Full Circle

As my research trip to Paris enters its last week *sob*, I’ve been reflecting on what an amazing experience this has been.

I also have to pinch myself. I wanted to be a writer since I was seven years-old, and here I am in Paris researching for a book I’m writing. The kind of book I always wanted to write about truth and history and humanity.

I have met so many wonderful people here, heard stories that are ‘beyond belief’ and enjoyed blue Parisian skies almost every day. 

I’ve been into a mosque, a synagogue and a church. I’ve been humbled by the kindness of people and their willingness to help me with my story.

My new Parisian friend, Laetitia

I emailed the sewer tour people at des égouts de Paris to let them know I would be in Paris doing research for a book. And they have been truly amazing. They organised an English speaking guide, Laetitia who was so kind and so interested in my story.

After my tour of the sewers, she gave me a day of her time to help with my research, acting as a personal interpreter and guide. She speaks French, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic and her assistance was invaluable. I could never have uncovered the information and stories that I did without her.

I will be leaving Paris having made a true friend.

Being in Paris, researching a book I’m passionate about has been a dream come true. I’ve been so lucky with the people who have supported me in this … my long-suffering husband, research assistant, translator and all round wonderful guy, Michael.

And it was serendipitous to catch up with my Year 10 English teacher, Jenny Cosh, who just happened to be in Paris at the same time.

She was the one who believed in me and encouraged my writing career from when I was in high school, when becoming a writer was being actively discouraged at home because  ‘writing wasn’t a real job’.

Here I am living the writer’s dream … and I have been able to share it with the English teacher who encouraged me to have that dream. How lucky am I? How great are English teachers? For me, catching up with Jenny felt like things had come full circle.

It’s funny how important people in your life can turn up in the most unexpected places.

Has this ever happened to you on your writing journey?

Another big research day today, but more about that later.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

Paris Secrets

I’m sad about what has happened in this beautiful city over recent days.

Paris is such an amazing place and there are so many picture postcard views and sights, wonderful people and opportunities to experience the diverse culture.

But it’s still a city like any other. There are well told tales and events in history, but you can walk past places and not even realise there are stories buried deep beneath the stonework, events that are now just a remnant in the ground.

Exploring history takes you to many distant and dark places, but it also reveals great tales of courage and hope.

Vélodrome d’Hiver

On 16 and 17 July 1942, 4,115 children, 2,916 women and 1,129 men were arrested and kept at Vélodrome d’Hiver in inhumane conditions by the Vichy government police, on the orders of the Nazi occupiers. They were later deported to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

Apartment building on the old site of the Vélodrome d’Hiver

Vélodrome d’Hiver, july 1942
source photo : Yad Vashem Photo Archive
crédit photo : D.R

The Grand Mosque of Paris

Behind these walls, in the sanctuary of this tranquil place, many Jewish lives were saved. The Jews who came or were brought here were given food and shelter. They were provided with fake documents marked ‘Muslim’ so they would not be harmed by the Vichy government police.

This was a spontaneous act of humanity by the Muslims who lived at the mosque, and the Muslims of France. People who acted simply because they cared about other human beings regardless of race or religion.

… if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” – Quran 5:32

The Vel D’Hiv Roundup

Behind this door, the lists were produced of Jews – men, women and children to be arrested and deported.

The Resistance

This peaceful marketplace was once the scene of torture for members of the Resistance.

Three doctors at this hospital risked their lives to provide members of the Resistance with medical supplies and treatment.

The Synagogue

Behind these doors is a beautiful temple of worship for people of the Jewish faith.

According the smiling lady who kindly allowed us to see inside, people slept at this synagogue during WW11 to protect it from harm.

Paris is a city throbbing with people and life. A city with so much history, beauty and sadness.

It’s a city rich with layers and inspiration for writers and other artists.

It’s a city well worth exploring beyond The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower and other popular places.

Being here is certainly enriching my understanding and adding layers of meaning to my story.

