Monday, April 3, 2017

Artists on the Couch: Brad Greenwood - Special Make-Up Effects Artist

From the orcs and elves in Lord of the Rings to fantastic sci-fi creatures, all the way to ghoulish figures in horror films, the world of cinema would not be as exciting and transporting without the magical work of special make-up effects artists.

I've had the pleasure and honor of interviewing one of the most talented SFX Make-up artists in the business.

On the couch today is Brisbane-born Brad Greenwood, currently based in Vietnam. I'm almost nervous - it's not every day one meets a creature creator. But Brad is extremely friendly and one would never guess he makes ghosts and other dark bloody things for a living.

If you've watched any Lord of the Rings films or the recent Kong: Skull Island, chances are, you've seen Brad's work in action. Brad's experience is awe-inspiring and includes an adventure series, horror, fantasy and period films both in Australia and internationally.

Brad has been kind enough to answer ten questions for us today. A rare treat.

Hope you enjoy this ride into the dark!

Brad Greenwood on the Artists Couch

1. When you first started in the film industry, what was your training and what became your first break?

My formal education in design was at the Queensland College of art. I majored in traditional Animation. My informal education has been working with so many amazing artists and filmmakers over the years… that’s only way to learn… from other people doing it better than you.

My very first gig in the film industry was working on a TV series called Time Trax based out of the Warner Roadshow studios on the Gold Coast.

2. You have worked on all Lord of the Rings films - what was that like, what did you most enjoy and what was the most challenging aspect about working on these films?

Yeah, so long ago now… I’m not sure I really understood what an amazing opportunity it was. Everyone that does their tour of duty at WETA workshop* comes out 100% better than when they went in. Richard Taylor and his crew are among the best in the world… so that rubs off on you.
I think the hardest part for everyone was trying to do such high-end work on a massive scale.

*I had to look this up: Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company based in Miramar, New Zealand, producing effects for television and film.

3. Which special effects artist has inspired you or do you look up to from past/current films?

To be honest it was Rick Baker… every make-up effects person of my generation will tell you the same. I got to meet him once and see stuff from American Werewolf in London and Greystoke in the ‘flesh’… it was amazing.

The other was make-up genius Dick Smith… Fellow FX artist Kym Sainsbury and I did his correspondence course and went to visit him at his house in Sarasota, Florida. It was surreal drinking tea with him in his garage, while he showed us stuff from The Exorcist and talked about working with Lawrence Olivier, Brando, De Niro, Hoffman… all these great actors.
Dick has passed on now… so that was a special memory.
He was widely acknowledged as not only one of the greats, but for his kindness and generosity to other artists.

4. You are currently based in Vietnam - what prompted that move and tell us about your company.

It’s a long story… but the abridged version is… I came for a holiday in 2014… and stayed… I taught English, travelled around a little, did some writing… there’s an emerging arts scene here… and the film and entertainment business is developing quickly… I’d love to be part of that. It’s early days but I hope to do a lot more here.

Derek Nguyen's The Housemaid

5. Another fascinating aspect of your work is that you seem involved in multi-national productions like Derek Nguyen's The Housemaid, which is set in 1953 French Indochina. Tell us about this film and your involvement. 

I was lucky enough to meet producer Timothy Linh Bui… they’d already shot most of the film and wanted to do some pick-ups with additional effects.
Derek wrote the script based on his family history… It’s almost more of a dark romance. The period really gave the film a gothic quality that you don’t usually see in Asian horror.

It all came together really quickly and we ended up giving them five ghosts… Derek, Tim and the whole team at HK films were great to work with… I want to do more with them.

Brad's amazing work

6. How was it like working on the latest King Kong - Skull Island movie?

"We had lots of complex tribal make-ups to do. 
It went really well. I was super proud of the Vietnamese team." 
- Brad Greenwood on Skull Island

Another nice bit of serendipity… Jason Baird at JMB FX was doing all the prosthetics for Bill Corso on Kong. I’ve known Jason for many years and when the production moved to Vietnam for a couple of weeks, I helped him assemble the local team and then went on set to do make-up. We had lots of complex tribal make-ups to do. It went really well. I was super proud of the Vietnamese team.

