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.

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 picture – 1000 words

Three weeks in Paris and more than 1,000 photos – a source of marvellous inspiration for the next novel, working title Camille & Mariele. Yesterday I browsed the photos and lost myself for a while remembering the time spent surrounded by that city’s wonders, sounds, charm and history. I’m eager to bring so many of them alive in the story, however I know I must restrain myself.

So far I’ve worked a few in:

Camille meets Mariele wearing this dress
Camille meets Mariele wearing this dress
Marilee's mother's writing desk
Mariele’s mother’s writing desk
Camille does needlework like that in the fire screen
Camille does needlework like that in the fire screen
staircase in the Noisette home
staircase in the Noisette home
Mariele buys tea here on an outing with Bertrand
Mariele buys tea here on an outing with Bertrand
during the siege of Paris, Camille hurries by this fountain
during the siege of Paris, Camille hurries by this fountain

 

 

Sometimes I make only a passing reference while at other times I describe more detail. Whatever the case, looking at the photos helps keep me in nineteenth century Paris.

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, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. 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.