Dazzled by a green door

Dear all – this is the first post in a new series I’m calling transported … hope you enjoy it.

Almost two years ago – hard to believe – my husband and I spent three weeks living in a Paris apartment. We walked the streets searching for evidence of Paris 1870, the setting for Paris in Ruins, an as yet unpublished novel. The idea was to live like Parisians do, while absorbing the culture and feel of the city which still reflects that time period.

Historical fiction has the privilege and challenge of transporting readers in time and place. Readers say that’s the number one priority of historical fiction. Walking the streets, I focused on discovering little details that might create exactly that feeling for readers.

One day I was dazzled by this green door. What emotion does it evoke? What time period does it represent? Who fashioned the almost sinister-looking knocker? What would the knocker sound like? Look at how the shadow extends the length of the fingers. Did you notice the woman’s hand bears a ring and the wrist is framed with a ruffle? What sort of people passed through the door? Why is there a grill at eye level?

Imagine the scene: Exhausted and bedraggled, Mariele lifted the brass knocker shaped like a woman’s hand and let it fall. She smiled limply at her mother and knocked again. Maman’s cheeks were sunburned and her hair, normally tightly coifed, now lay like thick ribbons down her back. Their clothes were dirty, their hands scratched from climbing fences, their legs so fatigued they could barely stand. Mariele wore no boots, her feet bound in strips of cotton torn from her petticoat, were cut and blistered, the cloth damp with blood. – from Paris in Ruins 

Or maybe this could happen: Claire was curious about the door, not only its vivid green colour but also the brass knocker shaped like a woman’s hand. Stefan had told her to meet him at the shop with the green door but he’d said nothing about the knocker or the small grill that allowed the owner to scrutinize visitors before letting them in. “Details are the lifeblood of espionage,” Captain Lucas always said. If she made a mistake now, the mission would fail.

Or this: Breathless and with blood oozing from the wound to her side, Lisette lifted the knocker – the one Michel fashioned in the shape of her very own hand. She let it fall once and then twice before collapsing to the ground.

Every time I see this photo, I’m transported to another time and place.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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12 Responses

  1. Love this post, Mary. I’m drawn in by each of the scenarios and look forward to reading the one you choose – whether one of these or another. This is an exercise I love about writing fiction; trying out different reactions the characters have and choosing the one that best suits them and the situation.

    1. Thanks, Carol. Absolutely love this green door – I remember stopping quite abruptly when I saw it on a rather nondescript house on a narrow street in Montmartre.

  2. Wow, what a find. I’m glad you posted the photo. It calls up all sorts of mystery and would make a great writing prompt. We have walked the streets of Montmartre also but I’ve never come across it! One of the things I love about France are all the little curiosities like this, that you find in villages and street corners.

  3. If she is French, she is Marielle, not Mariele 😉 But your way of writing might work if she is of another nationality – eg Spanish and coming from Maria Elena.

    1. Hi Marina … I better check on Mariele because I’ve used that spelling throughout the novel (and she is French). Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Mary,
    Fascinating door! (If not ghastly.)
    You did not tell, as Harald Johnson asked: did you knock?!
    Say you did!
    Paris is where it happened.
    Even if one doesn’t write historical fiction, it retains a lure for writers. Only yesterday did two of the authors I’ve been reading, both talked about Paris. The one, Tim Ferriss, stayed there for a month writing the book proposal for his latest book, and Jeff Goins retold the journey of young Ernst Hemingway flocking there during the 1920s.
    You’re absolutely right—one has to spent (at least) a couple weeks (on foot) to truly explore a place, a city, in order to “see.”
    That’s when we notice green doors!
    Thanks for the post, Mary!

    1. Hi Danie .. no, I didn’t knock 🙂 Although I’ve fantasized about that and the people who chose to have that knocker. I need to find the next destination for a novel – perhaps London? I haven’t explored that city very much.

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