This is the second part of a series of posts looking at some
of the settings that Marie-Thérèse, my main character in Overture, would
have known. How do you cover Paris in one blog post? I’m not even going to try.
Instead, I’ll focus on a few of the places that are mentioned in the book.
Although I have invented some of the villages in Aveyron,
where the story partly takes place, I have used only real places in Paris. You
don’t mess with Parisian street names!
Today, I want to take you to some of the settings that
Marie-Thérèse, my main character in Overture,
would have known. In this first post, I’ll focus on Aveyron, which is one of
the most rural départements (counties)
of France. I live just over the border in an adjoining département, but I’m very attached to the landscapes and villages
of Aveyron, which is named after the river that flows through it.
At the turn of the 20th century, the world of agricultural
labour in France was a patchwork of different métiers and social positions. Wherever you were on the social hierarchy,
your life was governed by the tasks associated with the different seasons.
Research sometimes leads one in strange directions and comes
up with surprising results. For my latest novel, I had to research the main methods
of transport in France between 1897 and 1914. And I discovered something that had
never occurred to me.
The odd-sounding combination of coal merchant and bistro
owner was quite common in Paris during the late 19th and early 20th
centuries. These establishments were usually the métier of immigrants from the Auvergne and northern Aveyron, where
the poor soil made farming a thankless task.
Have you heard of Emma Calvé? I hadn’t, until I read about her in a French novel. However, she was one of the brightest stars of her time in the singing world and had a highly-acclaimed international career. Hers is a fascinating rags-to-riches-to-rags story, which has inspired my latest novel, Overture.