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 🙂


This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

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 🙂


This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 



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

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 🙂


This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 



Author, Catriona Hoy is celebrating the launch of her fifth picture book, “Puggle”, which she says now qualifies her to call herself a children’s writer – personally, I think she was one way before then.

Catriona writes wonderful books about real things, but turns them into fiction. She’s here today to give us some tips on how she does it. Over to you, Catriona.


If there was one tip I could give about turning fact into fiction, it’s the obvious one. Research!

I regularly write non fiction for some childrens magazines. With non fiction I usually have a topic and a brief, so the shape of the writing is there so to speak. Once I have researched, collated and refined my material, the smaller subheadings begin to emerge; pretty much like writing an essay.

However, with fiction, it is more difficult. My new picture book, Puggle, began with an idea. My imagination was captured by a cute baby echidna that I met at the home of some wildlife carers. I loved the name and wanted to write a story but the shape wasn’t there yet. The idea sat around somewhere in the back of my head, brewing away.

I kept in touch with the wildlife carers and they told me of Puggle’s progress as he grew and began to learn the skills he would need to survive. While I waited for the shape of the story to come, I found out all I could about echidnas. I searched for photos online, compiled lists of interesting facts and made a timeline marking out the milestones in Puggle’s life.

I distilled all the information down to the essentials, what would be the most important points. Then the story began to take shape.

Puggle just getting spines

There was the beginning and introduction, then the explanation of how Puggle came to be with his carers. Then forward in time to trace Puggle as he grew up. Because the house was filled with other animals, I began to mark time passing with the exit of some of these animals as they became well and returned to the wild.

The challenge with turning fact into fiction is that it has to be a readable story, the language has to flow, the story must be interesting, we must love Puggle…otherwise it will sound like a piece of research that has been turned into a story and is more suited to a nonfiction book. So I think the key is …EMOTION.  You have to love your characters and they have to feel real to you and other people.

With Puggle, one of the obvious markets is the educational one; therefore I really had to resist the temptation to give Puggle human emotions. The nearest I came to it was ‘ milk smelt very, very good.’ I had to get into character and imagine I was a baby echidna.

Finally, for me, verifying the text is important.

As I write picture books, they are short and therefore not too onerous to read. I established contact with Dr Peggy Rismiller at the Pelican Lagoon Research Centre on Kangaroo Island. She generously read the text and advised on any areas that she thought needed tweaking. Likewise, the carers in the story also gave me their advice. (Including the fact that they would have euthanized the magpie with the broken leg …but I didn’t think that was appropriate to include!)

If anyone would like to see pictures of Puggles, there are some gorgeous ones on my website and some information about some of my other books.


Thanks so much for dropping in Catriona, and telling us your story and sharing your helpful tips. (Believe me, Catriona’s pictures are seriously cute, you will definitely want to see them).

Catriona is visiting us on her blog tour. Here’s where you can catch her in cyber space over the next couple of weeks.

Blog Tour Dates
April 12 http://scribblygum.wordpress.com/
April 13 https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/
April 14 http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com/
April 15 http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com/
April 16 http://orangedale.livejournal.com/
April 17 http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/
April 18 http://angelasunde.blogspot.com/
April 19 http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/
April 20 http://belka37.blogspot.com
April 21 http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/
April 22 http://trudietrewin.com/blog-ramblings/

Hope you enjoyed Catriona’s visit as much as I did.

Happy writing.