Paris literary studio 1: Introduction

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Working in the Keesing Studio, February 2010

One of the most wonderful experiences of my writing life was when I was awarded a six-month residency at the Keesing Studio in Paris from February-August 2010. The Keesing Studio is a flat whose residencies are administered by the Australia Council, but which is part of the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, a massive complex housing lots of studios where artists from all disciplines from across the world can live and work for residencies of specific time limits. (Incidentally, the Keesing Studio and other artist residency locations, including in the Cité, feature in some interesting research done by the Australia Council recently, which you can read here.)

As the Australia Council’s website indicates, the Keesing Studio was generously leased in 1985 for 75 years by the late author Nancy Keesing ‘to provide Australian writers with the opportunity to live and write in a new and stimulating environment.’ It’s certainly that!  The flat itself is small (40 sq m altogether, comprising of one main room–living, sleeping and working space–with separate but very small kitchen, bathroom and store-room) but it’s clean, warm and functional, and set in an unbeatable location, in the buzzy, bustling Marais neighbourhood on the Right Bank, full of interesting little shops and restaurants. It’s only a few steps away from the Seine, and very close to Notre Dame and many other places.

Living area in 2010(our decorations!)

Living area in 2010(our decorations!)

I went with my husband David (you pay a minimal monthly fee to the Cité for partners to stay) and we both had the best time there, getting to know Paris really well, walking kilometres across it, looking at everything, shopping in local shops and markets, eating wonderful food, both at home and in little local restaurants, going to the theatre, visiting friends and family and feeling like we were really part of life there, not just passing tourists.

our favourite local restaurant, the Louis-Philippe

our favourite local restaurant, the Louis-Philippe

The residency was also intensely inspirational: at least three books came out of that six-month stay, though my actual time there was taken up not so much with writing manuscripts as soaking up atmosphere, doing heaps of research, visiting lots of museums, galleries, and sites of interest in Paris, but also outside of it including not only other parts of France, but also Russia, Malta and Italy! And what was more, during the time I was there, the first–yes, the first of my books to be published in French–Three Wishes, written under the pen-name of Isabelle Merlin, and retitled in France as ‘Paul, Charlie et Rose’– was actually released in March 2010 and I got to see it in Paris bookshops and at the wonderful Salon Du Livre(a huge event which is a combination of book trade expo, literary festival and rights fair), as well as having to meet the lovely publishers at Albin Michel.

My book in a Paris bookshop

It was an absolutely wonderful time whose influence continues to inspire me. And I’m not the only writer to feel that.  So I thought I’d start this new year with a new series, Paris literary studio, interviewing Australian writers who have been residents in the Keesing Studio, and finding out what their experiences have been. Later in the week I’ll be interviewing the current resident, Ursula Dubosarsky, and later still authors who were there at various times over the years, but today, I’d like to post a short extract from a piece I wrote after coming back from the residency, which was published in Australian Author, back in December 2010. You can get the full article here. (Free to ASA members, tiny price to non-members!)

amazing ceiling in my favourite Paris museum--Musee de la Chasse et Nature

amazing ceiling in my favourite Paris museum–Musee de la Chasse et Nature

Despite my French background I did not set foot in Paris till adulthood, because of my father’s Southern dislike of it. Whenever we were back in France, Dad would delight in saying, as our flight circled over Paris on its way to Toulouse, ‘That’s exactly where it belongs—under us.’

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Seafood display, markets 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Parisien, tete de chien’ (Parisians are dogs) has always been the vengeful, wounded cry of provincials. For of course Paris adds insult to injury by ignoring the feelings of the innumerable ‘ploucs’  who have converged on it, whether eagerly or resentfully, from all corners of France over the centuries. Plouc is a bogan, a hick, an unsophisticated person–and shorthand for a provincial, as far as Parisians are concerned—an attitude with a very long lineage, for plouc derives from an ancient Gaulish word meaning someone outside the territory of the Parisii, the tribe which ended up giving the city its name.

