A Writer Must Always Be Open to Possibilities

People are inherently good and kind, and if you are interested and open to knowledge and the experiences they are willing to share, you can learn so much about them, about humanity and about the world.

So many times on this trip, people have reached out to help me with my research for Beyond Belief. The people of Paris wherever we have been have been truly welcoming and wonderful.

Today, we were walking through the Marais district when a very kind Jewish man stopped us, and asked if I was Jewish.

I explained that my Jewish grandparents fled Austria in WW2 with my father (who was a teenager) and came to Australia where I was born. But as I told him, I was not raised as a Jew although I have cousins who were.

He had been in Paris for five years and was very happy to talk to me about his world.

I explained that I had been having trouble finding my way into a synagogue, but I was very interested to see inside one, and learn about it. Although I had been in a newer, much grander synagogue with my lovely guide Laetitia, it was only a very short visit and I wasn’t able to take photos or ask questions.

“Come, I will show you my synagogue,” he said proudly. 

He led us into ‘the 17’, a building up several flights of narrow stairs and the oldest synagogue in Paris.

Located at number 17 Rue de Rossiers (Rosebushes Street), the synagogue dates back to the 17th century when Jews were not allowed, if they could ever afford it, to build a monumental place of worship. 

Even during the black period of WW2 this synagogue remained open, and those of the congregation who survived the death camps, sought comfort there upon their return. 

It was such an honour to be invited inside this historic place … and to witness this man’s love for his people, his God and for humanity.

Another wonderful experience that I know will add richness to my story.

I’m going to miss Paris and its people and all the wonderful culture and experiences it has to offer.

But I will definitely be back … and I already have ideas for a new story … set in Paris 🙂

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

 

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Paris – Replenishing the Soul

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.
Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Just another one of those serendipitous moments on this trip.

The airbnb where I’m staying has a bookcase full of amazing books.

My problem … my French language skills are not good enough to read them.

In fact, the only book in English that I could actually read was … Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.  It was just the inspiring and welcome break I needed from trying to find my own words after a couple of confronting and emotionally draining days of research. 

How beautiful is Oscar Wilde’s writing. How stark a tale he tells.

And then of course, there’s Paris in Spring.

 

And there’s Paris.

Each day I find myself falling more and more in love with the place and its people.

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

Tomorrow I’m off to do the sewer tour to explore the world that lurks beneath Paris.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

Paris Immersion – Discoveries in Unexpected Places

Writers have to be flexible. We must conjure up creativity in the strangest and most difficult conditions.  I’ve taught myself to write in the dark, on my phone, in notebooks, on table serviettes and drink coasters, pretty much anywhere.

To be in Paris, in the world I’m writing about is harrowing at times, but it’s such an inspiring and rich experience. It allows me to add a whole new layer of meaning and texture to my story.

And over the last twenty-four hours I’ve been writing … a lot. In fact I’m up to around 12,000 words in my new draft. I’m deep in my story, living each day in my character’s world … Paris 1942.

Equipment for eating snails … don’t think that’s going to happen

Paris today is not so different … and everywhere there are reminders of where I am, of what used to be and what is now.

In truth, (due in part to my poor grasp of any language other than English) some of my research experiences have not yet yielded the information I need.

Shelves full of French books that I can’t read … means I get more writing done

But I’ve found alternatives in unlikely places.

Seeing the cellars beneath the mosque is one goal that hasn’t yet come to fruition. But when I was putting out the recycling the other day, I discovered a cellar underneath my very own building. One with steps carved into stone, with huge old wooden doors leading who knows where.

Of course I bought a torch and went exploring. I can’t tell you what I found because that’s in my book, but this cellar was exactly the place I was looking for.

For me, writing isn’t just about today’s story or yesterday’s story, it’s about tomorrow’s story as well. I’m always gathering information that could be useful in works to come … stories I might not even have thought of yet. 

So wherever I am, I’m gathering sights, smells, sounds and emotions to add to my scrapbook of experiences.

Have you ever found an important piece of research in an unexpected place?

