Writing a series of bestselling memoirs, restoring houses in Burgundy, creating a cookbook… these are just some of the strings to Laura Bradbury’s bow. We had a chat to the hit author about how she launched her writing career, the self-publishing industry, life in France, and much more…
Your writing career began after a unique situation in 2012. Could you tell us a little about this experience and how it changed your perspective on life?
I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life, but by my late thirties I’d started and abandoned about seven manuscripts. I was afraid to share anything I wrote, for fear I would be judged as talentless at the one thing I wanted to do for a career.
I continued to divert myself with life’s events including a law degree at Oxford, a love affair with a Frenchman (now my husband), three children and renovating old houses in France.
Then, just before I turned forty, I was diagnosed with an often terminal autoimmune condition of the liver and bile ducts called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC). It was out of the blue and a complete kick in the teeth.
There is currently no treatment or cure for PSC. The only hope for survival is a liver transplant, but first I had to get sick enough to qualify for one, while dodging all the other ways PSC could kill me.
The day after I was diagnosed, I woke up feeling like I was being suffocated by a lead blanket of grief and fear. My entire life had changed. I went downstairs, flipped open my laptop, grabbed a Post-it and scribbled, “F*ck you. I’m not dead yet!” on it. I stuck it on my screen and began to write my first published book, My Grape Escape. Ten months later, I self-published it.
I never looked back and received my life-saving living donor liver transplant in 2017 from a friend of mine, who donated the entire right lobe to me (livers regenerate… both of ours are doing great!). Since the day I was diagnosed in 2012, I have now written 11 books.
The entire experience has taught me how precious life is and to never put off doing the things I care about!
You have a law degree from Oxford. Have you always known your passion was writing?
Yes! However, as I explained above, I was plagued with self-doubt and didn’t truly believe I could make a living as a writer. I was brought up to be practical, and a law degree was the practical progression from the English Literature undergraduate degree I received from McGill University in Montréal. In retrospect, my law degree at Oxford was yet another sophisticated method of avoidance. Despite realizing a week into the course that it wasn’t for me, I stuck it out until the end!
I wrote about how I pivoted from practicing law in London to renovating old houses in the vineyards of Burgundy in My Grape Escape — it was quite the leap! I would have been a miserable lawyer, whereas I am now an extremely happy writer.
Your best-selling books, The Grape Series, are based on your life. Just how accurate are they?
It is as accurate as my memory, which is to say fairly good but far from perfect. I have always kept journals, so that has been an enormous help. I also kept a blog for the five years that we lived in France, so that is easy to refer back to if I have a doubt.
I always find my way when I focus on memories that carry emotional weight—turning points in my life. I use these as the epicentres of my stories and then work outwards from there.
I wrote a handbook that deals with the nitty-gritty of memory and other such things entitled How to Write a Beloved (and Bestselling) Memoir for the participants in a workshop I presented at the Surrey International Writers Conference in October. I’ll be expanding that and publishing it in January.
Your first book was self-published – what was that like?
It was a steep learning curve, but fascinating. I discovered that self-published writers are some of the most collaborative and generous people I’ve ever met. The self-pub community has a “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality. Life is too short to be competitive with one another.
I chose to self-publish because I am hideously impatient, and when I received my PSC diagnosis I was unsure of my timeline. I didn’t have the luxury to wait for the wheels of the traditional publishing process to turn!
With the publication of Bisous and Brioche, I’m now what is termed a “hybrid” writer, meaning I’m both traditionally and self-published. I have adored learning the ropes of traditional publishing and working with such a wonderful team is also a refreshing change to flying solo.
You manage four vacation rentals (and a 13th-century wine cellar!) in the vineyards of France along with your French husband. Can you tell us about this and how has it inspired your first novel, A Vineyard for Two, and then later, Love In The Vineyards?
So many of our friends and family in Burgundy are winemakers. In the generation of my husband’s parents and grandparents, everyone in the villages around us had their own personal patch of vines for their own wine.
Seeing the winemaking life so closely has left me in awe of the sheer amount of work it takes to tend to vines, the precarity of grape harvesting (an entire year’s harvest can be wiped out in a ten minute hailstorm), and yet the passion the winemakers put into the artistry of creating a sublime bottle of wine.