Paris street art(by Nemo) Belleville, Paris

Paris street art(by Nemo) Belleville, Paris

Luxembourg Gardens, spring 2010

Luxembourg Gardens, spring 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I’m Australian, too. I might carry the ingrained Southern prickliness in my genes, but I’ve been brought up in a culture which still regards the City of Light as a romantic dream, witness the many ‘I was in Paris and fell in love’ memoirs which have populated bestseller lists. So the opportunity to cast off my double plouc-ness as Australian and Southern French and immerse myself in Paris living and writing there for six months was irresistible, even though part of me was scared, wondering if I wouldn’t just end up hating the place. Months into my time here, I was still discovering just how disconcertingly wrong I’d been.

Thing is, nobody, not even a vengeful plouc, told me that the big city of big cities is actually not that at all, but rather a collection of villages….

Night walk, 2010

Night walk, 2010

An adventurous life and a notorious true crime in Faversham, Kent

Michael-Greenwood-plaqueVisited Faversham in Kent recently and whilst on a walk through this very historic town, came across two very interesting stories, literally plastered on the walls of two ancient houses. One told the story of Michael Greenwood, who at the age of 17 in 1748, was press-ganged into the Navy, then his ship, the Litchfield, was wrecked off the Barbary Coast, and he and his shipmates were captured by Moors, and enslaved for 17 months till they were ransomed. After that he returned to Faversham where he worked as an oyster dredger, but during his captivity he kept an extensive diary which is apparently still in existence and is owned by his descendants in Queensland! Would love to read it..

The other story is of a notorious crime in Tudor times–the murder of a man named Thomas Arden by his wife Alice and her lover Mosby. This was a bungled affair–several attempts were made which failed until finally the murderous pair hired two hitmen, returned English soldiers from Calais known amazingly as Black Will and Loosebag, who killed Arden but bungled it so badly that the murderers, all of them, were quickly discovered and executed, except for Loosebag, who managed to get away. Not surprisingly, this gruesome and bizarre crime was not only the talk of the country but it inspired a play, Arden of Faversham, which though anonymously published, is thought variously to have been written by Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd and William Shakespeare–either solely or collaboratively. The play has been produced many times over the centuries–the latest of which was last year, when it was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, updated to modern times. ardens_house

Such great stories! Am sure they will find their way somehow into my writing, somewhere..

Guest post: Elisabeth Storrs on Etruscan love

Today I’m delighted to welcome Elisabeth Storrs to my blog. Elisabeth is the author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice, the first two books in the Tales of Ancient Rome trilogy set in early Republican Rome and Etruria. The final book, Call to Juno, will be released in April 2016.Storrs-WeddingShroud-20148-CV-FT

00 ElisabethStorrsColor300Elisabeth has long held a passion for the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She graduated from the University of Sydney with a degree in Arts Law having studied Classics along the way. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two sons and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer and governance consultant. She is the co-founder of the Historical Novel Society Australasia, and the Deputy Chair of the NSW Writers’ Centre.

Warding off Evil: The Power of A Loving Embrace.

by Elisabeth Storrs
I was inspired to write The Wedding Shroud and its sequel, The Golden Dice, when I found a photo of a C6th BCE sarcophagus of a man and women lying on their bed in a tender embrace. The casket (known as the Sarcophagus of the Married Couple) was unusual because, in this period of history, women were rarely commemorated in funerary art let alone depicted in such a pose of affection. The image of the lovers remained with me. What kind of culture exalted marital fidelity while showing such an openly sensuous connection? What ancient society revered women as much as men? Discovering the answer led me to the Etruscans, a society that existed from before archaic times in Italy and was mainly situated in the areas we now know as Tuscany and Lazio.

Married Couple                                              Sarcophagus of the Married Couple
                                                            Late C6th BCE

Etruscan women were afforded education, high status and independence. As a result they were often described as ‘wicked’ by Greek and Roman historians and travellers whose cultures repressed women. Etruscan women dined with their husbands at banquets and drank wine. In such commentators’ eyes, this liberal behaviour may well have equated with depravity. One famous account claims that wives indulged in orgies. And so modern historians continue to debate the contradictory depictions of Etruscan women –were they promiscuous adulterers or faithful wives?
Etruscan society clearly celebrated both marriage and sex. The image of men and women embracing is a constant theme in their tomb art and ranges from being demure, as in the case of the Married Couple, to the strongly erotic (Tomb of the Bulls) and even pornographic (Tomb of the Whippings.) The latter illustrations seem to confirm the more prurient view of Etruscan women but the symplegma or ‘sexual embrace’ was not a gratuitous portrayal of abandon but instead was an atropaic symbol invoking the forces of fertility against evil and death.
No better example of this is a particularly striking double sarcophagus found in Vulci in Italy and which is now located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Wrought in fine white limestone, the man and woman lie entwined in each other’s arms. However, unlike the anonymous Married Couple, this husband and wife can be identified. They are Larth Tetnies and Tanchvil Tarnai. The very fact that Tanchvil has two names is evidence of the status of Etruscan women. In early Rome, females only had one name – that of their father’s in feminine form. In Etruria, the bloodlines of both sides of a woman’s family were often recorded on their casket.

