Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Guest Post: Imogen Robertson on The Paris Winter

It's a delight to have author Imogen Robertson on my blog today. Paris is a beautiful city and I've been curious about her novel, The Paris Winter, and the inspiration behind the story. Continue below for the awesome guest post.

19286609Release date: November 4th 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Imogen Robertson's break-out novel - a deep, dark and opulent tale of Belle epoque Paris, and the secrets and dangers hidden beneath its luxurious facade. Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris eats money. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling joys of the Belle epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, Maud takes a job as companion to young, beautiful Sylvie Morel. But Sylvie has a secret: an addiction to opium. As Maud is drawn into the Morels' world of elegant luxury, their secrets become hers. Before the New Year arrives, a greater deception will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.

The Paris Winter began for me one evening when I was visiting my parent’s home in Darlington, North East England. My family are terrible hoarders which means we have photograph albums covering a hundred years of family life. The album I was holding in my hand featured pictures of my Grandmother, Rona Tompkins, as she then was, larking around in Vienna in 1913. Granny was born in 1892 and before the First World War broke out she was already a seasoned traveller, taking trains across Europe on her own to visit friends and relatives. I was surprised and delighted to find these images of her as a young adventurous women, and then among the albums I found one of her sketch books including various water-colours she had painted on her travels. The idea of a young woman artist from this part of the country, travelling on her own to study took shape.

me and granny
Around the same time I came across images of the floods which took place in Paris in 1910. I knew I wanted to write a book about a character whose illusions and prejudices are torn apart by her experiences, and suddenly I realised that story could take place against the background of a city falling apart. I had my setting and my dates.

After that came the research. I always do a lot of general research before I start to plot a novel, because the research inspires so many ideas for the narrative. For instance, while I was leafing through copies of The Times from 1910 looking for reports of the floods, I came across an appeal for funds for the Ada Leigh Homes for impoverished English and American girls in Paris. I found Ada Leigh's little autobiography in the British Library and based my own character of Miss Harris on her. Her book gave me a wealth of material about poor women in Paris at the time. 

ave ledrun rollin
Then comes the plotting, and then the writing. I do need to have a fairly clear idea of plot before I start to write, otherwise I fear I’d go up too many blind allies. That said, the plot always changes as I write. Characters develop on the page, and take the story in new directions. That’s a good sign - it means the characters are alive. I would worry now if they just did what I expected them to. 

There is always a stage in every novel when I’m sure it’s not working and I need to rethink. It’s never fun, but it is an important part of the process. A novel is such a big unwieldy thing at times, it’s vital to take a step back occasionally and examine where you are with a cool and critical eye. You have to be ready to make some tough decisions and be ruthless with your own work, but if you put in the effort, then you’ll get over the problems and find yourself drinking in cool, clean air. The characters tell you what they want and where they need to go. You know the city and the time from your research as well as you know your own street and the novel begins to blossom under your hands. That’s the time when being a novelist really is the best job in the world.

Imogen RobertsonImogen Robertson grew up in Darlington, studied Russian and German at Cambridge and now lives in London. She directed for film, TV and radio before becoming a full-time author and won the Telegraph’s ‘First thousand words of a novel’ competition in 2007 with the opening of Instruments of Darkness, her first novel. Her other novels also featuring the detective duo of Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther are Anatomy of Murder, Island of Bones and Circle of Shadows. The Paris Winter, a story of betrayal and darkness set during the Belle Époque, will be published in the US by St Martin's Press in November 2014. She has been short-listed for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger twice and is married to a freelance cheesemonger.

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