Biography at a glance
Grew up in Vienna, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, France. Brought up in a remote village in the Vosges mountains, France. Educated at Lycée Jules Ferry, St. Dié and Chelsea School of Art, London. Worked in London as au pair, cleaner, model maker for architects, night club waitress. As a student she helped in the redesign of Madame Tussauds’ Chamber of Horrors. After leaving art school she became a film translator, reader/reviewer of French and German novels for London publishers, Art Director for BBC magazines, Art Editor/ Art Director Time Out magazine, book designer/illustrator in Venice, Art Director for Paris magazine and Strasbourg advertising agency. Held workshops for multinational companies. Art Director for German glossy fashion magazine before setting up own business including a bookshop and design studio. Created workshops for a French book museum on the subject of the history of books and illuminated manuscripts. Returned to the UK in 2004. Took a writing course at Oxford University, wrote for magazines and worked in the book trade. Now writing fiction full time and teaching French. Married to Michael Hasted, artist and writer of books on the British Theatre and creator of the theatre website STAGETALKMAGAZINE.COM, reviewing plays, opera and dance in Bristol, Birmingham, Oxford, Bath, Stratford and Cheltenham.
A.N. Burchardt MUCH GRIST TO THE MILL By Eileen Dunwoodie
‘You should write a book about your life, people always tell me,’ A.N. Burchardt laughs. ‘Nothing could be further from my mind. It’s true, I’ve seen and lived through abject poverty which I found humiliating, even when I was small. There was a lot of stuff that children should not experience. A couple of my siblings had a lot of problems later because of it. But I really don’t feel like cannibalising my own life to write novels, let alone write a misery memoir. There are people in my family who have had a much tougher life than I will ever have. I’ve always said that my only talent is to create something out of nothing. To me writing is similar to painting or design, both of which I did for many years. In another life I might have been an actor; when I write I can get inside different characters, good or bad – anything is possible. And putting all the different pieces together to make a coherent whole is not so different from making a collage or writing a piece of music.’
A.N. Burchardt was born into a refugee family not long after WW2. At the time of her birth her father was one day away from being transported to Siberia. Her Romanian mother sought refuge with her parents in Vienna. She was declared stateless and repeatedly expelled from Austria. On a winter night a man, who had lost both his arms in the war, smuggled A.N. Burchardt through the snow across the Austrian border, yards away from machine gun-toting Russian guards. The family was reunited in the ruins of Cologne railway station. A.N. Burchardt was three years old and had never seen her father. Brief periods in Germany and Luxembourg followed, until finally France offered a home to the family which by then numbered four children.
Together with her three siblings she was brought up in the Vosges mountains in the North-East of France in a remote village without telephone, television or transport other than a bicycle. She was educated at the Lycée Jules Ferry in St. Dié. ‘The kids in my class mostly came from rural backgrounds and had little idea of the world outside their own village lives. I was lucky,’ she says, ‘in that my parents had a life full of culture before the war. In a place where snow came up to my knees I had no winter coat or boots, but they constantly talked about opera, classical music and about their previous high life. In fact, so much so that it enraged us kids. But because of all that talk I knew what was out there. I was a very shy child, but I longed for the big wide world instead of being frightened of it.’
After passing her final exams, and ten days after her seventeenth birthday, she left for England to learn the language, spending a difficult year as an au pair. She worked nights for four years to pay for her studies at Chelsea School of Art where she later also lectured.
For ten years she juggled a parallel career of film translation for the National Film Theatre/British Film Institute and her work as freelance Art Editor/Art Director for Time Out magazine. ‘We worked at break-neck speed to impossible deadlines. Journalism is the best training for authors,’ she says. ‘It teaches you the discipline of biting the bullet, working and editing copy under pressure. And you get completely used to having your work cut down, sometimes brutally for space reasons.’
I ask why she has always had a multi-track career. ‘After starting life as a refugee child, being shunted around Europe, to have several irons in the fire work-wise makes me feel more secure.’
She spent an idyllic period in Venice designing and illustrating books. After a brief stint in New York with her English husband Michael Hasted, artist and author of books on the British theatre, they moved to France.