Tetnies Younger                                                       Larth Tetnies and Tanchvil Tarnai
                                                         Late C4th early 3rd BCE
The image of the couple is both intimate and yet openly erotic. The spouses are not young but are nevertheless beautiful. Tanchvil gently clasps the nape of Larth’s neck as the lovers gaze into each other’s eyes. They are naked, the outline of their limbs evident beneath the sculpted folds of the mantle that covers them. However nudity cannot hide their status. Their luxurious hairstyles and elegant jewellery declare their wealth, as does the wide, decorated double bed upon which they lie.
There was a second sarcophagus found in the sepulchre at Vulci. It is narrow and only held the remains of a woman, Ramtha Visnai, but its lid depicts her embracing her husband, Arnth Tetnies. They are the parents of Larth. This coffin is made of rough nenfro stone. Wrapped in their shroud, the figures embrace each other on their bed. Unlike the sexually charged younger couple, the older pair is more contemplative as they face each other although the sight of their feet peeping from beneath the covers hints at the relaxed familiarity of their marriage.

Tetnies Elder                                                  Ramtha Visnai and Arnth Tetnies
                                                          C450-400 BCE

The Married Couple inspired me to write my trilgy, but the two caskets in the Tetnies tomb were the inspiration for the title of The Wedding Shroud. For both couples lie beneath mantles that I came to understand could symbolise the large veil under which an Etruscan bride and groom stood when they took their vows. In effect the spouses were swathed in their wedding shroud for eternity, their union protecting them from the dark forces that lay beyond the grave.
As for the conflicting views of Etruscan women, it is clear from studying this society’s art that they celebrated life. Many worshipped the religion of Fufluns (the Greek Dionysus and Roman Bacchus) whose later cult adherents were famous for indulging in debauchery but in its purest form was a belief in the power of regeneration. So which version is correct? Sinners indulging in group sex or steadfast wives? Perhaps both, because the concept of a culture that condones female promiscuity while also honouring wives and mothers is not necessarily contradictory. For while it can be erroneous to compare modern societies with ancient ones, it could be argued that this attitude to females occurs in many present-day Western cultures today.
Either way, the erotic and sensual image of an embrace transcends any moralising in which historians might indulge. Ultimately I believe that the symplegma is not just an atropaic symbol but something more powerful. Whether sculpted in stone, moulded in terracotta or painted in a mural, the embrace of two lovers remains, above all, an eternal celebration of abiding love.

Tetnies Sarcophagi photographs © 2010 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Married Couple courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Storrs-GoldenDice-20146-CV-FT

Elisabeth’s website http://www.elisabethstorrs.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/elisabethstorrs
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.storrs
Buy links on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Elisabeth-Storrs/e/B005NVUWZ4/

Guest post: Jan Latta, author and wildlife photographer

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jan Latta to my blog.cover 50% 72dpi222

Jan is an adventurous author and photographer who follows animals in their natural habitats to create her series of 14 True to Life books for children. She’s travelled to Borneo for orangutans, the mountains of China for pandas, Uganda for Dr Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees, India for tigers, nine times to Africa for the big cats, elephants, rhinos and zebras, and Sri Lanka for the endangered leopard book.

In this fascinating guest post, she tells the story about a day in the Maasai Mara, Africa.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF JAN LATTA –

AUTHOR AND WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER

3.am: I hear a noise outside my tent I can’t identify – the rustle of leaves followed by munching sounds. I hold my breath and listen. Then I hear the deep rumble of a large animal’s stomach. I open the flap of my tent and see a magnificent bull elephant, and he’s only a metre away. I watch him eating and as I’m not in any danger, I go back to sleep.

