July 12, 2010
Q&A: For the King with Catherine Delors by Christy English
Still ongoing at this site is the Giveaway of For The King, enter here.
And now for an interview of the author of For the King, Catherine Delors, submitted by Christy English:
Years after our revolution, the French had one of their own…the lovely and knowledgeable Catherine Delors has written two novels that bring post-Revolutionary Paris to vivid life. First there was Mistress of the Revolution, and now we are lucky enough to have a chance to read Catherine's latest novel, For the King.
Catherine has been kind enough to answer some questions for us about her novel and her process in writing it…
1. Catherine, thank you so much for being here today. Your first novel, Mistress of the Revolution, was set a few years before the events of your latest book, For the King. Is there any one thing that draws you back to this period of time again and again?
While researching writing Mistress of the Revolution, I realized how important and relevant for us the French Revolution has remained, how many of the issues raised then are still current. I became familiar with the political moods, the ways of thinking of the times… And now I don't want to leave the late 18th century!
2. Your fabulous new novel literally begins with a bang. Before the explosion meant to murder Napoleon rocks Paris, you spend the first chapter introducing us to the people who are soon to die. The portraits of these people, so beautifully yet unsentimentally drawn, captured my mind and touched my heart. What was it like to write about the deaths of so many innocents?
Thanks for saying this, Christy, because those deaths, in their random cruelty, touched my heart as well. In the novel, the names, the occupations of the victims, their circumstances, are taken from real people. I was moved in particular by the story of Captain Platel and his landlady. Ordinary people, returning home from a Christmas Eve celebration with friends. It was important for me to remember the victims. History is as much about regular Parisians as Napoléon.
3. Your protagonist, Roch Miquel, is the quintessential outsider. Did you choose to emphasize his place outside the Parisian power structure by making him a man from the Auvergne? Did you have other reasons also for choosing the Auvergne as his home province?
Oh, yes, there is an excellent reason: my father's family is from Auvergne, and I have a very strong connection to that remote and hauntingly beautiful province. Also in the late 18th century, and still much later, many in the Paris underclass came from Auvergne. They were despised, foreign-looking and foreign-sounding, generally despised, much like migrant workers nowadays. I wanted to pay homage to them, to their struggles, and hard-won successes.
4. I was struck by the beautifully written historical detail in your narrative. Reading For the King was like being set down in the center of post-Revolutionary Paris. The sights, the sounds, even the smells were vivid for me. How many years did it take you to research this novel? What were your methods?
Thank you! There is simply no substitute for 18th century sources. Louis-Sébastien Mercier's Le Tableau de Paris and Le Nouveau Paris are irreplaceable. Also, Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne provides a wealth of details in his 400 (yes, 400 or so!) novels. I also read and reread the works of a modern French historian, Arlette Farge, which are based on police reports. Those provide a candid, direct glimpse at the everyday lives of the poorest in Paris.
5. The title, For the King, comes to mean more and more to the reader as the story goes on. How did you come up with the title? At any point in your work, did you think to call this book by another name?
Many other names! I probably forgot a few, but some I liked very much. I thought of Nivose, the month of the Revolutionary calendar during which the attack took place. To me the name, inspired by the snows of winter, is very evocative. Probably less so to many American readers, though… Also I liked Painters and Assassins. As I followed the records of the investigation, I was struck by how many painters cropped up in the real story. And finally I settled with my editor on For the King. I find that coming up with the title is always the hardest part of writing a novel.
6. Each character in your novel lives and breathes, even if they are only in sight for a page or two. These characters, so well drawn, add deeply to the richness of the setting of the city of Paris itself. Did these people live in your mind as vividly as they live on the page?
They do! Some, like Pépin the street urchin, are purely fictional. Others are directly inspired by their depositions, taken by the police after the attack, and preserved in the French archives. Police depositions may sound like dry, uninspiring material. Far from it, in fact. As I read on, I could listen to the witnesses' voices, watch their facial expressions. This is particularly true of the deposition of Short Francis, with its mix of cunning and naivete.
7. Your novel begins with this quote from Napoleon: "From triumph to downfall, there is but one step. I have noted that, in the most momentous occasions, mere nothings have always decided the outcome of the greatest events."
For the King is populated by the "mere nothings," from Napoleon's quote. More than anything besides Roch Miquel's brains and courage, these "mere nothings" determine the events of the novel. Am I right in assuming that these smaller characters fascinated you as much as Roch Miquel himself?
Quite right. So-called secondary characters deserve no less of the writer's attention than the protagonists. They are the ones who give depth and complexity to a novel. And, from a purely selfish standpoint, often they are more fun to write too.
8. In your heart, are you a Royalist, a Jacobin, or a follower of Napoleon? Or perhaps some combination of all three?
None of the above. A reader of Mistress of the Revolution wrote me that she liked the novel because I didn't demonize anyone. I hope I managed the same here. I can sympathize with the followers of Louis XVIII, Robespierre and Napoléon alike. To me even the assassins are human.
9. For the King transported me to another time and place. What are you working on now? What is your next novel about, and when can we get our hands on it?
I am writing a prequel to Mistress of the Revolution, which focuses on the character of Hélène de Montserrat, Gabrielle's elder sister. It is a thriller in the 18th century Gothic manner. The prequel is going slowly, though, because at the same time I am researching Jane Austen's French connections for a fourth novel. As you see, I remain firmly grounded in my beloved 18th century!
Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us, Catherine. I look forward to your next novel. Please visit Catherine at her website home, http://catherinedelors.com/
or her wonderful blog, http://versaillesandmore.com/
For everyone who still needs to get their hands on For the King, please hit the link below…
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Reprinted with Permission from author Christy English. Visit Christy's site at http://www.christyenglish.com/