At first she freelanced as Art Editor for Paris magazines. In Strasbourg she worked as Art Director for an advertising agency. She was offered and took a dream job just across the border in Germany as Art Director/Art Editor of a glossy Haute Couture fashion magazine. During the same period she was a part-time lecturer at the Strasbourg Ecole Supérieure des Arts. She was also invited by Bristol Myers-Squibb, a multi-national pharmaceutical company and owner of L’Oréal, to lecture on the creation of magazines.
Since childhood she had written stories, plays and later poetry in French. With her accumulated experience in journalism and ten years of film translation, years during which she had honed her dialogue writing, she began to write short stories in English. After eight years in the over-wrought high fashion world, and almost as soon as she was writing fiction, working for magazines lost its attraction. She has noticed an uncanny a pattern in her life. ‘I can’t really explain it,’ she says, ‘but every seven years there is a major shift, either I move to start a completely different life or my work changes radically.’
To create more time for her writing, she moved to the book village of Montolieu (the French Hay-on-Wye) in the Languedoc, South West France, where she set up her own company. It included a bookshop and a design studio. For the regional book & print museum she set up workshops related to the history of books and illuminated manuscripts. During the winter months the Languedoc is blissfully quiet and her fiction writing began in earnest. Her short fiction was published in Writers’ Voice/ France. She also edited the journal for three years. During this time she received much encouragement from American East Coast authors Barbara Helfgott-Hyett and Lucy Ferris.
On her return to England in 2004 she took a writing course with Rebecca Loncraine at Oxford University. Since then she has written for UK magazines, taught French and worked in the book trade, including the Cheltenham Literature Festival. In 2011 as well as in 2012 she was one of the authors who appeared in the You Heard it Here First event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. ‘I was used to translating films to a cinema full of people or giving lectures without being nervous, but reading my own fiction at the oldest and possibly the largest literature festival felt quite different,’ she confesses.
In 2015 THE FOOL’S HOUSE, a murder mystery, the first of her Languedoc Trilogy was published, followed in July 2016 by SIMPLE POISON, the second of the trilogy. ‘The third, THE RESTING HOUSE‘ is all planned out, the characters are sitting there, waiting for me to write it all down, I just need to find a gap where I’m left in peace, away from it all,’ she says with a wry smile. ‘I write very quickly, it all just pours out, but it’s the editing and proofing which can take three years – I’m a bit fussy about that.’ All three books of the trilogy are set in and around the village of Sainte Colombe in the Languedoc. Each book has a different story, although some characters run through all three books have different plots and different central characters. They don’t have to be read in sequence. ‘The Languedoc region is my real home. I was brought up in the North East of France, but after having lived in fifty odd places in my life, when I set foot in the Carcassonne area I felt I had roots there. It was quite spooky really, because there had always been family tales that my mother’s oldest recorded ancestor lived there before he set off on the crusade in 1097. I have no idea whether it’s true or not; family history has a habit of getting twisted around, but there is usually some truth in it.’
She now writes full time, mostly fiction. She is able to write almost anywhere, including on London buses, in a friends house in Cornwall during cataclysmic storms, with the rain pooling on the floor around her feet and the wind straight from Tintagel threatening to blow in the bay windows, but preferably in empty cafés where no one can reach her. ‘I still give one-to-one French tuition, but only to people I like,’ she says, but admits that it is mostly for the sheer love of the French language and culture which, she says, infused her childhood with hope and dreams and made it possible, for some of them, to come true.
This website contains information about her wide ranging, creative career (see INTERVIEWS), about THE FOOL’S HOUSE(see EXTRACTS), of the Languedoc Trilogy (see NOVELS for outlines of forthcoming work), the stage play DUMB, the radio play THE MOUSECOAT (see PLAYS), some short stories, updates on her forthcoming projects, a selection of reviews of book which have enthused her or infuriated her, some magazine articles, as well as her blog about France Never say NON to a Frenchman – Everything the Brits should ask, but the French won’t tell. ‘One day, that too will become a book.’