The wines in our area of Burgundy (the Côte D’Or) are truly transcendent, and it never fails to amaze me how magical a truly authentic, thoughtfully made wine can be.
Winemakers are a unique combination of artists and farmers, often poetic yet absolutely down-to-earth and pragmatic. This mash-up fascinated me to no end. I tend to write about whatever intrigues me, and the time we have spent in France restoring our vacation rentals, and our “people” there, were the source material and inspiration for the entire Winemakers Trilogy (the third book will be coming out in March 2021).
You’ve also released a cookbook, Bisous & Brioche, with fellow author and photographer Rebecca Wellman. Did the Grape Series memoirs serve as an inspiration? Was the process of writing and publishing a cookbook different than that of your other works?
Oui! The Grape Series books are full of the mouth-watering meals I’ve had in Burgundy and from the beginning, readers have asked me to publish a cookbook with some of these recipes.
However, I’m a storyteller first and foremost, so food photography and cookbook formatting were not in my wheelhouse. I started talking seriously about creating a cookbook with the wonderful food photographer and food writer Rebecca Wellman and the boutique publishing company Touchwood Editions. Here, finally, were the missing pieces.
Bisous and Brioche is a love letter to my readers and an ode to cozy comfort food. These approachable recipes have been passed on to me by family and friends in Burgundy. You’ll start feeling like a French chef in no time!
Do you have a favorite recipe from the collection?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, as all the recipes in the book are culled from the ones I use again and again in my daily life. However, if I had to choose, it would probably be the two endive recipes. I’d never tasted endive before living in France, and I’m absolutely addicted to this delicious vegetable. It’s conveniently at its prime during the winter months when grocery shelves are low on other tempting options.
The endive salad and the braised endives with ham and béchamel are two of my absolute comfort dishes. Oh, and the homemade crème fraîche is a life-saver. 😉
Do you have any must-visit Burgundy addresses?
I would definitely visit both Domaine François Buffet in Volnay and Domaine Naudin-Ferrand in Magny-les-Villers. Both of these winemakers are close friends and I’m lucky to get an insider view at just how much love and labour go into their bottles. They make absolutely sublime wine!
My favorite restaurants in Beaune are Les Caves Madeleines and Le Petit Paradis. We also have an annual summer meal at Le Beau Rivage on the river at Allerey-sur-Saône. We sit under the massive old lime trees and feast on la friture (“fried food”) and frog legs.
What would you tell people who have aspirations of picking up and moving there, like you did once upon a time?
I definitely encourage people to take the leap. My illness and transplant have driven home how unpredictable life can be, and I have never regretted my experiences of living abroad and traveling. I was so relieved, in fact, when I became ill that I had so many experiences like that to cherish. The memories are priceless.
The logistics of moving may feel impossible, but there is so much help available out there from others who have done it before. Just stay tenacious and figure it out step by step—you’ll get there.
What would you say to any inspiring writers—do you have any advice?
I urge writers to just start, even if they feel like they don’t know what they’re doing (most writers never feel like they know what they’re doing!). Same goes for being worried about being judged or not being a success.
I started writing my memoirs for my daughters to tell them the story of where they came from, if I wasn’t around to tell them myself. This made the whole process far less intimidating. If you are struggling, try picking someone (it can even be yourself) and write for that person alone.
What’s in store for the future? Is the Grape Series over? Would you ever write a story set anywhere other than France?
Getting Bisous and Brioche out into the world gave me a massive sense of satisfaction, and I hope to do another cookbook in the future. Perhaps one focused on French desserts, as I have a legendary sweet tooth!
However, the Grape Series is far from finished. I just published a Christmas-themed addition (My Grape Christmas), and I have at least four or five other books to add to the series.
I want to finish up The Winemakers Trilogy in 2021, even though I have several more stories to tell in that universe of Burgundy winemaking…
My next fiction series will be set a world away from France—on a fictional Gulf Island in the Pacific Northwest where I’m from. I grew up in this magical, wild place surrounded by orcas, cougars and bears, and I come from a line of proud Islanders. This place is as magical as France but completely different. I can’t wait to share it with people!