Raphael Coffey Photography


In their work as spies, Malcolm and Suzanne often make quick changes to their appearance to suit a new role. I’m used to writing such scenes for them. I’m less used to thinking about it in terms of myself. Until yesterday. It was the opening night of the Merola Opera Program’s wonderful production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. After spending the afternoon stuffing inserts into programs, I had a quick dinner with Mélanie and a couple of colleagues and then hurried back to the theatre to meet one of Mel’s wonderful babysitters. While quickly going over details with the babysitter, I pulled a hair of feels from the toy bag and exchanged them for the flats I was wearing, took off the cardigan I’d been wearing all day over my black cocktail dress, unwound the long linen scarf I had wrapped around my neck and thew it over my shoulders as a shawl.

It was only when I was hurrying  up the street to a pre-performance reception (combing my hair as I walked)  that I realized I had just made the sort of quick change Suzanne often makes (such as in Imperial Scandal when she transforms herself into a shopgirl to go into Le Paon d’Or). It was also just the sort of scene I might put in a book to dramatize a working mom balancing her multiple roles.

As  a multi-tasker, I’ve always been grateful for multi-tasking clothes. As a working mom, I’m more grateful for them than ever. Day-into-evening dresses (nothing like black to stand up to the dust of a theatre and the smears left by toddler hands), earrings one can sleep in, sweaters that can be easily stowed in a diaper bag, a bag that works as purse, diaper bag, and computer bag, scarves that double as shawls, a light weight trenchcoat the works over everything. I have a pair of black satin heels that basically live in the car or the toy bag.

Do clothes help you balance different parts of your life? Which pieces are particularly good multitaskers?  Writers, do you think about clothes to define different roles your characters play?

 

 

 

 

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy Holidays! Hope everyone celebrating any of the midwinter holidays is having a wonderful holiday season. For all the chaos, I love this time of year. Decorations, treats, time with friends and family.

Because this is a family time of year, December’s teaser from The Paris Affair show Suzanne/Mel and Colin with his honorary uncle, Simon, visiting a family of new characters in Paris’s Left Bank.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline writes to Gisele about the Fraser/Ramnoch Christmas in Paris in 1815.

