my editor, I wasn’t walking, I was floating. Even today, I feel as if I did that journey back home on a flying carpet. Not only did my editor say she wanted me to sign a contract, but also that the book had been loved unanimously by the reading panel.

Pic: Valentin Lauvergne

What advice would you give to those who aspire to be authors?

To work. Not to lose hope. So, to stick at it. Not to aim to write exquisite sentences. To be as sincere as possible. Move yourself before you move your reader, and you’ll have won the battle.

Finally, although it’s each to their own: it can help to write in the first person. The “I” can help one to feel. But what’s good for me might be disastrous for others.

Where do find your inspiration for writing?

At work. In the words I hear, the scenes of everyday life I observe. In the landscapes and songs that really move me. In the novels that transport me. In the films and TV series I watch. In the eyes of those I love. Life in general is a source of permanent inspiration.

And what’s next? Are you already writing another novel?

My third novel, Trois, has recently come out in France. It took me more than two-and-a-half years to write—a so-called “doorstop” book. I worked very closely on it, chiselled it. I demanded ruthless precision of myself to deliver this book.

The story of three childhood friends, two boys and a girl, across thirty years. And a mysterious narrator who, moving from past to present, will reveal their three fates to us. From 1986 to today.

Fresh Water For Flowers by Valérie Perrin, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, Europa Editions, £8.99 PB