Living With A Legacy

Emma has returned from a summer in Charleston, South Carolina. She has written various posts detailing how she’d had a wonderful time. We’ve been there, too; Charleston is definitely a gorgeous city.

A street, Charleston, South Carolina. [Photo by me, 2014.]
A street, Charleston, South Carolina. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Now, she tackles THAT question:

I think this is one of the things I’ve heard the most when I was in the U.S. : French people don’t like Americans. Well, let me tell you something. THIS IS NOT TRUE. I’m French, I’ve spent all of my 21 years of life in France, and I have never heard more than two or three persons maybe saying that they didn’t like Americans…

This issue is always hovering around out there. It has been a source for a great deal of literature as well as for uncounted plots in movies and television episodes. As an American who has spent a lot of time in France since, uh, the 1980s (yes, good grief, I’m now THAT old!), and read tons of Franco-American history, I’d like to take a crack at this one briefly.🙂

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Home And Hearth Centuries On

I like to joke occasionally that I consider the eighteenth century the beginning of everything. That’s an exaggeration, I know. But by that I mean the second half of that century sees the beginnings of “ourselves” in a myriad of ways that we today would easily recognize.

We have moved well-beyond what nearly all of those people living then would have imagined the future to be. While, for instance, Thomas Jefferson, who owned enslaved persons, held that African men in that degraded position still possessed an innate human equality with white men, he also wrote (privately) that he could not abide the idea of any woman in government. (A “woman’s trade” was to produce children and maintain “domestic felicity.”) It was still widely accepted that a man should own a goodly amount of property (usually land) in order to vote (because owning property meant you had a true stake in the society). The likes of LGBT equality would have simply been unfathomable to them.

Yet Jefferson’s noting he believed women were unsuited to government also meant that he had at least thought about it. It was by then among the many other no longer “unthinkables.” He, and so many others of that time, helped get “a process” started.

French dog, taking himself for a walk on a hot day, attempting to figure out how to jump into the Gironde River (leading to Bordeaux) from an elevated promenade. [Photo by me, 2016.]
French dog, taking himself for a walk on a hot day, attempting to figure out how to jump into the Gironde River (leading to Bordeaux) from an elevated promenade. [Photo by me, 2016.]

With France’s defeat by Britain in America in 1763, we see the beginnings of the “modern” Great Britain, France and United States that we all live in today.

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Say What?

Reading a Jack Reacher novel here in France on our holiday, my [English] wife told me she noticed this from author Lee Child, who’s English of course. We had a laugh. Can you spot it?:

From Lee Child's "Never Go Back," a "Jack Reacher" novel. [Photo by me, 2016.]
From Lee Child’s “Never Go Back,” a “Jack Reacher” novel. [Photo by me, 2016.]

As Bernard Shaw is famously quoted, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”

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The “Magnum Opus”

Last night, post-dinner, unexpectedly we had a book discussion which I share in part here as it essentially went. Oh, and we were also drinking, you understand, too. The Mrs had a glass of lovely French wine, and I was consuming – of course – a brandy.

“Truth in alcohol,” so to speak?😉

***

“….So you got inspiration on the beach?” she remarked at the table, having seen me frantically typing away earlier. [I had been making notes about some important new subplot ideas.]

“Yes, something made me think….”

Proofing part of "Conventions" on the beach the other day. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Proofing part of “Conventions” on the beach the other day. [Photo by me, 2016.]
“It wasn’t that topless babe jumping into the Bay of Biscay?” she laughed.

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“Lafayette, we are here”

After a false start and second thoughts, a teenage aristocrat and officer from one of France’s then most noble families, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, along with several other officers, slipped out of the country in April 1777 from Bordeaux on a small ship called Victorie. (They left without formal permission from King Louis XVI, who had banned officers from traveling to America because England had threatened war with France if France aided the American rebellion.) La Fayette was determined to meet General George Washington and help America in any way he could.

Lafayette Monument: a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Soulac-sur-Mer. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Lafayette Monument: a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Soulac-sur-Mer. [Photo by me, 2016.]

And the rest, as they say, is history. The locality of Soulac-sur-Mer has made it clear on the statue’s base that this was perhaps the last French land that Lafayette saw before reaching America. “Lady Liberty” stands just across from the town’s magnificent beachside promenade.

