The Surprising Difficulties of Photographing #Booksandmacarons

The Alchemist of Paris

Coffee, macarons and The Alchemist of Paris

#Bookstagramming on Instagram combines three of my favourite things – taking pictures,  microblogging and discovering new books. With hashtags such as #booksandnature, #booksanddogs #booksandcafes #booksinthewild etc etc, it all looks so chic and simple.

However all those artful pictures are not as easy as they look, as I discovered when I decided to photograph ‘The Alchemist of Paris’ (which is finally a real, “hold in your hands”, “put in the bookcase”, “throw on the backseat of the car” book!) and a box of macarons (a popular hashtag being #Booksandmacarons).

I set aside Saturday morning for this task, which progressed as follows:

9.30 a.m. Consider taking the book to the patisserie to colour coordinate with the macarons. True, I have never seen anyone else do this, but how else do you select the right colours?

9.42 a.m. Trusting my judgment, I visit the patisserie and make my selection by eye.

(In case you are a macaron enthusiast, my selection was: red velvet, strawberry, chocolate, cookies and cream, salted caramel and nutella).

9.50 a.m. Returning to the “studio”, aka my apartment, I get the props ready.

The Alchemist of Paris

The props are ready

10.05 a.m. I realise macarons need to be photographed on their side. Otherwise, they look – kind of round.

10.10 a.m. Line macarons up in the box, then try to get them to artfully stack on top of each other.

The Alchemist of Paris

The macarons aren’t lining up straight

10.16 a.m. Consider the merits of the book cover v. open book page shot.

10.21 a.m. Worry about the colour combination – is the bright pink strawberry too jarring?

10.22 a.m. If the strawberry macaron is too bright, should I eat it?

The Alchemist of Paris

The macarons are becoming distracting…

10.26 a.m. Salted caramel is melting. The top has slid sideways. Get some filling on my finger and seriously tempted to eat entire macaron.

10.30 a.m. Wonder if the white table or wooden tabletop looks better.

10.45 a.m. Very tempted to eat the props.

10.50 a.m. Should I stand on a chair to get a better shot? The chair is kind of wobbly.

10.51 a.m. How will I explain to people if I am injured falling off a chair while photographing a box of macarons?

10.52 a.m. It’s getting hotter. Salted caramel is sliding sideways again and not going to make it.

10.53 a.m. I’m feeling very hungry.

The Alchemist of Paris

Okay, that’s it – I’m hungry

11.00 a.m. Find a few pictures I am happy with – casual and relaxed, like I spend my days in a cafe reading books.

11.09 a.m Can’t believe I’ve spent over an hour and a half doing this.

11.10 a.m. Impressed at the skill of bookstagrammers.

Advertisements

Leaving Paris

Paris had never looked more beautiful than on that last run through the city. I had forgotten the squalor and smells of the narrow streets now and saw only the grandeur of the rooftops against the sky. Gerard guided me out of Le Marais and along the broad boulevards near the Louvre Palace. We ran through arcades and before churches, past statues and under stone carvings. We passed the scaffolds and skeletons of the new Paris that was being built. We saw sudden vistas of the Seine and the hills above the city. I had no idea why I thought this city frightening when the carriage had first rolled through the city gates. Paris was my city now and I knew all its lanes and colonnades and bridges.

– Elise flees across 19th century Paris in ‘The Alchemist of Paris’

Having left her idyllic country home, Elise has found herself in a web of greed, betrayal and deceit – and magic. Can she escape in time?

Leaving home

At twilight I slipped out of the convent and into the herb garden. Unlocking the gate, I strolled under the old stone arch to the fields beyond. The sky was blue violet, and a golden moon was rising over the hills. The air was sweet with the scent of the rustling grasses. Wildflowers, some blooming only for a day, shivered in the evening breeze. I walked through the fields, until the monastery and convent were only a dim silhouette behind me. I breathed in over and over, wanting to savour the scent and the taste of the countryside. The forest on the hillside was dim and silent and the tree branches were like lace against the setting sun. The meadows rolled out to the horizon, where the river glittered through banks of poplar trees. I tried to capture each part of the landscape in my mind, so that I could imagine it, wherever I might go.