“Thank you for coming with me,” Suzanne said to Simon, as their fiacre clattered through the cramped, twisting maze of the Left Bank. Colin bounced on her lap, face pressed to the grimy window.
Simon grinned. “I’m always pleased when you and Malcolm let civilians assist you.” He leaned back in his corner of the cracked leather seat and studied her across the fiacre. “How are you?” he asked softly.
Suzanne steadied Colin as he squirmed on her lap. “You mean besides investigating another mysterious death?”
“I haven’t asked you in a while. You look a bit less haggard than you did in Brussels.”
“Aren’t we all?” Her mind went back to their house in the Rue Ducale in Brussels, the black-and-white marble floor tiles lined with pallets on which wounded soldiers lay, the smells of laudanum and Waterloo had touched all of them, but in addition the investigation into Julia Ashton’s murder had been a strain, not just on Suzanne and Malcolm and Cordelia and Harry, but on Simon and David as well. The secrets uncovered had scarred all of them.
“Quite,” Simon said. “But I don’t think you’re finding Paris entirely easy, either.”
Simon understood her confoundedly well. Which meant he saw far too much. She often thought it was because like her he was an outsider in the beau monde, so the usual assumptions didn’t apply. “You have to admit the atmosphere in Paris is rather fraught.”
“And the politics not what one could call convivial.”
Simon was a Radical. He hadn’t supported war when Napoleon escaped from Elba. The politics in Paris now weren’t convivial to him or to Malcolm or to David. It didn’t mean he had any special knowledge about her and her past. She had to remember that. “Scarcely.”
Simon tilted his head back. “Just remember that I’m here to listen if ever needed.”
Colin bounced in her lap. “Dragons,” he said, his face pressed to the glass.
Three British dragoons had stopped before a bakery to flirt with a couple of Parisian girls. Colin had become good at spotting different types of soldiers in Brussels. Simon gave an ironic smile. “Even on the Left Bank.” He glanced out the window. “I grew up only a few streets over. One saw more tricolor in those days. And then Republican soldiers.”
They pulled up in a narrow winding street before a blue-shuttered house with a riot of violets spilling from the window boxes. Emile Sevigny himself opened the door to greet them, a wiry man in his early thirties with a bony face and a shock of disordered dark hair. His neckcloth was carelessly tied and a spot of blue paint showed on the shirt cuff peeping out from beneath his rumpled blue coat. “Simon, we got your note this morning. Splendid to see you.”
When Simon introduced Suzanne and Colin, Sevigny said, “Forgive the informality. Simon and I’ve known each other since we were boys. His father was my mentor.”
Emile Sevigny took them through a hall with walls hung with bright watercolors, charcoal sketches, and vivid oil portraits, and floorboards strewn with blocks and tops and a toy wagon, and out into the back garden. Louise Sevigny came towards them. She’d been fashionably dressed when Suzanne met her at the exhibition at the Louvre . Now she wore a simple muslin gown and her red-brown ringlets slipped from their pins beneath a gypsy straw hat. “Simon. It’s been too long since you’ve come to see us.” She lifted her face for his kiss and then held out her hand when he introduced Suzanne and Colin. “Of course. Madame Rannoch. Your husband is the dashing man who does all sorts of secret things for Wellington.”
“My husband would say not to listen to gross exaggerations. Colin, make a bow to Madame Sevigny. You saw some of her husband’s pictures when we went to the Louvre.”
Colin bowed and shook Madame Sevigny’s hand. Louise Sevigny called over her own children, two boys of about eight and two, and suggested they might like to show Colin their fort. The three boys at once darted across the garden to the fort, a paint-spattered tablecloth draped over two bushes. Louise and Emile Sevigny smiled. It was a good thing, Suzanne thought, that most spymasters didn’t realize how wonderful children were at creating diversions and putting suspects at their ease.
Louise Sevigny waved the adults towards a wrought-iron table set in the shade of a lilac tree. A maid emerged from the house with a tray of chilled white wine and almond cakes.
Emile cast a glance at the children as he poured the wine. “Simon and I were like that once at his parents’ house.”
“Save that Emile always dragged me off to the studio.” Simon accepted a glass of wine. “He found the sight of my father at work much more entrancing than I did.”
