Novel set mainly on CRETE past and present
Talking Location With author Katy Moran – FONTAINEBLEAU
11th June 2021
#TalkingLocationWith… Katy Moran, author of Scandalous Alchemy set in Fontainebleau, France.
I first came to Fontainebleau by train in a mad dash from Brussels, crossing Europe with giddy spontaneity. When the phone call came, I was at an archaeological dig at the site of the battle of Waterloo, teaching creative writing to army veterans participating in a Waterloo Uncovered programme. My husband had been helping our friends move from the Welsh borders to Bourron-Marlotte, a small town near Fontainebleau. Why don’t you just change your ticket and meet us there? We’re only a few stops from the Gare du Nord.
My first reaction was, I can’t do this. For a start, I’d planned to spend the Eurostar journey home puzzling out the location for my next book – the third of my romantic historical adventures set in a Bridgerton-style Napoleonic universe. The truth was, for someone who used to travel alone a lot, I was scared. But had I lost confidence or was I just out of practice? Could I still do this by myself? The children were safely ensconced with their grandparents: this was my chance. I said goodbye to my students in Belgium with a new plan – one that’s almost impossible to imagine making in 2021.
I settled back into my seat with a glorious sense of abjured responsibility, and nothing to do but wonder where to set my book. The first two take place in the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, London and Russia. One option was to send my characters along the great silk roads, taking in the mountain ridges of the Caucasus and the ancient cities of the Great Game – Bukhara and Khiva. But those locations felt best left to voices other than mine, and whilst I was looking for a setting that would make sense in the context of my reimagined Napoleonic universe of muskets and ballrooms, I wanted to place this book somewhere I could visit. But where?
First, it was time to navigate Paris. Overloaded with baggage and nervous at having forgotten every last word of French, I found my final destination not listed at any of the ticket machines. Eventually, after a strained sotto voce phone call to my bilingual husband, I made it to the train, relieved to put down my baggage at last.
Idly googling the area on my phone, I realised why the name Fontainebleau was so familiar, and it wasn’t just as an area held in affection by friends who have been climbing and biking in the Forêt du Fontainebleau for years. I knew this place as a nerd of the Age of Napoleon, too: it’s where he signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1814, proceeding from there into exile on Elba. And so this was exactly where I was going to send my characters next: the ancient, sprawling Palace of Fontainebleau
I couldn’t believe how quickly Paris gave way to green countryside and red-tiled villages baking in the heat. The Fontainebleau area is so accessible, just half an hour from the charming, overwhelming bustle of Paris. It’s a different world, but still a magical one. The Palace is pleasingly cheek by jowl with the town centre, dizzying in its magnificence behind majestic iron railings. Once inside, state apartments lead from one to the other with gilded opulence that must have been rather claustrophobic on a daily basis. Manicured gardens give way to the forest where French royalty hunted long ago. Moss-covered boulders rear up from the sandy forest floor, and light slants down between a tangle of branches. There’s so much to explore here, but if you tire of the town itself, other destinations are easy to reach by train. On my first trip, I headed straight to Bourrone-Marlotte. Once home to Paul Cezanne, this village of honeyed stone and quiet alleys draped with bougainvillea oozes charm, with café tables lining the plaza. It seemed only right that my characters visited here, too, escaping the web of passion and deceit that threatens to destroy them in the corridors of the ancient palace.
I’ve never been so grateful for sudden change of plan – for me, train travel retains all the romance and excitement crushed out of flying. So, if the prospect of international travel fills you with nerves, a Eurostar trip to magical Fontainebleau couldn’t be a nicer trip to take.
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