– Story Excerpt “The Alchemist of Paris”

 

Like the character Elise, I grew up in the country before moving to the city. (Strange fact – I grew up next door to a convent!)

Are there places that you have left behind in your life? Do you think of them often? If you are a writer, do you incorporate those memories into your writing?

Grab a coffee, ‘The Alchemist of Paris’ is here!

image

It’s been a long journey, but ‘The Alchemist of Paris’ is finally here!

Escape to Paris this summer, without having to leave home!

A big thank you to all my friends and readers for their support and encouragement, from those early days of listening to me talk through the plot, to asking those questions that made me think about the characters’ motivations, to joining me on my research trips, through to the editing and polishing of the final draft.  And for keeping me motivated!

On Amazon now.

Finding Inspiration: Secret Gardens

In “The Alchemist of Paris” the heroine, Elise, has special knowledge of herbs and medicines, which leads to her being sent to Paris, to be a maid in the house of the mysterious scientist, Albert Price.

Although a small part of the story, I wanted all the descriptions of the medicine gardens to be as authentic as possible. What would a medicine garden look like in 1820? How would it feel to wander through the garden? What sort of plants were in use in those days?

Although I found much of this information in books, I also wanted to experience being in a real historic medicine garden.

The first herbarium I was aware of when I was growing up, was the Victorian-era Herbarium in the Botanic Gardens of Sydney, Australia (established 1853). (Side-point: “Herbarium” is one of those words which is so intriguing I knew I wanted to work it into a story one day!)

Herbarium

Last year, when I was traveling, I went to two historic gardens.

The Chelsea Physic Garden, in the heart of Chelsea, London, UK, was created as an Apothecaries’ Garden in 1673. It’s the second oldest botanical garden in Britain, after Oxford. Today, there’s a fabulous ‘Garden of Medicinal Plants’ and a ‘Garden of Edible and Useful Plants’. Surrounded by high walls, with meandering paths and old greenhouses to discover, the Chelsea Physic Garden, although small, is a wonderful place to explore.

The Chelsea Physic Garden, overlooked by the tall townhouses of Chelsea

The Chelsea Physic Garden, overlooked by the tall townhouses of Chelsea

Next I visited the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, which was founded in 1626 as a medicinal herb garden for Louis XIII. Today this is a botanic garden open to the public and a great place to stroll and escape the city (and right next door to the Paris Zoo, which was founded in 1795 from animals of the royal menagerie at Versailles!).

Garden beds of the Jardin des Plantes glimpsed through an avenue of trees

Garden beds of the Jardin des Plantes glimpsed through an avenue of trees

In “The Alchemist of Paris”, I imagine 1820s Paris as a place of mystery and intrigue. Albert Price sends Elise to collect herbs from a wealthy recluse on the Left Bank, who has a secret garden behind his house. I based this garden on the Musée Delacroix – in addition to research, there’s also scope for imagination!

The private garden behind the Delacroix Museum, Left Bank, Paris

The private garden behind the Delacroix Museum, Left Bank, Paris

When you are writing, do you visit historical locations to soak in the atmosphere? Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?

* * * * *

‘The Alchemist of Paris’ is released July 14!

P.S Happy July 4 to all US readers!

City of Signs – Historical Fiction Tips

“My master, Monsieur Price, has asked me to go to the sign of the Three Hands again, although I dislike the place. He buys powders for his experiments there.”

– Elise reflects on her strange instructions in ‘The Alchemist of Paris’

In an age when many people were illiterate, the most common way to navigate a city was by signs.

The Musée Carnavalet in Le Marais in Paris, France, which I was lucky enough to visit last year, has a wonderful collection of signs that graced the shops and inns of Paris from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

One of my favourites - The Sign of the Three Mice

One of my favourites – The Sign of the Three Mice

Signs were either painted or made from wrought iron.

