That Which Doesn’t Kill You...
Moving house can be traumatic at the best of times. But when you’re moving countries as well 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 back to England! It’s safer.
We didn’t listen, and for the next eight months not only did things continue to go wrong but they did so in such unusual 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 was never the right documentation. Our passports were waved away as insufficient proof of identity. No, 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 – including the road tax. 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 let me pass’ waiver. That was waved away too. The police had never heard of it.
A car under house arrest soon became 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 favourite toy as a child must have been an erector set. A man with a passion for copper pipe and a desire to do his own plumbing. And what a lot of 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.
Now, you might think that that’s about as bad as it could possibly get. You’d be wrong. We were then abandoned by the police forces of four countries who all insisted the crime belonged 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 a 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? *
Being an author, I realized there was a book in this. After all, that which doesn’t kill you, you can write about afterward. But what kind of book should I write?
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 my impersonator I’d realized that I had their bank account number. And if they could seize control of my bank account why couldn’t I seize control of theirs? 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. It wanted to be a comedy so, I junked the thriller and wrote the memoir. But what would I call it? The first title I had was, Nous Sommes Anglais. That had been our constant fallback whenever our attempts at speaking French confused the person we were talking to. “Er ... nous sommes Anglais,” we’d say (we’re English) and their faces would light up. Aha, that’s why you’ve just asked for 800 kilograms of paté!
But there was a problem with having a title in French – some readers would see the title, Nous Sommes Anglais, and assume the entire book was written in French. So, three weeks before publication, we had to come up with a new title. I chose French Fried as it was short, easy to remember, and could convey the impression that we’d been frazzled by our French experience.
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.
* 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.
Chris Dolley is an English author, a pioneer computer game designer and a teenage freedom fighter. That was back in 1974 when Chris was tasked with publicising Plymouth’s Student Rag Week. Some people might have arranged an interview with the local newspaper. Chris invaded the country next door, created the Free Cornish Army and persuaded the UK media that Cornwall had risen up and declared independence. This was later written up in Punch. As he told journalists at the time, ‘it was only a small country and I did give it back.’
In 1981, he created Randomberry Games and wrote Necromancer, one of the first 3D first person perspective D&D computer games. Not to mention writing the most aggressive chess program ever seen and inventing the most dangerous game ever played — the Giant Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum Cliff Top Relay.
He writes SF, fantasy, mystery and humour. His novel, Resonance, was the first book to be chosen from Baen’s electronic slush pile. Baen published his second book, Shift, in 2007.
Thank you so much Chris for being a guest at my blog! French Fried is utterly amazing and I love it so much! You really have to read it.
Chris is kind enough to give away ONE lucky reader an E-Book copy of French Fried! Yeay! To win, be a blog follower and leave an email address in the comment. Giveaway open to everyone and ends on 8/20. Good luck!