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“Bonjour” From Soulac-sur-Mer

Well, we’re here: Soulac-sur-Mer, north of Bordeaux, on the coast:

View from our rental house in Soulac-sur-mer, out over the beach to the Bay of Biscay. [Photo by me, 2016.]
View from our rental house in Soulac-sur-Mer, out over the beach to the Bay of Biscay. [Photo by me, 2016.]

The drive up here from the airport vaguely reminded me of Florida – flat and sandy. Brittany is not like this.

Notre-Dame-de-la-Fin-des-Terres Basilica in Soulac-sur-Mer. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Notre-Dame-de-la-Fin-des-Terres Basilica in Soulac-sur-Mer. [Photo by me, 2016.]

Our lunch yesterday. Yes, a bit of a caricature, we knew:

Lunch at our house yesterday. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Lunch at our house yesterday. [Photo by me, 2016.]

We went out to dinner last night at a pleasant, small restaurant in the town center….

“Terminé?” she asked me with a smile.

“Oui, merci,” I replied as she leaned across me and cleared away my empty dessert plate.

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“Journal, Paris, 21 October 1792”

A last post before heading off tomorrow….

JOURNAL, Hertfordshire, 26 August 2016, Early morning.

Weather fine. Another warm day to come it appears. We depart tomorrow for France. Little is packed as of yet, but I’ll do that later today. Much to do before….

In Conventions, a variety of historical figures appear in places, times and contexts that conform to their actual lives (insofar as I can reasonably manage – this is fiction, after all). I strive to make the fictionals similarly “real” and even have “years of birth” in mind: “Robert,” 1765; “Henry,” 1765; “Marie-Thérèse,” 1768; “Carolina,” 1770; “Charles,” 1755; “Jacques,” 1755; “Amandine,” 1774, etc.

Line art representation of a Quill. [Public Domain. Wikipedia.]
Line art representation of a Quill. [Public Domain. Wikipedia.]

I’ve decided also to include what was common in the later 18th century: travel journals. In this case, it will be one kept by “Robert.”

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Fictional Inhabitants Of A Bygone Era

Working away yesterday on Conventions, at one point it struck me again how you may outline and pre-plan a novel to the smallest degree, but that’s nowhere near the same thing as actually writing it. I find some of my (in my opinion) “best” stuff comes via improvisation and even accidentally…. while I’m actually writing. Such is how real life itself, too, often unfolds for us, of course.

Paper printed version of the planned "Conventions" front cover. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Paper printed version of the planned “Conventions” front cover. [Photo by me, 2016.]

I thought it might be fun relatedly this morning to share some “quick hit” samples that may give a “feel” of fictional characters within the tale and their time. They “co-exist” amongst what were real historical people. Among the fictional, first and foremost, and perhaps unsurprisingly, is the New York-born twenty-something around whom the tale unfolds:

Excerpt from "Conventions." Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Conventions.” Click to expand.

And he’s just the start.

There’s the (initially 17 year old) daughter of an English baronet:

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“War with France again? Oh, how dreadful.”

I don’t want Conventions to be too similar to the Atlantic Lives novels (which I plan currently to return to after Conventions). It’s a huge challenge as a writer to try to head down a different path. But tackling new challenges is what authoring is all about: if you stay in your “comfort zone,” you’ll get stale.

For the first time I’m discovering the real challenge in being original is to be original again and again. We all have distinctive styles and I’m increasingly seeing what constitutes mine. We are inherently ourselves as writers, so it’s exceedingly difficult to avoid writing your previous books… over and over.

"Passports," "Frontiers," and "Distances" on my desk. [Photo by me, 2016.]
“Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances” on my desk. [Photo by me, 2016.]
But this latest one has to be different in a variety of senses. First off, it will take place mostly between 1787-1795. That alone makes it a true “historical” effort – none of us living remember that time.

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Avec La France

We’re going to Bordeaux, France, in a couple of weeks’ time for a one week getaway. We’ve rented a holiday house on the coast. I am looking forward to it immensely partly because I’ve already decided the city will feature in the new book…. and getting details on the ground there is a bit like “location scouting” for a film.😉

France has been a major part of the backdrop – in case you have somehow missed this – for what I’ve written and write about thus far. I make no claim to being an “expert” on it; but I’ve visited various parts of the country and spent quite a bit of time there over the last nearly thirty years. (OMG, did I just write THIRTY?!) All told, it is by far where I’ve spent the most time in my life after here in Britain.

Hôtel des Invalides, Paris. [Photo by me, 1994.]
Hôtel des Invalides, Paris. [Photo by me, 1994.]

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