7. A favourite monster/creature of yours...

Years ago we did a half scale T-rex puppet for The Lost World TV series… I still like it.

" It’s always difficult creating make-ups where 
the dramatic stakes require absolute realism…"

8. What is the most difficult effect you worked on and how long did it take?

I recently worked on another period film set in 19th century rural Vietnam. The director Ash Mayfair had written an incredible script that demanded a lot of realism. We designed a pregnant belly for one of the young actors and there was also a birthing scene. It’s always difficult creating make-ups where the dramatic stakes require absolute realism… if it seems fake it will take the audience out of the movie… I was terrified of having something that would compromise the performance. Fortunately it worked well.

9. Beyond special effects, you have other interests in writing and filmmaking. Tell us a bit more about that and what projects you are planning.

Mostly I write short stories. Fantastic books publishing in the UK have been great at including a couple in their anthologies. Speculative fiction is what I like most. I’m not prolific… so my goal is just to write more.

I have a Lovecraft style story set in South East Asia that I’m working on now.

10. Which directors would you love to work with in the future and what would be your ideal project to work on?

"To be honest I really just want to work with my friends in the business. "

David Cronenberg, Guillermo del Toro and Sofia Coppola are on my wish list! So many people I’d love to work with.

To be honest I really just want to work with my friends in the business. I did The Contents with writer/ director Shane Krause a while back. He’s someone I respect and we have a creative short hand, which always makes the process more enjoyable.

Brad's SFX at work...
Horrifying pieces from a horror film Brad worked on

There are a lot of directors I’ve been lucky enough to work with on smaller projects that I’d love to reconnect with on something bigger. Particularly the directors I’ve worked with in animation… all of them are amazing storytellers, and making the move into live action.

My favourite story of all time is Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. A re-telling of something like that would be great to work on.


Wow, thank you so much for your time Brad and for the fascinating glimpse into your art. I personally can't wait to see The Housemaid.

I want to take this opportunity to share more of Brad's amazing work. So here's a sneak peek:

It turns out the above effects took over 6 hours to apply on each model.
Anyone want to star in a horror film?
I suppose patience seems to be an important trait of SFX artists...

Right about now, I should mention that I'm a trypophobic. This stuff was made to haunt me!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Writers on the Couch: Lisa J Yarde

"Never stop. 

If I could give one piece of advice 

in my whole life, that would be it." - Lisa J Yarde

Undaunted by new ground, she has penned a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, her favorite place to travel is Spain, and she has devoted 20 years of research into Spain's history - she is, the pioneering and fearless, Lisa J. Yarde.

I am thrilled to have this talented writer on the Writers Couch today. Based in New York City, Lisa is a writing and publishing powerhouse, with work translated in four languages. A member of the Historical Novel Society, she was a presenter at its 2015 Denver conference and serves as the co-chair of the Historical Novel Society – New York City chapter. Lisa is also an avid blogger and moderates at Unusual Historicals. She is also a contributor at Great Historicals and History & Women.


To break the ice, Yarde warns me that her worst sin is that she curses too @#$%&*@% much. I am delighted that we are in for an honest and passionate discussion - a real treat. But before we begin, I need to say how excited I am about Yarde's upcoming novel. I have been a huge fan of the Sultana series and am very much looking forward to the final book, Sultana: The White Mountains, out this Spring.

The exact release date has not yet been disclosed...hopefully it will be soon. For those not familiar with these artfully crafted novels, the Sultana books bring to life multiple generations of Spain's powerful ruling dynasty, the Nasrids. Sultana: The White Mountains is set during and after the fall of Granada and follows the exiled ruling family into Spain's Sierra Nevada.

