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Tiny TripFiction Talking Location with Kate Wilkinson, author of Edie and the Flits

30th September 2022

To celebrate the publication of her new Edie and the Flits adventure, Edie and the Flits in Paris, Kate Wilkinson has dropped by the Tiny TripFiction blog to tell us about the beautiful Parisian backdrop that’s inspired her writing. From a Parisian Diagon Alley to deserted railways, there’s a whole lot of adventure to be had in Paris with Edie and the magical Flits!

Kate Wilkinson

Illustrated by Joe Berger

In the first of my Edie Winter stories Edie and the Box of Flits I explored hidden London – the deserted and abandoned stations of the London Underground, the vaults of Waterloo and the more familiar streets around Alexandra Palace close to where I live. The TFL Lost Property Office in Baker Street became the setting for my own fictional Lost Property Office and the mothership of my story. Here it was that Edie Winter’s dad worked and here it was that she first met the thumb-sized flits who had turned up in an abandoned box left on the Bakerloo Line.

For the sequel I chose Paris for my backdrop and Edie and the Flits in Paris opens with an invitation from the Paris Metro Lost Property Office asking Edie and Mr Winter to visit. The pandemic threatened to put a gigantic spanner in my research plans, but I managed to go twice just for brief visits. I set myself a tight schedule.

Kate Wilkinson

Kate outside Le Service des Objets Trouvés

As soon as the train arrived at Gare du Nord I scurried across Paris to the 15th arrondisement on the south west side of the city and Le Service des Objets Trouvés in Rue des Morillons. The building was wonderfully municipal with the French flag flying over the door, and an arcane system of returning lost property that involved a lot of paperwork. I peered in through the doorway and took pictures of the outside but, despite sending a carefully worded letter in advance, the bureaucracy was such that I wasn’t allowed inside.

Only a few streets away there was the section of deserted railway line known as La Petite Ceinture or the Little Belt. This railway line once circled the whole of 19th century Paris carrying passengers around the city in a steam train. In recent years sections of it have been turned into parkland and walkways similar to the High Line in New York. In some arrondissements it forms a tunnel of green wilderness and in others a wonderfully elevated sandy pathway following the line of the old tracks. I loved it and walked for miles that first evening on an elevated stretch. As it got dark I could see into the lit windows of apartment blocks. I immediately decided it was the perfect urban wilderness camp for some of the French flits or volettes.

Kate Wilkinson

La Petite Ceinture

Kate outside Metro Rue du Bac

The next morning I walked down the steps at Cité under the curling art deco metalwork of the Metro sign. I wanted to use my ears and eyes and even my nose to describe the differences between the London Underground and the Paris Metro and to imagine how Edie and her dad might experience it for the first time. It reminded me of my very first trip to Paris as a child when the big rubber wheels, the horn that sounds each time a train departs and the smell of burnt chestnuts was very formative. The Metro no longer has that nutty smell but the wheels and horn are still there and the doors with their shiny clip handles. I rode back and forth passing the metro stations at Concorde, Rambuteau and Louvre and the fabulously copper submarine Jules Verne interior of Arts et Metiérs. But it was Bastille with its murals of the French Revolution that I settled on as a home for another group of French flits that were suitably strong willed and anarchic. I decided they would cycle everywhere on miniature cycles using the Metro tunnels and the pipes and drains of Paris as their cycleways.

It was a chance encounter that led to the creation of my villain Victor Rottier. I was looking for someone unscrupulous who would exploit the flits in the way that Vera Creech had done in Edie and the Box of Flits. What might he look like, what age might he be? Walking down St Germain that December afternoon a man walked past with a silver topped cane, cowboy boots in crocodile leather and a long coat. His hair stuck out like two bat wings either side of his ears. He was unmistakably Parisian but also an eccentric. I had the material for Victor Rottier. I decided that he would be a collector and a taxidermist who created miniature theatrical scenes in glass domes. He peopled his scenes with birds and butterflies and the Parisian flits that he caught with a net and fixed into position with enamel paint.

I wanted his collector’s shop to be a real cabinet of curiosities, both intriguing to the reader but also scary and the perfect place for it was in the Passage Jouffroy just off the Grands Boulevards. There are a series of wonderful 19th century passageways in this area lined with tiny quirky shops and distinctive for their glass and metalwork. There’s one that sells canes and walking sticks and has a set of moose antlers over the door. It’s a Parisian Diagon Alley!

By the end of my second day I felt I had the bones of my story. There was just one day left. I was staying on the Left Bank at the Hotel Esmeralda. My tiny room was wallpapered everywhere across the walls, doors and ceiling and it looked out onto Notre Dame. This room found its way into my story as did the gargoyles and the chimera grotesques of the great cathedral where two flits are hidden after flying across Paris on the back of a crow called Pigalle. And the Seine at dusk became the setting for the final confrontation between Edie and Victor with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the background.

One of the joys of writing is exploring your settings just as your characters might. I’m currently back in London with a new project – down the Thames by Gravesend and the Hoo Peninsula. It’s wild Magwitch country and I’m loving it.

Kate Wilkinson

 

Kate Wilkinson started out as a children’s writer for BBC Radio creating audio stories for pre-school listeners that involved a lot of animals (and animal noises). She then became a radio producer for many years, working primarily on arts programmes, literary features and readings such as Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and Book of the Week. She completed the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University in 2018. Kate has two teenage boys and lives in North London with her partner who is a news journalist.

Catch Kate on Twitter @katewilkinsonf1

Edie and the Box of Flits and Edie and the Flits in Paris are published by Piccadilly Press and out now!

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