“It meant a lot, having someone take my youthful paint smears seriously.” Emile returned the wine bottle to its cooler. “I’ve started a new painting. The conspirators in the capitol after the assassination of Julius Caesar.”
Simon stared at him. “Good God, you madman.”
Emile gave a grin that turned him into a mischievous schoolboy. “It’s a classical subject. Something of a tribute to your father’s style.”
“My father could be a madman, too, when it came to running risks with the authorities.”
“And you’re a model of sober caution? I read the reviews of your plays, Simon. You’ve had the government censor close you down more than once.”
“There’s a big difference between risking a theatre being closed and risking—”
Emile shot a glance at Louise. She was watching him with a steady concern that reminded Suzanne of the moments she watched Malcolm go into danger. Knowing that to give way to any impulse to stop him would be to deny who he was. Not to mention who she was. Emile settled back in his chair. “People can take from the painting what they will. The assassination of a general who aspired to be an emperor could easily be a commentary on Bonaparte. A way of atoning for having painted the Bonaparte family.”
“My father would be proud of you,” Simon said.
“I hope so.”
“The truth is Emile has to do something other than society portraits or he’d go mad,” Louise said.
Simon took a sip of wine. “You both seem more at ease than the last time we met.”
Emile exchanged a look with his wife again. “We’ve just learned to laugh in the face of adversity. Forgive me, Madame Rannoch,” he added quickly. “These aren’t easy times for someone who painted the Bonaparte family.”
“I quite understand, Monsieur Sevigny. My husband deplores what’s been happening in Paris. As do I.”
Emile inclined his head. “It’s worse for others. Men like St. Gilles, who were more outspoken.”
“Including against Bonaparte.” Simon glanced at Suzanne. “Paul St. Gilles is a committed Republican.”
“So he was equally disgusted with Bonaparte and Louis?” Suzanne recalled a striking seascape by Paul St. Gilles she’d seen at the Louvre.
“He thought Bonaparte was the lesser of two evils,” Emile said. “Which is enough to render him anathema to the Ultra Royalists.”
Louise shivered. “I keep thinking about Paul and Juliette and the children. Dreadful.” She cast a glance at her own children, whose shiny black shoes and white-stockinged ankles peeped out from beneath the tablecloth fort.
“But I’m far less important than St. Gilles,” Emile said.
Louise turned her gaze to him, frowning.
Emile touched her hand. “My wife has an inflated sense of my importance.” He leaned back in his chair. “It hasn’t stopped the commissions, thankfully.”
Simon brushed crumbs of almond cake from his fingers. “I’d like to see what you’re working on. Particularly this Julius Caesar piece.”
“Of course.” Emile turned to the ladies.
“I’d best stay out here.” Suzanne glanced at the tablecloth fort from whence high-pitched chatter now emitted. “You wouldn’t think it, but ever since Waterloo Colin gets a bit nervous when I’m out of sight.”
“It will give us a chance to talk,” Louise said with an easy smile.
Emile refilled the ladies’ wineglasses before he and Simon went into the house, already deep in a conversation about capturing the quality of light.
“Simon’s a dear friend,” Louise said, looking after them.
“One of the first of my husband’s friends I felt at ease with,” Suzanne said. “I often think it’s because he knows what it is to be an outsider.”
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Louise gave her a quick smile. “And that makes him at home anywhere.”
“It’s quite a knack.” Suzanne settled back in her chair in the sort of pose that invited confidences. “I can’t say being an outsider has quite done that for me. I certainly didn’t feel at home when Malcolm took me to Britain last year.”
“I know precisely what you mean. Marriage is supposed to make one belong, but sometimes it just makes one feel hopelessly lost and lonely.” Louise glanced round the garden. “Though it doesn’t seem to have done that for me.” She took a sip of wine. “I was married before Emile.”
“To the Comte de Carnot.”
“Yes.” Louise stared into the pale gold wine, as though looking into a troubled past. She must be in her midtwenties, but her wide blue eyes and soft-featured face made her appear younger than her years. “A very different life. I’d say it seems like a dream now, save that it’s more like a nightmare.”
Sometimes honesty was the best way to discover information. Which was rather a relief. Suzanne took a fortifying sip of wine and set down her glass. “Madame Sevigny. I confess I’ve been hoping for a word with you.”