Having read a number of books set in Spain that delve into Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon's conquest of the Alhambra fortress, I always wondered what became of the Moors who had built and ruled this beautiful place for centuries. Where did they go? What happened to them? Well, Sultana: The White Mountains will paint this story. And judging from Yarde's solid efforts in the past, it will be a story well told.

Now for those who are asking, YES, there will be a 'Dracula' novel, likely a couple. Yarde's Order of the Dragon which is slated for release in 2018, will focus on the 15th century Wallachian ruler, Vlad Dracul, and his sons. This is one subject I suspect will enthrall fans of  Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, and though Yarde has offered to say no more, we may have some scoop... When asked about a travel scene or landscape she admired in a novel, Lisa J. Yarde mentions "the dark almost mystical descriptions of 15th century Wallachia in C.C. Humphrey’s Vlad: The Last Confession". Is this anything to go by for the upcoming Vlad books? We can only hold our breath in suspense...

Vlad Tepes

For now, enjoy this exclusive interview with the amazing Lisa J. Yarde.

Lisa J Yarde on the Writers Couch

Your memorial. What is it, where is it located, and what is it you are remembered for?

It’s at a floral garden alongside a beach in my birthplace of Barbados. There’s a small, flat marker that reads, “She loved with her whole heart and learned from a lifetime of encounters. But she didn’t pass any of the lessons on to you because life is a unique experience for all. Go live it and make it count!”

 A strong childhood memory

It isn’t from childhood, but rather my early twenties. One night, just spontaneously, my mother and I sat up talking until 4 am the next day. Although I had to go to work in the morning. We spoke about everything imaginable. She was a vital, energetic force in my life and I’ve missed our conversations every day since she died. I inherited my mother’s personality and I think she would be equal parts amused and horrified, like me, at the current state of the world.

Who is your favorite literary villain and why?

Less of a villain in the classic sense of the word and more an antagonist, it’s Inspector Javert in Les Misérables. Not only is he utterly relentless in the pursuit of Jean Valjean, but Javert’s dogged efforts remain well-intentioned, even if his methods are flawed. I prefer to read and write about determined villains in the mold of Javert, with a set of principles or a “code” for living. My ideal villain must, like him, have a purpose and never lose interest in their goal, regardless of the consequences.

Inspector Javert, Les Miserables

A Hollywood studio is all over one of your books. Which is it and tell me about the director and/or cast.

I can’t say which of the Sultana series would be best suited for adaptation, but I’d like Bernardo Bertolucci or Ang Lee to direct and Oded Fehr or Amr Waked should get the lead. Bernardo Bertolucci has directed some of my favorite films; The Last Emperor, Little Buddha and Besieged among them. His films are a sumptuous visual feast. The film wouldn’t be complete without Ashraf Barhom and Said Taghmaoui playing some important roles.
[Ok, we have just Googled Oded Fehr and, wow, we completely approve. You know what to do, Bertolucci.]

A writer who has moved you

That’s like picking a favorite child! So many fellow writers have stirred the strongest emotions in me over the years. To the point where I’ve thought, okay, I may as well give up right now because I will never craft anything as evocative as this. If I had to narrow it down to an author I’ve read in the last six months… Taylor Brown is debut author with an incredible novel, Fallen Land. Events occur during the Civil War. His descriptions are amazing; I smelled Atlanta burning as I read the scene.

If you could rewrite the ending of any book of film, which would it be and how?

Book: I’m going to cheat here and say, none, strictly as a professional courtesy to other authors. I can’t place myself in their heads to understand why they chose certain endings.

Film: Titanic, of course! I don’t care what the director James Cameron has said about the ending of the film. There was enough room on that wood for Jack AND Rose. I would have found a way for the lovers to survive and have their happily ever after, especially after they’d sold that huge diamond. Despite evidence to the contrary, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.

How do you deal with dark/emotional scenes in your writing?

I love them and embrace the process of writing them wholeheartedly. I prefer deep point-of-view, to immerse myself and readers in characters and the events surrounding them. There have been times where I’ve looked up from my computer keyboard and reminded myself that I’m not in Moorish Spain and medieval England. For me, dark or emotional scenes should provoke corresponding feelings in readers. If they don’t then I haven’t done my job as a writer.

