Research is a major part of writing and, whereas, when I first started writing, that meant staggering out of the library with twenty books, writing to tourist offices, talking to people, these days, it’s mainly a matter of diving down the internet rabbit hole.
This book, however, is set in Paris. And my son-in-law, who had been away on two stag night weekends earlier in the year told my daughter that if she wanted to go with me, he’d take care of the children.
It’s just across the channel, two and a half hours on the Eurostar.
Honestly, it would be rude not to.
So, hotel and tickets booked, my daughter and I set off for a weekend to see the Christmas windows, visit Pierre Hermé and buy macarons, visit the Christmas fair in the Tuileries, eat in bistros and soak up the atmosphere.
It was the last weekend in November – the same time of year as my book – and by Friday lunchtime we were in Paris with an itinerary that would have us walking in the footsteps of my hero and heroine.
James Harrington, like us, arrived in a hotel on the Rue St Honore, surrounded by elegant designer boutiques, a short stroll from the Tuileries, patisseries and small bistros.
Reader, I cannot lie. We bought macarons from Pierre Hermé – they were scrumptious –had a sandwich in a bistro and walked through the Tuileries. The weather wasn’t great. It was that dull grey that flattens any attempt at photography, but we saw the Louvre, a lot of statues and we looked in at La Magie de Noel, which was going to feature in my book. It was quiet and we decided to go back the next evening when it would be livelier.
Chloe and James had more sense.
That evening we were booked for dinner on the Baton Rouge, Gussied up in our best, we had a cocktail in the bar of our hotel before our taxi arrived to whizz us down to the Seine.
A trip on a baton mouche is very much a tourist thing – and Chloe and James were playing at being tourists in a city they both knew well. We drifted along the river, while eating good food and sipping from a constantly filled glass, with the buzz of conversation and there, right there, soaring above me, was the Eiffel Tower.
The next day, following the “tourist” agenda for Chloe and James, we embarked on an open-topped bus trip around the city. The grey had disappeared, the sky was blue and we had a bird’s eye view of Parisiennes queuing for bread, the left bank Latin Quarter, a glimpse of the fire-blackened Notre Dame and the Bouquinistes of Paris. The booksellers and their green painted boxes are an iconic symbol of Paris; someone once said that the Seine is the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves!
It was a bit chilly up there, but we stuck it out as far as the Trocadero, where we took in the amazing view of the Eiffel Tower before diving into the warmth of a café for something to warm us up.
The feeling back in our limbs, we diverted from the book plan. Instead of the Louvre – we’d both been there before, in my case before my daughter was born – and headed for the Picasso Gallery and a late lunch at a nearby bistro, very French, where we had a glass of wine and a butternut squash soup with prawns that lives in the memory.
We walked back to our hotel through Saturday afternoon streets filled with shoppers. Past Les Halles, young people on skateboards, and a vast supermarket with a name that was very close to home. That was a very long walk; my Fitbit was impressed with me.
Oddly, the city wasn’t as gaudily decorated as any British city would be that close to Christmas but what decorations there were, were elegant in a way that only the French can manage.
But back to Saturday. In the evening we headed back to La Magie de Noel in the Tuileries. Along with everyone else in Paris. The food in the stalls looked amazing, but we were crammed so closely together that we were afraid of getting someone’s coffee, or beer, or stew down the back of our neck and did not linger.
Sunday was December, the day when the fabulous windows on the Boulevard Haussman are revealed so we headed for the Galleries Lafayette to see the windows revealed and they were amazing. And then we went inside to see the famous tree and shopped in the amazing food hall.
It was enormous fun, coming home to put what I’d seen into the book I was writing.
I could, perhaps, have done most of it virtually, on YouTube, but just once in a while it is a real joy to get out there and touch, smell, taste, walk the pavements and fill the well with new experiences.