I’ve been busy making the final tweaks to The Paris Affair before it goes off to the copy editor, writing historical notes, and acknowledgements, and reading group discussion questions. It’s always exciting to have the book take one more step closer to publication. Several readers have asked about Harry and Cordelia in this book. They both play important roles in the story. Here, for September’s teaser, is a scene with Cordelia and Suzanne/Mélanie along with Colin, Livia, and Blanca.

I’ll post a new Fraser Correspondence letter next week.

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Suzanne fixed her gaze on Colin, her two year-old-son, leaning over the edge of the fountain in the Jardin du Tuileries to throw a piece to bread to the swans. Her companion, Blanca, kneeling beside him, had a light hand on his shoulder. Blanca’s other arm was wrapped round four-year-old Livia Davenport who was stretching her arms out over the water, om tiptoes on her black-kid-slippered feet.
“You’d never guess they were in a house full of wounded soldiers two months ago,” Cordelia Davenport said. “Children are wonderfully resilient.”
For a moment Suzanne saw the black-and-white marble tiles of their house in the Rue Ducale in Brussels, covered with wounded men on pallets, Cordelia bending over her injured husband, Malcolm dripping blood onto the floor. “I find it hard to remember myself. And yet in many ways the conflict isn’t over.”
The gravel crunched as a pair of British soldiers strolled by. They tipped their hats to the ladies. Suzanne returned the nod, though she flinched inwardly as she always did when she saw the foreign occupying troops on French soil.
Cordelia’s gaze lingered on Suzanne. For a disconcerting moment Suzanne was afraid her friend had seen through her. But instead, Cordelia said, “You and Malcolm had something to do with the Rivère business last night, didn’t you?”
Suzanne smiled. “Our friends know us too well.”
“I merely have to look for the most dangerous events to know where to find you. Another investigation?”
“Just a few questions for now. Did you know a Bertrand Laclos in England?”
“Of course. All the girls were mad for him. He had dark hair and broody eyes and that wonderful accent and all the romance of an émigré. He was bookish and not inclined the flirtation, but that only added to the romance. And he had an unexpected sense of humor.” Cordelia’s brows drew together beneath the satin straw of her hat. “It was quite a shock when he ran off to France to fight for Bonaparte. Especially then. The world seems more complex now.”
Suzanne’s gaze fixed on Colin, now tossing bread to the swans while Blanca gripped his waist. Her English son. Last summer in England, he’d wanted one of the white Royalist cockades that the vendors in Hyde Park were selling.
“Is Bertrand Laclos mixed up in this?” Cordelia asked.
“Possibly. We’re not sure how. I’ve been trying to find people who knew him more recently. Apparently he was friendly with Edmond Talleyrand after he came to France, but Doro claims to scarcely remember him. And she’s not precisely in a position to talk to Edmond about it.”
“How odd,” Cordelia said. “Bertrand Laclos and Edmond were the last sort of men I’d have thought would become friends. And Edmond never mentioned Bertrand to me.”
Suzanne cast a sharp glance at her friend.
Cordelia gave a wry smile. “Edmond Talleyrand and I were— Rather close for a time. In Paris a year ago. After Bonaparte was exiled the first time.” Cordelia’s gaze focused on her daughter as Livia set a toy boat to sail on the smooth water of the fountain. “Edmond was— Amusing in a certain crude way.” She turned her gaze to Suzanne. As usual Cordy didn’t flinch from an uncomfortable truth. “I’m sorry. I know how close you are to Dorothée.”
“Doro would be the first to say her marriage was over long before you met Edmond. Or that it never really began. I’m only surprised—”
“That I sank so low?” Cordelia’s mouth curved, this time with more bitterness. “I wasn’t very happy with myself a year ago. You could say I was wallowing. Not pretty.”
“Understandable,” Suzanne said, images from her own past clustering in her mind.
Two little girls in white frocks ran by rolling hoops along the gravel. Cordelia watched them vanish down a tree-lined walkway, their nurse trailing behind. A stir of wind brought the scent of the orange trees planted in wooden crates about the garden. A scent almost too intense in its sweetness. “There are hours at a time when I forget the past,” Cordelia said. “Even whole days occasionally. But it never really goes away. It’s folly to think it can.”
Livia’s boat had got stuck against the stone edge of the fountain. Blanca, Colin at her hip, Livia by the hand, was walking round the fountain the retrieve it. Livia looked over her shoulder to wave at her mother. Cordelia waved back.
“One has to learn to live with it,” Suzanne said.
Blanca had retrieved the boat. Livia held it aloft, then with great concentration set it in the water. Colin clamored to be put down. Livia held out the boat, and they set it to sail across the basin of the fountain together.
“No sense in hiding,” Cordelia said in a bright voice. “Edmond and I didn’t part on bad terms. Do you want me to talk to him?”
“Cordy—” Suzanne said, her mouth dry.
“I might as well put my past to use.” Cordelia gave a wry smile. “The truth is I’d like to be of use.” She watched Livia and Colin run round the fountain to catch the boat as it bobbed against the opposite side. “I know how Harry feels stuck behind a desk. Those days in Brussels when we were nursing the wounded— I’ve never been through anything so horrible. And yet there was a wonderful sort of—exhilaration I suppose is the best word—in doing something of such substance. It seems sadly trivial to be back to paying calls and sipping champagne and changing our dresses five times a day.”
“I feel much the same,” Suzanne said, recalling how empty she’d felt when she told Raoul she was stopping the work that had sustained her for more than five years. “It’s odd after life and death stakes that suddenly a seating arrangement is a matter of great moment.”
“You? You’ve never just paid calls and ordered champagne.”
No, but now instead of being a spy on her own she was a spy’s wife. A distinction she could not explain to Cordelia. “Cordy—” She looked at Cordelia—the experience in the curve of her mouth, the worldly wisdom in the blue eyes beneath her blackened lashes—and was swept by an unexpected wave of protection for her strong-minded friend. “The work Malcolm does. The work Malcolm and I do. Probing people’s pasts, uncovering secrets. It’s often not very pretty.” How odd. In the old days she’d have made use of an asset with no qualms and quibbles about anyone’s feelings.
“I know.” Cordelia returned her gaze, her eyes steady with understanding. “I saw enough of that in the investigation into my sister’s death. But I’m not the sort to need to be wrapped in cotton wool.”
“And Harry?”.
Cordelia gave her a bright smile that at once defied the past and acknowledged its risks. “Harry and I can live with the past. Or we’re going to have to learn to do so.”

