Friday, April 12, 2013

Q&A with Teresa Grant, author of THE PARIS AFFAIR

I'm delighted to welcome Teresa Grant, author of THE PARIS AFFAIR. Set during the Napoleonic era - one of my favorite times in history - shortly after the battle of Waterloo, this is a lavish mystery and adventure novel surrounding a lost child and family secret, featuring the suave intelligencer, Malcom Rannoch, and his intrepid wife, Suzanne, who must race against time and the crumbling world around them to discover the truth of the child's whereabouts.

Please join me in welcoming Teresa Grant.

Please you tell us about your inspiration for writing THE PARIS AFFAIR.
When I wrote about Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch at the Congress of Vienna in Vienna Waltz, I knew I wanted my next two books in the series to be set around the battle of Waterloo (Imperial Scandal) and then post-Waterloo Paris (The Paris Affair). I loved writing about Waterloo, but I was equally excited to tackle its aftermath. The Bourbon Restoration and the White Terror are such a fascinating time. Knowing the setting, it made sense for the plot to revolve around the attempts of the Ultra Royalists to exact vengeance on those who had supported Napoleon after his escape from Elba. I got the idea of an agent who had worked for the British using secrets to blackmail them into helping him escape Paris and supporting him in style in England. And then, because I think stories are stronger with a personal element, I thought of Malcolm’s murdered half-sister Tatiana Kirsanova and what the implications would be if one of those secrets concerned a secret child she had left behind in Paris. Thematically, a number of the characters are trying to reclaim a lost heritage in one way or another.

What drew you to the particular era that your book depicts? What are some of the challenges and/or delights about writing about this time?
I was initially intrigued by the Regency/Napoleonic era through Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I think it’s such a fascinating time period, on the cusp between the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, between the classical and romantic eras, between the Les Liaisons Dangereuses generation and Victorian repression. The ferment of the French Revolution ripples through despite the efforts of some politicians to turn back the clock. In many ways those tensions came to the fore in the post-Napoleonic era when politicians and diplomats redrew the map of Europe. My protagonists, Malcolm and Suzanne, are both intelligence agents, and there are so many wonderful opportunities for spy stories in this era, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carr’s dramatizes so brilliantly. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. 

And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrande later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration, Joseph Fouche who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray. It’s a fun era to research because a lot of material is available - letters, memoirs, diaries, newspapers, novels of the time. There’s a fascinating cast of real historical figures to explore: Talleyrand, Fouche, Talleyrand’s niece Dorothee and her sister Wilhelmine of Sagan, the Duke of Wellington, the British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh, the scandalous Lady Caroline Lamb. To the extent there are challenges, it’s sometimes it can sometimes be difficult to find sources that focus specifically on the Regency/Napoleonic era as distinct from what came before and after. 
Even say typing in a search in Google images, if one puts 19th century Paris, most of the images will be from the later 19th century, but if one puts 18th century Paris the images may be too early.

What process did you use to transport yourself (and readers) to another time period? How do you go about research and incorporating it into fiction?
I love reading letters, diaries, and memoirs of people who lived through the events I’m writing about. I love to travel to the area I’m writing about, but that isn’t always financially and logistically feasible (I was pregnant and had a baby while writing The Paris Affair). If I can’t visit the place in person, I look at a lot of pictures and talk to friends who have been to the area. I also find historical films are incredibly helpful, as long as one knows enough about the era to know where they have taken liberties :). I find having a theater background very helpful in terms of thinking of my book in scenes and acts.

To bring the setting alive, I try to put myself in the scene. First one has to know how a character would be dressed, then one has to imagine what it would be like to be moving about in a corset and a long skirt, or a cravat and waistcoat. I try as much as possible to show my characters interacting with their environment rather than just giving detached descriptions. It’ll often make lists of what I can use in a setting for each of the five senses.

Does your historical fiction convey a message or theme relevant to our world today? If so, what do you think it is? If not, how do you think readers can find common ground with the characters in your story?
I think most historical fiction says something about the time in which it is written as well as the time in which it is set. The issues surrounding power dynamics, political factions, the rights of small countries versus larger ones, the moral ambiguity of spying, and the challenges of bring about social change are all relevant in the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath and today. Also, my central couple, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, are both intelligence agents. A lot of what they deal with juggling being a diplomatic couple and also spies, investigators, and parents is remarkably similar to similar to a modern couple struggling to balance family and the demands of careers.

Can you tell us about your next project?
I’m currently finishing up the next book in the series, provisionally titled The London Gambit. It’s set in London in December 1817. Malcolm and Suzanne have taken up residence in Britain and have a second child. Malcolm has left the diplomatic service and gone into Parliament, but you cannot really leave the spy game. Their friend, playwright Simon Tanner, climbs through their library window one night, rain-drenched and bloody, clutching a manuscript. Malcolm and Suzanne are drawn into a mystery involving an alternate version of Hamlet that may or may not be by Shakespeare, a mysterious secret society, Irish rebels, Lady Caroline Lamb, and Lord Byron.

Thank you, Teresa. Best of success with The Paris Affair. To find out more about Teresa's work, please visit  her website.


Margaret Schmidt said...

I love the idea that historical fiction can reflect some of the issues of the modern day author.

Thanks for sharing Teresa and CW!

Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Margaret! I love that idea too - I thought it was a fascinating question for Christopher to ask.