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.

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Plotting my Way across the City (from a Writer’s Perspective)

One of the most evocative books I have ever read is “The Vampire Lestat”. Anne Rice made me want to run down the Paris boulevards with Lestat and Nicholas, sit in the smoky theatres and opera houses, and descend into the catacombs with Armand. Frankly, it even made me want to be a vampire, had the occasion presented itself.

The Conciergerie today

The Conciergerie today

The lush late eighteenth-century Paris described in “The Vampire Lestat” is before the modernisation plans of Haussmann, when many of the landmarks of modern Paris were built. The Paris of today is not quite the same Paris that Lestat and Armand roamed, but through Anne Rice’s brilliant descriptions and emotional writing, the city came alive.

Creating historical fiction is always a feat of imagination, with some research thrown in. The settings must fit the plot and be filled out from the imagination of the author. Sometimes an understanding of the lives and times of people of the era is enough. Other times, more detailed knowledge of geography is needed.

When my character Elise arrives in Paris in 1820 to work as a maid for the secretive Albert Price, in “The Alchemist of Paris”, she soon finds herself being sent all over Paris on mysterious errands to obtain items for Price’s experiments.

Price’s house is in Le Marais. As the plot progressed, I began to wonder, was it actually possible for Elise to go to all the places I wanted her to go?

The beginnings of my research

The beginnings of my research

I soon learned that people did not often travel between districts in Paris in the past, as we are accustomed to now. But as Elise is a servant, she would have been one of the many maids and workers walking unnoticed through the streets. As I planned out the story, Elise’s errands took her to:

  • A strange shop on the Île de la Cité
  • The house of a scientist and collector of Egyptian antiquities in Saint-Germain des Prés
  • A fancy store near the Pont au Change.
  • The side streets of Le Marais.
  • A forge by the river.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in Paris. I began to build up Elise’s world, making sure she could go on foot to the places she was meant to be.

I started each day from Le Marais walking: through the Place des Vosges toward the Seine; then across the Île St-Louis and the Île de la Cité; then on to Saint-Germain des Prés. Looping back to Le Marais each time, the geography of the story became possible.

Each walk revealed more locations and inspired more ideas. The older buildings could be included in the descriptions. The house in Saint-Germain des Prés was soon based on the Delacroix Museum.

When the plot took the characters further afield to the Tulieries Gardens or a cemetery on the edge of the city, I made sure they had a carriage at their disposal.

She might have been tired, but Elise could do what I made her do. After all, working for an alchemist isn’t easy.

*  *  *  *  *

Do you use maps when you plot your stories? Have you ever placed your characters in an impossible location?

“The Alchemist of Paris” is released on July 14, 2016. There are some Advanced Review Copies (PDF or .mobi) available through Choosy Bookworm along with some other great historical fiction reads! 

Midnight in Dublin

Did I mention “Midnight in Dublin” is free until December 12th?

Midnight in Dublin - cover design by adipixdesign.com

Midnight in Dublin – cover design by adipixdesign.com

Today you can find ‘Midnight in Dublin’ featured on the fantastic site A Girl and her eBooks, alongside many other fabulous book bargains! I really recommend you check out this site for free and bargain ebooks.

Happy reading!