The Film Festival has drawn to a close, the Grand Prix is at the starting gate, France is gearing up for summer after having enjoyed the most splendid May weather, and I have been very busy at my desk.
June sees the publication of my new novel, THE LOST GIRL. It officially hits the shops on 29th June but can be pre-ordered in hardback or Kindle formats on Amazon.
At the end of this letter there is another link to an extract from an early section of the novel, which I hope you will enjoy, but first I want to talk about how this book was born. It is, I like to think, very much a tale of our time. It is certainly a story taken from our modern French lives and now, after the Manchester attack in England on 22nd May, its relevance has a wider reach.
THE LOST GIRL, is set in two locations – Paris and the South of France – and two time zones – 2015 and the late 1940s/early 1950s. Although there are two stories intertwined, at its heart it is a contemporary story, which begins on the evening of Friday 13th November 2015 in the eastern quarters of Paris.
On that black Friday, Paris was hit by the worst terrorist attacks this country has known. That night there were six coordinated attacks all within walking distance of the Bastille in the eleventh arrondissement. 130 people were murdered, others injured, many of them youngsters attending a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall.
The Bataclan has a fascinating history. It was built in the Chinoiserie style in the 19th century, opening in 1865 as a café-concert hall with a dancing area on the first floor. It was designed by the architect Charles Duval who originally called it ‘Le Grand Café Chinois-Theatre Bataclan’. It looks as though it should have been erected in a Chinatown somewhere. The word Bataclan was taken from the title of an Offenbach Operetta, which was possibly performed in the nineteenth century at this concert hall. The word is also used in the expression ‘tout le bataclan’, which translates as all that jazz.
During its years as a café-concert venue such icons of popular music as Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf performed there.
In the mid 1920s when France was one of the leading producers and distributors of film, the great new art of cinema, the Bataclan was transformed into a movie house. It remained a cinema until the late 1960s, early 70s, when it once more became a music venue.
I knew none of this before I started to write THE LOST GIRL. In fact, I had never been to the Bataclan until I walked there one cold November afternoon in the aftermath of Friday 13th, to leave flowers, pay my respects and a little later to begin research on my book …
How did this novel come about?
At the beginning of that same year, 7th January 7th 2015, was the terrorist attack against the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices. It had a very powerful affect on me and set the tone, I think, for my response to the 13th November attacks. My husband was in Paris when the Charlie Hebdo murders took place. He was working at his office, which in those days was in the eleventh arrondissement, one street away from the Hebdo headquarters. Naturally, I was terrified when I heard the news before I learned more details. Once all was revealed, Michel, my husband, told me that he had worked with one of the illustrators who was murdered that afternoon.
The fact that it was a colleague, someone just one step removed from us, a man working in the arts, not a close friend of Michel’s perhaps but a respected colleague, really shook me up.
THE LOST GIRL was in gestation, I see now, even before the horrendous night of 13th November.
The evening of 13th November I switched on the television to catch the news. I was standing with my mother in the living room and together we watched the events unfolding. I was weeping. Mummy said to me – she was referring particularly to the young concertgoers who were trapped as hostages within the Bataclan where two gunmen were firing Kalashnikovs, picking off audience members one after another in cold blood:
‘Everyone of them is someone’s daughter or son. Mothers are anxiously waiting everywhere to hear news.’
My story was seeded, although I did not know it that evening. Several days later, I put aside the novel I was at work on and began to write THE LOST GIRL. Here is a very brief synopsis:
Paris, November 2015.
Kurtiz is an Englishwoman, a respected photo-journalist, who has become estranged from her actor husband, Oliver. Their marriage fell apart when their sixteen-year-old daughter, Lizzie, went missing from their London home four years earlier. Out of the blue, there is a sighting of Lizzie in Paris. Oliver firmly believes his daughter will be at the Bataclan rock concert because both he and Lizzie were huge fans of the Eagles of Death Metal rock band. Oliver travels to Paris in search of Lizzie. It is agreed between him and Kurtiz that she will wait in a nearby bar for news. Please God, Lizzie will be accompanying her father and they will have, finally, the craved-for reconciliation.
During Kurtiz’s vigil in the bar, a retired actress in her eighties, Marguerite, (who worked for a few days at the Bataclan in the1940s selling cinema tickets), sits alongside Kurtiz. As the atrocious events of that night unfold, the two women share their stories …
THE LOST GIRL is an epic story of love squandered and love reborn with plenty of drama at its heart. It is a tale of loss and regeneration. A story of new beginnings, of second chances, of learning to forgive and to seize the moment.
I like to think that it is a story of everyday miracles; a reflection on life’s ability to give, to heal, to celebrate and affirm.
Here are a few comments/reviews from one or two of those who have already read it:
… It is intriguing and so moving …’ Mail on Sunday Travel Editor
It is such a compelling read. I couldn’t put it down. It is a brilliant holiday read …’ Melanie Whitehouse, freelance journalist.
“A brilliantly told story set against that dreadful night. The characters are superbly written and likeable, especially Marguerite. It had me in tears many times and I couldn’t put it down. Written through the 40s, 50s and modern day, the book flows and draws you in from page one. I loved this book!” NetGalley Reviewer
“The clever use of historical and recent aspects of the horrors of war and terrorism helps to make this book something special. I would be surprised if this book does not feature on several best seller lists.” NetGalley Reviewer
In order that this Newsletter contain other news besides publication for THE LOST GIRL, here are a few photographs from the farm, including an olive tree exploding with now expiring blossoms. It promises to be a splendid crop this autumn.
Beneath my signature below is the link to the extract Penguin is offering from THE LOST GIRL. I hope it will entice you to order the book.
Thank you for reading this. Have a wonderful summer, or winter, if you are in the southern hemisphere. I hope the months of heat and holidays bring peace along with them. The world feels so unsettled, doesn’t it? I believe we need to concentrate on all that is powerfully affirming and unifying.