Happy writing and researching 🙂

Dee

My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

 

 

Back to the Mosque – Story Flavour

One of the fabulous things about being in the location you are writing and researching about, you can always go back again.

The first time I went to the Grand Mosque of Paris I was quite frankly overawed by its beauty.

I was so busy looking and writing and taking photos that I kind of forgot to stop and smell the incense.

So yesterday I went back there to just sit and enjoy the ambience. To invite all my senses to participate in the experience.

I savoured the fragrance of the flowering wisteria. I saw the kind man feeding the pigeons.

I looked for the finer detail. I visited the library, and stopped to enjoy the moment of being surrounded by amazing books and history. 

I sipped mint tea and ate delicious pastries.

I discovered that it’s this kind of detail that turns your story location into a unique setting.

For me, being in the world of my story has added a whole new layer.

Have you ever had this experience? I’d love to hear about it.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

On the Nose – The Paris Sewer Tour

Beneath Paris is an amazing network of tunnels and channels that supports a whole life of its own. It was featured in Victor Hugo’s, Les Miserables and H L Humes novel, The Underground City, so I acknowledge that I’m not the first author to  include the Paris sewers as a story device.

But finding out about it has been fascinating.

The underground sewer system is an incredible feat of engineering which goes under the Seine in no less than 9 places … perfect for a story where characters have to get from one side of the river to the other without detection.

The first system was constructed under Montmartre in 1370. As the country’s population continued to grow, so did the sewer network … now there’s foresight for you. Shame today’s governments aren’t thinking so far ahead. (At least in Australia where I come from).

My French language skills are quite frankly as ‘on the nose’ as the Paris sewers so I wrote in advance to the Sewer tour operators to tell them I was coming in the hope they might be able to assist me. (You can find out more about the tours here.)

They have been amazing. Lionel answered my every email question and I was met on the day by Laetitia who gave me the royal treatment, personally introducing me to all the experts, and answering all my additional questions.

I’m told that I visited on a good day, but let’s be honest, the first thing you notice when you step into that tunnel is the smell … although strangely enough, after a while I got used to it.I highly recommend exploring the world of your story no matter where it takes you … although my tip for this experience … sometimes it pays not to eat first.

Have you ever done strange things for the sake of research?

I’d love to hear from you if you feel like sharing.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

 

 

Shoah – Hebrew Word Meaning Destruction

Yesterday’s research took me to Memorial de la Shoah.

The Shoah Memorial remembers the 76,000 Jews deported from France, most of whom perished in death camps.

11,000 of them were children.

Almost two years before the Vel D’Hiv roundup, Jewish people regardless of age were required by new laws introduced by the Nazi regime to register their names and addresses at their local police station.

On 16th and 17th July 1942 that information was used to find them and round them up.

The facade of Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp

They were taken to transit camps in France like Drancy and Beaune-la-Rolande,

Model of Warsaw Ghetto

From there they were deported to camps like Auschwitz where they were murdered.

Cylinder symbolising chimneys of the death camps

The Final Solution as Hitler called it (his plan to exterminate all Jews) was not a random act of hate. It was at least six years in the planning.

The Crypt – symbolic tomb of the six million Jews who died without any monument or place of burial

The wall of names where those who were deported are remembered

A Picture Can Inspire 1000 words – Paris in Spring

Paris in Spring is a stunning place full of vibrance and colour.

It’s just warm enough to sit in the park and write … and watch … and immerse.

Writing in the Square de l’Aspirant Dunand. The gardens are a tribute to Lebanese painter and poet Khalil Gibran.

So much of the old and the new. There are still so many of the buildings and the laneways that would have been around in 1942 when Ruben was brought to Le grande mosquée de paris to escape the soldiers.

The old and the blue

Just one sight, one image conjures up so many things for me … so much imagined about what life would have been like back then.

How even the saddest hearts might have been affected by Paris in Spring.

How does weather and setting affect your writing mood?

Feel free to share.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

p.s. Just about to hit 20,000 words. So much to write about, so much inspiration 🙂

My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.