Monday 27 October 2014

"Writing a Difficult Scene" by Karen Swan.

I'm delighted to be hosting a guest post from the brilliant Karen Swan today - sharing her thoughts on writing a difficult scene.

Writing a Difficult Scene.

The Dior party scene in the catacombs in Paris was tricky from start to finish and I probably spent more time on that than any other scene in the book. Logistically speaking, it was very difficult to ‘dress’ that setting in a way that would feel lavish and VIP and it took a long time to work out how a party would actually ‘work’ down there – where you could place a coat check, how and where the caterers would be set up. I spent a lot of time watching dodgy video footage of urban explorers with headtorches illicitly sneaking in through drain covers and recording their trails.

There’s a really fascinating background to the catacombs – they were built when Haussmann’s grand boulevarded vision for Paris was being implemented and the bodies from graveyards that were ‘in the way’ had to be moved. The walls are literally made of stacked bones and skulls and descend for hundreds of metres below the Paris streets. It’s shocking how many people have gone missing in them and never been recovered.

All this was great for brooding atmosphere as the revelations that happen at this point in the story are correspondingly dark, so there’s a lot of jostling and thrown shadows; Everyone is instinctively slightly on edge as it’s not our natural habitat, being in the dark with the dead, and I loved subverting the tradition of Paris always being the City of Light. But plot-wise, these narrow, dark tunnels made it difficult to choreograph the characters into position – it’s the final chapter of the Paris section and the beginning of the end of the story. Two important story reveals happen during this scene and I spent weeks fine-tuning who was where, what they said, what they did, how they moved on…it was important to get it right in order for the action in the final third to ring true and I was so glad to get that final edit in and be done with it.

As if all that hadn’t been enough though, there was one final change that had to happen almost as the book went to print. John Galliano had been at the helm of Dior for ten years when I was writing this book and the entire theme for the party had been prompted by his legendary Corsaire collection and skull motif. Galliano was referenced as the designer throughout, but days before we were due to print, news of his racism scandal broke and he of course, subsequently left Dior. Overnight, he had gone from Darling to Disgraced and it wasn’t appropriate to hail him in the book so we had to use a fictitious designer name instead. There was nothing else we could have done and it didn’t affect anything of the story, plot-wise, other than to remove one extra element of reality, but it was a shame.


In the wake of a heartbreaking betrayal, a young woman leaves the Scottish countryside to find her destiny in three of the most exciting cities in the world—New York, Paris, and London—in this funny and triumphant tale of fulfillment, friendship, and love.

Ten years ago, a young and naïve Cassie married her first serious boyfriend, believing he would be with her forever. Now, her marriage is in tatters and Cassie has no career or home of her own. Though she feels betrayed and confused, Cassie isn’t giving up. She’s going to take control of her life. But first she has to find out where she belongs . . . and who she wants to be.

Over the course of one year, Cassie leaves her sheltered life in rural Scotland to stay with her best friends living in the most glamorous cities in the world: New York, Paris, and London.

Exchanging comfort food and mousy hair for a low-carb diet and a gorgeous new look, Cassie tries each city on for size as she searches for the life she’s meant to have . . . and the man she’s meant to love.

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Karen Swan began her career in fashion journalism before giving it all up to raise her three children and an ADHD puppy, and to pursue her ambition of becoming a writer. She lives in the forest in Sussex, writing her books in a treehouse overlooking the Downs. Her first novel, Players, was published in 2010, followed by Prima Donna and Christmas at Tiffany's in 2011.

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  1. Wow never imagine so much thought and research behind a book.

    1. Same here - and I would have been pretty worked up at having to last minute change the real designer into a fictional one...


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