Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Q&A with Rhys Bowen


Photo by Douglas Sonders


Rhys Bowen is the author of the new historical novel The Paris Assignment. Her other novels include the Molly Murphy historical mystery series. She lives in California and Arizona.


Q: What inspired you to write The Paris Assignment, and how did you create your characters Madeleine and Oliver?


A: Right before the pandemic we rented a house on the Seine outside Fontainebleau. I loved the chateau, the forest with the giant boulders, and found myself thinking it would make a great setting for a book.


So I started researching. I planned to go back the next summer but it was 2020 so I had to wait until last year to finish my research.


Also I’ve been itching to write a story that included Australia. I met my husband there, got married there and my whole family moved to New South Wales so it’s dear to my heart and I knew I could bring it to life.


In Madeleine I wanted to show how an ordinary person could find extraordinary levels of bravery and endurance when challenged. I had read, with horror, the abuses experienced by some orphans shipped from Britain so I felt that Oliver should go through this. I know I have to make my characters suffer but this was such a hard book to write—especially when I had to kill a character I really adored!

Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I’ve mentioned above two summers in France, the first near Fontainebleau and then in Paris and a river cruise. I wanted to see what it was like going up the river, through a lock, and checking the liberation museum. But I also read true accounts of female spies and their training.


What surprised me most? That their survival rate was 25 percent. That meant that three quarters of them would never come home. And yet they still volunteered. Their training was brutal and meant to weed out those who weren’t up to it physically or mentally. And these weren’t hardened military people. They were ordinary housewives or even schoolgirls. Amazingly brave.


Q: The writer Patti Callahan Henry said of the novel, “The Paris Assignment is a story about the things we do when we believe there might be nothing left to lose, about the irrepressible love of a wife and mother, and about courage in the face of great and terrible odds.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think it’s lovely, and so accurate. And applies, of course, to Madeleine but also to Giles and Olivier who show incredible courage and defy the odds.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew I wanted to send Madeleine to Australia after she escapes. Without giving anything away, I knew that very bad things had to happen. I tried to find ways around them. I hate to kill off characters.


Of course I would have loved a happy ending with characters unexpectedly reunited after the war, but life wasn’t like that. There weren’t many happy endings to war stories, especially not in espionage. So I had to be brave and write the story as it should have been.


I wasn’t sure how she was going to handle the enemy in Australia or even that Tony would become a major character so that was a nice surprise for me.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just turned in my next stand-alone novel. Again historical, in two time periods. A heroine in 1968 joins the hunt for a missing child and finds links to three little girls who vanished during evacuations in WWII and a surprising truth about herself. And an abandoned village from the war.  


It was so complicated with three stories unfolding concurrently. Like putting the pieces together in a jigsaw puzzle, but I think I managed it. Not sure of a title yet but it’s currently called In an Abandoned Place.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m still trying to juggle writing two and a half books a year. Crazy. But I’m writing the Molly Murphy series now with my daughter Clare and I’m giving her more and more responsibility for our stories. She’s doing brilliantly and is coming up with great ideas so that’s good. But I still have so many good ideas that I don’t think I’ll sit back and relax for a while.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment