Message from Paris APRIL 2020
When the authorities in Paris, where I live with my French husband and three children, first mentioned the lockdown, I naively thought that here was an opportunity to finally tackle Proust or re-read Tolstoy, because I'd have the time for that sort of reading now, right? Wrong. Not only my days are busier than ever, starting a thousand-page novel somehow seemed to imply that the lockdown would go on... forever? So I've read the autobiography of John Le Carre, The Pigeon Tunnel, instead. I am in awe of Le Carre's writing, and in a sense, my favourite author has kept me company in these troubled times, offering new perspectives and lessons from his extraordinary life.
With three children at home, I also re-read my cookbooks a lot. The lockdown conditions are really strict here in France, and we don't have a garden or even a balcony, so cooking and baking is our way of keeping away from screens, trying to provide as normal and stress-free environment for the children as possible. We make bread because kneading the dough is one of the best anti-stress I know. We also bake lots of comfort food deserts. Clafoutis, a French blueberry flan. Sharlotka, a Russian apple pie. Finnish korvapuustit, that are cinnamon and cardamom rolls, magical because they not only taste great, they make the apartment smell divine.
When I hear people say that self-isolation is a good time to write a novel, I can't help wondering how many writers would really manage to do that. It's not just the fact that the reality feels so much stranger and scarier than fiction now, it's also that our days have suddenly gotten busier. There's home-schooling, but also the "after-school" to deal with, trying to compensate for activities my children no longer have. My 8-year-old boy is obsessed with chess. So I now play. A lot. And I must be really bad at it, because sometimes he wins in just three moves. I also tried cutting my son's hair. He now looks like... let's just say I'll never make a good hairdresser. But that doesn't matter: when we open our windows every evening at 8 pm sharp to applaud the doctors and the nurses, I can see that he is not alone in having a crazy hairstyle. And at least, my husband hasn't asked me to cut his hair yet!
I return to my desk at night. This is how I have always worked: reading and jotting down ideas during the day, writing once my children have gone off to bed. I realize now I'm doubly lucky: to be able to function on just a few hours of sleep, and to write historical fiction. Looking back in time helps me realize that things have not been better before, far from it, especially where healthcare is concerned. In Evil Things, my debut novel, strange things happen in a tiny snowbound village community in Lapland, and Sgt Hella Mauzer would have so liked a possibility to verify her suspicions with a doctor. Unfortunately for her, there's no doctor for miles around, and this being the1950s, there's no telephone either. She can only rely on her own wits to solve the crime.