Before the Storm, 29,144 words

14 March 2011

I think it is time for another writing progress report in my quest to outsell Stephanie Meyer and make Marie Antoinette more popular than VAMPIRES and teenage wizards. Okay, maybe not, although that would be rather fabulous wouldn’t it?

I am now almost 30,000 words into my current Work In Progress and I think it is going pretty well. Since I last spoke to you we’ve had a wedding, some minor flirtation and, most thrillingly of all, a journey to Paris, where the story will really start hotting up. I’m enjoying writing this book so much!

The ball scene was fun to write as it featured a small cameo appearance from the famous Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire who I suppose was one of the first ‘pointless’ celebrities of the early modern age. ‘Pointless’ does seem like a bit of a harsh way of describing someone who was by all accounts a charmingly inoffensive young woman, but by it I mean that she became famous for no other reason than just being herself and not for actually doing or achieving anything of note.

I wonder when ‘the cringing cult of celebrity’, as we know it now really began? We’ve just started watching season three of The Tudors and it’s reminded me of how accessible Henry VIII was as a King. It’s only in relatively recent times that the monarch has become a relatively distant figure, wheeled out every so often on special occasions or to cut ribbons – in the past, anyone who wanted to could get relatively close to the King or Queen and was, indeed, encouraged to do so.

The other thought that I’ve had while watching season three of The Tudors (actually, I’ve had several thoughts but I’ll leave them aside for now) is that the most intelligent thing that Elizabeth I ever did was have the foresight to be born with a gleaming mop of Tudor red hair. I expect history might have gone rather differently had she emerged with the crow’s wing gloss of Boleyn black tresses.

I think that perhaps the concept of ‘celebrity’ as we know it now began in the 18th century with the fawning over the Gunning sisters, Georgiana, Marie Antoinette and anyone else who entered their beautifully dressed, frivolous orbit. It was in the 18th century that newspapers really took off as increasing amounts of the population became literate and suddenly alongside serious news, people were also really keen on hearing all about the latest gossip or court scandal or reading up about the doings of the Beautiful People of high society.

It seems harmless enough, but there’s a flip side to this intense interest in the doings of the beautiful, great, good and feckless, as evidenced by the cruel lambasting of Marie Antoinette and others once they had fallen from grace. Note also that the Daily Mail weren’t the first arm of the press to give confused and conflicting messages about how women should behave and look, to tell us that it is our duty to be beautiful but not TOO beautiful, to fawn in a rather creepy way over female celebrities when they KNOW THEIR PLACE and then descend into ugly vitriol the instant they are revealed to be JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER WOMAN ON THE PLANET with bad hair days, cellulite, occasional lapses in sartorial judgement and oh woe, a couple of hormonal chin spots.

This is the world that my characters inhabit. It’s a strange world – beautiful and glamorous but also very clearly on the edge of something huge and catastrophic, as will become increasingly clear as they make themselves at home in Paris, where right now Anastasia and Clementine are happily shopping in Mademoiselle Bertin’s fashion emporium on the Rue de St Honoré. In the next chapter, I’ve decided to introduce them to a salonière, an experienced and sharply intelligent woman of the world who keeps a daily salon on the Place Royale.

In eighteenth century Paris, such women were the doorkeepers to an amazing world. They held weekly or daily meetings in their lovely drawing rooms, where the most cutting edge, eloquent and forward thinking minds of the day could sit and chat and thrash out their ideas about poetry, literature, politics, philosophy, history and oh, everything. Their power was immense and to be given the nod of approval by them was to be handed the keys to a very select and exciting side of Paris that only a chosen few would ever enter.

As well as all this, I’ve also been spending far too much time trying to work out what actors and actresses my characters look like. I already know that Phoebe looks like Natalie Dormer (sorry, too much of The Tudors), that Antoine (you haven’t met him yet but he’s rather lovely) looks like James McAvoy and Jules is a lot like Aidan Turner after he’s scrubbed up a bit. We once walked past Mr Turner in Bristol when they were filming the second series of Being Human. I didn’t actually notice until he was long gone but apparently he looked like ‘a homeless’ as my husband put it. I still would though.

In other writing news, my book is doing well on Kindle and was #1 in the French Heads of State chart and #70 in the Historical Romance one on Amazon UK. You’re only as good as your last hour’s sales though so it won’t stay there for long, in fact it’s already dropped. Ah well! It’s also available from Amazon US, just in case you were, you know, thinking about getting a copy!

I’ve started thinking about the book after this one and I think it’s time for a bit of a change so I’ll be writing about the Medici court in sixteenth century Florence. I’ve never been to Florence and am terrified of flying so am wondering if it would be possible to write it without leaving England. I’d feel like a bit of a fraud doing so to be honest. Sometimes I think I should just stick to writing about eighteenth century Paris as I know it better than twenty first century London, which is a place that I have actually lived in but then there is something about the story that I want to tell next that is just too compelling to be ignored…

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