Céline asked me to do my next writing craft post on research. A welcome suggestion as research is one of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction. As with many facets of writing–plotting, character development, drafting–i do my research in layers. Often it’s a piece of research from an earlier book that gives me the original idea for a book. My fascination with the Congress of Vienna. My research into Waterloo and the White Terror for the backstory of various books (and the central plot of Shores of Desire). An intriguing historical character like Wilhelmine of Sagan or Dorothée Talleyrand. As I plot the book, I need to do more research, and that research in turn inspires plot developments. A duel between Dorothée Talleyrand’s husband and lover became an important sequence in The Paris Affair. One of the early things I do is make a timeline of historical events for the period of my book (Scrivener makes it easy to keep the timeline and other notes handy0. Then I can layer my fictional events in with the real ones as I plot.

When I’m writing the first draft, I do more specific research, particularly into settings. For instance, with Vienna Waltz I knew enough about the Carrousel to know it would be central episode in the book, but I didn’t research it in depth until I was writing those scenes.

With later revisions, as now with The Paris Affairohv , there are details to check like whether or not there were benches in the Luxembourg Gardens in 1815 (which resulted. after inconclusive hours, in me having the characters sit on the ground).

I like to use primary sources–letters and diaries and other accounts by people who were actually observers of or participants in the events I’m writing about. I used to spend a lot of time at the Stanford and University of California, Berkeley, libraries. i still use those libraries, but I can find more and more on the internet now. A lot of the books I used to check out are now available through Google Books (mostly free because they’re in the public domain), so I have a research library I can carry with me. And I can highlight and type notes in the books. much easier to decipher than my handwritten scribbles. Some details that don’t make it into a book end up in the Fraser Correspondence as in the letter i just posted where Mélanie/Suzanne writes to Simon about a military review.

I also gather up nonfiction books by contemporary authors about the events I’m researching. Then there are some resources I return to again and again like my Oxford English Dictionary with historical usage examples, so I can see when a word came into use and how it was used. even though I’ve been writing in the same era for all of my writing career, there are always new things to learn. which is one of the challenges–and one of the delights.

Research is one of my favorite things to talk about so do ask any questions you have. Writers, how do you balance research and writing?

Photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

Hard to believe it’s already July. I’ve been busy revising The Paris Affair (formerly The Princess’s Secret), doing copy edits for His Spanish Bride, and plotting the next book. I also had new author photos taken by my good friend the very talented photographer Raphael Coffey. There’s my new official author photo above, and I’ll be adding some more to the site, including some of me with my daughter Mélanie.

For the July Teaser, here’s another excerpt from His Spanish Bride. Malcolm/Charles doesn’t share his feelings much, with the Suzanne/Mélanie, with himself, with the reader. Here, though, are his thoughts on his wedding night, waiting for his bride.

And this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is also a glimpse into Charles/Malcolm’s thoughts, this time ina letter to David.

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He only had one bedchamber in his lodgings. Somehow he hadn’t properly considered the implications until now, home—odd word, “home”—from the embassy, Suzanne’s bandboxes carried into his cramped lodgings. Suzanne behind the bedchamber door. By the time he could remember, his parents had slept at opposite ends of whichever of their houses they were occupying. Assuming they were even in the same house. Much of the time they contrived not to be. Couples on more intimate terms still had their own bedchambers and dressing rooms. Even if they ultimately spent the night together, they had somewhere separate to retire to to prepare for bed.

Which presumably was what happened on most wedding nights among his circle. The bride retired to her bedchamber to disrobe while the groom went to his bedchamber to do the same before discreetly tapping at her door. Instead, Suzanne was in the one bedchamber with Blanca, preparing for bed, while he cooled his heels in the sitting room. And no matter what happened between him and Suzanne tonight, they only had one bed.

He shouldn’t have played the piano. Music created a false sense of intimacy. And at the same time it could reveal far too much. He never felt so stripped of his defenses as when he sat at the keyboard.

His cravat bit into his neck. The whisky decanter on the table by the windows called to him, but he subdued the impulse. He needed all his wits about him. This was no time to let himself be ruled by impulse. Or desire. What mattered was Suzanne—his wife, good God—and what was best for her.

Which was probably to be left alone.