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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

Working as a Food Stylist in the Charente region in South West France

For many the dream of living the rural life in France is one that needs to be done whilst still earning a living. Not being at the age of retirement how do you make the transition to a new country whilst still maintaining an income?

Louise Pickford and her husband Ian Wallace have done just that. They’ve moved to the Charente and continued to successfully work within their own businesses both together and pursuing their own ventures.

Here I interview Louise to find out exactly how she’s done it, what she loves about it and what her new life in France is really like…

Louise, you’ve chosen a particularly lovely area of SW France to live in called the Charente. I might be a little biassed as I also live in this gorgeous part of rural France too. What was it that drew you to this particular piece of French paradise? Tell us about your journey that led you to this point.

To be honest, it was luck rather than judgement that brought us to the Charente as we were visiting friends in the area whilst on our way scouting further south in Gascony or Gers.

Knowing little about the area beforehand we were taken with the rural charm and unspoilt beauty of the region. With prices lower than many surrounding departments, Charente became our home in 2013. We have never regretted it for a moment and love our very simple life here.

I believe you also share your home with a brood of animals. Tell us about them and the life they enjoy here in France.

Yes indeed. On arriving in France in 2013 from Australia with our 2 wonderful fur kids – rescue dogs Bosco and Parker – we soon found a few kittens to adopt, adding to the family. We have Martha and Louis, our semi-wild cats who keep the mouse population down and Buddy, a very spoiled rescue cat, found on the side of the road.

Sadly our Aussie kids are no longer with us, but we soon added 2 more amazing rescue dogs and now have Enzo and Evie to keep us on our toes.

Food stylist showing food on the left and drinks on the right, beautifully presented

I think you possibly have one of the coolest jobs ever as a food stylist. In a previous life I was an event stylist so have worked with food stylists in the past. I still have the most obscene amount of flatware, glasses, and tableware. And I love any excuse to style up my dinner table. But tell us more about your business, and for those that aren’t initiated into that world, exactly what a food stylist does.

Yes, I do feel lucky indeed. With an art background and a love of food, it was a no brainer for me to follow a career that manages to combine both of my loves. I began by assisting a well established food stylist in London before launching a solo career.

I worked more as a food writer and food stylist in London before moving more into props styling in Australia where I moved in 2000 with my photographer husband, Ian.

A food stylist cooks and plates food for photographic shoots for magazines, cook books and for advertising products for supermarkets etc. A prop stylist on the other hand chooses and styles the props for each shot.

In Australia these often combine as one job, so basically I cook, prop and style each dish that is photographed as well as often writing the recipes beforehand. As a food writer I have written over 30 cookbooks to date.

I too have a barn full of props!

Food Stylist working in Charente

I believe you’ve also been a food editor for several magazines when you were living in Australia. What was that like?

It’s always great to be able to follow any project from conception to publication and working as a food and style editor as a freelancer gave me that wonderful opportunity. I was also able to meet so many interesting and skillful cooks, foodies and other people involved in the food publishing world.

It turns out you're like me in another way too in the fact you work with your husband, and that can certainly be challenging, but tell me more about your business partnership and how you work together.

Ha! Many people find it hard to believe that I can live and work with my husband – I have quite a fiery temperament too – but for us it just works. Ian is a very talented photographer and it would have been impossible for me to work with anyone else.

It has also meant that in France, we come as a team and therefore are able to meet all our clients requirements, making us a popular choice for many types of projects.

Recipe for Tarte au Citron

During lockdown you started something new, creating recipe cards. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this, how it all works, and what you offer?

Lockdown art, as I call it. It grew from my love of art really and I found myself ‘playing around’ on Canva, a free design website. Chatting with Ian we decided to see if there was a commercial aspect we could explore to keep us busy and focused during Covid. Because we work together, from home, we were in an incredibly lucky position to continue working, where so many people couldn’t.

Recipe cards seemed like an obvious choice to us, so we launched a range of different boxed recipe greetings cards, recipe cards and recipe calendars to offer a bespoke online service.

I also launched a range of hand printed greetings cards all with a food focus. This saw the launch of Louise Pickford, food creative my online website and shop.

Moving from one country to another can be really stressful and I know a question a lot of people have is around work and making that transition if they aren’t yet at retirement age. How did you manage this side of things?

Again, both Ian and I are able to work either as a team or independently on many types of projects. We are lucky to have clients in both Australia and the UK who are happy to allow us to work remotely, as many people are now able to do – something great that came from the pandemic.

However, it has certainly not always been easy. After a while people forget about you once you have moved away and we came to realise we have to be extremely flexible with our work, and be prepared to vary what and how we work. Ian, for example, launched a very successful career as a wedding photographer (A Very French Wedding) several years ago now, so his summers are taken up shooting at some of the area’s most beautiful wedding venues.

For a couple of years, before covid, I ran a cookery school from home called Come Cook In France where locals and holiday makers came and spent the day with me cooking and then eating locally sourced foods. This ended during the pandemic and I don’t have any plans to reopen at this time.

Food styling in various places in the South of France

Where would we be most likely to find you on a Saturday morning?

Well, I would love to say ‘out and about’ exploring the markets, towns and other local beauties, but sadly as our work as freelancers, weekends are just another work day, should it be required of us.

Luckily this isn’t all the time and now I am working mostly in my new pottery shed (kindly built by my very flexible handy husband). I am hoping to add a range of cookware to my online shop. Still working on getting better before I can sell anything!

Which is your favourite Brocante to visit to stock up on props etc.?

I would have to say the most useful is La Cavern Dénicheur in St Michel, on the outskirts of Angouleme. It is more of a troc than a brocante, but it is useful for all sorts of plateware, glassware and occasionally furniture.

My favourite brocante is Brocante Incontournable in Bors de Montmoreau. Only a few minutes from home, the owner Benoit is incredibly helpful and generous with helping me out with props for shoots.

The twice yearly super Brocante in Bordeaux is unmissable if you really love to get lost in history.

Your favourite French restaurant in the Charente?

Without a shadow of a doubt it is Poulpette in Cognac. Yes, it is a bit of a drive but the food is simply brilliant.

What’s been your biggest challenge making the move to rural France?

Getting to grips with anything that involves bureaucracy.

What do you love the most about living in the Charente?

Probably a combination of things. The lifestyle, the weather, the countryside and the local people.

Honesty time, how good is your French?

Average I would say. Not nearly as good as it should be after 9 years. Neither of us could speak French when we arrived, other than the odd holiday French. Now we are able to converse with people to the extent of being understood most of the time.

We rarely have to get help from French speakers anymore although telephone calls still remain a challenge, and likely always will.

Louise Pickford and her husband Ian Wallace

What advice would you give others looking to live the rural dream?

Research, research, research! Don’t be lured into cheaper house prices and buy a huge old French house with lots of land, UNLESS you have a large pot of money! Learn enough French to be able to make an effort with your neighbours and locals. Be respectful of local traditions.

But most importantly DO IT – life here is good, sometimes you feel like tearing your hair out, but we feel that the good outways the bad and feel extremely lucky to have found such a lovely, welcoming place to call home.

To find out more about Louise and her life as a food stylist you can follow her on the links below:

And to see more of Ian’s gorgeous photography use the links below:

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