Keys might be the sign of an innkeeper. The sign of the pig might lead the way to a charcuterie. A hat maker might hang the sign of a wig over his door. Corn or wheat was often the sign of a baker.

Some signs clearly indicate what the shop sold, while others were more fanciful and intriguing.

Signs in the Musée Carnavalet's collection

Signs in the Musée Carnavalet’s collection

The signs are not just beautiful but evoke a wonderful sense of mystery.

Weaving these signs into the storyline is another way to immerse the reader in the historical world of the characters.

Turn left at the Sign of the Three Mice, then right at the Beckoning Hand, then left at the Laughing Imp. Who knows what you’ll find!

Paris in the 1820s: imagining a city in the past

Conciergerie and Pont Neuf - Landmarks of Old Paris

Conciergerie and Pont Neuf – Landmarks of Old Paris

Writing a story with an historical backdrop has all the challenges of fiction writing – plot, character arcs, settings – and also the challenge of creating an accurate and believable world. Setting an historical story in a place like Paris is an even greater challenge, as much of what we see today and consider to be quintessentially “Parisian” was created over a long period of time. Even a few years difference determine what the characters would have seen on their stroll through the city.

I’m working on a story called “The Alchemist of Paris” which is set both in present day Paris and in the 1820s (you’ll be hearing more about “The Alchemist of Paris” in the coming weeks!).

The 1820s was the period after the French revolution and Napoleon, and during the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. It was the time when Paris was beginning to assume its role as the world scientific and cultural capital of the 19th century.

While the plot of “The Alchemist of Paris” is swirling faster than mercury in an alchemist’s bowl, making sure the historical setting was accurate, required some research.

I found it useful to create a list of landmarks.

What our heroine in 1820 would have seen:

  • Place de la Concorde (built 1755) (known as Place Louis XV until the French revolution, then Place de la Revolution during the revolutionary years, then Place de la Concorde in 1795, changing back to Place Louis XV in 1814. In 1830 the square became Place de la Concorde again)
  • Louvre Palace and the Tulieries Gardens
The distinctive buildings of the Louvre palace complex were built prior to the French revolution

The distinctive buildings of the Louvre palace complex were built prior to the French revolution

  • Place Vendôme (1702) and column (1810)
  • Pont Neuf (1607)
  • Notre-Dame (but not in the wide square where it currently stands. The old Notre-Dame church was surrounded by buildings on the medieval Île de la Cité)
  • Conciergerie (built 13th century)
  • Bird Market in the Île de la Cité
  • Père-Lachaise Cemetery (1804)
  • Bièvre River (Paris’ second major river after the Seine. The Bièvre was Paris’ main sewer and was eventually covered over as part of the sanitation measures in the 19th century).
  • Place des Vosges (1612)
Place des Vosges built 1612. Victor Hugo lived in one of the houses - which you can visit today as a museum!

Place des Vosges built 1612. Victor Hugo lived in one of the houses – which you can visit today as a museum!

What our heroine in 1820 would not have seen:

  • The shops and houses on the Pont au Change (due to frequent collapses, all structures on this famous bridge were ordered to be destroyed in 1786)
  • Arc de Triomphe (built between 1833 and 1836) [Although the foundation stones were laid between 1806 and 1811]
  • Champs-Elysées in its current form (although the grand avenue was laid out in the 1700s, the avenue was substantially redesigned in 1834)
  • Opéra House on the Boulevard des Capucines (1874)
  • Madeleine Church (the current neo-classical building was built in the 1830s)
Many of the distinctive grey-roof buildings of Paris were built in the later part of the 19th century

Many of the distinctive grey-roof buildings of Paris were built in the later part of the 19th century

  • Sacré-Coeur Church in Montmartre (built between 1875 and 1914)
  • The Grand Railway stations (there were no trains in 1820!)
  • The Eiffel Tower (1889) (obvious, I know but…)

Have you written a story with an historical setting? Do you have any tips? Share below!