Susan Shiney is living my fantasy–to live somewhere in Europe and write. She is in Lille, France. Had I been able, I would have lived in my favourite city Venice and written non-stop. Have a look. Her work is very interesting. Do you think that where the writer lives affects how or what he or she writes?
Guest Blogger: I’d like to welcome Susan Shiney, a writer who has left California to live in Lille, France.
I think a lot of Americans have a love affair with France. Probably as a result of advertising and connecting all things French with luxury. Food, fashion, art, architecture, and even the language. When I started traveling, Paris was the first place on my list. When I was nineteen, I did a semester abroad in Paris and studied art history. Although I never actually envisioned living in Europe, I loved every minute of it
I became an English teacher to Speakers of Other Languages so I would be able to travel the world. I spent four years in Asia teaching English, and then I decided I wanted to the USA and try out living in New York City. I also wanted to help immigrants that recently moved to the U.S. in the public schools. While being a teacher in New York City I would spend my summers traveling. I met my French husband one summer while doing the Camino de Santiago walking pilgrimage across Spain. Before we knew it, I joined him in France and found work as an English professor. I started my writing journey in NYC by taking writing classes and working closely with a writing critique group. My style of surrealism, magical realism, and low fantasy emerged. I loved exploring the interplay of the fantastical merging with our everyday lives. (To see some examples, on my website I published this story Jellyfish Graveyard about a 150 year old eccentric grandmother creating a jellyfish haven in her apartment. Or this one about a French Gothic Cathedral that has decided to force its historical society to let it move to California.) Fitting in time for writing and teaching in New York was difficult for me.
France is much more conducive for a writing life for these reasons :
- You can sit in cafes for hours.
They don’t rush you out and everyone moves at a much slower pace. As long as you make a purchase that table is yours to read and write in uninterrupted. It is nice psychologically to know once you get started on a project you can really dig your teeth into it without having to worry about being rushed out or buying something else.
- There are cute little parks everywhere.
They value public sculptures, fountains, plants, and flowers and you can find a green space every couple of blocks. The landscape architects have great design esthetiques and yes, I know most cities have parks, but there is something special about the ones they have in France. I can’t attest to this on every square inch of France. But in my city of Lille in the north of France, they are everywhere. During the lockdown for Covid, I realized how important parks are to me because they were all closed. Reading and writing in lush green spaces gives me a lot of inspiration. Now, that things have opened up again, I spend a lot of time in parks.
- Pedestrian friendly.
Walking is closely associated with creativity for me. Sidewalks and public transport are extremely well developed here. Lille is an especially walkable city. I sometimes play around with the dictation app on my phone and record stories and ideas as I window shop. I always try to find fun ways to infuse my writing process, My blog here has 50 ideas .
- Work Life Balance. I find the French to have strong boundaries when it comes to approaching work. They have thirty-nine hour work weeks with five weeks of vacations (I am lucky to have nine weeks at my school) and two weeks of paid national holidays. I am able to take four weeks during the summer and the rest of the time is interspersed throughout the year. This really helps keep burn out at bay and leaves me a lot of free time to focus more on my writing.
- The architecture.
Coming from California originally, everything there is so new and modern. When I first came to France I felt like I was on a movie set. I am so inspired by the cathedrals and buildings here that seem to pop up everywhere you go. I don’t think the sense of awe will ever go away for me, I hope not anyway.
- Travel between countries is so easy.
From my city of Lille, I am a close train ride to Paris, London, and Brussels. We also have an airport with low-fare flights that can go to Portugal, Spain, and Croatia for under 150 dollars, sometimes as low as 50. Being in these spaces of totally different vibes fuels and refreshes my creativity.
- Writing communities.
There are several communities of other foreigners and English speakers that are interested in writing. I was lucky enough to find a writing group in Lille via meetup when I first arrived. Paris and Brussels also have vibrant writing groups. Online communities are sprouting up almost daily. Sharing and listening to stories of other people living in France from all over the world is special as well. As someone who works full-time and spends my free time writing, I need to mix socializing with making progress on all things writing related.
I have been in France for six years now and am grateful to call it home.
If you want to follow my jouney as a Californian living a creative life in France you can find me on :
I also have a blog about writing at https://susanshiney.com/blog/ where I publish a piece of flash fiction each month. I am also working on my debut novel and give video updates from museums around Europe via my author newsletter to my subscribers.