Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Writer's Life

After jetsetting around Rome, Paris, Brittany, Capri and Sorrento in June last year, it was time to return to Sydney, and face the fact that the only reason I can afford international travel at all is because I am a corporate Techie, and not because I sell millions of books. Let's not kid ourselves, now.

I swallowed that pill and returned to my day job, back to what became a challenging six months project with Fairfax Media. As a Business Analyst/Iteration Manager (a hybrid word meaning, someone-who-doesn't-have-a-life), I embarked on the re-development and re-launch of two major sites, representing Australia's well-known news brands: The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Rather than overwhelm you with descriptions of my Agile world with its sprints, its JIRA tickets, its endless meetings and the often maddening but always exciting digital media pace, I will simply say that despite the unrelenting whirlwind of my day job, I managed to actually make progress with another world, the gastronomic world of my fourth novel - set lavishly in the chateaux of Vienna and France, in the patisseries and alleys of Paris from the Left to the Right bank.

Chantilly: A Tale of Carême is my fourth book. It is a delightful, sentimental and passionate journey,  into the life of France's first celebrity chef, who began as a pâtissier but worked his way up as a master of French Haute Cuisine. More than a rags-to-riches fairy tale, which it is, it delves on overcoming one's personal demons, and on Antonin Carême's existence against a backdrop of political intrigue. It brings to life fascinating figures of the period, including the eccentric Grimod de la Reynière who was the first food critic, and a well-known Jewish banker who, while wanting acceptance from a Parisian social scene that had rejected him, managed to turn Carême into a celebrity.

Talleyrand: I love this guy

The book is also about an unlikely friendship. It explores Carême's surprising relationship with another great French man, the enigmatic Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Napoleon's foreign minister. Navigating in two different worlds, preoccupied with vastly different objectives, these two men will cross paths and each will learn from the other. Talleyrand has continued to perplex all historians who study him, and it is no surprise that research into his personality and psychology has taken most of my time. I am loving it.

And of course, it wouldn't be a book about a chef without it offering a glimpse into the culinary delights of the time, or highlighting the gastronomic inventions that swept early nineteenth century Europe. So I am having a ball, not only researching by reading Carême's own published works, but also pleasing my senses by indulging in cake whenever I can.

 I made this mango and strawberry Victorian Sponge and ate it all.

Any writer who pens a book like Julien's Terror has to battle their own demons. So even while flirting with pâtisseries and dancing the waltz in Vienna, I was lured, deliciously into another world - the darker world of MALEFICA. It seemed I could not step into the light without the darkness reaching out to engulf me.

So I went. Into the cold.

Valais landscape

Winter in Cologne. The majestic peaks of the Valais.

And I went further, into the lunar dark...

Into the mystical Nuragic caves of  Sardinia.

Ah yes, I am there. It's back to the 15th century.

Split between so many worlds I often feel that I might lose my mind. It's all there, at the same time, vying for space in my imagination. I look present but I am faraway, gripped by moving images, listening to the voices.

MALEFICA is my fifth novel. It is the fantastic sequel to The Mascherari: A Novel of Venice and it is part of a historical mystery trilogy that sees Antonio da Parma and the witch Elena as chief protagonists. My mind screams with excitement. There is still much research to be done but the concept has been alive in my imagination for over a year and the treatment is slowly taking shape.

You might think I stopped at two books. That the world of digital media strangled so many of my creative thoughts that I'd have no room for another story. Nope, that isn't so. I have also begun research on the third book in the trilogy. It will be called THE MASTER OF COLOGNE and will be set in France and Germany.

What has become clearer to me is that I need to be closer to Europe for my research. And so, because you only live once, I am planning to fly out of Australia and spend a sabbatical year (at least) in France where I would do nothing else but paint, write and travel to the places that have inspired my books. How does 2020 sound? In the meantime, it is another excuse to work hard and keep pumping out those JIRA tickets! Because books will simply not pay the bills. That's not what they are for.

So there it is, a glimpse into a writer's life. A psychotic universe of here and there, of doing something despite the fact it does not pay. Because you have to, right?

You just have to.

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