It’s great to meet Jan Harvey today, and experience the sights of Paris with her. I am like you, Jan, the way I don’t plot my books. Recently I learned that made me a “panster” in writers’ jargon. But I’ve just looked up the word in my dictionary, and it isn’t there!
However, that’s beside the point: we’re here to accompany Jan as she researches the settings for her books. I know you will enjoy the journey…
When I write a book or short story I take a theme, a sentence or even a single word and simply begin typing. I have no idea where the story will lead me. In the literary world I’m known as a ‘wanderer’ and the opposite, just so you know, is called a ‘plotter.’
I know vaguely how the story will start and I have rough idea of how it will end, however the bit in the middle is a mystery to me, but one thing I will have decided upon is my settings.
I researched The Seven Letters for two years before writing a word and during that time, thanks to a stroke of luck and a spot of good timing, I was offered a stay in a five star hotel in Paris for very low ‘mates rates.’ It’s a long story, but the outcome was access to the most beautiful building with a very ornate (one person) metal lift going up and down a central shaft. The stairs that wound around it were carpeted in purple and a multitude of coloured patterns, from the elegant stained-glass windows, danced on the pale grey walls. The bedroom was lush and very grand and the bathroom, with its lion claw bath and shower big enough to wash a whole family, was sensational.
If it’s possible to fall in love with a building I did, right there and then, in Paris, just off the Champs-Elysées. It was essential to me that I used that building in my novel and so, when my main character Claudette, who was working for the French Resistance, needed to work undercover in a brothel I already had my perfect setting.
The brothel in the book was based on Le Chabanais, an infamous and quite incredible Maison Close. It was one of twenty two houses of ill repute taken over by the German High Command in the city. Nothing was too much trouble for the clients who would often spend a week’s salary to be ‘entertained’ by one of the sophisticated and exotic ladies.
Claudette, a young girl brought up in the Normandy countryside, is overwhelmed by the women and the visiting Nazi soldiers, but amid all the turmoil and horror of occupied Paris the house stands firm and, in its own way, almost becomes a character in itself. It protects and shields the residents from harm, provides them with anonymity and of course it is a keeper of secrets until….well I won’t say any more because I hate spoilers.
Paris, the City of Lights, provided my backdrop. I visited it three times in all during the four years of writing of The Seven Letters. The first time was to collect information, the second to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and the third to check I had got all the details correct. For example, I found out that the Rue de Rivoli is not a two-way street yet it had been during the war. These little things are really important because someone, somewhere will be an expert on the direction of travel of all French roads.
I included all the places I loved in the novel; The Luxemburg Gardens, Delacroix’s beautiful house, the endless flatlands of Normandy and then of course the modern story in my ‘split time’ novel was set in the Cotswolds. It is so much easier to write about places you know well and this became really clear to me when I set my second novel in my own village. This enabled me, not only to draw on the setting itself which of course I know intimately, but also the legends, stories and local knowledge.
The second novel is due for publication in the Autumn and is once again a split time format. Readers have loved the contrast between The Cotswolds and Paris and so the story culminates once again in the city I have come to love. That meant I had to go to Paris two more times to carry out research and let’s face it, it’s a mucky job but someone’s got to do it. My husband and I even had to pace out a murder scene at twilight on the banks of the Seine and I can tell you that it got us some strange looks from passers-by.
It also involved exploring more of the Latin Quarter, the main backdrop to the new story. We had to wine and dine in beautiful bistros and restaurants, walk the lively and colourful streets and visit many beautiful churches and museums. It was a real pleasure for us and led to many adventures and for me, ideas for new stories.
For any author getting your settings right is very important and I was so fortunate that I did have the chance to visit Paris, thanks to my friend and his wonderful offer. The chance to stay again in that hotel has gone now, but the memory lives on in The Seven Letters and so I can relive it whenever I need to.
Jan is the Author of The Seven Letters, a novel set in the modern day Cotswolds and wartime Paris. The book was published in February 2017 and has been a huge success. Jan also writes short stories and recently worked in collaboration with theatre-maker Adrian Brooks on a project entitled ‘Allotment.’ Seven of Jan’s stories were performed by actors in the Bishop’s Guest House in the shadow of Dorchester Abbey. You can read more about the project on Jan’s website www.janharveyauthor.com
The Seven Letters is available on all platforms and signed copies can be purchased through Jan’s website.
Jan’s much awaited second novel will be available in October 2018, to track its progress over the summer follow her on facebook page.