"They are often women or those marginalized in history, 

so I write to give them a voice 

and reflect on their experiences." - Lisa J. Yarde

Recurring themes in your writing

Survival against almost insurmountable odds and the importance of family, two values I hold in high regard in my personal life as well. My protagonists aren’t the victors ultimately; they are often historical figures who lost the great battle, as in the Sultana series or On Falcon’s Wings. They are often women or those marginalized in history, so I write to give them a voice and reflect on their experiences.

Self-published vs traditional. What was your experience?

I’ve sought traditional publishing; established relationships with editors, but nothing came of it. Self-publishing was an option I ignored for too long; I should have pursued it two years earlier than I did in 2010.

Your advice to new writers

Never stop. If I could give one piece of advice in my whole life, that would be it. Writing is hard, publication is harder, marketing is the hardest of all. But the personal rewards are so satisfying. If I could give another piece of advice, I’d add, set realistic goals so you are never mired by defeat and can celebrate easy victories. Whether that is the act of writing each day, reaching a certain word count, getting your first sale, responding to your first piece of fan mail, or speaking engagements and signing books at an event. Just give yourself the time and tools to accomplish those goals. Above all, stop comparing yourself to other writers, whether it’s their output, fan base or sales.

This is precious advice, thank you, Lisa J. Yarde. It has been an honour to have you drop by our Writers Couch. From Andalucia to Wallachia, we wish you a wonderful journey.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Writers on the Couch: Megan Chance

Today we are humbled and excited to welcome the wonderfully talented Megan Chance to our Writers Couch.

Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of over 12 books including, The Visitant, Inamorata, An Inconvenient Wife and The Spiritualist. calls her a “writer of extraordinary talent.” A former television news photographer with a BA from Western Washington University, Megan Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters.

Chance joins our interview session today following the release of her latest historical novel, A Drop of Ink. The book already has readers and reviewers enthralled and we can see why.

A Drop of Ink - a mesmerizing, complex
and darkly passionate reimagining
of the Lake Geneva summer that inspired Frankenstein... 

Set in Geneva in 1876, A Drop of Ink spawns an intricate tale that sees a group of five people meet at the Villa Diodati - the place that inspired the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, sixty years earlier. It turns out that everyone of those five characters has something to hide.

Villa Diodati, Lake Geneva

A Drop of Ink is a richly imagined, emotionally nuanced tale of passion, ambition, inspiration, and redemption. Many of us will love that it pays homage to some of the great writers of that period. 

To paraphrase Seattle Times, 'historically minded readers will particularly enjoy this bumpy ride, and the parallels between Chance’s re-imagined literary quintet and the actual participants in that long-ago gothic writing session.'  

Megan Chance was kind enough to drop by and answer ten probing questions for us - we hope you enjoy learning more about this inspiring author as much as we did. It turns out, Victor Frankenstein is her favorite villain. Want to find out more? Read on.

Megan Chance on the Writers Couch

A Hollywood studio is all over one of your books. Which is it and tell me about the director and/or cast.

Thus far, the only one of my books that has actually garnered any Hollywood interest—and which was briefly optioned—is An Inconvenient Wife, so I suppose I would pick that one. I do hear often that it would make a good movie. When I write, I always visualize actors as the characters, because, as I write, the story unfolds as if I’m watching a movie in my head. This means that my office perpetually looks like the bedroom of a 15-year old girl, with movie star pictures everywhere. For An Inconvenient Wife, I envisioned Kate Beckinsale as Lucy, Johnny Depp as Victor Seth, and Kevin Spacey as William. They’re all too old to play those parts now, although (ironically, given how Hollywood treats women of a certain age) Beckinsale might still be able to pull it off. For the director—well, at the time I would have said Martin Scorsese, given how beautifully he did The Age of Innocence, but now I’d rather have a female director. I think Jane Campion, or Catherine Hardwicke would be great, but I think my first choice might be Sam Taylor-Johnson.

My favorite non-writing day...

Consists of waking up, not exercising, reading the Sunday New York Times for about the three hours it takes, baking something challenging and fun and delicious, reading more, and hanging out with my family. Perhaps doing Latin homework. I started studying Latin this year, for no other reason than I’ve always wanted to. I was persuaded not to study it in high school because it was a dead language, which is a decision I’ve always regretted. I’m really enjoying the puzzle of it, and finding it tremendously rewarding. I really enjoy learning new things, and pushing myself until I’ve perfected them, and that is what I most like to do on my non-writing days.

Tell us what excited you in your latest travel holiday

My husband and I went to New York City—a city I have always loved—with no agenda other than going to the Belmont to watch American Pharaoh run the last leg of the Triple Crown. Beyond the race, we had no schedule, and spent our days simply going wherever we wanted to go, taking the subway, walking, popping into unknown restaurants. It was a great trip because there was nothing we had to accomplish. Then, what made it even better was the Belmont. The racetrack was packed, the lines were long, the trains to get there were overwhelmed, but the sheer energy and excitement of that race was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. People were screaming, shouting and stomping. The stands were shaking. Everyone was hugging everyone else, and we were all strangers with nothing in common but wanting that horse to win. To watch him do that … I can’t really describe what it was like. We were all one person and one voice in that moment, and all of us were with that astonishing horse, and I will simply never forget it. 

Which historical period holds your fancy for male/female clothing

I am one of those people who likes comfort over fashion. My husband and my oldest daughter are both much more fashion conscious, and they despair over me. So, given this, I think it’s odd that I have a secret fascination for men’s clothing. I love looking at the fashion spreads in Esquire, for example. I love reading their articles about men’s fashion. I love it when a man wears something a little different. I have no love for suits, tuxedos, or uniforms. They’re all so boring. But give me a jacket in a deep blue or green velvet, or a tuxedo that’s cut like a frock coat or a duster, maybe with a Nehru collar, or colorful vests, and I’m in love. I rue the late nineteenth century, when men’s clothing, which had until then been made up of a mix of colors and fabrics, moved toward a singular color, and that mostly black or blue. I love the early century, when there were different cuts of trousers and coats, and when men might wear checked trousers with a form-fitting frock coat, along with a vest of any of a multitude of colors and fabrics, and a broad swath of a silk neckcloth. And let’s not forget a watch chain decorated with all sorts of baubles and ornaments. It was a very individualistic period for men’s fashion, and some of the cuts were gorgeous, and really showed off a man’s form. I love to see a man who’s a bit of a peacock—why shouldn’t they be as unique as women when it comes to fashion?

Who is a writer who has moved you?

There are many, but my favorite these last several years has been Elizabeth Knox. She’s a New Zealand writer, and she’s lyrical, smart, challenging and emotional. Her The Vintner’s Luck is probably my very favorite book. I have read it several times, and it never fails to completely satisfy and move me. I have no idea why, and I almost hate sharing it, because the book feels so very personal to me. I recommend it often, but I have no desire to discuss it with anyone, or debate it—it feels secret and lovely and mine alone. I also love her Billie’s Luck, which was the first book of hers I read, and which kept me up until two in the morning to finish. I’ve also read that several times.

Who is your classic writer soulmate?

Can I have more than one? Balzac, Byron, and Edith Wharton. Balzac, because he’s prolific, cynical, smart, funny, realistic and I feel I relate to him on a cellular level. Byron for all the same reasons, plus I know Byron’s life well enough that I can often read between the lines of his work, and so his pain and his rejection of that pain and his struggles for love and acceptance are real and moving. Lastly, Edith Wharton, whose emotional novels about women are so true and lovely and heartbreaking that I am slayed every time. I think each of these writers writes about the things I am most interested in—that is, how our emotions control and define us, how we live with the consequences of our decisions, and how those decisions are often limited by social strictures and judgments. Society likes to keep things in their proper place, and these writers all write about what happens when someone slips out of that place to try to make a different kind of life for his/herself. So in that way, they are all my literary soulmates.