I’d love you to share your experience here.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

 

A Change of Scenery

Ruben stood at the top of the mosaic-covered stairs. Before him was the most beautiful garden he had ever seen.

Every day I am here in Paris I realise more and more, just how fortunate I am.

Paris is beautiful and amazing and fascinating and different … and I am so lucky to be here.

But more than the wonders of my surroundings, I am lucky because I have choice and freedom.

I can write or not. Any time I choose, I can go back to my real world, to a life that’s so much easier than what my story characters endure.

Kids entertainment in the park

Beyond Belief is a work of fiction so I get to decide things for Ruben and his friends. I also get to make choices as a writer and a person …. choices about my life.

People living in countries at war don’t have these options. War is relentless and cruel and people suffer through it every day of their lives … and die because of it. People fight to protect their country and their loved ones. They fight to find somewhere to live in peace and without fear. They fight for their lives.

It’s important that we tell their stories.

Father swan protects the family

Yesterday I stepped out of the intense world of my story to regain my perspective. I needed space to think and reflect so that I could tell Ruben’s story with authenticity, but with hope.

I went to the Parc Montsouris, and there amidst the beautiful spring vistas and everyday life, I worked on my far from everyday story.

Spring in Paris

Beyond Belief is a story I am compelled to tell. It’s a relatively untold chapter in history and it’s a tribute to courage and the human spirit, and to people who helped each other in time of need regardless of race or religion.

If you’d like to share your experiences about how you balance life and writing about difficult themes or topics, I’d love to hear from you.

Feel free to share in the comments section of this post.

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

Paris – Day 1

I’ve arrived in Paris to work on Beyond Belief, my novel about the Muslims from the Paris Mosque who saved the lives of Jewish children during WW2.

I’m here for a month thanks to a VicArts grant that will meet most of my travel and accommodation costs.

Yesterday, I reached my destination around 4.30pm, too weary unfortunately to enjoy Saturday night in Paris (but there will be plenty more) 🙂

So amazing to look out of the 4th storey window and watch the passing parade … lovers deep in conversation, one clutching a huge bunch of flowers. A small boy with a scooter whose mother, her arms laden with shopping, couldn’t quite catch him.
Across the road, I watched another small child and his father tending their balcony garden. The sun was out and people seemed happy here.

Even the taxi driver from the airport, Joseph was still smiling, despite the fact that my plane was 90 minutes late.

It was so lovely to lie in bed and listen to the sounds around me … a jolly Saturday evening with people singing and making harmless merriment in the streets.

Today … more Paris immersion … the shouts of the fishmonger trying to divest himself of the last produce before closing time,  the roar of a motorbike speeding down our narrow street … and the honking of impatient motorists eager to reach their destinations. The scent of the first blossoms of spring, are wafting onto the balcony as I write.

There are lots of markets in Paris

Today is also research planning day.

Beyond Belief is set in a dark time in world history, but it’s also a story of hope and humanity … where regardless of race or religion, people reached out and risked their own lives to help others.

The research will not be easy so my plan is to take it in small stages that I can manage both physically and emotionally.

My trip to Paris is all about immersing myself in the reality of my main character, Ruben’s story … of going to the places he went … of trying to understand how his life would have been in Paris with the ever present fear that soldiers would take him and he would never see his family and friends again.

Research can be overwhelming. It can be easy to get lost in it both physically … and emotionally … to be so focussed on the trail of fact that you never get to write your story.

So today I’m planning my research in advance – working out exactly what I need to find out … and where I have to go. Here’s the list of places I plan to visit:

  • The Paris mosque
  • The sewer tour
  • The Bercy wine market
  • A cruise down the river Seine
  • The site of the Velodrome d’Hiver where more than 11,000 Jewish people were held after the Vel d’Hive round up while awaiting transportation to concentration camps
  • Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation- a memorial to the 200,000 people who were deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II
  • Shoah Memorial Museum
  • Le Jardin des Plantes

Ruben is a fictional character, but I owe it to the real people who lived and died during this terrible time, to tell their stories.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.

If you have any research tips or comments I’d love you to share them.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria