Escape to another world

We’re all facing the challenge of Covid-19 – some no doubt with more resilience than others. My own response varies from distraction to calm, from boredom to bouts of energy, from despair to fortitude. But the best coping skill I’ve found is to escape into another world – in this case, 1870s Paris.

When I can marshal my focus to write, I disappear into the sights, sounds, and complexities of Paris under siege with rebellion boiling just below the surface. You might observe that we’re facing siege (the pandemic) and rebellion (protests and violence in different parts of the world) in 2020. However, absorbing myself in the past knowing that Paris survived and the world continued to turn is comforting, perhaps even encouraging.

Napoleon III declared war on Prussia in July 1870 – a foolish decision since the Prussian army was larger, better equipped, and logistically better organized than France. In less than two months, he surrendered, was quickly deposed, and the Third Republic declared. The Prussians – Germany did not then exist as a united nation – soon laid siege to Paris.

The manuscript I’m working on – Paris in Ruins – was originally written in 2016. Unfortunately, my then agent was unable to sell it to a publisher, so it has languished in that never-never land of done but not done. After taking a serious look at it about nine months ago, my new agent and I figured out why. Not enough conflict, insufficiently compelling character arcs, and too much romance was the verdict.

Ah … wish I’d realized that a long time ago!

If you’ve been through a major house renovation while still living in the house, you will have some sense of what it’s like to renovate a manuscript while retaining the parts that work. But I digress. The point of this post is to talk about escaping to another world.

Another world of values, customs, politics, governance, conflicts, fashion, language — and in this case, another country and a city I love. I’ve put my characters on streets and in buildings that I’ve visited. I climb the steps of the Pantheon or the hill of Montmartre with them. I cross the Pont Royal or walk along the rue de Rivoli, pause to admire Notre Dame, throw a coin into the Medici fountain at the Luxembourg Gardens, ride through the Bois de Boulogne just as they do.

Under siege conditions, Paris unravels. The poor and working class suffer greatly. Food shortages occur. Prices soar. Fuel is difficult to come by. The army occupies large open spaces such as the Champs de Mar, the Champs Elysees, the treasures of the Louvre are removed and taken away from the city, theatres become arsenals and hospitals. Men join the National Guard and prepare to defend their city. Radical clubs meet to plot rebellion.

Prussian bombardment begins a few months after they surrounded Paris. They begin with the left bank, targeting public buildings, churches, and hospitals. Barricades and rubble fill the streets. The French army fails to protect Parisians. The French government fails to negotiate peace soon enough to avoid disaster.

And I’m in the midst of it all. Imagining what it was like, the sites and smells, the emotions, the chaos, the festering anger.

I’m just at the point when France has capitulated and signed a peace treaty. And I know that worse things are to come. Will my characters survive?

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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.

A Siege Mentality

Since deciding to write a novel set in 1870s Paris, I’ve been reading up a storm to get a handle on the tumultuous times of that decade. The Franco-Prussian war, the siege of Paris, and the Paris Commune dominated 1870 and 1871 – dramatic and horrific events that demonstrate the actions leaders will take to maintain power and the unrest that comes when working class and ruling class are at odds. (Could be some lessons for today’s world.)

Getting clear on what happened when is a challenge and after reading four first hand accounts of the siege and commune, I decided to create a timeline to keep things straight. Here’s what it looks like:Siege-Commune-Timeline

At the moment, it’s 18 pages long and there’s much more to add. Beyond the timeline are impressions and personal commentary.

November 8, 1870 “These foolish people really imagined that, like them, the world regarded their city as a species of sacred Jerusalem, and that public opinion would never allow the Prussians either to bombard it, or to expose the high priests of civilization who inhabit it to the realities of war.” Diary of the Besieged Resident in Paris by Henry Labouchere

November 27, 1870 “Pâtés of rat are being made. They are said to be very good.” extract from Victor Hugo’s diaries.

January 12, 1871 “They are now cutting down the big trees in the great avenues of the city – on the Champs-Elysées and the Avenue Montaigne.” Elihu Washburne: The Diary and Letters of America’s Minister to France during the Siege and Commune of Paris by Michael Hill.

May 22, 1871 “The gates at Auteuil have disappeared as completely as those at Point du Jour, and at the railway station behind the iron railway bridge over the road all the habitations are, so to speak, in a heap. Stone, mortar, iron bridge metal, lamp posts, trees, are smashed, pounded, and scattered.” The Insurrection in Paris related by an Englishman.

The trick will be to select useful tidbits while not overloading the story with detail.

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 and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.