Honoré de Balzac, French author

Who is your favorite literary villain and why?

Probably Victor Frankenstein, who—make no mistake—is the villain of Frankenstein. It’s not that his motives for making the creature are bad, it’s simply that every single decision he makes is. He is weak, self-deluded, self-righteous, defensive and ultimately immoral in the way he turns away from the creature he has created. His decisions are what set himself and the creature he brings to life—who, by the way, is more human, compassionate and moral than his creator in every way—on their destructive path. Victor Frankenstein is, as we all are, both the hero and the villain in his own story. He is the classic man against himself, and that makes him interesting as a villain. Reading his arc in Frankenstein is like watching a trainwreck, and he’s got no one to blame but himself for everything that happens.

What kind of writer are you?

I know most writers either refer to themselves as a “pantser” or a “planner,” but I am somewhere in between. Once I’ve done the research, and I’m devising the story, I generally have a sense of 1) where to start, 2) what happens at the quarter point that turns everything on its head, 3) what happens at the halfway point to turn it again, and 4) a turning point at three-quarters of the way through. I may not know the end, and I have NO idea how I’m going to get from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4. That’s where the story comes alive for me. Knowing too much tends to kill it, knowing too little leads to frustrating dead-ends. This structure seems to be a happy medium.

I’m a very disciplined writer—that is, I write every day, though I try to take one day on the weekend off. I learned early on that I could not tell the difference between the writing I did on days I was inspired, and the writing I did on days when I was not, and so there was no point in waiting to be inspired, and in fact, inspiration is made, not born. I go to my office to work at about ten a.m. every day, and I don’t stop until I’ve written at least five pages. Why five? Because I also discovered that it took me five pages to hit “flow,” or “inspiration,” or whatever you want to call it. If I could get to five pages, I could go on to ten, or sometimes fifteen, or now and then, twenty. But if I never got to five, I never hit “flow.” Some days, of course, it doesn’t happen, and five pages are all I end up with. But if I don’t get to five, I never get beyond it.

I’m also not one of those people for whom every word must be perfect before I go on. For me, a book is made during the editing and revising stages, and so what I try to do in those early drafts is just to get a sense of the story and the characters. For any book, my process is this: I write 200 pages and hand it off to my critique partner, who helps me refine and brainstorm new avenues. Then, usually, I end up throwing out those two hundred and starting over. I may do this several times before I get to a point where the story starts to definitively gel. Yes, I wish I had an easier and less page-intensive process, but I don’t seem to have much control over that. The process is what it is. It’s usually at about Draft Four—though it may be Draft Five or Six or Seven— that I feel everything mostly works. After that, it’s all about editing and refining plot, character and language. Some books are easier, and some are harder, but they all move along pretty much in this same way.

What is your favorite fairy tale?

I have two, actually. Beauty and the Beast, and The Goose Girl, which is a little more obscure. In looking at them again, I can see that the stories are similar thematically. While the Goose Girl is a kind and honest princess who is betrayed, and the Beast is a spoiled prince who betrays himself, the moral of both stories is that people are not always what they seem, which (see below) also seems to be a theme I pursue often in my own writing. Not only that, but The Goose Girl has a magical talking horse, so there’s that.

What are the recurring themes in your writing?

 I think all of my recurring themes tend to radiate from one big premise, which is that the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that there is a central “truth,” when it fact, truth is an incredibly malleable concept. Truth is not only subjective, but it is not even real. It depends completely on who is seeing it and who is interpreting it. I would say that more terrible things have been done in the name of “truth” than nearly anything else, because we use the concept of truth to control those who are not like us, and to further our own personal agendas. Whenever a single human soul is subjugated, marginalized, or silenced, for whatever reason, we all lose. That is a pretty consistent theme in my work. Related to this are two of my other favorite themes: first, people are not always what they seem to be (which is why the fairy tales I’ve chosen are not really a surprise), and that sometimes we are not even who we think we are. Also, I am fascinated by the decisions we make and the truths we believe that inform those decisions, and how we live with the consequences. We are really so very messy, after all, which makes for some really good stories.

