November 2009


Karen Wheeler is a British fashion and beauty journalist. She moved to France and began a blog about her experiences at, written under the pseudonym of Mimi Pompom. Tout Sweet, a memoir, is her first book and is subtitled Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in Rural France. (Interview by Angela Smith)

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  1. 1. Why did you decide to blog about your experiences in France?

    To begin with I decided to set up and blog about daily life in France as a way of keeping in touch with my friends in London. But gradually, thanks to a few well-placed newspaper articles, word spread and I now have readers all over the world. Blogging is very addictive. I love the immediate feedback when people post comments. But quite often now I have to hold stuff back, so as not to spoil the surprises (there are many) in the next book.

    2. Why did you choose the pseudonym Mimi Pompom?

    It was a random name that I plucked out of thin air but I thought it sounded fun, flirtatious and unforgettable.

    3. What message do you hope readers take from Tout Sweet?

    The main message is that the bigger the risk (in my case, giving up a glamorous London life to move to France alone), the bigger the potential reward. Since, writing Tout Sweet, I’ve had a lot of emails from readers, male as well as female, who say that my book inspired them to move abroad to start a new life on their own. The other message is that life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect but you can still make the best of it and turn a bad situation, such as finding yourself unexpectedly single in your mid-30s, into something positive. Tout Sweet seems to have resonated with people on many different levels. I’m touched by the readers (and there are many of them) who have emailed to say how much they relate to the book and how much it has helped them deal with their own emotional issues. Several of my French friends said that Tout Sweet should be available on the French national health service as a cure for depression. I love that idea! But my favourite piece of feedback came from a reader who, like me was dumped by her boyfriend in her late 30s, who wrote to thank me for “giving the unconventional woman a voice”.

    4. Did you ever picture yourself having your own place in France?

    No, I don’t think I did; but when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands and ran with it.

    5. What made you buy the house on the very first viewing?

    I could immediately see the charm and the potential behind the ugly brown wallpaper and crumbling walls. It was like finding a wonderful dress in a vintage store and just knowing that it’s got your name on it. I believe that fate led me to the house.

    6. If you could go back and change one thing about your experiences what would it be?

    I would have moved to France sooner. Also, I would not have invited Dave around for cocktails on New Year’s Eve, which as readers will know, had disastrous consequences.

    7. Did you always want to write a travel/chick lit book?

    Since about the age of five I’ve loved writing stories and I always wanted to write a bestseller. Before writing Tout Sweet, I actually spent a couple of years writing a chick-lit novel set in the world of fine perfumery called In Essence but it is still languishing in my bottom drawer. I found the publishing world incredibly difficult to break into. But then a friend suggested that I write about my experiences of moving to France. He pointed out that I had some really funny stories that would make for an entertaining read, which just hadn’t occurred to me. Then, when I started writing, I couldn’t stop. I wrote Tout Sweet in six weeks. My aim was to write a book that I would enjoy reading myself and that would raise a few smiles and make people feel happy.

    8. If Tout Sweet were made into a movie, who would you cast to play yourself, Dave, Miranda, Henri and Victor?

    Russell Crowe would be cast as Dave; and Kristin Scott Thomas, if she could be persuaded to do comedy, would make a perfect Miranda. Victor the estate agent would have to be played by a French actor, so perhaps Daniel Auteuil. As for my character, friends say that Renee Zellweger would be the one as there is a tiny resemblance (I think they mean when she is going through a fat phase). Personally, I would love Jennifer Aniston as we both seem to have equally problematic love lives, so she would definitely be able to relate to the role. But can Jen do an English accent, I wonder? Either way, it has to be someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

    9. What can we expect from your next book?

    The next book, Tout Allure: Falling In Love In Rural France, takes up where Tout Sweet left off with many of the same characters returning, including the elusive Jon Wakeman. It tells the story of how I met my dog Biff and found love practically on my doorstep. I don't want to give too much away, but yes, it does have a very happy ending.

    10. What do you miss most about life in England?

    Apart from friends, my daily cappuccino from Pret-A-Manger (a London chain) and Frappucinos from Starbucks in the summer. It sounds disloyal to say so but French coffee is often very bitter and is always made with horrible long-life as opposed to fresh milk.

    11. What was the best and worst part of being a fashion editor?

    The best part was attending the fashion shows - each one a mini, one-off theatrical production and a huge privilege to attend - as well as being invited to so many wonderful parties in amazing settings. One of my favourites was in Dolce & Gabbana’s Italian palazzo and I’ll never forget the caviar mountain at the opening of the Calvin Klein store on Madison Avenue; or queuing up at the buffet in front of John F. Kennedy Jr at a party to celebrate the opening of Giorgio Armani’s boutique in New York. The freebies and generous discounts were also fabulous. The downside was dealing with some of the fashion world’s very large egos.

    12. What is your favourite chick-lit book?

    I loved The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger for the insight it gives into the highest echelons of the glossy magazine world. I also enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love as I think she has a very unique voice. And for an all-time favourite, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, which I guess was the chick-lit of its era. It has one of the most moving endings ever and never fails to reduce me to tears.

    13. Do you prefer reading the book or seeing the movie version?

    Definitely the book first and then the film, as invariably something is lost or added in translation to the big screen. The film of The Devil Wears Prada absolutely lived up to the book. And I can’t wait to see the film of Eat, Love, Pray starring Julia Roberts.

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