Escape to an inner world

I read in this morning’s paper (Saturday May 2) an article titled Missing the outside world? Take comfort in your inner life. The  author, Howard Axelrod, had spent two years in solitude after a traumatic accident blinded him in his right eye. He was bringing lessons from that experience to the current Covid-19 crisis. The challenge to take comfort in my inner life struck a chord.

We all have an inner life – the voice that talks to us when we need a talking to; the thought of doing something particularly rash; the unexpressed desires; the cautionary words that come unbidden in unexpected circumstances; the ‘what if’ wonderings that take command from time to time and change the course of our lives; the places in our minds that offer escape.

Howard Axelrod’s article prompted me to consider my inner life as an author.

Like many others, Covid-19 has muffled my brain, turned my normally productive self into a pinball machine with little silver balls ricocheting up and down and here and there, banging and ringing without any focus. Maybe I should check FaceBook? Maybe I should phone my mother? Maybe I should straighten my bookshelves? Maybe I should … maybe I should … maybe I should.

Finally, two weeks ago, I sat down with edits at hand to put the finishing touches on the latest manuscript. Within minutes, I was in a Tae Kwan Do studio with my character and then her New York City loft, my brain engaged in what she might be thinking and what she was saying and why. I’d escaped to another world, a world of my own making. I sent that off to my agent on Wednesday with both excitement and fear and with a great sense of accomplishment.

With that feeling of accomplishment in mind, I cleared my desk, got out another manuscript — this one created three years ago — and recommenced the revision process I’d decided on in January. The book hasn’t sold. My agent’s advise was to ditch the romantic elements and focus on my characters’ experiences with the underlying issues pulling Paris apart: the risks of living in a city under siege; the randomness of death; the devastation of bombardment; the threatening circumstances that pitted one citizen against another.

And now I’m spending my time in 1870 Paris. As I write, I walk the streets of that great city, pass monuments like the Arc de Triomphe and the Pantheon, ride a carriage through the Bois de Boulogne, climb the hill to Montmartre while anticipating the threat of a long siege and the dangers to come.

Imagination provides an amazing escape.

 

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.

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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.