Wow, thank you again, Megan Chance, for visiting our Writers Couch. It has been an honour. Also a huge congratulations on the release of your gorgeous new book, A Drop of Ink

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Julien's Terror - Joseph Fouché visits Marie Anne Lernormand

I don't often share snippets from my work in progress but this won't reveal much of the plot so I'll give it a go. This is one of my favorite short scenes from Julien's Terror, due for release in July this year. 
Here, I pit Parisian fortune teller, Marie Anne Lenormand, against Minister of Police Joseph Fouché. The order from Napoleon is based on fact - he was secretly planning to divorce Josephine in order to marry Marie Louise of Austria...

The door at 5 rue de Tournon swiveled open and Marie Anne Lenormand came face-to-face with the Minister of Police, Joseph Fouché.
“Plotting with the aristocrats can lend you in prison, mademoiselle.”
His sly smile chilled her bones. The man who had once voted for King Louis XVI’s execution won no favors with Marie Anne.
“My royalists are well behaved,” she quipped, still standing by the doorway. “I’ve done nothing wrong. Things have been a little chaotic here, for a few years. Having a glimpse into their future allows the Parisians to sleep at night. After all,” she added, alluding to him, “not many of us can change allegiance as frequently as their linen.”
Fouché’s thin lips were pursed and he shot her a murderous glare. Marie Anne saw that her remark had hit its target.
“I am warning you, that is all. Call it courtesy.”
“You could, yourself, predict the future but the doom and gloom would suit no clients, Fouché. What do you really want?”
“May I?” He gestured towards the door.
She let him in.
Fouché’s piercing small eyes missed nothing of his surroundings. He strolled on the thick carpet in the entrance hall and sat himself on a Louis XV seat. Then he crossed his leg and reclined, drawing out a pipe which he pressed to his lips.
Marie Anne Lenormand remained standing at the door.
“My clients are waiting, Fouché. Are you planning on arresting me?”
“Not this time.”
“Then what is it you want?”
He inhaled quietly, his sunken cheeks appearing all the more spectral under the dim candle light.
“It’s simple. I want you to start turning away Josephine de Bauharnais. Without revealing state secrets, I can tell you, that the emperor is entering a state of affairs that can only agitate her in the months to come. Josephine has, as I understand it, often had recourse to your generous services. When the moment arrives, and I believe it will be soon, she is likely to turn to you. Just as she has, countless times. For this reason, much as the emperor has tolerated your charlatan cabinet for years, his warning is now explicit. He wishes that there be absolutely no influence on your part. Mademoiselle Lenormand, may I make this very clear. Your affairs, meddling with the empress are now ended. Do you understand?”
“You wish me to turn away the empress on her next visit?”
“That is correct. And the visit after that. And the one after. It is over, mademoiselle.”
“You would prevent me from seeing Josephine de Beauharnais?”
“Something like that.”
“Then I say, Monsieur Fouché that you are as much a crook as I am.”
“If you say so.”
“And what if I refuse?”
“That, mademoiselle, would be very, very unwise. If you so much as meet Josephine de Beauharnais, either in this house, or elsewhere, or even – and don’t think me a fool – even in the Luxembourg gardens, I shall know of it. I have spies watching your every moves, mademoiselle. And if I find that you have lent your services once again to the empress, I shall have no recourse but to arrest you. Mark my words.”
“Arrest me? For seeing the empress who willingly engages my science? The nerve of it!”
“Your black arts, your charlatan tricks, whatever you want to call them. By all means, indulge another, but not the empress.”
“You cannot arrest me for obliging a willing client!”
Fouché put away his pipe and rose, indicating that the interview was finished. Marie Anne stood away from the door and pulled it open.
“Get out!”
“I will be watching you, mademoiselle.”
And he let himself out without looking back.