5.0am: After my wake-up call and a mug of tea I open the zipper of my tent and wriggle my torch into the sky. This is the signal for the guide to escort me to the jeep.

6.0am: I watch the gentle beauty of a journey of giraffes in the golden sunrise. When they are close I can see the little Oxpecker birds clean the giraffe’s teeth and then ride on their mane. There is a lioness lapping water from a puddle. She looks at me and her eye contact is mesmerizing. She walks right up to the jeep, still looking up at me, then turns, walks beside the jeep and then into the bush. My guide says, “You didn’t take a photo?” I said no, because it was so special to have eye contact with her. My guide said it was the lioness we saw yesterday with her wildebeest kill and her two cubs.lena_the_lion_by_jan_latta_0980795869

9.0am: Fat hippos grunting, honking and farting their way up the river with their nasty habit of swishing dung into the next hippo’s face. A herd of elephants walk silently past the jeep and there is a tiny calf trotting along with its wobbly little trunk exploring everything. It’s adorable. Then I see my favourite animal, the cheetah. She is resting in the tall grass after her morning hunt.chipper-lge

11.0am: Drive back to camp for lunch and a shower. The guide calls the camp when we are close and a bucket of hot water is waiting for me. The bucket is tipped into my inside shower unit by a rope outside. I wash my socks but I have to stay guarding them because last year baboons stole all my socks from the tent rope. I wonder what they do with them?

3.0pm: On the way to see the lioness again there is a huge male lion walking towards her area. This is very dangerous because the male will demand the wildebeest remains, or he might kill the cubs to mate with the lioness. The guide stops and I hold my breath. What will happen? The lioness is rigid and stares at the male – but he just flops in the grass and falls asleep – plonk –he’s the daddy!

On the way back to camp I see a very cranky rhino on the horizon. 10 minutes later he thunders out of the bush, with dust and dirt flying everywhere. I yelp a warning and the guide accelerates. The rhino gets closer and closer to the jeep but finally we pick up speed and escape him.

7.0pm: I walk to the main tent to have dinner with the camp manager. During dinner we hear a loud bang, and unzip a section of the tent to see a lion chase a wildebeest right through the middle of the tent. Wow!! The Maasai run to help me and I try to calm down but realise I have to walk back to my tent with the pride close to camp. Two Maasai escort me safely back to my tent. The lions roar throughout the night and in the morning I hear the soft pant breathing of a lion right next to my tent. rufus

I’ve had so many amazing adventures creating my series of 14 True to Life books and it is a privilege to be so close to them in the wild. To be the “voice” to tell their story in both photographs and words.

 

 

Check out Jan’s website here. You can also buy her books and DVD direct from the website.

Watch her fabulous wildlife videos on You Tube!

Connect with her on Facebook here.

Contact her for exciting school and festival presentations:  janlatta@truetolifebooks.com.au

