Take it away Rhys!
RHYS BOWEN: One thing we writers are always asked is “Where do you get your ideas?”
Sometimes it’s hard to answer—a nebulous germ of plot, an item on the TV news and the brain starts ticking. But with my Molly Murphy books I’m able to pin-point the exact starting point in most cases. Usually, like my Jungle Red sister Deborah Crombie, the driving force behind the plot is place. It was my visit to Ellis Island and the emotional response that it sparked that made me write Murphy’s Law, the first book in the series and the one that brings Molly Murphy to America.
It was the abuses in the sweat shops in early New York that made me set For the Love of Mike there. I’ve set books in the drawing rooms of the Four Hundred, on Coney Island, in one of the ‘cottages’ in Newport, Rhode Island…almost every story driven by the sense of place and time.
Then they wandered into the next gallery and there were Picasso, Chagal, Dali. Shocking, distorted, bright colors.
“Oh, this is modern art,” Meghan exclaimed.
I pointed out that these pictures were painted within a couple of years of the Monets and Renoirs. And I started wondering what had made the art world suddenly take this sharp turn in the first years of the Twentieth Century. Then I realized it was all about Paris. Paris was in a state of flux and upheaval: the big exhibition of 1900, which showcased electricity and the Eiffel Tower, proved to the world that a new era had dawned. But at the same time Jewish refugees were pouring in from Eastern Europe, victims of pogroms and burned villages. The Dreyfus affair had literally divided Paris—you were either pro-Drefus or anti. Billboards all over the city saying “Free Dreyfus” or “Down with Jews.”
So I decided I had to write about this. All I needed was a way to get Molly Murphy to Paris. It was a challenge as she now had a husband and a baby. But I found one that made sense… you’ll have to read the book to find out why.
And then, of course, I had to go to Paris do do my research (yes, we writers do suffer for our art). I wandered all over Montmartre, including the cemetery where the Degas family is buried (and did you know they are really called de Gas. Aristocrats)
I visited the remaining cafes where the artists and writers had gathered. It seems strange and wonderful that a whole city could have been full of poets, writers, painters, who met to discuss their art every day. It made me long to have been part of it—part of an age in which poetry and painting were appreciated and honored.
The closest I could come was to let Molly mingle with Picasso and Degas and Gertrude Stein and Vollard although the plot is so tense that she doesn’t get much leisure to enjoy the art scene.
I’m kicking off my book tour tonight and will be on the road, on and off, for the whole month of March. If you are interested in attending one of my events, please check out the APPEARANCES page on my website:www.rhysbowen.com.
And don’t forget to comment today. I’ll be giving a copy of the new book to the best comment.