Julien's Terror is psychological thriller/mystery set in post revolutionary France. Watch out for the early Kindle release in May...

Monday, December 12, 2016

Julien's Terror - Imagining the French Revolution

Julien's Terror, my latest novel, is the story of a haunting - a haunting that is either metaphysical or psychological, or is it both? 

Set in the dramatic period of the French Revolution, culminating into Napoleon's empire, it revolves around a young couple from different walks of life. Yet both have lived tragedy and both are touched by it. 

Julien's Terror features impressive figures of the French Revolution, including Charette, the Vendée counter-revolutionary and Marie Anne Lenormand, the celebrated Parisian fortuneteller.

Historical figures who play a minor role in the story but which I place on a pedestal, are the author, Madame de Staël who Napoleon hated, and the famed Austrian physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, whose works laid the foundation for hypnotism and psychotherapy.

The novel is dedicated to Charette.

While some dates around Charette’s presence in the Gralas forest may have been modified or blurred to aid the narrative, the events of the Vendée war depicted in Julien's Terror and the tragic massacres that unfolded in Western France are historical. 

When I was a teen, enamoured of art, I reproduced a centuries old drawing depicting Charette’s entry into Nantes on February 1795. At this young age, I knew not the significance of this drawing and its relation to the French Revolution.

Many years later, I learned the meaning of this drawing. It was a truce (not in the novel). Charette had agreed to a truce with the Republic and one of the secret conditions of this truce was that the revolutionaries would free the young king, Louis Charles. The truce was later ignored, as more fighting between Republicans and the Vendéens insued. 

Meanwhile, the young King, Louis Charles died in the Tower of the Temple in Paris. He was neglected and suffered the worst conditions. 

Ah, I almost forgot. Louis Charles is a central figure in Julien's Terror. 

There are many things that drove me to write Julien's Terror. On the one hand I was unsettled by the disturbing fate which an eight year old was forced to suffer until his death.  I wondered at times whether Louis Charles' soul might not haunt Le Temple had Napoleon not demolished it... 

There were also personal reasons - my awe for Charette is one of them.

Recently, while researching my Breton and French genealogy, I discovered that one of my 18th century ancestors, had hidden Charette in the area of Montaigu, south of Nantes. It was that perilous time, prior to Charette’s capture in 1796, when the Vendée general had been abandoned by most, and erred from farm to farm in search of an asylum. I was proud of my ancestor for hiding Charette.

There was also the urge to tell the world of something tragic, to reveal a past...

Nantes is my home city in France, the city of my ancestors and a place that I have returned to many times since childhood. But when I visited in 2013, I experienced an urge to write about the drownings, the “noyades”, and to depict the tragedy that befell Nantes during the Terror.

And then, there was a fascination for the psychology of the people of France in those times. 

More than simply creating a character who had lived those events of the Revolution, I wanted to create a dynamic between two people, both damaged by their experience of the reign of terror. I examined the psychology of that period. What was fascinating was the increased resort to fortune telling services; the arts practiced by Marie Anne Lenormand were never more popular than from the revolution to the First Empire, where people sought answers and were deeply anxious about their future, and the future of France.

Delving into the past, with a psychological lens, I envisaged these historical events as a major cause for the rise in suicides, the growing number of asylum patients and the rise in depression. And then I remembered the majority. The majority which in all appearances seemed to not exhibit mental problems. If they did, then these poor souls never sought help, because such psychological help did not exist as it does today. This majority whose mental illness would remain concealed in a domestic realm, would resume living, but it would forever hide wounds.

That’s when I realised that this majority, it was an entire nation. And perhaps just as France’s wounds were never healed completely, so too, there exists today, in most parts of the world, wounds that have not healed and psyches that are forever marked by historical events. In essence, it is the psychohistorical dimension of this novel which most drove me to write.