Guest post: Michael E.Rose on a great place to set a spy thriller

The new Burma

Photo by Michael E.Rose

Michael RoseToday’s fascinating guest post is from thriller writer Michael E. Rose, author of the Frank Delaney series—The Mazovia Legacy, The Burma Effect and The Tsunami File–now being published by Momentum Books. Michael is the former Chief of Communications for Interpol and a former journalist, broadcaster and foreign correspondent. He draws on his years of experience in exotic locations around the world for his stories and characters. He’s recently back from a trip to Myanmar, where he set one of his books, and he reflects on the changes there.
When I sat down to write The Burma Effect some years ago, the place the military junta had decided would be called Myanmar, not Burma (just because they felt like it) was truly in a bad way. The generals held literally everything in an iron grip: opposition activists suffered appalling conditions in Insein Prison (great name for a bad prison); media censorship was absolute, the economy was in ruins, foreign journalists were not welcome, and Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest.
A great place to set a spy thriller, yes? And so it was. I had a great time researching and writing “The Burma Effect” and readers seemed to like it. So I was pleased and my agent was pleased and my publisher at the time was pleased. All was right with the world – except that conditions in Burma were still terrible and nobody was getting out of jail.
Now, over the past few years, there has been a breathtaking series of changes in Burma; sorry, “Myanmar”. I decided (once a journalist, always a journalist) that I would go up and see what was happening. Were the generals serious about moving toward democracy? Would they really be able to tolerate Aung San Suu Kyi now that she was a free woman again? Could people say what they liked there, at long last? Could a thriller writer find a good story there anymore?
Well, the answers are not simple. Yes, things are opening up. Tourists are pouring through Rangoon (sorry, Yangon) airport. Yes, journalists are allowed in and they can ask some tough questions and not get thrown out of the country like the bad old days. There’s a lot of new investment. You can even use credit cards now; some places, sometimes, and only if the power is on and there is a solid Internet connection.
But you still get a strong sense that just behind the new façade that is being constructed, there are very, very deep shadows.
The generals have rigged the new Constitution so they have 25 percent of members of Parliament, and it takes a vote of more than 75 percent to make any meaningful constitutional changes. Aung San Suu Kyi, clearly the most popular person in the country, bar none, is still forbidden from running for president because she has a couple of children who were born overseas. The generals, or their cronies, own just about all of the truly lucrative enterprises: mining, logging, airlines, hotels, key industrials.
They are also said to still have strong lines into the drug trade and other very shady goings-on. (Am I allowed to say that, about the new Myanmar? We’ll have to see.)
So, people on the streets of shabby, wonderful Yangon, or in a small market somewhere up-country in Shan state, or on a boat on the river near Mandalay, will tell you they are optimistic about the future. Elections are coming this year, there are more jobs around, the lights stay on longer than they used to, and fewer dissidents are in jail.
But people may still talk about such things with an almost imperceptible glance over their shoulder, to see who is listening. They may still choose carefully who they want to have a real conversation with. They aren’t going to rock the boat too much, for a while longer. They clearly know that things are still going to be rough, on a lot of levels, for quite a few years yet.
But there is hope, and that was in very short supply in the Burma where I put my series main character Frank Delaney a few years back. And there is hope there for thriller writers, because even the new Myanmar has a dark side and no-go areas and spies and guns and drugs and political chicanery.
A great place to set a spy thriller, yes?

Michael’s website: http://michaelrosemedia.com/

Twitter: @mrose_writer

About the Frank Delaney thrillers by Michael E.Rose, all now available through Momentum:

Mazovia

The Mazovia Legacy
The snow in a Montreal winter covers a multitude of sins …
In the icy depths of a Quebec winter, a harmless old Polish man dies in mysterious circumstances. His suspicious niece draws in Montreal investigative journalist, Frank Delaney, to help her find the truth behind the death, a story the authorities seem to want covered up.
The search for answers sweeps them into a dangerous web involving Canadian, Polish and Vatican agents who will use any means, even murder, to stop them. The catalyst for this international intrigue is the true story of Polish national art treasures secretly shipped to Canada to be hidden from the Nazis in the opening days of World War Two. This classic thriller combines fascinating history, deft storytelling and psychological depth.
The Mazovia Legacy was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel, 2004.

BurmaThe Burma Effect
Sometimes an obsession can become a death wish …
In the second Frank Delaney thriller, the Montreal-based investigative journalist and sometime spy is assigned by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to locate one of their agents gone missing in Bangkok.
The search for Nathan Kellner, a bohemian bon vivant with a taste for young women and a variety of illicit substances, brings Delaney first to London, then to Thailand and Burma, where evidence points to an elaborate plot to destabilize the Burmese military regime. Untangling that plot thrusts Delaney directly into the line of fire between the generals at the head of Burma’s all-powerful junta and those who would use any means to see them overthrown.

 

TsunamiThe Tsunami File
Not every victim is found to be innocent …
Frank Delaney, investigative journalist and sometime spy, is on assignment in Phuket, Thailand, in the aftermath of the tsunami that killed thousands of people, foreigners and locals alike. Disaster victim identification teams from police forces across the globe have descended on this idyllic holiday location to carry out their gruesome work.
Delaney discovers that, against all logic, someone is trying to prevent identification of one of the bodies lying in makeshift beachside morgues. His search for the reason follows a trail through Thailand’s seedy child sex trade to an elaborate cover-up in Germany and France, where those with everything to lose use increasingly desperate measures to stop him dead.
The Tsunami File was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel, 2008.