Friday, July 6, 2018

An Author's Rant

"Dwelling for months in the forest, in forced isolation, 
she had given birth to this masterful trickery of the mind."  
- Julien's Terror

For all those gentle Goodreads peeps who entered the latest Julien's Terror giveaway, and found themselves unlucky, fear not. I will be running a Bastille Day freebie.

For five days, from Thursday 12 July to Monday 16 July, Julien's Terror will be FREE on Amazon Kindle. This is for all Amazon territories, not just the US.

There were 1555 US entrants and three winners will soon receive their print copy. I have to admit I set up this giveaway in the hope that it would reach those with an interest in the setting and subject of the novel. I hope the winners will enjoy Julien's Terror and are kind enough to post a review on Amazon. (or Goodreads!)

Now bear with me as I want to share a glimpse into my latest novel.

While writing Julien's Terror, I couldn't help but notice something. A little background first. The story is set during the French Revolution, with focus on that narrow period from September 1793 to July 1794 called the Terror, and also during the years following the Terror, which saw the rise of Napoleon and the changing landscape of Paris.

It is erroneous to believe that after the fall of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, change happened overnight and that the people of Paris suffered no more hunger. The Declaration of Human Rights changed little economically. There were still bread shortages resulting from crop failures and extreme bad weather the years before. There was still inflation. In fact inflation worsened in 1795. Following the Terror, after years of social tension, of political and economic uncertainty, there was this surge, this desire for affordable pleasures.

All of a sudden, with the emerging bourgeois middle class, everyone in Paris began to take an interest in feasting like a king, in visiting newly emerging restaurants and cafes, and in feeling special through the consumption of a gastronomy that had once been the privilege of nobles.

It was also a time when the chefs who had once served aristocrats began to offer their creations to the wider public. And then something happened. Dalloyau, the famous pâtisserie chocolaterie, opened its first store on 101 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Back then, it was actually called "Maison de Gastronomie", the House of Gastronomy.

It so happens that in Julien's Terror, my main character, Marguerite visits this store to purchase cakes before something tragic and quite mysterious happens. But I'll say no more...

That same Dalloyau store still stands today in its refurbished glory. I ate a Mille-feuille there during my visit to Paris last year.  Dalloyau is also open in many parts of the world, including Japan and the Middle East. When the first store opened in Paris, in 1802, it was a sensation. For the first time in restaurateur history, customers could "take away". They could purchase cakes and bring them home to enjoy.

One man was paying attention. About a year later, in the winter of 1803-1804, he would open his own pâtisserie boutique on rue de la Paix. He used his boutique as a shop front for his rising popularity as a reputable pastry chef, and for creating his lavish pièces montées destined for diplomatic dinners.

That person was none other than 19th century chef, Marie-Antoine Carême. Carême is barely mentioned in Julien's Terror, because you see, I was saving him for a dessert that I was not yet ready to share.

While writing Julien's Terror, I observed the workings of my mind at all times. What had I just written? First, the mysterious Marguerite enjoys Carême-inspired vols-au-vents at her wedding, then she orders cakes at Dalloyau in Paris, later she sits down at Caffè Florian in Venice, and last she savors a succulent strawberry tart during the traditional strawberry month of May. She really gets around this Marguerite. Julien's Terror is not a frivolous tale, I assure you. Yet those frivolous ideas were flowing, and I couldn't help but tune into them.

It was clear. I was obsessed with cakes.

I was not only obsessed, but I was seeing parallels between Napoleonic France's preoccupations with all that is pâtisserie and gastronomy, and our own present preoccupation with fine pâtisserie - especially high teas, but also pastel-colored maccarons, Croquembouche, the lot daintily presented on porcelain belonging in the 18th and 19th century. This nostalgia is no coincidence. We want to go back there! Wedding cakes today are taking on flower decorations like never before.  Old-fashioned flavours like lavender and violet have returned. That whipped-vanilla-cream word, Chantilly is now in vogue in the English speaking world. There is a resurgence for that sugary time, that sweet indulgence of the 19th century when all the ladies of Paris were aspiring to do exactly what Marie-Antoinette had infamously uttered (a gross exaggeration), and eagerly practising what she had hinted to when she told them, or so they think, to "eat cake".

That's when it struck me. That's when the idea for Chantilly: A Tale of Carême was born.

I am two-thirds of the way through the first draft and I've been eating cake like never before.

If Julien's Terror proves too macabre for some readers, then Chantilly will be a gently whipped delight. Both historical novels cover the Napoleonic period. But whereas Julien's Terror is often distressing, psychologically intriguing, and speaks of real life horrors, Chantilly is rich in sentimentality, a fairy tale written for the heart. And most of all, it celebrates friendship and gastronomy.

I can't wait to share it.