Interview With Jacquie Bloese, Brighton Author Of The French House


Denise Tyler catches up with Brighton author Jacquie Bloese and covers off the Nazi occupation of Guernsey, a debut novel and her Sussex favourites

The eponymous French House is Hauteville House, Victor Hugo’s house on Guernsey where you grew up. How well did you know the house before you wrote the book?

I was very familiar with it as I got a job there when I left school working as a tour guide, showing people around the house for a summer. I was doing tours in French and English and that’s how I became intimately acquainted with it. 

Victor Hugo himself was a really interesting character and the thing that piqued my imagination was the fact that his long term mistress, Juliette Drouet, joined him in Guernsey where he was exiled, and lived in a house across the street. There are lots of stories about the two of them and they were together for 50 years, until Juliette’s death. This intense relationship cemented ‘the French house’ as a very apt setting for my first novel.

Paperback Tfh High Res

The French House takes place during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. How much did you hear about that growing up?

My great-grandparents and grandparents lived through the occupation and I grew up listening to stories about what life had been like. I was a child of the 70s so it was the fairly recent past for them as it was only 30 years or so since the war ended. The physical landscape tells a story of its own – the lookout towers and bunkers all along the West coast were built as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. 

How much of the action in the French House is based on actual events – did the bombing of the harbour in the opening scenes happen for instance? 

Absolutely, yes. It happened exactly as I described it; every Friday, the local growers took their produce down to the harbour for export, and that was when it was bombed. Tragically, several people were killed. The deportation from Guernsey to Germany in 1942 of anybody born in Britain also happened, and the character of Leutnant Schreiber is loosely inspired by a newspaper censor called Kurt Goetmann, who was posted in Guernsey for a while.  

The French House is your debut novel and it was picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club in December. That’s quite an accolade..

It was a big surprise but I was thrilled obviously! As a debut novelist, I’m aware that it helps to manage your expectations; the main wins for me are people buying my book, reading it and enjoying it! So when I got an email from my editor entitled ‘some exciting news’ I couldn’t quite believe how exciting it would turn out to be. There are so many good books out there, after all… 

What’s your writing day like?

I’m at my best in the morning. I like to get up and try not to get too distracted by emails or anything of that nature and just get the words down, often in my pyjamas! I think I’m quite a slow writer, compared to some, so I might do 300 words or so, after planning a scene. Then I’ll break for lunch and maybe a walk, then in the afternoon I’ll go and work somewhere else like the Jubilee Library to try and get up to a thousand words.   

Have you always been interested in reading and writing historical fiction?

Yes – I’ve always loved stories set in the past, such as Dickens’ novels for example, although of course his work was contemporary at the time. I’m fascinated by human nature and that’s one thing that doesn’t change – and for me as a writer, going back in time to explore and re-create a period in history is incredibly stimulating. It’s another way of travelling; I can’t quite imagine writing a contemporary novel at the moment, anyway. 

Bayside Exterior
Bayside Social

You moved to Brighton just before lockdown and you’re now busy with your second novel  – have you had a chance to explore more widely yet? 

Yes, there are so many great places to discover in Sussex. We really like the walk at Friston Forest and over to the Seven Sisters, that whole area is beautiful. We also love walking to Lewes across the Downs from Brighton. The Bayside Social in Worthing is another favourite, which is very chilled out with a nice community feel and right on the beach. Closer to home, Burnt Orange in central Brighton is a lovely treat, as is Med which opened during lockdown and serves a delicious set menu.  We’re regulars for coffee and cinnamon buns at Marmalade on Sussex Square, and I love going to my local bookshop in Kemptown which now has a café as well. One of my favourite times of year here is winter: I quite like it when the crowds have gone! You can walk down to the beach and watch these amazing sunsets. It’s really special. 


Twitter: @novelthesecondInstagram: jb_writer

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